Sunday, October 02, 2011

My Dinner with Comtes Lafon

I drank a white wine by Domaine des Comtes Lafon the other night the first time I have ever done so. Comtes Lafon is one of the iconic domaines in Burgundy. Maybe you don't know this about me, but I really like Burgundy wine. Why have I never tried a Comtes Lafon white, until now?

For one, the wines command very high prices, particularly wines from the top vineyards in Meursault and of course, the Montrachet (one of those wines you'll never see on a shelf - perhaps in a restaurant or at auction, and I imagine we are into 4-digit price territory). If I really wanted to drink a Lafon Meursault nowadays, I'd have to buy a bottle at auction because I've been told that, like many of Burgundy's great wines, these require many years of cellaring before they reveal all that they have to offer. But buying an old vintage of Lafon at auction is a very expensive risk. You never know whether or not the bottle was handled properly, and for something from the '90s you will pay hundreds of dollars. If I were to buy a bottle from roughly 1996 - 2002 there is the pre-mox risk too, although supposedly Lafon did a better job of avoiding pre-mox problems that did most other white Burgundy producers.

So, in other words, it's not an easy thing, to drink a mature bottle of Comtes Lafon Meursault. The other night, however, one of my Burgundy Wine Club friends was in town from Rhode Island and we had dinner with Peter Liem, also in the BWC. We drank several old Burgundy wines that night, and one of them came from Peter's cellar, a 1997 Comtes Lafon Meursault Charmes. This is a wine that I bet would not generate high expectations from many experienced wine people. 1997 was not a great year in Burgundy, many of the wines are quite ripe and without the structure and acidity necessary for balance. There are producers who made great wines in 1997, though, and Peter says that Lafon's whites are among the very best Burgundy wines from 1997, and that in fact 1997 is his favorite vintage of the '90s for Lafon.

I've heard talk about how Lafon's wines are very oaky. I've heard that they aren't worth the money. You hear all sorts of things about wine and this is another example of why we really have to learn by drinking ourselves. This 1997 Lafon was finer than any white Burgundy I have ever drunk, and it is one of the very best bottles of wine that I've ever had. It produced an emotional response in me, it was startling and mesmerizing and absolutely beautiful. I didn't know that wine can do what this wine did.

We drank this wine at Prune with, among other delicious things, the marrow bones. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

I think of hazelnut flavors and an oily texture when I think of Meursault. This wine was different. The nose was limestone and chalk and minty ripe Chardonnay fruit, and that's simplifying it for the purpose of using words. It was the definition of refinement and grace, so focused, it had such amazing complexity and depth, such resonance, such clear articulation of its aromas and flavors, such a delicate but firm texture. It grew over 90 minutes or so and in the end the finish was this tactile thing of mineral glory that lingered on and on. Completely absurd wine, profound. Peter said that this particular bottle was as good as white Burgundy gets. That's saying something.

You drink a wine like this and understand why people chase expensive Burgundy, looking to relive this sort of experience. I feel the pull today, too. But it is mitigated somewhat by the fact that my Burgundy Wine Club purchased a bottle of 2007 Lafon Meursault Charmes last year. It cost us $170. Yup, $170. But there are 8 of us, and wines like this are precisely the reason that we started this club. With any luck, in 10 years I will have dinner with Comtes Lafon again and have an equally inspiring experience.

Here is Bill Nanson's profile of Comtes Lafon in Burgundy Report, if you want details about the estate and wines.


Unknown said...

every marrow bone gets its own spoon? the age of excess is boomeranging back, i see :)

2GrandCru said...

You know, you could just opt for his Macon wines, from Heretiers du Lafon.

Anonymous said...

Ummm Marrow. In addition to the Macon wines, the Clos de la Barre might also be seen as a relative value.