Clos de Tart, a vertical tasting
The recorded history of the Clos goes back to the mid-12th century when it was tended by Cistercian nuns from the wonderfully named Notre Dame de Tart at Genlis, east of Dijon. In 1790, in the upheaval and anti-clerical mood that followed the French revolution, part of the Marey-Monge family bought the vineyard and kept it for 140 years until the Great Depression of the eary 'thirties. When the Clos went up for auction in 1932, the Mommessin family of Mâcon was the only bidder and bought it for a song. “ A good bit of business,” says a laconic Sylvain. Remarkably, Clos de Tart has had only three owners over eight and a half centuries.
Before taking up his job at the domaine, Sylvain Pitiot was best known as a distinguished cartographer, working with his famous father-in-law Pierre Poupon on their incomparably detailed maps of Burgundy's vineyards. Knowing every metre and fold of the Côte d'Or, Sylvain first gave us a riveting account of the aspect, orientation and composition of his great vineyard, especially in relation to its neighbours. But for a slender jutting slice of Bonnes Mares, the Clos de Tart is the most southerly Grand Cru in Morey St Denis and the closest to Chambolle Musigny: so no surprise to hear that it's been known traditionally for its silky mouthfeel and general elegance. Sylvain has identified six distinct sites with subtly different soils and individual wine expressions in the varied geological structure within the Clos: perhaps to over-simplify, the soils towards the top of the vineyard are fairly light in colour, essentially very stony over limestone, those farther down the slope have more clay and are darker. All quite different from the neighbouring Clos des Lambrays which has more homogenuous terroir.
A great boon for Clos de Tart is that, unusually in Morey, the vines are planted north south, which helps to prevent soil erosion and allows the vines to enjoy maximum exposure to the sun's warmth both in the morning and late afternoon. Sylvain follows classic methods, thoughtfully adapted, in the vineyards - organically tended without yet signing up to bio-dynamism, and low yields below 30 hectolitres/hectare. Interestingly, he isn't afraid of fairly high levels of alcohol; his real lodestar is optimal ripeness and physiological maturity in Pinot Noir grapes, picked late. Sylvain also honestly admits that there has probably been a change in the style of Clos de Tart since 1996, reflecting modern consumers' liking for richer wines that give pleasure after moderate aging: few people want to wait years for the wine to reach its peak, and fewer still have adequate cellars.
In most years the Domaine produces two wines, the grand vin and a second wine, La Forge de Tart, which takes its name from the original plot cultivated in 1141 by the nuns of Tart and which now is entitled to be a Morey St-Denis premier cru. In some truly great years like 2005, no La Forge is made, in other faster-maturing vintages like 1997 most of the production goes into it. In this tasting, we were given two contrasting vintages of La Forge, then a vertical of Clos de Tart in five selected vintages from 2005 back to 1996: tellingly, the 2003 was served last for reasons which I hope will become clear. I have marked each wine out of 20 points, surely the most manageable and intellectually honest marking system, as used by Decanter and The World of Fine Wine.
2001 La Forge de Tart, Premier Cru Morey St-Denis
Classic clear limpid blue violet/ ruby of some resonance, no hint of aging in colour; still tight aromas but lovely burgeoning hints of black cherries and minerals; impressively focused palate, minerality, depth and latent complexities of a great terroir; long, elegant and subtle. Great value.18 pts.
1999 La Forge de Tart, Premier Cru Morey St-Denis
Deeper shade of ruby;gras, ripe, rich nose, very '99; palate confirms an opulent wine, with an alcoholic motor. Real street appeal but not quite as refined and classy as the 2001
2005 Clos de Tart, Grand Cru
Deep lustrous ruby, violet tints, darker at centre of the bowl; the heat of the vintage and new oak are evident on nose, but everything comes together in the magnificent mouthfeel- spices, ripe tannins, a gloriously luxuriant texture, perfect acidity; notwithstanding the power, the sense of terroir is clear. Outstanding aging potential Very great 19.5 pts
2002 Clos de Tart Grand Cru
Elegant mid violet/ruby with hint of garnet rim; superb aromatic complexity, fragant, stunning, 'fantail' scents typical of this lovely vintage; elegant, long, yet soft and very ripe (14.5º). Extremely stylish. 18.5 pts
2000 Clos de Tart Grand Cru
Bright, medium ruby tone; with air, darkening in the glass. Big sweet orchard fruit aromas, pretty heady (14.6°);silky, well-balanced mouthfeel, lots of charm – yet lacks enough complexity or a sense of terroir, reflecting the character of the vintage. Personally, I find the neighbouring 2000 Clos des Lambrays a purer wine. 16.5 pts
1996 Clos de Tart Grand Cru
Exquisite evolving colour. Racy aromas of real class, mirroring the mineral depths of this great vineyard. Like other top '96 Grands Crus of the Côte de Nuits, there is plenty of acidity and tannins still needing maybe another two or three years for this exceptional wine to reach its peak. For true burgundy lovers. 18.5 pts
2003 Clos de Tart Grand Cru
Hmm, a hard call. Circle members need little reminding of the difficulties of this dramatic, quite atypical vintage in Burgundy: torrid summer heatwave and the earliest allowed vintage (August 19th) since 1422 . Sylvain kept his head and waited for the temperatures to ease, helped by blessed showers; he started picking on September 2nd. A lighter touch in the winemaking with less extraction has produced a more than respectable Clos de Tart: yet withal this is a very big ,rich and burly wine with a head-banging 15 degrees of alcohol. Such intense ripe flavours could militate against the development of the true tastes of the terroir as it ages. What do you think? A provisional 17 pts
(c) Michael Edwards