Eight Vintages of Bonneau du Martray

Bonneau du Martray is the only domaine in Burgundy today that makes exclusively Grand Cru wine. Its vineyards sit on the very hill that produced wines loved by Charles the Great. That hill is called Corton.

More than 85% of the vineyards of this domaine, apparently claimed by only one other owner – the Church – between Charles the Great and today’s presiding caretakers, the le Bault de la Morinière family, are planted to Chardonnay. These 9.5 ha (23.5 acres) spread over the top, middle and bottom portions of the hill. Each adds a specific element to this Chardonnay. Vines at the top enjoy a cooler environment, so they add elegance and minerality. In the middle, the vines’ fruit produces the heart of the cuvée in terms of fruit and power. Grapes from vines situated toward the bottom round out the wine with their ripeness.

Rarely do I find Corton an immediately pleasing wine. Please do not misinterpret this. The wines of Corton, both white and red, are wonderfully satisfying wines when crafted by Burgundy’s gifted winemakers. Even wines from the less talented can enchant…or at least intrigue. (That’s terroirfor you.) My point is that the wines of Corton are not immediately accessible. This is true even when age has helped (or tried) to mellow out their souls. Wines from Corton are pensive. In my experience, to properly appreciate Corton blanc et rouge, the taster must observe the wines, listen to the wines and try to feel the wines. These Grands Crusare not only less accessible stylistically than their brethren from slopes of Puligny-Montrachet and Vosne-Romanée, among others, but they suffer no fools. These wines – somehow – seem wise.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to experience the wisdom of Corton’s white wines through the lens of Bonneau du Martray in a vertical selection earlier this week. Here are my brief reflections on eight Corton-Charlemagne from the domaine from vintages 1998 to 2010. (Please note these notes are from a standing tasting at a trade event, so they are not as comprehensive as they would have been from a quieter, seated tasting.)

1998:  Really fleshing out its weighty mid-palate with nice creaminess. Still somewhat youthful, the remaining fruit character showcases a tropical side. The finish lingers on….

2001:  In great contrast to the 1998, this wine seems stripped down. Its acidity is bright, its flavors are lively and its minerality dominates the fruit.

2002:  Again, this wine provides great contrast with the prior wine – this time in the span of one vintage. Impressive density on the palate with far more developed notes (this is not to be interpreted as over-developed) than the 2001. The package is seamless from generous heft on the palate to the integrated acidity to the lingering and complex flavors.

2005:  Switching gears, this wine begins the next generation of this tasting. This is a youthful showing. Flavors of hay and Asian pear pounce on the palate in unison with massive minerality. The finish goes on and on and….

2006:  A descriptor I don’t believe I’ve ever used popped into mind here: hard pretzels. Aromas of raw hazelnut and rising yeast rolls also surface. This is more lively than the 2001 yet not as majestic as the 2002 or 2005. It is, however, perhaps the easiest to appreciate of the day.

2008:  With this vintage, the first obvious notes of new oak appear: toasted brioche, vanilla custard and whipped cream. The mouthfeel is juicy, which adds a pleasant roundness on the palate but the fruit in the bottle I tasted seemed to be hovering in the background.

2009: This vintage shows roundness without weight. It is silky on the palate. However, the fruit is rather shutdown now. Wait…a long while.

2010:  Firm from crystalline acidity. Linear on the palate yet not without weight, there is a faint mid-palate creaminess. The finish on this most recent release sings on and on – mostly of mineral and earth rather than fruit…for now.