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Wine Legend: Bonneau du Martray, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 1990

Bonneau du Martray 1990

The facts

Bottles produced 54,000
Composition 100% Chardonnay
Yield 46-48 hl/ha approx
Alcohol 13%
Release price £783 per case (in bond)
Price today £262 per bottle / £2,218 x 12 bottles at Fine & Rare Marketplace

A legend because…

Other than the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Bonneau du Martray is the only estate in Burgundy that produces nothing but grands crus. Only two wines are made: a red Corton and, in greater volumes, a Corton-Charlemagne that is widely recognised as the benchmark wine of the appellation. The 1990 is still going strong, confirming the longevity of the appellation in good vintages.

Looking back

The estate had been an ecclesiastical holding for 1,000 years, but was confiscated during the French Revolution and then sold to the Véry family. In 1835 Marie-Eugénie Véry married Charles Bonneau du Martray. It still remains in the hands of their descendants. In 1969 a family member bequeathed it to his niece Comtesse le Bault de la Morinière, and her husband Jean ran the estate. In 1994 the present co-owner and head of the domaine, Jean’s son Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière, gave up a successful career as an architect in Paris to run the domaine. He reverted to ploughing the vineyards and replanted using massal selections from the the best vines.

The vintage

1990 was a glorious vintage in Burgundy, as in many other parts of Europe. The summer was hot and dry, although some welcome rain did fall during August and early September, helping to unlock any blocked maturation brought on by the heat. These vineyards are rarely exposed to excessive heat, so the grapes retained good acidity in this very warm year.

The terroir

The hill of Corton, just north of Beaune, is divided among three communes: Aloxe-Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses and Ladoix-Serrigny. The 11 hectares owned by Bonneau de Martray lie in Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton, the most westerly part of the appellation. The average vine age is around 45 years. The vineyards all link up and are essentially in one block, facing west and southwest. Thus Bonneau du Martray is the largest proprietor in Corton-Charlemagne, where a total 72 hectares are authorised to produce the wine, and at present 50 hectares do so. The various elevations are a great advantage, allowing the domaine to harvest over a week-long period, selecting the ideal moment at which to pick each of the 16 parcels. Without any publicity, the estate has been converting its vineyards, which since the mid-1990s have not been subjected to herbicides or fertilisers, to organic farming.

The wine

Jean-Charles’ father pioneered temperature control in the 1970s. He would begin the fermentation in small steel tanks, completing it in medium-toast barrels, one-third new. Today the lees may be stirred (if so, sparingly), but not in 1990, when the wine was simply aged on its fine lees. After a year in barrel, the wine spends six months in stainless steel tanks before being bottled, usually without fining but with a very light filtration, since the ageing in tank generally clarifies the wine very well.

The reaction

In 1995 Clive Coates wrote: ‘At first it seemed a bit neutral, and I was more than a little disappointed. It is still a firm wine, reserved, but underneath is a splendid opulence, marvellous concentration of fruit and great class.’ By 2011 he was even more enthusiastic: ‘Splendidly fresh still. Lovely fruit. Not quite the energy or power of the 1995, but very delicious. Marvellous vigour for a wine now 20 years old.’

Michael Broadbent in 1999 admired its ‘delicious nose, like super-charged vanilla ice cream; distinctly sweet, a perfect blend of fruit and oak, smoky, elegant, good finish. Can’t get much better than this.’

Jasper Morris MW in 2010 found the wine ‘still marvellous’.

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