Friday, April 16, 2010

Burgundy and Pomerol

Is it conceivable that hate would cease to exist and that Bordeauxheads and Burgheads shall make peace at the table? I admit the thought seems too Biblical. Yet, I snuck this agenda to friends with disparate preferences and made them cough up some precious bottles of wine to test my hypothesis.

I prefaced my call by saying that somewhere the wine critic, Robert Parker, wrote ecstatically that an outstanding Pomerol possessed Grand Cru Burgundy-like opulence. This resonated to the group, and so without much fuss, like we were all on a cloud, as if the peace that surpasseth all understanding had finally come, we headed to a neighborhood prime rib joint bottles in hand.

To start on neutral ground, a short bottle of Solera 1847 Gonzalez, Byass Jerez (Sherry) was uncorked. What a complex wine! I had difficulty deciding whether it was somewhat sweet or dry. The layers of caramel, walnut, and pecan were confection-like but there was no real sweetness. It had wonderful fruity freshness, with a hint of woodspice surfacing. The flavors had mouthfilling intensity, long and powerful through the finish. The thought crossed my mind, why even bother with Bordeaux and Burgundy? This old Sherry is clearly in a league of its own!

We started drinking the Burgundies. The 1998 Comte Georges de Vogüe Bonnes-Mares was a powerhouse, not taking long to reveal its treasures. Deeply concentrated, very rich, ripe, extracted black cherry, spice, licorice fruit wrapped in velvety tannins. Muscular and lengthy. Every bit a Bonnes-Mares. I love Roumier, but it seems overrated compared to Vogüe.

Side-by-side with the Vogüe was the 1996 Domaine A.-F. Gros Richebourg. I know the Gros wines can be confusing, this domaine is owned by Anne-Françoise Gros and her husband, François Parent. Anne-Françoise is daughter of the late Jean Gros, whence the main Gros estate emanated. She is the sister of Michel Gros, who inherited the Jean Gros domaine but doesn't own a single Richebourg. Anne-Françoise is a cousin of Anne Gros, who ended up owning much of the Richebourg of the Gros clan.

Back to the 1996 A.-F. Gros Richebourg, this was fresh, high-toned, with dark, tart fruit. Elegant in character, but lacking in Richebourg flamboyance. It does show breed, though it comes out awkward and is not cohesive enough. I hate to generalize, but 1996 Burgundy has fallen short of expectations for me. Let's wait another decade before passing final judgment.

A wine you don't have to wait another decade on is the 1971 Comte Georges de Vogüe Bonnes-Mares. While fully evolved, this was as fresh as a dewdrop and it showed off an ethereal elegance that comes only with time. Would the 1998 be this this excellent in, say 15 years? Possibly. Meanwhile, the scent of this Bonnes-Mares was intoxicating--exuding sweet cherry aromas, floral rose petals, and sage. It was sweet, intense, delicate and pure, mighty as a river, and long-lasting.

So now it was time for the Pomerols. Visitiung Pomerol is indeed like being in Burgundy, as it's a small commune, and the chateaux are modest, if not downright shabby farmhouses as Burgundy's, and their vineyard holdings are tiny, usually no more than a few acres. There is also the similarity that one grape varietal clearly dominates, in this case Merlot, though Cabernet Franc can have a significant presence in some of the wines. Finally, there are parallels with how the wine trade is conducted. Pomerol's center of business is Libourne. Though not medieval-looking as Beaune, Libourne is a small, old, bustling city, where the population lives and the negociants are based, like in Beaune.

The one Pomerol that rivals the iconic Pétrus is Château Lafleur. Lafleur is not so well known even among Bordeaux lovers--the rara avis among Pomerols--I seldom see it in collectors' cellars. Production is nearly half that of Pétrus, about 1,500 cases or so a year, so this severely limits its distribution. Yet, it sells for just a fraction of Pétrus. Lafleur is, indeed, for the discerning Pomerol collector.

The 1976 Château Lafleur, from a very difficult vintage, was impressive, attesting to the estate's greatness. Half Merlot and half Cabernet Franc (the high proportion of Cabernet Franc is unusual for Pomerol) it really reminded me of a well-aged Clos Rougeard from Saumur. Its nose has licorice and mint, some olives, and is very sous-bois. I very much enjoyed the wine's freshness, its display of flesh and power despite its years, and, of course, the length of finish. My empty glass had the haunting smell of decaying leaves.

Finally, it was time for the cult Bordeaux, Pétrus. I felt privileged to be drinking the two 1976 Pomerols side-by-side. The Merlot-driven 1976 Pétrus was equally impressive but clearly different from the Lafleur. The nose is more exotic, with cocoa and vanilla bean aspects and black truffles, layered with menthol, earth and some sous-bois. It's soft-centered, unlike the firmness of the Lafleur, and round and fleshy all around. It doesn't have the definition of the Lafleur but favors those who prefer something less rustic.

When the bottles were all emptied, it was as if we snapped out of a momentary reverie. We slipped back to our Bordeaux and Burgundy habits, flaming one or the other. I was scolded for instigating such heresy of putting Bordeaux and Burgundy together on the table. Hey, maybe it was just a dream after all.


  1. Really excellent, atmospheric story, with some nice educational extras. One of my faves.


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