Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Vosne-Romanee & Lunch at La Tache – Friday, 4/25/08

Our appointment in Vosne-Romanee was at 2pm with the two sisters, Marie-Christine and Marie-Andree of Domaine Georges Mugneret. I arrived in the small charming village an hour in advance so I could grab a sandwich and bottle of sparkling water and drive out to the famous vineyards of La Tache and Romanee Conti. I found Romanee Conti first up the small road behind the church. It was exciting to see such a famous vineyard and even more special -- there was someone plowing with a horse and hand-plow further up the hill.

After watching for a while, I headed to La Tache and sat on the stone wall in the sun to eat my lunch. It was truly one of the most peaceful times on my trip to France, and I still remember the calmness that settled over me as I viewed those amazing old vines that give birth each year to one of the most expensive and famous wines in the world. The weather was partially sunny with wispy clouds, birds singing, and the sound of machine plows in the distance.

As I ate my sandwich and relaxed on the wall I noticed a second horse and plow further up the hill above La Tache. Then one of the strange looking blue machines actually came into La Tache vineyard. I watched astounded as its metal blades dug up the earth and re-deposited it around those famous old vines. What if his hand slipped on the wheel? What if he accidently ran over a vine? It was a job that I wouldn’t want.

Eventually I finished my lunch and drove the short distance to Domaine George Mugneret where I reconnected with Eric and Mao. The sisters were incredibly gracious and took us into the vineyards, through a tour of the cellars where we were able to see their amazing pigeage machine, and then we tasted some of the most heavenly wines I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve read that Vosne-Romanee wines are the jewel of the Cote d’Nuits, but I had never tasted one until today. Each wine – even the village level – was brimming with pure fruit; elegance; grace; and something magical.

As we moved up in level from village to premier to grand cru, my amazement only increased. The wines had escalating levels of complexity, and each was a joy to explore. In the end, I discovered so many elements in the last wine that I finally understood what others have written about a wine that mesmerizes. When I held it to my nose, I first had a whiff of earth and minerals; then on the tongue it turned into elegant cherry and raspberry fruit; next came vanilla, spices, and finally a hint of coffee – with a long finish of perfect tannins and a cleansing acid.

Of course they were sold out of everything, but it was still such a delight to taste those wines. As we headed out the door, we bumped into Robert Parker’s new Burgundy reviewer - coming to taste their wines. I am hopeful that he gave them some very positive scores.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Beaune & Pernaud Vergelesse– 4/25/08

The city of Beaune is a delight to visit with its old walled center, cobblestones, quaint shops, and wonderful restaurants. I was able to wander around the Hospices and see the amazing multi-colored tile roof and intricate architecture (see photo). I had two wonderful dinners in town – the first in a charming restaurant with melon colored walls where I had a tomato & zucchini gratin, veal, and a cream flan for dessert. The second was my birthday dinner with friends Eric and Mao in La Paradox restaurant. There I had the traditional Burgundy 4 course meal starting with escargot, then beef Bourgogne, cheese, and dessert. Of course all meals came with a wonderful glass of red burgundy – and sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne to start the meal on my birthday.

The first winery in the old town of Beaune was the famous Maison Champy with some of the oldest cellars dating from 1720. Eric and Mao joined me on my visits all day. Dimitri, the winemaker, immediately took us to the vineyards outside of town where we were impressed with the biodynamic practices they were implementing. Next we tasted 12 wines and toured the ancient cellars. All of Dimitri’s wines are very international in style with pronounced tropical fruit and creamy lees in the whites and soft cherry and spice in the reds. Maison Champy is very successful in selling their wines around the world. We tasted through Beaune village, Pernard Vergelesse, Savigny Les Beaunes, Pommards, Volnays, St. Romain, Meursault, and ended with a fabulous 2006 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru. This had a very long finish, pineapple, mango, minerals, and vanilla.

A second winery in Cote d’Beaune was Domaine Rollin Pere et Fils in the small village of Pernaud Vergelesse. Here the owner only spoke French, so it was nice to have Eric there to translate. Again we started in the vineyards and toured the cellars. We enjoyed seeing how he tested the barrels to see if malolactic was finished and kept track of everything on a large wall chart. The wines were lovely and I purchased a 2005 red Premier Cru which was both elegant and fruity for $17E. I was torn because the whites were exquisite with a streak of pure minerality and acid dancing around the apple/pear fruit – but I can only take so much wine back on the plane. Remy also let us taste a 2006 Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne (he owns an excellent parcel in this vineyard) and a 1986 Pernaud Vergelesse out of magnum. He sold about 35% of his wine direct from his cellar, so this was a great place for visitors to stop, taste, and purchase. So many of the famous wineries do not have wine to purchase as they export most of it and sell only through brokers and negotiants.

The last winery I visited in Beaune was the 3rd largest winery in France – Maison Bouchart-Aine. Cecile at Sopexa was kind enough to obtain an invitation for me to attend a lovely wine & food pairing there at 6pm. They had a fascinating sensory tour consisting of aromas to smell, textures (fabrics to feel), and colors to see – all reflecting wine. The pairings were quite unique, and we started with red wines paired primarily with seafood – such as my favorite: 2003 Grand Cru Echezeaux paired with lobster – and ended with whites paired with meat. Rather avante-guard – but perhaps they were trying to be controversial in trying unique new pairings. All of the wine and food was lovely. Nathalie, the PR director, gave me two of their famous wine posters of aromas and colors in wine glasses to share with my students. A very thoughtful and useful gift.

A final note on wine-tasting in France: at least 6 of the wineries I visited in both Burgundy and Bordeaux began the tasting with reds and ended with whites. This is completely opposite of what we do in the US, but they all insisted it is a better way to taste, because the crisp acidity and fresh fruit of the dry whites cleanses your palate after the big tannic reds. Guess what – it actually worked quite well! Perhaps we should reconsider our tasting order in the US.

Pommard & Volnay- 4/24/08

I visited Domaine Cyrot-Buthiau in Pommard for a 4:00 to 5:30 appointment. Oliver is a small producer of Pommard and Volnay, but his wine shop and cellars are in the small village of Pommard. His wife helps run the wine shop and also sells home-made stuffed toys such as adorable ducks, geese, and teddy bears. She told me that she likes to keep busy while waiting for wine customers, so her sewing machine and ironing stand are in the shop with the wine. Very charming, and a great place for tourists to stop and buy both wine and unique gifts.

Oliver immediately put me in his truck and we went out to visit all of his vineyards scattered around the town. He has 7 hectares ranging from a 1914 vineyard to 1938, and some newer ones. His vines are on the traditional Single Guyot with 4 to 6 buds per vine. While in the vineyard he picked up a handful of clay and limestone to show me what makes Burgundy soil so unique (see photo).

Next we visited the cellars and I saw that he was making all of his wines in the large wooden foudres and then aging in barrel for 12 months. We tasted 3 2007’s out of barrel and then went back to the shop to taste 7 more wines – 2006 and one 2005, that was fabulous. Of course, he is sold out of 2005.

We spend some time talking about the difference between Volnay and Pommard. He said Pommard is much more powerful and requires at least 5 years in bottle before drinking, whereas Volnay is softer with perfume and more feminine. The young Volnays I tasted here, and the next day, however, were not that soft. They were highly structured with strong tannins and high acid. Perhaps they were just too young. The Pommards were all big with strong tannins and dark fruit. I really enjoyed meeting with Oliver, his wife and daughter. They hope to export more wine to the U.S.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Montrachet & Meursault – Thurs., 4/24/08

This was a busy day with 4 winery appointments on my calendar and no detailed map. Fortunately all were quite close to Beaune, and I was able to drive into each little village and either find the name of the winery on a sign or stop and ask someone for help. In the first village of Meursault, I had to go into a tobacco shop and ask for directions. The very kind man drew me a map to arrive at Domaine Henri Germain et Fils. The owner only spoke French, but we managed quite fine as I had already translated all of my questions into French and can generally follow what people are saying. Our first stop was the vineyard where I learned that almost everyone in Burgundy uses the single guyot system of pruning with 4 to 6 buds -- top producers limiting to 4 buds with 4 bunches per vine. We then toured the cellars and tasted through 7 wines. They had more minerality and higher acidity than Macon. I ended up buying the 2006 Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru for $35E.

Next stop was the very famous village of Puligny-Montrachet where I visited Domaine Louis Carillon et Fils. This conversation was also in French, but we immediately went to the cellars and tasted out of barrel as we went through the interview. I had a great time and he showed me how to do battonage and light the sulfur wicks for barrel cleaning. The wines here were incredible, with layers of complexity (fruit, minerality, spice), concentrated, racy flavors and a very long finish. He had sold out of all 2005 and 2006, but I was still able to taste many of the 2006’s and some of the 2007 out of barrel. We tasted 9 wines, ending with the 2006 Batard Montrachet Grand Cru selling for $70 euros. It was very elegant with minerality, high acid, and a long finish. Afterwards I drove around the village and took photos of the 4 grand cru vineyards outside the town – including the very famous Le Montrachet vineyard. They are all marked with signs and have lovely stone walls around them.

For lunch, I headed back to Beaune and checked into my new apartment hotel called Golf Garden in the small village of Levernois – 3k from Beaune. It was a wonderful large, sunny apartment with a balcony where I had lunch and could see the golf course. The day had turned very warm and sunny, and I was very happy to be in such a beautiful place.

After lunch, I drove to my 3rd appointment in Chassagne-Montrachet (30 min from my hotel) and had a delightful visit at Domaine Bernard Moreau with Alexandre. He spoke English and we immediately went into the vineyard where I was able to learn all of the technical details. Next was the full cellar tour and then a tasting of 9 wines (spitting of course), including an Aligote which I had never tried before (citrus, mineral, high acid, very refreshing). My favorite was a 2006 Premier Cru Grande Rochettes for $35E. Unfortunately, he was over-allocated and I could not buy any wines. We also tasted 2 pinots which I thought were wonderful with strawberry floral nose, velvety texture and good balance with refined tannins. The 2006 Premier Cru – Le Cardeauses was a great value at $22E, but he said it is more difficult to sell pinot noir from Chassange, since the village is known more for chardonnay – despite the fact that they make 50% pinot.

We ended the visit with a discussion of the difference between the villages, and he said he viewed Chassagne-Montrachet as having more power, structure and fruit; whereas Puligny-Montrachet is known for elegance, minerality and pure fruit. I would add that the Meursault were broader with slightly lower acidity and more apple flavors. Then I headed to Pommard for my last appointment (see next blog).