Wednesday 22nd February 2017
The Hospital Club, Endell Street, London
As well as being one of the largest Burgundy producers, Maison Louis Latour own the UK-based Louis Latour Agencies. Louis Latour Agencies distribute, not only Latour’s wines, but also wines from other wineries that Louis Latour own (Henry Fessy in Beaujolais and Simonnet-Febvre in Chablis) as well as other wineries from France, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and Australia. Their distribution portfolio was significantly boosted with the addition of Champagne Gosset and Cognac Frapin in 2015.
This year I was lucky to be able to attend a short master class hosted by Bruno Pepin, the commercial director of Maison Louis Latour (France). The emphasis of the masterclass was on what Latour consider to be 6 of their most innovative wines. Here is a brief overview of the masterclass, with a few tasting notes.
Grand Ardeche Chardonnay
Latour originally conceived Grand Ardeche Chardonnay for the US market as a good value, oaky Chardonnay. For this they had to look outside of the Burgundy wine-growing region and, after much searching, arrived in the Ardeche. Ardeche is a département in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of south-central France. Latour first invested in the region in 1979 and now have many long-term contracts, working with around 100 local growers. They now control some 380 hectares of vineyards situated at between 250 and 4oo metres above sea level. The soils here are poor, a mix of stony clay derived from eroded Jurassic marls and limestone, similar to Burgundy.
When the first Ardeche Chardonnay vintage was released in 1982 it was the first varietal-named Chardonnay from southern France.
The first Grand Ardeche Chardonnay was released in 1985.
Tasting Notes – The 2014 vintage has a good bit of oak on the nose. It is a fairly full wine with hints of apricot, peach, toast and vanilla on the palate and a good balancing acidity. Aged for 8 to 10 months in French oak barrels, 20% new, from Louis Latour’s own cooperage.
Pouilly Fuisse is located in the Maconnais wine growing sub-region of Burgundy and Louis Latour began working in the region in 1926. Similarly to the Ardeche Chardonnay, there was a demand from the USA for affordable white Burgundy, an alternative to the more expensive appellations like Chassagne and Meursault. When the wine was first produced it was called Grand Pouilly Latour, Grand Vin Blanc de Maconnais (this was 10 years before the Pouilly Fuisse AOC was created.) At the end of Prohibition in the US, in 1933, Louis Latour was well poised to enter the US market.
This is the largest selling white Burgundy in the USA.
Tasting Notes – The 2015 Pouilly Fuisse has a zesty nose with hints of lime citrus, some herbaceous character, blossom notes and a touch of anise. It is medium bodied and supple on the palate with a good, clean chalky character. 100% stainless steel.
Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru
The fifth Louis Latour (1874-1941) was instrumental in Latour’s success in Corton. In 1891 Latour acquired Chateau Corton Grancy (more below) and 33 hectares of vines in Aloxe Corton, including 15 hectares of Corton Grand Cru. The vineyards had been devasted by Phylloxera. Latour soon decided to replace these, and the Aligote and Gamay vines on the hillside surrounding the winery, with Chardonnay and thus Corton Charlemagne was created.
oday Louis Latour are the largest land owners of Corton Charlemagne with some 11 hectares of vineyard out of a total of 60 hectares of this appellation. The signature of the 5th Louis Latour can be found on all of their Grand Cru wines.
Tasting Notes – The 2014 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru has a light golden colour. The nose has spicy aromas, a hint of anise and tropical fruit (pineapple). The palate is full and rich with more tropical character, a good bit of oak, some nutty almond hints, and a complex, lingering finish. Aged 8 to 10 months in 100% new French oak barrels.
Les Pierres Dorées Pinot Noir
This brand new project was born out of a desire to find a more affordable alternative to the more expensive, grander Burgundy red wine Crus. Latour already produce an affordable Pinot Noir from outside of Burgundy with their Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir. This project was begun in the mid-1980s at Aups in the Var. Domaine de Valmoissine and Ardeche now account for 20% of Latour’s business, so it is no surprise that they are looking to replicate this success with Les Pierres Dorées. Louis Latour had already experimented with plantings of Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy. They had previously planted in Chenas but it was found that Pinot Noir did not flourish on the granitic soils of Beaujolais.
Les Pierre Dorées vineyards (literally “the golden stones”) are located in the south of Beaujolais some 25 miles to the north west of Lyon. The soils here are clay and limestone based, similar to those in Burgundy and the golden colour, from which this wine takes it name, is due to hints of ochre and gold from iron oxide deposits. This also lends the region is nickname of “Little Tuscany” as the golden stone buildings are reminiscent of those in Tuscany.
Over 20 hectares of, mostly Gamay, vineyards were replanted in 2010 with Pinot Noir. The first release in 2015 was 900 cases which should increase to around 7 to 8,000 cases per vintage in due course. The wine is bottled as a Coteaux Bourguignon an Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), an AOC created in 2011 and covering the entire Burgundy region from around Auxerre to Beaujolais. Bruno Pepin says that he prefers to concentrate on the name Les Pierre Dorées, rather than Coteaux Bourguignon, as the main selling point.
Tasting Notes – The 2015 vintage has loads of spicy red cherry fruit and floral notes on the nose (spicier than Marsannay below). The palate has a lot of ripe, jammy fruit. It is soft and round but with a deceptively drying finish. Good. Aged 10 to 12 months, some in oak vats.
Louis Latour began working in Marsannay in 1987 out of a necessity to find a more affordable Pinot Noir wines than those of the Cote d’Or. Latour identified Marsannay as an under performing appellation producing poor quality, acidic wines, that were then usually sold as Cotes de Nuits or Bourgogne Rouge. Marsannay was awarded its AOC in 1987. Latour work very closely with growers in the region, including vineyard management, deciding when to harvest, sustainability etc., and are one of the main suppliers of Marsannay wines for export. Latour market this as an introduction to their village wines.
Tasting Notes – The 2015 Marsannay has an abundance of jammy red and black fruit with lots of blueberry character on the nose. The palate is full of jammy fruit character, blackberry / mure, red cherry and good, fresh acidity. 10 to 12 months in stainless steel.
Chateau Corton Grancey Grand Cru
Chateau Corton Grancey is an historic wine. Latour acquired the Chateau from the Grancey family in 1891. Louis Latour believe that the winery is probably the oldest continually working gravity fed winery in the world. The winery is based over 5 levels and the grapes, juice and wine move from top to bottom under gravity (like our local Hamsphire Sparkling winery, Hambledon Vineyard). Maison Latour were also very early adopters of the pneumatic press and the first one arrived at the winery in 1955. The winery is still in use today.
Louis Latour own 25 hectares around the hill of Corton, including 17 hectares of Corton. Chateau Corton Grancey is, in fact, a blend of 4 different Corton climats and is considered to be the company’s signature wine. The four climats that make up this wine are Les Bressandes, Les Perrières, Les Grèves and Clos du Roi. These are all vinified separately and the best barrels, selected and blended each year. The proportion of wine from each climate varies from vintage to vintage.
Tasting Notes – The 2014 vintage is quite floral on the nose with strawberry and red fruit character. On the palate there are flavours of red fruit, cherries, mocha and some spicy notes. The wine has a firm backbone, it is pure and fresh and had good acidity. Aged 10 to 12 months in French oak barrels, 35% new.
Sustainability and Conservation
Since Louis-Fabrice Latour (the 7th Louis Latour and 11th generation in charge of the house) took over in 1999 he has maintained the family traditions of combining traditional methods with innovation and the need for more sustainability and conservation.
Louis Latour have been promoting and practicing sustainability in viticulture since the early 1990s and were accredited ISO14001 in 2003. They also founded the Paysages de Corton initiative in 2009 with other growers from the village of Aloxe Corton to preserve the biodiversity, heritage and terroirs of the Corton hill.
Another interesting project Louis Latour are involved in is the “Association de la Sauvegarde des Cépages Bourguignons”. This was founded in 2008 by the then Director of Louis Latour, Denis Fetzmann, and Aubert de Vilaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. This is group of 40 Domains from both the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits. The goal of the association is to preserve the genetic diversity of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and to prevent old genetic material disappearing.
When vineyards need replanting or vines die they need to be replaced. Commonly producers will purchase one year old vines from nurseries. Most nurseries offer certified clones of grape varieties grafted on to suitable rootstocks. These clones are perhaps created from one single vine in a nursery or from a particular vineyard with desirable characteristics. This is known as clonal selection. Critics argue that is leads to a decrease in genetic variation and eventually too much similarity in the wines. A lot of vineyards were replanted with new clones in the 1970/80s chosen for early ripening or high yield over other traits, for example.
The nursery that the “Association de la Sauvegarde des Cépages Bourguignons” have set up, at a top secret location, is based on massal selection. Massal selection is basically a more old-fashioned way of doing things. Cuttings are taken from several (or more) vines of the same variety that collectively have desirable traits. The argument for this is massal selection will preserve genetic diversity and produce more complex, diverse, and interesting, wines. This selection and testing program is expected to produce 5 to 6 hundred “Lignées” of Pinot Noir and 2 to 3 hundred of Chardonnay with the first new planting from vines produced by the project in 2020. It will be interesting to see what this project produces.
There were many wines available for tasting here are some highlights from my notes.
Champagne Gosset – I hadn’t tried Gosset’s wines for a while. The highlight for me was the Grand Blanc de Blancs NV. It has an excellent mousse and a fresh, floral, citric nose. Good mineral and chalky character with an underlying hint of gooseberries.
Henry Fessy, Beaujolais – Fessy are a specialist Cru Beaujolais producer. The two wines that really stood out to me were not typical Beaujolais. The Morgon 2015 is packed full of blackcurrant fruit aromas a flavours. It is very ripe with just a hint of leafiness. It reminds me of blackcurrant Chewits (if you remember them). The other wine that intrigued was the Saint Amour 2015. This is surprisingly full for a Saint Amour which, I find, are normally a fairly light style of wine. It has a lot of floral, violet character and is quite full and rich with a nice touch of sweetness. The amount of violet character really surprised me. I though these were both very good.
Vidal-Fleury, Rhone – Their 2014 Condrieu is superb. Wonderfully aromatic and floral on the nose. The palate is packed full with pear, quince and melon flavours leading to an off-dry finish. More-ish.
Seresin Estate, Marlborough – The Chardonnay 2014 is stunning. It is a barrel fermented and barrel aged Chardonnay. The nose is full of lemon and citrus character but with a fantastic toasty, vanilla oak background. Really rich and creamy on the palate with well-balance oak and superb length. I know this always sells out very quickly, so I hope we can get some!
McHenry Hohnen, Margaret River – Rolling Stone 2012, a superb red blend of 28.5% Cabernet Sauvigon, 28.5% Malbec, 28.5% Merlot and 14.5% Petit Verdot. This is a very complex wine. The nose is Cabernet dominated with plenty of blackcurrant fruit and hints of smoke with some spicy, chocolate notes. On the palate there is more blackcurrant fruit but mocha and violet too. Jammy ripe fruit, but not overly so. The finish is long, intense and complex. I really like Petit Verdot in Bordeaux style blends, it adds some of the violet character but also just gives the wine a lift. Superb stuff. One of the best Margaret River wines I have tried for some time.