Domaine Cornu’s Majestic 2015s
Broad and imposing, the hill of Corton visually dominates its immediate environs, announcing the commencement of the Côte de Beaune in dramatic fashion as one heads from north to south. Here, the rigorous unbroken east-facing procession of the Côte de Nuits yields to a circular orientation, as the vineyards of Ladoix, Aloxe-Corton, and Pernand-Vergelesses fan out 360 degrees from Corton’s densely forested cap—echoing the more variegated orientations and multiple diversionary combes of the Côte de Beaune itself.
It is here, on Corton’s slopes, that one finds the only red wines of the Côte de Beaune classified as grand cru, and the vineyards immediately flanking that prime fillet further provide among the most multilayered, muscled, contemplative, age-worthy wines in all of the Côte d’Or. Although they are highly regarded historically, today the red wines from Ladoix and Aloxe-Corton—perhaps because they are less immediately charming, more doggedly chiseled—enjoy less public attention than their better-known brethren to the south: Savigny-les-Beaune, Volnay, Santenay, and so forth. Given the seemingly unquenchable enthusiasm for appellations like Chambolle-Musigny, one might surmise that today’s collective Burgundy palate prefers silken elegance above all else, as if red Burgundy’s only duty were to be graceful. But to limit one’s appreciation in such a way shortchanges Pinot Noir’s unrivaled ability to render the intricacies of terroir with microscopic precision. With our era’s available cellar trickery, “smooth, elegant” wine can be made almost anywhere. How satisfying is it, then, to encounter wines which, without manipulations, exhibit a bit of spicy tenacity—which speak with the grain of a rich and honest patois? The surge in popularity of traditionally made wines from the Northern Rhône over the past five years suggests that such an encounter is eminently valuable—not to mention increasingly rare—and we at Rosenthal Wine Merchant feel the time is ripe for a larger celebration of these singular Burgundies of the northern Côte de Beaune.
The Cornu family settled in Ladoix in 1870, establishing themselves as vignerons in 1875. In 1959, far ahead of many of his peers, Edmond Cornu began bottling the fruits of his labor, and since the 1978 vintage the inveterately traditional wines of Domaine Cornu have been a bedrock of the Rosenthal Wine Merchant Burgundy portfolio. Edmond’s son Pierre assumed control of the domaine in the mid-1990s, continuing in his father’s mold and acquiring a handful of new parcels, and the family’s holdings today total 15 hectares—primarily in Ladoix and Aloxe-Corton, with smaller parcels in Chorey-les-Beaune and Savigny-les-Beaune.
In his warm, gentle demeanor, Pierre Cornu evokes a bygone era. Pierre is thoroughly schooled, fully aware of the technical aspects of his craft, and well-traveled, but his overarching spirit is that of the dyed-in-the-wool Burgundian farmer. He’s a man who looks you square in the eye when he speaks to you, answering questions with a sage, simple directness and describing vintages and sites with seemingly instinctual acumen. His wines are the same: direct and pure, completely absent of pretense and seeming to emanate straight from the earth itself with no interference.
Everything Pierre does in the vineyards and the cellar is in the service of expressing terroir as unflinchingly as possible. He works the soil extensively and plants cover crops to engender competition, using non-organic treatments only in rare instances; in fact, the domaine recently obtained Haute Valeur Environnementale certification, which concentrates on preserving and encouraging bio-diversity, minimizing chemical treatments, and reducing water waste. Fermentation takes place naturally, with no added yeasts, in beautiful old large concrete tanks, with malolactic occurring in barrel and élevage performed with among the lowest proportions of new oak in our entire portfolio. As per tradition, all red wines above the level of Bourgogne Rouge spend two full winters in the domaine’s cool subterranean cave.
Of the 2015 vintage, soon to arrive stateside, Pierre remarked that it is the greatest vintage of his lifetime, and the best in the region since the hallowed 1947. He began harvesting on September 9th, after many of his neighbors had already finished, but the wines show no signs of over-ripeness or excess power; rather, they are astonishing in their concentration, length, and complexity, as well as their ability to render fine detail on such broad frames. As is our habit, rather than rushing to push into the market red Burgundy barely in its infancy, we are thrilled to debut wines which have had a few years in bottle to harmonize.
2017 Bourgogne Rouge “Les Barrigards”
Cornu’s exemplary Bourgogne Rouge comes from a single parcel of 35-year-old vines near Chorey-les-Beaune, and Pierre judiciously employs no new oak during its 12-month élevage. This 2017 (the lone non-2015 of the bunch) offers lovely purity in its profile of bright red fruits, damp earth, and incense, and it displays a touch more charm and less muscle than the preceding few vintages.
2015 Chorey-les-Beaune Rouge “Les Bons Ores”
Pierre owns two hectares of 40-year-old vines in this lieu-dit situated at the southern edge of Chorey-les-Beaune. A mere 10% of new oak allows its appellation-typical supple red fruit to lead the show, and this 2015 balances clean, sweet spices with a suave, mouth-filling texture that is uncommonly dense for a Chorey-les-Beaune. Its acidity is fresh and pert without being intrusive.
2015 Savigny-les-Beaune Rouge
Pierre refers to this wine as le chat, a nod to its feline grace and silky subtlety. Like the Chorey-les-Beaune, it sees a mere 10% new barrels, and provides a terrific encapsulation of the Cornu house style: deep, ripe, and rugged, with a pronounced element of earth and plenty of spice—albeit on a less-structured frame that its brethren from those more firmly built appellations below. The 2015 is supple and generous, with an underlying succulence derived from its vibrant acid-fruit interplay.
2015 Ladoix “Vieilles Vignes”
Always one of the finest values in our entire portfolio of red Burgundy, Cornu’s Ladoix “Vieilles Vignes” hails from two parcels, one planted in 1926 and the other in 1960. In typical Ladoix fashion, its fruit is blacker and more Côte-de-Nuits-like, with darker-toned spices that display a touch more severity than those of the Chorey-les-Beaune and Savigny-les-Beaune above. It is also unfailingly more tannic, though the broad-shouldered fruit of this 2015 all but completely envelops the underlying structure.
2015 Ladoix “Les Carrières”
Flanked by the grand cru Corton-Rognet and the great Ladoix premier cru “Le Bois Roussot” (see below), “Les Carrières” offers striking complexity for a village-level wine. Its particularly stony, gravelly soils provide excellent drainage and promote vigorous acidity in its wines—a feature which nicely offsets the brooding black-cherry fruit and smoky intensity of this 2015. As with the “Vieilles Vignes” above, the tannins are notably well-buffered, but the structure asserts itself a bit more in this case.
2015 Ladoix 1er Cru “Le Bois Roussot”
Always the most forward and seductive Ladoix in the Cornu cellar, “Le Bois Roussot” sits high on the slope, adjacent to grand cru Corton-Rognet and facing southeast down toward the village of Ladoix itself. Pierre’s light hand with oak—only 25% new here—allows for full visibility of the 2015 vintage’s fireworks display. Luscious and with a hint of savory wildness, it’s wide-open even at this youthful stage, with ultra-fine tannins and a long, controlled finish.
2015 Ladoix 1er Cru “La Corvée”
A jewel of the Cornu cellar, “La Corvée” comes from a 0.3-hectare southeast-oriented parcel of 50-year-old vines, and it offers the most powerful, visceral expression of Ladoix’s unique terroir in the lineup. In fact, such is its presence and complexity that Pierre always shows it after the Aloxe-Corton “Vieilles Vignes” (see below). This 2015 is profoundly mineral, with a chiseled core of smoky rock to which spicy black fruits seem to cling for dear life. Intensity is the operative mode at this point in the wine’s evolution, and patience will be required—but undoubtedly greatly rewarded.
2015 Aloxe-Corton “Vieilles Vignes”
The best Aloxe-Corton is unabashedly sauvage, and Pierre’s “Vieilles Vignes”—from three parcels planted in 1942, 1958, and 1971—embodies that personality full-stop. The 2015 is particularly impressive, with a trace more refinement than usual due to the vintage’s hallmark of rich fruit. A Vosne-Romanée-like aromatic profile of enchanting spice and vibrant black fruits gives way to a palate of immense concentration but precise balance, and the tannins are well-coated but looming on the wine’s lengthy finish.
2015 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru
Pierre typically ages and bottles his two premier-cru holdings in Aloxe-Corton—a half-hectare in “Les Moutottes” and a 0.3-hectare parcel in “Les Valozières”—separately, but so reduced were his yields in the water-stressed 2015 vintage that he was obliged to combine them. As Pierre is wont to quip, “Moutottes” is the belle danceuse (“beautiful dancer”) and “Valozières” the rugby man, and their characters truly are strikingly divergent. However, as with many couplings of ostensible opposites, they meld beautifully, and the 2015 sizzles with energy. Massive but supple, it combines iron-ore ferocity with an intense blast of spice, and its dense and unrelenting finish promises decades of positive development.
2015 Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru
Classified as the only grand cru for red wine in the Côte de Beaune, Corton actually has far more in common with Chambertin than with any other appellation in the Côte—an observation first put forth by Jules Lavalle in 1855 and echoed by numerous authorities since. Certainly, Cornu’s awe-inspiring Corton, from a half-hectare in the lieu-dit of “Les Bressandes,” is always the most imposing, concentrated, long-lasting wine in the cellar. With its massive, dazzling nose of spice and earth, its elementally dense and seismic palate, and its tight-grained, swelling finish, this career-apex 2015 may well outlive us all.