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The wines of Comte de Vogüé, Chambolle-Musigny, Burgundy

Corney & Barrow Grand Dinner and Tasting, 20 January 2005

Any half-decent wine writer in the UK gets asked to lots of tastings. Of course, whether I belong in this category or not is a decision for others to make. Nonetheless, I receive a reasonable amount of invitations, many of which I have to say no to because of time constraints. But one invitation I didn’t even think about turning down was a chance to attend a black-tie dinner hosted by Corney & Barrow showcasing the wines of Comte de Vogüé, one of Burgundy’s most famous names.

This historical domaine has been in the hands of the same family for over 500 years, and currently the 20th generation is in control. That’s an incredible statistic in itself. Recent history is that towards the end of Georges de Vogüé’s life the domaine went through a sticky patch in the late 1970s and early 1980s (he died in 1987), but things have since turned round. His daughter Elisabeth de Ladoucette ran things during the late 1980s until 2002, and during this spell the current ‘dream team’ was put together: she hired Francois Millet as winemaker, Gérard Gaudeau as chef de vignes (a position he held for 10 years until succeeded by current viticulturalist Eric Bourgogne in 1996), and Jean-Luc Pépin was given the important job of sales and marketing in 1988. The current incumbents are George’s grand-daughters Claire de Causans and Marie de Ladoucette.

I won’t give an exhaustive history of the domaine: for context, the reader is referred to Bill Nanson’s nigh-on definitive account on his wonderful Burgundy Report site, which can be accessed at http://www.burgundy-report.com/105/features/vogue.html. 

The philosophy at de Vogüé is the sound (if somewhat unoriginal) one of trying to blend tradition and modernity. Nothing is done systematically in either the vineyard or the cellar – there is a constant adaptation to both vineyard and vintage conditions. The team see themselves as intermediaries: nature is the boss and they then guide the wine. Jean-Luc Pépin’s analogy is that in the vineyard Eric photographs the wine and Francois develops the picture in the cellar. Corny, perhaps, but there’s a truth to it. But a little perspective is called for here: the total vineyard holdings of de Vogüé are just 12.5 hectares, which is pretty tiny considering the visibility this domaine has.

Following are my notes on the wines, combined with the information supplied during the dinner by Jean-Luc about both the specific terroirs and the vintage conditions. Too much information, by far, but I hope there are a few who will find some of this interesting.

General comments about the commune of Chambolle Musigny: the soil is mostly limestone, which contributes fragrancy, delicacy and finesse. With a high level of limestone the wine emphasizes fragrance at the expense of weight.

Bourgogne Blanc
De Vogüé is the only domaine on the Côtes du Nuits that has been making Grand Cru white wine. In the 1970s and early 1980s there was no planning for replanting vines, so when Francois and Gérard joined in 1986 they uprooted most of the old vines to replant in order for the next generation of wine. This wine comes from young vines that were replanted in 1986, 1987 and 1991 (0.4 hectares). Another 0.2 ha was replanted in 1997. Jean-Luc thinks the wine is somewhere between village and premier cru level at the moment. These vines are at the top of Musigny.

The 2000 vintage
2000 wasn’t a difficult vintage; problem was the crop levels, which were excessive. 50% was eliminated by a green harvest (vendange vert). June was very sunny. The Côtes de Beaune and Chalonnaise had heavy rains on 12 September. There was a normal harvest over 18–20 September.

de Vogüé Bourgogne Blanc 2000
Rich, ripe intense nose is full with a nutty, minerally edge. Very full and broad; quite complex. The palate is concentrated, broad and has a minerally, spicy underlay to the fruit. Warm, nutty finish. Quite a rich style: broad and intense with well-judged oak. Very good/excellent 92/100

The 2001 vintage
In 2001, nature was generous, and growers were faced with huge quantities. In late April/early May Eric reduces the excess buds in a manoeuvre known as ‘green pruning’. Later on in July it is time for the green harvest, when it is important to reduce yield.

Similar weather to 2000 was experienced: a hot, sunny June was followed by July and August which exhibited patterns of warm/cool/warm/cool conditions. The first two weeks of September weren’t so good: they were rather damp.

According to Jean-Luc, it’s a vintage that has developed extraordinarily well: one of the best recent vintages for de Vogue. The defining characteristic is ‘crushed, fresh fruit’.

de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 2001
Vogue has 1.8 ha of village-level vines on the western side of the village close to the wood. Nice open nose: bright red fruits with a savoury, earthy edge. The palate has a nice fresh, spicy red fruit character and shows lovely balance, with earthy, smooth tannins. Not terribly complex – good acidity with nice fine-grained spicy tannins. Not big but well proportioned. Very good/excellent 90/100

de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 2001
Made since 1995, this is 100% Musigny from young vines. Quite a complex nose, with a high-toned, spicy, earthy edge. Fresh and perfumed with a savoury seriousness to it. This wine has a bit of a split personality: it’s perfumed and inviting on the one hand, yet on the other it is spicy, savoury and assertive. The palate is fresh, savoury and quite structured with great balance. Not a big wine but some development potential lies ahead. Perhaps the oak is just a little dominant at the moment – there’s a serious spicy richness to the red fruits. Very good/excellent 92/100

The 1999 vintage
1999 was a special vintage in Burgundy. ‘It is one of the best in 20–30 years: a complete vintage’.

Amoureuses is a cru in Chambolle-Musigny of 0.5 hectares. ‘It is the most feminine, most beautiful vineyard in Burgundy’, says Jean-Luc. ‘Our parcel is on a limestone cliff, and the roots go 15 metres deep through the cliff.’ It is described as a vin de dentelles, a wine of lace. Very feminine, but with body and structure. It has the potential to age well.

de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses 1999
A bit closed on the nose. The palate is savoury with pretty, rounded red berry fruit. Lots of finesse and some elegance here, but lacking impact and structure. There’s an appealing red fruits character, which I guess you could describe as feminine. I wonder whether I have a less-than-clean glass. Very good/excellent 91/100

Bonnes-Mares is not part of the Chambolle-Musigny commune. Francois compares the various Vogue wines to a family. Amoureuses represents the women, Musigny is the father and Bonnes-Mares is the ‘unmarried uncle’! Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow (UK agents) describes Bonnes-Mares as ‘explosive…more masculine in style, powerful, long-lived and acquiring a sweet, velvety richness with age.’

de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1999
Lovely complex, open nose of red and black fruits with some sweetness to the fruit. Aromatic and quite full. The palate is open with bright, fresh cherry and berry fruit, and a nice tarry, spicy underlay. Lots of ripeness here: a little hint of almost new world sweet and sour Pinot character. A flattering, approachable wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

De Vogue own 7.2 hectares of Musigny. That’s most of it! (70% to be precise.) Deduct the 0.6 hectares of white vines and this leaves 6.6 of red, of which 2.8 hecatres are young vines (because of the replanting) which leaves 3.8 hectares of old vine Musigny. This produces one of Burgundy’s most celebrated red wines.

de Vogüé Musigny Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru 1999
A little tight and closed on the nose. Still, there’s some minerally, spicy depth showing. The palate is concentrated and full, with ripe complex red fruits underlain by a tight but fine-grained spicy tannic structure. This is a concentrated wine that is quite serious and needs time to open. The oak is there, but it is well integrated. Definitely not one for current consumption! Very good/excellent 94/100

1996 Vintage
1996 was a special year throughout Europe: a north east wind blowed from spring time to the end of the crop. It helped to keep acidity high. It’s easy to pick 1996s because of the high natural level of acidity. These wines have a long future ahead of them.

de Vogüé Bourgogne Blanc 1996
This is a brilliant white Burgundy. It has a lovely minerally, slightly stinky, cabbagey nose which is complex and full. The palate is savoury but fresh, still with lovely acidity. Full flavoured with a lemony freshness to the nutty fruit – very precise and defined. Minerally and complex, and remarkable considering that this was from very young vines. Excellent 95/100

1993 vintage
This was a difficult vintage, but one which made some serious wines. There was a wet spring, a wet July, a hot and sunny August and some rains in September. The village wine is approachable but not enjoyable, with a lot of development ahead of it. In general 1993 is still completely closed: it is a great, classic vintage and one to keep for a long time.  

de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1993
Nice deep colour. Expressive, aromatic nose is spicy and savoury, showing nice balance. The palate is dense with a lovely spicy, herby structure. Quite tannic and savoury with good acidity. Slightly drying finish. An impressive wine with an earthy, savoury edge. A food wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

1997 Vintage
A year of naturally low yields. A vintage of enjoyment, but it might not be one to keep for 20 years.

de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 1997
Brooding, spicy, silky smooth nose of sweet elegant red fruits. Good density. The palate is smooth and elegant with a herby edge to the smoothly structured red fruits. Quite silky and spicy but with a nice freshness to the fruit. May well develop but currently drinking nicely. Very good/excellent 92/100

de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses 1992
This, along with 1994, was one of the two weakest vintages of the 1990s. Very savoury intense nose with a high-toned herby note. A little undergrowthy, but with some freshness too. The palate is savoury and intense with a spicy, herby character. Quite evolved and undergrowthy with an earthy edge. Delicious in a more mature style. Very good/excellent 93/100

de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1988
A year of drought in Burgundy. Herby, undergowthy edge to the nose with complex tarry, slightly medicinal notes. The palate is spicy and earthy with good acidity. Quite firm, structured and spicy with some tannic structure. Perfumed and eloquent but rather evolved. Very good/excellent 93/100

de Vogüé Musigny Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru 1991
There’s a story behind this wine. It’s what is known in the trade as a difficult vintage. A big hailstorm came from the southwest on 22nd of August, and focused on the village of Chambolle. This caused lots of damage. However, the weeks following were dry, so rot was avoided (this would have been disastrous). Following the hailstorm the damaged berries dried up. However, these had the potential to give a ‘dried tannin’ taste to the wine, so Francois made the expensive decision of separating out the dried berries. Everyone was drafted in for a tweezer-led triage that took two weeks! This meant that Francois could still macerate, and saved the vintage. The wine shows a tight, spicy herby nose which is medicinal and full. Firm and savoury. The palate is dense and full with lots of structure. Quite evolved but with lots of structure remaining. There’s a meaty earthiness underpinning the palate. A very savoury wine with some future. Very good/excellent 94/100

See also: tasting notes of Burgundy wines; the wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

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