Sylvain Pitiot doesn’t seem like a man who would be easily ruffled. Relaxed, casual and not trying to sell his wares too hard, he was in London for a tasting and gala dinner to celebrate British wine merchant Corney & Barrow’s success in becoming the UK Agent and distributor for Clos de Tart.
Sylvain let the wines do the talking by and large, giving the audience a very low key overview of each vintage and of the philosophy of this ancient domaine. Founded in 1141 and tended for several hundred years by Cistercian nuns, there have only been two owners since, the estate being acquired in 1789 by the Marey-Monge family, and then by current owners Mommessin in 1932. Three owners in almost 900 years is remarkable, even by Burgundian standards.
The walled vineyard of Clos de Tart is a 7.5 hectare site and one of Morey Saint Denis’ five Grand Crus, sitting between Bonnes Mares and Clos des Lambrays. It is a monopole, with a single owner, and its is cultivated on near organic principles. Vines are mostly more than 50 years old, and Sylvain says that the estate’s second wine, La Forge de Tart, is composed of “young vines less than 25 years old.” With a twinkle in his eye he adds, “I suppose that’s not so young for California. But for Burgundy…”
Having taken over in 1996, Sylvain concedes that he has changed the style of Clos de Tart to make sure it has the ripeness and a more fruit-forward appeal that suits modern consumers, and yet he has huge respect for the terroir of his vineyard and for ‘hands-off’ winemaking: “sometimes we have nothing to do: we pick perfect grapes, put the wine in vats, and go on vacation,” he jokes. In fact, the philosophy is to concentrate on the vineyards and to pick a little later than some of his peers. In the heatwave vintage of 2003 Sylvain delayed picked for two weeks more than most of his neighbours to ensure full physiological ripeness of the grapes. That probably explains why his 2003 shows no sign of the astringent tannins that can be found in many wines of this difficult year.
Work in the vineyards is rigorous, which pays dividends in such tricky vintages. 2007, with its cool, damp summer, presented very different challenges to 2003, but Sylvain ensured the crop was nursed through the difficulties, thinning leaves, removing some of the fruit to encourage the vine to maintain ‘balance’ and picking a week later than most of his neighbours to ensure that all-important ripeness of tannins.
The vineyard is what drives this wine. The winery is barely mentioned in his description of each vintage, but within this historic estate – whose oldest buildings date from the 12th century – a new winery was constructed in 1999 with all the mod-cons of sorting tables and temperature-controlled steel vats. Usually around 85% of grapes are de-stemmed, and fermentation is with natural yeasts. The wine is always aged in new Tronçais oak.
Corney & Barrow already boasts Burgundy’s greatest name on its books as exclusive agent for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in the UK, but MD Adam Brett-Smith says there is no rivalry here, with contacts at DRC helping him secure the prize of Clos de Tart which took “years of negotiation.” Certainly this tasting suggested these are wines of terrific quality. But they are also wines that – despite widely differing vintage conditions – manage to both express their terroir, and deliver a rounded, satisfying, and ultimately delicious wine experience.
Clos de Tart La Forge de Tart 2007
The second wine of the Domain, Sylvain says this is made in an identical way to the Grand Vin, the only difference being that it is made from the estate’s younger vines. However I found it to be a very different creature from it’s bigger brothers, with a fresh, breezy, ozone character of bright pastille fruit on the nose. The palate is lighter too, but smooth and elegant, with an appetising, savoury character and a little spicy depth emerging. Doesn’t have the concentrated depth of the Grand Vin, but mouth-watering, vital stuff. 90/100. £599 per six, in-bond, Corney & Barrow.
Clos de Tart 2007
This is cask sample, bottled just a couple of weeks before this tasting. It has a bright, primary fruit character with redcurrant, cherry and something reminiscent of pomegranate. A subtle, Asian spiciness develops. On the palate this is quite lean and grippy at this stage, with a fine cherry-skin acidity and edge, even a touch of liquorice. It is a muscular wine and I suspect that lean streak will flesh out once it settles in bottle. For now 92-93/100, but could improve. Sylvain says “It has something of 2000’s elegance and 2001’s power.” £1,200 per six, in-bond, Corney & Barrow.
Clos de Tart 2005
A wine made from “simply perfect grapes” according to Sylvain, and one he is confident is good for 30+ years. At this stage it is aromatically intriguing, with a deep, intense, graphite and charry nose. The fruit is quite deep and plummy, with a bloody, gamy aromas buried in there too. The palate is superbly plush and dense, with svelte, creamy blueberry fruit framed by a sinewy, but polished tannin structure. This is muscular stuff, but has charm too, with earth and smoky spice, and the acidity integrated but well-matched. Fairly massive stuff that needs substantial time, but showing its class and balance. 95/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos de Tart 2003
This wine was a huge surprise I must say. The 2003 vintage in most of Europe was abnormally hot, and many of the wines from 2003 whilst ripe and full, have turned out to have rather awkward tannins and low acidity, leading to some unbalanced wines. This 2003 Clos de Tart is a wine conceived on a fairly enormous scale for Burgundy, but it is also perfectly balanced and harmonious and a testament to the winemaking at the domaine. The nose is loaded with exotic herbs and spices – fenugreek and caraway – with a plush depth of fruit that is ripe and seductive, with damson and soft, sweet strawberry. But there’s also a wild side to this, with meaty and truffle notes. On the palate the fruit is deep and silky, with coffee-infused spices and a lovely tannin structure. This has acidity too, and despite the hedonism, has the balance and finesse that will see it age well. 95/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos de Tart 2002
The rain-sodden summer that ruined the vintage for the south of France did not extend to the Côte-d’Or, and 2002 has proved to be a fine Burgundy year. This has a deep, bold colour and is fairly closed aromatically with notes of polished wood, smoke and dark, bittersweet cherry fruit. The palate is similarly dense and concentrated to 2005, but it is a very natural concentration of low-cropped old vines. The tannins and core of acidity give real backbone to quite sumptuous fruit on the palate. Whilst already charming and very easy to drink, this should have 10 years ahead of it easily. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos de Tart 2001
There’s a muscular, brooding depth to this Clos de Tart, with coffee and again that graphite minerality. Game and sauvage, bloody notes are overlaid onto the fruit. On the palate there is again profound depth and concentration, without the wine becoming at all heavy. There’s a core of something really silky here, with a cherry-skin grip and acidity, and whilst less opulent than the 2002 or even 2005, this has structure and intensity and should probably be cellared for another 5 – 8 years before broaching. 94-95/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos de Tart 2000
The most open and welcoming wine of the tasting so far, even more so than the 2003, with beautiful red fruits and a swirling smokiness. Fruit is definitely what dominates here. On the palate there is rich, but racy red fruit with raspberry and even a soft strawberry character, with a fudge-like warmth and depth. It is spicy and toasty in the finish, and the nicely defined tannin and acid structure keep it fresh. A delicious wine, that whilst less profound than the 2001, is giving huge pleasure now and great quality. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos de Tart 1999
This wine is rather closed at first, and slightly leathery and seems rather tough. Spices and an exotic Sandalwood character come through. The palate is very tightly-wound, and whilst good fruit and a little gamy complexity comes through, it all seems rather too well-mannered and lacking a little tension and intrigue. Medium-bodied and well-balanced, this is delivering a lovely mouthful of wine, but it just lacks some dimension of profundity that other vintages exhibit rather better. 91-92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos de Tart 1996
There’s a huge amount of development in this wine compared to all the others, which have been fairly primary and youthful in varying degrees. This wine suddenly presents a much more vegetal, truffle and damp undergrowth character, though on the palate a much sweeter, fruitier character comes through. There’s a touch of green peppercorn and cedar that suggests it was perhaps just slightly underripe or fruit selection not so meticulous perhaps, but that’s not to say it is not delicious: there is fine fruit and a great mellow, silky core of tannins and focused acidity that brings this round really nicely. Dramatic different from the younger vintages on show, but lovely stuff. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.