Monday, June 8, 2009

Believing in Burgundy

"Burgundy is a gift that I have yet to receive." To paraphrase Robert Langdon, Angels & Demons

A roomful of us Burgundy believers turned up last Friday to eagerly partake of well-kept bottles from Burgundy's dismal years, as well as from better vintages that supposedly should have been consumed years ago. No problem, all the wines showed beautifully, perhaps even too beautifully as to be un-Burgundian in the case of one.

I think it's clear, the wine gods made Burgundy a matter of belief. Those who choose to believe in Burgundy's terroirs and producers, instead of depending on vintage charts and scores, are infinitely rewarded and go straight to heaven.

But what is the point of that old bottle of Jerez, er Sherry, atop the page if the topic of the post is about Burgundy? (No, that's not cooking Sherry!) Aside from looking really dainty on the kitchen counter next to a bunch of chives while dinner is being prepared, why none, except that we actually drank its contents during dinner.

Contrary to prevailing opinions, old and young Burgundy need to be decanted-- vigorously I must say--about seven to eight times (while mumbling prayers for assurance), then watch it bloom in the glass. Previously, I was in the pour-straight-from-the-bottle Burgundy camp, until I met Ben, the prophet of decanting. In the decanters above, the 1983 DRC Echézeaux and the 1984 DRC Grands Echézeaux.

Some caught a whiff of oxidation in the modest village 1985 Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet right after it was uncorked, but fortunately I didn't when I arrived later. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Golden straw colored. Pronounced scents of lime, mineral, and nutmeg with slight petrol. Toothsome citrus and pastry crust flavors. Slick and fresh in the mouth with lots of energy still.

This bacon number is genius! Crisped, fatty bites that went perfectly with the Chassagne.

I like René Engel. The domaine's flagship is Clos de Vougeot but here we have two of its Grands Echézeaux, the 1988 and 1990. To my mind the domaine's style is somewhat rustic and certainly old-fashioned. The 1990 Grands Echézeaux has a touch of VA, but not too obtrusive. I really think 1990 Burgundies trade off some purity for a dark ripeness prone to funk. But Engel reined it in well enough so his 1990 is edible as always. Dark, ripe cherry fruit, with a touch of wildness that gets better and better on the palate. The 1988 Grands Echézeaux had a metallic, toasted caramel funky nose, but the flavors were vivid and luscious. I prefer the elegance and clarity of this to the 1990

What is wine without the proper food to match? Steve did a great job on this braised beef ribs with a side of polenta cheese. Beef and Burgundy, what a classic matchup!

Speaking of Clos de Vougeot, another wine we enjoyed with dinner was Jean Gros' 1994 Clos de Vougeot "Grand Maupertuis". Made by Jean's son Michel Gros. So youthful. With a cherry nose and bright, fruity flavors, offering lusciousness, balance, and depth. Bags of life ahead. Among the off-vintages--like 1991, 1998, 2000, 2001--1994 is the forgotten one.

The cheese spread was awesome. When you're drinking old Burgundy you gotta have a great cheese spread. We needed this for the venerable highlights of the evening.

Is there a wine critic that ever gave the 1984 DRC Echézeaux a chance? Yet, this has all the attributes of a fine Burgundy. Bright, fresh cherry scents, with rose petals and underbrush. Lifted but not angular. The brightness has a luscious fruit core capturing the wine's delicacy and marvelous elegance.

The 1983 DRC Grands Echézeaux is like a big brother to the '84 DRC Ech. Clearly broader, darker, and more muscular. Rosewood and black cherries on the nose. Sweet, potent, and powerful. Tasting of crushed cherries laced with sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves. Which one was better, this or the '84? I can't decide. I was lucky to be drinking both.

The "Lovers' Wine" according to Episode 2 of the Japanese wine drama, Kami no Shizuku, is Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, perhaps the most seductive of all Burgundies. Its sweetnes is irresistible. The 1971 Comte Georges de Vogüe Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses is simply a sensational wine. Its rapturous cherry blossom fragrance intensifies in the glass, becoming almost overpowering as it blooms. I tasted the pure sweetness of a perfectly ripened cherry; it felt light on the palate, its delicacy like rice paper. This seemingly fragile wine radiates a prettiness that is just overwhelming.

Burgundians are uneasy with perfection. They don't like a wine that is too pretty. I remember Pierre-Henri Gagey, head of Jadot, make this remark when he was presiding over a tasting of 1999s, a great vintage like 1971 and 2002, the flawless vintage of Les Amoureuses in Episode 2 of Kami no Shizuku. In fact, this Burgundian psyche is well captured in Episode 2, where the preferred vintage of the great wine collector, Kanzaki-san, was not the flawless 2002 but the imperfect 2001.

"Heaven, Earth, Human"--together they create a masterpiece, according to Kami no Shizuku. The "Human" element signifies the labor required to make a great wine from a difficult year. Issei, the egotistical wine expert, picked the flawless 2002, but Shizuku, our unassuming hero, chose the winner, the imperfect 2001. I think this also illustrates how wine critics get it wrong. Life imitating art. Our imperfect 1983, 1984, and 1994 Burgundies were very charming and don't take a backseat to vintages like 1971, 1988, and 1990.

Done with the Burgundies, we go back to what I mentioned at the outset, the Gonzalez, Byass 1847 Solera Sherry. Gonzalez Byass still bottles an 1847 Solera Sherry to this day, but of course current bottles are not the same as this one we drank. Over time, very little of the oldest vintages dating back to 1847 go into later bottlings. Ben's 1847 Solera Sherry is a very old bottle, exactly how old, I don't know, but it's one of the early bottlings. A Cream Sherry, it is sweet with an intense caramel, balsam wood smell and delicious flavors of butterscotch, flan, and almonds that coat the palate for a considerable length of time. Sherry is one of the greatest wines, but why it's so overlooked, it's hard to say.

For a postre at the end, the 1994 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port was a massive treat. Sensuous nose of violets, plums, and blueberries. Gorgeous flavors of sweet blackberries, cherries, and milk chocolate, compounded by a soft, velvety texture. Resistance was futile.


  1. nice article, Wine Yoda! beautiful

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