Archive for the ‘Burgundy’ Category

My History with Nuits-Saint-Georges

April 17, 2017

Quite recently, and for no special reasons beyond a nowadays almost constant nostalgia and a lovely looking piece of beef scheduled for our dinner, I opened for just the two of us a bottle of 2002 Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Boudots.

This is a wine that has a long history with us, almost as long as our marriage. Way back at the end of the Sixties, we decided we wanted to really get to know wine. We had been enjoying it for some time, but haphazardly: now, we felt, it was time to learn it systematically. We were both academics, so what would you expect? There were, in those days, very few wine books and even fewer wine courses, and of course no online resources because there was no line to be on. So during one of our then fairly frequent visits to Baltimore, we went to Harry’s, a wine shop that I knew had been patronized by the most esteemed of my graduate-school mentors, and we asked the proprietor to put together a mixed case that would allow us to familiarize ourselves with a range of wines.

He asked us only how much we wanted to spend. I’m pretty sure we said a hundred dollars, gulping at the enormous expense. Harry then put together for us a dozen wines that Diane and I drank with dinners over the next few weeks, paying as much attention as we could to what was going on in our mouths. That was one of the most pleasurable educational experiences of a life that has been blessed with many wonderful educational experiences of all sorts. It not only taught us a great deal about wine and its many guises, it also provided us with a battery of what became life-long favorites – one of which was Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Boudots.

Henri Gouges

That first bottle, as I recall, was a 1964 vintage from the (I later learned) important Burgundy producer Henri Gouges. My most recent one was from Jadot, a name familiar to most wine lovers. There have been many other Nuits-Saint-Georges between those two, not all Les Boudots, not all Premier Cru, indeed not even all cru, but our fondness for the commune’s combination of earthiness and grace, rusticity and elegance, has never wavered. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is our growing preference for older wines: I don’t think we would now drink a Nuits as young as that ’64 then was, if we had any choice at all.

I’ve also learned since then a great deal more about the wine that so impressed us. Just like almost everything else connected with wine, what I learned involved a little geography, a little history, and a lot of nomenclature: grape names, place names, wine names (sometimes the same as one of those first two, sometimes not), yet more specific place names, producers’ names, negociants’ names, and names of a lot of practices and procedures in the vineyards and the cellar. I take a lot of that for granted now, but it was initially very humbling to realize just how many elements and how many people contributed to the making of that glass of wine I was so casually swirling, sniffing, and savoring – and it’s a very healthy exercise to remind myself of all their efforts now.

So: Nuits-Saint-Georges. The wine takes its name from a small town/large village about halfway between Dijon and Beaune, in northeastern France, not too far from the Swiss border. The town lies at the very southern terminus of the Côte de Nuits, to which it also lends its name. That piece of earth is the northern half of the fabled – in wine lore at least – Côte d’Or, a stretch of vineyards that in its entirety runs from just south of Dijon down past Beaune (for which its southern half is named) to Santenay – about 30 miles or so of vineyards, never more than a few miles wide. Collectively, this is the domain of Pinot noir and Chardonnay, and the wines vinified from those two varieties in the various townships of the Côtes are some of the most prized and sought after in the whole world of wine geekery: Gevrey Chambertin, Morey Saint Denis, Chambolle Musigny, Vougeot, Échezeaux, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges – and so on, through Beaune and Pommard and Volnay right down to all the Montrachets.

Nuits-Saint-Georges has been famous for its wines for centuries – just how many is hard to determine. Not far to its east lies the Cistercian abbey of Citeaux, a site from which, in the high Middle Ages, knowledge of viticulture and viniculture spread out to the rest of Europe – so for at least that long. In the modern ranking of Burgundy crus, Nuits-Saint-Georges was awarded 38 Premiers Crus – more than any other Burgundy commune – but no Grands Crus. Some Burgundy experts – of which I am certainly not one – say this was a sound judgment, others say that it was primarily due to the modesty of Henri Gouges, at the time the region’s most important personality and a member of the commission determining those rankings. Be that as it may, Les Boudots – sometimes Aux Boudots – has always been esteemed among the most significant sites of the appellation.

Les Boudots Vineyard

The Boudots vines grow in the northernmost piece of Nuits-Saint-Georges, right up against Vosne-Romanée, of whose terroir Boudots’ slopes are a continuation. That creates one of the first nomenclatorial problems the aspiring Burgundy-bibber encounters: According to the Burgundy experts, Boudots’ wines are the least typical of Nuits-Saint-Georges – not earthy enough, not rustic enough, and so on – and this, apparently, is not good.

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I just don’t get that. What difference does that name make? Just because Boudots lies in the Nuits-Saint-Georges appellation, do the qualities that make a fine Vosne-Romanée make a bad Nuits? This doesn’t make sense. In my experience of Boudots and other wines of Nuits-Saint-Georges – not all of them, by any means – Boudots has its full share of the rusticity, the solidness, the substantiality that for the experts seems to be the hallmark of this commune. But to that it adds an elegance, a polish, that lifts it above the rest. So for me, if Boudots is atypical of the wines of Nuits-Saint-Georges, it is atypically better and more elegant, and I love it.

It is entirely possible that my experience of Nuits-Saint-Georges is not extensive enough to make this judgment, but I can only go by what I have tasted. If any good soul wants to set up an appellation-wide Nuits-Saint-Georges tasting for me, I will be happy to participate with open mind and open mouth. In the meanwhile, I intend to continue reveling in Burgundy’s recent succession of fine vintages by enjoying my Boudots whenever I can afford it.

Chambolle Musigny

November 24, 2016

Despite being an active partisan of Italian wines, I retain a deep love of French wines, especially the great French red wines. In my youth, I thought Bordeaux was king – and besides, Burgundy was way more expensive then. But now, the situation has completely changed: Bordeaux prices have caught up with or surpassed those of Burgundy, while winemaking in Burgundy is reaching new heights. Moreover, climate change is helping Burgundy achieve more good vintages than ever before, and at the same time many Bordeaux reds are tasting increasingly industrial to me – and yes, I am talking about classified growths. So I have been turning more and more often to the great Burgundy villages when I want a change of taste from my frequent Italian tipples. Ergo, Chambolle Musigny.

For me, the village of Chambolle is the sweet spot of the whole Côte d’Or. Opinions obviously differ about things like this, but for me Chambolle’s red wines have the greatest finesse, the loveliest, most complex fruit, the subtlest nuance of them all. Its two Grands Crus vineyards, Le Musigny and Bonnes Mares, are normally completely out of my price range, but the few times I’ve tasted either of them persist in my memory as moments of total palatal bliss – most notably, a lunch with the Drouhin family in Beaune a few years ago, at which they poured a 1968 Bonnes Mares. I don’t know which was my dominant feeling: honor at being so treated, or sheer ecstasy from the taste of that great wine.

chambolle-musignyWhile I don’t have any Musigny or Bonnes Mares in my “cellar,” I do have a few bottles of Premier Cru Chambolle Musigny, and since Mortality has been looming over my friends lately, I sought consolation in a bottle just the other evening. I opened a 2004 Drouhin (regular readers will know my long-standing esteem for the house of Drouhin), decanted it and let it stand for about two hours before drinking it with a broiled top-quality strip steak. Bliss again, and a great respite from quotidian cares. The wine’s aroma was heady of bitter chocolate, tobacco, and dark, dry fruits. The palate was that and more, with mushroom and mineral notes interwoven with all that fruit and tobacco and chocolate. Diane and I sipped and savored and made that bottle last as long as we could, despite the temptation to just bathe in it.

I know the village of Chambolle doesn’t loom as large in wine folklore as its neighbors, Vougeot and Morey Saint Denis, or the further distant Vosne Romanée or Corton. I guess that’s the only thing that has kept its prices from passing beyond all human reach. That narrow stretch of Burgundian hillsides that we call the Côte d’Or runs from a little south of Dijon to a little south of Santenay, a distance of only about 30 miles, regularly punctuated by different villages with at least slightly different terroirs. Chambolle lies in the middle of the northern half of the Côte de Nuits, which is the northern half of the Côte d’Or (the southern half is known as the Côte de Beaune).

cote-de-nuits

If you drive south from Dijon on Route Nationale 74, which runs the length of the Côte d’Or, you’ll pass many famous wine towns. Before you reach Chambolle are Marsannay, Fixin, Gevrey Chambertin, and Morey St. Denis. Just south of Chambolle lie Vougeot, Vôsne Romanee, and Nuits Saint Georges. This is obviously great wine country, and Chambolle Musigny’s sparse, pebbly, limestony soil is typical of the meager soils on which great wines grow. Plots are characteristically small – Le Musigny totals only a little over 10 hectares, and Bonnes Mares 15 – and are frequently divided among many owners, as is typical in Burgundy. Production is very limited, by law and by the quest for excellence as much as by nature: Hail is frequent here and can be very destructive – thus the always substantial price of good Chambolle Musigny. I can only say that the examples I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy have been worth it.

drouhin-vineyard

Lest you think I’m simply raving, let me close this post with Clive Coates’ summary words about the Grand Cru Le Musigny (Côtes d’Or, p. 105):

At its best the red wine can be quite simply the most delicious wine to be found in Burgundy. Speaking personally, and I am not the only one, it is the summit of achievement. With its vibrant colour, exquisitely harmonious, complex, profound bouquet, the blissful balance between tannin, acidity, and the most intensely flavoured fruit – all the petits fruits rouges you could reasonably imagine – and its incomparable breed, depth, originality and purity on the finish, a great Musigny is heaven in a glass. Would that one could afford to drink it more often.

Now that’s enthusiasm! I’ll only add that the “lesser” wines of Chambolle Musigny are, in proportion, just as profound and moving. It’s a special occasion wine for sure, but one capable of making an occasion special.

Birthday and Burgundy

June 17, 2016

D-Day has saved me from many domestic embarrassments, because the day before it is Diane’s birthday and the day after it our anniversary, and because of it I’ve never been able to forget either. This year, even though none of that trio amounted to an intrinsically important number, we decided to make a big deal of our family occasions, with Diane cooking some special dishes and me digging out some special wines. And since we’d been lately on a pretty steady diet of Italian – indeed, mostly Tuscan – wines, I opted for something completely different, to switch countries and styles entirely: ergo, France, specifically Burgundy.

You can read about the meals in Diane’s blog: I’ll just say we ate very well indeed, and probably a bit too copiously, but it was an unmitigated pleasure. I want to talk about the wines, which matched wonderfully with Diane’s dishes and were wonderful in their own right. This is what we drank.

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Bollinger Champagne 2004

bollinger

We drank this on both birthday and anniversary, as apéritif with some tiny gougère puffs. That may show a lack of imagination, but those airy little cheese clouds tasted marvelous with that big, full-bodied, austere and elegant Champagne, so – especially since we knew there was much more wine ahead and didn’t want to finish the whole bottle of Bolly the first night – we just reprised the combination 48 hours later on our anniversary. I assure you, nothing hurt. This was a great vintage, and a perfect example of Bollinger’s reliable linking of power and grace.

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Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches 2004

clos des mouches

This accompanied sea scallops nantaise, a surprisingly rich dish that needed to be partnered with a white wine of the authority of Clos des Mouches. Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches has for decades been one of my favorite white Burgundies, and I think that even with all the respect it customarily receives, it is still underestimated. I would rank it right up in the top tier of white Burgundies, and this 12-year-old showed its breed beautifully with those succulent scallops. It was big, and smooth, and deep, round and complex, with layers of flavor showing themselves in successive waves of nuttiness and butteriness and dried pear. Once upon a time, I could afford to buy this wine by the case: Those days, alas, are long gone, but I have some glorious memories of them. We deliberately stopped ourselves from finishing the bottle, thinking ahead to the rest of this meal and to what Diane had planned for our anniversary dinner.

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Bouchard Beaune Clos des Mousses 1998

clos de la mousse

Bouchard has a monopole of this vineyard, the red-wine twin of Drouhin’s white. We matched it with a pheasant stewed with morels. This was just a glorious combination, cemented by the morels, which mediated between the earthy flavors of the wine and the near-gaminess of the pheasant. This is classic red Burgundy, just mature at 18 years, and showing all the complexity that Pinot noir at its best is capable of. This bottle we finished, with no trouble at all.

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San Felice Vinsanto del Chianti Classico 2006

vin santo

As a small concession to Italy, and also because we didn’t want anything as sweet as Sauternes with the rustic apricot tart Diane had made for dessert, we finished with this lovely not-quite-sweet-not-fully-dry Vin Santo. Vin Santo may be an acquired taste, because it doesn’t fall neatly into the dessert-wine category, but it served ideally here as a refreshing yet far from simple conclusion to our dinner.

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For our anniversary dinner, we repeated the Bollinger and gougère puffs as apéritif, and drank again the Drouhin Clos des Mouches, this time with plates of Bosole oysters on the half shell. Once again, the match was perfect, the mature white Burgundy playing beautifully off the briny sweetness of those small oysters – two of my favorite things. With our entrée, a handsome rib of beef, we drank this lovely red.

Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru 2004

chambolle musigny

For me, Musigny is the sweet spot of the whole Côte d’Or, where Pinot noir shows its greatest elegance and nuance. These are rarely big wines, but they are always fascinating, and this one was no exception. We finished it with a little goat cheese and a bit of Brie, and we were very happy that we had long ago committed matrimony.

“The Boar’s Head, as I Understand, Is the Rarest Dish in all the Land”

December 30, 2013

Equally repulsed as Diane and I are by super-sentimental and hyper-commercial Christmases, we usually opt for a quiet dinner with a few close friends and a few choice wines, with a menu more or less traditional and background music eclectic. This year was typical in all respects, and especially pleasing to me because the match between wine and food worked out very well for each course.

[The music wasn’t shabby either: It started with a CD called Une Fête Chez Rabelais (you will see why that was chosen) to set the mood, and followed for the rest of the evening with discs featuring the late, great guitarist Jim Hall playing with musicians like Bill Evans, Ron Carter, and Jimmy Giuffre. Jim – as I thought of him, though I always addressed him as Mr. Hall – lived just down the block from us, and Diane and I always used to see him walking his dog, J.J. He died earlier this month, and we miss him; so I privately thought of this not just as a Christmas dinner but as a personal Jim Hall memorial. I admire elegance in music as much as in wine, and Hall’s playing was always a model of elegance.]

pol rogerWe strove for some elegance in the meal too. We began with Champagne, of course: It’s almost obligatory at this time of year, and Pol Roger never lets us down.

That bubbly accompanied hors d’oeuvre of a mousseline of smoked sturgeon, a mousseline of asparagus, and almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, the latter served hot out of the oven, all three playing nicely with the effervescence and acidity of the Champagne.

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???????????????????????????????Aloxe-CortonAt table, our first course was morilles à la crème en croûte. The morels were fresh, not dried. We had bought them during their brief season, sautéed them in butter, and, after eating as many as we could hold at the time, froze the rest for just such a festive occasion as this.

They were delicious in their indescribably earthy, woodsy way. Swaddled in crème fraiche and cushioned on the world’s richest short pastry crust, they partnered beautifully with a medium-bodied, suave 2005 Aloxe Corton Premier Cru Les Vercots from Antonin Guyon.

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???????????????????????????????The pièce de résistance – this was definitely a French-accented dinner – was not a boar’s head (we’re not that traditional) but a long-cooked braised shoulder of wild boar, accompanied by French green beans and a puree of potato and celery root.

Lafon RochetThose in turn accompanied a very well-structured and deeply flavored 1998 Lafon Rochet in magnum. Maybe because it was in magnum, maybe because of the vintage, and certainly because of what the Tesseron family has been doing with this property for a few decades now, this wine could have easily been cellared for another decade.

Lafon Rochet is a fourth growth St Estèphe estate that the Tesserons have transformed as thoroughly as they have their more famous Pauillac fifth growth, Pontet Canet. This Lafon drank most enjoyably, to be sure, but it still showed so much in reserve that it was almost a shame to have it now. But it was a fine wine with the boar. It had the strength and intensity to match the richness of the meat, and the polish and complexity to play intriguingly with the sauce.

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Then came the cheese course.

???????????????????????????????At this point in the meal, I always rejoice in living just a ten-minute walk from Murray’s. We had:

  • a Colston-Bassett Stilton (Great Britain), which is as fine a blue cheese as exists anywhere,
  • a lovely, ash-grey-outside-chalk-white-inside Valençay (France),
  • a slightly pungent and very rich Grayson (Virginia),
  • a creamy and even richer Fromage d’Affinois (France),
  • and a great slab of Roomano (Holland), a sort of aged Gouda that simply loved the wine.

CornasThe wine was my very final bottle of Auguste Clape’s 1988 Cornas, which I served with equal parts of hope and trepidation – the hope because some previous bottles of this wine had been glorious, the trepidation because the last one I had opened had been dead.

Hope triumphed, I am happy to say: This was one of the glorious ones. In fact, it still showed some youth and vigor, and in addition its classic Cornas robustness made it a wonderful match for all the cheeses.

I am deeply sorry now for all the bottles of this now-priced-out-of-my-league Rhône beauty that I drank before what-I-now-understand-to-be their peak. Of such simultaneous heights and depths is the wino’s life made.

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???????????????????????????????Riesling VTMichele Scicolone had brought dessert, so we next consumed (yes, we could still eat!) her luscious pine-nut-and-apricot-jam tart. I matched that with a 2001 Trimbach Riesling Vendange Tardive, a wine with some sweetness of its own but plenty of acidity and real heft.

This was a shot in the dark, but it worked out well. The sweetness and savoriness of the tart meshed nicely with the lesser sweetness, acidity, and steely body of the Alsace wine. Of course, either would have been completely enjoyable on its own, but together they created one more dimension of pleasure and provided the final touch to what was for Diane and myself – and we certainly hope for our guests – a classic and only slightly Rabelaisian holiday feast.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hall.

Great White Burgundy from Leflaive

November 16, 2012

By and large, Burgundy has been one of the beneficiaries of global warming. Over the past ten or twelve years, the region has enjoyed an extraordinary number of fine to superb harvests, often after idyllic summers. 2010, however, was far from idyllic, and vignerons had to fight hard to achieve the quality that Burgundy at its best is capable of. The very good news is that, by and large, they succeeded, and although the crop is small, the white Burgundies in particular from the best producers – of which Olivier Leflaive is emphatically one – are showing beautifully.

I enjoyed the truth of that over a lunch with Patrick Leflaive and Jean Soubeyrand, president and director general, respectively, of the family firm.

Left, Patrick Leflaive. Right, Jean Soubeyrand

We tasted a half dozen of the 2010 whites, from Aligoté up to Grand Cru. At every level, the Leflaive wines displayed classic profiles, from color through aroma, palate, and finish. Needless to say, I was a very happy wine journalist.

That high level of typicity was no easy accomplishment in 2010. The winter weather was pretty brutal: temperatures dropping below zero (Fahrenheit), severe frosts, snow and rain, with continuing low temperatures. March and April brought temperatures slightly higher than normal, but still abundant rain. May cooled down again and consequently slowed the growth of the vines, while June then ran warmer than normal. July and August returned to cool temperatures and more rain. Those low temperatures and all that rain caused flower failure and millerandage (small berries) throughout Burgundy. That in turn caused a small crop – but because September provided mild and dry weather, with good breezes to ventilate the vineyards and combat rot, the grapes ripened fully, with concentrated juices and good sugar levels and color. And the consequence of that is some splendid wines – smaller volume than usual, but of a quality to stand among the best.

Franck Grux

At Olivier Leflaive, winemaker Franck Grux has now 24 years of experience with Burgundian grapes and vineyards. He has been the chief winemaker for Leflaive since 1988, and he has developed an admirable ability to coax the Chardonnay from differing sites to express those differences clearly, along with the grape’s own character. Patrick Leflaive said that the firm tends to harvest its grapes a little early, especially the whites, according to Franck Grux’s and the family’s preference to make slightly lighter, racier, and more elegant wines. The Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Clos St. Marc certainly fit that description, from its brilliant aroma through to its finishing goût de terroir – a lovely wine, mouth-filling and at the same time light and agile, delicious with the very stylish version of clams casino I had alongside it.

The Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières that followed the Clos St. Marc showed the marked differences between the Chassagne and Puligny appellations. The Puligny – both this one and the 1er Cru Les Pucelles that followed – had greater complexity and nuance than the comparatively straightforward and forthright Chassagne. Les Folatières was perfumed with honeysuckle in the nose and was richly floral in the mouth, showing a lovely balance (actually, that fine balance was a hallmark of all the wines). The Pucelles was much more mineral, yet equally poised and complex. Both wines possessed generous but unobtrusive acid, which made them wonderfully adaptable with food.

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Then we entered the stratosphere, both in quality and – alas – in price. Grand Cru Bâtard Montrachet and Grand Cru Chevalier Montrachet stand among the greatest white wines in the world and have long been among my favorites (I can’t think of a better choice with Lobster Thermidor than Bâtard Montrachet). Once I could even afford them. That is no longer true, unfortunately, so the only chances I have to taste them are lunches like this one, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Both these bottles proved to be very young: These are white wines that want time to compose themselves and show everything they have. If I had them, I would cellar them minimally for five years before I broached them, and with a vintage as distinctive as 2010 I would probably try to wait even longer. The aroma of the Bâtard was all flowers and mushrooms. The Chevalier was similar but even more intense. The palate of the Bâtard conformed closely to its aroma, with the earthy, fungous notes showing most clearly at this time, while underneath were all sorts of hints of flavors to come. This was a big, gorgeous wine that clearly needs time to develop. The Chevalier displayed brighter acidity, interspersed with the floral and fungous tastes it shared with the Bâtard. It too needs and will reward cellaring.

Wines of this caliber and rarity can never be inexpensive. Olivier Leflaive owns all of 0.18 acres of Bâtard and a half-acre parcel of Chevalier, an ownership situation that is typical of the top-flight Burgundian vineyards. That does not produce a lot of wine, not even in the most abundant years, so a bottle of either is always going to be a special occasion, in and of itself. Life is short: Relish wines like this whenever you have the opportunity.

Olivier Leflaive wines are imported to the United States by Frederick Wildman.

New Releases: French Whites and Italian Reds

March 12, 2012

‘Tis the season to be tasting! Wine importers are showing their latest arrivals, and there have been some splendid wines being splashed into glasses all over town. Several of these have been fine enough to make me deeply regret that the need for mere survival forces me to spit – but not to do so might be fun for a while and cirrhosis forever, so I have dutifully expectorated some good juice over the past few weeks. But enough repining: Here are some of the wines that impressed me most.

You’ve probably heard a good deal of hype already about how fantastic a vintage 2010 is for white Burgundy. Well, my experience so far confirms that it isn’t just hype: this vintage is for real. Not across the board, of course, but over enough of the appellations (those I’ve so far been able to taste) to make it no more than honest description to say that 2010 is shaping up as one of the best vintages for Burgundy white wine for a long time.

Burgundy as a wine zone has benefitted immensely over the past decade from climate change. Burgundian growers have been regularly achieving the kind of ripeness, and the attendant aromatics and flavors, that in the past were a once-in-ten-years occurrence, if that much. So 2010 really does deserve some bells and whistles.

Christian Moreau

The northernmost of the Burgundian appellations, Chablis, qualifies as one of its brightest stars. I’m a pushover for honest Chablis, with little or no oak intervening between the grapes and my palate – so for me the whole line of Christian Moreau wines that I tasted at a recent Frederick Wildman event were pure enjoyment. Moreau vinifies all its Chablis in stainless steel and uses minimal oak – very little of it new oak – on its most precious crus. Its 2010 wines all showed classic Chablis flint-and-stones mingled with the most austere of Chardonnay scents. On the palate, the wines followed through in similar style, with varying degrees of intensity, from the very nice, basic AOC Chablis through the impressive Premier Cru Vaillon up to a battery of truly grand crus – Vaudésir, Blanchot, Valmur, Les Clos – culminating in the very rare, only-made-in-the-best-vintages Clos des Hospices dans Les Clos.

All these grands crus, although drinking quite pleasurably already, belong to the class of Chablis that cry to be cellared: They are structured to mature and flesh out in what promises to be appropriately grand style. Were I a few years younger, I would try to put a case of these beauties away for a very long time.

I felt much the same way about the whites from the estate of Oliver Leflaive. Its delightful 2010 Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles makes the kind of base line that one can only wish all Burgundian houses achieved – and the wines ascended from there. The “simple” village wines – Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet – each showed the supposedly typical, but not always achieved, characteristics of each commune. If you’re just in the process of inducting yourself into the wonders of Burgundy, 2010 presents you with a good opportunity to taste these villages side by side to learn their distinctions. (What these are is a very complicated subject that needs a blog or two or three by itself. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I honestly can’t explain it all here. I suggest you take a look at Clive Coates’s Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy for all the details.)

The three premiers crus I tasted – Meursault Poruzots, Chassagne-Montrachet Clos St.-Marc, and Puligny-Montrachet Champ Gain – were all splendid, with both the Poruzots and Champ Gain displaying their terroir with great distinctiveness and clarity. The Grand Cru Bâtard-Montrachet, although already a big and graceful wine, clearly needs time; in only a few years, it will be wonderful; in 20 years, probably off the charts. Bâtard-Montrachet has for decades now been my archetypal Lobster Thermidor wine, the older the better.

Most of the red wines I’ve been tasting have been from older vintages than those whites, in some cases even re-releases of vintages that have been available for a while. Which is fine for the Brunellos and Barolos that impressed me at Winebow’s presentation: Additional age does them – and the consumer – a real favor. Both appellations benefit from, and in the best vintages demand, as much aging as you can be persuaded to give them. Fortunately for the producers of both, recent harvests seem to have set up an almost regular pattern of alternating, classic, highly structured vintages that require time to come round with softer, more accessible ones that can be enjoyed much younger – an ideal situation, in fact, for both the growers and the consumers: You get to drink your wine and have it too.

Among Brunellos, 2005 and 2007 are the more welcoming vintages, with many of Sangiovese’s youthful asperities covered by delightful, wild cherry fruit and an enlivening acidity: Salicutti provided excellent examples of both vintages. San Polo’s were equally good, but in a different style, showing more structure and less forwardness, but still with great fruit and balance and easy drinkability. Both houses made beautiful 2004s, with precisely calibrated combinations of fruit and earth tones and the kind of structures, with especially ripe tannins, that will keep these wines evolving beautifully for at least a decade yet. These are really classic Brunellos, the kind of wines the appellation’s high repute is based on.

Roberto Voerzio

Last, but hardly least in my estimation, my great passion: Barolo, from one of the ablest producers, Roberto Voerzio. I still wish Voerzio would use a little less new oak than he does, but for the most part he handles it very well. Only occasionally does it intrude on the Nebbiolo flavors that constitute the whole point of Barolo, and then only to a degree that I believe will subside with time in the bottle.

What comes through most in these wines is not wood but terroir. Voerzio has great vineyard sites – Brunate, Cerequio, La Serra, Rocche dell’ Annunziata – and he handles them very well indeed. I tasted the 2005 La Serra and Cerequio and the 2007 La Serra and Brunate: these all reflected the character of those two vintages in being remarkably welcoming for such young Barolos. This results not from cellar manipulation but from the character of the harvest, combined with all the changes in growing techniques that Piemonte has been adapting over the past 20 years.

The ’06 Cerequio and Brunate were different in character. They are more classic style Barolos – generously structured wines that will take time to come round and then should last at an impressive level for decades. The 2006 and 2001 Rocche dell’Annunziata wines were flat-out gorgeous, the ’06 promising great longevity and the ’01 – with ’04 and ’06, a top-tier Barolo vintage – already showing the beginnings of the classic earth-and-mushrooms nose, even though it is a wine still evolving. Cellar this beauty by all means.

The Feast of St. Apoconarcoleptis Magna

January 1, 2012

St. Apoconarcoleptis Magna is the patron of naps, endings, the last days, and ruins, of which I am rapidly becoming one – the latter not merely a function of age and slow time but also the direct result of far too much holiday eating and drinking. Like a volunteer Strasbourg goose, I have been reporting regularly for some first-rate gavage – so here is a roundup of the best of that: my Twelve Wines of Christmas.

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As a preliminary, much bubbly found its way into my glass and thence into my gullet this season. I’ve already given my account of the Wine Media Guild’s Champagne luncheon. The New York Wine Press’s fête at the Brasserie was only slightly less spectacular. It featured rosé Champagnes – eleven of them, so they don’t count in my Christmas dozen – around a nicely balanced luncheon that concluded with a positively sinful dose of triform chocolate.

Rosé is the hottest category of Champagne these days – why, no one is quite sure, though Ed McCarthy opines that rosé makes an ideal dinner Champagne, because of its slightly fuller body and slightly greater complexity. Pinot noir always seems to make a difference, and its greater presence in rosé Champagnes could be the factor behind their current popularity.

All the wines tasted that day would rank as excellent on any scale, but my favorites all bunched up in the middle luncheon flight: two prestige Champagnes, 2004 Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque (approximately $300) and 2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (about $250), plus 2006 Louis Roederer, the youngest and least expensive wine of the flight ($75), and finally my favorite, 2002 Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Reserve ($100), a great wine from a great Champagne vintage.

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The Twelve Wines of Christmas all came from my own so-called cellar, over multiple dinners for Diane and myself and family and friends. Inevitably, these included some more bubbles: my old reliable Pol Roger NV Brut, a consistently pleasing, medium-bodied, mineral-driven Champagne, and Roederer Estate, vinified by the French Grande Marque in California’s Anderson Valley, and for my palate the best and most persuasively Champagne-tasting of California sparkling wines. Pommery Brut NV made a fine aperitif, working equally well with some duck rillettes and with Diane’s version of Torino aperitivi.

For my palate, the red wines formed the pièce de résistance. Despite that piece of French, they were a varied lot: some French, many Italians, and even some Californians. The latter included my last (sob!) bottle of Ridge’s 1993 Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon, as lovely – and as European-styled – a wine as California produces. It gorgeously accompanied a rack of lamb and garlicky rissolé potatoes, as well as a subsequent cheese course, where it fell in love with a ripe pont l’éveque only to jilt it in favor of a creamy gorgonzola dolce. As you can see, this was a wine of many faces and facets, and I’m only sorry I don’t have any more. I said this very loudly several times, but Santa did not take the hint. Another win for St. Apoconarcoleptis.

One of the most enjoyable Italian reds was an almost archetypal Chianti Classico, 1997 La Selvanella Riserva from Melini. This is a very traditionally made wine from a fine vineyard near Panzano, in the Classico zone’s prized Conca d’Oro. It also has special resonances for me, in that I participated, way back in 1998, in the process of choosing the blend for this wine. This occurred at the estate, in a session led by the very able winemaker, Nunzio Capurso, and attended by Italian and North American wine journalists. Aside from the astounding quality of each component wine that we tasted, my major memory of the session is of an idiot from Rome loudly and persistently declaiming that the wine wouldn’t be any good unless it was aged in barriques. He couldn’t have been more wrong, then or now.

We enjoyed another fine wine of this type – i.e., primarily Sangiovese blended with other native grapes – Lungarotti’s 2001 Rubesco. Although from Umbria, this wine is a kissing cousin of Chianti Classico and fully matches the very best of them in suavity and depth: a lovely wine, from an equally lovely vintage.

Of course I could not long stay away from the wonderful wines of the Piedmont, so I took the opportunity to test a few Barolos of the 2003 vintage, a hot, forward year that, frankly, I feared might already be over the hill – some bottles I’d tasted over the past year were. Well, in these two cases, no worries: Both Conterno-Fantino’s Barolo Sorì Ginestra and Einaudi’s Barolo Costa Grimaldi were live and, in the most complimentary sense of the word, typical. The Sorì Ginestra showed the merest trace of the vintage’s too-ripe fruit and green tannins, the Costa Grimaldi none at all – a nice tribute to careful grape selection and restraint in the cellar.

Equally lovely, by the way, and much less expensive, was an in-theory lesser wine, a simple Nebbiolo, but from a fine maker in an excellent vintage. Poderi Colla’s 2006 Nebbiolo d’Alba was fully ready to drink, with excellent Nebbiolo character (black fruit, leather, tobacco, miles of depth) and no sign that it might not last another five years. All “simple” Nebbiolo should be so good.

Our French selections played up very gamely as well. For me, Musigny is the red-wine sweet spot of the whole Côte d’Or. Its wines have a velvetiness and an elegance of fruit and mineral that for my palate define red Burgundy. Drouhin’s 2002 Chambolle Musigny didn’t let me down: it was a soft, luxurious wine whose flavor persisted long in the mouth. More forceful and in a leaner style – mineral to the fore, fruit after – Moillard’s 2005 Beaune Premier Cru Grèves matched quite beautifully with our Pintadeau Jean Cocteau. The wine we drank with the cheese course that evening was in a very different style, being a Bordeaux. 1989 Chateau Brane Cantenac showed the wonderful elegance of Margaux combined with the kind of structure and heft I more often associate with Pauillac: It worked beautifully with a challenging set of cheeses.

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Those are my top twelve, but I’ve also got a few Honorable Mentions. Amidst this red tide, we did manage to fit in a few lighter meals that leant themselves better to white wines. Pieropan’s 2005 Soave La Rocca shone with some shrimp. This single-vineyard wine has always been in the forefront of this too-long-abused appellation, and it remains a standard-bearer even now that the Soave Classico denomination is undergoing a tremendous resurgence. In a totally different style, but equally fine, Umani Ronchi’s 2002 Casal di Serra Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi Classico Superiore offered a mouthful of wine almost as big as its name. Still at nine years old showing a light touch of barriques, its biggish body and rich fruit very nicely accompanied a creamy veal and mushroom stew. Both these wines showed very dramatically, for those who may still be skeptical, that well-made Italian whites can age very well indeed.

Finally, lest anyone think that my holidays were just one triumphant sip after another, honesty compels me to record my great disappointment. I had reserved a place for one potentially excellent white wine to serve alongside the oeufs en cocotte and Alsace onion tarts that were part of our Christmas dinner. I was really looking forward to Labouré-Roi’s 2003 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, so you can imagine the depth of my chagrin when my only bottle turned out to be totally oxidized – just plain dead.

There has been a great deal of buzz in wine circles about the problem of premature oxidation in white Burgundies. Apparently the vintages between 1996 and 2006 are involved, and the blight strikes randomly, at every quality level. Some bottles pour brown and dead, while others even from the same case remain sound. No one knows what causes it, and the producers are loath to talk about it – not only because it’s embarrassing to them, but also because (I strongly suspect) they don’t have a clue. So since St. Apoconarcoleptis Magna looks after ruins as well as endings, I’ll conclude on this note: There is nothing like white Burgundy at its best – but be warned: that bottle you’re so keenly anticipating might be pinin’ for the fjords, and might already have joined the Norwegian Blue in the choir invisible.

From that comic note to a serious one: May your 2012 be happy, and both your New Year and your old wines healthy and enjoyable!

Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet 2001: Amazing Grace

October 2, 2011

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.

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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.)

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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.

High Grades: Three 88s and a 96

June 15, 2011

June brings a high concentration of private and public occasions to Casa Maresca.  I’ve never been able to forget either Diane’s birthday or our wedding anniversary because they are separated only by D-Day, a date impossible to ignore.  From our earliest time together, this concatenation has led us into several-day-long fits of cooking and dining – pushed into glorious excess, of course, by the final departure of winter gloom and the arrival of sunshine, fresh vegetables, and the first sweet fruits of the year.

This year was no exception, except that, out of respect for our own increasing age, I substantially raised the age of the wines we drank with our Hail to Sunshine! Hail to Us! dinners – thus, three 1988s and one 1996, and every one of them high grade indeed.

The First Fit: Warm-up. This pre-festivity dinner consisted of the Balthazar-inspired short ribs that Diane has blogged about. They were rich, lush, and filling. Luckily, I had chosen a wine that stood up to them very well. In fact, the wine collaborated with them to enhance their richness and to plump itself up in the process. What we drank with that beef protein-and-calorie bomb was Caparone Vineyards Paso Robles Nebbiolo 1988, and a thoroughly gorgeous wine it was.

As near as I can gather, 1988 was not a great year for Napa and Sonoma. It appears to have been the second of two drought years, and produced some fearsomely alcoholic, harsh-tannined Cabernets. Further south, the harvest fared better, because ’88 was highly esteemed for Rhone varietals. Of course, no one was tracking what the harvest was like for Nebbiolo: Far too little of it had been planted, and most of the growers who tried it were struggling. Nobody ever said Nebbiolo was an easy grape.

Dave Caparone set in his first Nebbiolo in the mid-Seventies (and Sangiovese and Aglianico too), and he tended it like a first-born child, an attitude now continued by his son Mark. As Dave wryly says, Nebbiolo is a grape for those who have mastered Pinot noir and are looking for a challenge. His ’88 answered the challenge, and then some. It was, as you would expect, fully mature, with the classic Nebbiolo pale garnet color and orange edge – but, as I didn’t entirely expect, it was still fresh and live, filled with classic, mature Nebbiolo flavors with a fascinating overlay of bittersweet dark chocolate – unmistakably Nebbiolo, even though equally unmistakably not Piedmont Nebbiolo.

This is just plain classy winemaking, to produce a wine that tastes of both its variety and its terroir. Wine like this reflects a lifetime of labor devoted to what is in California an unfashionable variety: more’s the pity for California. I only wish that more winemakers showed this kind of passion and dedication.

The Second Fit: Aperitif. For special occasions nothing serves better as an aperitif than Champagne, and few things are better than a top-flight vintage Champagne from a great producer. So we started Diane’s birthday celebration with a glass of Gosset Celebris 1996. ’96, as Champagne buffs know, made a great vintage year for Champagne, and the Gosset firm, one of the very oldest in the Champagne region, did a beautiful job with it. This wine exhibited a golden color, minute perlage, and all the classic Champagne wheaty/toasty aromas and flavors, with just the slightest edge of oxidation, which rather than detracting from the wine lent an attractive touch of le gout anglais (as the French call it).

So enjoyable was this Champagne, and so hefty, that we were strongly tempted to keep drinking it through dinner, which it could have handled very nicely. But we had already made up our minds to drink the other half of the bottle for our anniversary aperitif, so we proceeded to . . .

The Third Fit: Birthday dinner, in this case asparagus mimosa followed by sweetbreads prepared in puff pastry packets, as at Chez Pauline, one of our favorite Parisian restaurants back in the days when we got to Paris often. (Where are the snows of yesteryear?) The asparagus were fresh from the Greenmarket, as were the luscious, first-of-the-season shell peas we served alongside the sweetbreads.

The wine I picked to match with all this was a 1988 Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru. For me, Musigny is the sweet spot in the Cote d’Or: I just love those wines for their delicacy and grace. Rarely do they show power: Though they have it, they’re just too suave to flaunt it. Most vintage charts will tell you that 1988 was a good but not outstanding vintage in Burgundy, and for all I know they may be right. All I can swear to is that this bottle was outstanding – pale garnet in color (looking remarkably like a mature Nebbiolo, in fact), enticingly floral/herbal/mineral in aroma, on the palate elegant and restrained, yet live and persistent. Understated elegance is as close as I can come to summing up this Chambole Musigny. It meshed beautifully with the sweetbreads, whose presentation in puff pastry created a paradoxical combination of elegance and earthiness (no matter how you wrap them, sweetbreads are an organ meat). A lovely dinner matched with a lovely wine.

We took a breather on D-Day, and dined lightly on the season’s early radishes (the Greenmarket again) and simple omelettes, to make room for

The Fourth Fit: Our anniversary dinner started with the second half of the Gosset Celebris, and I thought it was even better than the first day. I’m not sure Diane agreed, but it was not something we would argue about, especially not before our anniversary dinner: tagliarini dressed with mushrooms and white truffle (both the egg pasta and the truffle paste carried back from my last excursion to Alba), followed by a dish that was a throwback to the ’60s, Steak Diane from Craig Claiborne’s old New York Times Cookbook. The wine I chose this time was a 1988 Barbaresco Bricco Asili from Ceretto. By pure luck, I think this one was the wine of them all.

The 1988 harvest was the first of modern times in the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. I mean that in two senses: that it was the first of the warmer (climate-change induced?) growing seasons that the zones have since enjoyed, as well as the first of an unprecedented trio of top-flight vintages – 1988, 1989, 1990 – that heralded good times for Piemonte winemakers. Growers and Nebbiolo fans alike still argue about which is the best of those three.

Our ’88 showed a lovely crystalline color, a live, bright garnet, with a narrower orange edge than I expected. The aroma was classic – white truffle, tar, dried roses, leather, underbrush – complex and intriguing. On the palate, it gave lovely sweet black cherry fruit, with soft, soft tannins and great, lively acidity, everything finishing in a long-lasting burst of dried cherry. It tasted wonderful with the pasta, in which it recognized a kindred spirit, and almost equally good with the Steak Diane. The last few sips of it, by themselves, practically eliminated the need for dessert. (We ate it nevertheless: the season’s first local strawberries. How could we not?) A gorgeous, gorgeous wine, and a fitting conclusion to our few days of feasting.

After that, it was compensatory salads and Barbera and Beaujolais for a few days, to get us back to normal. Sigh! Who wants to be normal?

Burgundy vs. Chardonnay: And the Winner Is…

June 23, 2010

You can drink a fine white Burgundy all through a meal and never once think of Chardonnay. You can relish it sensuously, enjoying its balance and elegance, its minerality and polish. Or you can think about it analytically, deciding for yourself what exactly it is that distinguishes a Meursault from a Montrachet. And you can do those things without once referring to the grape variety from which a white Burgundy is vinified – and that is, emphatically, a good thing. As more than one Burgundian vigneron has been reported to say, “If you can taste Chardonnay, I’m doing something wrong.”

This special, localized truth was reinforced for me recently at a tasting of Drouhin’s newly released 2008 white wines. Wine after wine tasted just wonderful – clean, complex, with differing but equally intriguing mineral inflections and not a trace of wood.

Sweethearts on Parade

The whole range of Drouhin’s 2008 Chablis especially stood out for the intense purity of their individual characters. Each tasted definitively and unmistakably Chablis, yet each differed significantly from the next as I tasted up the ladder of classifications – simple Chablis, Chablis Reserve, Chablis Premier Cru, then Premier Cru Montmains and Premier Cru Sécher,  and finally the Grands Crus – Bougros, Les Clos, Vaudésir,  the latter an especially elegant harmony of classic Chablis earth notes.

Laurent Drouhin

Laurent Drouhin, the representative in the US of the family behind the wines, described the 2008 vintage in Chablis as “simply phenomenal, in a class by itself. The wines are clear and precise – chalky, flinty, mineral, completely harmonious. The same is true for the rest of the white Burgundies, especially those of the Cote de Beaune. Purity and precision are their hallmarks.”

My tasting notes corroborate Laurent’s evaluation of the other whites just as strongly as they do for Chablis. More than any other recent vintage, 2008 has clearly etched the distinctions of village from village. Meursault’s leanness and the quality of its minerality stood out sharply from the rounder, slightly fruitier Chassagne Montrachet, which differed in turn from the greater depth and darker intonation of Puligny Montrachet. You know you’re dealing with a fine vintage when even the village wines are that precise – so the higher levels, such as the single-vineyard Puligny Montrachet Folatières, or Drouhin’s always excellent Clos des Mouches, tasted just plain wonderful, round and firm and complicatedly mineral, and above all elegant. The total palatal impact always brought me back to the vineyards, to where these wines came from, and not to the grape they were made from.

We are deep into subjective territory here, of course. I’m not trying to imply that Drouhin is the only winemaker who got 2008 right in Burgundy – far from it, in fact: it’s a great white wine vintage, and many producers have done very well by it. But I tasted the Drouhin wines just recently, so they’re fresh in my mind, and representative for me of some of the best of Burgundy.

Moreover, I’ve been a fan of Drouhin’s for years. The house is consistently underrated in discussions of Burgundy – I think because the family’s palates run to elegance and balance, not to blockbusters. They make wines that live long and mature gracefully. They never jump in your face, so they don’t take the big prizes. But the Drouhins make wines that, year in and year out, I enjoy drinking, wines that make me murmur, as I empty the last of the bottle, “That was a really fine wine.” 

I can’t ask more of wine than that. And that is an experience I rarely have with Chardonnay, no matter where it comes from (outside of Burgundy) or how expertly it’s made. Let me overstate a little to make my point clear. For my palate, most Chardonnay is vulgar – too obvious, too one-dimensional, too blowsy. It requires too little of the winemaker, and even less of the winedrinker. Stick a chardonnay vine into the earth almost anywhere on this planet except Burgundy, and it will give you Chardonnay. For me, it’s as close as wine comes to Sprite.

OK, I can hear the howls of outrage from San Francisco to Canberra to Johannesburg – but I’ll stick to my point. I can only taste with my own mouth, so it does no good at all to tell me that Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world, that most of wine-drinking humanity loves it. Besides, I’m snob enough to find plenty of cause for suspicion in that: Most of the world loves soft drinks and dotes on fast food. I think it’s about time someone stood up for a little wine snobbery. As the author of one of the earliest demystifying wine books (Mastering Wine, 1985, won the first Clicquot prize) and as a longtime practitioner of the craft of trying to make wine accessible to anyone who wanted to try it, I think I have impeccable credentials  for – and maybe even a hard-earned right to – a little judicious snobbery.

And judicious snobbery is exactly what I’m talking about: the recognition that some things in this very relativistic world are better than other things. Yes, ultimately it still remains subjective – most things are – but even the subjective can be analyzed and argued, reasoned about and explained. Which is what I’m trying to do here. So anyone who wants to is free to disagree with me – but to deserve any attention, they better have more to say than “everybody likes Chardonnay.”