Wed 1 Jul 2009
The last time I posted an entry in this series about the wines that I learned the most from — not necessary the best wines, though many are — I said that during the great educational year of 1984 the best wines were clearly the Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1970 and ’75 that I tasted on September 11. Well, I’m not unhappy to drink my words and say that I was wrong. There were too many “best” wines to name just one.
The wine I’m going to mention today constituted my introduction to great red Burgundy. I had tried a couple of red wines from Burgundy in 1983 and 1984 but hadn’t had much luck with the quality or the year. In fact, up until this point, the best wines I had tasted made from pinot noir grapes were from California: the Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley; a Beaulieu Pinot Noir 1979, Los Carneros; and an Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 1982, Santa Barbara County. Where, oh where, was I going to find a Burgundy that was like the wines I read about in books.
In Big John Grisanti’s cellar at home, that’s where.
I was at Big John’s house on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16, 2004, and he asked me where I thought my wine education was lacking. “Burgundy, as in pinot noir,” I said, explaining that the models I had tried didn’t seem real or authentic or very good, at least from what I had read. In Burgundy (Faber & Faber, 1982), Anthony Hanson writes: “A fine wine will have a lovely colour, an attractive bouquet, and the balance, flavour and smoothness to be expected of it. A great wine will have all these things, but in addition something that makes the pulse race, to make one exclaim: ‘How can it smell and taste like that? That is amazing!’ A fine wine may remind one of flowers or spices or fruits, but there is something animal, often something erotic about great Burgundy.” That’s what I wanted to experience.
“Well,” Big John said, “let’s look around and see what we can find,” and he perused the racks in the cellar, and this was a real underground wine cellar, big enough to hold thousands of bottles and 10 or 12 adults standing up. He pulled out a bottle, checked the fill — the level of wine in relation to the neck and shoulder of the bottle — blew off a little dust, and said, “This should do it.”
The wine was a Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971 from the venerable house of Faiveley, founded in 1825 and still owned and operated by the family. Mercurey is the most prominent commune of the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Côte de Beaune and north of the Mâconnais and Beaujolais. The 15.59-acre Clos des Myglands vineyard, a Premier Cru, is a monopole for Faiveley, that is, a rare instance in which an entire vineyard in Burgundy is owned by one producer or domaine. Now one does not expect truly great wine from the Chalonnaise; one is gratified to be rewarded with authentic pinot noir suppleness and earthiness and fruit. While my experience in 1984 with great pinot noir, especially from the grape’s homeland of Burgundy, was close to nil, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of keen expectation while Grisanti pulled the cork from the bottle and poured the wine.
The color was medium ruby fading to brick red at the edges. The bouquet, well, how could I find the words? Autumn leaves, moss, smoke, loam; an immediate sense of delicacy bolstered by confidence; and then something bigger, richer, almost meaty. Lord have mercy! In the mouth, the wine was quite full, vibrant and intense, yet creating an impression (again) of delicacy, mellowness, suppleness and subtlety, a feeling of warm satin flowing through the mouth to a long, dense, flavorful finish.
Need I say more than this: That Big John Grisanti and I sat in his cellar and slowly savored every drop of this remarkable wine.
By the way, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., has not imported the wines of Faiveley for years, that task having passed to Wilson Daniels.