Terra Sigillata

[Back by popular demand is my Friday Fermentable co-blogger, Erleichda – to read all of the offerings from my silver-tongued and golden-palated friend, see this compilation. For new readers, here is The Friday Fermentable mission statement.]

Another Wine Experience : 2002 White & Red Burgundies
By Erleichda

It was Mort’s fault. As alluded to obliquely a few columns ago, it was he who introduced me to “fine wines.”. So many years ago, the story has improved with each telling, I was invited to participate in my first trout fishing adventure. After hours of practice casting, I was ready for the big day. My assignment, for the purpose of victuals, was to provide cucumber sandwiches, comprised of peeled and sliced cucumbers with mayonnaise (Hellman’s, not Miracle Whip) on a certain type of bread, with the crusts removed, and cut so as to provide triangles not rectangles. Mort would take care of the refreshments. I shall skip over the fishing portion of this story and cut to the lunch hour.

Mort unveiled not ice tea but a bottle of wine and proceeded to uncork it. “Oh”, I exclaimed, “a cork”! At which utterance Mort looked askew at me as to ponder what kind of person had he brought along. I tasted the first of two offerings Mort had brought with him to accompany our cucumber sandwiches and inquired as to what elixir this might be. The answer was to remain with me until this day, and almost formed the basis of my first daughter’s name, so impressed was I with what I had just drunk. It was a white French burgundy from Chassagne-Montrachet (vintage unknown, but this was 1978). While my appreciation for white burgundies has given way over the years to wonderful reds of assorted appellations, there remains a corner of my heart devoted to them. (Mort’s second wine that day was a Chateau Carbonnieux from Bordeaux, but that’s a wine of a different grape, for another column).

i-8c9b83cbaa6467cd8832ff6f91e7b211-CoteDOr.gifJim’s Disciples met at a wonderful old Inn along a local major river and for a minimal corkage fee partook of an evening of great food accompanied by white and red burgundies of the esteemed recent 2002 vintage. We limited the selections to those of the northern Burgundian areas of the Cote D’Or (composed of the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune). These regions tend to contain the more expensive wines, and so it was requested that the wines brought to the dinner cost less than $40.

There was, regrettably, only one white burgundy to be shared that evening, and so, perhaps, we will have to devote a separate dinner to just whites. But the one white we had was, sigh, a Chassagne-Montrachet by L. Latour ($27). Not overwhelming, just a really nice crisp, dry, faintly citrusy, mouthfilling example of French white burgundy with hints of vanilla and a touch of oak. It was a perfect accompaniment to the mildly spicy sautéed crawfish appetizer. Others described this wine as “tasty”, “delicious”, “round” with “dried apricots or peach” flavors. What one tastes probably is influenced by the accompanying foods consumed.

While waiting for the appearance of my main course, I poured the first and second of nine Burgundian reds into the two glasses in front of me. (We typically request two wine glasses per setting so side by side comparisons can be performed). The Volnay, by J. Drouhin ($30) had no detectable nose to speak of, and was medium light in density (thin), with a slight cherry tang, or some kind of red berry (raspberry?), mild acidity and a lingering finish. A pleasant wine, but unremarkable. I had brought the next wine, hoping to discover a wonderful find, for I had never had a wine from Maranges. This appellation is at the southernmost tip of the Cote de Beaune and is composed of three villages that, it is said, time has forgotten. I so much wanted a reason to visit those villages someday and immerse myself in the wonderful wines of this appellation. But, I was disappointed. The premier cru Maranges “Le Croix Moines,” by C. Giroud ($34) had no particular nose of distinction (no earthiness) and was of medium light density, like the Volnay, with only a hint of dark berry fruit to taste. I found it pleasant but not memorable. My dinner companions were less kind in their general opinion, with comments voiced of “rough” and “not ready”. Not the greatest beginning for a year (2002) said to be the best for Burgundian wines in a decade.

Ok, maybe I needed to have some heartier food with these wines and so red wines numbers three and four were poured next and experienced with the Chateaubriand I was sharing. The Monthelie premier cru “Cuvee Lebeline,” from the Hospices de Beaune and R. Pedauque ($35) was softer than the previous two wines, with a red berry fruit to balance the tannins, but its nose was fairly closed. I was not impressed. But finally, the other wine, a Gevrey-Chambertin by Dupont-Tisserandot ($24), was worthwhile. It had a faint barnyard nose, soft tannins and a very tolerable acidity. Not a star by any means, but definitely a nice addition to the repast. Since the next red wine, number five, was also a Gevrey-Chambertin (a Clos-Peiur, for $27), I quickly dispatched the remains of the Monthelie and poured number five so as to do a side-by-side comparison. Ugh. This was, in my opinion, the worst wine of the evening. It was bad; Sweetpea said “evil”. Many at the table said it had a terrible nose, but I didn’t think this was its problem (nor did we think it had been corked). Some said the wine improved after 10 minutes or so in the glass, and actually started to taste “ok”, but I was willing to contribute my remains of it to the discard receptacle. More than half the red burgundies had been tasted at this point, and only one seemed worth the money spent.

But things did improve slightly with the tasting of the next wine, number six amongst the reds, an Aloxe-Corton “Les Boutieres” by N. Potel ($34). Only a mild aroma, but like the Monthelie, first Gevrey-Chamertin, and even the Volnay, there was a hint of berry flavor to go with mild tannins and gentle acidity. Ok, it was a nice wine, but a bit pricey. The same could be said for red wine number seven. A Nuits-St. Georges by J. Drouhin ($38). This one had a really nice nose, reminiscent of what I think of as a Burgundian odor – a mixture of earthiness, barnyard, some mushrooms, maybe some leather. On the tongue it had a good balance of tannins, acidity and fruit, but was no more than pleasant. One other comment I heard that I thought was interesting was a description of the wine as “sophisticated.”

The standouts of the evening however, amongst the red wines, were the last two. Was it a coincident that we (the entire dinner crowd) preferred the final two wines, or were we feeling the effects of the alcohol? Based on the vote gathering I took at the end of our tasting, the # 1 wine was a premier cru Auxey-Duresses by J. Lafouge, and for only $25. I believe this same wine was a favorite of mine amongst the French pinot noirs brought to another tasting, and described in a previous column. Although the nose was a bit closed, it was a wine with the typical berry flavors accompanied by well rounded tannins. But it also had a complexity and depth to what was tasted, and provided a warmth not found in other wines that I went back to re-taste. Across the table I heard the wine described as “lovely”, “smooth”, “round”, and “mellow”. The last bottle was a premier cru Santenay, “Clos de Tavernnes” by N. Potel ($29). Also possessing a fairly closed nose (maybe most of these 2002 are in an eclipse stage ?), nice, soft tannins, some berry fruit on the palate, and an overall pleasing drinking experience. My companions described this wine as “deep”, “rich”, “peppery”, “heavy”, “dark, good flavors”, and “needs red meat”.

The Wrap-Up
As mentioned, an informal vote gathering revealed the last two red wines were the group’s favorites. Occasional “top two wines” votes were also garnered by the Aloxe-Corton and the Volnay, and one vote for the Nuits-St. Georges. When asked for the group’s “also ran” wine favorites, the predominant vote getters were the Volnay and the Gevrey-Chambertin by Dupont-Tisserandot. And oh yes, the white Chassagne-Montrachet gathered a few votes too. Taking into account the prices, the Auxey-Duresses, the Santenay, and the D-T Gevrey-Chambertin would appear to be worth trying again sometime amongst the reds.

Perhaps they should be sampled alongside the previous standout 2002 Walter Hansel Family Vineyard and 2003 Crichton Hall Truchard Vineyard bottlings described in that previously mentioned pinot noir tasting column. And why not throw in something like a Castle Rock Pinot Noir [a Pharmboy house favorite] just to compare a worthwhile less expensive offering?