Sunday, December 4, 2011

BNO Year-End: Burgundies, Champagne, and Much More!

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Santa came early to a gathering of wine friends, who humbly name themselves the BNO, aka "Boys' Night Out". Extravagance is not lacking in these gatherings, and sometimes extravaganza, too. Yet, last night's soirée set a new bar. Bottles of Champagne were popped, white Burgundies were poured, a couple of Yquems were emptied, and an obligatory bottle of Port got decapitated. Still, none of these were worthy enough to be the evening's highlight.

I arrived a bit late and so missed the Champagne toast, but I managed a mouth rinse of the 1990 Pommery Cuvée Louis just when dinner was getting started. A rich, yeasty wine that's evolved and quite elegant.

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Among the white Burgundies were a pair of Corton-Charlemagne from Louis Latour, its well-known flagship wine. Except for the richer, fatter quality of the 1990, I thought the two overlapped in flavor. The wine's toasty, honeyed, tropical fruit character was more pronounced in the 1990 compared to the 1998.

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Leflaive's 1997 Puligny Pucelles showed as always its magic and why, at least in the case of Leflaive, this premier cru vineyard should be classified grand cru. Intensely floral and smokey on the nose, with flavors that are reticent and angular, like a beam of light that multiples many times on the palate. A spectacular vintage for this wine.

The white Burgundy flight was beefed up in the last minute by the addition of a killer 2004 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne. Vibrant with a youthful sexiness in its fat and luscious fruit.

To accompany the white Burgundies Eric prepared a salad designed to match, a melange of lettuce, avocado and seafood in a citrus dressing. The pairing was as slick as Eric in his tux.

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The white Burgundies over, it was time to sneak in the evening's intermezzo, an interloper from the estuaries of the Garonne, a 1978 vintage of the unique dry wine called "Y" or "Ygrec" from one of the most famous wineries in the world, Château d'Yquem. As can be expected, coming from this great Sauternes producer, this is a rich, powerful wine. Toasty and full of honeycomb extract as well as peach, sweet corn, and ginger. An enormous presence in the room.

To tame this beast of a white wine a decadent serving (in my case, servings) of lobster quenelles was offered. I was delirious. I must've mumbled a prayer or something for the Lord to bring me back again to earth, and had to summon all my self-control to stop sipping more "Y" and chowing down more quenelles. Wow! This is the most hedonistic pairing experience ever! Kudos go to both Kevin and Steve for accidentally conspiring to produce this outta this world pairing!

And so finally, with all those preliminaries over, the highlight of the evening got started.

Having five different vintages of Grands Échezeaux spanning almost 40 years is on one hand an unforgettable pleasure and on the other a valuable lesson, especially given four out of the five are from the same producer, DRC. DRC owns more than a third of Grands Échezeaux, a large vineyard with varying nooks and crannies, as this flight showed.

The magnum of Grands Échezeaux in the flight was a 1959 Averys bottling, said to be made from juice purchased from Gustave Gros of Domaine Gros by the highly respected and celebrated Bristol wine merchant, Ronald Avery. Just before our event, this provenance was revealed to Ben and Mayon by none other than the most trustworthy source, John Avery, Ronald's son. Coming from the cellars of Ben and Mayon this '59 was, of course, amazingly youthful. The color was dark, nearly opaque in the center and the scent was clean and fruity. A muscular wine filled with flavors of black cherries and sweet, dark spices like licorice and cinnamon. It's most similar to a Clos de Vougeot, which is what many Grands Échezeaux can taste like, quite understandable given the vineyard is bordered on two sides by Clos de Vougeot. It was almost hands-down the group favorite in the flight. I thought it was remarkable, especially given its unbelievable youthfulness, but a bit too heavy and lacking definition for me.

The other four Grands Échezeaux, all from DRC, have, of course, a striking resemblance to each other, though vintage character and I would guess vineyard conditions during each period weighed in significantly. Suffice it to say the '64 exemplified the singular quality of DRC and the greatness of Grands Échezeaux. In some instances and in the DRC stable specifically, Grands Échezeaux is often compared to another DRC wine, Romanée-Saint-Vivant. Historically, the two DRCs are served together side-by-side. It is interesting how DRC's Grands Échezeaux could share the seductive, feminine qualities of its Romanée-Saint-Vivant even though the two vineyards are so far apart. The answer could be that Musigny, that other famously seductive grand cru often sharing similarities with Romanée-Saint-Vivant, is just above and may have influenced some portions of the Grands Échezeaux vineyard. At any rate, I love the '64, the greatness of the vintage really shows. My notes say, light but intensely colored, very refined, precise, with delicious spicy cherry flavors and a silky texture. In other words, Musigny-like or Romanée-Saint-Vivant-esque in its seductive character.

The '85 DRC Grands Échezeaux is another great wine. It is firm and structured with a richness, concentration, and length that make it taste like an infant next to the '64.

Also another potential legend was the '96 DRC Grands Échezeaux. It shows more structure than fruit, yet the fruit is incredibly refined and precise at such a youthful stage making the wine irresistible and a joy to drink.

The overachieving award in the flight has to go to the '83 DRC Grands Échezeaux as it comes from an irregular vintage unlike the greatness of the other vintages in the flight. True, a hardness was evident in the wine but it's only slight and well compensated for by its glorious floral, spice, and cherry perfume and the intensity and depth of the fruit. This wine is a testament to the consistency of Grands Échezeaux.

Steve's mushroom risotto topped with seared duck breast performed wonders with all these old red Burgundies. A seamless exchange of complimenting flavors and textures between wine and food. A great gift to us and to all these wines, Steve!

A cheese plate at the end came in very handy as there was still much wine left to be sipped.

As Sandy mentioned later, while we were enjoying the Burgundies an unopened bottle quietly stood on the table, patiently waiting for its turn.

It was another Yquem wine, this time the grand vin Sauternes, the 1967 Château d'Yquem. Acknowledged as one of the greatest Yquems ever made, thereby making it one of the greatest wines ever made. I confess a fondness for lighter vintages like the 1994 and 1999, they're very friendly and engaging. The '67 is daunting. Am I worthy enough to appreciate its qualities? A wine as great as this makes me nervous and I feel I might not be up for the challenge. This is very concentrated with a very botrytised nose. The flavor is dense with honeyed fruit and toasted caramel, multilayered and packed to the core. Feel the power. It proved unyielding to me. Next time, perhaps, I can discern it more, especially if given time to sip away.

No BNO gathering is complete without Port at the end, so Kevin usually has the Port tongs nice and hot by the time we finish dinner. This night it was a 1963 Warre's with a Berry Bros Rudd label. I stopped taking notes so my recollection is a bit hazy, but good thing Kevin took good notes:

"Warres (Berry Bros. Original Label) 63. Medium weight, light bricking, medium ruby, incense, boysenberry, elegant, bit of pepper, very very long finish. One of the better 63’s I have had in the last 5 years. Can age forever. (19)

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And so another fulfilling year with my BNO brethren is passing by. The consensus is we marked it with the best yet. We are all so blessed and thankful for everyone's friendship and generosity. Hep! Hep!

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