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“This Domaine possesses by far the most important parcel of the grand cru Clos de Vougeot and has the privilege of being the sole producer that has its winery within the Clos itself. The quality of the grapes in the Vieilles Vignes is exceptional and their vinification in whole bunches, not destemmed, gives a wine of prodigious breeding, worthy of comparison with the greatest Richebourg. The standard cuvée, excellent also, is produced from the younger vines…” Michel Bettane et Thierry Desseauve, Le grand guide des vins de France

Château de la Tour isn’t an overnight success story. This is a grower that has been making outstanding red burgundies since, at least, the 50s. Yet there is no doubt that since 2010 the (already superb) quality of this producer’s wines has risen sharply and in the last few vintages, it has gone through the roof. The 2014s and 2015s are mindbogglingly good and the 2016s continue the trend. François Labet believes that this latest vintage is, in fact, the finest of the three, which is saying something.

The Villages of Clos-Vougeot

Exploring the Clos-Vougeot with François Labet, owner of Château de la Tour in Vougeot

Detailed Maps of Clos-Vougeot

With some 80 owners of the 50.6ha vineyard, this is the largest Grand Cru in the Côte de Nuits. The northwest corner is neighboured by the Grand Cru’s Échezeaux, Grands-Échezeau, and, Musginy.

As you’d expect with a vineyard of this size, there are sections that produce superior wine to others. Château de la Tour is in the best section!

Click to enlarge

Viticulture & Winemaking

The Vieilles Vignes are the oldest in the Clos (now 108 years old) and even the so-called ‘younger vines’, mentioned in the Bettane and Desseauve quote above, have an average age of over 65 years! The viticulture is organic and has been for over 20 years.

The wines are fermented naturally, whole bunch, with no sulphur until after malo and even then in very low levels (ending up at 20 mg free/60 total). The wines ferment in concrete and are aged in top-notch, custom-made Chassin barrels and are bottled unfiltered.

Today, Château de la Tour is a member of Les Domaines Familiaux de Bourgogne which includes most of the greatest names in Burgundy but that doesn’t explain the recent spike in the quality and finesse in the wines in recent times. Perhaps what does help to explain this has been the appointment, in 2013, of the talented Sylvain Pataille to assist François Labet with both vineyard and winemaking decisions. This has led to a finer, more approachable style of wine being produced here – more luscious, more seductive, less austere, yet without any loss of terroir, power or authenticity.

The 2016 Vintage at Chȃteau de la Tour

In general, the 2016 vintage for red burgundy reminds me of the lessons learnt from the 1991 harvest. This latter vintage had followed a truly great year (1990) and was therefore underhyped. Today, the best wines of 1991 are very often every bit as good as their 1990 equivalents. In much the same way, 2016 has followed an outstanding red vintage in 2015 which, as always, makes it likely that it will get less attention. The best 2016 reds are certainly a match for 2015 and, in many cases, if I had to choose between the two, I would often (though admittedly not always) be choosing a 2016 example for my cellar. Sadly, there is far less wine in 2016.

The key thing to understand about the 2016 harvest at Château de la Tour is this – the frost caused yields to be down 50%, (at a Domaine where yields are already low thanks to the age of the vines), and this meant that vines were able to ripen their fruit relatively easily despite the cooler conditions at harvest. In the end, a crop of perfectly ripe, clean fruit came in and has produced a series of outstanding, concentrated wines. François Labet brought in fruit between 13 and 13.5% potential alcohol with no chaptalisation.

Where in the World are They?

Vougeot is between Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny in the Côte de Nuits. 

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2016 Château de la Tour Clos de Vougeot

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About the Wines

2016 Château de la Tour Grand Cru Clos Vougeot Cuvée Classique

The Cuvée Classique (as this wine is known) is drawn from the Domaine’s parcels on the mid-slope of the clos as well as parcels on the lower and upper parts of the vineyard. There are six parcels in total. The main parcels are situated in the middle of the clos and include the lieux-dits: Montiottes Basses, Quatorze-Journaux and Quartier Marei Bas (home also to the 1910 planted vieilles vignes parcel). The smallest holdings are those in the Quatorze-Journaux and BaudesSaint-Martin lieux dits, two parcels at the bottom of the slope that sandwich Etienne Grivot’s vines, and La Plante l’Abbé, at the top of the clos, near the Château and the Grands-Echezeauxborder. These vineyards have been managed organically for well over 20 years and now average around 67 years of age.

As for all the reds here, this is 100% whole bunch, fermented in concrete with wild yeasts and then aged in 50% new oak. The barrels are fashioned according to each season by Stéphane Chassin in Charente. The 2016 was fashioned from just 20 hl/ha and is superb. A highly perfumed red burgundy with loads of spice, ripe plum and blackberry fruit, and a plush and silky texture with fine tannins in support. Deep and powerful, yet fleshy and sweet fruited with earthy, tobacco notes on the long complex close.

91-93 points

“A ripe and very fresh nose offers up notes of maraschino cherry, plum, raspberry, spice and distinct floral wisps. There is excellent concentration to the succulent but quite powerful big-bodied flavors that possess a sleek mouthfeel thanks to the relatively refined tannins shaping the youthfully austere finish that flashes fine depth on the highly persistent finish. I like the balance and this should age effortlessly.”

Allen Meadows, burghound.com Issue 69

91-93 Points

“Healthy dark red. Sappy perfume of cherry, raspberry, cranberry and red licorice complicated by smoky soil tones. Fresh and dense but tightly wound. Conveys an impression of thickness but this is not a particularly fleshy wine, at least in the early going. Boasts lovely delicacy to its red fruit and soil flavors but still extremely young. The pHs of these 2016s, by the way, are between 3.6 and 3.65.”

Stephen Tanzer, Vinous

2016 Château de la Tour Grand Cru Clos Vougeot Vieilles Vignes

The Vieilles Vignes comes from a selection of the oldest vines in the clos, mostly planted in 1910 and situated mid-slope, right in the heart of the clos. Vines of this age only yield 2-3 bunches of grapes per vine in a good year. The result is a Clos de Vougeot of unique intensity, breadth of flavour, complexity and structural power. The wine shows only a subtle wood influence thanks to the quality of Labet’s oak, which is made to order. In short, Labet buys and ages his own tight-grain staves and air dries them for 2-3 years, then he has barrels (mostly 350 litre and some 450 litre) made by the tiny cooper Stéphane Chassin.

Labet and Chassin taste the first wines that finish fermenting each vintage (from tank) so that Chassin knows how to finish the barrels. In certain vintages, the Vieilles Vignes can be a much more powerful, structured wine than the Classique, but more and more it is, in fact, simply finer. The 2016 is deep and powerful and will certainly age for many decades. On the other hand, it is mighty fine now with the right food, especially if you’re in the mood for something more tightly wound. The notes below sum things up well.

92-95 points

“Here too there is a pretty maraschino cherry note sitting atop the slightly riper array of super-fresh plum, black cherry, cassis and violet-scented aromas. The naturally sweet and beautifully concentrated broad-shouldered flavors brim with sappy dry extract before culminating in an overtly powerful and driving finish where the intensity really builds from the mid-palate on to the explosive backend. The old vines are very much apparent and this should also age effortlessly for years."

Allen Meadows, burghound.com Issue 69

93-96 Points

“Dark red-ruby. At once more perfumed, more subtle and more laid-back than the cuvée classique (from grapes harvested a bit earlier and slightly riper), offering aromas of black raspberry and licorice. Wonderfully refined, tangy wine, a step up from the basic cuvée in intensity and depth, not to mention energy. This seriously concentrated, deep, sophisticated Clos Vougeot finishes with a firm dusting of building tannins and palate-saturating, rising length. Has all the elements to make a great and long-lived bottle but should also offer great early appeal.”

Stephen Tanzer, Vinous

2016 Château de la Tour Grand Cru Clos Vougeot Hommage à Jean Morin

Like the Vieilles Vignes, this ultra-rare wine, named after François’ grandfather, has been produced exclusively from the oldest vines in the Clos de Vougeot, planted in 1910, yet with only the first bunch on the first shoot of each vine used. The theory is that these bunches produce a different sort of juice as they are closest to the trunk. This idea is largely theoretical, although there is no doubting the difference in the wine (which always reveals a more floral, expressive and red-fruited Vougeot than the Vieilles Vignes above).

The first vintage of the Hommage was produced in 2010 and was designed to be a one-off to celebrate the 100-year anniversary for this plot of vines. It was such a success that it is now produced whenever the quality of the vintage allows. Just three barrels were made in 2016.

93-95 points

“Hints of wood and menthol can be found on the even riper nose that is composed by notes of extract of black cherry, dark raspberry, anise, rose petal and a whiff of earth. Once again there is superb mid-palate density to the opulent yet exceptionally serious and imposingly-scaled flavors that are shaped by a firm core of robust tannins on the hugely long yet impeccably well-balanced finish. Unlike the prior two cuvées that could perhaps be enjoyed in their youth, this is expressly built-to-age and is going to need plenty of it. Impressive.”

Allen Meadows, burghound.com Issue 69

94-96 Points

“Bright, dark red-ruby. Darker on the nose and palate than the Vieilles Vignes, with its black cherry and licorice aromas complemented by a suggestion of mineral firmness. Very dense and thick but quite backward, with its dark fruit flavors complemented by bitter chocolate and strong soil tones. This will evolve in bottle for a long time but is distinctly less seductive and expressive today than the Vieilles Vignes, finishing with the tannic mass of a 2015 and strong medicinal reserve. More Richebourg in style than Musigny.”

Stephen Tanzer, Vinous