Burgundy's de Vogüé estate has a long-established reputation for outstanding wines. STEVEN SPURRIER tastes some recent vintages.
The Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé is the second most famous red wine estate in Burgundy. Only the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti can precede it in the hierarchy of the Côte d’Or. But while all the DRC’s red wines come from the commune of Vosne-Romanée, those of de Vogüé are from Chambolle-Musigny. In 1450, Jean Moisson endowed money for a chapel to be built, which was later to become the parish church of the village of Chambolle. The first mention of vines in Musigny appears in the marriage contract drawn up in 1528 between Jean Moisson’s granddaughter and a Dijon merchant called Michel Millière, her dowry forming the nucleus of the current domaine. This began the transfer of the estate through the female line. In 1766 Catherine Bouhier de Versalieu married Cerice François Melchior de Vogüé, eldest son of a noble family from the Rhône Valley. In 1925 Comte Georges de Vogüé inherited the estate and ran it for over 50 years until his death in 1987. The domaine then passed to his only daughter Elisabeth, Baronne Bertrand de Ladoucette, who manages it with her two daughters.
The 15th-century house built in Chambolle by Jean Moisson remains the centre of the domaine’s activities, with the cuverie and other buildings constructed around an inner courtyard, the original cellars still in use. The estate owns just over 12.5ha (hectares) of vines, with its 7.2ha holding of Musigny – including the totality of Les Petits Musigny and 0.43ha of Chardonnay – representing 70% of the entire appellation and its 2.7ha portion of Bonnes-Mares representing 20% of the other grand cru in Chambolle-Musigny. In addition, there are 0.56ha of Chambolle’s most famous premier cru, Les Amoureuses, separated by a track from Le Musigny, 0.34ha of other premier cru Chambolle-Musigny, Les Baudes and Les Fuées, and 1.8ha of village Chambolle-Musigny. The vines have an average age of almost 30 years, up to 40 in parts of Le Musigny. Only vines of 25 years and older are used in the grand cru, the remainder being sold as Chambolle-Musigny premier cru.
It is generally agreed that in the 1970s and early 1980s the wines lost a little of their concentration and magic – but pre-1970 and post-1990 they have been unquestionably great. Wine lovers who have come across bottles from the early period will not easily forget them. (My wife has still not forgiven me for finishing her glass of Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses 1934 when she briefly left the table at the Restaurant de la Gare in Montbard in 1968.) A series of tastings in London in October 2000, a visit to the Domaine in April 2001 and a recent tasting in London last October all showed that the wines once again present Burgundy at its very best.
The current team is made up of Eric Bourgogne, vineyard manager, François Millet, cellar master and oenologist, and Jean-Luc Pépin, commercial director. When I visited in April, François Millet was away, but I had already been told by friends in Burgundy that his natural reticence limited his answers to questions on vinification to ‘ça dépend’. Much more forthcoming was Eric Bourgogne, who led me through the Musigny vines, explaining the difference between lutte intégrée (which he practises), lutte raisonnée (which is sensible) and lutte d’assurance (which is not). The lutte being the fight to preserve the health of the vines against parasite and disease, the difference between the first and the second is that the various treatments are not just carried out when they are needed, but that the treatment fits the ailment. In his view, what you treat with is as important as when you carry it out. The third option is regular treatments, whether the vine requires it, or not. On the de Vogüé estate, as at the DRC, only limited amounts of natural fertiliser are used, for the vine is capable of feeding itself from its roots, but not if it is fed from the outside all the time. All organic matter – vine cuttings, leaves and grass – is left to decompose, where it is consumed by an ever-increasing colony of earthworms, who excrete it back into the soil. Eric Bourgogne views the return of worm-eating crows to the vineyards as a good sign. There are only 40cm of soil on the Musigny slopes, even less on the rocky Bonnes-Mares, so it is vital to keep it alive.
Introducing the October 2000 tasting, Jean-Luc Pepin said that at de Vogüé, ‘the wine is the boss, everything is done so it can express itself perfectly: the vineyard manager provides a photograph of the wine and the winemaker develops it’. Below are my notes from these three exceptional tastings:
The Chardonnay grapes from the northern edge of Le Petit Musigny constitute the only white grand cru in the Côte de Nuits. The red wine soil shows clearly in the structure of this unique wine. This vineyard was replanted in 1986, 1987 and 1991, the final vintage of Musigny Blanc being 1993, when only 900 bottles were made from very old vines. Until the new Chardonnay vines are 20 years old, the wine will be sold simply as ‘Bourgogne Blanc’.
Bourgogne Blanc 1998
Fine medium yellow, lovely floral fruit, oak invisibly blended, firm limestony finish. 4–
Full yellow-gold with still a touch of
green hay and cooked apples on the nose, slightly honeyed fruit with an edge of quince, showing a perfect balance of
richness and acidity. 4
The Domaine de Vogüé declassifies the two premiers crus Les Fuées and Les Baudes into the villages appellation to avoid confusion with the Chambolle-Musigny premier cru appellation, which it reserves for the young vines of Musigny, described by Jean-Luc Pepin as ‘Musigny in short trousers’. Both are therefore something of a bargain.
Ripe black cherry and blackcurrant fruit with spice, smooth fruit and a touch of wood. A pure wine of depth and complexity that will be beautiful in five years. 3++
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 1999
More depth and concentration and a velvety texture, a lovely lift of spice and supple elegance. Seems more ready than the previous wine, but that is due to ripeness and origin of the fruit, very good indeed. 4
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses 1999
A denser bouquet than the 1er cru, showing grenadine and mineral aspects with superb natural concentration and hidden power and a more pronounced acidity. Different in style from the first two. Needs 10 years. 4+
Very full colour. Ripe, rather foursquare, spicy, even animal nose, smooth firmness of fruit and superb concentration and energy. An ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. 5
Musigny Vieilles Vignes 1999
Quite superb colour. Even deeper than the Bonnes-Mares, incredible concentration of ripe black fruits, a beautiful satiny texture of fruit, showing a huge volume of flavour without heaviness. Quite different to the Bonnes-Mares, combining purity and power to an extraordinary degree. 5+
Fine carmine ruby colour, elegant red berry fruit, subtle use of oak, lovely suave fruit and unmistakable finesse, needs three years. 3++
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru 1998
From a yield of only 12 hl/ha, as opposed to the domaine’s average of 30 and the allowed 50, this has a fuller colour and more briary fruit, with beautifully expressed fruit and firm tannins, needing five years at least to show its best. 4
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses 1998
Richer, more velvety colour, greater depth of fruit from concentrated small berries, very fine, grand cru quality; a perfect expression of Chambolle-Musigny. 4
Deep carmine ruby, great depth of fruit with an attractive touch of new oak still present, explodes on the palate with fabulous length and structure. Keep 10 years. 5
Musigny Vieilles Vignes 1998
Deep, youthful colour, complex and silky but less forward and less explosive than Bonnes-Mares, yet firmer with more length, the product of natural concentration in the vineyard. Ten years plus. 5
Big, youthful colour, nose of crushed bitter cherries showing both concentration and ripeness, fragrant yet quite four-square, elegantly powerful. Almost ready now. 5–
Musigny Vieilles Vignes 1997
Full, lively, youthful colour, magical bouquet of black cherries and violets, almost New World in its richness. Superb concentration, perfect balance of silkiness and power. 5+
(Tasted three times over 12 months, I gave it 5+ each time. Clive Coates MW gave it his only 20/20 mark in the definitive tasting of 63 1997 grands crus from the Côte de Nuits in The Vine, October 2001).
Fine, deep colour, still young, rather tight and herby nose, very closed – opposite in style to 1997, superb depth and length that need 10 years to show its best. 5–
Musigny Vieilles Vignes 1996
Big, firm colour, still with a violet edge, velvety looking but still shut in, masses of power and grip, needs at least 10 years. 5
Musigny Vieilles Vignes 1989
Good full colour with a little age at the rim, fruit showing a touch vegetal and autumn leaves. Mature, showing more power than velvety finesse. Ready now. 4
Jean-Luc Pepin said that Pinot Noir is the most emotional of all grapes, in that it reacts immediately to the weather. For him, 1997 was an ‘easy’ vintage and 1999, 1998 and 1996 were ‘difficult’, yet all contain the very essence of the terroir. While the de Vogüé vines are in such good health, they naturally produce a large crop, while reducing yields is one of the Domaine’s benchmarks for quality. Therefore, for the de Vogüé philosophy, man is obliged to control what nature provides, and ‘an alliance between man and nature’ remains the rule, as it has for centuries.