The other day, the Fair Bride of the Lammermoors – a.k.a. my wife Diane – and I took a hankering for a fish dinner, and specifically for something French and exquisite. So I purchased us a lovely filet of flounder, which we both relish: a much underrated fish, not as silky in texture as genuine European sole but just as flavorful. Diane prepared filets de poisson Bercy, poached flounder with a velvety sauce of white wine and crème fraiche. This was accompanied very simply with fingerling potatoes and fresh spinach. To start we had smoked Scotch salmon, with toasts of Diane’s homemade white bread, capers, and translucently thin slices of onion. To accompany everything, we wanted something equally French and equally exquisite: thus, the wondrous white wine of this post’s title.
Eight years ago, Diane and I were touring Burgundy. After one drizzly, grey autumn morning of staring at bare vineyards, we stopped for lunch at Olivier Leflaive’s facility in Puligny, in the Montrachet zone. Even though we were indoors for the rest of the day, the sun shone on us from that moment forward.
Olivier Leflaive is particularly renowned for his great white wines, so those were what we were especially looking forward to when we arrived. I understand that the lunch arrangements at Leflaive have gotten more elaborate since then, but in those days you were politely stopped before entering and warned (1) this isn’t a restaurant; (2) there is no menu; everyone has the same meal; (3) you can’t be a vegetarian; (4) you must eat pork; and (5) most important, you must drink wine. Since that summed up why we had come there – especially #5 – we said “oui” numerous times and entered.
Lunch began at 12:30. We left at 4:30. We were scheduled to taste 12 wines. We actually enjoyed 20, since M. Leflaive himself was entertaining a table of buyers and restaurateurs, and they shared everything with the rest of us in the room – as I recall, a couple from Colorado, a trio of Dutch youths of indeterminate sex, and a gregarious German.
We ate simply, by Burgundian standards: gougères, jambon persillé, a pork terrine; then a chicken breast braised in white wine; and then local cheeses, before coffee and Valrhona chocolates. With all that, we tasted generous pours of everything from Aligoté and Bourgogne blanc and rouge through several Chablis to Meursault and several Montrachets. Outstanding in my memory were the Meursault Premier Cru Poruzots 2000 and the Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet 2001 – which almost brings me to the point of this long story.
But first there were also several fine red wines – ’99 Aloxe Corton and Pommard Rugiens stood out – with the cheeses, and then a pause for an exquisite, almost 50-year-old Fine de Bourgogne, equally memorable and, alas, unpurchasable. (Believe me, I tried). That entire meal cost about 250 francs a person; Today at La Table d’Olivier Leflaive, lunch and 10 wines goes for €50, and the great wines are strictly en supplément.
Anyhow, even though I couldn’t get the Fine way back then, I was able to buy and carry back home a bottle of the Criots 2001, to cellar until it would be ready to grace an important dinner. At the time, I thought it very expensive – maybe 200 francs (about $40), or something like that. It makes little difference now, when the price for 2001 Leflaive Criots-Bâtard Montrachet, if you can find it at all in this country, is running $200 a bottle or more. I can assure you, based on my last night’s dinner, that it’s worth it. (I know, it took me a long time to get to this point: I’m getting old, and these histories are important to me. That’s not just wine I drink: That’s my life.)
After all that, the bottom line is this: It was heaven. The wine was perfectly ready, light gold in color, deep in aroma, its fruit not faded but transformed into a brilliant cocktail of dried apple and pear and flint, with other forest-floor flavors (that’s as close as I can come to it) emerging in reaction to the salmon and the flounder and the sauce. I can hardly imagine a better combination of flavors, and the tout ensemble was totally effective. Really, it’s a shame “flounder” is such an unromantic name: much better to think of that meal as filets de poisson and let the French language work its magic. Whatever the dish is called, the wine – which, come to think of it, doesn’t have all that attractive a name either – was gorgeous, and proof yet again of the value of just laying wines down and letting them mature for a few years into the magical potions they are capable of becoming. Verb. sap. sat.