Showing posts with label Burgundy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Burgundy. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Burgundy Price Sadness, Champagne as Consolation

I love Burgundy wine and would happily drink both the reds and the whites several times a week for the rest of my days. I do not like, however, paying for Burgundy wine. It's not that I refuse to spend money on wine - I splash out a bit here and there. Over the years, though, I like to think I've become smarter about how I spend my wine dollars. Now, when I spend $25 on a bottle of wine I want to buy something that represents the best wine I can get for that $25. When I spend $50, I want the best wine possible for $50. And it makes me sad to admit to myself that in the price range where I spend most of my time, I no longer think Burgundy represents the best I can get for my money.

Wine old timers will talk about the days when you could buy Roumier Bonnes Mares on the shelf for $100, and other sordid tales. I was not buying wine in those days. But even 5 or 6 years ago it was possible in NYC to buy truly top quality Burgundy wine for $75 - wines from great terroir that would improve over time and reveal great detail and nuance, and would be utterly delicious. The top Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru wines were approximately that price. Fourrier 1er Crus from Gevrey, D'Angerville 1er Crus, and plenty of other wines that are truly exceptional. Those wines cost way, way more now. Today my favorite wine store in the world sent out an email advertising 2011 Burgundies and Chevillon 1er Cru Les Cailles costs $145. Les Cailles is a great vineyard and Chevillon is a wonderful producer - there is no question in my mind that this will be excellent wine. If money were no object, I would buy some.

For most of us, money is a limiting factor. There is no conceivable situation in which I could imagine buying 2011 Chevillon Les Cailles for $145, and this has nothing to do with the quality of that wine. It has everything to do with the other wines I could buy for that same money, if I were to spend that money on a bottle of wine. Some of you will now say "But if you want Chevillon you can still buy 2011 Chevillon 1er Cru Bousselots or Pruliers for $115." Same problem - there are other things I would buy for that same money, were I to spend that money on a bottle of wine. The villages wine, the 2011 Chevillon Nuits St. Georges Vieilles Vignes costs $75. $75!

All European wine has gone up in price in the past 5 or 6 years. The rate of increase in Burgundy seems to be more accelerated than most, however, and it means that I drink way less Burgundy wine, which makes me feel sad. That said, there are still places to spend that $75, should you spend that kind of money on a bottle of wine (and the holidays are coming up people), and to feel confident that you are getting the best wine for your money. For me, one of the very best places to spend up to $75 on a bottle of wine right now (NYC market prices) is Champagne. I know, that sounds weird - Champagne as a value. I don't mean it that way, exactly. I mean to say that I think that if you are spending $75 in a NYC wine store right now, Champagne in general is the place where you can get the finest wine, objectively speaking.

Here are a few of the producers whose wines can be purchased at or below that price point, and that I believe represent truly exceptional quality:

Roederer - yup, I'm leading with a big house. The vintage Blanc de Blancs is for me one of the reference standards for Chardonnay in the Côte des Blancs. The wine is delicious young but has the acidity and structure to age well. And this is why I'd rather spend my $75 here than on Chevillon VV - Roederer's vintage Blanc de Blancs is in the upper echelon of wines made of Chardonnay from that place. Chevillon VV is not. 

Bereche - The whole lineup is of very high quality, and vintage wines made entirely of Meunier or from Chardonnay that are entirely expressive of place can be had for under $75. The rose in the photo above costs a bit more, maybe $90. But that's less than 2011 Chevillon 1er Cru Bousselots. I'm not picking on Chevillon - I am in love with those wines. I resent the new pricing though.
Savart - Harder to find (check Chambers Street) but the wines are fantastic. The one in the photo is exceptional, and can be had for about $55. If this were Burgundy of similar quality it would cost $125.

Larmandier-Bernier - specifically the Terre de Vertus (in my book). One of the grand wines of Champagne, according to none other than Peter Liem, and the 2008 (but this is never a vintage wine) release is on the shelf now, for under $75.

Rene Geoffroy - I like the whole lineup and think it is vastly undervalued, even among Champagne lovers. Empriente, for example, the vintage (but not vintage dated) wine made mostly of Pinot Noir is exceptional and one of the finest of its type and can be had for under $70.

Diebolt-Vallois - the Prestige Brut Blanc de Blancs is always great - big and lusty, and entirey focused at the same time. This is tremendous wine for about $60.

There are many others - I just included the ones that I drank recently enough to still have photos (and aso Geoffroy and Roederer because I love them). Now, what can we do collectively to bring Burgundy prices back to a reasonable level? Or must we accept this, the indignity of no longer buying the wines?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mid-Summer Laundry List

I've been meaning to write more, I really have. It's not as though there's been a shortage of interesting food and wine to discuss - it's been an embarrassment of riches. But I am trying to write when I have a story to tell, not simply to blabber on when I eat or drink something interesting. That said, the other day I was in Washington DC and had dinner with my pal Keith Levenberg, and he gently chastised me for not writing so much. He said that I shouldn't worry about writing the occasional "here is what I ate or drank" post.

I still disagree - I want to write when I have a story to tell. But sometimes one needs to get the proverbial juices flowing, and a laundry list post is a fun (for the writer, anyway) way to do that. So, patient reader, here is a mid-summer laundry list for you. Here are some things that I've been doing:

It's been over two years now, but I finally got my grill up and running again. Wow, I love to grill. With hardwood charcoal. The slow way, but the dee-licious and lighter-fluid-free way.

My pizza dough is beginning to be more consistent now too. It turns out that the small details are crucial - punching down, but not kneading the dough after it rises, for example.

I spent some time (and way too much money) with my daughters planting on our deck. For a while, things really looked great. Then it rained everyday for over a week. Then the heatwave came. Plants that like super hot weather are doing okay, like the poppies above. Many other things have simply wilted. Next year I will choose plants more wisely - things that like intense sun and heat. Because NYC in the summer is now essentially the same as Dubai. But there is no climate change, people!

There's been a lot of great wine.

Some of it fabulous and now very expensive wine from iconic vineyards, wines that achieved great heights.

Some of it more humble in terroir and aspiration, but capable of giving a different and also very valuable type of pleasure.

I drank a few wines that are beloved by many wine folk, but that are completely new to me. This one was utterly compelling.

I drank wine by producers I know and love, but wine that is new to me. This one is intensely sweet - a style that is hard for me to appreciate. But the quality here is simply impossible to miss and the wine was delicious and entirely expressive of place, even as a dessert wine. This is not an easy trick.

I am lucky to have generous friends who take pleasure in sharing their treasures.

And I try to do the same. This was my last bottle, and let me tell you - with 3 years of bottle age this wine is a finely tuned symphony of Manzanilla greatness.

It's been a great summer and summer is only a month old. The outlook for the net two months is quite positive. More soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Ability to Withstand Magnification

The other night a friend came over for dinner and he brought with him a bottle of white Burgundy, a wine that reminded me why it is that I love white Burgundy. Not that I needed a reminder - some of the finest wines I've ever drunk have been white Burgundies. I'm not put off by the bottles that don't live up to expectations, even though these can be costly disappointments. Wine in all categories can be disappointing, and I don't buy the cliché about Burgundy being "hit or miss." All wine is hit or miss when you get right down to it. Storage, bottle variation, and many other factors can reduce the experience of any given wine. And when white Burgundy is on, it is as thrilling as wine can be, to my taste.

The funny thing is, on paper this wine didn't have to be so good. 1994 is not considered to be a good vintage, for one. And this wine comes from Puligny, but the producer is better known for white wines from Meursault. That said, the 1994 Robert Ampeau & Fils Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes was a very good wine. Not the greatest of white Burgundies that I've had, even recently, but very good, particularly considering the difficult vintage. And the wine made me think quite a bit.

We opened it and tasted, maybe a half hour or so before we would begin drinking it. My friend who brought the wine was not terribly impressed, and I understood why - it seemed dilute, without much concentration. But we had graduated college in 1994, and we also were probably not terribly concentrated in 1994, needing time to gain complexity and become more serious. We have since done that, and with a little air, the wine did too. It never fully lost that dilute feeling, but it did blossom aromatically and although not a wine with much sap or richness of body, it absolutely and clearly articulated itself and showed a very lovely delicacy to its aromas and flavors. That's not a cop out way of explaining away a mute wine. It is a truthful description of the wine's character.

Not every wine will be powerful, rich, and with concentrated flavors. You already know that, but I'm just saying. Mature white Burgundy can be great and can do so in the character of something light in body, delicate, almost fragile. I've not had other vintages of this wine so I don't know, maybe this is always the character of Ampeau's Combottes. Somehow, I doubt it. 1994 was not an easy year, with lots of rain and other problems. Many people wrote off the vintage, and today's prices for '94s are lower than any other vintage in the '90s. But I've had several examples of 1994 Burgundy in the past months and have really enjoyed them.

So, what about this particular wine: I loved the clean and pure articulation of aroma, incense and stone and spring water. And I loved the delicate way those aromas tranlslated on the palate, finishing with some pungency, leaving a lingering incense and mineral essence that didn't so much stain the palate, but left an impression nonetheless.

In his classic book Making Sense of Burgundy, Matt Kramer writes about Puligny-Montrachet:
The goût de terroir of Puligny seems somehow more sharply etched than elsewhere. The fruit is defined and powerful yet restrained, like the musculature of a martial artist. Its perfect composition is revealed by its ability to withstand magnification. As you increase resolution, from commune level Puligny to premier cru and then zoom to Batard-, Chevlalier- and Le Montrachet, you find no blemishes, no distortions in taste or balance.
I hadn't read this section of the book in a while and the day after drinking this wine, went back for a look. This paragraph struck me in its description of Puligny's restrained character, something that I am learning to see in the wines, especially in relation to the brawnier wines of Meursault, Puligny's neighbor to the north. Combettes is a vineyard that borders on the Meursault appellation, and probably has more flesh than some Puligny wines (which may have something to do with why Ampeau's Combettes in 1994 is as successful as it is). And still, the character of this Combettes, to me anyway, was unmistakably Puligny.

Kramer also talked about the ability to withstand magnification, and I like thinking about this. Maybe the idea can be extended to vintage. In a riper vintage like 2003 for example, the essential restraint should still be evident. And in 1994, for example, a lesser vintage, there is no distortion in taste or balance.

Maybe this sounds like a simplistic thing to say, but maybe it would be easier for those of us who love Burgundy if we stop hoping that every bottle will be a great thing, if we let go of our ideas of the heights a bottle should ascend to. I'm not saying that we should dumb it down or stop expecting the wines to be great. But that it's also nice to allow a 1994 to be a 1994, and to appreciate it for whatever its charms may be.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Burgundy Wine Club 2013 - Chevillon, Lignier, Montrachet, and Musigny!

I got into wine too late to be able to drink things like La Tâche, Chambertin, or Musigny. There was a time not too far back when a person could buy a bottle of wine like that and yes, it would cost a lot, but buying a bottle wouldn't necessitate changing the way you live. Now, a bottle of mature Chambertin by a top producer costs at least $1,000. La Tâche...fugedaboudit. But these are among Burgundy's greatest vineyards and they give wines that all of us would love to taste. How, in this day and age, can those of us who do not manage hedge funds experience these wines?

Burgundy Wine Club is the answer, my friends. Seven friends and I kick in a few hundred dollars every year, and by pooling our money we are able to buy expensive wines that none of us alone would purchase. Not only are we pooling our resources, we are also sharing the risk of flawed bottles.

I am graced with the task (joy is more like it) of choosing the wines, and the theme of our annual dinner. Last year we drank a lot of Pommard, which is now a curse word in my house. The year before that we focused mostly on Volnay. This year I was not as concerned with picking one theme, and instead focused on finding bottles that I really wanted to drink - things I'd never had before that would be accessible to me only via Burgundy Wine Club. So, we drank a bottle of Montrachet (!), several bottles by Robert Chevillon from the early '90's, some Lignier Clos de la Roche, and yes, we drank Musigny. Musigny!!!

Obviously there is visceral pleasure in drinking these wines, and in the act of getting together with good friends for this annual Big Night of Burgundy. I learn a tremendous amount too at these dinners, and this night especially so. I learned for myself why it is that Les Saint Georges is considered to be the finest terroir in the southern part of Nuits Saint Georges. I was reminded that Montrachet is great, but appreciated the way that some vintages give more of a thrill than others. I learned what Clos de la Roche tastes like, what it really tastes like. And I learned that Musigny, even from a poor vintage, is one of the true apexes of red wine.

We gathered at the bustling and energetic Manhattan hot spot The Breslin, where my friend Carla is the wine director, and she and her team were amazing. We opened the bottles as we sat down, poured the Montrachet, and mostly let it sit in the glass to open up over the course of the next few hours. We began with wines by the great master of Nuits Saint Georges, Robert Chevillon. Chevillon makes wines from 8 vineyards of 1er Cru standing: 4 in the northern and 4 in the southern part of Nuits Saint Georges. His wines are known for their transparency and terroir expression.

We drank only wines from the southern part of the village (the northern side continues up the hill to Vosne-Romanée), including the great vineyards of Les Saint Georges, Vaucrains, and Les Cailles. With onion soup laced with bone marrow we drank 1994 Les Vaucrains and 1994 Les Saint Georges. 1994 is thought of as a poor vintage, but these wines were terrific. Vaucrains was bright and energetic, and also showed a bit of a rustic side. It was balanced and long, and the fruit was still lively. Les Saint Georges was, even on the nose, immediately recognizable as the finer terroir, with greater depth and complexity, it was a more complete wine. I was thrilled by the way the wine combined density and power of flavor with a silky and graceful frame. One experienced drinker found the alcohol to be a bit intrusive at 13.5%, but still thought it was a great wine. Oddly enough, Vaucrains was the better pairing with the onion soup, meshing perfectly with its salty and savory flavors.  

With various savory vegetable plates we then drank 1992 Les Cailles and 1992 Les Saint Georges, and sadly, this wine was corked. I actually did not identify it as such, and neither did most of us. Some found it a bit musty, I found it simply to be not terribly complicated. An experienced drinker suggested it was corked and it made sense. Live and learn. Les Cailles however, was the prettiest of the Chevillon wines, with rose inflected red fruit that glowed with energy. Chevillon! These are wines that can still be purchased without liquidating my retirement account, and they are wonderful wines.

There are several great producers of Clos de La Roche, including Dujac, Rousseau, Ponsot, and Lignier. On this night we drank two bottles of Lignier Clos de la Roche, and both were great wines. I've read that Clos de la Roche gives one of the longest lived red wines in Burgundy, and that as per its name (roche = rock), the wines show pronounced minerality. The 1998 Clos de la Roche was superb, with intensely savory and smoky aromas and flavors that were completely shot through with stone. I loved this wine, and it's funny because it wasn't pretty or even very approachable, but it was detailed and intense, and I was assured by experienced drinkers at the table that this was quintessential Clos de la Roche. The 1995 was delicious, with more pronounced fruit and generally more approachable, but I found less complexity, less intensity of stone - less Clos de la Roche. I would love to drink the 1998 again in 10 years.

With a gorgeous set of homemade terrines and pâtés, we drank Musigny. First I should tell you that the 1988 Drouhin was drastically heat damaged and completely unsmellable, never mind undrinkable. This is a shame of epic proportions, but such is life. Thank goodness we were able to experience the 1986 JF Mugnier Musigny Vieilles Vignes, as wonderful of a red Burgundy wine as I've ever had. Another poor vintgage, and another great wine. If La Tâche is aromatic fireworks, if Clos de la Roche is rock, and if Chambertin is raw power, Musigny is complexity and grace, spherical like Montrachet. I'm not going to be able to describe the smells and flavors here, but I can tell you what it felt like to drink the wine. The nose undulated. I thought of a dimly lit room with a lush red velvet robe tossed haphazardly on a couch. So many aromas moving, and in all directions, always graceful. I must have smelled the wine for almost a half hour before taking a sip, and when I did I was shocked by the energy and power on the palate. The nose was glorious, but docile. The palate, anything but docile. This was a haunting wine, as thrilling to me as any red wine I can remember drinking. And I wasn't the only one - most of us at the table were fascinated with this wine and I saw people swaying as they smelled, as if praying at the Wailing Wall.

And to cap it all off, we drank Montrachet, the 1991 Marquis de Laguiche / Drouhin. Although this wine showed plenty of class and breed, I thought that it was not as great a wine as the only other two bottles of Montrachet I've had, same producer but 1989 and 1988 vintages. The 1991 was excellent but it showed a bit thick, with surprisingly sweet flavors, and without the focus I would have liked. An experienced drinker said that he detected some botrytis and this makes sense. Criticizing Montrachet is sort of like criticizing Mozart - who am I, really to say anything here. Just sharing my thoughts, that's all.

Another great Burgundy Wine Club night, and this time our wines showed very well, in general. I'm already thinking about themes for next year...

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Burgundy that I Buy Every Year

My oldest daughter was born almost six years ago. When my then-wife was approaching the end of the second trimester of her pregnancy, we decided to take a trip to France, to Burgundy. Before leaving I asked David Lillie at Chambers Street if he could recommend any producers we should visit. He generously set us up with Jeanne-Marie de Champs, a Burdgundian who has been in the wine trade for quite some time. She took us to visit several producers, one of whom was Jean Lafouge.

We were completely charmed by the Lafouge visit. Everything was right - Jean and his son Gilles, the relaxed way they welcomed us to their work and their wines, the cellars, the house, the way they kept making sure my pregnant wife had water, did she want a chair, did she need more air, something to eat?

The wines happened to smell and taste very good also. My daughter had been in her mommy's tummy for about 6 months at that point. I like to think that she also tasted those wines, the lovely whites from Auxey-Duresses, the properly oily and nutty Meursaults, the pure and complex reds from Auxey-Duresses and Pommard. She tasted other wines on that trip too, but something about the Lafouges and their wines - for me it just stuck. 

I resolved to include Lafouge wine in the little collection of 2007 birth-year wines I would amass for my daughter. True, Auxey-Duresses is not the most illustrious Burgundy terroir, but it is not the only wine I've saved for her. And some wines you save because they are great wines, others you save because they have a special meaning. Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru La Chapelle is an excellent Auxey-Duresses that for me has special meaning. I like the other wines by Lafouge too, the reds are all good, and the Meursault is actually among the best values that I know of in white Burgundy. But La Chapelle for whatever reason is the one I put in the cellar. In fact, it's the only Burgundy wine that I buy each and every year. I buy Burgundy differently now, getting far fewer bottles of higher quality. But I always get a few bottles of Lafouge La Chapelle. My younger daughter has a birth-year bottle of La Chapelle waiting for her too.

I just picked up the 2010's, a vintage of low yields and supposedly excellent quality. These, like most La Chapelle I own, are not birth-year bottles, and I have no idea when and how I will enjoy them. I'm excited...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Weight of Expectations

The other night a generous friend came over for dinner. He told me earlier in the day that he would bring "an interesting Burgundy to try." That works well because I happen to love Burgundy wine. He arrived and produced a bottle of wine by one of the most famous names in the history of Burgundy, in all of wine, I would say.

I laughed out loud when I saw the wine. I mean really - to have the opportunity to drink a bottle of wine by Henri Jayer is an amazing thing. Jayer started farming vineyards, mostly in Vosne-Romanée, for 50 years or so. He never bottled all that he harvested, as a lot of the land he worked was owned by others, but he of course bottled his own wine too, and it was legendary during his time. Prices went through the roof after Jayer died in 2006. For his top wines - the iconic Crox Parantoux, Richbourg, and Échézeaux - each bottle begins in the thousands. Multiple thousands. This year a case of 1985 Jayer Cros Parantoux sold for, um, $265,200 at auction (more than 22K per bottle for those without a calculator). I was not the person who bought it, in case you were wondering.

Until the other night I had never tasted a wine by Henri Jayer. Most of us haven't, even those of us who were into wine back in the 70's when top Burgundy cost hundreds, not thousands of dollars. There never was very much of the wine. Now that bottles are astronomically priced it's just an unlikely thing, to drink a bottle of Jayer. There are several wines like this that immediately come to mind and sadly, many of them are Burgundy wines.

What would it be like to actually drink one of these wines? Really, try to imagine it for a moment. Someone shocks you with a bottle of Jayer, or something else rare and iconic. Something you otherwise would never have the chance to drink. Something you've heard about, read about, wondered about, and never expected.

There is no question that the experience of drinking such a wine would be glorious. But what about the part where you try to figure out if you like the wine, and how much. What about the part where, regardless of whether or not you like the wine, you try to figure out if it is a good wine.

Wouldn't it be easy for your judgement to be clouded by the fact that you are drinking Henri f*#ing Jayer?!?

I've heard wine pros and other folks too say that their judgement is not clouded in these situations. I believe this but only if that person has the breadth of drinking experience to make this possible. Most of us don't have that kind of experience, and we are only human, are we not? You'd have to be a hater to walk into your first bottle of Jayer and dislike it.

So, my generous friend brought with him a bottle of 1993 Henri Jayer Bourgogne, Jayer's most humble wine. But Jayer, no less. And I will tell you that I loved the wine before it came out of the bottle. Okay, that's not true, but I was definitely all set to love it, so take everything I'm about to say now with a grain of salt.

This was not even close to being one of the top Burgundy wines I've ever had. But it was among the best Bourgogne wines I've had. I think it compared quite favorably to many of the best Villages level wines I've had. It had a delicacy to it that contrasted with the pungent and smoke-inflected flavors. Especially on the second day (my friend left me the bottle!) the wine had this sheer sensation to it, this elegant and lacy texture, and the flavors were more detailed. I wanted to find Vosne spices, but mostly I didn't. Something in the wine, the powerful and almost muscular way the wine delivered its smells and flavors, made me think of Gevrey or Nuits-Saint-Georges.  But I have no idea where the grapes for this wine came from. In the end I really liked the wine, I could tell that it was a very high quality wine, and it was thrilling to drink.

And yet, the next day when I bragged to my friend Peter about drinking this wine, I also said this to him in my email:
Jayer Bourgogne was very good. but a lesson in terroir in that it in the end was Bourgogne, perhaps with some villages fruit in there? But it's hard to make a grand cru wine from Bourgogne site, even if you're Jayer I guess.
Peter wrote back, and as he tends to do, he said something concise and smart that made me want to write this post. He said:
That bottle is too weighed down by expectations. When it was made it was supposed to be a good, easy-drinking yet high-quality wine, like Lafarge Passetoutgrains or Dugat Bourgogne. Now, though, it's expected to be Jayer.
Food for thought.

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.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Jacky Truchot Wine Dinner

It's taken me a long time to write this post. On the occasions when I get to do something spectacular in the wine world, I usually write something rather quickly. Not this time, and it's because I don't have the typical unabashed praise for the wines and for the dinner. This was indeed a spectacular event, and still, I have some criticisms. It's been hard to figure out how to write about them without making blanket judgements that I do not actually have the depth of knowledge to support.

So I will say this: I want to tell you about the amazing Jacky Truchot dinner I attended recently - the good parts and the bad parts. And please remember while reading this that my criticisms (and my praises) are just my own opinions, nothing more.

Jacky Truchot made wine from plots in Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St.-Denis, and Chambolle-Musigny from the late '70s through the 2005 vintage. His wines have always had a very high reputation among Burgundy cognescenti, and you might think of them as "insider's" wines. He retired after the 2005 vintage and sold almost all of his vineyards. Since then Truchot's wines have skyrocketed in price. Good Burgundy is never cheap, but a 2002 Truchot villages wine that would have cost about $45 on release now fetches something like $150 at auction. The top wines...I saw $250 as the starting point in a recent auction.

Why so much money now? As with the wines of Noël Verset of Cornas, for example, every time a bottle is opened, there is one fewer left on the planet, and no more will ever be made. And perhaps Truchot isn't as much of an insider's wine anymore. It's hard to track exactly how word gets out in these cases, but all of the sudden collectors who hadn't been buying Truchot are buying it in force. And the prices have risen as a result.

When I asked friends who are far more knowledgeable about Truchot than I am, two main themes emerged. Purity - I heard that several times, from everyone I asked. The wines are supposed to be brilliantly pure in their expression of terroir. And traditional - farming and wine making are both done in the traditional style. In this case traditional means good farming, old vines, high yields, minimal intervention, no fining or filtering.Yup - high yields. No thin yield, super-powerful wines from Truchot. These are described as feminine wines of grace and finesse.

So I was thrilled and grateful to be part of this dinner, to have the opportunity to drink a selection of Truchot wines from several vintages. This is something that I am unlikely to experience ever again. The lineup was impressive:

Fight 1
1999 Morey-St-Denis
2002 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbes
2003 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers

Flight 2
2002 Clos de la Roche
2003 Clos de la Roche
2004 Clos de la Roche

Flight 3
2002 Charmes-Chambertin
2003 Charmes-Chambertin
2004 Charmes-Chambertin

Flight 4
1999 Charmes-Chambertin
1990 Charmes-Chambertin
1989 Charmes-Chambertin

Before I share thoughts on the wines, I want to share a few criticisms about the food - the pairings specifically. We ate at Union Square Cafe, the classic NYC restaurant. The food was delicious and I enjoyed everything I ate. But with flight 1 we were served Vanilla Scented Poached Lobster with Sweet Pea Salad. An excellent dish, beautifully prepared and presented. But with those three wines? I was open-minded, honestly I was. It just didn't work, to my taste, and I wound up drinking Champagne with this dish.

The biggest food problem, however, was the final course served with Flight 4. Mature red Burgundy is a gentle thing and the complexity of its aromas can be overwhelmed by strong tastes or smells. With these grand old wines we were served a plate of delicious and well-selected cheeses. Including the wonderfully grassy, pungent, and stinky Hudson Red, from upstate NY. I couldn't smell the wine, and I was not able to discern much detail of flavor either. Perhaps I am too sensitive and precious of a Brooklynguy, but all I could smell was cheese. And it hung like a cloud, it never left.

And I might as well complain about the wines a little, while I'm complaining. We drank wines mostly from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 vintages. One could argue that with 2005, these might be the very worst vintages for current drinking in that they are no longer young, but they are not mature either. They are likely to be shut down, or at least tight and constricted. This makes it hard to appreciate whatever glory is within, and when dealing with something as rare and pricey as Truchot, that seems like a shame. Whatever. I certainly didn't protest as I drank these wines. I'm just sayin', that's all.

The real issue I had, the disturbing realization for me, is that the wines are probably not worth the money they now cost or the iconic status they now have. It is possible to expect too much from wine, especially when retirement or some other finality makes the wines scarce. Truchot devotees are now readying themselves to type out indignant ripostes in the comments. Do as you must, devotees. All I mean to say is that the wines are very good, and made in a lovely style. But are they among the greatest red Burgundies? Is Truchot's top wine, Clos de la Roche, the finest example of wine from this vineyard? Is the Charmes-Chambertin the finest of its type? Many people would say no in both cases, and yet the wines are now being traded at prices to rival Bachelet's Charmes-Chambertin and not quite yet Dujac's Clos de la Roche, but getting closer. This probably says more about the way high end Burgundy is bought and sold than it does about the actual opinions of the most knowledgeable Burgundy lovers, but it is still a shame.

Okay, now about these wines. I was impressed with how clearly they reflected vintage character, and by the clarity with which they conveyed aroma and flavor. And yes - by their faithful expression of terroir. And by how good they smelled and tasted.

The 2004's seemed to transcend the problems of the vintage. They were more generous and ready-to-drink on this evening than the others, and I thought they all showed lovely floral perfume (not even a slight trace of 2004 "green-ness"). Not as substantial as the other vintages, but still quite lovely. The 2003's also were better than I expected, except for the Chambolle Sentiers - I found this bottle to be hollow and uninspiring. They were ripe, but not in any way ponderous or overdone. Some complained that they lacked mid-palate depth. Most folks agreed (and they are all more experienced than I) that the 2002's were the best wines and that they would be quite grand at maturity. I must say that I did not understand the 2002's, that I simply am not experienced enough to be able to interpret them in their current state of tightness. For example, I found the 2002 Clos Sorbes to show fruit aromas that were too heavy, verging on overripe.

The 1999 Morey-St-Denis was in a great place for drinking, with complex musky aromas that still echoed ripe red fruit. A great example of why it can be so rewarding to hold onto a simple villages wine for 12 years. After the first flight came a trio of wines from Clos de la Roche. This might seem obvious to you, but it was fascinating to experience this for myself: Clos de la Roche is one of the greatest terroirs of Burgundy. It simply outclassed the other wines, including the Charmes-Chambertins, with layers of complexity and an articulate depth that the other wines did not achieve. My first sip in flight 2 was 2004 Clos de la Roche and it was truly startling. The 2002 was very constricted, but others thought it was stunning. Even where I found the fruit to be a bit heavy, the minerality was immutable.

The fight of Charmes-Chambertin wines suffered a bit after the Clos de la Roche flight, I thought. The 4th flight promised to be exciting, but the 1990 was off, re-fermenting possibly, as the wine was effervescent and tingly on the tongue. And I have nothing detailed to say about the 1989 or the 1999 (the cheese problem), but they both seemed lovely and very well balanced.

It feels kind of funny to be criticizing aspects of an evening such as this one. I did enjoy people's company, I certainly learned a lot, and I do not take for granted the opportunity to drink these wines. I recognize also what goes into an evening like this.  Someone had to know enough to buy these wines in the late '80s and in the '90s. They were patient with them and stored them properly. They worked to get a group of pleasant people together who can contribute bottles, and to arrange a fine dinner at a fine restaurant. This evening was successful in most of those things, and I was lucky to be along for the ride.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old or Young Wines First?

The other night I had dinner with 7 other people in Manhattan, a dinner featuring 12 vintages of Marcarini Barolo Brunate. Three wines each from the 60's, 70's, 80's, two wines from the 90's, and the 2007. I had never before had such a broad array of Barolo vintages in one night. It was amazing to experience the evolution of such finely pedigreed Nebbiolo, to feel the changes as it gets older.

We drank the oldest wines first, and ended with the 1990, the 1996, and the 2007. We began with the flight from the 60's - the 1964, 1967, and 1969. There was some discussion at the table - is this the right way to do it? Some felt that we should have started with the young wines.

I appreciated drinking the oldest wines first, in that I was as sharp as a taster as I would be that evening, and perhaps best able to appreciate the fine subtlety of the grand old wines. Or maybe I should say, the young wine tannins hadn't yet affected my mouth. That said, when we got to the 80's flight (1982, 1985, and 1989), the wines seemed very young, nowhere near as thrilling as their older cousins. Perhaps a great 1982 served after a great 1964 just cannot shine as brightly as it would on its own.

This is not the first time I've gone oldest to youngest in the past few months. Not long ago at a Noel Verset dinner, we began with the older wines. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet (although clearly I would drink these wines in any order and enjoy them).

And at my Burgundy Wine Club dinner, I decided to put the flight of Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux (1989, 1991, and 1993) before the de Montille Pommard Rugiens flight (1998, 1999). My thinking was that the younger brawnier more tannic de Montille wines, if served first, would obliterate the Comte Armand wines.

Curious to see if anyone has an opinion they'd be willing to share on this.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Been busy and not able to write as often, but please don't think that means I've been starving and not drinking anything interesting. Oh no, my friends, I've been a very lucky Brooklynguy lately, in large part due to the generosity of friends. Here are some tidbits, things from the past few weeks that are worth mentioning:

Slope Farms sells pork now. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. Ken and Linda Jaffe (former Brooklynites who moved to the Catskills) are dedicated to farming healthy cows, and theirs is my absolute favorite beef. I'm not sure of the details on this new pork venture, but I hear they have an elder and respected neighbor who advised them as they set up their farm. This neighbor raises pigs. The Jaffes now sell their neighbor's pork. Look at the marbling on the meat, and the beautiful color. I've tried the chops and a rib roast so far, and WHOA, this is very very good pork.

And on the other end of the food spectrum, processed food, I've discovered what I now believe to be one of the finest canned food products - Heinz baked beans, the kind they sell in England. These are done in tomato sauce, not in that cloying brown sugary sauce that our baked beans swim in. If you see these, try them. Okay, they're canned, but they're actually not that bad for you. And they taste so very good.

Some wine too...

2001 was not a very good vintage in Champagne. Not many vintage wines from that year - it was rainy, especially in the weeks leading up to harvest, there was a lot of rot, and it was a challenge for the grapes to ripen. I know from reading that this is considered to be one of the most challenging vintages of the past 20 years. So it was fascinating to have the opportunity to try a vintage wine from 2001, Jean Vesselle's Brut Prestige. This wine is all Bouzy, a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, but it reminded me of a wine I tasted a few years ago by Moutard that is made with the obscure grapes of Champagne, things like Arbanne and Petit Meslier. The wine had overt notes of green herbs and leafy vegetables, and I think it would have benefited from a few grams more of dosage (it was dosed at 3 grams, I believe). But really, it was good wine, well balanced and particularly lovely on the nose. I cannot say that it is what I dream of when I want Champagne, but it was a very good wine, and a reminder that it is possible to enjoy well-made wine from bad vintages.

I had dinner with a few friends and we each brought wine to the restaurant. These were good wines, on paper anyway. We arrived at 7:00, opened everything, and it was clear that nothing was showing very well. After a little while, I don't know how long exactly, but probably an hour or so, all of the sudden everything was fantastic.

I'm talking about a bottle of 2000 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos that was butterscotch pudding for a while, and then turned into this detailed and focused thing of beauty. Some caramel notes, but also a bunch of freshly picked white honeysuckle. Pungent, long, and intense with a saline edge to the finish, this was a beautiful wine, a very special treat.

And the 1990 Robert Ampeau Volnay Santenots, a wine that began better than the others, but still was a tangled mess. And an hour later it was gorgeous - a complex and beguiling nose that had that vibrant mature-wine-pungency thing. Flowers, musky and gamy, but in the end, very much about stone. And it is the texture that gets you - the wine couldn't be more silky, and this silk surrounds what essentially is a wine about rock. Textbook Volnay, and a truly compelling and lovely wine.

And the 2002 Paul Bara Bouzy Rouge Coteaux Champenois, a wine that was probably the messiest of all when we first opened it, all bramble and pitch black fruit and very disjointed. But later on, I swear this wine was the freshest and most detailed wet stone basket of ripe strawberries, so pure and elegant, light as a feather. And the 1999 Eric Texier Côte-Rôtie, a wine that fooled all of us. It was a red fruit mash at first - I would have guessed a Grenache heavy wine from further south had I tasted it blind. This one took the longest to come around, but when it did it was a classic old school bloody, meaty, black olivey, and very mineral northern Rhône Syrah.

Can I tell you that the next day I learned that our dinner occurred on a flower day...but only after 8:00 PM. Why do these annoying coincidences keep happening with the confounded biodynamic calendar and the way wines taste?

At a restaurant in Boston I drank a bottle of 2007 Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly. The wine was beautiful, a perfect mingling of freshness, tension, elegance, and quiet intensity. It was not in any way showy, and was amazing in its perfect harmony, not for any one particular characteristic of aroma or flavor. Wow, I wish I had more experience with Dagueneau's wines. They are awfully expensive now.

I recently drank an Emidio Pepe wine for the first time, the 2001 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It had been open for hours before we drank it with dinner. I loved it, really loved it. Such interesting and delicious wine. Jet black fruit, very brawny, but detailed and fresh, with cooling herbal aromas, and a streak of something like tar and leather. It was lovely with the aforementioned Slope Farms pork roast, and I must find a way to drink this iconic (and expensive, and apparently very variable) wine again.

Lastly, look at this nice list of white wines by the glass. This is at the restaurant Herbsainte in New Orleans. I was down there recently for work, and stopped in to have a cocktail before retiring to my hotel room. But before I could order, I overheard the bartender telling another man that there was a buttermilk fried Louisiana frog legs special that evening. Hmmm.

Forget the cocktail - I ordered a glass of El Maetsro Sierra Fino (!) and the frog legs. Well that whole situation was so delicious, that I decided to keep going, and drank a glass of the 2010 Domaine du Closel Savennières La Jalousie with a little plate of Gulf shrimp and grits with okra. Even more delicious! You know, I used to love Closel but I kind of gave up on the wines after not liking anything after 2002 (and after the last of my 2002's showed oxidized). I told friends that I was done with the wines. Well, I have no idea what's really going on with Closel, but honestly, this 2010 was just excellent - fresh, pure, balanced, showing typical wooly and waxy notes and lots of minerality. A reminder to me not to make pronouncements about wine. I just don't have the years of drinking experience to make pronouncements.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Burgundy Wine Club 2012 - Pommard

Seven friends and I pool our money every year to buy about 8 bottles of Burgundy wine, wine that we wouldn't buy individually because of the high cost and the risk of bad bottles. Every year at around this time we get together over dinner and share the wines. This year the theme of our dinner was the great vineyards and producers of Pommard.

Pommard is not the most glorious of Burgundy appellations, not by a long shot. In my somewhat limited experience, the wines can be rustic and are not as pretty as the wines from neighboring Volnay, for example, or even compared with wines from "lesser" appellations such as Savigny-Lès Beaune. To continue with Pommard generalizations, the wines do not offer much value or particularly high quality at the villages level, unless the wine comes from a specific vineyard. For example, although I would not buy a straight villages Pommard, I might buy a bottle of Pommard La Chanière by Maréchale or Pommard Chanlins by Lafouge (although I don't buy those wine anymore either, but that's more about my own buying strategy than about the quality of those wines).

People sometimes compare Pommard with Volnay, its neighbor to the south, and they say things like "Pommard is muscular and brawny, and Volnay is elegant and pretty." This is probably true as a generalization, although there are of course exceptions. People also say, when they talk about 1er Cru vineyards in Burgundy that should be elevated to Grand Cru status, that both Clos des Epenots and Rugiens in Pommard are deserving. For me, this is part of the point of selecting Pommard as the theme for our dinner. I wanted to drink wines that are considered to be among the very finest of the appellation, to experience Pommard at its best, to build the foundation of my own understanding of the character and potential of Pommard.

Any list of the finest wines of Pommard would include Comte Armand's Clos des Epeneaux. Epeneaux is a monopole of the Domaine, a walled vineyard of over 5 hectares within the larger 1er Cru vineyard called Epenots. There are two climats that make up Epenots - Grands Epenots and Petits Epenots, and Clos des Epeneaux is almost all within Les Grands Epenots. It's interesting to think about the fact that the previous owner of Clos des Epeneaux, the Marey-Monge family, actually owned all 30 plus hectares of Epenots in the early 1700's, and sold all of it off except for the Clos des Epeneaux, around which they built an 8 foot high wall and kept. Obviously they must have thought that it gave the best wines within the larger vineyard. Clos des Epeneaux wines comes mostly from old vines and, according to what I've read, need more time than most 1er Crus to arrive at maturity. We were all excited to have three examples of this wine to drink at our dinner, wines that could not be considered old, but would hopefully be mature.

I also wanted to drink wines from the Rugiens vineyard at this dinner, and there are several producers who make good examples - Domaine de Courcel, Domaine de Montille, Aleth Girardin, Joseph Voillot, François Gaunoux, and Michel Gaunoux all come to mind. I chose two bottles from the late 1990's by de Montille. I've read that Rugiens is the richest, the most muscular of the Pommard wines, and that Clos des Epeneaux would be more mineral driven and elegant (although one experienced drinker at our dinner raised an eyebrow suspiciously when I mentioned this, saying that he would hardly call Clos des Epeneaux a wine of elegance, that is is still brawny Pommard).

We rounded out our lineup by including bottles by two other producers whose wines I wanted to drink, as I read that they are made in a style that I would appreciate - Clos des Epenots by Domaine de Courcel and 1er Cru Pezerolles by Domaine Billard-Gonnet.

First, the good news: we had a great night and I love Burgundy Wine Club. Such a great group of people, a pleasure to be with them and to look forward to this experience each year. We had a wonderful long dinner at the very lovely Rosewater in Brooklyn, where owner John Tucker serves thoughtfully sourced and prepared food, and has a very well selected wine list.

Now, the bad news: the theme of this dinner was Pommard, and everyone agreed that the wine of the night was the 1989 François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Charmes. The reds were absolutely underwhelming as a group - I was very much uninspired. That said, the one that perhaps on paper should have been the best, was corked. Another that should have been great was probably flawed. Still, this dinner was not a great advertisement for Pommard. Some notes and thoughts (I'll share the prices I paid when I bought the wines last year - none were purchased upon release):

1989 François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Charmes, $100. We drank this with a salad of grilled calamari with frisée, clementine, and bacon. The wine of the night without any question whatsoever. A fabulous showing for a wine that is drinking perfectly right now. Pungent and fresh at the peak of maturity. The nose at first has a roasted sense to the pear fruit, but the roastiness vanishes after a half hour and the wine becomes linear and focused with a perfect melange of fruit and mineral. Elegant, plush while remaining entirely in control, and great acidity - just a mouthwatering wine that reminded everyone at the table to drink more old white Burgundy.

With sautéed wild mushrooms and a fried quail egg on toast we drank 1996 Domaine de Courcel Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots, $54 and 1999 Domaine Billard-Gonnet Pommard 1er Cru Les Pezerolles, $48. The Courcel was very tight still, constricted, the acidity almost too much, but still pretty, with dark fruit and floral aromas. In the mouth the stony mineral streak prominent. The wine is very good, but probably needs another five years or so to unwind. The Billard-Gonnet wine was just not good. Rich and ripe to the point of being syrupy, maple on the nose. The acidity is raspy, the wine is rustic and just doesn't seem very well made. Not harmonious, not complex, straight forward fruit that is borders on syrup. Not a good advertizement for this producer...

With grilled pork belly, apple, and pickled cabbage we drank a magnum of 1993 Comte Armand Pommard Clos des Epeneaux, $325. Oh, how I wanted this wine to be great. I knew that it would probably need a couple hours to open up, and we opened it at least 90 minutes before we began to drink it. It was dense and impenetrable for most of four hours, and never really opened up. There are hints of something lovely, but the wine is simply not ready, in the magnum format anyway. Some perfume emerges after while, but the wine is tight, inward. Time brings some animale undertones, but this bottle was in a disjointed state, with acid and alcohol not well integrated. There were questions from some drinkers about whether or not the wine was too cloudy. Some one poured a glass through a filter and the wine brightened some, but to me the smell and taste was unchanged. If I had another magnum I would leave it alone, honestly for another 10 years.

With smoked quail, grilled radicchio, pinenuts, and currants we drank 1989 and 1991 Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux, $200 and $168 respectively. The 1989 was corked, and this was crushing - on paper this wine should have been great. The 1991 could also have been flawed. There were clear signs of rot or mildew on the nose, which was musty and inexpressive. The wine was better with food, but the finish was cropped, stifled. Unsatisfying, not delicious, a big disappointment.

With braised shortribs, parsnips, shitakes, and mustard greens we drank 1998 and 1999 de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens, $133 and $185 respectively. The 1999 was delicious, but a bit too simple to be intriguing. It showed the ripe character of the vintage (one that I am learning to be skeptical of) with plush sweet fruit, not entirely enough structure, and very little complexity. Not compelling, I'm sorry to say, and a very poor value at that price. The 1998, however, was a very lovely wine. There were complex aromas of dark fruit, brown sugar, musk, and flowers. Lovely on the palate with pretty fruit and complex secondary flavors, and a long finish that pauses and then sneaks back up. In this wine I could feel the muscularity that people speak of regarding Pommard. To me, this wine was exactly what it should be - complex, muscular, mineral driven, and it was delicious.

Okay, not every bottle and not every wine dinner will live up to expectations. Still, it was a great night with friends. And there's always next year. I have some ideas for an interesting lineup of wines...

Here is an article about Pommard from Burgundy Report.
And here is the report from last year's BWC dinner, if you're interested.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Memorable Pairings of 2011

Well, of the last few months anyway. There have been a few truly memorable drinks and eats in the past months that I never found a way to write about here. So I'll compile them in a best-of-the-unposted list from the last part of 2011.

I was in Jerez in October, and one night I had dinner at La Carbona with Peter Liem and Eduardo Ojeda, the cellar master at La Guita and Valdespino. Eduardo brought several ridiculous bottles to this dinner, one of which was a bottle of La Guita Manzanilla Pasada...but from the mid 1970's! That's right, a Manzanilla Pasada that had spent the past 40 years in bottle. I'm telling you, the idea that Fino wines cannot age is simply wrong. When they are well made and stored properly they can be wonderful. This wine was stunning in its complexity, and also in its freshness.

We drank it with a perfectly grilled bone-in strip steak (I think that's the cut, anyway - you butchers out there can correct me based on the photo if need be). This steak would fare well against anything served at steak temples in NYC - seriously. And La Carbona is by not even a steakhouse. The pairing was fantastic - the umami depth of the wine complimented the meat and the freshness of the wine enlivened and cleansed the palate. An experience I must repeat at some point.

And more Sherry...Joe Salamone was also in Jerez in October, and he returned with a very fine bottle that as of now is unavailable in the States, a special Palo Cortado from Gutierrez Colosía, the very fine producer in El Puerto de Santa María. The average age of these wines is at least 40 years and the wine is a complexly concentrated elegant thing of finesse and beauty.

We drank this wine with home-cooking style Japanese food. It was great with everything, but drinking it with these fried oysters with miso and seaweed was among the most thrilling and delicious pairings I experienced all year. Savory briny sweet complex harmony.

I ate dinner with a few friends at Prune in the fall, and one of them drove in from Rhode Island with several absurd bottles in tow, one of which was the 1972 Leroy Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaut St Jacques. The wine was closed down hard at first, not so unusual for a wine that's been under cork for the past 40 years. But it opened up and showed beautifully, with savory earthy tones and even a bit of very gently stewed fruit. Such a great treat, to be able to drink a majestic old wine like this. We ate all sorts of good things at Prune, and I am not sure, but I think we drank this wine with lamb sausages and all of us were swooning.

Peter generously brought a bottle of Selosse Champagne from France for my birthday in the fall. It is a new release called La Bout du Clos, a wine made entirely from that same vineyard in Ambonnay, from the 2004 vintage. This wine was a bit more quiet than other bottles of Selosse that I've experienced, the oxidative streak not as strong, the supple fruit and saline minerality of the wine doing the talking. It was a special treat.

Peter made a lovely dish of Champignon mushrooms and daikon radish simmered in dashi to go with it - a perfect harmony of savory flavors and aromas. And a concrete reminder, if we needed one, that Champagne is a great table wine.

Why, on Christmas eve my friend Dan Melia opened an absolutely gorgeous bottle of 2006 Marie-Noëlle Ledru Saignée Rosé, and we drank it with excellent grilled cheese sandwiches and various pickles. An unusual pairing, maybe, but Champagne is great with fried food, and the pickles didn't intrude at all. Ledru's Saignée is so very vinous, it's like drinking red wine that happens to have a few bubbles. The wine unfolded slowly and gracefully and was best right as it vanished, a compelling merging of fruit and mineral concentration with textural finesse and grace. Note to self: buy everything Marie-Noëlle Ledru makes before she stops making Champagne.

I've never had Violane before, the sans-soufre cuvée by Benoît Lahaye. This bottle comes entirely from 2008 and is a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I love Lahaye's wines, I love their clarity and focus, their delicate yet powerful expression of Pinot Noir from Bouzy. I loved this wine too, although it is definitely different from the other Lahaye wines I've had. First of all, there is no sulfur, and the wine shows an oxidative undertone that frankly reminded me of some of the Selosse wines I've had (yes, the wine is that good). There is an intense concentration of fruit aroma and flavor and the finish never really ends. We drank this wine on its own, and it was a wonderful pairing. I am drinking the dregs on day two as I write this, and gnawing on a piece of country wheat bread, and it is good.

I haven't had a wine from Santorini in over a year now, as after an initial love affair, I had a group of wines that showed too much sulfur and not enough deliciousness, and I kind of retreated. Not sure what I will do now, after this wine. Peter and I were trying to decide what to drink the other night with a dinner of breaded and fried veal cutlets, cauliflower with cumin, king oyster mushrooms, and garlicky greens. He saw a bottle of 2007 Sigalas Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko in my wine fridge and asked that we open it. I would never have picked that wine, and wow, was it a great pairing.

We decanted the wine about two hours before drinking it, and it was fantastic. The aromas were clear and fresh, vibrant. The wine has a unique aromatic profile, and now that it is maturing, it is articulate and detailed. For me the primary aroma is pumice - the volcanic rock. There is citrus fruit too, something floral, a Burgundian barrel-influenced sweetness, and all infused with this lovely slightly smoky savory-ness. Great freshness and acidity on the palate, balanced, and expressive. Simply delicious wine, and seems like its only beginning to grow into itself. The wine went so well with the veal cutlets, which I topped with a little deglaze of butter, lemon and chopped salted capers. It worked with the earthy cumin notes of the cauliflower and the savour of the mushrooms too. It was surprising to me how this wine offered enough richness to pair with everything on the plate, but also the brightness and refreshment to balance the meal.

This last one reminds me, as a new year approaches, of the value of being open minded, of welcoming new experiences, of being informed by and considerate of what I've learned to be true, but also of wanting to be wrong about things - of learning continuously. I hope that your 2011 ends in a lovely way, and that our 2012 is filled with happiness and learning and many exciting new pairings.