Recently, I attended a dinner at Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica, CA with four friends where we drank 7 vintages of Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne that were paired with superb food. That is the basis for this article. But, before I get into that, I would first like to make a few comments about Domaine Coche-Dury and Corton-Charlemagne. This is one of the greatest associations of a vineyard and producer in the history of Burgundy. It is truly magical.
I have been buying, visiting, cellaring, and drinking the wines from this great domaine since the late 1970s when Kermit Lynch first started importing them here. They have consistently given me as much pleasure as any Burgundies in my cellar. I still have the white wines back into the 1970s. I buy them every year and have been drinking them for the last 35 years or so. It was not until the mid 1980s when Coche was able to acquire a parcel of Corton Charlemagne. Up until that time Coche had no Grand Cru vineyard. No matter. Even the Bourgogne here is great year after year and better than many Premier Crus and some Grand Crus. The other white wines are also always great and the Corton Charlemagne is simply one of the very best wines made in Burgundy. For me, this is the greatest domaine in Burgundy for white wines and I have never had a Premox bottle (to read my article on Premox Is One Winedrinker’s Premox Another Winedrinker’s Botox? click here  and to read a follow up article click here ). A few years ago, I would have included several other White Burgundy producers such as Ramonet and Leflaive. Now, because of their Premox problems, I have become very cautious.
But, as good as the Domaine Coche-Dury white wines are, not to be ignored are the red wines. Just as it was before Coche was able to acquire a Grand Cru white vineyard some 30 years ago, Coche has no Grand Cru or Premier Cru red vineyards. However, once again, the red wines he makes from these “lesser parcels” are consistently as good or better than the best Premier Crus and a lot of Grand Crus. How does he do it? I really don’t know. However, I think what importer Kermit Lynch says about Domaine Coche-Dury on his website is spot on. Below is that commentary:
One need only speak of Meursault to evoke a myriad of questions regarding the village’s resident icon, Jean-François Coche. He began working in the family vineyards alongside his father, Georges, at the age of fourteen, becoming the third generation of Coches to tend these vines. His marriage to Odile Dury in 1975 added to the family holdings, which lead to the formation of Domaine Coche-Dury. Since then, the enigmatic, modest, Jean-François has only reluctantly accepted the celebrity status of his wines. When asked, he would be most likely say that it is rigor, constant vigilance, and adherence to old-school tradition that makes the wines so special. Jean-François’ heritage seems more closely linked to the studious, farmer-monks that once propagated this area of Burgundy during the Middle Ages than to the stocky Gauls of lore, as his work style is almost hermetical. When Kermit, Coche’s biggest single client, calls for a rendezvous, he is always told, “Only in the evening when I come back from the vines.” Today, his son, Raphaël, has taken the reins with his wife, Charline, and the two continue the family tradition with great reverence.
The Coches farm almost nine hectares of vineyards on minuscule parcels over six communes: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie, and Volnay. Approximately half of their holdings are situated around their hometown of Meursault, with their parcels of Bourgogne surrounding the home and winery. Though they are best known for their Chardonnay, they also bottle six exquisite Pinot Noirs. No clones of any kind are planted—an absolute rarity in Burgundy, where cold, humid winters, spontaneous springtime hail storms, and harvest rains all make farming a challenge. Once in the cellar, vinifications are long and traditional, with extended lees contact. This extra time on the lees prevents oxidation and works in tandem with the terrific freshness his grapes achieve. A good proportion of new wood is used, not to influence the taste of the wine, but rather to extend the cellar-aging potential of these pedigreed wines and to serve as a clean slate for perfect fruit. Coche believes strongly that the white wines of Burgundy should have nerve, and his are never among the ripest or highest in alcohol of his colleagues. It is their vibrant acidity, often hidden in the opulence that helps them to age so successfully and predictably. Though their bottlings are extremely limited, any chance to taste the wines of Coche-Dury promises a rare glimpse into some of the greatest vineyard management and winemaking in the world.
Corton-Charlemagne is named for the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. He once owned the hill where the vineyards are now located. Vineyards here have existed for some 1500 years. Today Corton-Charlemagne is a very large vineyard of some 130 acres covering three communes and reportedly produces nearly 2 out of 3 of all the Grand Cru white wines in Burgundy.
The Hospices de Beaune, Louis Latour, and Bonneau de Martray are large landowners. Due to its relatively large size, varying exposure of the vineyard, and large number of growers and producers, Corton-Charlemagne lacks the recognition of some other Grand Crus such as Montrachet and the hyphenated Montrachets – Batard, Chevalier, Bienvenues, and Criots – all of which are much smaller and have a smaller number of producers. That makes the best of the Corton-Charlemagnes relative bargains. The Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne, however, is the exception. It is one of the greatest of all White Burgundies. The world now recognizes the quality of this wine and it is priced accordingly. My friends and I are all very fortunate to have been with this wine from the beginning. It has been pure joy!
Wine Dinner at Melisse with 7 vintages of Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
This event was planned and arranged by long time friends and Underground contributing editors Cary Feibleman and John Brincko. Also attending were good friends Randy Sultan and Bob Lea. We all contributed wines which we purchased when they were first offered for sale. It was a magical evening. The wine and food were superb and the service and organization by the staff at Melisse including Chef de Cuisine, Ken Takayama, and Sommelier, Brian Kalliel, was also flawless.
We began with three types of Sashimi appetizers all of which were delicious. We had these with a magnum of 1979 Charles Heidsieck Cuvee Charlie Champagne. I first discovered the 1990 vintage of this wine on a visit to Champagne years ago. It was discontinued due to confusion over the name “Charlie” and was never imported here. However, I was able to buy some in Europe and have been drinking it regularly now for many years and still have more bottles in my cellar. It is very full, rich, and creamy and is a truly great Champagne. John Brincko recently found the magnum of 1979 in France. The wine is now very rare. None of us had ever tasted it. I found it had a decidedly old perfume and flavor with lots of toast and mushrooms. And, unlike the 1990, it was very crisp and even a touch austere. Nonetheless, it went well with the Sashimi appetizers.
Then all the Corton Charlemagnes were poured at once and we drank them with four courses of food. Again, the food was marvelous with the Lobster and Turbot courses, in particular, both a real tour de force for me.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
1979 Charles Heidsieck Cuvee Charlie
Big Eye Tuna Sashimi
Domaine Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne 1986, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2005
Smoked Garbanzo, Porcini Mushrooms, Tromboncino Squash
Almond Crusted Dover Sole
Brentwood Corn, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Scallion,
Brown Butter Corn Jus
Charred Celeriac, Haricot Verts, Creme d’Echalote Gris
Again, as usual at Melisse the food was superb (to read an earlier article on Melisse with background information click here and to go to the Melisse website click here) . This was the moment. We eagerly smelled and tasted each wine. Brian told us when he served the 2002 that he thought it was corked. He was right. It was corked. Sad. But the other bottles were sublime. They are some of the greatest White Burgundies anyone could ever drink.
Domaine Coche-Dury began farming their parcel of Corton Charlemagne in 1986. In 2011 the were able to acquire it. The parcel had previously been leased to Louis Latour and was then split between Domaine Coche-Dury and Michel Juillot. The Domaine Coche-Dury parcel is about 3/4 of an acre in size and is situated in the Le Charlemagne section. The vines are about 55 years old and the annual production averages only about 133 cases. The domaine doubled their Corton Charlemagne holdings last year with another purchase from the Latour family that is slightly lower on the slope of Le Charlemagne. This is really great news. The magic of Coche is that there is no other Corton Charlemagne that is as great or as consistent. My notes on the 1986, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2005 follow:
1986 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
At nearly 30 years of age this wine is the definition of complexity and perfection in White Burgundy. It is light golden in color with a perfume that soars from the glass offering hints of coconut, apricot, honey and citrus with faint suggestions of spice. Deep, rich, and supple, yet in perfect balance with very complex flavors this wine continued to evolve for well over an hour in the glass. Honeyed, with citrus, coconut, apricot, and floral flavors, it is opulent, but with elegance and tremendous length on the palate. This is truly memorable – Perfection.
1990 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
A wine that offered great potential from the very beginning, this 1990 has finally hit its peak. It is light yellow gold in color and has a stunning perfume of citrus, peach, and pineapple with honeyed nuances. Nothing dominates. Everything just melds together and produces an ever changing kaleidoscope of different elements. On the palate, there is a follow through that is beautifully balanced and very pure. Each sip produced a new nuance and the wine continues to evolve right down to the last taste. And, as good as the wine is now, this is not to say that it may very well be even better in time and certainly seems destined for a long life ahead – Extraordinary Plus.
1992 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
This 1992 seems like a slightly less opulent version of the 1986. Maybe that will come with time. But, no matter, it is just fabulous. Light golden yellow in color it has a stunning perfume that is elusive to pinpoint but very enticing with subtle hints of fruit and spice with honeyed nuances. Rounded and lush with very pure fruit offering faint hints of apricot and citrus the flavors just keep developing over the course of the evening and seemed to be just a its point of perfection at the very end. This is a very great wine by any standard and one that seems destined for a long life ahead – Extraordinary Plus.
1996 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
Still a baby, this 1996 offered a bit more restraint at the beginning and never showed stopping evolving right up to the very end. It has a light yellow gold color and a stunning perfume with a degree of tropical complexity accented by citrus and a slight floral undertone. It has great intensity with very pure fruit and a distinct underlying backbone that gives the wine lift and a beautifully balanced crispness. One of the most youthful of all the wines, this baby still has a long way to go, but offers immense charm now – Extraordinary.
1999 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
Light golden yellow in color this 1999 has to be the greatest white wine of this vintage. It is unbelievably complex and rich with perfect balance. Never tiring, even for a second, the wine was perfect from start to finish. The perfume was phenomenal with honeyed citrus nuances intermingled with an exotic quality and it continued to offer a myriad of fruits as time went on. With great fruit and intensity, this wine also has and incredible underlying structure that gives it definition. The flavors are never ending and perfectly balanced with a very long lasting finish. Perfect now, but this 1999 will seemingly maintain this lofty perch for a very long time – Perfection.
2002 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
Sadly this bottle was corked. The color was light yellow gold and the nose offered wet cardboard and a dank mustiness. On the palate the wine had lots of very pure fruit overlaid with the musty quality. Over the course of the evening the corkiness did dissipate (which it often does not), although not enough to show the true potential of the wine. Still drinkable, but that’s about it.
2005 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne
Recently I have been very positively surprised at the quality of some 2005 White Burgundies. A short while ago I had a 2005 Montrachet from Marc Colin that was off the charts, but still youthful. This 2005 Coche Corton is right there as well. Seemingly this is modern version of the 1990. I would expect it to evolve and develop over the next 10-20 years, although it is certainly a very great pleasure to drink now. Light yellow gold in color the perfume is stunning and ever changing with floral, citrus, and white fruit notes accented by a faint honeyed nuance. Flavorful and rich, yet structured with good underlying acidity, this wine just kept opening over the course of the evening. Had I been at home I would have saved a bit to have the next day. It is very hard to define this wine except to say that it is truly great and should be even better down the line – Extraordinary Plus.
What a line up! Perfect wines rarely ever appear despite the proliferation of hysteria and hype from the 100 point boys about new wines. This night we had two wines that I thought were perfect and, with the exception of the flawed bottle of 2002, the rest were near perfect. This was an out of the park home run experience! And, the bottom line: wine and food just doesn’t get any better than this! The wines and the food were memorable. It was a match made in heaven!