A few years ago, during the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF), I had a chance to attend a Wine Spectator seminar. Senior Editor Bruce Sanderson and host Louis-Fabrice Latour introduced me to the wines of Maison Louis Latour. These are some of my favorite Pinot Noir wines of Maison Louis Latour.
About Domaine Louis Latour
Domaine Louis Latour is one of the few wineries in Burgundy still completely family-owned and operated. Louis-Fabrice Latour, who led my workshop, is the winery's general managing director and the eleventh Latour generation to work in the wine business.
The family is from Aloxe-Corton, a small medieval village in the Côte de Beaune. The Latour family has been making wine since the 17th century. Today, the family has property throughout the Côte d'Or where they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
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Domaine Louis Latour is a champion of environmentally sound farming. Louis-Fabrice Latour stressed that as growers, the soil was the most important factor in growing grapes to produce the wines of Maison Louis Latour. He commented, “Terroir—the soil—is the most important factor in great wines.”
Rather than using chemicals in the growing process, Latour employs biological methods whenever possible. The winery works to ensure the biodiversity of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties, uses alternative disease and virus controls rather than insecticides, uses biological protection to combat pests, and works toward early intervention to prevent diseases such as mildew. It is important to the family that they practice aggressive conservation tactics to combat erosion in the vineyards.
The Winemaking Process at Domaine Louis Latour
In many ways, the winemaking process today at Domaine Louis Latour is much as it was in the earliest days. They still harvest the grapes by hand, placing them in wicker baskets and taking them to a selection table inside the winery.
There, as the beautiful Pinot Noir grapes move slowly along a conveyor, workers sort them by hand to eliminate any bad grapes. After sorting, the grapes go into a destemmer, then drop into copper wagons and transported by elevator up a floor at the winery. This lets the winery use gravity instead of pumping the juice. At that point, the de-stemmed grapes go into one of the more than nearly four dozen 100-year-old oak fermentation vats.
Latour leaves the skins with the liquid for only 10 to 12 days. After that, extracting the color from the skins (pigeage) is still done the traditional way at Maison Louis Latour—by foot. When the winemaker determines that fermentation is complete, the “free-run” wine is drained off through wicker baskets. They then press the pips and skins to get the best color, fruit, and tannins.
At that point, they add that deep color wine back into the free-run wine. They place the blended wine in oak barrels for 12 to 18 months. After that time, the winemaker checks the quality of each barrel and only the best goes into the final blend. That is eventually bottled as the wines of Maison Louis Latour.
Tasting the Louis Latour Pinot Noir Wines
Louis-Fabrice Latour introduced his wines with the enthusiasm of a proud parent. With his guidance, along with the tasting notes and comments from Wine Spectator's Sanderson, the tasting was a lesson in winemaking and tasting along with the pure joy of experiencing magnificent Burgundy Pinot Noirs.
I tasted the wines in the spring of 2014. At that time, I tasted the 2009 wines. Latour explained that he chose 2009 wines because they are some of the best wines ever produced due to ideal growing conditions. He explained that the wines were especially great because August and September 2009 brought days of warmth and sun, creating deep, brilliant red wines with complex flavor profiles.
Since then, we have the 2015 and 2016 vintages. Those are even more magnificent. I believe the 2016 wines are some of the best ever, but the harvest yield was low, so the prices are high. However, these are amazing wines that really do make a lasting impression. Here are a few of my favorite Pinot Noir wines of Maison Louis Latour.
Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru “Les Chaillots”, Côte de Beaune
The Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru “Les Chaillots” hails from the village of Aloxe-Corton in Côte de Beaune. This is the home village for the Latour family.
This wine, which received a 92 by Wine Enthusiast for the 2015 vintage, comes from a vineyard in a stony, pebbly area of Burgundy with high levels of limestone. The average age for vines used in this wine is 35 years. Wines age for about 12 months and have a gorgeous ruby red color.
This is a complex wine with a balance between powerful taste and acidity. It has the aroma of ripe black currants. The fruit flavor is up front but it has a bit of a mineral finish with peppery hints. This wine can age from 10 to 15 years to reach its full potential. Serve it with game birds and poultry.
Volnay 1er Cru “En Chevret”, Côte de Beaune
The second wine I tasted that day was the Volnay Premier Cru “En Chevret”. This wine is from rocky soil, high in iron content, with vines about 25 years old. The 2016 and 2018 vintages received a 93 from Wine Spectator. During the tasting of the 2009, both Sanderson and Latour defined this wine as “more feminine” than the first. I felt that it is definitely a more delicate wine than the Aloxe-Corton “Les Chaillots.”
Although it has a less powerful profile, the color is an intense ruby red. Both the nose and taste are plums, juicy blackberries, and a touch of strawberry. This wine, from grapes in the Village of Volnay with an easterly exposure, is much more elegant than the Aloxe-Corton. Based on Latour's suggestion, the 2009 I sampled is at its prime this year. The 2016 and 2018 both reach their primes in seven to 15 years.
Beaune 1er Cru “Vignes Franches”, Côte de Beaune
The Beaune Premier Cru “Vignes Franches,” which received a 93 from Wine Spectator for the 2017 vintage, is from the Village of Beaune. This wine was a perfect third wine in my tasting because it has the power of the Aloxe-Corton, but the finesse of the Volnay. It comes from 35-year-old vines.
This big, rich Pinot Noir is a deep garnet red. The aroma is black cherries and mocha with raspberries and a lovely earthiness on the palate that I relish in a good Pinot Noir. There are noticeable tannins in this wine, which Sanderson described as “elegant and graceful.” Latour explained that the Beaune Premier Cru is a wine that can age for a long time, only getting better in the next decade. Pair this with duck or creamy camembert cheese.
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Cazetiers” Côte de Nuits
The Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru “Les Cazetiers” is from a vineyard just 10 km out of Dijon in the village of Gevrey, which has maximum exposure to the sun early in the day. The wine is quite powerful on the palette. the Gevrey-Chambertin has subtle floral notes, but strong minerals and tannins. The nice acidity helps to balance it out and Sanderson referred to this wine as “masculine and powerful.”
The gorgeous dark cherry color and full mouthfeel, with a peppery finish, makes this a memorable wine.
Château Corton Grancey Grand Cru, Côte be Beaune Corton
The Chateau Corton Grancey Grand Cru is, in my opinion, one of the best wines of Maison Louis Latour. In 1891, the Latour family took over Château Grancey and has been producing wines there since that time. The vines, also in Aloxe-Corton, are all more than 40 years old. This is not one of the annual wines of Maison Louis Latour, but is made only when the grapes warrant it.
This is a blend of the best Corton grapes, each aged individually and then blended. It is a complex, earthly Pinot Noir that transported me back to the hills of Burgundy. Both the nose and taste are fruity yet spicy with a hint of coffee and fine tobacco. The tannins give it a rich mouthfeel.
Unlike the previous wines that were aged for 12 months, this one is made of wines aged 14 to 18 months. It is a favorite with the major wine magazines, getting a 93 from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator for the 2016. When I tasted the 2009, both Latour and Sanderson believed it would taste better by 2020. The 2016 is expected to be ideal to drink starting in 2022 or 2023. It is definitely one of the best wines of Maison Louis Latour and I recommend purchasing this one now while it is still available.
Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru “Les Quatre Journax”, Côte de Nuits
The last of the Latour wines we tasted, Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru “Les Quatre Journaux,” was also aged longer, about 14 to 18 months. From 30-year-old vines in the village of Vosne-Romanée in the Côte de Nuits, it received a 93 from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.
The wine has notes of cherry and spice and you can feel the tannins on the finish. The finish is quite powerful, but I believe it still tastes somewhat young. I would love a chance to taste this one again, six years later. This could possibly be one of the best wines I have tried anywhere.
I loved the hint of chocolate and wine in the Romanée-Saint-Vivant. The complexity brings different aromas and tastes with every sip. It is simply a joy to drink. Latour suggests this wine will be at its peak in the next five to ten years. It has a recommended cellar potential of 25 to 35 years.
Buying the Wines of Maison Louis Latour
Both the wines of Maison Louis Latour and the director, Louis-Fabrice Latour, are excellent examples of why Burgundy Pinot Noir wines are highly esteemed.
From a casual, great-with-dinner wine like the Beaune or Volnay (or the even more affordable Marsannay Rouge 2017) to an elegant wine for special occasions—like the Romanée-Saint-Vivant or Château Corton Grancey, the wines of Louis Latour make a statement. Be sure to explore Wander for more great wine selections.