Exploring the Exhilarating Journey of Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne: A Retrospective (2013-2022)

By | 2 May 2024

Sarah Marsh MW reports on a vertical tasting in the heartland of Domaine Louis Latour that exceeded her expectations.

By Sarah Marsh MW

According to Jean-Charles Thomas, Head Winemaker for Louis Latour, “Corton-Charlemagne is one of the real beneficiaries of climate change. While we see stress in Montrachet, in these recent dry vintages the Corton hill has plentiful springs. The gray and yellow marls retain more water than thinner rocky limestone, so vines can ripen happily without stressing and blocking.”

I joined Thomas and Louis Latour’s Managing Director Christophe Deola for a vertical of their Corton-Charlemagne. The last time I tasted a vertical at the company’s elegant headquarters in Beaune was with Louis-Fabrice Latour. Louis-Fabrice also had climate change in mind when he selected Meursault Blagny Premier Cru to contemplate the impact of warmer summers on this up-slope terroir. Very sadly Louis-Fabrice has since passed away, but I am sure he would have been as pleased as I with the choice of Corton-Charlemagne for this tasting in his memory. The hill of Corton is the heartland of Domaine Louis Latour where the family own an immense 26.59ha (65.7 acres) of white and red grand cru making them the largest owner by a long chalk. And it was here that I came to shadow winemaker Denis Fetzmann at Louis Latour’s Château Corton Grancey in Aloxe-Corton back in 1998 to gain experience in winemaking the Burgundian way.

The domaine’s Corton holdings consist of 10.5 hectares (26 acres) of Corton-Charlemagne, spread across multiple parcels such as west-facing Le Charlemagne, south-facing Les Pougets, and the neighbouring Languettes. Additionally, there are 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) around the hill in the east-facing Renardes, which is the last area to be harvested over a period of seven days.

In the Le Charlemagne climat, the mid-slope vines are harvested first. According to Thomas, the bottom area is near flat and is harvested second due to its higher water content that delays ripening. The top area of Le Charlemagne is cooler with more limestone in the grey marl, which requires more time to ripen.


Further up the slope is Languettes, which, despite being stony and well exposed, ripens very quickly, particularly in recent vintages. In response to the warmer and drier summer effects, Thomas is trialling soil and canopy management methods. Contrary to the trend of taller canopies, he advocates reducing the leaf surface. The aim is to lower leaf evaporation and limit photosynthesis to reduce sugars. They are in their fourth year of trials, de-leafing grapevines’ top to decrease alcohol content and the water needs of the plant.

Louis Latour has diverged in the adoption of green manure. This method, which involves sowing plants, legumes, herbs, and grasses in the fall to be tilled back into the soil in the spring, enriches the soil. “Although it’s beneficial to the soil, it takes too much water, even if we mulch in March and April,” says Thomas.

What other meaningful transformations have taken place? “Changes mostly revolve around the timing of the harvest, not so much in the winery,” says Deola, who is not only the Managing Director but also an enologist and engineer. “Louis-Fabrice Latour preferred a lush, meaty Corton-Charlemagne, so we waited for full ripeness when the seeds were brown. We always aimed for at least 13%. Perhaps now we are focusing on phenolic maturity and aren’t as worried about the alcohol content.”

The Corton-Charlemagne of Louis Latour is reflected in many of its parts, making it a fine representation of the grand cru. It’s fair to say, though, that it does tend towards a more hearty oaky style. “We’re now focusing on increasing the tension,” states Deola, “and we’ve reduced barrel aging by about two months over the last decade.”

“We make yearly adaptations based on the vintage.” This involves managing the increased ambient temperature during harvest. In 2022, this exceeded 30°C (86°F), so Thomas used dry ice in the press to cool down the grapes. After pressing, he aims for 350 NTUs of turbidity. “This number is ideal for flavor purity with an adequate amount of phenolics but without any herbal notes. We need just enough to facilitate perfect alcoholic fermentation and allow for good aging on lees without stirring. We get about 8-10cm (3-4in) of sediment in a barrel, where the wine remains for eight to ten months. Batonnage is something we’ve never practiced. That’s a given.”

Thomas utilizes non-aromatic cultured yeast. He comments, “Some native yeasts are now having difficulties due to global warming.” He favours guaranteed fermentation and remarks that even with a neutral yeast, the terroir is still perceptible. He appreciates the dependability of initiating fermentation in a tank before transferring the wine to a barrel with a density around 1045. Temperatures in the barrel naturally climb from 18–20°C (64–68°F) to 20–22°C (68–72°F). Thomas believes this to be an ideal temperature for flavor extraction, cautioning that higher temperatures can make the flavors harsh.

Regarding the oak, approximately 90% is new, and Deola conveys, “We have a preference for pièces [traditional 228-liter (60-gallon) Burgundy barrels] and lean towards giving the wine texture from the oak as opposed to using various forests and sizes. Therefore, we opt for a light long toast for 45 minutes to create sugary elements that endow the wine with more richness and fullness.”

The Corton-Charlemagne is transferred to stainless steel tanks between May and June after the harvest where it settles and then gets bottled between December and February. Bentonite is used by Thomas, but casein is not. The bottling of the 2022 vintage will be done under diam 30. He observes, “Louis-Fabrice really wanted to come up with a solution for cork, but in 2022 all bottling will be carried out under diam. The issue with cork isn’t TCA, but rather, it’s porosity.”

Following our tasting, Deola had this to say, “In his opinion, Louis-Fabrice was very fond of the 2016, but for him, the 2018 was the epitome of excellence- a generous volume, an American taste profile, and it can be served young so it was absolutely fantastic for restaurants. He expressed a greater liking for 2017 compared to 2018, but found 2018 more stunning. His perspective was commercial, not just that of a wine enthusiast. He would always acclaim the current vintage as superior to the last but not as prime as the next one!”

Here’s to you Louis-Fabrice.

Corton-Charlemagne 2022

This had been recently fined when I tasted it but had a pleasant lemony aroma and plenty of richness on the attack. Lively acidity with a fruity, citrus slice through the concentration and smooth minerality to finish. 94+ 2027-40

“We started harvest on the August 26, but we were ready to harvest 92 days after flowering,” remarks Thomas. The old rule of thumb was 100 days from mid-flowering to harvest. “Often now in hot vintages it is 90 days, but because of the drought the vines stuck. All the stomata closed. We picked a week later than expected at 104 days.”

Corton-Charlemagne 2021

An aroma that’s cool and reserved, containing hints of cucumber and dill. It possesses a slim and trim glide that’s distinctively pure. Showcases savory lactic acidity. The chill of the season reflects in the fennel notes and super sharp edges. Concludes with a lively dry minerality. 94 2027–36.

“The yields were tiny, amounting to only 10-15% of a full crop. We concluded the harvesting of whites in early October, post the reds, considering the struggle they faced to ripen. We’ve never extended our harvest this long for such a sparse crop, but it facilitated in achieving the ripeness,” Thomas explains. Deola comments on the old school cold season’s influence on the acidity and dry extract.

Corton-Charlemagne 2020

The scent of buttery brioche lightly tinged with burnt toast wafts through the air. A caramel richness first greets your taste buds, followed by a splash of ripe fruit and a lively freshness. This is a wine of bounty, its concentration mirrored in both fruit and acidity. When amalgamated with ripeness, the oak contributes to its glossy nature, although there is still certain tension. It leaves a vigorous, lasting finish. 96/7 2030-45

“Given its high acidity and dry extract, it should age well, maybe akin to the 2010” muses Thomas. “A powerful, well-rounded gem in the rough, possessing plenty of concentration and acidity”, Deola chips in.

Corton-Charlemagne 2019

The bouquet presents a touch of secondary notes. Toasted hazelnuts mixed with caramel, orange zest, and cinnamon tantalize your olfactory senses. It enters the palate gently with warm notes of bread, expanding to an ample experience. The wine is soft, open, and has a loose grainy texture. It appeals with its succulence and exotic undertones. It may not have the depth and balance of an exceptional vintage nor does it have a pure, enduring finish. 93 2024-32

“A good season, but we had drought and the vines suffered so we didn’t get the phenolic maturity for reds or whites. So a very nice vintage, but not as good as we were expecting,” says Deola.

Corton-Charlemagne 2018

Buttery croissant with a hint of mint and caramelized sugar on the aroma. Showing some evolution. It’s both more compact and focused than 2019. It certainly has breadth; so broad and straight with medium depth, between 2019 and 2020. Enough acidity with a feeling of high dry extract instrumental in the balance. Graphite minerality on the finish, which is of similar length to 2021, but there is only moderate energy. I feel there is less ageing potential here. 94 2023-32

“2018 was the first vintages with impressive power and density,” says Thomas.

Corton-Charlemagne 2017

A tantalizing scent that carries the refreshing hint of freshly cut hay. The initial flavor profile is marked by its enticing sweetness and generosity, yet it’s delivered with a refined touch. Exhibiting elegance and a lightness of body, it is similar in dimension to 2021, but it trumps in sweetness, depth, and vibrancy. There is a beautiful equilibrium between the fruit and acidity, resulting in a pleasant harmony and fluidity. It concludes on a note of silky-sweet minerality. It’s so clean-cut, transparent and accurate that it would be a shame to rush the experience. It’s worth the wait of a couple of years. Its aging potential might be comparable to the 2007 vintage. A wine that left a lasting impression. 96 2025-40.

Thomas shares his pleasant surprise, “The wine has a significant enough structure for a grand cru, however, this wasn’t apparent during the harvest season. The weather conditions in 2017 weren’t particularly sunny and we had bouts of rain. But it turned out to be a good, old-school wine that gives the vibe of late 80s vintages.” Deola adds to this by stating, “The white grape yield was smaller than red in 2017, but the outcome was better than we’d anticipated.”

Corton-Charlemagne 2016

Considerably more matured than the 2017 variant. The hue suggested this, along with the Marmite, aged Parmesan cheese, and beeswax smells which indicated a substantial evolution. It possesses some density and luxury. Full-bodied, captivating due to its ornate golden touch, but seems to lack acidity and vigor. The finish is reminiscent of Vanilla creme brûlée. I found it slightly clumsy and the finish shorter than the 2019 variant. A cork issue perhaps. However, Thomas and Deola had a higher opinion of it than I did. 90 2023-30

Thomas notes, “There were no diseases, the crop was average in size and harvesting was delayed until October due to frost. More traditional, with plenty of dry extract and similar to the concentration of the 2010 version.” Deola perceives the 2016 as “Graceful and sophisticated. Very concentrated. In this cooler ripening season, we have a high acidity and good phenolics. If the frost hadn’t occurred, it might have resembled the warmer 2019 and 2020 seasons.”

Corton-Charlemagne 2015

Inviting and vibrant, and quite fresh in comparison with the 2016 model, despite coming from a hot vintage. Fresh haystack, dried apricot, and honey aromas, accompanied by a lively salty hint. The palate brings back memories of summer at the seaside: salt, sun, and wild flowers. It’s amply proportioned and curved, but not dense. Cheerful, but certainly fresh enough. Previously exotic aromas of 2015 have mellowed into warm ground coriander. The finish sustains quite well. 2015 has slimmed down and become more elegant. I was taken aback at how well it has matured. 95 2023-35

“2015 is akin to 2005, a rich and potentially overripe vintage. These two vintages generally weren’t well-regarded. The 2005 vintage never lives up to expectations and evolves each time it is opened. The 2015 vintage, on the other hand, exhibits an openness and ripeness, with a robust, full-bodied nature, while still maintaining freshness and a good finish,” explains Thomas. “It was closed off for a long time but it is now a pleasant revelation,” Deola adds in agreement.

Corton-Charlemagne 2014

There’s an aroma of fresh, newly cut hay with a nutty undertone and a slight hint of gunflint. Compared to 2015, the fragrance is more developed yet less fruity, but the flavor offers a sense of youth with notes of citrus fruit and silex. It is delicately crafted and pure, with a fast, lively pace and a sparkling finish, which brings hints of herbals elements and oyster-shell. This is a light, precise, and elegant wine. It could potentially benefit from a few more years of aging, as it’s expected to continue evolving and maintain a steady quality. 96/7. 2027-40

According to Thomas, the 2014 vintage is very traditional. “Like the 2017 vintage, its reputation suffered due to comparisons with red wines, but it is very good.” Deola recalls, “Louis-Fabrice once said this vintage is highly appreciated by the English.”

Corton-Charlemagne 2013

The sensation of green banana skin and asparagus touches the palate. Light and lean, yet unfortunately rather diluted and short. A score of 88 would suffice.

“The reputation of the whites, similar to years 2017 and 2014, was overshadowed by the reds. Farming was tough due to diseases,” quotes Thomas. “We picked at medium ripeness towards the end of September. Delicate yet closed off are signs of evolution and reduction coming from the lees.” As for Deola, it’s currently “in a good place in its life”.

Perhaps it might be considered unfortunate that we concluded with the demanding vintage of 2013. However, the short flight did contain a handful of pleasant wines, some that even surpassed initial expectations. Now, back to the Meursault Blagny Premier Cru mentioned earlier, 21 vintages of which included bottles from the 1990s, namely 1999, 1996, 1990, and 2000. Still full of life, vibrant, and quite tasty, they display the ageing potential of wines even from a slightly low-profile terroir, valid in both warm and cool vintages. This implies a hopeful future for the Corton-Charlemagne vintages of 2020, 2017, 2015, and 2014 that were exceptional in this tasting. Yet, I feel obliged to reiterate, white Burgundy can age longer than one might assume.

Louis-Fabrice Latour (1964–2022): A life of service to the region he loved

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *