A Grand Cru Elixir

If you like Corton Charlemagne, Bonneau Du Martray is “THE” Corton Charlemagne.

I was at the Domaine recently, about 2 months ago in July and with no surprises, being there with Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière and his beautiful wine was again an incomparable day.

Bonneau du Martray, based in Pernand-Vergelesses, in the Côte de Beaune wine-growing region of Burgundy, has become synonymous with Corton-Charlemagne to me. It is Family owned for nearly two centuries and since 1994 Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière who inherited it from his father Comte Jean le Bault (whom was in charge from 1969 to 1993),  has been fine-tuning the estate that his father brought back to life.


The original Bonneau property covered 24 hectares, half was sold by one branch of the family and a little more has disappeared since. During Jean-Charles’s father’s time, there was a significant proportion of red Corton but much of this has been dug up since and replanted with Chardonnay.

The 11 hectares today, beautifully located and in one piece facing west, located on the Pernand side of the great Corton hill above the road leading from Aloxe-Corton to Pernand-Vergelesses of which 9.5 hectares are Corton-Charlemagne and a small production of red Corton, 1.5 hectares that at best produce 6000 bottles annually.  This makes Bonneau du Martray the largest single owner of vines within the Corton-Charlemagne. In fact, it is the only domaine in Burgundy to make only grand cru vines.

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Corton Hill’s divisions of wines and different soil types
There, is where his wines locate
There, the best of the best

Spending a long afternoon catching up and tasting in his cave with Jean-Charles was a great pleasure.  Jean-Charles, an architect by training, tall and lean, is undoubtedly one of the most elegant and articulated winemarkers I have ever met, someone whom I pay enormous respect to this great talent whom turned the Corton Hill into magic.

Jean-Charles and bottled he had prepared for the degustation

I had tasted both the Corton and Corton-Charlemagne together with Jean-Charles this time.   In most of his wine, especially his white, I found freshness with great acidity, complexity in texture with mid-palate turns out into a little dense stoniness and somehow ended up into a broad spectrum of explosive feelings, sure am somehow generalizing his wine here but you will see my wine note at the very end of this post if you are keen in few different vintages.

Interesting to note if you so happened to drink his wine is, in his plots, he adapts various farming methods in 9 different types of soils which gives much variations and complexities in his vines, while In his cuverie, 16 different cuvées are actually vinified separately.   Fermentation begins in stainless steel and finishes in casks to which it is transferred 5-6 days later.  With great attention to the usage of oak, the vines are matured in oak barrels (33% new) for 12 months and the separate 16 cuvées are then blended in stainless steel tanks before being returned to cask for another 6 months prior to being bottled.

That could be one of the reasons that the final blend in our glass are so multi-dimensional.  Like what Jean-Charles and I concluded,  there are 16 musical notes in the glass while with most others wine, you may only find 1 or 2.

amazing vertical tasting with Jean-Charles
start of the amazing vertical tasting with Jean-Charles

Jean-Charles’s focus is always on the soil of his vines.   He spend great deal of time in researching the soil throughout the domaine’s holding, and after much reflection, biodynamic principles are now being employed in the farming and Bonneau Du Martray will tentatively go 100% certified biodynamic in 2014 said Jean-Charles.  To him, biodynamics is the only way of life to pass over to the next generations, which is, to take best care of environment, for workers and finally the end consumers.  He mentioned top soil can sometimes be washed away by rain if vines are farmed chemically and he believes,“wine is like human, it becomes lazy if you don’t control them, while with careful farming controls in biodynamic, I found my wine much more vibrant.”  

Is Acidity or balance of wine important?  Sure, of course,  but that’s not the first things he would like to speak about, while pure expression of his vines, vintage characters and continuity are words Jean-Charles often comes back to.

Only 2  Grand Cru: White and Red
Only 2 Grand Cru: White and Red

Here is the white we tasted:

2011 Wine with lots of freshness. Terrific aromatic, fruits forward of a young wine, expressive in 1 year but expecting it to shut down for few years before it can reveal it all.

2010 A year of bad flowering.  Closed on the nose compare to 2011. Citrus tones with apple and pear on nose.  Great balance.  Quite austere for now but probably great in future.  Similar style as 2011.

2009 Massively rich flavors started with a floral, spices note, with apple, buttery smokey aroma coming up after.  It has a vertical dimension, yet never horizontal.  Carries no fat, lots of complexity, enormous  length for about a minute long.  Very forward and generous. I absolutely adore this wine, and imagine it with time!

2008 Citrus Lemon mousse, grapefruit with ginger spices.  Great structure, silky and creamy honey, lemon, floral mix towards white peach.  Great strength and mineral with crisp acidity, such a great balanced wine seriously. The pure finish goes on and on.  A little lighter than 2009, a more feminine wine.

2002 It was not tasted at the Domaine but @Hotel Du Palais’s Villa Eugenie in Biarritz few weeks after in July, mind as well I drop a note here.  A wine from a warmer vintage in 2002. Intense and full of exotic fruit notes, little fatty in a good way. Again, amazing length.

1987 A surprise!!!  It is surely a poor vintage: lots of rain, cold and poor weather in general.  However, a great example of what a poor vintage wine can do through time.  This 26 years old wine is just wonderful!  Almost golden, good body, still fresh, delicate and zesty with nutty end supported by great acidity.  It turns out to be such a great quality one.  A bit lean at the finish but it can be beautifully matched with mature cheese, I would imagine a mature Comté.  How fun to get a chance to tasted this wine here!

One thing that came up with during my conversation with Jean-Charles is that, every vintage has a shape to him, 2009 is more like a sphere, 2007 is like an arrow while 2010 is a column.  I am not sure if you would perceive wine in similar sense but it’s quite a cool perspective to put wine in place.

In fact, most of Jean-Charles’s Corton Charlemagne takes a long time to come around (while the 2006 is always quite engaging and never shutdown, it was from the beginning at the right place): it means it can be good at the early years but then it will shut down up to around 10 years and awake again to reveal its all.  Patience is important here for sure.

Red Corton, is no exception: it is a wine of great class.  Bonneau du Martray is one of the few who is producing red on the Corton hill.   One of what I tasted at the Domaine was the
2011.  Great cherry fragrance, fruits forward.  Higher tannins with sweetness catching up behind it.  Minerals probably gives much hostility during the shut down time, yet after years of cellaring for this wine, we suspect it will give great freshness and complexities.

This only Grand Cru, in a word, elegance.


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