Decanter Wine Legends

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Comte de Vogue Musigny 1990

Comte de Vogüé, Musigny 1990 Burgundy, France

A legend because...

990 capped a trio of fine vintages in Burgundy, and this wine was widely recognised to have been one of the year’s greatest successes, showing a remarkable intensity and purity of fruit. Perfumed and delicate, silky yet imposing, it has always showed a tranquil opulence and perfect poise, as well as extraordinary length. It’s the quintessence of great red Burgundy. The quality of the wine struck tasters forcibly because the 1980s had been a dull patch for the estate, and the 1990 showed it was once again realising the potential of what many consider to be the finest vineyard in all of Burgundy.

Looking back

The magnificent de Vogüé estate, in the hands of the same family since 1450, had been in the doldrums for much of the 1970s and 1980s. The owner, Comte Georges de Vogüé, who died in 1987, had been an absentee landlord for the half-century that the property was in his hands. By the late 1980s it was being run by his daughter, the Baronne de Ladoucette, and her son-in-law, the Comte de Causans, but he died soon after taking up his post.

In the late 1980s there were drastic changes, thanks to a new team. By 1986 a new winemaker had arrived on the scene: François Millet. He was fully aware that the potential of the estate’s great sites was not being realised, and set in place a series of improvements, working closely with the estate manager Jean-Luc Pépin and vineyard manager Eric Bourgogne. Thus only vines over 25 years old were selected for the Musigny, with grapes from younger vines bottled as premier cru Chambolle. The spurt in the wines' quality provided ample evidence of Millet’s ability, but he was notoriously uncommunicative about his winemaking approach, merely stating that he adapted the vinification and ageing to the nature of each vintage.

The vintage

Like 1989, this was a splendid and very warm year in Burgundy, but in 1990 the flowering was less even than the year before, which reduced the crop. With hindsight it can be claimed that this gave the grapes an additional concentration of flavour. The hot, dry summer thickened the skins, concentrating the juice even further, and giving a good dose of tannin to support the unctuous fruit.

The terroir

The Musigny vineyard is a wonderful, 11ha (hectare) grand cru site, lying just above and to the north of the Château du Clos Vougeot. It is less easy is to define precisely why the Musigny vineyard regularly produces the most exquisite of all grand cru Burgundies. The site slopes gently, its thin topsoil containing a good deal of clay as well as small stones, and there are subtle variations from plot to plot. But excellent terroir on the mid-slopes of the Côte de Nuits is not rare, and yet Musigny is undoubtedly exceptional, if not unique. One Musigny proprietor, Frédéric Mugnier, suggests its character may derive from the even distribution of water in the subsoil. But even he admitted this was just speculation. With more than 7ha in Musigny, de Vogüé owns the lion’s share.

The wine

Low yields and old vines are the prerequisite for the de Vogüé Musigny. Harvesting is not especially late, as the team is opposed to any hint of overripeness. Millet favours a lapse of time before fermentation, which takes place with indigenous yeasts in wooden vats, but he sets down no rules. He is no fan of unbridled new oak, and the proportion used in the grand cru wine is generally around one-third.

The reaction

Because of their relative scarcity and the absence of an en primeur market, the top wines of Burgundy don’t generate the same crop of reviews as those of Bordeaux. So published comments of this wine are thin on the ground. Clive Coates MW found nothing to fault: ‘Brilliant nose! Super-concentrated. Very good oak integration. Great intensity. Multi-dimensional. Essence of raspberry… One of the wines of the vintage.’ When he tasted it again in 2009, he preferred it to the also highly rated 1993 vintage, adding that he would like to retaste it in five years’ time. Some critics have labelled the 1990 ‘Bordeauxesque’, to which Millet replies: ‘Only those who tasted from barrel know the true potential of this wine.’

The facts

  • Number of bottles produced 15,000
  • Composition 100% Pinot Noir
  • Yield 35hl/ha
  • Alcohol content 13.6%
  • Release price 311 francs (£39.25 at today’s price)
  • Current price £714-£790 a bottle