LL came home for lunch yesterday and said, “You know, today is Bastille Day.”

“Right,” I said, “Allons, enfants de la patria and all that.”

“We should have a French dinner tonight,” she said. “And French wines.”

“Good ideas,” I said.

“And you should do it,” she said. “You know, moules, steak frites, escargot, duck a l’orange.” A pause. “French onion soup.”

“Uh, right.”

Now there was a certain rigorous logic behind this statement. I am, after all, the one who is out of work, not she, whiling away the hours laboring over this blog, practicing the piano and generally indulging in grandiose visions of the future. (“Yes, I will write that novel!”) So, I did a little cookbook investigation and decided to prepare a sort of rustic dinner consisting of an onion tart, soupe au pistou and a pear clafoutis. Went to the store, bought what was needed, though I’ll tell you, while the tart was baking and the soup was simmering, with ingredients still to be chopped and put in, I thought, “No way am I making a clafoutis tonight.” So LL took the slices of pear that I was marinating in cognac, lemon juice and sugar, caramelized them in butter in the good ol’ cast-iron skillet, and we had them over vanilla ice cream, which was immensely satisfying.

Here’s what we ate and drank for Bastille Day 2009.
O.K., so I cheated on the onion tart. It should be pretty obvious from the picture that this is a small onion pizza, ha-ha! not an Official Julia Child-Sanctioned Tart. Yes, I made a pizza dough using one cup of flour — the usual pizza has about two-and-a-half cups of flour — but the same amount of yeast (1/2 a teaspoon) so the dough rose fairly quickly. I followed the advice from several French cookbooks and allowed the thinly sliced onions to cook over very low heat for about 45 minutes with salt, black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. I patted out the dough by hand, instead of rolling it, so that it would be fairly irregular, spread the onions on top, added some sliced black olives, more thyme and a generous amount of shredded Gruyère cheese, and put it into a 450-degree oven for 12 or 15 minutes. It was self-indulgently good.

I went looking for a Bourgogne Aligoté, not a common wine in the ol’ Mid-South, but found exactly what I was looking for at Great Wine & Spirits, owned by a longtime friend, Gary Burhop. This is the Bourgogne Aligoté 2007 from the distinguished house of Amiot Guy et Fils. Aligote, the “second white grape of Burgundy,” is generally described along the lines of “tart, acidic and functional” and is best-known as the wine from which a true kir is supposed to be fashioned (with a few drops of cassis, the black currant liqueur). Some domaines lift aligoté above the fray, however, and Amiot Guy is one. (A. Villaine is another.) The Amiot Guy Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, as elegant as aligoté gets, feels etched in limestone and wreathed in little waxy white flowers. This piercing minerality is buoyed by scintillating acidity and hints of roasted lemon, pears and almond skin. The wine is defined by lovely heft and balance, though the finish, one grants, is dry and chalky to the point of astringency. This drank nicely with the onion tart, cutting through the richness, but would probably really shine with grilled trout or shellfish. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
The next course, soupe au pistou, I took from Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud Cookbook (Scribner, 1999). This is a country-style soup from Provence, finished with pistou, a sort of pesto sans pine nuts, though — shoot me if you will — I bought a jar of pesto instead of using the bales of basil it would require to make it. Anyway, this is a sort of kitchen sink concoction with celery, onion, leek, garlic, potato, green beans, carrots, chickpeas, zucchini and, finally, plum tomatoes, which you don’t add until the soup is finished and off the fire. You could use a vegetable stock, if you wanted, but I just used water as the base and let the leeks, onion and potatoes sort of melt into the liquid, making a fragrant and flavorful broth. Before serving the soup, you stir in some pesto or pistou and scatter julienne basil over the top. It was really good.

For the soup, I opened the Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne “Cuvée Léa Felsh” 2006, Côtes du Rhône Villages. The soup could probably have used a wine less robust than this one — even a rosé — but the wine was so well-made that it hardly mattered. (In fact, I’m sipping from a glass of this wine as I type these words, and it’s lovely.) Cairanne is one of a small number of villages in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region considered a good enough source of grapes and wines that it is entitled to put its own name on labels of its wines.

This was substantial, hearty, robust without being rustic, seething with lavender and lilac, earth and minerals, black currant and plums and blueberries with a high wild berry note. Flavors of slightly macerated and roasted black and blue fruits are supported by stalwart but smooth tannins that unfurl to reveal touches of wet slate, tar, leather, briers and brambles. The dusty, earthy finish pulls up underbrush and moss and, intriguingly, powerful spicy elements. As with a wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not far away, this blends grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan, cinsault and counoise grapes. Try this from 2010 through 2015 or ’16 with veal chops, country-style pates and terrines and hearty pasta dishes. Certified organic. Excellent. About $20, though found on the Internet from $14 to $18.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
So, we didn’t have the clafoutis; there’s a limit to how many courses one can cook after 7 p.m., and timing a meal of several courses, especially with dessert, has always been one of my weak points as a stove-meister. Still, caramelizing the pears in butter with the cognac and lemon juice was brilliant and resulted in a simple yet sumptuous dessert. Not much eye-appeal but great flavors.

Along with the Amiot Guy Aligoté ’07 and the Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne ’06, I purchased a half-bottle of the dessert wine Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002, a blend of 85 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. Monbazillac, part of the Bergerac appellation, is a sort of country cousin to Sauternes and Barsac, further west in Bordeaux. (Bergerac’s most important river, the Dordogne, merges with the Garonne to form the Gironde that flows northwest through the Bordeaux region.) Sweet wines from Monbazillac, made from the same grapes found in Sauternes and Barsac, don’t have the finesse of their more elegant relatives, but the wines are satisfying and much less expensive.

The Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002 gave off aromas of honeyed peach and apricots, cloves and crystallized ginger. In the mouth, the wine was thick and chewy, almost viscous though brightened with keen acidity and minerality; flavors of roasted apricots and pears were permeated by baking spice and a hint of orange rind. The principle feature, however, is a kind of foresty earthiness that grounds every other aspect. Simple, direct and appealing. Very Good+ and a sweetheart of a food and wine match. About $11 for a half-bottle.

Victoire Imports, San Leandro, Cal.

Occasionally we read in the more high-toned wine publications articles that pose the ancient, imponderable and futile question, “Is Great Bordeaux a Greater Wine Than Great Burgundy?” or the reverse. And occasionally you see the comment, usually from an old school writer about wine or from the notes of a famous old connoisseur that Bordeaux is a young man’s drink while Burgundy is for middle age; understand that we’re referring to red wines.

Well, fie, what does all that folderol mean anyway? Great Bordeaux wines and great Burgundy wines are, you know, great. It’s like comparing kumquats and toothbrushes (especially electric toothbrushes). The geography is different, the climates are different, the philosophies and systems are different, not to mention, of course, the grapes. (Have you ever noticed that when people say, “not to mention,” they go ahead and mention whatever it is they pretend that they’re not going to mention in the first place?) Bordeaux wines are almost always blended; Burgundies are 100 percent varietal, that is, pinot noir for the red wines. Before the Revolution, most of the famous vineyards of Burgundy were owned and farmed by religious orders; Bordeaux, on the other hand, was the home of the well-known rationalist and skeptic, Montaigne, who served as mayor of the city from 1581 to 1585. See? You can’t compare these places.

Here’s a story:

In December 1999, actually on my birthday, I stood in the chilly cellar of Domaine G. Roumier in the village of Chambolle-Musigny, in Burgundy, as winemaker Christophe Roumier, grandson of the domain’s founder, piped a dribble of dark purple Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses 1998 from the barrel into my glass. I sipped. I trembled. I succumbed. I thought, “Holy shit, that’s the best wine I have ever tasted in my life.”

Three days later, I stood, still chilly, in the surprisingly modest old stone building that connoisseurs around the world recognize as the seat of Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, an hour’s drive northeast of the city of Bordeaux, maker of the best merlot-based wine in the cosmos. I take a sip of a barrel sample of Petrus 1998, so dark that it’s almost black, and feel as if a thunderclap has gone off in my head. “Holy, shit,” says the thought-cloud above my cranium, “this is the best wine I have ever tasted in my life.”

And yet … about the greatest pinot noir wines, whether of Burgundy or certain very specific spots in California or certain very specific spots in Oregon’s Willamette Valley (I’m not sold on New Zealand), in addition to their profundity, their gravity, their nobility (qualities they often share with Bordeaux wines), there wafts the elusive ineffable, what Christophe Roumier described that day, in connection with his Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses 1998, as “the power of delicacy.” It diminishes the mystery to call it “roses and slate” or “violets and wet bark” or “satin and loam.” It’s that almost indescribable marriage of opposite forces that leads pinot noir lovers ever onward in search of the grail.

All this serves as prelude to reviews of four groups of three pinot noir wines, one from a great estate in Burgundy, Mongeard-Mugneret, the rest from California.
Yes, three more mystery wines, wrapped in black tissue, and all I knew was that they represented pinot noir of three vintages from the same producer in California.

Here are my notes, transcribed from my little blue notebook:
>Mystery Pinot Noir #1: “Medium ruby-purple color; red currant — blackberry — cranberry & cola; pretty classic; dried cloves w/ a hint of allspice astringency; v. dry — slightly herbal; succulent but demanding too & w/ a shyly austere finish… lots of tone & grip, a little brambly, foresty and earthy, good acidity.”
In other words, “pretty classic” indeed, with keen acidity cutting a swath on the palate and making, along with the wine’s gentle but persistent tannins and subtle oak influence, a structure both purposeful and suave. A compelling young pinot noir of a recent or most recent year. Excellent.

>Mystery Pinot Noir #2: “Color a touch lighter than the previous example; a little earthier, a little funkier — fruit ripe and more macerated, black and red fruit but adds a note of rhubarb and hint of sassafras — very well-knit, smooth and polished; the spicy element unfolds slowly — intriguing touches of old saddle-leather, moss and beetroot to compose the earthy quality.”
So, an older year, a slightly more mature pinot noir, recognizably in the same style, that is, smooth, satiny, supple and subtle and with fruit opening and softening. Absolutely delicious. Excellent again.

>Mystery Pinot Noir #3: “Just lovely … tobacco — lavender — roses — slate; macerated and roasted blue and red fruit; very dry, austere, briers and brambles, hints of sassafras and wheatmeal… years to go.”
A fairly paradoxical pinot noir, opening with tremendous sensual appeal and then, once you get into it, closing down and turning a blank, almost truculent visage to the drinker. Try in two or three years. Excellent but more in potential than present enjoyment.

It turned out that these wines were from Cuvaison, an all-estate producer specializing in chardonnay and pinot noir. The pinots I tasted — in this order, according to the way they were wrapped and numbered, 2007, 2005, 2006 — are from the winery’s Carneros estate in the Napa Valley. The winery was founded in 1969, near Calistoga, in the northern part of Napa. Cuvaison has been owned since 1979 by the Schmidheiny family of Switzerland. The wines have been marketed and nationally distributed since 1996 by Terlato Wines International (formerly Paterno). Winemaker is Steven Rogstad.

I was happy to discover that these beautifully balanced and proportioned pinots came from Cuvaison, because I blow distinctly hot and cold on the winery’s chardonnays, some of which I find unbearably overwrought. It’s interesting, or strange, that a producer is capable of making chardonnay in a manner so flamboyant and strident that my palate finds them undrinkable, and yet fashion pinots in a finely knit, elegant and spare style. Some mysteries are just unfathomable, I suppose.

So, again, here are the wines in the order of tasting: Cuvaison Point Noir 2007, 2005 and 2006, all Napa Valley, Carneros, all rate Excellent. The 2005 and ’06 are about $30; the 2007 is about $33.

The Mongeard family has been making wine in Vosne-Romanée since the middle of the 18th Century. The domaine owns about 65 acres of village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards in Côte de Nuits, the northern part of Burgundy proper. These pinot noir wines tend to embody old-fashioned virtues like reticence, intensity and concentration, representing a sense of decorum and elegance, yet not neglecting sensible, even rigorous structure. The wines will be released at the end of 2009. They are imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

The first words in my notes about the Mongeard-Mugneret Savigny-lès-Beaune Narbantons Premier Cru 2007 are “Lovely, sleek.” The bouquet teems with lilac and rose petals, smoke, black cherries and currants. This pinot noir is quite dry and earthy, packed with juicy black and red fruit flavors cloaked in soft grainy tannins and polished oak for an effect that’s high-toned and elegant. The domaine owns 1.39 hectares (3.57 acres) of the 9.49-hectare (24.38 acres) Narbantons vineyard. The vines average 53 years old. The wine sees about 35 percent new oak. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $43.
The Mongeard-Mugneret Echézeaux Grand Cru 2007 did not allow many ways in; it frankly rebuffed ingress by its formidably sizable and tannic character. What one perceives — or is allowed to perceive — is a sense of dark, immutable vibrancy and resonance coupled to a depth of rich spicy fruit that feels both inchoate and unfathomable. This needs years, say from 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to 2024. Echézeaux, at 96.8 acres, is by far the largest vineyard in the great and glorious commune of Vosnes-Romanée; Mongeard-Mugneret owns a hair over 7 acres. Excellent potential for the patient and well-heeled. About $98.

This is the bouquet that you write love letters to, though they may be returned unopened, the bouquet that turns you into a stalker, a hopeless romantic and victim of obsessive love, finally flung into a sordid gutter, a dried-out, pathetic husk of your former self. Of course, you reveled in every moment of your seduction and degradation. And then comes the water-boarding of the tannins, the thwack of 100 percent new oak against your tongue, the impenetrable blackness of fruit, the unerring aim of drone acidity and yet — AND YET! — the wine’s structure is not only monolithic but balletic, elevated, ineffable, a model of pinpoint balance and poise. The wine is the Mongeard-Mugneret Grands-Echézeaux Grand Cru 2007, from a 23.5-acre vineyard of which Mongeard-Mugneret owns 3.7 acres. The vines are 40 to 68 years old. Enormous potential, but don’t touch until 2013 or ’15 and then consume until 2020 to ’25. About $163 (a bottle).

It is an article of faith in Burgundy that the nuances of terroir that influence even vineyards lying next to each other — soil and subsoil, elevation, exposure, drainage — justify the Burgundian system of vineyard classification and the prices that these famous vineyards command. Remember that in Burgundy, while the domaine that made the wine is indeed an important factor, it’s the vineyards that are officially classified, not the domaines.

Quickly and a little simplistically, Burgundy’s vineyards are divided into three tiers: the village or commune level; the Premier Cru level; and, at the top, the Grands Crus. (Red wines are made from pinot noir grapes, white wines primarily from chardonnay.) A label that says Gevrey-Chambertin (I’ll use this commune as the model) is a village wine, the pinot noir grapes for which were drawn from vineyards designated for that purpose; such a wine should, ideally, convey a general sense of what the commune’s characteristics are.

A label that adds a Premier Cru vineyard to the statement — Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes, for example — will adorn a bottle of wine made only from that vineyard, and the term “Premier Cru” is required; the wine should reflect the character of that particular vineyard. A Grand Cru wine dispenses with the name of the village or commune and, in august fashion, adorns the label with its sole presence, as in Chambertin or Clos de Beze, two of the Grand Cru vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin.

The distinctions between and the fame of many of Burgundy’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards go back a thousand years; certainly these qualities were fixed 200 or 250 years ago. Chambertin was the favorite wine of Napoleon, whose troops, it is said, reversed arms in the vineyard’s honor when marching past it.

My purpose today, however, has not to do with Gevrey-Chambertin and its eight Grand Cru and 26 Premier Cru vineyards, but with Nuits-Saint-Georges (south of Gevrey-Chambertin in the Cote de Nuits section of Burgundy), which has no Grands Crus but 27 Premiers Crus, one of which, Les Saint-Georges, has recently been the subject of a petition to elevation to Grand Cru status. One of the petitioners is Domaine Henri Gouges, a venerable producer, now run by the third generation, which makes wine only from Nuits-Saint-Georges vineyards, including Les Saint-Georges.

Henri Gouges created the domaine in 1925 when he became one of the first growers in Burgundy to bottle and sell his wine under his own name. The typical practice was to sell grapes or wine to negociants, who finished, or “elevated” the wine and sold it under their labels. The domaine is now run by Henri Gouges’ grandsons, the cousins Christian and Pierre. The domaine owns 14.5 hectares of vineyards, just under 40 acres, in Nuits-Saint-Georges and produces a red and a white Bourgogne (the white from pinot blanc), a Nuits Villages and seven wines from Premier Cru vineyards, four of which I want to compare, Les Chenes Carteaux, Clos des Porrets St. Georges, Les Pruliers and Les Saint-Georges, all from 2007.

Domaine Henri Gouges makes old-fashioned, firmly structured wines. New oak is kept to a maximum of 20 percent, so the wines are not overly influenced by toasty oak or woodiness, but they tend to be quite tannic, a common quality of these four wines. Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Chenes Carteaux Premier Cru 2007, for example, is characterized by significant yet attractive weight and heft; aromas of minerals and clean earth and tightly furled black fruit, slightly spicy and floral, feel both serious and inviting, In the mouth, the wine is expansive, intense and concentrated, a little meaty, very dry, minerally and, at the finish, austere with plush, grainy tannins. This needs three or four years to become a bit more yielding. Very Good+.

The Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Porrets Saint-Georges Premier Cru 2007 retains the chewy tannins of its cousin but the structure here feels more muscular and sinewy, and the aromas are a little earthier, spicier, with a touch of roots and wheatmeal. Fruit tends more toward red, as in red currants and plums, but with a hint of black currants. Tannic, yes, but also supple and powered by brisk acidity. Best from 2011 to 2016 or ’18. Excellent.

You have to remember that all of these vineyards are located not more than a few hundred yards from each other. Though Ronciers (which Henri Gouges does not cultivate) lies between Clos des Porrets and Les Pruliers, a good place-kicker could kick a football from one to the other. As to the differences between these two wines, the Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Pruliers Premier Cru 2007 is darker, substantial, more brooding and more subdued, a powerhouse of dry tannins etched with finely delineated acid. Try this after 2012 and expect good results through 2017 or ’19. Excellent potential.

Finally, we come to the Henri Gouges Les Saint-Georges Premier Cru 2007. The wine is immediately enticing, with aromas of spiced and macerated red fruit, touches of leather and potpourri and dried herbs; in the mouth, the wine feels huge, immensely earthy and mineral-like, permeated by dense tannins, though hinting at succulence and a satiny texture. Great presence, tone and character. Give this remarkable wine four to six years and enjoy through 2018 or 2020. Excellent potential.

These wines will be released in the United States toward the end of 2009. Approximate prices will be about $80 for Les Chenes Carteaux; about $82 for Clos des Porrets Saint-Georges; about $86 for Le Pruliers; and about $147 for Les Saint-Georges.

The importer is Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

Not a very imaginative title, but it gets the job done. The term “Cuvee Unique” attached to the sixth wine means that the importer, North Berkeley Imports, tasted through the barrels of that wine in the producer’s cellar and selected the barrels they thought were best to be bottled for them.

These are traditional red Burgundies, in the sense that none is heavy or obvious or highly extracted; colors are radiant but moderate; textures are satiny rather than velvety or plush; the wines are animated by lively acidity. The wines reviewed today are from four Premier Cru vineyards and two Grand Crus.

I quote prices here from my area (Memphis), which are significantly higher than in other parts of the country, especially in coastal major markets, so I append, where possible, the lowest prices from the Internet to give readers an idea of the range. The Grand Cru wines, because of their limited production, are necessarily expensive, but the prices for the Charmes-Chambertin and Echezeaux reviewed here are notably less expensive than similar wines from other producers; many Grand Cru wines cost $350 and higher. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

The Michel Ecard Savigny-les-Beaune “Les Gravains” Premier Cru 2006 delivers red currants, roses and lavender in the nose, with undertones of earth and forest; the wine is silky smooth, almost delicate, though flavors of moderately spicy red and black currants are intense, The wine brings up tannins in the form of briers and underbrush, and the finish is dry and rather austere. A lovely and very drinkable pinot noir, petal-like and autumnal, from the small vineyard region near — “les” — Beaune, the medieval town where beats the heart of Burgundy. Very good+. About $60, though seen on the Internet as low as $42.
Frederic Magnien’s Morey-Saint-Denis “Clos Baulet” Premier Cru 2006 opens with aromas of red and black currants, black plums, leather and earth. It’s a generous and expansive wine, filling the mouth with red currant and plum flavors shaped to classic intensity by vibrant acid that cuts a swath on the tongue and allows the wine to feel light-footed. There are dark dimensions here, though, reservoirs of spice and minerals and tannic elements in suggestions of mushrooms, dry leaves and underbush. Nothing wrong with drinking this wine now, but it would be better to let it rest until 2010 or ’11 for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $80.
The Frederic Magnien Gevrey-Chambertin “Cazetiers” Premier Cru 2006 is a classic, from its entrancing medium ruby color, seemingly lit by fires within; to its aromas of black currants and black cherries, smoke, talc and roses; to its appealing satiny texture that contains plenty of mineral grip. This is a “Cazetiers” of enviable presence and personality, draping the tongue with satiny seduction yet retaining, for structure, the dynamic necessity of acid and the inevitability of polished tannins. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $110.

The Premier Cru Clos de la Bousse d’Or vineyard is a monopole for the house of Pousse d’Or (no, that’s not a typo, Bousse and Pousse are correct), a rare example in Burgundy of a whole vineyard owned by one winery (to use a “New World” ett_boussedor.gifterm). So, the Pousse d’Or Volnay “Clos de la Bousse d’Or” 2006 exhibits lovely, impeccable purity and intensity, wonderful delicacy and decorum married to and balanced by fairly rigorous acid that cuts through the wine like a shining blade. The color is a gorgeous medium ruby with slightly ruddy highlights; scents and flavors of red and black currants with a hint of mulberry nestle in a suave, satiny texture that your mouth doesn’t want to let go of. To match the acid, the wine delivers pretty stout support in the form of earthy, minerally tannins and more ephemeral autumnal qualities like the smoke from burning autumn leaves. This is one of the wines that confirms our belief in Burgundy. Excellent. About $125.

Imagine roses and violets smoked in oolong tea; that begins to describe the aromas of the Frederic Magnien Echezeaux Grand echezeaux.jpg Cru 2006. Brushy, earthy elements are right up front, both in the nose and the mouth, but red and black currant and mulberry flavors are ripe and fleshy, while the texture is like dusty satin. The wine deepens and intensifies in the glass, deftly matching elegance to power. Despite that depth and concentration, this Echezeaux does not come across as Californian; the color is still medium ruby with a hint of darker bluish ruby at the center, and the whole construction is a matter of the melding of nuances. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $150, but seen on the Internet as low as $115.
Ah, well, in the Gerard Raphet Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvee Unique 2006 we have ineffable delicacy and tensile strength inevitably wedded; resonant and resolute tannins, vibrant acid and lapidary mineral elements provide the sinew and bone, while exquisite red and black currant flavors, with a hint of smoky, slightly spicy black cherry, fill out the notes of purest ray serene. It’s a model of absolute harmony, balance and integration, and a pleasure and a treat to taste. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $155 in my neck o’ the woods, but seen on the Internet as low as $90.

This brief foray into the white wines of the venerable house of Louis Latour scarcely taps into the long list of products the company produces. Not counting Beaujolais, but counting Chablis, the Côte de Nuit and Côte de Beaune of Burgundy proper and the Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise, Louis Latour produces 64 whites wines and 82 red wines. Of course some of these, from the Grand Cru vineyards and some of the Premier Crus, are made in minuscule quantities and are correspondingly expensive.

Louis Latour was founded as a négociant-éléveur in 1797 and 10 generation later is still owned and run by the Latour family. The company owns 125 acres in Burgundy, of which 71.6 acres are in Grand Cru vineyards, the largest amount of Grand Cru acreage owned by a single house.

If 2005 in Burgundy produced chardonnay-based wines of immense power, dynamism and intensity, the whites of 2006 are more subtle and supple, generally, more crystalline is structure and acidity. Let’s say that the 2005 whites exude glamour, while the 2006 whites are lovely.
Le Chardonnay de Chardonnay 2006. Here’s a fresh, clean, well-structured expression of the chardonnay grape, originating from the village of Chardonnay in the Mâconnais; apparently, this is where chardonnay was first planted. Made completely in stainless steel, the wine combines crisp acid, a limestone element that feels lacy and almost transparent and spicy citrus flavors; the bouquet includes an afterthought of orange blossom and honeysuckle. This would be a terrific house wine, whether for your house or for a bistro-style restaurant. Very Good, and Great Value. About $16.
Red wine accounts for about 95 percent of the production of the Beaune appellation, but Louis Latour’s inclusive philosophy practically dictates an expedition into the white wine side. Latour’s Beaune 2006 is an elegant and at this point, almost two years old, a nicely developed chardonnay. The enticing bouquet offers smoke, jasmine, lemon curd and lots of spice, while in the mouth, the wine is quite dry, minerally, vibrant and lavishly oaky; fortunately, there’s also a full complement of buttery, roasted pear and citrus flavors. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. About $25.
The Louis Latour Meursault 2006 is a “village” wine, meaning that the grapes come from the vineyards of Meursault that are officially designated but not Premier or Grand Cru vineyards. In difficult years, producers will sometimes de-classify their Premier Cru wines and bottle them as village wines. Ideally, a village wine will embody the typical character of the appellation. This Meursault 2006 certainly captures the richness of typical Meursault, with its buoyant, deep, spicy bouquet and its generous, ripe almost savory fruit, but the wine is also searingly steely and minerally, dry and austere. It could use a year to mellow and then should drink well through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $39.
Chateau de Blagny is a monopole for Louis Latour, that is, a rare instance where a producer in Burgundy owns an entire vineyard; usually vineyards are divided among many owners, who sometimes own as little as two or three rows of vines. The Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru Chateau de Blagny 2006 is impressive for its firm structure, its richness and expansive spicy quality and the depth of its fruit, but I found the wine not merely influenced by oak but downright woody. I wouldn’t touch the wine until 2010, hoping it will mellow and find some balance. Very Good. About $55.
Yes, friends, we have come to a time when a Premier Cru white wine from Burgundy can cost upward of a hundred smackers and more, so let’s have no more of that “what ever happened to the $40 Premier Cru” nostalgia, and anyway, in the case of the blatantly wonderful Louis Latour Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru 2006, let’s pretend that the recent world-wide financial melt-down dealt no fatal blow to our fiduciary prowess. My first note is: “Oh wow!” This is an absolutely lovely and expressive chardonnay, deep, resonant, vibrant and complete. Roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors are imbued with smoke and hints of ripe pear and peach. The wine slides across the tongue in a self-confident display of satiny opulence, but chiming acid and an almost plangent limestone element keep any extravagance in check. Spicy oak comes through on the finish, though ultimately the wine is beautifully balanced and integrated. Drink through 2016 to ’18 (well-stored). Excellent. About $90.
Louis Latour’s stylish Chassagne-Montrachet 2006 manages several paradoxes with the handiness of Ricky Jay shuffling a deck of cards while juggling three bowling pins. The wine seems woven of tissues of delicacies that add up to firm size and dimension; it feels weightless at first, but it gathers ripeness and substance; the wood influence is subtle, supple and almost subliminally spicy, yet the wine openly declares its richness; clean, crisp acid and a powerful mineral factor round this impeccably-made village wine off with a touch of austerity. Well-nigh irresistible. Drink now through 2013 or ’15. Excellent. About $46
The Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet “Morgeot” Premier Cru 2006 offers a generous, seductive bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, baking spice and super-clean limestone. This is a graceful wine, substantial without being obvious, dense, supple and silky, and perfectly balanced among ripe, sweet citrus flavors, subtle oak, bright acid and a steely mineral element that deepens as the moments pass. A lovely wine with a hint of seriousness about it. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $81.


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.
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.
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.

« Previous PageNext Page »