Maison Louis Latour, founded in 1797 and still family-owned and -operated, is among the best-known and most prolific Burgundian negociants. With an annual volume over 400,000 cases, exports to 60 countries and offerings priced from just over $10 to several hundred, the label is found in a huge range of stores.
But Maison Louis Latour is more than just a negociant. Within its family of companies is Domaine Louis Latour, the largest owner of Grand Cru acreage in Burgundy. Nearly 70 of Domaine Louis Latour’s 118.6 total acres of Burgundian vines there are Grand Cru. And another 34 acres are Premier Cru.
All of the Domaine wines are produced at the company’s historic Chateau Corton Grancey in Aloxe-Corton. The Chateau (pictured above) was built in 1749, and the cuverie— France’s first purpose-built winery—in 1832. Louis Latour bought the property in 1891.
To further ensure quality and control over its operations, Maison Louis Latour also operates it's own cooperage. About half of the barrels it turns out are retained for use by Domaine Louis Latour. They favor oak from Northern France, where the trees grow slowly and are thus tight-grained. The staves are also milled 5mm thicker than normal, which reduces evaporation and slows oxygen transfer.
On March 3, I had the opportunity to taste through an impressive pair of Grand Cru verticals from Domaine Louis Latour. The two wines were Chateau Corton Grancey and Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux. The vintages were 1999, 2002, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2014.
Domaine Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey Grand Cru
Chateau Corton Grancey is blend from four of their six Pinot Noir parcels within the Corton Vineyard: Les Bressandes, Les Perrieres, Le Graves and Clos du Roi. All are on the southeastern slope of the round hill of Corton (pictured directly above). The plots also have the same soils—silt from iron-based clay and limestone on top of Mid-Jurassic limestone—but the soil depth varies, as does altitude, which runs from 820’ to 950’. Average vine age is 40 years.
I found the wines to be generally medium-bodied and juicy with very moderate, fine, soft tannins. Fruit character leans toward the tangy and red. These are very elegant wines on the nose and palate, fine-boned and aromatic with omnipresent dried flowers and pretty spice.
The 1999 Domaine Latour Chateau Corton Grancey is absolutely gorgeous. Tannins have lessened with age leaving body on the light side of medium, but the acidity is vibrant. The nose is perfumey and intense with clear notes of dried red cherry, strawberry, spice, pomegranate, dried orange peel, dried flowers and sandalwood. The very long palate features stewed cherry, strawberry, rhubarb, spice, moist earth, forest floor and white mushroom. Initially rated 95-100 points by Wine Spectator, the wine remains in—and at the upper end—of that scale. It’s likely at peak now, but will hold for several years.
Each of the other wines were very fine, but didn’t quite reach the heights of the 1999.
2002 Domaine Latour Chateau Corton Grancey: Promising, but a teenager that wants further time to develop. More structure, less acid than the 1999.
2005 Domaine Latour Chateau Corton Grancey: A riper take on the site, showing black cherry fruit and soft, but chewy, tannins and medium+ body. Very good now but will age for a decade.
2010 Domaine Latour Chateau Corton Grancey: Very pretty with zippy acidity, slightly chewy structure and flavors that include pomegranate, dried flowers and plenty of orange pith. Hold.
2012 Domaine Latour Chateau Corton Grancey: Another black-cherried version, but much fresher than the 2005. The fruit is complemented by earth, spice and dried flowers. It should age nicely over the next decade.
2014 Domaine Latour Chateau Corton Grancey: This wine has much in common with the 1999—pretty, tangy and very long. There’s cinnamon, nutmeg, wood, dried flowers and tangy red fruit on the nose, orange pith and chewy red cherry on the palate. Tempting to guzzle now but will age for 15+ years.
Domaine Louis Latour Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux Grand Cru
Les Quatre Journaux is in the upper part of the Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru Vineyard. Just 1.8 acres in size, it’s a gently sloping plot at roughly 820’ feet with southeastern facing and soils that are similar to those of Corton Grancey. The vines are just a couple of long strides away from Romanée-Conti. Because of the small parcel size, these wines are very limited in production—just 8 or 9 barrels are made each year.
While very similar in altitude, facing and soil to Corton-Grancey, Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux produces very different wines. They are robust with fuller body, more structure and more single-minded focus on fruit. The power of these wines is also indicated by Domaine Latour’s use100% new French oak barrels with them, as opposed to 30% with the Corton-Grancey. That said, I would drink Les Quatre Journaux a bit earlier than the Corton-Grancey.
1999 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux: The bottle I sampled was not in its prime, but I’m told another in the room was lovely. I can say that acidity and fine, chalky, persistent structure were both ample. Nose and palate had good intensity.
2002 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux: Ready to drink with aromas of dried mint, dried flowers and bubble-gummy fruit leading to a palate of moist forest floor, earth and mushroom. The structure led me to invent the word “firmisoft.”
2005 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux: A very nice wine showing ripe red cherry, dry earth and a touch of tangy, dry herb. There’s sweetness to the fruit on the palate along with forest floor and mineral. Medium+ body and acidity with fine, soft, persistent tannins. Enjoy now through 2025.
2010 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux: Rich and luscious with lots of lovely red cherry complemented by baking spice and wood. In a blind tasting, this wine could be confused for a very balanced offering from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Enjoy how through 2027.
2012 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux: This vintage is in a quiet phase, but has enough presence on the palate to be encouraging. Red-fruited with very good acidity and firmish, fine-grained tannins.
2014 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Les Quatre Journaux: Ripe, dark red cherry, orange peel and mushroom on the nose. More of the same on the palate along with drying rose petal. It’s weighty in the mouth with softly chewy, persistent tannins. The finish is very long. Drink now through 2027.
Due to their scarcity, these particular wines disappear from stock upon arrival, but keep your eyes on JJ Buckley's Domaine Louls Latour selections for their availability. And, in the meantime, we have a number of their sister wines to choose from. And, for a broader look at the company Louis Latour, check out Adam Lechmere's article for Meininger's.
JJ Buckley guest blogger Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator, and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing has appears in The Tasting Panel and SOMM Journal, where he is a contributing editor. Online, he writes for his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine), GuildSomm, PlanetGrape, and the San Francisco Wine School where he also teaches. Fred’s certifications include the WSET Diploma, Certified Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, Napa Valley Wine Educator and Level 3 WSET Educator. In 2009, he was awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. In that same year, he was inducted into the Eschansonnerie des Papes, the honorary society of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC.
Copyright JJ Buckley 2017. Photos courtesy of Maison Louis Latour. All rights reserved.