Monday, January 10, 2011

Burgundy Wine Club

The first rule of Burgundy Wine Club is: you do not talk about Burgundy Wine Club. The second rule of Burgundy Wine Club is: you do not talk about Burgundy Wine Club. We've only just begun and I'm breaking rules already. But blogging about it isn't exactly the same as talking about it.

What do you do if you want to experience some of the greatest wines of Burgundy, but you don't have the money to make it happen? I started Burgundy Wine Club. Seven friends and I chip in money each year and share the cost (and the risk) of buying expensive bottles. We get together over a great meal and drink about 8 bottles of wine. There should be a theme to the wines, although this will be difficult in the early years. The goal is eventually to have dinner together twice a year, but we need to build our cellar in order to do that, so we meet once a year for now. These 7 friends have entrusted me with the responsibility for selecting the wines, which is quite an honor and a pleasure.

It's also a challenge. Each year I need to use our money to buy some wine for the following year's dinner, some wine for the long term, and also some wine that should be drinking well in the mid-term so that we can eventually meet twice a year. Buying newly released wine for the cellar is the easy part. I think of a theme that should be interesting to the group and find the wines - done. Mid-term wine is also not so tough, although it's sometimes tough to find the bottles that I have in mind. Buying mature wine to drink immediately is much more difficult, as although we are each kicking in real money, it's too expensive to buy old Chambertin, for example. A 1993 Rousseau Chambertin sells for about $1200 - budget blown. I have to be creative and try to find bottles that fit together in some way and that will offer lots of pleasure and interest.

We just had our first dinner and I must say that it exceeded my expectations. Not necessarily in the wine department, although there were some beauties. It was a great group of people and we had a ball together, and we dined in comfort and style at Alto where my good friend Levi Dalton took care of us in his typical gracious style.Here are the wines we drank along with a couple of thoughts. I'll provide the prices I paid too, although you might find these wines priced higher or lower at auction or in different parts of the country.

We began with two Corton Charlemagnes from the 2000 vintage. I know - white Burgundy from that time is very risky because of the premature oxidation problem, but no risk, no reward. I don't hear Corton-Charlemagne mentioned in the same breath as Puligny, Chassagne, or Meursault in terms of quality. Two members of our group who have a lot of experience with the wines told us that Corton-Charlemagne requires much more time in order to fully express itself, and that it might be undervalued in relation to those other illustrious wines because when young, the wines can be simple and not all that interesting. Our wines would be only 10 years old, but from a vintage that might produce wines that are ready to drink at a younger age. Levi paired these with an organic egg raviolo with winter mushrooms, and crisp sweetbreads. It was really, really good.

2000 Boneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, $100. Premoxed! The very first wine of our very first dinner and it's wrecked. It tasted like butterscotch and Madeira after 10 minutes open and showed almost nothing of why Corton-Charlemagne can be great, especially in the hands of perhaps its most classically revered producer.

2000 Georges Roumier Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, $175. Everything that I hoped for, and more! What struck me about this wine was the way it packed so much into such a fine texture and body. Laser-like in its focus, lean and energetic with a firmly mineral core. There are nuts and white fruit and flowers that flirt about on the surface, but more about stone, and it is precise, elegant, seamlessly balanced, and we all though it very beautiful. Gorgeous now but there doesn't seem to be any reason to rush.

We then had two wines from the Grèves vineyard in Beaune. Perhaps not as illustrious as Chambertin, but can be excellent in the right hands. Levi paired these with country-style oxtail and foie gras terrine - excellent.

1989 Albert Morot Beaune 1er Cru Grèves, $65. Corked! Bad luck so far...

1996 Michel Lafarge Beaune 1er Cru Grèves, $60. Immediately obvious that this was showing beautifully. More approachable than a bottle I drank several years ago. Lafarge is one of the great old-school masters in Burgundy and this "little" wine illustrates this. Dark and spicy fruit that is still youthful, although gentle, over a firmly mineral floor. There is no excess weight whatsoever - the thing about this wine that most impressed us was its sense of complete harmony - totally seamless.

Then came a flight of Volnay from 1998 - two from Santenots in the far south of the appellation, a vineyard that technically is located in Meursault, and one from just north of the village. The contrast in terroir was equal to the contrast in style among the wine makers. Levi paired these with quail stuffed with mortadella - perfect.

1998 Marquis D'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs, $138. This is one of the iconic wines of Volnay, from a great vineyard that is a monopole of the Marquis D'Angerville. This truly excellent wine can be had for under $100 in current vintages, by the way. This one was a bit reticent at first, but it opened up to show tiny wild strawberries on the nose over lots of chalk - serious chalk, Champagne style chalk. The character is one of weightlessness, finesse and elegance. Well balanced on the palate, layered and complex, and absolutely delicious. The finish shows some drying tannins, but not intrusively so. This wine is not at all at its apex, but it was expressive and delicious to drink now. A wine I would eagerly drink again, from any vintage.

1998 Domaine des Comte Lafon Volnay 1er Cru Santenots-du-Milieu, $99. Somewhat disconcerting for the first 20 minutes or so, as the nose was entirely mute and the palate somewhat uni-dimensional. But 45 minutes in and the wine opened up a lot. Both of the Santenots wines were richer in character than the Clos des Ducs. The nose here shows lots of earth and clay and also some herbs, and dark fruit that is in that nice secondary stewed place, too. The palate showed a much greater intensity than the nose, and really shined in its clarity and layered flavors. I liked the sense of restraint and class.

1998 Domaine Leroy Volnay 1er Cru Santenots-du-Milieu, $150. This was the one we all gravitated to as they were first poured because the nose was exuberant with richly ripe dark fruit and violets that literally wafted up from the glass. "Uncharacteristically open and generous," said one experienced Leroy drinker. This wine smelled great and tasted delicious, pure and energetic and fresh. But many of us preferred the other wines as they opened up, as they offered a different degree of complexity and depth. But if you enjoy the rich and dense Leroy style, this wine was certainly lovely.

We closed out our evening with two bottles of Volnay Clos des Chènes from the 1969 vintage by Remoissenet. The modern wines by Remoissenet are not so interesting, in my opinion, but apparently in the old days when it was more common to sell off great material to the negociants, they made some very good wines. Why two bottles of this one wine? Well, I couldn't find another comparable old wine, and what if one of them is flawed? And in fact, one of them was flawed - way more advanced than the other, oxidized notes and generally tired. Levi paired this with braised veal cheeks with creamy polenta - inspired.

1969 Remoissenet Pere et Fils Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chènes, $159. Youthful and bright, especially with 15 minutes in the glass - this wine grew in intensity and grip. Stewed cherry fruit, some dried flowers, and a lovely lingering finish. Interesting in that the texture was almost wispy, but there was lots of punch to the flavors. Almost chalky in the mineral feel. This was satisfying wine, but I don't think that it is the same qualitatively as Lafarge's Clos des Chènes, which one experienced drinker in our group called the greatest wine in Volnay. That will have to be the subject of a future BWC dinner...


Clotpoll said...

I have never tasted a good Bonneau du Martray wine: red or white, any vintage. This producer- to me- represents the height of Chateau & Estates' hype of a range of substandard, overpriced wines onto an unsuspecting public starved for great wines in the '60s and '70s.

Aaron said...

Some of the most lurid wine-porn I've seen in a while... but I mean that in a good way!

And I understand that the first rule of Burgundy Wine Club is no one talks about Burgundy Wine Club, but I have to ask: where did you find these bottles? I live in a fairly major metropolitan area, and I think I'd be really hard-pressed to find any of these bottles locally. If you don't want to divulge where these came from, I totally understand and respect that, by the way. But I am looking for an older Cote de Beaune as a gift for a friend, and several of these made me drool.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Your site should now be flagged for having adult content, if this doesn't qualify as wine porn, I'm not sure what does. It's quite a club -- needs a secret handshake or name...too bad Bones (Skull and Bones) is already taken as those dinners involve some pretty serious bones. Look forward to following (ok, fantasizing about) future events...

keithlevenberg said...

I think there are a few bona fide contenders for the Greatest Wine of Volnay title: Angerville Clos des Ducs, Lafarge Clos des Chenes, Montille Taillepieds, and Pousse d'Or Clos des 60 Ouvrees. The last of those accounts for some of the best Burgundies I've ever had and might get my vote.

It might be interesting to set up a tasting to settle this question.

Clotpoll said...

I think if the Volnay battle comes down to aged examples, De Montille crushes the competition...not that I'd turn up my nose at the others. I might also be tempted to throw Bitouzet's Clos des Chenes into that fight.

Cliff said...

Keith, would your comments hold for the current regime?

Joe Manekin said...


Sorry that you're experience with the BdM CC was underwhelming due to the premox...but please do not insult madeira by using it as a tasting note to dexcribe pre-mox chard. Premature maderization is a flaw; intentionally maderized, well, madeira, of the vintage variety, is inspired.

bacchus said...

Are you still active? Do you need an 8th friend?