We were introduced to sorrel soup by Justin Young, who was chef at the now closed La Tourelle (in Memphis) in the early 2000s. Not having had such a thing in years, we bought a pound of sorrel at the Memphis Farmers Market last Saturday — the market will not open again until April — and looked for a recipe, which we found in the essential Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996).

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a green leafy vegetable, accounted more as an herb that vegetable in some national cuisines, whose chief characteristic is a sour grassy character that derives from oxalic acid, which is fatally poisonous in large quantities. How large? Sources aren’t very specific about that point. More than a pound certainly. Perhaps a bale.

Anyway the issue that intrigued me was what wine to drink with sorrel soup. That notable sour quality, which possesses a hint of sweetness — LL likened it to pulling up a grass stem and sucking on the root, a memory from childhood — might be a challenge to any number of wines. (The sourness is leavened somewhat by the gentle stewing in chicken stock of diced potatoes, carrots and onions.) In the interest of research, I lined up five white wines, several of which seemed probable matches and at least one of which seemed doomed to failure by its very nature. These were the wines we tried: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008; Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009; Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008; Mendel Semillon 2009; Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009. These wines were samples for review.
Among this experiment’s surprises was how well, even how profoundly so, the Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 went with the sorrel soup. The domaine was founded in 1840; the Burgundian negociant Louis Jadot acquired the property in 2008. The wine is, of course, made completely from chardonnay grapes; it ages half-and-half in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels and sees no new oak. I had doubts about chardonnay pairing with the earthy sourness of the sorrel, but the wine’s purity and intensity, its crystalline acidity and minerality created a risky synergy that practically vibrated in our beings. The wine is a medium gold color; aromas of roasted lemon are permeated by ripe peach and pear, with traces of quince and ginger and a hint of camellia. Befitting its pedigree and reputation — “the Montrachet of Pouilly-Fuissé” — the wine delivers wonderful presence and body yet remains delicate, fleet and racy. Citrus flavors dominated by lemon with a touch of lime peel are deeply imbued with baking spices but even more with depths of limestone-like minerality and scintillating acidity. Drink now through 2014 or ’15 (well-stored). Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Kobrand, New York.
Let’s turn to the simplest of these wines, simplest yet definitely lively, tasty and appealing. This is Aveleda’s Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009, from the vast Vinho Verde region that stretches north from the seacoast town of Oporto to the river Minho and also east and southeast of Oporto. (You drive east through this area to reach the Port estates of the Douro Valley.) The wine is a blend of loureiro grapes (55%), trajaduras (32%) and alvarinho (13%). These “green wines” are fresh and vigorous and intended for early drinking. Made all in stainless steel, the clean, fresh Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009 bursts with scents and flavors of apples, pears and spiced lemons bolstered by heaps of earthy limestone and vivid acidity. There you have it, and you could not ask for anything more from such a fresh, delightful wine. Drink over the next six months. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $14.

How did this match with the sorrel soup? It didn’t. The sourness of the sorrel washed right over it, tromped on it, obliterated it, left it for dead.

Imported by Winbow, New York.
Let’s go back to France for the Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008, from Alsace. The estate is the result of the joining of two venerable grower families in Alsace, the Manns and the Barthelmes, each of which has been cultivating grapes since the first half of the 17th Century. The Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008 is absolutely lovely in every aspect. The color is bright, shimmering medium gold; aromas of apple and spiced pear, with a touch of leafy fig and orange rind, all founded on the dominent presence of limestone, balloon from the glass. The paradox of a texture that’s both suave and elegant, on the one hand, and nervy and crisp, on the other hand, contributes considerably to the wine’s charm and fascination. It’s quite lively and dry, vibrant with limestone- and shale-like minerality, and its spicy, slightly earthy citrus qualities increase through the finish. The estate is organically managed and certified by Ecocert. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Closed with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $20.

This was lovely with the sorrel soup, having the interesting effect of bringing out the herb’s hint of sweetness.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
Another very attractive match with the sorrel soup was the Mendel Semillon 2009, from the Altamira-Uco Valley area of Argentina’s Mendoza region. The vines, which stand at 3,600-feet elevation, are more than 60 years old, lending the wine irresistible depth and character. Fifteen percent of the wine aged eight months in new American oak barrels. Hay, honey and waxy white flowers, roasted lemon and lemon balm are woven in the seductive bouquet. If you can tear yourself away from these heady aromas, you’re treated to a wine that in texture and structure is as refined and ingratiating as you could ask for, though I don’t mean to imply that the wine is wimpy or over-delicate; in fact, it feels rather as if it had been honed from limestone and slate and burnished to a sheen with a little of that oak (and plowed by keen acidity). It’s sunny, leafy, with touches of fig and fresh-mown grass, hints of cloves and ginger, greengage and pear. Quite an experience, round, complete, balanced, complex. 900 six-packs were imported. 13.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
Last, we come to a wine that was fine, you know just fine, with the sorrel soup but opened to more astonishment than the other wines because of its amazing quality and price ration. I wrote previously about the great bargain called Agustin Cubero Unus Old Vine Garnacha 2007. Today it the turn of that wine’s stablemate, the Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, likewise from Spain’s Calatayud region, situated about halfway between Barcelona and Madrid (but closer to Zaragoza). The macabeo grape is also known, perhaps better-known, as viura, though clearly we’re not taking sauvignon blanc here. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is beguiling, intriguing and really pretty. Grass and hay, dried wild flowers, cloves and allspice, apple and pear, quince and ginger — all combine to charm and enchant. Now in truth these sensual qualities so seductive in the bouquet also characterize what goes on in the mouth; there’s no sense that flavors develop beyond the aspects of the bouquet (though the texture — the “mouthfeel” — is graceful and delightful), but who cares when the price is — ready? — a wallet-busting $9. Buy this by the case for drinking over the next year. The rating is Very Good+. A Bargain of the Century and Worth a Search.

Scoperta Imports, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Not surprisingly, we drink wine with every dinner, and if we happen to be home for lunch, that too. Often, probably most often, our reaction to a matching between the food and the wine will be “That’s good” or “That works” or “I’ll have a little more, please.”

Last night, however, was a zinger, a BINGO! moment that should resonate in the memory-file of food and wine pairing for years.

I made a mushroom risotto, and there’s not much food-wise that’s simpler than that. The mushrooms were crimini, shiitake and chanterelle — about one ounce of the latter since they were $30 a pound, thank you v. much — sauteed in butter until slightly browned. Minced leek likewise sauteed in butter with a bit of olive oil. Then the arborio rice. Half a cup of white wine, cooked down. And then the slow progress of adding warm chicken broth half a cup at a time, stirring, stirring, stirring until each portion of broth is completely absorbed. The whole thing took about an hour, with the stirring part about 30 minutes. A grating of Parmesan cheese goes on before serving.

A bottle of Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé 2007 had been standing quietly in the refrigerator in the kitchen for about nine months, offering me sly admonishment every time I opened the door to get some lettuce or mustard or cheese. Last night, it occurred to me that this wine, now three years old and possibly nicely mellow, might be terrific with the mushroom risotto. Normally, I would have wanted a lighter red, say a Dolcetto d’Alba or a Fleurie, but something told me to reach for the Pouilly-Fuissé.

The wine, 100 percent chardonnay made from grapes bought under long-term contracts, was a radiant medium straw-gold color with a faint greenish cast. It fermented and then aged in stainless steel and oak barrels for six to eight months, seeing no new oak. The wine is spicy, smoky, savory, with a decidedly mellow woodsy quality about it. Scents of roasted lemon with a scant hint of buttered toast are infused with a bit of bright pineapple and grapefruit, the floral influence of little waxy blossoms, and a limestone element of piercing intensity. That penetrating minerality finds expression in the mouth, too, along with acidity of bow-string tautness — making the wine feel almost fiercely animated — and lovely roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors; a strain of autumnal mossy earthiness lends bass notes to a beautifully balanced and integrated wine. This could go another three years, well-stored. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices on the internet range from about $20 to $28; look for the median.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.

LL visited one of our favorite restaurants last night, sans moi, but with colleagues from the university and a visiting curator. So, left to my feeble devices, I conjured an omelet aux fines herbes, with minced fresh oregano, thyme and tarragon and two chopped black olives. I dribbled olive oil on a couple of slices of whole-grain bread and grated on a little Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and ran them under the broiler. Voila! My dinner, which I ate out on the screened porch as a gentle rain fell and dusk deepened to the point that I could no longer read.

One of the so-called truisms of wine and food pairing is that it’s difficult to match wine with eggs. Zut alors! All sorts of wines go with eggs, but they cannot be big, heavy or obvious wines. With omelets before I have consumed rosés, particularly the pale, delicate rosés of Provence and Languedoc (or on that model), rieslings and lighter pinot noirs. Last night, however, I took a chance on the chardonnay grape in the form of the Rully “Chatalienne” 2007, from the house of J.M. Boillot, and was happy that I did.

Jean-Marc Boillot worked for the Burgundian family domaine, Henri Boillot, from 1971 to 1984. After some disagreement with the family on philosophy and methodology, he went to work for Olivier Leflaive, while making wine from five acres under his own label. He set up business, based in Pommard, in 1988, benefiting from inheritances, in the form of exceptional vineyard acreage, from his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandfather, the renowned Etienne Sauzel. The firm of J.M. Boillot owns about 11 hectares — just over 28 acres — in Volnay, Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, mainly in Premier Cru vineyards. J.M. Boillot’s wines from Rully, just south of Burgundy proper, at the top of the Côte Chalonnaise, are made from purchased grapes or wine that Boillot “finishes.” As with many houses in Burgundy that are both property owners (“proprietors”) and negociants (“negotiating” for grapes and wine), Boillot distinguishes between such wines on the labels; wines from the domaine are listed as “Domaine J.M. Boillot,” while those from the negociant side merely say “J.M. Boillot.”

Whatever the case, J.M. Boillot’s Rully “Chatalienne” 2007 is an exquisite expression of the chardonnay grape. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet is a subtle amalgam of lemon and baked pear with a hint of honeysuckle and spiced peach. These aromas grow more pure and intense as the moment pass, becoming almost deliriously attractive. Flavors of roasted lemon and milder pineapple take on a circumference of quince and crystallized ginger. The wine is quite dry, vibrant with burgeoning elements of limestone and damp shale and with crisp acidity, though the texture deftly balances leanness with talc-like lushness. A trace of mature earthiness joins a touch of apple custard on the long, lovely finish. Drink through 2011, well-stored, and consume it nicely chilled to keep that acidity high. Excellent. About $19 to $23, Great Value.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. I paid for this one.

You may have to do a little ferreting around to find this wine, but it will be worth the effort, I promise.

It’s the Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré 2007, a 100 percent chardonnay wine made in the Mâcon-Villages appellation in the southern part of Burgundy. The domaine is run by brothers Dominique and Romain Cornin and their horse Coccinelle. They — the brothers — are the third generation of the family to work the domaine and make wine from its cluster of vineyards that range from 15 to 40 years old. Since 2003, the domaine has been operated on biodynamic principles.

Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré 2007 is made completely in stainless steel, so it sees no oak. The wine is an expressive example of the intensity and purity that the chardonnay grape is capable of achieving without interference. The bouquet is penetrating and rich, almost peaty, yet vibrantly fresh and clean and packed with spiced pear and roasted lemon with a hint of pineapple. In the mouth, seamless layers of flint, limestone and oyster shell dig deep and bolster lemon and grapefruit flavors permeated by cloves, quince and ginger. The texture and structure handily balance lithe, crisp, vivid acidity with talc-like lushness, elements that lead to an increasingly dry finish of stony austerity. At a bit less than three years old, this is a fully mature Mâcon-Villages for drinking through 2011 or ’12, well-stored. A lovely wine with tons of personality. About 1,320 cases produced. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $17 to $24(!), so look for $21 and under for Good Value.

We drank the Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré 2007 last night with grilled tuna, doused with a lime-chili vinaigrette, and grilled vegetables, i.e. eggplant, zucchini. yellow squash and tomatoes, marinated for an hour in olive oil, salt and pepper, oregano and marjoram. It all made a great match.

Imported by Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal. A sample from the local wholesaler.

A clos is a walled or enclosed — don’t you just love cognates! — vineyard, hence Clos des Mouches is “enclosed vineyard of the flies.” How appetizing! It’s also one of the most famous clos of Burgundy, as much for the quality of the red and white wines produced by the venerable Domaine Joseph Drouhin as for the unusual name. Clos des Mouches is a Premier Cru vineyard in Beaune (“bone”) though Drouhin does not include the term “Permier Cru” on labels of Clos des Mouches because it would clutter a label that’s already pretty busy with its array of typography and images, including six little flies. The device is a tad misleading, however. In the Middle Ages, at least in this region, or perhaps just this commune, honey-bees were called mouches de miel, “honey-flies,” hence what the name of the vineyard refers to are actually bees, not flies. Clos des Mouches is not to be confused with tiny Clos-de-la-Mousse, also a Beaune Premier Cru vineyard but wholly owned by Bouchard Pere et Fils.

The domaine was founded in 1880, when Joseph Drouhin took control of a wine business that itself dated back to 1756; one is required to take the long view in Burgundy. After World War I, Joseph’s son Maurice became head of the firm and began acquiring fine vineyard land, including 12.9 hectares (31.9 acres) of Clos des Mouches, now planted almost equally with chardonnay and pinot noir. Today, Domaine Joseph Drouhin owns 182.5 acres of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards in every commune of Burgundy. The vineyards are managed on biodynamic principles.

My first note on the Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches 2007, blanc, is “the liquid equivalent of late summer sunshine,” followed by “actually perfect.” Must I continue? The wine ages about a year in barriques, of which typically 25 percent of the barrels are new. Robert Drouhin — Maurice’s nephew — who ran the domaine from 1957 to 2003, has been widely quoted for a succinct statement in relationship to oak that all the world’s winemakers should take to heart: “We are not carpenters.” This wine offers a limpid pale gold color and a bouquet of roasted lemons, honeyed grapefruit and spiced almonds; after a few minutes, a hint of honeysuckle appears. There’s a trace of buttery richness to the lemon, orange rind and quince flavors, but the effect is mitigated by taut and steely acidity and a scintillating limestone-shale minerality. The texture is a heavenly amalgam of lithe suppleness and moderately lush generosity. The entire package radiates irresistible resonance and vibrancy. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. We had it with grilled swordfish. About 600 cases imported. Excellent. About $100 to $110.

The Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches 2007, rouge, is fascinating for a detail of which I was frankly unaware. The portion of Clos des Mouches that Drouhin farms for pinot noir contains a minuscule amount of pinot gris, a white grape that’s a clone of pinot noir and importantly cultivated in Alsace. Pinot gris, though almost completely disappeared from Burgundy, was widely planted generations ago. Anyway, the smidgeon of pinot gris mingled with pinot noir is allowed in the Clos des Mouches red wine, and I do mean a smidgeon, in the plus-or-minus two percent range. Does the pinot gris “do something” to the wine? I couldn’t say. I do know that this is an exemplary model of pinot noir’s potential for elegance, suavity and satiny texture, with a sense of ineffable lightness and delicacy married to interior intensity and power. It’s packed with baking spices and hints of smoky black cherry, dried cherries and currants, with touches of cranberry, lavender and potpourri. Oak and tannin provide framing and foundation for the wine’s character – it ages 15 to 20 months with only 20 percent new oak — while allowing fruit and acid to furnish personality. Drink from 2011 through 2016 to ’20. We drank this with the classic pairing of roasted lamb. About 500 cases imported. Excellent. About $80 to $85.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. Samples for review.

A native Burgundian with a family heritage of winemaking that goes back to the 17th century, Vincent Girardin began his career in 1982 with two hectares — about 5.15 acres — of vines. The domaine now encompasses more than 25 hectares — about 65 acres — in 60 appellations that stretch from the top to the bottom of Burgundy.

The white wines see about 40 percent new oak; they age about 11 months for village and regional wines, 13 months for Premier and Grand Cru. The reds take 30 to 50 percent new oak, aging from 15 to 18 months.

The domaine produces 46,000 cases of wine annually, most of it in small if not minute quantities from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. The range can be bewildering: 10 separate wines from Santenay, 10 separate wines from Puligny-Montrachet and so on. The 14 products I look at today, all from 2007, obviously don’t begin to indicate the depth and breadth of Vincent Girardin’s roster. Prices are approximate.

The wines of Vincent Girardin are imported to the United States by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

These are my notes from a trade tasting in New York.
Three whites:
<>Bourgogne Blanc “Emotion de Terroirs” 2007. Enticing, seductive; gravel and flint with white flowers, yellow citrus and stone fruit; sinew and bone, ringing acidity; just a little lush and sleek. A lovely chardonnay. Very Good+. About $23.

<>Rully Vieilles Vignes 2007. Good depth, quite dusty and minerally in the limestone mode; very dry, austere, needs a year or two to unfurl. Very Good. About $25.

<>Savigny-les-Beaunes “Les Vermots Dessus” 2007. Beguiling, entrancing; apple
and apple blossom, jasmine, flint; fleet and sinewy acidity balanced with tremendous body; fat and sassy but crisp, fraught with limestone; vibrant and resonant. A beauty. Excellent. About $28.50. If I were compiling a restaurant wine list, this would definitely be featured by bottle and glass.

The reds
<>Bourgogne Rouge “Emotions de Terroir” 2007. Simple, direct, tasty, cherry/berry fruit, touches of earth and minerals. Attractive but lacks the dimension of the white version. Very Good. About $24

<>Santenay “Terre d’Enfance” 2007. Impressive, lovely, eminently drinkable; red currants and rose petals buoyed by a chalky/minerally aspect; taut acid but seductive satiny texture; loads of personality and integrity. Very Good+. About $28.

<>Santenay “Les Gravieres” Premier Cru 2007. Earthy, mossy, chalk and crushed gravel; red currant, black cherry and mulberry; some wild, exotic spicy note; dense, chewy and intense. Needs 1 or 2 years but delicious now. Very Good+. About $36.50.

<>Savigny-les-Beaune “Les Vergelesses” Premier Cru 2007. Deep, large-framed, concentrated; very dry, gravelly and austere; a brooding contention of acid and tannin that keeps fruit in abeyance. Try from 2011 or ’12. Very Good+, for potential. About $36.50.

<>Beaune “Les Bressandes” Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007. Seductive aromas of red and black currants, potpourri, crushed gravel, rose petal, hint of mocha; solid and true, with good dimension and depth, but not exciting, lacks the ultimate generosity of a complete wine. Very Good+. About $42.

<>Volnay Vieilles Vignes 2007. A great pinot noir; damp earth and chalk, tar and leather; red currants and black cherries, briers and brambles; dry, earthy, sinewy, acidity plows a furrow through a dense satiny texture; an exciting wine, filled with confidence and verve. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $42.

<>Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2007. Wow, a massive pinot noir. Leather, violets, wheatmeal; piercing minerality; a little fleshy and meaty, freighted with spice; dried red and black currants; overwhelmingly satiny texture; mid-palate back brings increasingly dry, rooty tannins; finish is dry, austere, distant. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $46.

<>Volnay-Santenots Premier Cru 2007. Another great pinot; quite large, resonant and resolute, tremendously earthy, intense and concentrated; vibrant acid cuts a swathe but the wine is rich, spicy, supple, almost succulent (but not Californian); the finish, though, brings in dry tannins, an autumnal austerity. Try from 2011 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $53.

<>Pommard-Les Grand Epenots Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007. Closed, deliberate, secretive; quite dark, roiling with woody spice; very dense, very chewy; bales of briers and brambles, everything foresty and underbrushy; dry, granite-like earthiness, the power of geological patience. This emits the aura of greatness, but it has miles to sleep before it goes. Excellent potential, 2012 or ’13 through 2018 or ’20. About $68.

<>Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007. True, strong, pure and intense; concentrated yet generous, earthy, autumnal, feral; beguiling yet serious; eloquent expression of the mineral dimension; tremendous tone and presence. A great achievement. Best from 2012 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Exceptional. About $70.

<>Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2007. What’s to say? A monumental Charmes-Chambertin, very earthy, very tannic, mineral-laden, rooty, briery and brambly, a slumbering giant needing four or five years to unfold and then a 15 to 20-year life ahead. Excellent potential, but time is essential. About $125.

There’s a sense — or possibly several but never mind that now — that I live in a different world than many of my readers do, and that’s because I receive wine samples for free. Many of these are unsolicited; the friendly UPS or FedEx person comes to the door and hands over a package or two and I sign for them and bring them inside and open them, and sometimes I think, “Oh, great, this will be interesting” or “Oh, yikes, wow” or “Geeze, why do they send me this crap.” Much of it comes after inquiry. Them: “May we send you such-and-such wine?” Me: “Why, yes, thank you very much.” Some I ask for a sample. Me: “Would you send me this wine to try?” Them: “Hell, yeah.” I’m certain there are writers and publications that receive far more wine than I do, but I probably receive more wine than writers and bloggers just starting out. After all, I’ve been doing this for 25 years.

Some wineries and importers have been sending me wine for 15 or 20 years, a process that allows consistency in my coverage and reviewing. And some wineries and importers stopped sending wine when my weekly newspaper column folded in 2004 and never picked up again. C’est la vie.

I mention these matters in an attempt to prove that when I drink a glass of the Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands ($48), with my cheese toast, as I did yesterday at lunch, I’m not trying to be a jerk and imply, “Ha-ha, loser, see what I get to drink with my cheese toast and you don’t.” I mean, the wine is there, it needs to be tasted, there’s an opportunity, so why not? Sure, the pleasure principle is a factor too, as in, “Hmmm, maybe I should open this skimpy, undernourished little $6 merlot with my cheese toast instead of the Morgan Double L Pinot ’07,” and then I say, “Nnnnaaaahhhhh.” After all, I can always do the SULM in a line-up with a bunch of other inexpensive reds, n’est-ce pas?

On the other hand, perhaps none of this requires any explanation or justification whatsoever.


The Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, is absolutely beautiful, a smooth, shapely, harmonious mouthful of wine. Aromas of smoky black cherry and cola twine with mulberry, rhubarb and hints of cloves and mossy-like earthiness; a few minutes in the glass bring whiffs of violets and camellia. In the mouth, the wine performs as a model of the marriage between elegance and power; between balance and integration, on the one hand, and buffed tannins and vibrant acidity on the other. Flavors of black cherry, black currant and plum burgeon with spicy nuances, laid on a foundation of rooty briers and brambles and a texture that drapes the palate like satin. The subtle oak regimen is 11 months in French barrels, 50 percent of which are new. Double L is farmed organically. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Production was 1,050 cases. Excellent. About $48.

Last night, LL braised ox-tails with bacon and a smoked ham hock, a bottle of merlot and a bouquet of celery, carrots, leeks, sage and parsley. This cooked in the oven for, oh, four hours. She served it with a mash of celery root, sweet potatoes and white potatoes. It was brilliant.

Casting about for a wine, naturally I thought about syrah/shiraz or zinfandel, but then I decided to throw discretion and even sense to the winds, and I opened a bottle of Joseph Drouhin Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2007. If ever a red Burgundy could stand up to such a hearty dish, this would be it.

At about 125 acres, Vougeot is the largest vineyard in Burgundy, It is also the most minutely parceled, its area divided among 70 owners, some of whom have proprietorship over only a few rows of vines; this is pinot noir, of course. The firm of Joseph Drouhin owns two parcels that amount to 2.25 acres. Placement is everything in Vougeot; vines at the bottom of the hill do not produce wine as good as vines higher up the slope. Drouhin’s parcels are on the incline, facing east. The parcels are farmed according to biodynamic principles (though how do you compensate for the people around you that don’t farm by the same method?); harvesting is by hand; yeasts are indigenous. The wine rests is oak 14 to 18 months, depending on the year, but typically only 20 percent of the barrels are new.

Drouhin’s Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2007 is a beautiful wine, too, but in a different way. This is the beauty of confidence balanced between poise and assertiveness. It’s a wine that could swagger if it wanted to but clearly doesn’t need to. In fact, beyond this wine’s warmth and richness, beyond its layers of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums grounded in dried spice, shale-like minerality and acidity that plows an authoritative furrow, there’s a sense of reticence, of holding itself back for the proper moment. The elements of dried spice, tending a bit toward the exotic, blossom amazingly in the glass, pulling black fruit with them, turning increasingly seductive; at the same time, however, the wine becomes drier, picking up sinew and dusty tannic austerity. Try this from 2011 or ’13 through 2017 or ’20. Sixty cases were imported to the U.S. Excellent. About $172.

Wow, you’re saying, if both of these wines rate Excellent, why not just forget about the Clos de Vougeot ’07 and go with the Morgan Double L? Well, sure. Let’s admit that not many people possess the fiduciary prowess to buy the Clos de Vougeot or the cellar in which to let it mature. On the other hand, the two wines offer quite different but equally eloquent and authentic expressions of the grape. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. I’m lucky enough that I was able to try both of them on the same day and to tell you about them.

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.

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