Sunday, December 28, 2008

BroolynBabyGirl 2 has Arrived!

I am so proud to announce that our second daughter is here! She was born very early in the morning on Saturday and everyone (except maybe her almost-2-year-old sister) is thrilled.

How can you resist those cheeks?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

2002 Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Gastronome, $40, Terry Theise Selections / Michael Skurnik Wines. With 25 hectares of vineyards in the Côte de Blancs, the Gimonnet estate in Cuis might be considered rather large for a grower/producer. And there are indeed quite a handful of wines in the lineup representing blends from many parcels in Cramant, Chouilly, and Cuis. There is a NV Blanc de Blancs and an interesting series of vintage Cuvées including the non-dosage Oenophile, Fleuron, and Paradoxe - so named because it includes 50% Pinot Noir, the only Gimonnet wine that includes Pinot. There are also Special Club and "Vintage Collection" wines that tend to be old vines cuvées.

The wine we drank is another vintage wine called Cuvée Gastronome. As you might guess from its name, this wine is crafted with an eye towards eating. In its finished state is it only around 4 bars of pressure, whereas most Champagne is about 6 bars. This is achieved by adding less sugar (maybe 20 grams instead of the traditional 24) to the bottle for the secondary fermentation. This wine has less mousse than most Champagne - although it is unquestionably sparkling wine, it is less sparkling than most. It should theoretically have less of a "bubble attack" on the palate, making it easier to harmonize with food.
This wine was disgorged in May of 2007. There are rich roast nuts on the nose, very linear and controlled aromas. The nose expands to include floral notes, delicate and with great finesse. Good acidity supports the delicate flavors of toasty nuts, vanilla cream, and chalky minerals that extend through the finish, with lingering fragrance. Funny though - the light fish soup that we had with the wine basically overpowered the delicate flavors. Low pressure or no, this wine is a delicate beauty, and might be overwhelmed by all but the simplest of white fish dishes, or the freshest of young goat cheeses. I think it works best as an aperitif. You could wait on it if you have some, as it will probably improve with a few more years in the bottle. The current release is the 2004 vintage, which I thought was quite nice at the Terry Theise tasting this past fall.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stems or no Stems

Wine grapes are harvested by cutting the base stem that is attached to the cane, not by picking individual grapes - whole clusters of grapes arrive at the winery for crushing. The wine maker must decide whether or not to remove the stems before fermentation. This is not a simple decision. There are pros and cons to destemming and passionate arguments have centered on the merits of stems.

Almost all white wine and most red wine is made without stems. Stems are common in Beaujolais where a lot of wine is made using the carbonic maceration technique. There is no other wine region that I know of where whole cluster fermentation (not destemming) is the majority technique. In the Côte d'Or of Burgundy there is still an argument about this issue, with loud voices on either side.

In simple terms (the only destemming terms I understand), proponents of destemming feel that stems add harsh and bitter tannins to the wine, and impart a green, vegetal character. Henri Jayer, the iconic grower and winemaker was perhaps the strongest voice on this side of the debate. Proponents of whole cluster fermentation like the tannic structure and the complexity of aroma and flavor that stems provide. Stems also allow for better drainage of juice through the cap, the layer of solids that float on top of fermenting grape must. Domaine de la Romanée Conti is perhaps the most prominent Burgundy producer that ferments whole clusters.

I have nothing new to add to this debate, but I will say this: if you're going to leave stems in your fermenting grape must, they must be ripe and clean. That might sound obvious, but it's a powerful idea. Stems that are phenolically unripe will be bitter and astringent and the wine will be harsh. Stems that have been sprayed will excessive fertilizers and other chemicals will add those flavors to the wine.

I couldn't help but notice that the producers I loved the most in Burgundy practice whole cluster fermentation. DRC - whole cluster fermentation. Dujac - whole cluster fermentation. Pacalet - whole cluster fermentation. Domaine de L'Arlot - whole cluster fermentation. I am not sure about Rousseau, who I loved equally to those above, or Mugnier, Le Moine, and Mugnier.

And I think about other producers whose wines I have greatly enjoyed in the past few years - Sylvie Esmonin - switched to whole cluster fermentation for the 2004 vintage, and Chandon de Briailles - whole cluster in almost every case. And one of my favorite new world producers, Doug Tunnel of Brick House in Oregon ferments whole clusters.

Is this a coincidence, or do I prefer whole cluster fermented wines? I'm guessing that it's not a coincidence. I gravitate towards the pure and clean wines, and you have to work cleanly in the vineyards and in the winery in order to ferment whole clusters. And the added complexity, the vividly translucent colors (stems apparently dilute color) aren't bad either.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Domaine Dujac Barrel Tasting

"I consider myself primarily a grape grower." - Jeremy Seysses.

This statement perfectly describes the humble way that Jeremy conducts himself. I'm not sure that I would be able to be as humble, if I were in his shoes. I like to think that by nature I am a student of the things I love, an admirer and an appreciator. I rarely covet. Spending the afternoon tasting the wines of Domaine Dujac and talking with Jeremy, and then enjoying dinner with him and his family...I will admit freely to you that I covet. Who wouldn't want what he has?

His father Jacques took over the Domaine in 1967 (Dujac = du Jacques) and became an icon as a wine maker. Now, after many years studying under his father and elsewhere, Jeremy is assuming the bulk of the wine making. He is married to Diana who is also a wine maker and wine lover, they have an adorable infant son, they live in a beautiful and cozy apartment in Nuits St. Georges. Jeremy has access to an incredible cellar loaded with wonderful wines from all over France - he can pull out whatever he likes for dinner. He is an immediately likable person, very gracious and down-to-earth. He clearly approaches his work, and wine in general, as an eager student interested in any and all information, and eager to discuss with you regardless of your (okay, my) relative lack of knowledge and experience.

And did I mention that Jeremy makes wine at Domaine Dujac - the most celebrated Domaine in Morey St. Denis and unquestionably one of the greatest in all of Burgundy? And Jeremy Seysses is not yet 35 years old. I think I basically maintained my dignity, but I definitely was emitting the "I covet" vibe.

It was in the Dujac cellar tasting those wines when I understood something fundamental about myself as a Burgundy drinker. I loved the 2007's I tasted. And I was really psyched about the 2006's out of bottle too. Not just at Dujac, but everywhere we went. Jeremy and most of the other wine makers we spoke with agreed that 2005 is a phenomenally ripe vintage that will age for a long time. But that it might not in the end offer as much pleasure for the Burgundy lover as a year like 2006. Such ripeness and structure as in 2005 doesn't always lead to a balanced and graceful drink after 15 years. And isn't that the thing that makes Burgundy red wine so special, the combination of grace and elegance, ample structure, and the subtle stamp of terroir? Maybe these things are easier to experience in a "classic" vintage as opposed to a super-ripe "vintage of the century." If I had to select either 2005 or 2006 wines to take to a dessert island, I know understand that I would take the 2006's. Although I would need a good cooling unit.

Jeremy Seysses in the cellar.

This sounds trite, I know, but it's just true - all of the 2007's were great. The real meaning of "great," these are fantastic wines. I'll share notes on a few of them:

Morey St. Denis 1er Cru - Mostly from the Ruchots vineyard that borders Clos de Tart, there are also grapes from Les Charrières, Les Millandes, and Les Sorbès. Animale and floral on the nose with a burst of fresh fruit in the mouth. Roses in the empty glass, really lovely. And here's the thing - this might be the only Dujac wine that I might actually purchase, at maybe $90. These are expensive wines, my friends, but in Dujac's case, they are fantastic even at the "lower end" of the lineup.

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Aux Combottes - Whoops, now we're at at least $200. On the nose flowers, spices, very fine and elegant. On the palate I recognized this (see what a few days of intense tasting can do?) as very Gevrey, with red fruit, orange peel, and zippy acidity, very clean and quite intense, with a zesty lingering finish. I'd love to drink an old bottle of this and see what it's like. Jeremy pulled out a 1978 for our dinner, so that's convenient.

Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts - Potent core of stones and flowers. Vibrant in the mouth with juicy dark fruit, sappy, mouth tingling acids. So nicely detailed, so delicious, so complex - these Vosne wines just roll over on themselves and show so many different personalities. I'd love to buy a bottle of this and give it to my daughter one day - she was born in 2007. At least $225, though, and that's if I can find it. And what if she she doesn't even like wine? Maybe I should drink it with her.

Échézeux - One of my favorite barrel wines of the trip. The very cleanest of sappy red fruit, flowers, and a bit of savory brown sugar on the nose. A lovely fragrance that fills the nostrils. Amazing length, so much class and breadth. Heartbreaking wine.

That's it - I'm not going to regale you with stories of Clos St. Denis, Clos de la Roche, or Bonnes Mares. They were awesome, honestly. I'm not sure what else to say. I don't want to ruin your day, anyway. This is supposed to be fun.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

I have a special treat for us all to share this week. Peter Liem, the finest Champagne blogger there is (and his other writing isn't bad either), has most graciously written today's Friday Night Bubbles installment. The good news is, you'll learn far more about wine by reading Peter's post than you do when you read typical Friday Night Bubbles posts. The bad news is, I have not yet been able to convince Peter that he should simply assume command of the ship over here on Fridays. He makes it sound as though he has better things to do. Anyway, check this out: Peter Liem doing Friday Night Bubbles.

NV Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Blanc de Blancs, $55, Louis/Dressner Selections. Non-dosé champagne is highly fashionable in the Champagne region right now, but few people really do it right. The problem is that in order to make good non-dosé champagne, you have to work exceptionally well in the vineyards, to achieve fruit that is ripe enough and complete enough in feel to stand on its own. You can't just take your regular brut NV and decide that you won't add any sugar to it. One producer who knows how to consistently get it right is Pierre Larmandier of Larmandier-Bernier, with his Terre de Vertus blanc de blancs.

This wine is a monocru champagne, coming entirely from the village of Vertus, but even beyond this, it's all grown in a very specific area in Vertus: the chalky heart of the gentle, east-facing slope on the northern side of the village, in the direction of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. This area makes the most overtly minerally wines of the village, wines that can echo those of Mesnil in their racy, focused structures but that carry less overt weight, making them feel even more linear and energetic, with an intensely pronounced chalkiness. Comparing the wines of Vertus to his wines from Cramant, farther north, Pierre Larmandier says, "It's the same minerality, but Cramant has more power and more body. In Vertus the minerality is a little more naked."

The Terre de Vertus is not technically a single-vineyard wine, as it comes from three adjacent parcels: Les Barillées, Les Faucherets and La Vieille Voie. However, the terroir remains fairly homogenous over Larmandier's 2.5 hectares in these three plots, so for all intensive purposes this functions identically to single-vineyard champagne, expressing the particular characteristics of a highly specific site. As with all of Larmandier's wines, this is grown biodynamically, picked at an elevated degree of ripeness and fermented with indigenous yeasts. A portion of it is fermented in barrique, another portion in large oak foudre and another in stainless steel tank—Larmandier likes the respiration that wood provides, but doesn't want the wine to be influenced by the flavor of oak, so he adds some tank-fermented wine into the blend. He's been very pleased with his foudres so far in the way that they allow the wine to breathe without imparting too much of a flavor imprint, so if he can solve the problem of physical space (those suckers are big), look for Larmandier's champagnes to involve more wine vinified in foudre in the future.

Although the Terre de Vertus has always come entirely from a single year (the first was 1995), it cannot be vintage-dated as it's released too early to qualify for a vintage champagne. The bottle that Brooklynguy and I drank together this week was from 2004, disgorged in April of 2007, meaning that it spent about two years on the lees. I always think that Larmandier's wines need a lot of post-disgorgement aging to show their best, and even tasting this one, 20 months after disgorgement, I felt that it could still use a little more time to put itself together. It started off very compressed and austere, taking about half an hour for the nose to unwind and reveal its fruit, although the palate was more generous, with aromas of sweet apple and citrus peel, infused by fragrant chalkiness and finishing with light notes of clear honey. Silky in texture and tone, it felt driven by the taut, lively character of the terroir, and while it demonstrated a good deal of depth and concentration on the mid-palate, the overall impression was one of raciness and energy. We didn't decant it, but I don't see why it wouldn't have benefited from decanting—after drinking about two-thirds of the bottle, I told Brooklynguy to put it in the fridge and save it for the next day, when it would likely be showing even better (and he confirmed later that this was indeed the case). While it's not a wine to age for a tremendously long time, I would be interested in seeing how it develops over the next three to five years, at least. Back in February of 2007, I wrote in my notebook that the 2004 "will vie with the 2002 as the greatest Terre de Vertus that Larmandier has made so far." I see no reason to amend this statement, and I suspect that there is even more complexity and character contained within this wine, waiting to emerge.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Burgundy Eats

Here are some of the delicious things to eat in Burgundy:

Oeufs en Meurette - Poached eggs in red wine sauce. This is one of those simple dishes that in the end, not all that simple. The classic version of this dish includes good veal stock, slab bacon, and absolutely farm fresh eggs that must be poached in the red wine get the point. Three small poached eggs appear on a plate, perhaps on a bed of finely diced shallots, resting in a pool of beautiful red wine sauce. I would eat this every day if my cardiologist would only lighten up.

Jambon Persillé - A gelatinous terrine of chunky ham seasoned with parsley. Sorry, but that description does not make the dish sound as wonderful as it truly is. Imagine this: a big white plate, a rectangular slice of rosy pink and green-flecked Jambon Persillé, a few gherkins, some good hot Dijon mustard, a slice of crusty bread, a nice glass of Volnay (substitute most any red Burgundy here)...this is just local old-school goodness. I should have taken a photo.

Escargots - Does this really need an explanation? Actually, I think it does. You've heard of this but have you ever had this dish? In Burgundy? Well, if you go, you really should try it. Large land snails are marinated in Chablis wine, cooked, and then slathered in parsley, butter, and garlic. They may be served in their shells or in a plate with many shell-sized depressions where individual snails bathe in their parsley sauce. When this is good it's fantastic - it's not at all a vehicle for butter and garlic, as some might have you believe. Well prepared snails are so earthy and toothsome, they touch a deep culinary nerve. You will be equally happy eating these at a street fair with a glass of Aligoté using a wine barrel as a table top, or at a fine restaurant with a mature Chassagne-Montrachet. There is a reason that this dish is classic.

Charolais beef - There is something very special about this local beef. Maybe that's why Beef Bourguignon became such a famous dish. Charolais is deeply flavored and beefy, but is not overwhelming or heavy. It stews beautifully but an entrecôte can be grilled and served rare too. A steak of Charolais is completely delicious in the most primal way, and the fact that it that it requires a little elbow grease to slice only adds to the charm. These cows have an outdoor life, they walk around a bit, after all.

Époisses - The ultimate Burgundian stinky cheese. Cow's milk cheese, washed in Marc de Bourgogne (local brandy). This cheese must be aged, but not for too long - about 45 days. This cheese has a distinctive rust colored rind and when ripe, should give just a bit at the center to the touch. It should be thick and runny on the plate. Although the aromas are quite powerful, the flavors should be delicate, with fresh grass and churned butter. It should be served at a specific temperature in order to display full aroma and flavor. Not all restaurants do this properly. Apparently, Ma Cuisine in Beaune has all but perfected Époisses service.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are some things that I would eat every time I'm in Burgundy. The wines in Burgundy are pretty good too, by the way, and tend to go well with the food. You might try them also.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Visiting Philippe Pacalet

We visited some of the very top producers in Burgundy - Mugnier, Roumier, Pierre Morey, Pacalet, L'Arlot, Le Moine, Rousseau, and Dujac. Every visit without exception was excellent, an incredible learning experience, compelling wines, and the excitement each time of walking into a dark cellar full of barrels, glass in hand - what wines will they pour and what will they taste like?

One of my favorites was our visit to the cellars of Philippe Pacalet in Beaune. Some top wine bloggers (Bert, Alice, Bert again) have already written informative pieces about Philippe Pacalet. In summary I can tell you this: Pacalet is the nephew of Marcel Lapierre, the legendary natural wine maker in Beaujolais. Pacelet, like his uncle, removes anything from the vinification process that obscures the pure expression of terroir. He therefore does not use industrial yeasts to aid in fermentation and he uses sulfur only at bottling. Generally, this is a guy is completely hands-off. Interestingly, Pacalet does not own his own vines - he buys grapes. Of course he buys from people who farm as he would, without excessive chemicals, but I'm sure it's a challenge to ensure that grapes are grown according to his standards.

2007 Beaune 1er Cru Les Perrieres in bottles, waiting for labels.

Pacalet's wines are known for their purity and for their transparency to the underlying terroir, and 2007 seems to be a vintage that will lend itself quite well to his style - not terribly warm, just a "classic" Burgundy vintage. Tasting through the lineup was thrilling for me, as the wines were so startlingly clear and focused. The last thing I wrote in my book after we tasted the final 2007 in barrel is this: "The thing with all of these is the clarity and precision of flavors."

It was instructive for me to compare the Pommard to the Pommard 1er cru. Both were fine wines, full of dark fruit, a bit smoky, a bit savage on the nose. The 1er Cru (a blend of fruit from Les Chanlins and Les Arvelets) was more mineral on the nose and the fruit was even darker, more muscled, layered and complex.

Philippe Pacalet, definitely a bit of a rascal.

I loved tasting through the progression of wines from Gevrey-Chambertin, experiencing the similarities and differences. The villages wine was seductive with an elegant melange of fruit and something like orange peel zestiness on the finish. This wine really set the tone for the wines that followed.

Bel Air is one of those vineyards that is bordered almost entirely by Grand Cru vineyards - it lives in a fancy neighborhood. On its eastern edge it borders Chambertin Clos de Beze, Ruchottes Chambertin and Mazis-Chambertin. On its western side lie some villages level parcels, also called Bel Air, and then trees. Pacelet's 1er Cru Bel Air was just lovely, with sappy red fruit, fresh figs, great acidity, and a savory orange peel element. Very bright and clean, there is a vibrant floral aftertaste. This was my favorite of the Gevrey 1er Crus.

1er Cru Perrieres (meaning little stones, I've been told) borders Clos Prieur and various villages lieu-dits. A road separates it from Mazis-Chambertin. The wine here was spicier, with darker fruit and a more muscular grip. Still, there was something similar to the previous two, and it was the orange peel sense on the finish. The 1er Cru Lavaux St Jacques was so different from the previous wines. Dark fruit, dark flowers, very mineral, a bit sweeter with caramel notes. This wine was moving in all directions - expansive and broad, and with finesse. This vineyard is on an entirely different hill on the northern Brochon side of Gevrey and it would be simple to pick it as the odd-wine-out if you were to taste them blind.

And then there was Charmes-Chambertin, the Grand Cru vineyard whose wines seem never to be as prized as those of Chambertin , Clos de Beze, or Ruchottes. I LOVED this wine, one of my absolute favorites of the entire trip. The nose was incredibly dense with spicy fruit, orange peel, minerals, elegant and powerful, and still somewhat closed, if you can believe that. Rich and deep on the palate, the wine spreads out and coats the mouth with gentle red fruit. There is great clarity here, balance, poise, richness, and a powerful core of fruit. I just hope that I can find a bottle of this someday when it's released.

The Ruchottes-Chambertin wasn't bad either. The nose was more savage and there were dried roses. The fruit was more brawny with animale hints on the finish. This one offered incredible length and complexity on the finish - I got mint, tar, roses, and orange peel. I can see why this might be considered the better wine, but I was more charmed by the Charmes, as might also be expected.

There were many more wines we tasted, from 2007 Chambolles, to the just born 2008's, some still bubbling a bit, to bottles from several recent vintages, to the Beaujolais Nouveau that reaches only the Japanese market. But it was the story of Gevrey-Chambertin that I will remember about my visit to Pacalet's cellar.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

1996 Pol Roger Brut, about $85, Frederick Wildman and Sons. I had one and only one glass of Champagne while in Burgundy. It was quite a glass, though, the 1996 Pol Roger Brut. Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac graciously served this as an aperitif before the fantastic dinner he and his wife Diana prepared, but that's another post.

Allow me to admit that I am biased against big house Champagne. There, I said it. It's not that I am incapable of enjoying the wines when they're good - good wine is good wine. But with the big houses, for me the wines are guilty until proven innocent.

I was not as skeptical about this wine as I might have been, simply because I had the opportunity to drink the 1999 Pol Roger Brut a few weeks ago and I was impressed with the easy going way that it carried its depth and richness. The '96, predictably, was even better. Ample, burly even, this wine was quite a mouthful. Food-like in its presence. I could imagine opening up my lunchbox and instead of finding a sandwich, eating this wine, and feeling completely satisfied.

And somehow, it was a great aperitif. I'm not sure that I've drank a Champagne so rich and full, and so agile all at once. The texture is very fine and smooth, and that helps temper the richness and carry the wine through the palate. There are dark Pinot flavors and rich marzipan too, and the wine leaves a fragrant sweetness lingering in the nostrils.

This is a wine I would happily drink again, and I'd like to try it with food - I'm thinking of a rosy duck breast with ginger and chestnut honey. Actually, now that I think of it, I'd like to drink it again exactly as I did this time - in the Seysses comfortable family room by a glowing fire, the smells of dinner just barely tickling the nose, and good friends on the couch next to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Barrel Tasting

I've heard it over and over again - "tasting wine out of barrel is not easy." I tasted about 100 wines out of barrels in three days and there was nothing whatsoever difficult about it - the 2007's are absolutely lovely, crystal clear and a pleasure to taste. When they say "barrel tasting isn't easy," I think they mean that it's difficult to predict the future of a wine merely by tasting it in barrel.

Why would it be difficult? I'm no wine scientist, but here's my rudimentary understanding: for one, sulfur is usually added to wine when it's bottled. This stabilizes the wine, an important thing during long bumpy travels by truck and by boat. But it also tends to mute the aromas and flavors of the wine to a varying degree. Another thing - before bottling, wines in barrel must be racked off their lees, the mixture of dead yeast cells and grape matter that settles at the bottom. The term bottle shock refers to the way some wines can retreat into a shell after racking and bottling, in some cases for quite a long time.

Think about it for a moment - the wine has been in barrels large enough to hold about 300 bottles worth, resting in a cold humid cellar for a year. For wine, this is infancy (the womb is the grape?), and in this state it might be at its most perfect. Tasting wine in this state might be akin to looking at a nine year old child and imagining what he or she will be like at age 21. There are definite clues, but it's tough to be exact.

Freddy Mugnier taking wine from barrel.

Anyway, I heard on more than one occasion while in Burgundy that wine is in "a beautiful state" when in barrel right before bottling. I can confirm for you that there was a wonderful freshness and youth to those we tasted. Sure, there were some that were deeply backwards, reductive and foul smelling. But I kid you not, even those were alluring in their own way, especially after some vigorous aeration.

I gained a whole new load of respect for the experience and wisdom of people who can taste from barrel and understand what they're tasting, place it in the context of years past. People who know about the evolution of wine from barrel to bottle to cellar through the years. People who say things like "Wow, that was the best young Mazi-Chambertin from Rousseau that I've ever tasted," and who are not making idle boasts.

How many years of barrel tasting are necessary in order to understand that state of wine? How bout you - any tips on barrel tasting?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Good Beef, Villages Wine, and Buying Strategy

My TGV high speed train arrived in Dijon at noon. Peter and Tista picked me up at the station immediately after their visit to the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. I don't really know what else to say - I arrived too late for the DRC visit and there was no way to do anything about it. I've made it 37 years without tastsing the wines, I guess I can wait a few more.

We had a 3:00 PM appointment with Frédéric (people seem to call him Freddy, but I barely know the guy) Mugnier's, and a 5:00 PM with Christophe Roumier. I was operating on about 3 hours of airplane sleep and a magnum of 2008 Adrenalin by Brooklynguy. Lunch was definitely in order, and so we went to La Toute Petite Auberge in Vosne-Romanée where I ate a wonderful entrecôte of Charolais beef. I've had Charolais maybe four times now, only in Burgundy, and I love how deeply beefy it is without feeling heavy. Salt and pepper - that's really all it needs, and that's all it got at La Toute Petite Auberge. People - I hereby encourage you to order the Charolais beef, if you have the opportunity.

Peter graciously handed me the wine list and told me to select a bottle. Uh-uh, no way. I had just arrived, I was totally wired and wigged out, and even under normal circumstances it would be scary to select wine for lunch with him. I demurred, and he chose a bottle of 2004 Mugneret-Gibourg Vosne-Romanée.

Peter turned to me, swirling the wine in his glass, and said "Burgundy Dilettantes would turn their noses at this wine, but I think it's really good." And it was. It was sweet and earthy, elegant and delicious. "Not a great vintage and only a village-level wine," Peter continued, "but it's drinking really well right now."

If I only had vines outside my backdoor...

This got me thinking. If money were no object, I would buy that 04 we had with out lunch for my own cellar. But I have to be selective about what I buy. If your Burgundy buying budget is moderate, as is mine, what's the best way to buy? Imagine, for example, that you have $400 to spend each year on Burgundy wine. Do you focus on quality, and buy only 3 or 4 bottles of things like Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes, Michel Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes, Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts, and Domaine Dujac Morey St. Denis 1er Cru? Use up you whole wad every year on only a few bottles of phenomenal wine that will blow you and your guests away when you eventually drink them?

Or, do you buy at least twice as many wines, also of very high quality, but not at the same level? I'm talking about Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin, Chandon de Briailles Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Ile des Vergelesses, Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Fournaux, Lafarge Volnay Villages, things like that?

It would be extreme, but you could buy a bottle of Dujac Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts and a bottle of Rousseau Charmes Chambertin and call it a year. I know, only two bottles. But imagine how good they'll be in 12 years.

I'm happy with the little Burgundy cellar I've amassed, but I'm way over-represented by $50 wines. This trip made me realize that I want to spend my Burgundy dollars next year, maybe the year after too, on fewer wines of higher caliber. Maybe I can say that only because I've already got some mid-level beauties to look forward to. In any case, I'm already imagining how much fun it will be in 25 years to open my 2006 Chandon de Briailles Grand Cru Corton Clos de Roi. And my 2006 Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots. That's what I'm talking about.

Burgundy Dilittantes - nothing to snub your nose at over here. At least regarding my 2006's and next year my 2007's. If you feel the need to snub my 3 bottles of $28 2005 Lafouge Auxey-Duresses1er Cru La Chapelle, so be it.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

5% of the Tip of the Terroir Iceberg

This is the first Burgundy Trip 2008 post. You can expect a steady stream of these for the next few weeks. There is no other way, I hope you'll understand...

What an incredible trip! There is no way to overstate how amazing it was. I drank some stupendously great wines, ate some great food, and hung out with great people. I also learned a lot about terroir in Burgundy. The main things I learned about terroir are this:

1) Terroir is real in Burgundy. It's not an invention of elitist wine snobs in order to intimidate people. Nor should the nuances of terroir elude 95% of the population. Quite the opposite. Drinking wines from producers such as those we visited (Mugnier, Roumier, Des Croix, Pierre Morey, Lucien Le Moine, Domaine de L'Arlot, Philippe Pacalet, Rousseau, Dujac, and DRC, although I missed that one), I bet that 95% of moderately experienced wine drinkers would see that Nuits St George is different from its neighbor Vosne-Romanée, and completely and totally different from Gevrey-Chambertin. That Aux Combottes and Clos St Jacques make vastly different wines, even though they are both vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin. To take it a step further, wines from the same vineyard can express different characteristics depending on the parcel held by the producer (I haven't personally experienced this yet, but I believe it to be true).

Maybe all this sounds obvious to you, and it wasn't a big surprise to me either. What did surprise me was how truly profound are the differences between the various terroir. It was formative for me to experience this myself - there is no longer any element of blind faith.

2) Discerning terroir can depend on a few factors. In extremely ripe vintages (recently 2003 and 2005), the nuances of terroir can take a back seat to the aromas and flavors of ripe fruit. And even in classic vintages that are said to demonstrate clarity of terroir (recently 2006 and 2007), fruit that is not grown or vinified cleanly will not produce terroir-expressive wine.

3) When I begin to get a little bit better at something, inevitably I then realize how much there is to learn. On this trip I understood how desperately little I actually know about Burgundy wine. Maybe 5% of the tip of the iceberg - that's where I am.

4) Nuits St Georges really does make savage wines, very muscular and structured. Morey-St-Denis wines really do have an interesting contrast between the gamy, funky nose and the fresh burst of bright fruit in the mouth. I always heard that Gevrey-Chambertin is supposed to be the most masculine and powerful of the wines, yet I experienced them to be the most gentle in their youth, with decidedly feminine perfume and lacy fruit, often finishing with something zesty, like citrus peel. I learned to reject the accepted vocabulary and to think for myself over Gevrey-Chambertin. I always heard that Chambolle-Musigny makes the silkiest and most seductive wines, and maybe this is so with bottle age, yet I experienced them to be smoky and almost rigidly structured in their youth. Vosne-Romanée is the most difficult for me to define, even in broad terms. Probably because the wines are seamless, complete.

5) I have a thing for Échézeux and Grands-Échézeux. Clos St Denis isn't bad either.

Coming soon to Burgundy Trip 2008: Burgundy dilettantes, Charolais beef, and thoughts on wine buying strategy. Don't touch that dial.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Back from France

The good news is that BrooklynLady is completely fine, feeling much better. No baby yet, and hopefully not for at least another week - she's not due until December 31st, after all. The other good news is that I had the wine-trip of my life with Peter and Tista over the past few days in Burgundy. Days full of some of the most incredible wines that Burgundy has to offer, eating, poking around the most hallowed of dark cellars, drinking more wine. You get the picture. Many stories to share - something I will do here in the coming days, as family time here allows. The bad news is that I decided to return to NYC before the Champagne leg of my trip. But that's easy - I'll go back another time. Also, no Friday Night Bubbles today.

A few photos to whet your appetite:

Moldy bottles in Christophe Roumier's cellar. The chalkboard indicates the wines - can you tell what they are?
Fallen soldiers - after dinner empties at Domaine de L'Arlot.

Brooklynguy under Rousseau's giant grape vine.
Gevrey Chambertin vines - villages in the foreground, bits of what I think are Lavaux and Clos St. Jacques visible on the slope. Unless I'm wrong. Might be something else entirely.
Peter Liem and Dujac Clos de la Roche, 2:30 AM.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

By the Glass - 2005 Muscadet Edition

2005 was the vintage of the century in Bordeaux, the vintage of the millennium in Burgundy, the finest post-World War II vintage in the Rhône, and the greatest vintage in recent memory in the Loire. Isn't it tempting to check in on your 2005's? I have equal amounts of patience and curiosity, so under the right circumstances, I can be convinced to open a bottle that really should be left alone.

But haven't you found that sometimes wines from these "vintages of the century" aren't always better than wines from normal, or "classic" vintages? That they don't age as well? Based on my utterly informal and amateur observations, there are some 2005 Muscadets that will cellar very well, and others that might not improve all that much. These are bone-dry wines of deep mineral character, after all, wines that might not benefit from the super-ripe conditions of 2005. I wonder how they'll stack up against their unheralded brethren from the "classic" 2004 vintage, for example. I know you love Muscadet - what's your take on the 2005 vintage?

Here are my notes on a few 2005 Muscadets that I drank this fall:

2005 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Le Fief du Breil, $18, martin Scott Imports. Drank in late November. This wine is lovely right now, open and balanced. The nose is a blast of yeast, cream, saline and citrus. Bright and fresh on the palate with racy acidity providing the right cut. There is a nice herbal tint to the finish. Here's the thing, though: this wine is good, but nowhere near as amazing as the 2004, in my opinion. I'm not sure that there is much point in long-term cellaring this one.

2005 Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Le L D'Or, $17, Dressner Imports. Drank in late October. The top vineyard in the estate and always a wine worth cellaring. The first day it's got a lot of fat, with a sherbet-like lemon cream thing happening on the nose. The palate is creamy too, and not yet in focus. On day 2 this wine shows what it's all about, with focused acidity, well defined fruit and mineral flavors, and excellent balance. Seems like it will wear it's creamy ripeness well, and probably better to hold for a while.

2005 Guy Bossard Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Expression de Granite, $18, I forgot who imports this. Drank in mid October, and then again in late October with Marcus of the now-defunct blog Doktor Weingolb when he most generously carried a bottle from Montreal specifically for our lunch. Can I tell you that the first bottle I drank was honestly the finest Muscadet that I've ever had?
Never would have guessed it at first. I was so disappointed when I opened this bottle at 5 in the afternoon. Like licking a granite wall, no fruit, only minerals of the most intense nature and a thin texture. Basically undrinkable. We left it alone and came back to it a little after 8pm and it was really singing. Fragrant with a lemon sherbet richness, a bit floral, and briny. The palate was fleshy with ripe yellow fruit and intense minerality, and good acidity and balance. This wine displays the richness of 2005 but incorporates it into the overall Muscadet character in a beautiful way - incredibly precise and focused wine.

2005 Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords, $14, Dressner Imports. Drank in late September. Bursting with ripe creamy citrus fruit on the nose, settles in with seashells and pure water. Although this wine is quite dry, it is very rich. The nose shut down a bit after a few hours open, and I can't tell you what happened on day two because this delicious wine didn't make it that far. Ripe and expressive on the palate with good acidity. Worth holding some for the future, which is a good thing, as this is the one I went deep on - I have a half case buried somewhere.

2005 Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Vieilles Vignes Domaine de la Grange, $12, Dressner Imports. Drank in mid August. Very rich and full for a Muscadet, but retains its varietal character. Briny minerals and lemon peel on the nose, full and expansive on the palate. You could serve this in place of a young white Burgundy with the appropriate dishes, and be happily surprised, and save a lot of money too. Beautiful now - I'm not sure if aging this will be worth the time and space.

2005 Domaine de la Pépière Granite de Clisson, $19, Dressner Imports. Drank in Late July. This is the wine that Marc Ollivier kept on the lees for longer than is allowed under the rules governing Muscadet sur lie appellation status. Arcane French wine rules, anyone? Regardless of the name, this is Muscadet in all of its glory, and it's fantastic. The nose is all minerals with only hints of flowers and citrus fruit poking through, and there is a full almost yeasty essence too, especially with some air time. The extended lees time is obvious on the palate - the wine has a distinct creaminess. It's focused and cut with acidity, and salty with minerals. Broad and mouth filling, and just delicious. And there is better balance and definition on day two. This is a wine that seems like it will improve over the long haul.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Loire Chenin Blanc Wine Dinner

I'm in a really great wine group now, and great ones are hard to find, trust me. This is a great one because the people are intelligent, easy going, and excellent company. And because our wine tastes are quite diverse. And also because we came up with a nice system for running the group. We rotate as hosts and the host provides everything. All the wine, all of the food, everything. The host picks a theme and decides how to explore that theme.

I like this system because it allows the host lots of freedom but also gives them lots of responsibility when it's their turn. It's also an egalitarian system - the host who feels flush can select 2002 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru wines as the theme. The host whose employer is requesting a 20 Billion dollar bailout from the Feds, and who is not feeling flush, can select Muscadets young and old as the theme. Although vastly different in necessary expenses, both themes are fantastic in the hands of our capable hosts.

We've had a great time so far but I haven't been writing about it because, frankly, who wants to invite someone for dinner knowing that the dinner and wine will be dissected in a forthcoming blog post? When I host, I'm allowed to write about it. Recently it was our turn to host wine group and I chose Loire Chenin Blancs as the theme. I looked through my "cellar" and decided to go with the following wines:

2004 François Pinon Vouvray Brut (Magnum)

2005 Huët Vouvray Sec Le Mont
2002 Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon
2000 Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé (by generous gift of Joe Dressner, just for this dinner)

2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert
2002 François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition
1996 François Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance

1998 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume

I went with roast striped bass with oyster mushrooms for the dry wines and a pheasant pâté plate of sorts, including a dollop of home made quince paste, for the off-dry wines. Pear and honey cake for dessert. It pretty much turned out okay.
This night for me was further proof for me that the Loire Valley offers truly profound white wines at reasonable prices. Overall, the wines showed fantastically well. The exceptions for me were the Pinon wines - the Brut was fine but the 2002 Vouvray Tradition was just no good. Other people liked it, so it's just my opinion, but I found the seaweed/dried mushroom umami aromas to be extremely off-putting. And the 2005 Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert, one of my favorite demi-secs of the vintage, was in an awkward and closed phase on this night.

Here are some quick notes on the wines:

The Pinon Vouvray Brut was fine and lots of fun out of magnum, but objectively it just wasn't special wine. Other than H
uët's, I have yet to be truly wowed by any Loire sparkling wine, I must say.

The dry wines were fantastic, each with its own distinct personality. The Huët ($26 in early 2007, decanted 3 hours ahead) was the most delicate of the three, and although it was lovely during the dinner, it was utterly gorgeous the next day. Makes sense - the dry wines need time to develop. The Closel wine ($24 a few years ago) was in my opinion at the peak of drinking. Perfectly mature at only 6 years old (odd for a Savennières, but whatever), it was full of waxy ripe fruit, herbal, honey, and mineral flavors. Beautiful stuff. And the Clos Rougeard (over $60), which I decanted almost 6 hours ahead of time, was incredibly deep, although even with the decant, painfully young and during the actual dinner, not all that approachable. It's funny because about a half hour after decanting it was pretty fantastic. It goes through phases I guess. I wish I had saved some for the next day.

The weakest flight was the off-dry wines, although the 1996 Cazin ($26) was, for me, the wine of the night. And this is an interloper, a wine made from the Romorantin grape, not a Chenin Blanc. So sue me. It was gorgeous and completely harmonious, really in a great place. Mature and regal nose of ripe fruit with some interesting petrol and earthy notes. The palate was perfectly balanced with great depth of fruit and a great vein of acidity, and there was real viscosity here - this is dense without being heavy, long without being ponderous, just elegant and deep wine. Although I am not a fan of the 2005, my commitment to cellaring my '02s and '04s is renewed.

The 1998 Baumard Quarts de Chaume ($39) showed very well too. Incredibly beautiful nose of ripe orchard fruit, dripping with mineral intensity, and so fresh and youthful. This wine has a long life ahead of it. On the palate it's a wash of apricot and herbal honey supported by crackling acidity, loads of minerals, and a finish that lingers and changes, becomes pleasingly bitter. This wine had a cleansing effect on the palate, so different from most of the dessert wines I come across.