Burgundy


Fortune seems to be smiling upon the venerable House of Louis Latour, founded in 1797 in the picturesque town of Beaune and still owned and run by the family. That was not the case in the 1970s and 1980s, when quality seemed to diminish and there volnay-en-chevret-copie.jpg was an emphasis on squeaky clean, correct wines. Coming from a superb vintage in Burgundy like 2005 doesn’t hurt, of course, but the wines of Louis Latour feel more powerful, deeper and more attuned to the earth and the vineyard than they did 20 years ago.

Along with the other major negociant houses in Burgundy — Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin, Faiveley, Bouchard — Louis Latour owns segments of important Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards but also makes many wines at every level and from every commune from purchased grapes, generally through long-term contracts, in the time-honored tradition. The wines mentioned here in fairly straightforward transcriptions of my tasting notes represent only a small part of what Louis Latour produces, but every segment is touched on, from a simple yet very well-made Bourgogne rouge at $17 through village and Premier Cru wines, to a pair of magnificent age-worthy Grand crus.

*Le Pinot Noir Chanfleure de Louis Latour 2005. Entrancing bouquet, penetrating purity and intensity; black cherry and minerals, violets and roses, lavender, potpourri, clean fresh earth; some brambles and underbrush, lovely, dense, chewy texture. Now through 2010 or ’12. Very good+ and Good Value at about $17.

*Marsannay 2005. Acid and minerals cut like a shining blade; tremendous tone and body for Marsannay; smoke, roses, potpourri. black and red cherries and currants, fairly tannic but showing the innate refinement that characterizes the best of these wines. Now through 2010 or ’12. Very good+. About $18.

*Santenay 2005. Quite tannic, earthy and minerally; smoky, spicy black fruit flavors; very minerally but with a soft, smoky, slightly creamy edge; black and red cherries; core of potpourri and bitter chocolate; huge structure. Best from 2009 through 2014 or ’15. Excellent, and a Great Value at about $23. This is one to buy by the case.

*Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 2005. Reticent, brooding, very earthy and minerally; briers and brambles; a spice and flavor chas5.gif spectrum that goes from dark to darker to darkest; massive structure but vibrant and resonant. 2010 through 2014 or ’16. Very good+. About $25.

*Volnay 2005. Extraordinary quality for a village wine. Pure, intense and concentrated, seductive; smoke, dust and earth, roasted, spiced and macerated red and black fruit scents and flavors; remarkable body, tone and resonance; the acid cuts like a knife, a massive wine but so well balanced, so lovely. 2009 or ’10 through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $41.

*Volnay En Chevrets Premier Cru 2005. Classic black cherry, currant and plum permeated by beetroot, earthy, loamy; incredibly fruity, floral and spicy, and so minerally that it almost tickles the nose; massive wine, impenetrable structure of tannin and oak and acid, very dry, austere and tannic in the finish. Try 2012 to 2018 to ’20 Very good+ to Excellent. About $50.

*Pommard 2005. Briers and brambles, loam; rose petals; deep, rich, warm, a lovely amalgam of power and elegance; sewwt and dried spices, deep, pure black fruit flavors; huge enveloping structure, but approachable; the tannin builds at the back and comes forward. A great wine. Excellent. 2009 or ’10 through 2016 to ’18. About $45.

*Aloxe-Corton Les Chaillots Premier Cru 2005, Domaine Latour. Sizable, large-framed with deep foundations, reticent; dense, chewy, almost shaggy tannins, tremendous earthy and minerally element; the acid ploughs through; a massive wine but after a few minutes, the bouquet opens beautifully. 2010 through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+ to Excellent. About $51.

*Beaune Vignes Franches Premier Cru 2005, Domaine Latour. Such eloquence and grandeur! Tar, roses, violets, dried spice; beau4.gif riveting purity and intensity, so clean, bracing and expressive! classic red and black fruit but with undertone of pomegranate; wonderful authenticity and tone, vibrancy and resonance. Now through 2015 or ’17. Exceptional. I have never purchased a case of red Burgundy and probably never will, but were I a person who could do so with impunity, I would purchase a case of this wine, believe me. About $55.

*Gevrey-Chambertin 2005. Charming and enticing bouquet of black cherry, crushed violets and loam; dense and chewy texture, fairly tannic but not overbearing; lovely weight and intensity; the oak a bit more apparent than with most of the others in this roster; a bit blunt and inexpressive. Time should help; try 2010 through 2014 to ’17. Very good+. About $45.

*Nuits-Saint-Georges 2005. Very spicy, very minerally, very brambly; very dense and chewy; rigorous tannins, though it’s open-knit, warm and generous to a degree; still, from mid-palate back, this is massive, tannic and austere. Try 2011 through 2015 or ’18. Reserving judgment with a Very good+? About $50.

*Nuits-Saint Georges Aux Crots Premier Cru 2005. Whoa. Cinnamon, cloves, cherry and pomegranate; warm, rich, roasted black fruit; piercing purity and intensity of fruit and floral aspects; dense with briers and brambles, tremendous drying tannins, almost gritty, austere, though freighted with a sense of potential. Try 2011 to 2015 or ’18. Very good+ to Excellent. About $95. chat1.gif

*Chateau Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2005, Domaine Latour. What a tapestry of amazing complexity! As huge yet exquisitely balanced as one would expect from this wine. Very dry, very tannic, quite forbidding even, but vibrant and resonant, bursting with ripe and warm black cherry, blueberry and pomegranate flavors. A keeper, try 2012 through 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $99.

*Chambertin Grand Cru 2005 Cuvée Héritiers Latour. First note: “OMG!” Tremendous, both formidable and mesmerizing. Blinding purity and intensity, manifold depths and grandeur, fathomless layers, a continuous unfolding. Needs ages; try 2015 through 2020 to ’25. Exceptional. $220.

Here’s the second installment in a series that examines the real or perceived differences between a winery’s “regular” bottling of a particular wine or grape and its “reserve” bottling. Actually, today we look at three offerings of chardonnay from two far-flung wineries: Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma County and Pierre Morey in Burgundy. This essay does not mean to compare Rodney Strong and Pierre Morey, anymore than you could compare the geography and culture of California and Burgundy.

We expect that a reserve wine merits that designation — which is completely unregulated on local, state or federal levels — because the grapes come from a particularly well-regarded vineyard or section of a vineyard; that the wine may represent the best of the barrels that composed the final blend; or that the wine received special care in the winery; perhaps a combination of all three potential criteria is the case. We assume, for these reasons, that a reserve wine will cost more than a regular bottling, though it often seems that the cost isn’t justified.

Rodney Strong Vineyards produces three chardonnays: 1. the “regular” and widely available Sonoma County version, one of the most reliable chardonnays made in California in its price range, about $15; 2. the Chalk Hill Chardonnay, made from the estate vineyard originally planted by the winery’s founder, Rodney Strong, in 1965, another dependable wine that sells for about $20; and the Reserve rendition, a limited production wine that gets more oak treatment than its cousins, about $35.

*The Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2006, Sonoma County, is partially barrel-fermented (40 percent) and partially stainless steel fermented (60 percent); the 40 percent continues in French and American oak to age for nine months and goes through considerable (84 percent) malolactic conversion, a completely natural process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid to lush lactic “(“milk-like”) acid. Sorry to throw all these percentages at you, but I want readers to see how careful handling in the winery can lend character to a basic, inexpensive wine. The result here is a chardonnay that nicely balances clean crispness and vibrancy with moderate lushness and richness for liveliness and a pleasing texture. Scents and flavors of green apple, pineapple and grapefruit are bolstered by hints of dried baking spices and chiseled minerality. You feel the oak a bit in the finish, as a flush of spicy wood. Drink now through 2009. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain. This should be a no-brainer on every restaurant’s wine-by-the-glass program. About $15.

*The difference between the previous wine and Rodney Strong’s Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay 2005, Sonoma County, lies in the firmness of the body and texture and in a tone of unabashed resonance and vividness. Ninety-seven percent of the wine was fermented in French oak barrels (27 percent new) and went through the malolactic process. Despite what could have been heavy-handed treatment, the wine does not display the flaws that commonly result from so much oak and malolactic — candy-like flavors and over-creamy lushness; instead, this wine reveals admirable balance and integration and lovely suppleness in texture. To classic pineapple and grapefruit flavors, it adds touches of pear and orange rind and limestone; the bouquet opens to offer hints of jasmine and damp rocks, while the wine as a whole delivers notable purity and intensity. Drink now through 2009. Excellent. About $20, a Great Price.

*Back in September, I wrote on BTYH, “Oak should be like shoes of invisibility, transporting one miraculously but nowhere in evidence.” Opposed to that point of view are many winemakers in California who see grapes as raw material upon which to exercise their wills. I’m not saying that Rick Sayre, longtime winemaker for Rodney Strong and now vice president and director of winemaking, believes that necessarily, but he’s certainly an advocate of putting a wine through its paces, oak-wise. Over the years, I have criticized many wines from Rodney Strong, especially reds, for bearing too heavily the stamp of the oaken vision.

That assertion is prelude to the Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2005, Sonoma County, a wine that is 100 percent fermented in French oak, goes through complete malolactic and ages for 20 months in barrels. This is still a wine of tremendous brightness and vivacity, of vibrant fruit and stirring acidity and minerality, but you smell the oak and you taste the oak from beginning to end and if oak influence had color and voice, you would see it and hear it as well. I know that there are many experienced wine drinkers and reviewers who relish the smell and taste of oak in wine, but I don’t; I think that overt oak character, that presence of toasty oak, is an aberration.

My conclusion, then, is that this wine is not for me, though it possesses sterling qualities, and it qualifies as a reserve wine because it obviously receives singular attention in the winery. Still, I rate it Very Good+. Drink now through 2010 or ’11. About $35.

For information about the winery, visit rodneystrong.com.

The situation is somewhat different with our three white Burgundy wines. First, as you will see, there are the prices. Second, the term “reserve” is seldom used in France, so what we are looking at here are a “village” wine, a village wine from a designated vineyard (lieu-dit, “named place”), and a Premier Cru wine, all three from Meursault. Unlike nearby (just to the south) Puligy-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, with which it forms a triumvirate of ultimate chardonnay-dom, Meursault possesses no Grand Cru vineyards, though its Premier Cru vineyards are justly famous. Pierre Morey is winemaker for the distinguished domaine of Olivier Leflaive. The Morey wines are biodynamically grown.

*To be a “village” wine in Burgundy, the grapes may come from anywhere in the named village, in this case Meursault, where vineyards are allowed; that is, they can’t just be grown in someone’s backyard. It happens, in lesser years, that producers will meursaults_01.jpg downgrade their Premier Cru wines to village level because the quality is not commensurate with the reputation of the vineyard and producer, but 2005 was a superb year. The grapes for the winsome Meursault 2005 from Pierre Morey derive from rows of vines in three parcels in Meursault owned by Pierre Morey and planted in 1986. Though the wine aged 18 months in oak barrels, it is completely unfettered by perceivable or palpable oak influence, which is relegated to the foundation and framing of the wine rather than contributing overtly to its nature.

The wine smells slightly waxy, with touches of lanolin and sweet white flowers. Flavors of roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by smoke, limestone and chalk, clove and ginger. Balanced by the ripeness of its fruit and the liveliness of its acid, the wine is very dry, but not austere. The finish is long, stony and spicy. Drink now through 2010 or ’12, well-stored. Lovely and irresistible as it is, however, it lacks true heft and balletic power, so I give it Very Good+. About — gack! — $75-$90. Yes friends the effect of the euro, the currency named for a whole continent — imagine if we called dollars “North Americans” — certainly makes itself known here. 300 cases imported.

*The Pierre Morey Meursault Les Tossons 2005 comes from a 2.2-acre village vineyard; the name means “the shards,” referring to the fragmented nature of the vineyard’s soil and rocks. The color is pale straw; the bouquet is an adorable weaving of roasted meursaults_02.jpg lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit, jasmine and limestone. In the mouth, the wine offers seductive depth and body, pulling you in with its buoyancy and lustrous powers, its flavors of spiced and macerated stone fruit; it’s boldly dense and chewy, almost powdery, an effect off-set by crackling acid and mineral elements. Drink now through 2011 or ’13, well-stored. Excellent. 200 cases imported.

*Morey-Blanc is the name of Pierre Morey’s negociant side that makes wine from purchased grapes; Blanc is Pierre Morey’s wife’s name. Don’t turn you nose up; most of the important domaine winemakers in Burgundy also produce full lines of negociant wines, principally from long-term contracts with growers they trust. The Pierre Morey Meursault and Meursault Tossons are domaine wines, that is, the vineyards are owned by the company; our third wine is the Morey-Blanc Meursault Boucheres Premier Cru 2005, a negociant wine and an absolutely splendid example of what Meursault Premier Cru from a great year should be.

My first notes were “Wow. Lovely, perfect.” I suppose I could stop there, but I’ll add (anyway) that the wine is crystalline in its ringing acid and pure minerality, that its resonant and vibrant intensity completely imbues flavors of candied ginger, lemon-lime meursaults_03.jpg and grapefruit, pear and baked apple. A talc-like scent, a powdery texture and a hint of jasmine remind me of my mother’s dressing table, with its silver compacts and drawers lined with satin, though the finish is like strata of damp limestone and shale. The wine is, in a word, Exceptional, and lovers of white Burgundy or chardonnay in general are urged to buy a case, if they can find one, since only 70 cases were imported. Drink from now through 2012 to ’15, well-stored. About $110. The importer for the Pierre Morey wines is Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.

Visit wilsondaniels.com or morey-meursault.fr.

The travel section of Sunday’s New York Times featured a story on that oxymoron traveling frugally in Hawaii. The writer, Matt Gross, said this about Hawaii’s too evident charms: “Hawaii is easy, Hawaii has nothing to hide. Hawaii is, touristically speaking, pornographic in its single-minded baring of its assets.”

Substitute the words “California chardonnay” for “Hawaii” in those sentences and you have a pretty good summation of the general tone of chardonnay wines from the Golden State, many of which make a shameless appeal to be adored, enveloping our senses — or “our every sense,” as PR scribes like to pen — with clouds of cream and butter and cinnamon toast and coconut cream pie and butterscotch and roasted marshmallows and pineapple-upside-down cake. They’re chardonnays for our most basic instincts, a French kiss straight to our simplest sense of gratification: “If it tastes like dessert, it must be good.”

There’s an alternative, often found in actual French chardonnays from the homeland, the cradle of chardonnay, Burgundy, and, I’m happy to report, they don’t have to be expensive (see montagny.jpg previous entry). The wine I mention in this post is the Montagny Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet 2005 from the venerable and well-known domaine of Faiveley.

This is not a chardonnay that flatters you and tries to make you like it. In fact, at first I was feeling a little snubbed by this wine, thinking that perhaps its standoffishness was, you know, my fault; I mean, it was like taking in a mouthful of chilled limestone and steel. My famously austere high school geometry teacher was friendlier than this. Gradually, though, as we poured, swirled, sniffed and sipped — we were cooking dinner, a pasta with grilled sausages — the wine gave in slightly, became less distant, more rounded and shapely, though always with this bright edge of minerals etched with scintillating acid. It took on touches of roasted lemon and lemon curd, dried thyme, a bit of roasted hazelnut and a hint, a bare hint, of glazed grapefruit. Richness began to filter back toward us, but in a subtle, constrained fashion; this wine was not going to lose a grip on its purposeful purity and intensity.

Made two-thirds in stainless steel and one-third in barrel, the wine sees no new oak: Yippee! Wilson Daniels, in St. Helena, Ca., imported 900 cases. I rate this chardonnay for grown-ups Excellent. The suggested retail price is $24, though you can find it on the Internet for $19.50. Drink through the end of 2009 with fresh shellfish, grilled trout, quenelles of pike, dry goat’s-milk cheeses.

These email messages arrived within about six minutes of each other, the first from the Burgundy division of Sopexa USA (the French trade group) based in New York, announcing its fourth annual “Burgundy Best Buys”; and the second from the estimable 185 smackers a whack! Burgundy Wine Company, also in New York (and from which on occasion I have purchased wine), trumpeting the triumphant return of Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru in the superb 2005 vintage.

One understands Sopexa’s efforts to promote affordable products from Burgundy, a small, hallowed region whose tiny, segmented vineyards yield minuscule amounts of some of the world’s greatest and most expensive wines made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. The names of those vineyards, particularly the prestigious Grand Crus, are spoken with respect and reverence, and the wines that issue from them are not for the likes of ordinary pocketbooks like mine and (I guess) yours. The 20 wines on the new “Burgundy Best Buys” list (which I will reproduce in full below) range in price from about $16 to $35, depending in what part of the country you live, and would provide a great deal of versatility and pleasure in your household. Are these the best, the highest level of examples of Burgundy? Well, no, but judging from the labels and producers that I have tried the wines are well-made, satisfying, delicious and authentic. And they don’t cost $185 a bottle, which is what Burgundy Wine Company is charging for Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru 2005.

Burgundy Wine Company’s newsletter welcomes Clos des Lambrays 2005 to the fold with the joy which which the father greeted the return of the Prodigal Son: “And so it’s back!” Indeed, this has been a troubled domaine (Domaine des Lambrays) and a troubled vineyard. The property had fallen considerably in repute from the end of the 1940s through the 1970s, under the Cosson family, and it was purchased in 1979 by a group led by the Saier family, who worked hard and managed, in a rare instance of a change in the Burgundy classification system, to have Clos des Lambrays elevated to Grand Cru status. Still, neither the vineyard nor the wine made from it earned much respect from critics, and when I visited the domaine in March 1990, the Saier brothers seemed subdued and defensive. It was, I’ll admit, a chilly, gloomy day. In the mid 1990s, the estate again changed hand; the owners now are Gunther and Ruth Freund.

Burgundy Wine Company has — or had, yesterday — eight cases of Clos des Lambrays 2005. Purchasers of a case will receive (or would have received) a 10 percent discount, bringing the price per bottle to $166.50, thus a case being $1,998.

On the other hand, for the price of one bottle of Clos des Lambrays 2005, you could buy seven or eight bottles of wine from the “Burgundy Best Buys 2008″ roster; altogether, the 20 wines would cost — again depending on geography and availability — $529. What fun!

Now I understand clearly the the world operates strictly, and always has, on the principle of “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” So be it, right? You got the time, you got the dime, you get to finish the rhyme.

But I can’t help thinking that in a world that is drastically different economically than it was six months ago, when housing foreclosures are sky-high, and the stock markets in the United States are tanking and taking the rest of the world’s markets with them and my 401(k) is going down faster than a $10 hooker in the back seat of a Coupe de Ville, as I say, I can’t help thinking that it’s unseemly for Burgundy Wine Company to crow quite so gleefully and giddily about the “return” of a wine that costs $185 a bottle or $1,998 a case with your discount.

I mean, talk about bad timing.

Here are the 2008 “Burgundy Best Buys” from Sopexa.
Whites
1.Cremant de Bourgogne 2004, Dufouleur Pere et Fils. $16.
2. Bourgogne Chardonnay 2005. Maison Louis Jadot. $17.
3. Chablis 2006, Domaine Christian Moreau Pere et Fils. $23
4. Pouilly-Fuisse 2006, Laboure Roi. $18.
5. Bourgogne Chardonnay 2006, Domaine Pernot et ses Fils. $30.
6. Vire Clesse Vieilles Vignes 2006, Domaine des Chazelles. $30
7. Saint-Aubin 1er Cru “Le Sentier du Clou” 2006, Domaine Sylvain Langoureau. $35.
8. Mercurey (blanc) 2005, Chateau de Chamirey. $34.
9. Chablis 1er Cru “La Singuliere” 2005, La Chablisienne. $28.
10. Saint-Aubin 1er Cru “Le Charmois” 2005, Champy. $25.
Reds
11. Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2005, Chanson Pere et Fils. $21.
12. Bourgogne “Emotion de Terroirs” Pinot Noir 2005, Vincent Girardin. $22.
13. Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes 2005, Maison Albert Bichot. $17.
14. Mercurey Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet 2005, Maison Faiveley. $23.
15. Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2005, Domaine Dominique Gallois. $32.
16. Cotes de Nuits-Villages Vieilles Vignes 2005, Nicolas Potel. $30.
17. Mercurey (rouge) 2005, Chateau de Chamirey. $34.
18. Beaune du Chateau 1er Cru 2005, Bouchard Pere et Fils. $34.
19. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru “Les Fichots” 2005. Champy. $25
20. Beaune 1er Cru “Aux Cras” 2005, Champy. $35.

What a relief to drink a nice, clean, fresh, crisp Saint-Véran after the California white wines I’ve been trying for the past week. I don’t mean just chardonnays, the dead horse that I flog relentlessly, because most white wines from California tend to be bigger, bolder and brighter than their European counterparts, and I’m talking about the examples that I like.

I was fortunate, for example, to taste more white Burgundies than usual last year, mainly from 2004 and 2005, and no matter how rich they were, no matter how deep and layered and textured, none of them was over-wrought, none of them was sodden with the excessive oak and tropical fruit and dessert-like flavors that make many chardonnays from California so cloying that they’re undrinkable. And those are the kinds of wines — at least some of them — that I tried last week, though there were also a few that were beautifully, impeccably made, by which I mean, naturally, that they displayed perfect balance among all elements: fruit, acid, oak; flavor, texture, structure. You can read reviews of 12 California white wines — ratings vary from Excellent to Avoid — here.

Anyway, as I was saying, after some of these hard-hitting white wines, it was almost thrilling to drink a bottle of the Domaine veran_01.jpg Perraud Saint-Véran Vieilles Vignes 2005 with a simple Italian chicken soup with pasta, spinach and Parmesan cheese and a beaten egg whipped into each bowl. I guess that qualifies as Italian egg-drop soup. The wine combined many elements of lemon — fresh lemon with touches of roasted lemon and lemon curd — along with a hint of jasmine, a touch of spice and loads of limestone that practically vibrated from the vigorous acid that kept the whole package taut and lively. I immediately want to take back the word “taut,” though, because that makes it sound as if the wine were not also dense and smooth and silky, which it certainly was, the point being that as with most enjoyable white wines the slight tug-of-war between crispness and density was exhilarating. This is the second bottle of the Perraud V.V. Saint-Veran ’05 that we’ve had in three months, and both times it was delightful. North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca. I rate it Very Good+. About $18-$20.

Here are two more wines from Saint-Véran that I tried last night.

The Saint-Véran 2006 from the Cave de Prissé delivers a bouquet that you want to swim in or dab behind your ears. Apple, pear saintveran_011.jpg and lemon, lime peel, limestone and jasmine and a touch of smoke combine for a boundlessly appealing beginning for this wine. It’s crisp and lively and notably earthy and minerally, with roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors set into a bracing and austere limestone and shale structure. In the mouth, actually, this Saint-Véran doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its bouquet, but it’s still an attractive and tasty accompaniment to grilled fish and fresh seafood. William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va. Very Good. About $16.

The venerable house of Joseph Drouhin offers a Saint-Véran 2005 that’s unusually bright and lively, with lemon, lime and pear 10630.jpg scents and flavors etched with beguiling notes of clove and ginger. The wine is very dry and crisp, quite earthy and minerally, and so pure and intense that it feels crystalline. The finish is stony, steely and austere. Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co, New York. Very Good+. About $12.50-$16.

Saint-Véran, to touch on geographical matters, lies in the southernmost reaches of Burgundy, between Mâconnais and Beaujolais. Only the chardonnay grape is allowed. The wines are best consumed within one to three years of the vintage. Pouilly-Fuissé, which produces wines of greater character and longevity, is a separate appellation within Saint-Véran.

Since you asked, burgundy is so freakin’ expensive because of this equation:

Reputation + Rarity x That Damned Euro = Big Bucks! armandauxey.jpg

The issue arises because I posted Sunday on KoeppelOnWine.com reviews of 17 burgundies from 2005 and one from 2004, all rated Excellent or Exceptional and being exemplars of what great wines from Burgundy should be. It’s not just a footnote or an aside that the wines are really expensive. When “village” wines from Burgundy cost up to — I swear that I’m not making this up — $90 a bottle, that’s mind-boggling.

And here’s a brief, almost simplistic explanation of the scheme by which Burgundy operates, then we’ll get back to the Reputation, Rarity, Euro thing.

Burgundy, in the department of the Cote d’Or in eastern France, is a slender ribbon of mainly tiny villages and vineyards running dujacmorey.jpg slightly southwest for about 30 miles from the city of Dijon. A line of southeastward-facing hills and declivities runs along this same ribbon; the best vineyards tend to be found about halfway up these hillsides.

The vineyards and wines of Burgundy can be divided — and again, I’m simplifying — into four levels.

(1) The basic wines of Burgundy are labeled Bourgogne. They are made from grapes grown wherever vineyards are approved, in other words not just in somebody’s backyard. Bourgogne accounts for about 52 percent of the region’s production.

(2) The first important classification, village wines are made from officially permitted vineyards surrounding the individual villages of Burgundy. The wines take the names of the villages and occasionally the traditional name of a vineyard. If you see a label that says only Gevrey-Chambertin or Puligny-Montrachet or Volnay, it’s a village wine. The implication is that these wines fit not only by deuxmontille.jpg nomenclature but by quality into a third tier, but that’s not always the case. Some of the village wines that I reviewed recently are splendid. Village wines make up about 36 percent of Burgundy production.

(3) The next level consists of wines made from Premier Cru (“First Growth”) vineyards. Labels for these wines will have the name of the village AND the name of the vineyard, hence Gevrey-Chambertin Clos-Saint-Jacques or Puligny-Montrachet Les Caillerets. The words “Premier Cru” must also appear on the label. To tell you how complicated Burgundy can get, Gevrey-Chambertin, a village for red wine, has 26 Premier Cru vineyards, while Puligny-Montrachet, a village for white wine, has 23. Altogether, gevrey.jpg Burgundy holds 562 Premier Cru vineyards, and if you think that’s a lot, you’re right. It would be good to winnow the never-heard-from, the under-achievers, the unduly-rewarded. Premier Cru vineyards producer about 11 percent of the region’s wines.

(4) The apotheosis of Burgundy wines is found in the Grand Cru (“Great Growth”) vineyards, of which there are 31. Only the name of the Grand Cru vineyard appears on the label, as in Le Chambertin or Le Montrachet, along with the designation Grand Cru. This ultimate level accounts for about 1 percent of the region’s production.

So, first, Reputation. Let’s state the case frankly: The best chardonnay and pinot noir wines in the world come from Burgundy’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. All the wines of Burgundy don’t attain greatness, of course; there are good years and bad years, meticulous producers and careless producers. Yes pinot noir and chardonnay in some areas of California, yes pinot noir in Oregon’a Willamette Valley, yes, a hint of success for pinot noir in New Zealand, but the best chardonnay and pinot noir wines from Burgundy are simply the best anywhere.

Second, rarity. In Burgundy, a vineyard of 25 or 30 acres is considered large. Most Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards are tiny, two or three acres, five or 10 acres, so production is limited. The appellation of Volnay, for example, holds 35 Premier Cru vineyards that encompass 237.76 acres. The production from all of Volnay’s Premier Cru vineyards averages 5,800 cases annually, a figure at which most estates in Bordeaux or wineries in California would scoff. In gagnard.jpg addition, the best Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards often are owned by several or even many producers; it happens that one fine producer may own a few rows of vines in one vineyard and a few rows of vines in another vineyard and make, in an abundant year, 25 or 50 cases each of an avidly sought-after wine. The method that determines which restaurants and which collectors in Europe and America (and increasingly in China and Japan) may purchase one or two precious bottles of these fabulous wines is arcane and probably unfair, but that’s what capitalism is all about, the concatenation of fiduciary prowess. The point is, there’s not enough fine Burgundy to go around. That’s why Madame Bize-Leroy can charge $900 for a bottle of her Le Montrachet and get it.

Finally, that blasted euro is dealing dirty to our dollar. It takes $1.416 to buy one euro, or, to put it the other way around, a euro is worth a measly 71 cents. When you account for that exchange rate and consider the costs the wine accumulates as it travels from the producer in Burgundy to the broker in Paris to the importer in New York to the wholesale distributor in whatever lucky grosnuits.jpg city can get a case (or a few bottles) to the retail store, well, you’re talking about wads o’ dough. And 2005 is a superb year in Burgundy, especially for pinot noir, the best vintage, in fact, in a generation. Nobody’s exactly tempering their prices from euphoria, as in “Sacre bleu, it’s such a great year and we made such great wines, let’s lower prices for our American customers that we love so much!”

That’s not the way the world works. It’s all supply ‘n’ demand out there, and it ain’t pretty.

The annual portfolio tasting mounted by Martin Scott Wines of Lake Success, New York, is so vast that participants must limit themselves in some rational manner and mount an agenda-based attack or else wander aimlessly, trying wines here and there. Held on several levels of the lobby of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, the event offered almost 900 wines, of nav_logo.gif which I tasted, between noon and 5 p.m., Monday, about 120. Yes, that’s 24 wines per hour, one wine every two and a half minutes, and that’s counting taking time to chat with people and snatch cheese and bread from the snack tables and gulp it down.

I decided to limit myself mainly to pinot noir and chardonnay, because Martin Scott’s portfolio is rich in wines made from those noble grapes, being deep into Burgundy and small producers from California and Oregon. Most of these wines were from vintage 2005, a fine year for vineyard regions practically everywhere in the world, and, indeed, these wines did not disappoint. Interestingly, however, I found the examples from Burgundy bigger, more structured and more tannic, sometimes searingly so, than the models from California and Oregon; they also possess the potential for long aging and development, some perhaps not coming into their own until 2015 to 2018.

For example, I use phrases such as “Whoa, huge tannins!” or “Holy shit, staggering tannin” for wines like the Gevrey Chambertin gevrey2.jpg 1er Cru “Les Corbeaux 2005 from Domaine Heresztyn (“like drinking the vineyard”), about $88; and the Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Clos de la Marechale” 2005 from Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier (“you can smell and taste the limestone”), about $80; and the Volnay 1er Cru “Les Chevrets” 2005 from Domaine Henri Boillot (“wonderful purity and intensity”), about $100. The point, though, is not that these wines, and others like them, are merely stout and tannic, but that they are deep and powerful and exhibit profound clarity and purpose. Some are more approachable now than others, of course, and I’ll get to those wines and the other Burgundies when I write out full reviews in a full days, either on this blog or over on KoeppelOnWine.

The California pinots that showed size and structure similar to their Burgundian counterparts for 2005 included the Ketcham adrianfog.jpg Estate Pinot Noir 2005, Russian River Valley (“great but quite serious”), about $55; the Pisoni Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2005, Santa Lucia Highlands (“what power!”); the Fiddlehead Cellars “Cuvee Seven Twenty Eight” Pinot Noir 2004 — note the year — Santa Rita Hills (“deep, intense, powerful”), about $43; and the Adrian Fog “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2005, Anderson Valley (“spare, elegant, fills the glass, wow!”), about $83. No, friends, these are not cheap wines, mostly being made in limited quantities.

Generally, however, the pinots from California and Oregon conveyed a sense of earlier drinkability and younger balance and integration than the wines from Burgundy for 2005, and just for the record, let me add that among the loveliest, most elegant and classic Burgundian-style pinots I have encountered from California is the Inman Family Wines “Olivet Grange Vineyard” Pinot Noir inman.jpg 2005, Russian River Valley, about $45. Pinot noir lovers who value nuance and finesse over power and size should search for this wine relentlessly.

So, we’re leaving for La Guardia in a couple of hours, and we’ll we back in Memphis this evening. I just wanted to give readers a preview of what would be going on in my (our) world of wine for a while.

And expensive, but we can dream, can’t we?

When I was in New York two weeks ago, I was invited to a tasting that debuted the splendid 2005 vintage for Faiveley, the venerable Burgundy house — founded in 1825 and still in the same family — with enviable holdings in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards up and down the Cote d’Or. The selection of new wines was select indeed: Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2005; Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru ’05; chablis_01.jpg Nuits-Saint-George “Les Saint-Georges Premier Cru ’05; Gevrey-Chamberton “Clos de Beze” Grand Cru ’05; Chambolle-Musigny “La Combe d’Orveau” Premier Cru ’05; and Corton “Clos de Cortons Faiveley” Grand Cru Monopole ’05. I won’t reveal the prices or availability yet.

The event took place in the new and elegant Gordon Ramsey restaurant in the London hotel and featured exquisite hors d’oeuvres and a horde of well-dressed people clamoring for, jostling for and even demanding sips of wine. Well, they were great sips.

We wet our whistles with a glass of Faiveley’s white Mercurey “Clos Rochette” Monopole 2004 — “monopole” means a rare instance in Burgundy when a house owns an entire vineyard — a tremendously clean and fresh chardonnay, very earthy and bracingly minerally, like drinking liquid limestone electrified by vibrant acid, with delicious roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors nestled in a texture that was taut yet almost talc-like. A lovely wine that costs about $24 a bottle. While you’re saving your pennies for the following wines or trying to float a loan, you would be happy knowing you had scored a coup with this bargain. 600 cases imported. (The importer is Wilson-Daniels in Napa Ca.)
OK, here are six Big Guns.

*Domaine Faiveley Chablis “Les Clos” Grand Cru 2005. 100% chardonnay. Exquisite and serious, the epitome of a Grand Cru Chablis in its unerring precision and boundless expansiveness. The acid cuts like a knife honed on the wine’s own limestone and quartz outcroppings, yet the texture takes the opposite approach toward creamy lushness that knows exactly when to exert its spareness and elegance. Roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors are infused with orange and lime peel, dried baking spice and a profound earthy element, all of these qualities drawn out through a long, sleek finish. One of the best Chablis I have ever tasted. Exceptional. About $88. 150 six-bottle cases imported.

*Domaine Faiveley Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2005. 100% chardonnay. A brilliant wine, amazingly complex, with awe-inspiring detail and dimension. The bouquet offers toasted hazelnuts, spiced and roasted lemon, jasmine and corton2_01.jpg honeysuckle, limestone and a whiff of grapefruit. The size and weight are spectacular, yet the wine never feels lead-footed or obvious, possessing inherent limpidity, an elevating crispness and acidity. The wine is, however, very dry, very earthy, almost tannic. Try from 2010 to 2015 or ’18. Exceptional. About — one blushes — $273 a bottle, of which 50 six-bottle cases were imported.

*Domaine Faiveley Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Saint-Georges” Premier Cru 2005. 100% pinot noir. This delivers penetrating aromas of crushed raspberry, black cherry and cranberry permeated by exotic spice, potpourri and clean, damp earth. I mean, it’s all sandalwood and lavender, violets and plum dust, finely-milled tannins (and lots of ‘em), polished oak and minerals. It would be almost pretty if it weren’t so brooding. Try from 2010 or ’12 to 2015 or ’16. Or tonight with a grilled veal chop, plenty of rosemary. Excellent. About $146, with 30 six-bottle cases imported to the United States.

*Domaine Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos de Beze” Grand Cru 2005. 100% pinot noir. The seductive bouquet of ripe and dried black cherry, raspberry and currant is buoyed by violets and lavender and anchored in an earthy character that’s almost mossy and musky (meaning that this is good and desirable). It’s very dry and large-framed in the mouth, with deep foundations of earth and minerals, new leather, dense oak and slightly austere tannins. Try from 2010 or ’12 to 2015 to ’18. Excellent, and a pinot noir of immense character and dignity. About — giving one pause — $350 a bottle, of which 130 six-bottle cases were imported.

*Domaine Faiveley Chambolle-Musigny “La Combes d’Orveau” Premier Cru 2005. 100% pinot noir. Have mercy, this wine is huge! Not just huge but reticent, not just reticent but brooding, without, thank goodness lapsing into truculence, being saved by glimmers of deep, dark black fruit flavors, exotic spice and a mineral quality that’s almost scintillating. Obviously made for the long-haul, this should be given from 2010 or ’14 through 2015 to ’20. Excellent. About $176 a bottle, of which 30 six-bottle cases were imported.

*Domaine Faively Corton “Clos des Cortons Faiveley” Grand Cru Monopole 2005. 100% pinot noir. My first notes are “tremendous — HUGE — god, what a nose!” I guess that sort of tells you everything you need to know, except that for a wine of such amazing heft and substance and power, it remains remarkably light on its feet, with a delicacy of dried and corton1_01.jpg fresh roses and violets, like lace on a midnight black velvet dress, and intense and concentrated black fruit scents and flavors. The tannins, though, are broad, scrunchy, austere. A monument that requires some polishing from 2010 or ’12 to 2015 or ’18. Excellent. About $195 a bottle, of which 200 six-bottle cases were imported.

So, why mention these wines except that, as with Everest, they’re there?

Well, that’s one reason, of course. The other is to allow readers who, like myself, mainly concern themselves with everyday drinking wines, the opportunity to expand their awareness of the possibilities of wine even vicariously, the way we look at expensive watches or automobiles or rare books. The Faiveley wines reviewed here, rare and costly, will end up on the wine lists of high-ticket restaurants and in the cellars of a few collectors. So be it. They still represent the epitome of what the world’s ancient heritage of wine-making — and Burgundy’s — is all about: authenticity, integrity, eloquence.
Faiveley does offer far less expensive wines than these Premier and Grand Cru wines, which represent a fraction of the house’s production. In addition to the Mercurey Clos Rochette Monopole 2004 mentioned above, look for the white Faiveley Montagny “Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet” 2004, about $21, the red Mercurey “Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet” 2004, about $21, and, always a reliable label, Faiveley’s appealing “Georges Faiveley” Bourgogne Chardonnay 2004, about $17.

All right, I should have been more clear about my Proustian moment raking and bagging old leaves in the backyard last weekend that led to an explication of the “great Burgundy smells like shit” simile. Yes, great red Burgundy, made from pinot noir grapes, smells deeply earthy, loamy and mossy, with a touch of fleshy and sometimes slightly decayed and “barnyardy” elements (that’s the shit part), nobly clean and fresh, but it also smells (or should or may smell) of pure smoky black cherry and currant fruit (sometimes cranberry), of cloves and allspice, of minerals, and (subtly, one hopes) of spicy oak. There, are you happy now?

I didn’t say that. It was Anthony Hanson in the first edition of his book “Burgundy,” published in 1982 in the old Faber & Faber series about wine regions. Hanson was trying to get at the essence of a particular quality about red bluesky_01.jpg Burgundy wines, made from pinot noir grapes, that other writers tiptoed around with such terms as “earth,” “barnyard,” “beet-root,” “old saddle” or, with Gallic flair (attributed to the great winemaker Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac), “your mistress’s armpit.” “Not always, of course,” Hanson continues, “but frequently there is a smell of decaying matter, vegetable or animal, about them.”

Quite an uproar ensued about Hanson’s forthright statement — “sacre bleu!” — and many of his critics said that he was wrong. In fact, researchers determined that some portion of ancient cellars in Burgundy were rife with brettanomyces, a versatile, resilient and highly undesirable form of yeast that thrives in old, dirty barrels and other cellar equipment difficult to clean and that produces spoilage in wine that to some degree smells like the qualities mentioned above but in a more or less unpleasant manner. More uproar — “zut alors!” — there goes the whole romance and mystery of Burgundy, flying out the window with a scientific and pejorative explanation; the essence of Burgundy is the result of a flaw!

The truth surely lies smack in the middle of those brutal assessments. Great Burgundy doesn’t exactly smell like shit; earthy, yes, “barnyardy,” of course, “your mistress’s armpit” (but apparently not one’s wife’s armpit), I dunno, but the burgdundy1.jpg unspoken factor in this issue so far is that all of these elements must be clean, scintillating, provocative, touching both a depth of minerality and an elevation of freshness with a hint, excusez-moi, un soupçon, of autumnal dissolution and death.

So, anyway, these important matters were brought to mind because Sunday was a beautiful day in Memphis, a bit chilly in the shade, warm enough in the sun to require the divesting of sweaters, and featuring like a banner on high, a clear, brilliantly blue sky. The day was also almost windless, and we had about half an acre of last season’s fallen leaves to rake, blow, bag and get out to the street, an activity that took most of the day.

Now we have five dogs, and while they are often corralled in their own yards, they sometimes have the free run of the big backyard. To speak as frankly as Anthony Hanson, they shit. And the shit gets rained on and dissolves, gets dried by the sun, gets transmuted by time and the elements. It’s all profoundly philosophical.

And, while working in the backyard, raking, stooping, lifting, filling bags, occasionally came to my nostrils an earthy, organic, slightly decayed yet not unpleasant scent that reminded me of something. This phenomenon occurred often enough that I had to stop and think about it, probing my sense memory, and then it struck me: I was smelling something that had to do with red wine, something evoked by the combination of old leaves, some of them dry and some a little damp, scrapings of earth and the funky yet clean scent of dessicated dog shit. Voila! Burgundy!

The image of the bottle of old Burgundy is from monmillesime.com.

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