Bonneau du Martray – a vertical

A slope in Burgundy – just a little bit more golden than others

It wears a hat. Sort of at least. The forest on top of the Montagne de Corton looks like a sixpence from a distance. Or a green lowish cap of moss on top of a sea of vineyards, dust roads and boundaries between parcels crawling to the top, like lines of perspective seeking the center in a renaissance painting. This is surely a special place and in fact it is even more special because here the Grand Cru vineyards make a turn. They curve around Montagne de Corton, from south east exposure to directly south, facing the noon sun and even south west and YES; to west facing vineyards above the village of Pernand-Vergelesses. High west facing Chardonnay vineyards able to catch the evening sun which is very unusual for Côte d’Or vines and especially Grand Cru vines.

Another very important characteristic about these slopes is the wind. Yes, it’s windy up and in here. The valley, or combe acts like a funnel and focuses or collect the western wind, drying the vines and actually keeping them cool in a sunny spot – now THAT’s a good combination. Coming from Aloxe-Corton via the narrow road at the bottom of the hill you really get the feeling of passing through a corridor – a corridor between two slopes topped with forest on both sides. Pernand-Vergelesses is in one of those beautiful side valleys of the Côte d’Or with its own amphitheatre. On the “back side” of Montagne de Corton – the front side being the south east exposed prolongation of the main-Côte – you find the old original climats of Corton-Charlemagne. Le Charlemagne in Aloxe-Corton and En Charlemagne in Pernand-Vergelesses – both of them at the top of the slope, just beneath the forest and where the slope is steepest. It is here. Right here that Bonneau du Martray has their 15 different parcels of Chardonnay, some at the very top, some in the middle of the slope and some at the bottom, with different levels of chalk, calcium carbonate and different sizes of grain in the soil; clay, silt and sand.

Some versions of Corton-Charlemagne might be much more expensive, rare and almost impossible to obtain, think Coche-Dury and Domaine Leroy, but Bonneau du Martray must be closest to vrai Corton-Charlemagne… whatever that is. A huge chunk is owned by Bonneau du Martray, by far the largest portion of Corton-Charlemagne owned by one propriétaire and the estate farms according to biodynamic methods. Great for nature, for biodiversity and natural balance in an area where monoculture rules. Bonneau du Martray and proprietor Jean Charles le Baut de la Morinère (love that name) are able to liquify this part of Montagne de Corton. They make elixir of Corton-Charlemagne, they “distil” this place into the bottle.

In a great interview in Becky Wasserman’s website Jean Charles le Baut de la Morinière tries to describe his Corton-Charlemagne and ends up using pictures of what it is not! Its like its not there and yet it is SO present. It’s a wine created by unusual light (at least in comparison with most other white burgundies). Its stony, creamy, airy, physical and spiritual. It’s not reductive, it’s not oaky, it’s not leesy, it’s not steely and not voluptuous – its just like it should be!

I have just taken part in a small vertical tasting via Zoom and #67pallmall with omniscient Jasper Morris MW and the GM at Bonneau du Martray, Thibault Jacquet, proving that Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne is a marathon runner, a wine with stamina, a wine where you do not think of vinification methods and extreme viticultural ideals, it is SO mineral and stony at the core – it’s just a wine that IS.

Corton-Charlemagne 2017
There is almost no colour difference between this 2017 and the 1993 – first important observation. What a wine! Oozing intensity, pomelo fruit, pear drop and all sorts of stones, slightly reductive and has only discreet notes of malo and oak. It is incredibly focused, fresh, brilliant, chalky, linear in it’s acidity, salt and thirst quenching in a very sophisticated way. Painfully intense and then a finale with what I later experience in all the wines; positive phenolics, a sort of textural element, the best expression must by mineral… dare I say.

Corton-Charlemagne 2014
At first subdued, even more stony and even dusty (in a positive way), chalky, full metal, but with air I find lemon curd and double cream. It has brisk, even zesty acidity and I am almost drooling… sorry to say so. Creamy viscosity and almost prodding acidity. Lovely.

Corton-Charlemagne 2009
Yes a warm vintage and this is buttery, smoky, hazelnuts and rich. Obvious malo aroma, very mature pear and slightly oxi, but again… the taste, the palate is fantastic, creamy and rich like browned butter but again this great grip, this crunchy chalky and stony core that ads to freshness.

Corton-Charlemagne 2008
Thibault Jacquet told us that harvest ended on the 5th October this year – a very difficult year for whites. The result is also unusual as this wine carries clear notes of botrytis. Tropical and almost aroma like a Pinot Gris VT from Alsace, dried apricot… but I am sorry to say… again this phenolic bite. It gives focus to the wine and it is quite interesting to see both a very rich aroma and a rather slender palate.

Corton-Charlemagne 1998
Apparently from a reconditioned bottle. Mature Chardonnay, nutty, hazelnuts, orange rind, old fashioned churned butter with lemon rind. Beautifully evolved palate, bright and rich at the same time, chalky and lemony, phenolic bite (again) and a little ox fat in the aftertaste… even some cracked pepper.

Corton-Charlemagne 1993
The last vintage made by Jean Le Baut de la Moranière before his son Jean Charles took over. Incredible freshness in a 26 years old white wine. Pickled lemon, eau de vie, peach melba and apples-in-the-barn-from -the-year-before. Creamy and fresh, linear acidity and very energetic wine, impressive bite of minerals and phenolics and has muscles on the very strong skeleton.

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