Saturday, July 28, 2012

A lesson in Burgundy terroir, as great a pairing as I've had all year, and the best wine I've ever had.

There was a dinner I enjoyed not long ago with a few of the guys from my Burgundy Wine Club. One of our group, a brain surgeon who lives in Rhode Island, came to NYC specifically to enjoy this dinner with us and he brought a slew of absolute gems from his cellar to share. I'm talking about well preserved white Burgundy from the late 1980's. And not just any old Burgundy, great terroirs were represented. Drinking them together was really a breathtaking experience and offered several profound lessons.

We were lucky to be able to bring these wines to one of the hidden gems of Brooklyn dining, my friend Albano's restaurant called Aliseo in Prospect Heights. I've known Albano for 10 years now, I see him at the market early on Saturday mornings, I've eaten his food many times. There is no need to order anything in this situation, and that's my favorite way to do things. I said "Albano, there will be 4 of us and we will be drinking some very special old wines. We are in your hands." He said "Okay."

Let me start the rest of the story by talking about terroir. We began with two bottles of Meursault by François Jobard, the 1986 and 1988 Meursault 1er Cru Genevrières. I don't know a whole lot here, but I know that François Jobard made great wines back then. I've very much enjoyed the few bottles I've had from this period. There is a certain style to the wines, austere, old school, perhaps a little rustic. And Genevrières is a great vineyard, with Charmes it's considered to be right below Perrières in potential. The 1986 showed some botrytis and it took an hour or more for it to harmonize. The 1988, however, that wine was gorgeous from the moment we opened it until it was gone perhaps two hours later. So very mineral. Yes, there were hazelnuts and other things too, but they blended seamlessly and were secondary to the floor they danced upon - the stone. A balanced and complex wine that made all of us very happy - "this is all you can hope you when you drink old Meursault," some one said. It was without question one of the best Meursaults I have ever had.

That wine could be the centerpiece of an evening for me and I would be thrilled. The thing is, after the Meursaults we drank 1989 Dauvissat Les Clos. It was utterly glorious wine. Strikingly fresh, vivid and harmoniously expressive, such focused aromas and flavors, such complexity and detail, and it grew and improved in the glass over a few hours. Without question the best Chablis I've ever had. And it made the Meursault seem a lot less grand. I commented on this and someone said something like "It's true, and that's the difference in terroir - Les Clos is a true Grand Cru."

Had the evening ended there it would have been memorable. But it didn't. We then drank a wine that I am convinced is the best wine I've ever had.

Perhaps I've experienced equal pleasure while drinking other wines. But I've never had a wine as good as this one. 1989 Marquis de Laguiche Drouhin Montrachet. I've never had a Montrachet before. Okay, I had a taste from a barrel in 2008 while visiting the cellars of Lucien Le Moine. but that just doesn't count. It's a big thing to say - "the best wine I've ever had." But it's true, and I knew it almost immediately. I've never smelled or tasted a wine that is so pungent and also so perfectly detailed, controlled, and complete. It glowed with energy and permeated every crevice in my nose, mouth, and throat. Some one used the word "spherical" and that's absolutely true. The wine was a perfect circle, a perfect thing, and it actually moved me to shed a tear or two, but don't worry, none of the guys at the table saw this. 

So, among the best Meursaults that I've had, the best Chablis that I've had, and then the best wine that I've ever had. Nice. And the thing is, the Montrachet made the Les Clos seem less grand. And 1989 Dauvissat Les Clos is a very grand wine. But this is Montrachet we're talking about. One of the very finest vineyards on the planet. I've read that a lot of the Montrachet out there does not justify the very high prices, that a great bottle of Batard, Chevaliers, or Merusault Perrières can be more thrilling than a sub-par Montrachet. I've also heard that a great Montrachet is among the ultimate experiences in wine. This bottle was great, and I've never had a better wine.

Another thing: Albano served crudo of scallops when we drank the Dauvissat Les Clos. In Albano's dish the scallops were coarsely sliced, drizzled with a fruity olive oil, topped with cracked pink peppercorns, and served with braised leeks. Olive oil, pink peppercorns and Les Clos? On paper this might not be the ideal pairing, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. It was honestly the best pairing I've had all year. One of the rare cases in which the wine and food elevated each other in true synergy, and it was astoundingly delicious.

Last thing: I remember maybe 5 years ago reading something on a blog in which the writer asked "Can a person be a credible wine critic if they have never tasted the world's best wines? Can a person critique Burgundy if one has never tasted La Tâche?" I used to think that the answer to that question is "yes." I can drink a Simon Bize Savigny-Les-Beaune Aux Vergelesses, for example, and I might be able to compare it to other wines from Savigny. Or to other red Burgundy wines that I have drunk. I might be able to tell you whether or not I liked it, and why. Maybe there is some value in that. But if I haven't experienced the heights that Burgundy can achieve, I cannot truly place the Bize wine in the proper context. I'm not saying that I don't trust myself or know what I like, and so on. But I drank a great Montrachet - I have some understanding of what white Burgundy can be now. It expands context in a vast way for me and changes my understanding of other wines. 

I'm telling you...this one was a night to remember.


Anonymous said...

Though I'm a huge, huge fan of your wine blog (far my favorite of the many I follow), the columns on your Burgundy club always leave me cold. At first I thought it was the sense of elitism of the group, or the excessive cost and inaccessibility of most of these wines. But in the end I think it's because it doesn't really sound like you. There's nothing funky, edgy, surprising. Montrachet is a great wine. Who knew?

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Anon - Thanks for your compliments and I hear what you're saying. I see it differently. A couple things:

1) Burgundy wine club is awesome precisely because only by teaming up in a group of 8 people can we afford to drink those wines. That's our way of accessing those great wines. Anyone can do it if they can organize 7 other people, so there's nothing elitist about it, really.

2) Everything we drink in BWC I buy at stores or auctions. No "insider" purchases. If I can buy the wines, so can you (and your 7 pals). Sherry Lehmann, Chambers, etc.

3) I've never had Montrachet before this. I expected to be underwhelmed, but I was shocked at how good it was. I believe in forming my own opinion about a $15 bottle, and also about Montrachet. I'm thrilled about how great this one was, and for me it WAS surprising. Perhaps you've had Montrachet and you already know, but I hadn't had it and that is the whole point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for responding, BG. No sense boring you or other readers with an elaborate response to your response to my response. Just to say that deep in my bones it doesn't sound like the same BG. Maybe it's just raging envy on my part? :-)

Brooklynguy said...

Well, I hear you. Thank for sharing your thoughts in an honest way.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post. My wine
consumption is not as rarefied as
yours and my palate is mediocre,
but I found it interesting that
the 2 best white wines I've ever had were:
Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes (1992?)
J. Moreau Chablis . . . Les Clos! (1996?)
both probably drunk too young.
Anyway keep posting.
Different Anonymous

keithlevenberg said...

Chablis with raw scallops is about as perfect a match as there can be in my book. Maybe with a touch of uni on top. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to sell your house, buy a boat, and become a man of the sea.

Peter said...

I'm jealous. The best wine I ever drank was a 1990 Rousseau Chambertin. It's the flavor I've been chasing ever since.