Showing posts with label Burgundy Trip 2006. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Burgundy Trip 2006. Show all posts

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tasting at Domaine Paul Pernot

The Domaine Paul Pernot was the largest producer we visited, although Pernot is middle sized by Burgundy standards. I have been looking through pages of search results and I cannot find anything informative about this producer to share with you, so I will do the best I can on my own.

I first tasted a Pernot wine a little over a year ago and it was a 2003 Bourgogne red wine. I was not terribly impressed and I didn't seek more of the wines. Who knows...maybe I just needed more experience with Burgundy, or maybe 2003 Bourgogne is just not going to be that impressive in general. But I have a true appreciation for Pernot wines now.

First of all, the wines show real balance and purity. They are not blockbusters (I cannot talk about the two Grand Crus as I have never tasted them), but are somewhat austere and subtle. I found that the aromas in the young wines were quite reserved, but that might be because there is not as much new oak used in most cuvees as other producers use. The aromas of the grape take a little whie to reveal themselves. Secondly, this is a producer whose 1er Cru wines will not destroy your wallet. The 2005 Puligny-Montrachet1er Cru les Folatieres retails for about $40, and its really good!

It was raining quite hard when we arrived in the beautiful village of Puligny-Montrachet. We ran up to the cellar door and knocked, holding our coats over our heads. After a few moments the door opened and a small gray haired man welcomed us inside. Paul Pernot is a caricature of a winemaker. Small but quite stout, completely gray and into his 70s, he wore a pageboy cap, a rumpled apron over his canvas workpants and shirt, and an old blue cardigan sweater to protect against the cellar's chill. BrooklynLady is convinced that the Institute des Vignerons in Beaune issues this outfit to all winemakers when giving out licenses.

We went to a corner of the cellar used for tasting, a dimly lit area with a barrel for a table, several glasses and unlabeled wine bottles waiting to be opened. There were a few notable empty bottles on a shelf above the door: a 1945 Cos D'Estournel among them. As he began to uncork bottles, I noticed that his hands were huge and scratched up - he looked as if he had just finished throttling a horse.

He began a somewhat combative conversation with Jeanne Marie, asking her if she was discounting his wine, and she was promising that it was not her. Pernot sells wine to a few exporters, including Dressner and Jeanne Marie de Champs, and he was upset because he heard that someone was selling them too cheaply. This conversation persisted for the duration of our tasting so BrooklynLady and I contented ourselves with tasting on our own. Here are a few notes:

Whites:

2005 Bourgogne. Straightforward and pleasing, some citrus smells. Nice medium bodied texture, hints of vanilla and stone fruits. More elegant than the other 2005 Bourgogne whites that I tasted.

2005 Puligny-Montrachet. Citrus and flowers on the nose, pretty tight in the mouth, but with some swishing about there are clean citrus and white fruit flavors, and a definite mineral sense too, like wet stones.

2005 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru les Folatieres. Smells were hard to make out, although the nose was very pretty. Just a bit jumbled. Some lemon balm, a touch of honey? Tightly coiled and pure flavors of cirtus and white flowers, a little toastiness to it, and a piercing finish, as if the flavors were ready to uncoil after spitting the wine (yes, we learned to spit in Burgundy). I think this wine is a great value, and if I can find it in NYC I will buy a few bottles for cellaring.

Reds:

2005 Beaune Clos de dessus les Marconnets. Austere smells of raspberries and stems, still quite tannic, in the mouth too. Too early to tell what's going on with this wine, although it was light on its feet and pwerful too - seems to have potential.

2001 Beaune Clos de dessus les Marconnets. WOW! We both loved this wine. Drinking perfectly right now, lovely perfume of dark flowers, red fruits, and earth. Silky texture, all velvet in the mouth. Light feeling, but pure and piercing flavors of red and black cherries with a perfumey and earthy backbone. Just lovely - I would pour this for any Burgundy lover. And if I can find it I will grab a few bottles for drinking over the next few months.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Burgundy Trip Continued: Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet

David Lillie at Chamber Street Wines put us in touch with Jeanne Marie de Champs, an exporter who represents about 60 Burgundian grape growers. She got us tickets to the Hospices de Beaune auction, and she made appointments for us to visit a few of her growers, and we didn't discuss our tastes before she made the appointments.

You know how when a friend is at your house and they pick out music from your CD book, they tend to pick something that you don't listen to very often, and it is usually a pleasant surprise? For some reason, it didn't occur to me that our appointments might be with producers who focus on making white wine - BrooklynLady and I are Pinot lovers, and are basically ignorant about Burgundy whites. When we learned that we would be visiting Domaines famous for white wine, we were excited. We would probably have focused entirely on Pinot Noir if left to our own devices.

We drove with Jeanne Marie to Meursault on a Tuesday morning to visit Domaine Fichet. I forgot to bring the camera, which explains why I cannot post photos of the lovely buildings in the village. Jean-Philippe Fichet's house was quite large, and the winery even more so. We walked into an absolutely spotless room that receives the picked grapes, with a circular drain in the middle of the floor. The 2006 grapes were apparently pressed there only weeks ago, but you could never tell - it was clean like a hospital room. We walked through a cellar where the 2006 wines were adjusting to new life in barrels, and into a larger cellar with both barrels and big red steel tanks.

We tasted 9 wines and I just couldn't keep tasting notes if I was going to fully enjoy the experience. I will instead share some of what I learned from this tasting. Here are the wines, tasted in this order:

2005 Aligote
2005 Bourgogne
2005 Bourgogne Vieille Vignes
2005 Haut Cotes de Beaune
2005 Auxey Duresses
2005 Meursault
2005 Meursault Les Meix
2005 Meursault Les Chevalieres
2005 Meursault Les Tessons

The Aligote was, as Jeanne Marie only half jokingly said "to get your mouth rid of coffee or whatever you had before you taste the wine." I'm not so sure that the winemaker appreciated that comment. The most obvious thing I learned in this tasting was the way that the wines increased in complexity, and what complexity actually means, to my thinking.

Some of the characteristics of Chardonnay from Burgundy; freshness and vibrancy of fruit, specific fruit flavors, the nature of the acids (structurally, and in flavor - lemony, apple peel), vanilla and other oaky flavors, minerality, texture...all of these characteristics were present to some degree in each wine. And I believe that I could have opened any one of the wines on its own and enjoyed it, smelling and tasting some of those characteristics. But tasting them in succession allowed me to understand what I think is meant by "complexity," the way that the characteristics harmonize with each other yet are still individually identifiable in a complex wine. Wines that are not as complex featured instead one or two of the characteristics prominently, and the others were not accessible.

The Meursault wines were much more focused in their flavors. The Auxey Duresses, for example, was very tasty, but in a flabby way. Compared to the Meursault Les Chevalieres, it was fat sweet fruit all over the place. The Chevalieres had clear lines of lemony acidity, a clear backbone of minerality, and young and tightly wound but delicious fruit with a nutty character.

The Meursault wines were lighter than the others in texture and color, but they packed much more power. And within the Meursaults, Les Chevalieres and Les Tessons had more grip and potential energy than the Village Meursault. They clearly had a lot of developing to do, while the Mersault was more approachable now, its flowers, lemons, nuts, and stones already on display.

This was for both of us the most profound tasting experience with white Burgundy and Chardonnay in general up until this point. We followed this with visits to Domaine Paul Pernot and Maison Olivier Leflaive, and I will describe those soon.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Burgundy Trip Continued: Dinner in Ladoix

Many restaurants in or near Beaune are closed on Monday nights, and this being the Monday after the Hospices de Beaune auction weekend, we figured that we might have to eat dinner at some chain restaurant such as the "Buffalo Grill," the oddly Texan-themed place we saw one day. But fear not, the knowledgeable staff at Hotel Villa Louise, our little hotel in Aloxe-Corton, pointed us in the direction of La Terrace de Corton, a place in Ladoix with a "Bib Gourmand", a recognition from the Michelin Guide that the restaurant offers a very good meal for $40 or less. This dinner turned out to be quite memorable, both for the food and the company, if sadly, not for the wine.

It was pouring Monday night and we were starving by the time go to the restaurant, located on Rte 74 - no backroad navigation necessary. The decor was pleasant, a country inn type of style with large fireplace in the front room. Ours was one of four tables occupied in the whole place - a slow rainy Monday night. A group of 6 guys sat at a large table loudly enjoying themselves, a suave looking middle-aged man dined alone, enjoying a half bottle of white with his first course and then a half of red with his main dish, and a handsome middle-aged blond woman sat at the table closest to the fire with her yellow lab for company. She had a 750ml bottle of red to herself.
BrooklynLady began with a local specialty, a slice of country ham with parsley. This dish appeared on almost every menu in Burgundy. A thick slice of ham, not too salty, a hearty chewiness, almost nutty in flavor, with a cool and mushy parsley gel, very fresh and green. A great contrast of texture and flavor, and the accompanying cornichons were delicious too.

I started with another local classic - poached eggs in red wine. I could eat this every day if my cardiologist would only loosen up. Three small perfectly poached eggs arrived on pillows of carmelized shallots, all on top of a pool of heavenly sauce made with red wine, more shallots, bits of thick slab bacon, plenty of butter, and I don't know what else - but c'est magnifique!

We then shared escargots prepared traditionally, marinated in Chablis for a while and then cooked with loads of garlic, parsley, and butter. Escargots in Burgundy are like pastrami sandwiches in New York: they are a part of what makes the local cuisine famous, but it is a dish that locals very rarely actually eat. Anyway, these snails were just yummy, so earthy, with flavors that stayed on your tongue after the plate was cleared. A long finish, I guess you would say.

BrooklynLady then had coq au vin - tasty, but this was truly a coq - a chewey rooster. I ordered a steak, which the chef trotted out into the dining room and grilled in the fireplace. He served it rare with 5 different mustards, including red wine mustard, almond mustard, and my favorite, the tarragon mustard.

Continuing our "when in Rome" policy, we ordered a half bottle of Ladoix wine, the 1999 Domaine Ravaut Ladoix 1er Cru Les Basses Mourottes. We picked this wine because we thought that it would be mature and ready for drinking. 1999 is supposed to be a great vintage for red Burgundy. Although opening a 1999 1er cru from a place like Chambolle-Musigny might be premature, we guessed that a lesser known Cotes de Beaune wine might be ready. It had nice cherry smells and a pretty light red color. But the palate was dominated by a yogurt like, crushed aspirin type of flavor. Very little happening in terms of a mid palate, and a strange vegetal finish. Maybe the wine was not ready for drinking, possibly it was an off bottle. It was not, for me, an auspicious introduction to the world of Ladoix wines.

By the time our main course had arrived, the suave gent had begun a clever tactical assault on the blond woman. He was an Englishman who lived in Spain, but was driving his 1950's Porsche to the one guy in Germany who could repair it. He stopped at this restaurant because it is also a hotel (convenient). She was Danish, travelling on business, missing her husband (for the first part of the conversation anyway). By the time there was only a little wine left in her bottle, she was giggling at enjoying everything he said. My favorite moment was when he said, after learning that she was also staying the night at the hotel, "So will that dog sleep quietly through the night in your room, then?"

BrooklynLady and I spent our drive back to the Villa Louise imitating their funny conversation, these people who were grandparents, enjoying their flirtation on a rainy night in Burgundy in the absence of their respective spouses for that night. I imagined that he walked her to her room, tried to buy an overnight ticket, and was rebuffed - that she was flattered but was never actually considering going further than flirting. BrooklynLady disagreed, and was quite certain that the dog was barking that night. If so, I hope that the next morning they stayed in bed and had poached eggs in red wine sauce.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Great Tasting at Moillard Grivot

After a morning enjoying excellent wine in upstart Pernand Vergelesses, we decided that it was time for the classics, something monumental, something from Cotes de Nuits. As we had no appointment (foolish, I know, but we had appointments at several Domaines over the next few days), we decided to visit Moillard Grivot. I am not usually drawn to large negociant houses, but I read through Nikolai Vogel & Kilian Fitzpatrick's lovingly written descriptions of their Burgundy tasting trips. They recommend Moillard Grivot as a great place to taste wines from various villages and to compare, to learn something about the terroir. And you don't need an appointment.

The Moillard Grivot house in Nuits St Georges was right on the main road with easy parking. The house was literally the tip of the iceberg. When you walk in you can go downstairs to a monumental cellar and walk through aisles upon aisles of barrels and bottles. Like an airplane hangar - HUGE. And a sign said that only 10% of their wine is cellared in that facility.

After our cellar tour we entered the well-lit tasting room, decorated with maps, racks of wine bottles, and what looked like water fountains at the dentist's office, but were in fact modern spittoons. The guy behind the counter gave us rather large glasses (nice - a lot of our tasting was done with too-small glasses) and left us alone with 5 open bottles. We poured, swirled, sniffed, and tasted as we pleased. We probably could have had lunch delivered to enjoy with the wine and they might not have minded.

The Thomas family owns Moillard Grivot now and some wines are bottled under that label. I am reporting prices in Euro because the dollar's value is changing lately. I have no idea for how long these bottles were opened, by the way. Our tasting notes:

2005 Moillard Grivot Meursault 1er Cru Charmes, E29. Great nose of lemons and honey. More reserved in the mouth, with some banana and citrus, some minerality. Well balanced, young. I really liked this wine.

2002 Domaine Charles Thomas Nuits St Georges, (price info lost). Pretty nose of flowers and earth - including a smell that I don't know how to name, but that I have experienced only with better reds from Burgundy. Bright red fruit, but young and tannic, a bit thin in texture. I wonder if the palate will flesh out with age...

1999 Moillard Grivot Nuits St Georges, E24. An earthier, almost musty smell. Not revealing much fruit in the nose. Sappy sweet cooked red fruits in the mouth balanced by a pleasant bitterness at the finish. I did not like this wine upon first tasting it, but the more I smelled it and after a few more sips, the more drinkable and balanced, delicious in fact, I found it to be. BrooklynLady simply disagreed with me - she did not like this wine, found it to be past its prime and cooked.

2002 Moillard Grivot Moray St Denis 1er Cru Les Monts Luisants, E19. Fresh flowers and perfume, with cherries and earth on the nose. Tastes of sweet red fruit, with good balance of cranberry like acidity. Earthy undertones, this wine is complex and beautiful. And for E19/$25?!? I have to get some of this home somehow. Its drinking so well now, seems so well balanced that I wonder if it will improve with age...

2004 Domaine Charles Thomas Bonnes Mares, E67. Darker than the others with completely different aromatics, featuring cinnamon and some wet cement, with dark black cherries. Flavors are sweet and spicy with red and black fruits present, and earthy pine sap. Lots of tight tannins remind you how young the wine is, how much the flavors and aromas will develop over time. Okay, so I get it now. There is something to this Grand Cru business. Tasted alongside the more mature wines of lesser designation, this wine was an absolute powerhouse.

When we were done tasting we were surprised to learn that there was no charge - the tasting was free. I recommend stopping at Moillard Grivot to anyone who will be in Burgundy for more than a day or two. Such a pleasant environment, and such a great way to learn about wines of the Cotes de Nuits, tasting them at your leisure, side by side.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pernand Vergelesses and Domaine Pierre Maray et Fils

The next morning we drove back to the village, even more lovely in the daylight, and up the hill through the narrow streets past picturesque houses and several Domaines and tasting rooms. Before doing any tasting we drove past town, even further up the hill, and to a point advertised as "Panorama," a site at the very top of the hill overlooking the whole valley. Still morning, this was shrouded in fog, and it was far too scary to even get out of the car. We returned in the evening though, and on the left you can see the view (with monument).

Neither of us knew much about the producers or the wines of Pernand Vergelesses (view of part of the Grand Cru Corton Charlemagne vineyard on the left), so we decided to go to the Domaine Pierre Maray et Fils - why not right? Last night's wine sure was good. Let's see what else they have to offer. They do not have a website and the wines are not available in the US, but here are (another one from the Panorama on the right) some tasting notes, and Pierre's son (Eric, if I remember correctly) believes in tasting red wines first -he says that the whites are easier to taste so they should come last. At least that's what I think he said, but he spoke no English and my French is dodgy at best:

Reds

2004 Pernand Vergelesses, $11. Straight forward smells of red fruit, simple and enjoyable wine. A bit tannic - might be better chilled.

2003 Pernand Vergelesses Les Belles Filles, $13. Surprisingly dark in color, with fresh smells of violets and earth. Sweet and sappy dark fruit, but with a light feeling and a pretty floral finish. A great value at this price and drinking well right now, this is one of 3 bottles that I brought home from France.

2005 Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Les Fichots, $20. Lighter in color, with reserved red fruit smells and flavors. Way too young to really tell what's going on here, but the wine seems well balanced in that I can make out some fruit, some acidity, and some earthiness amid the green tannins.

2005 Corton Grand Cru, $40. Darker again, with rich musky smells. Some blackfruit on the palate, but too tightly coiled to tell what's going on. Seems promising based on the interesting animal smells.

Whites

2005 Pernand Vergelesses, $14. Some citrus on the nose, and some wood. Nice flavors of stone fruits and citrus and a rich texture without being heavy. (View of part of Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru vineyards below)

2005 Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Sous Fretille, $20. Stronger smells, citrus and some fruit. Good acidity and young ripe fruit, some fat on the sides of the tongue. Richer in texture, this seems like it will become an excellent wine.

2004 Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Sous Fretille, $20. Interesting to compare to the 05. A more expressive nose with some flowers and some fruit. Lighter mouthfeel with young but vibrant stone fruit flavors and clean acidity. Very impressive. A more delicate profile than the 05, but it had an extra year of development.
2005 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, $48. Very reserved nose, more stones than anything else. Some hints of bright fruit but very young and tight flavors. At this point I am probably too inexperienced with white Burgundy wines to have picked out the flavors of the young Corton Charlemagne. I improved over the next several days though.
If you are interested in trying to find wines from Pernand Vergelesses, any shop that carries a good Burgundy selection should have something. Problem is, it might be Grand Cru Corton Charlemagne, or something like that, and quite pricey. Village level wine from Pernand Vergelesses represents great value. Your best bet might be to look for the wines of Domaine Rapet Pere et Fils- reasonably priced and available.

Le Charlemagne

The finest meal of our France trip, considering both Burgundy and Paris, was most certainly our dinner at Le Charlemagne, a smart and beautifully designed restaurant nestled in at the base of the hills in Pernand Vergelesses. Walkable at about a mile and a half from the Villa Louise, our lovely little hotel in Aloxe-Corton, we drove because nothing other than the moon illuminates the narrow road through the vineyards. It was a beautiful drive through a valley, expansive views of hills and vineyards, and of the lights of Beaune in the distance.

Le Charlemagne is owned by the very young chef Laurent Peugeot and his wife Hiroko, originally from Japan. They also own the popular sushi place just outside Beaune called Sushi Kai. Part of the idea at Le Charlemagne is to fuse classic Burgundian cuisine with that of Japan. This merging of sensibilities was on display immediately upon arriving at the restaurant - the building itself looks like part of a chateau that spent several years in Japan. Tall drowsy bamboo growing outside, swaying in the breeze, and cedar planked walkways that guide you up towards the second floor entrance. The interior is reminiscent of a Buddhist temple, very spare with wooden floors and simple white walls. And a temple it is, a temple of thoughtfully composed and skillfully executed haute cuisine that is sometimes shocking in its kinetic energy, and always beautiful.

After ordering we were presented with a shot glass containing an amuse-bouche of shrimp in a dill gel with shellfish creme. This, along with the bread that came piled vertically on a somewhat menacing looking skewer, served as a message about what was to come - inventive presentation, to say the least. BrooklynLady started with Veau du limousin, kind of like tuna tartare with small chunks of veal. Absolutely delicious with its light miso vinaigrette, but sadly BrooklynLady was not eating raw tuna so after a few illegal bites, she adopted my escargots ravioli with edamame bouillon and escargots butter. That dish was artfully presented - the fried ravioli resting on 2 chopsticks that served as a bridge over the bowl of edamame bouillon.

BrooklynLady had a shortrib cake with shallot and red wine gel for a main dish. Amazing! Perfectly textured and full of rich beefy goodness. This one is called Parmentier de Queue de boeuf on the menu (which you can see if you click on the link to the restaurant, above). I had quail with tandoori spices with another treat in a shot glass, this one some sort of souflee. I think it was cheese, but BrooklynLady suspects puree of an organ meat like kidney. Again, I go with cheese, and I think the menu supports my claim. Anyone know what "potimarron" means?

Then came the kicker - a salmon "pizza" delivered in a box like they use at Joe's in Brooklyn. A comic flourish for sure, but this was very serious pizza indeed, so serious that the fate of our great nation might in fact depend on it (?). Thick slices of salmon and pickled sea vegetables were arranged on a potato galette - savory, with a great contrast of soft salmon and crisp pickled vegetables and potato. I tried using silverware but pretty soon I had to just pick it up with my hands like I was walking down 86th street in Bensonhurst.

With all of this food I ordered a half bottle of 2004 Domaine Pierre Maray at Fils Pernand Vergelesses. The wine list was quite extensive, including many half bottles, but I figured that I'm in Pernand Vergelesses, so why wouldn't I try the wine from the village? We were well rewarded - bright and floral with good citrusy acidity and some hints of honeyed richness, this wine worked great with food. We were so impressed that we resolved to come back to the village to try more wine.

The cheese plate was phenomenal. A helpful waiter selected cheeses for me from an old school cart, including Ami d'Epoisses and Epoisses (the description on Fork and Bottle is as good as any other), creamy and quite strong cheeses made locally, and tasting of grass, flowers, and the laundry hamper in the boy's locker room.

Dessert began with another shot glass, this time filled with pear sorbet and clementine chunks. BrooklynLady had Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit the size of a lime but orange, with a sweet/tart flavor), Mascarpone, and Genmaicha, an inventive sweet that combined creamy cheese with tart yuzu and green tea. I had chestnut ice cream with a chocolate cookie, very tasty. I learned in Burgundy that I really like chestnut as a sweet flavor. Dessert came a set of accouterments that strongly resembled a chemistry set. If you go tothe restaurant's website and allow the flash photographs to scroll by, a picture of this will come up. One test tube had a small green apple and white chocolate popsicle, another had what turned out to be poprocks, and another had what I think was that mixture of spices and tiny candies that you can take by the handful when you are leaving an Indian restaurant.

The menu makes it look like we spent LOADS of money on this meal, but remember, they offer a set menu that allows you to have four courses for the same price as the beef shortcake a la carte. We floated happily out of the restaurant to the car (why I turned down what I'm sure was a luscious dessert wine) and said goodnight to Pernand Vergelesses. Le Charlemagne was an experience not to be missed if you go to Burgundy.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hospices de Beaune Auction and a "Special Tasting"

We woke up to thick fog each morning, really thick. Eerily beautiful, and not easy for walking around or driving. We made our way slowly, nervous husband driving 6 months pregnant wife in tiny stick-shift car on narrow and windy roads through thick fog to Beaune for the Hospices de Beaune wine auction. The Hospices de Beaune (pictured below) has served the poor and sick in Burgundy for over 500 years now. The Hospices has inherited various vineyards and parcels of vineyards over the years, and puts out an enormous amount of wine that is auctioned off every November to great fanfare. The actual auction is impossible to sit in on unless you work in the industry, but Beaune turns into one large street festival for the weekend, with stall after stall offering delicacies like frog's legs, oysters, crepes, sausages and pates, cheeses, escargots, and of course wine.

BrooklynLady and I wandered around the festival munching on almost everything in sight. We were meeting Jean Marie, a woman who runs an export business and who would later take us to several Domaines for tasting, but she also scored a couple of tickets for us to the Sunday afternoon portion of the auction, sitting right in the middle of the front section! We sat behind Louis Latour, who was gray haired and dashing at about 80 years old in a pin striped suit. The Mayor of Beaune stopped by to say hello to Jean Marie and we were of course introduced. The auction was exciting, a real buzz in the air. Big shots competing to buy bigger barrels. Alliteration, anyone?

They use an interesting system in the auction, one that in my opinion probably leads to all kinds of gaming. Most wines are offered in several lots of varying numbers of barrels (about 24 cases in one barrel, they say). When you bid, you are bidding on the right to purchase any portion of the lot at that price. The winning bidder decides how many barrels they want at that price, and then the remaining barrels in that lot are auctioned - but ALL remaining barrels in that lot must be purchased at the winning bid. For example, the first wine was the 2006 Beaunes Dames Hospitalieres and there were 4 lots; two of 7 barrels and two of eight barrels. The winning bid on the first lot was 5,400 Euro and the bidder took 2 barrels, spending E10,800. Next, the remaining 5 barrels were auctioned, and the winning bid was something like E4,800 per barrel. Best strategy seemed to be to wait until the 3rd or 4th lot and hope that the winning bidder takes a few barrels, and then snap up the remaining barrels at a lower price, assuming most buyers already got the amount they wanted and could afford. But you risk getting nothing that way too...

It was fun to watch and follow the prices. The picture above is blurry in part because simply moving one's arm to scratch one's ear could easily result in the unplanned and unwanted ownership of 3,000 bottles of wine. Early on I pointed to the electronic board (visible, sort of, in the upper left of the picture) and started to ask Jean Marie something. BrooklynLady grabbed my arm and yanked it back, the usher in the aisle glared at me with an eyebrow arched, and Jean Marie said "You tell your 'usband don't move eef you don't want a lot of wine."

So I stopped moving. We witnessed the super exciting one barrel auction won for E200,000 by the man who owns the company that produces Gray Goose Vodka, all to benefit two charities, "Enfants et Santé" and "Princesse Margarita de Roumanie." It's funny - I found that watching the act of bidding on wine to be just as inspiring as looking at wine or thinking about wine, and after 2 hours, 15 wines with 46 lots (BrooklynLady = Patience), we wanted to taste wine more than we wanted to continue to watch people bid on wine. We said goodbye for the day to Jean Marie and left in search of a tasting.

There are amazing wine shops in Beaune, any of which carries loads of great Burgundy bottles, not to mention the Champagne and Cremant. Honestly, you would salivate walking into any of them, and if one were to move to your neighborhood you would need to work a second or third job to keep up with the bills. We saw a sign in the window of one shop near the big beautiful church (called Notre Dame, perhaps, but I am bad with church names) that promised a "Special Tasting" in honor of the auction, offering 6 wines including a Robert Groffier, a Lambrays, and an Armand Rousseau. I tasted and loved Rousseau wines once before, heard that Domaine des Lambrays is the bomb, and have been looking for a way to try Groffier wines. The price tag of E45, or $58 for the tasting seemed like nothing to me. I mean look, I just watched many people from all over the world spend thousands of Euros to buy wine. I can't spend $58? Louis Latour wipes the tannins off his teeth with $58. It was absolutely worth it. The staff in the store were very friendly and they poured 6 almost full glasses of wine for us, smiled, told us to call them over with questions, and left us alone with a spit bucket. It turned out that the Groffier wine was gone (sniff), but was replaced with another superstar, an Amiot. We had a ball comparing the smells and flavors of this impressive array of wine:

2004 S. Javouhey Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru. Reserved nose, green smells. Pronounced minerality with tart citrus flavors. Seems very young.

2003 P. Chavy Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru. Open and fun nose of tropical fruit and flowers. A little fat in the mouth, with flavors that are far more austere than the nose would suggest.

2003 S. Javouhey Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaumonts. Sweet smells of flowers. Jammy fruit, sappy, reflecting the heat of the vintage perhaps. Maybe with steak sandwiches at a picnic on a really hot day?

2001 Armand Rousseau Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru Clos du Ruchottes. I tasted the 1997 vintage a while ago at the Sotheby's pre-auction tasting. This wine was darker and more lively, spicier. I am turning out to be a big fan of the 2001 vintage for red Burgundy. Smells of red fruit and earthy spices. Velvety mouthfeel with flavors of fresh and stewed cherries, and a cranberry bitter edge. Well balanced. I would keep this in my cellar if I could afford to. I may anyway...

2001 Pierre Amiot Clos St Denis Grand Cru. Sweet smells of red fruit. Clean and pure red cherry flavors, very fresh tasting. Vibrant mouthfeel. This one will continue to improve for quite a while, I would bet.

1999 Domaine de Lambrays Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru. Without any doubt the best of the tasting. Wine Journal has a complete description of the Domaine - worth reading. Bright and fresh smells bursting from the glass, red fruits and black, earth and spice. Interesting creamy stewed cherries and orange peel flavors with a distinctly savory layer of earth underneath. All I can say is WOW. And I imagine that this wine will not peak for another 5+ years.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Our First Dinner in Burgundy

We had at least 5 restaurants on our eat-here list, but the only one with a table open on Saturday night, our first night in France and the eve of the Hospices de Beaune auction, was Le Gourmandin. Wine people from all over the world were in the area for the auction and it's amazing that we were able to get in anywhere on short notice. Located in the Place Carnot, a large open square in the middle of Beaune, it was easy to find even for jet lagged people who were just starting to remember some of their French.

While walking to Place Carnot we had to pass through the street festival and could not prevent ourselves from stopping at the lively huiles (oysters) and vin chaud (hot wine) stand. Cheerful men shucked oysters like champs and arranged them temptingly amongst lemon slices on dishes with broken ice. Another man stirred a large vat of red wine with orange sections, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and other spices bobbing about. As raw oysters and intense jet lag just didn't seem like a good combination, we got a glass of the vin chaud - delicious! And warm in your hands on a chilly, rainy evening.

The set menus are the way to go, offering an entree (what we know in the States as an appetizer), a plat (main dish), and a cheese course or dessert, sometimes both. This menu is always far less expensive than ordering a la carte, and sometimes, very strangely, less expensive than just ordering an entree and a plat. I also came to love the French tradition, expectation really, that you will enjoy an aperitif before your meal. I ordered a glass of Cremant, the sparkling wine of Burgundy. Cremant can be made with any and all Burgundy grapes, and is creamy in texture and fruitier than Champagne, without the chalky sensation. It is far less expensive than Champagne, and can be a lively and tasty aperitif, especially if combined with a splash of Creme de Cassis to make a Kir Royale, or with Framboise to make a yummy and as far as I know, unnamed raspberry sparkling drink.

Now, what to eat? Pregnant BrooklynLady could not east most cheeses, cured meats, and raw vegetables or shellfish. She is not supposed to eat rare meat either. Her choices were somewhat limited at times, and I think that it was tougher for her than she let on to watch me eat all of those things. But before you say that I'm an insensitive oaf for enjoying in front of her what she could not partake of herself, she insisted that I eat and drink whatever I wanted. As the article in today's NYTimes reiterates, pregnant women are probably allowed a little more leeway than you would think in eating and drinking. She tasted lots of wine, although almost always in minute amounts. She decided to allow herself one real glass of wine on our trip, one glass to drink "like a normal person," as she put it. And what a glass it turned out to be...but that's another post.

She enjoyed her taste of my Cremant (and that's not some sort of sex euphemism - get your mind out of the gutter people). We both chose as an entree the cepes (a local mushroom) ravioli with wild champignon mushrooms in a light mushroom jus/cream sauce. I know, why not order different dishes and share, but there was only one other entree BrooklynLady could eat and this one just sounded sooo good. And it was good - better than good. A melange of textures; smooth ravioli filling, springy and woody slices of wild mushrooms, foamy broth. Warm earthy flavors and soothing jus, neither of which relied too heavily on salt or garlic - common problems in mushroom dishes, in my opinion. This dish encouraged the mushrooms to be the star, their earthiness taking its time to work its way through the mouth and throat, into the sinuses so you breathed mushroom air long after finishing.

I had a glass of 2004 Jean Boillot Savigny-Les-Beaunes Les Vergelesses 1er Cru, $13, with the mushroom ravioli. This wine was somewhat reserved in aroma (after 4 days of tasting I now understand that it might be too young for more in the nose), full bodied with some citrus and some vanilla flavors that are probably associated with oak. It paired well with the mushroom dish, but a more acidic white might have been better - an "opposite" kind of a pairing - the acidity serving as a counterpoint to the rich and savory food. Or a lighter Pinot Noir would be a good choice.

BrooklynLady had duck leg and thigh that turned out to be too rare (basically raw) for her to eat. So she had a little of the venison I ordered, perfectly grilled and served with caramelized onions and some kind of venison jus. Shame on me, but I didn't note the specifics on the Chorey-Les-Beaune red I had with the venison. BrooklynLady then enjoyed some fresh cheese, the texture of yogurt, while I had my first Burgundy cheese plate, including the intimidating Epoisses, a creamy and very strong cow's milk cheese. Dessert was an apple custard tart (not so good) and creme brulee (YUM). By that point, both of us were only half awake, as is probably clear from the lack of detail I am providing here.

A first dinner that left us excited and eager to experience more Burgundy food and wine. A sleepy walk through the closed down street fair booths back to the car, and off to bed. Tomorrow we go to the Hospices de Beaune auction.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Louise Perrin in Aloxe-Corton

We arrived in France at Charles de Gaulle airport on a red eye flight early on a Saturday morning and immediately headed for the Gare de Lyon to take the high speed train, called the TGV, to Dijon. This was almost two hours of half-asleep-trying-to-look-out-the-window-at-the-passing-countryside-but-too-tired-to-keep-your-eyes-open. After arriving in Dijon we walked a few blocks to Hertz, somewhat comically pronounced "airltz" in French. In that dazed state I drove my 6 and a half months pregnant wife and myself out of town towards Aloxe-Corton.

I felt as if I were dreaming as we passed through the towns of Moray St Denis, Gevrey Chembertin, Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanee, and Nuits St Georges...sometimes driving alongside famous vinyards like Clos Vougeot and Clos Marechale. I was a kid in a candy store.

BrooklynLady is great at researching hotels and restaurants, picking the best places for us to go and the yummiest places to eat. She selected the Hotel Villa-Louise for our stay in Burgundy, and it was perfect, really. I unconditionally and without hesitation recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Burgundy. The rooms were spotlessly clean, the beds comfortable, the rooms spacious, bright, and quiet, the surroundings lovely, and the staff friendly and helpful.

To my taste, the location is perfect also. Just a 10 minute drive from Beaune, the "largest" city in the immediate area, you can easily access restaurants and wineries in the Cotes de Beaune and the Cotes de Nuits. But staying at Villa Louise, you are in a tiny town with 2 quiet little streets, several shockingly lovely houses, vineyards everywhere, and the smell of wood buring in fireplaces wafting all around. Below: view of the Villa Louise garden and Corton vineyards from the backdoor of our room

BrooklynLady didn't even open her bags - the moment we we in our room she hit the bed to relax a bit. I was chomping at the bit though, and would have tasted through a vertical of Prestone antifreeze if that were all that was available. I made a beeline for the cave and tasted the wines. Veronique Perrin runs the Hotel Villa-Louise and she is the winemaker for the Louise Perrin portfolio. She is quite charming and clearly loves her work - she describes the wines with feeling. Her first year making the wines was 1986.
Aloxe-Corton is famous for the whie Grand Cru wines of Corton Charlemagne and the red Grand Crus of Corton. Parker says that Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru and Village wines usually offer good values because they are overlooked by consumers who clamor for the Grand Crus. The village sits in the hills just west off Route 74, the main road to use when driving around Burgundy. Pernand Vergelesses, Corey-Les-Beaunes, and Ladoix are right nearby, and many vignerons who make Aloxe-Corton wines also make wines from the nearby villages. Right: the narrow road leading through the houses of Aloxe-Corton.

I experienced the reds of Aloxe-Corton to be very powerful and structured wines, masculine in character, very tannic with lots of dark fruit. I read that with age, the better wines become silky and seductive. I tasted one 1991 Corton Grand Cru and it was all tobacco, still tannic, no finesse. Just not my style maybe.

Tasting notes follow (but are more brief than normal because I tasted through many wines somewhat quickly). Prices are conversions to dollars, but are clearly lower than if the wines were purchased outside of France.

Whites:

2004 Bourgogne, $9. Bright and pleasant flavors, well balanced. Good value.
2004 Pernand Vergelesses, $17. Richer, with a thicker mouthfeel. Smells of vanilla and maybe some banana.

Reds:
2005 Aloxe-Corton, $25. Green. Young and primary, but with nice smells of cherries. Palate isn't revealing much yet.
2004 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Vercots, $27. More complex and drinkable, but still reserved. Some earth on the palate.
2004 Corton Grand Cru Les Bressandes, $40. Opened for my tasting, and way too young to drink. Deep ruby colored, tightly wound smells and flavors, dark fruits, spicey and tannic. Some minerals on the finish. I couldn't really tell what was going on with this wine - too soon. Seems promising though.
1986 Cote de Beaune Village, $28. This wine was sitting on the counter already open, but I had to ask for a taste - I guess they figure people are not interested in wines of this "lower class," made from grapes from all over the place. Yet this wine was EXCELLENT. Rusty colored with smells of cooked fruit. Flavors of stewed cherries and caramel, with a light but mouth-filling texture. Veronique said this wine should not be held any longer, "it is your holiday wine," she said. She recommended pairing with strong cheeses.

This exerience hammered home the idea that wine can be beautiful if it is well made and aged properly, regardless of its classification. Sure, maybe that Grand Cru Les Bressandes, it aged properly for 20 years, would eclipse the 1986 cotes de Beaune Village, but for me the point was simply that for immediate drinking, the "lowest level" wine was by far the best. Right: view of Villa Louise and Chateau de Corton-Andre from the vineyards.

More to come...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back from Burgundy

What a trip! We had an amazing time - saw beautiful country, shared the kinds of experiences that happen only while on vacation and that help to nourish a relationship, learned a great deal about the wines of Burgundy, pounded the pavement in Paris for four days, and more. I am simply too tired to write much more now (no thanks to Air France - more on that debacle some other time), but I cannot resist posting a few pictures now. And I wanted to stop this string of days without a post... This is the house next to our little hotel in Aloxe Corton.

We stayed at the hotel Villa Louise (picture below with orange leaves) in Aloxe-Corton, a small town just north of Beaune. And I mean small. There are no restaurants, no Tabacs (the little shops where people buy cigarettes and cigars, sometimes coffee and sometimes newspapers and magazines), no stores period in Aloxe-Corton. But a lot of wine is made from grapes classified as belonging to this tiny town. In fact, the only Grand Cru red wines that come from the southern part of Burgundy, the Cotes de Beaune, come from Aloxe-Corton.

That brings up something that I learned while tasting and learning about the wines that is really valuable to me: a humble Bourgogne or Haut-Cotes-de-Beaune wine made from grapes from all over Beaune, can offer the same degree of pleasure and satisfaction, the same ability to fascinate the taster with complex aromas and flavors, the same depth of experience as the most rare and expensive Grand Cru wine. To chase after Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines simply because they are so titled is to miss out on many great wines, and is sometimes to spend too much money on wines that are only okay, or that need to be aged for 10 years in order to exhibit the qualities that distinguish them as Grand or Premier Crus.
Whoah...I had to re-read that sentence three times to get it...and I knew what I meant before I wrote it! Time for bed. I am excited to share some experiences and tasting notes from our trip, and I will get right on that tomorrow.

Above: on the road from Aloxe-Corton to Pernand Vergelesses. Typical of the old brick walls that line many small roads, and that often surround vinyards of higher reputation. Vinyards surrounded by walls are called "Clos." Hard to tell because the resolution is not great in the background, but the entire hillside is covered with vines. The area in Burgundy that is not paved is essentially one huge grapevine.
Above: vinyards of Aloxe-Corton. We woke up to intense mist every morning in Burgundy. This typicaly burned off by noon. Right: rainbow off the road between Beaune and Aloxe-Corton.