Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wine of the Week - Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges

The other night BrooklynLady went to her book club and my pal Adam came over for dinner, so I made a batch of Chinese-style braised oxtails. It may not sound like an appropriate dish for summer, but I think it works. Keep the portions reasonable and it's rather nice, actually, the scents of orange and star anise wafting through the house on a warm night.

I enjoy pairing this and other dishes like it, with red Burgundy wines. The spicy and savory notes in the food bring out the same in the wine, and vice-versa. I particularly like the way the hoisin character of Chambolle-Musigny works with this kind of food, but I didn't have any in the house. A Gevrey-Chambertin perhaps, with its spicy earth notes would have been nice. But in the end I decided on a bottle from Nuits St. George, hoping that the sauvage nature of the wine might compliment the innate rusticity of oxtails.

I chose the 2002 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chênes Carteaux, about $50 on release, Becky Wasserman Selections. I knew that it might not be ready to drink. Gouges wines, in general, require a lot of time in the cellar before revealing their charms. But I read a few tasting notes that implied that the wine might be approachable now.

And if not, is that so terrible? There is this idea that there is an absolutely correct time to drink a wine, and if it is consumed before that time, a crime has been committed. What if the authority who decreed the prime drinking window enjoys wine differently from the way I do? What's wrong with drinking a wine early in its life - isn't a great wine great at all phases of its evolution? How else can we learn about prime drinking windows unless we risk opening bottles before they are ready, and learn for ourselves what makes them not ready?

Adam and I both thought that the wine was excellent, although we both thought it would continue to improve with a few more years of cellaring. But really, that's picking nits, because the wine was expressive and welcoming. The fruit is dark and smoky, and is infused with a subtle but definite animale character. There are some underbrush aromas too, and just a touch of alcohol heat (13%). The palate was more expressive than the nose, with rich and gamy dark fruit that combines concentration with lightness of texture. As the wine moves back on the palate it tingles with good acidity, it shows a secondary earthy side, and there are delicate red cherry flavors that hang on ripe but somewhat rugged tannins. A lovely gamy perfume lingers after swallowing, inviting another messy bite of braised oxtail.

Domaine Henri Gouges is thought of, alongside Domaine Robert Chevillon, as the top producer in Nuits St. Georges. I would add Domaine de L'Arlot to that list, but that's just my opinion. Domaine Henri Gouges, now run by cousins Pierre and Christian Gouges, owns parcels in all of the most important vineyards in the southern part of Nuits St. Georges. The 1er Cru vineyard Les Chênes Carteaux has rather illustrious neighbors. This map courtesy of Becky Wasserman's site, shows that Les Chênes Carteaux sits immediately to the west of Les Saint Georges, the vineyard that is considered to be the finest terroir in Nuits St. Georges, currently under consideration by INAO to be elevated to Grand Cru status. To the north is Les Vaucrains, another great terroir. Les Chênes Carteaux does not have the reputation of a top terroir, even though it is quite literally a stone's throw from Les Saint Georges and Les Vaucrains. Ah, the mysteries of Burgundy. But there is a silver lining - whereas a bottle of Henri Gouges Les Saint Georges now costs at least $125, Les Chênes Carteaux can be had for more like $65. Hardly inexpensive, but this is one of the top producers in the area, and that is what it now costs to explore 1er Cru wines from the Côte de Nuits.


Weston said...

heh funny intro makes it sound like you whipped up oxtails in 5mins hah =P

Jack Everitt said...

"There is this idea that there is an absolutely correct time to drink a wine, and if it is consumed before that time, a crime has been committed."

Idea? You mean the Third Law of Wine, and dude, you are breakin' the law!

Charles said...

I tasted at the Domaine back in April and the whole experience was very different from at some of the other producers we visited. Everything seemed cleaner and newer and very high tech--especially the gravity system (if gravity can be considered high tech). The whole line up was pretty good--not just the Les St. Georges!

keithlevenberg said...

Love your thoughts about drinking-time dogma, very well said. But if there's any exception that proves the rule, it's Gouges... any time a Gouges wine seems ready to drink I just assume it's moving so glacially it hasn't shut down yet and will take on its expected ornery personality soon. :)

Brooklynguy said...

hey weston - you're right, it does sound funny. more like almost 5 hours.

jack - i'm willing to go to jail on this issue.

hi charles - interesting. what other producers did you visit, if i may ask? and what exactly was newer at Gouges? not doubting you, just interested.

hi keith - thanks for your kind words. i have heard this about Gouges but i don't have the experience myself to know one way or another. what Gouges wines would you say are actually ready to drink right now?

Lyle Fass said...

Just had the '99 last night. I scored 5 off of winebid for $25 plus shipping two years ago. Score! The Bordeaux-lovers Burgundy.

Charles said...

Everything was new! 2008 is the first vintage made in the new digs. I think I have some photos of it somewhere.