Bottled poetry’: Five wines from the Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé
Wine specialist Charles Foley introduces five exceptional bottles from one of Burgundy’s most prized estates ahead of our upcoming Fine and Rare wines sale
Burgundy’s historic Domaine Comte de Vogüé dates back to 1450. Of this estate 7.25 hectares are dedicated to the fabled Le Musigny, 2.75 to the production of Bonnes-Mares, and 1.8 to the Premier Cru Chambolle-Musigny.
At the head of the estate is François Millet — a poetic bon viveur for whom taming vines is an art akin to an author penning a poem, or a musical maestro raising his baton.
Millet distills the essence of his wines through a tumult of lyrical French. Here, with a touch of that poetry, an introduction to five of the estates most exceptional wines:
Musigny — the ‘saved’ year
The apex of Millet’s portfolio at Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé is the 7 hectares of Musigny Grand Cru. Great care is taken with the production of the noble grape, with only the oldest vines — a total of 3.8 hectares — used to produce wine with the most consistency and depth of character. In most vintages only 900 or so cases of the Musigny comes to market; the result is a wine to be sought out and treasured.
For Millet, the character of the resulting wine is that of a noble old gentleman; a cravat-wearing cognac-sipper, smoking a cigar as he holds forth on world affairs. Musigny is as sophisticated and serious as the metaphor suggests; strong vintages suggesting a robe of rich cherry and raspberry fruit billowing over warm chocolate and a Crème Brûlée texture. Stellar vintages such as 1990 and 2000 have an element of oriental spice, with a spray of sumac, paprika and black-pepper.
When, in 1991, a swathe of hail hit the Côte d’Or — with potentially disastrous effects for the grapes — Millet, an inventive and quick-thinking winemaker, instructed 60 locals to bring their tweezers to the sorting tables, and help remove every single damaged grape. As a result, the character of the 1991 Musigny today is fresher and riper than many Grand Cru Burgundies from that ‘annus horribilis’.
The Chambolle Musigny 1er cru — Musigny’s younger brother
The Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru is, to Millet ‘Musigny in short-trousers’; a child prodigy playing a Steinway piano in Carnegie Hall, only occasionally missing the melodic arpeggios of a Mozart concerto. The wine began its life with the 1995 vintage and, today, the domaine produces around 500 cases of a grand cru wine masquerading as a lowly premier cru. Vintages such as 2000 have a creamy edge and a fine lace of red fruit, before a late grab of tannin.
Elegant and refined Bonnes Mares
The domaine’s other star is their 2.7 hectare plot of Bonnes Mares, which accounts for 400 cases a year. The vines are on the Chambolle side of the Morey boundary — a parcel which tends towards elegant, refined Bonnes Mares. Fine old vintages deliver violet, strawberry notes with a delicate peony blossom underpinned by a ground coffee bean flavour and toasty oak. Darker and more brooding than the Musigny, for Millet it is an electric wine; like a thunderstorm about to break.
The ‘first lady’ of the de Vogüé portfolio is the premier cru Les Amoureuses — or, the lovers. Ploughed by horses because of the stony topsoil, the parcel is a tiny 0.56 hectare holding and so a mere 160 cases vintage leave the domaine. Millet sees the wines as Musigny’s little sister, refined but never frivolous and a tasting of his stellar 1999 vintage reveals a bouquet of redcurrant and loganberry against a back-drop of sous-bois and mushroom. In time complexity develops, yet it never reaches the leather-armchair study wreathed in cigar-smoke where Les Amoureuses older brother Musigny sits.
The rarest of the de Vogüés
The rarest of the de Vogüé wines is the Bourgogne Blanc, an exquisite Chardonnay that Millet crafts from a tiny 0.6 hectare plot at the top of the Musigny parcel. Though the wines have the right to bear the title Musigny Grand Cru Blanc, Millet himself has decided that recent vintages do not yet have the depth and complexity to warrant it. The wine, therefore, makes do with a humble village label, though strong vintages such as 1996 and 2000 show a delicious waxy, satin texture holding together a mesh of citrus, hazelnut and butterscotch flavours. It is rumoured in the coffee houses of Beaune that Millet will one day produce Musigny Blanc from this plot — locals say it is only a matter of years.
The domaine’s reputation today
Millet works alongside Jean-Luc Pepin, who runs the Domaine and Eric Bourgogne, who tends the vines. It is a triumvirate that produces outstanding results vintage upon vintage and has enabled the domaine to recover its reputation in recent years. In 1925 the estate was inherited by the Comte Georges de Vogüé and, until the early 60’s, fabulous wines were crafted from the plots under his ownership in Chambolle. The Comte’s absence from Burgundy in the 60’s and 70’s saw quality levels slide and it is the current team that have maintained a celebrated level of quality under the ownership of the Comte’s granddaughters since the early 80’s. Winemaking at the Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé is like a conversation, with the wines matching Millet’s lyrical poeticism with structure, energy and a complex cornucopia of flavours.