With their 9,5 ha, Domaine Bonneau du Martray is the defining producer of Corton-Charlemagne and in addition it is impressively all grand cru too. They set the benchmark for everyone else in the area, but for white Burgundy as a whole in Burgundy from an international perspective, they are still a little in the shadow of Puligny-Montrachet. The family has owned the vineyards in five generations since 1835 and the name Charlemagne is the french name of “Charles the great” and derives back to the 800 Century, where according to legend, the holy roman emperor of western Europe fell in love with wines from Corton. However, the reds from this time are more likely to have been gamay and for whites; aligoté.
We met with the very engaged and expressive Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière back in late January this year on our trip to Burgundy and it was our first visit to the estate. We talked about everything from biodynamic farming to skiing in the Alpine village of Chamonix. The visit was both enjoyable as well as educational and not the least, we had the opportunity to taste great wines. A tasting at the Domaine offers a fantastic opportunity to do a vertical tasting across vintages of their pride grand cru Corton-Charlemagne for whites, since their range of different wines are limited to only this one and a small quantity of red Corton.
Frederik and Jean-Charles
Jean-Charles tells us that they always strive to achieve a crisp expression in their wines and that the terroir and vintage should shine through. They employ only 30% lightly toasted, new oak to render the effect they want without oak sensations. He also gets very engaged when we ask about the work in the vineyard and he says that “Good wine comes from good farming”. This is all music to our ears!
Jean-Charles explains that they own 11 ha of planted area and a very small portion, only 1.5 ha, is actually red corton. He shows us on a map how Charlemagne and the rest of Corton is situated around the hill and stretches from Pernand-Vergelesses to Aloxe-Corton. Charlemagne mainly has west exposition, but still, according to Jean-Charles, offers a more rare variety of expositions for being in Burgundy and there are two climates making up the Charlemagne in the former village; En Charlemagne and Le Charlemagne. He emphasis the importance of the west facing aspect that offers enough sun but avoids the peaks of daily heat. Pinot is only planted in the richer middle and lower slope parts with less limestone, whereas chardonnay thrives at the top part with much more white soil of marls and a lime stone bed close to the surface with very loose top soil.
When Jean-Charles took over in 1994, quitting his profession as architect in Paris, the vineyards and the soil was not in great condition and he worked intensively for several years to re-vitalize the vineyards and to first move organic in 2003 and then biodynamic farming the year after. Since 1997, they stopped using weed killers and chemicals and he remembers that grapes got much healthier and better afterwards. Jean-Charles says that the moon affects the earth and especially full moon is very important. It affects the plants hydraulically, how it retains water and nutritions, its current state, etc. It is the school of biodynamics setup by Rudolf Steiner, which appears to inspire him the most, that among other things emphasis the importance of biodiversity and closed-loop eco systems. Non-intervenism in the wine making, is also a philosophy he is fond of. They employ batonage (stirring the lees) to add more aromatics from the lees and persistence.
In the vineyards, they control the yield by pruning in the winter and once more in April or May. His comment about green harvest is that it only indicates that you have not done your work earlier in the season. I only cut once in Spring-Summer, 10 days after flowering. He assure us that if you follow these principles correctly, almost always, the plant stops growing and puts more energy into the fruit. The fruit is simply better at harvest, he points out. In a normal vintage they reach a natural yield of 40 hl/ha.
The wines we tasted
2013 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
Approximately 75% of the harvest was damaged by hail in 2013.
Some rather gentle ripe apple peels, nectarines, floral notes and hints of flint appear in this quite aromatic and dense nose. The palate is lively and has some dense fruit, drawing more towards tropical fruit and wet stone character. Acidity is gentle but precise and it stays with us in a long finish with high concentration.
Very pleasant and already quite accessible wine with good balance and nice fruit.
2011 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
The 2011 vintage was rather large in quantity.
The nose show lots of tropical fruits, mainly peach, almond, apples, wet stone and some flint. This is a wine that shows some resemblance with Chenin blanc from the Vouvray area especially in the acidic expression. On the palate the fruit gets a bit fleshier and we find a vibrant and almost a bit harsh acidity with notes of grapefruit, ananas and lemon. This is an exciting and aromatic wine, but a bit unfocused but should improve and integrate better with time.
2010 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
The 2010 starts with a very slim and pure nose offering a fantastic freshness and restrained energy. After a while it opens up and reveals some green pears, white flowers, citric notes and just a drop of pineapple juice.
As expected the acidity is vibrant and precise, and adds lots of energy to this wine. On the palate we get the same fruit but with more citric notes, stone fruit and an abundance of minerals. This wine is all about precision, elegance and energy but it needs some time before it will open up with all its beauty. Jean-Charles, thinks it is too tight, but we don’t agree at all and rather say It will really be worth waiting for.
2007 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
The 2007 is just as pale as the younger vintages we tried. The nose is sublime and light but eventually offers some apples, white flower, flint, crushed stone and tiny hint of pineapple. All of which is carried over to a palate that is more expressive and the pineapple takes a clear step forward. The finish is long, broad and dominated by fruit that gets rather fleshy. There is good texture to the wine and some chalky notes can also be found. Acidity is a little sturdy still.
A wine with two faces, an initial very tight and slim nose and a more fleshy mid palate and finish. It certainly needs accompanying food. A good wine when considering the vintage.
2005 Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
2005 is a vintage with very little rain which resulted in a lots of substance. Right before harvest some well needed rain came. A very exciting vintage.
Rather dense nose with wet stone, pineapple, ripe nectarines and some notes of flint in the background. A wine that grabs ahold of you already at the nose. The palate is big bodied with a quite grippy acidity that balances the ripe, juicy and somewhat sweet fruit as well as layers of dark minerals and yellow pears.
The 2005 is a rather expressive and powerful wine that also has elegance with its mineral notes. We expect this wine to develop much more with time.
A vertical tasting at Domaine Bonneau du Martray certainly proves that their wines are transparent to the vintages, but also that there are certain characteristics that are consistent and related to their philosophy as well as making a true showcase of that this certainly is grand cru.
For some of the wines we were surprised at how expressive and generous they already are at a young age, even though these wines obviously need time to evolve. We find a fantastic acidic expression with notes of citrus and pears that adds an energetic and vibrant personality to the wines. Being true fans of wines of Puligny-Montrâchet, we are sure we need to find older bottles to assess Corton-Charlemagne even further, since these two areas obviously are very different. In addition, Corton-Charlemagne on a grand cru level is obviously more price-worthy than its Montrâchet counterparts in many cases.