Chateau de la Tour Clos-Vougeot Grand Cru 2018

£149.99

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“The 2018 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru “Cuvée Classique” displays good amplitude on the nose, incense and iris flower permeating the vibrant black fruit; there is real depth and complexity here. The mineral-driven palate is very well balanced with gentle grip and a chalky finish similar to the Vieilles Vignes. Superb. Drink: 2024-2055. 96 points

It had been several years since I had sat down and tasted with winemaker and proprietor and president of the BIVB, François Labet. Our previous two meetings were cancelled due to surgery and pandemic respectively, though finally we were able to meet on the first sunny morning of my five-week stretch in Burgundy. I also had the chance to meet Labet’s son, Edouard, who will be stepping into his father’s shoes after entering the domaine in 2018. When Edouard exited the room for a moment, François took the opportunity praise his son, noting the role he has played in revising ideas and practices, including ushering biodynamics into the vineyard, even though organic viticulture was incepted as far back as in 1992. “You cannot see it in the vineyard but you can taste the difference in the wine,” he told me. There is also no SO2 used at harvest, while the use of whole clusters is less dogmatic than in the past.

Together we tasted through both the 2018s and 2019s for Château de la Tour and Domaine Pierre Labet/François Labet. “It was quite an easy vintage in the vineyard,” François Labet told me. “It was in line with 2018: a warm and long summer. The flowering was difficult in 2019 because it was cold and rainy whereas in 2020 the flowering took three weeks. We had some heat waves in early summer and then the rest was pretty balanced. We started picking the 2019s on 27 August, starting with the old vines and we finished two weeks later. Everyone rushed into the vineyard because they were scared of the heat wave but the forecast of rain meant we took our time. We ended up with 22mm of rain on the second day of the harvest and this changed the fruit. We gained 8% in weight per berry. In one week the vines absorbed that moisture and the berries that were a bit too hard became fleshier. We are extending the barrel ageing for the 2019 so that for the Château de la Tour it is 22 months. I would have liked longer with the 2018s. We do whatever the wines need. We have custom made barrels. We buy the staves and cooper makes the barrels once the wine is made. In 2018 we picked from 4 September for the whites and the 2019 a couple of weeks later. All the wines in 2018 and 2019 are below 14° alcohol.” I also asked him about his approach towards the whites. “We conduct a long press cycle of crushed grapes that is scaled up. There is no SO2 and we allow a micro-oxidation in the vat below the press. Then the juice is transferred into vat and after débourbage [clarification] it is transferred into barrel straightaway with no inoculation. Sylvain Pataille consults for the whites.”

In the past, it is true that I did not rate Labet’s wines as high as others and so to be frank, I did not know quite what to expect. But I found these wines to be at a higher level than previous vintages. “In my opinion, the kind of wines that we produce at the moment have no equivalent compared to past vintages,” Labet enthused. “We have the right viticulture, picking time and winemaking. Everything is now so controlled.” I concur. These wines conveyed much more purity and elegance than I expected. They did not seem so eager to impress or as hubristic as I found them previously. The result is that they articulate their respective terroirs with greater clarity. Even though the Domaine Pierre Labet wines do not occupy the most prestigious vineyards, they surpass their potential and represent great value. Pushing Labet to compare the two vintages, he opined: “The 2018 is a monster vintage and more muscular. The 2019 vintage is more elegant.” Readers should also note that I have included a wine that Labet makes on the island of Corsica and an intriguing Vin de Pays from a tiny plot of interloping Pinot Beurot, local word for Pinot Gris, located in Clos de Vougeot.”

Neal Martin, Vinous (12/20)