Monday, April 09, 2007

Day 3 in Beaune, capital of Burgundy

Aaah, another day, another bunch of wineries to visit. And what a great bunch! What a treasure chest of lovely wines to taste and passionate people to visit. My 3rd day in Beaune found me sluggish and realizing that I wasn't a youthful 35 anymore. No, I've turned into quite the old 35, thanks to my many wine friends I've made in this business.

After my evening of "tasting" with Christophe Roumier, I certainly wasn't making any early appointments. Luckily, my first tasting this day was at 2pm with Frederic Mugnier, in the beautiful town of Chambolle Musigny. Like its wines, this village is absolutely charming, with a feminine touch that translates into its wines. I pulled into Mr. Mugnier's courtyard and rang the doorbell. Nothing. Uh-oh. I hadn't brought his phone number and after a few minutes I began to get a bit nervous. It was 2pm, today, right?

I rang again.


Oh, zut alors, please don't tell me I'll have to drive around until my 4pm with Dujac in Morey St Denis. To add insult to injury, it began to rain lightly and the wind picked up. Great, so this is how it's going to be?

I rang a third time.

This time, I heard someone running down the hallway. Oops, did I disturb someone's lunch? A charming young lady opened the door, and we exchanged pleasantries. She led me into Mr. Mugnier's office, a nice, elegant and very orderly place with aerial pictures of mountains on the walls. "Mr. Mugnier will be right here," she told me. Within a minute or two, Mr. Mugnier appeared. I had forgotten how quiet and reserved he could be, but he was quite polite and nice. We chatted a bit, and he seemed to warm up as we discussed some of the many things we had in common. Then he got some glasses and led me down into the new cuverie.

Barrels of some of the most beautiful wines on the planet sat all around me and a silly, stupid grin lit up my face. Mr. Mugnier is very pleased with his 2005s, saying they are powerful yet delicate, achieving a level of grace and elegance that is quite rare. And I have to say, he was correct. In general, his wines sang with a stunningly flowery bouquet, marked with an incredible freshness and vigor, balanced by a ton of supple tannins and a lovely crisp acidity. As at Roumier's, the wines' bouquets were just dreamy. He popped a stopper and poured the first wine, the Chambolle Musigny. This was lively, fresh, with bright red fruits and a crisp mouthfeel and a surprisingly long finish. He even remarked how happy he was that a simple village wine had turned out so well. I've always been a fan of his village wines, so I could only agree. Next came the Chambolle Musigny les Fuees, which was like the bigger twin of the village wine. Larger in all aspects than the Chambolle, with some slightly darker red fruits and a longer finish, with more mouthfilling texture. Again, the tannins were quite present but supple and not intrusive. We took a major step up in quality when he poured the Chambolle Musigny les Amoureuses, a wine showing spicy, flowery aspects, everything you love in Amoureuses, but more so. Its amazingly silky texture ended in a long finish. This is when it really hit me, that the 2005s are everything we look for in a good Burgundy, only more so. It's like all the wines have been ratcheted up several notches, both in quality and in prices (sadly).

Now we went to explore his newest holding, the Nuits St Georges Clos de la Marechale. This is Mr. Mugnier's 2nd vintage with this wine, and so far he's been pretty pleasantly surprised. He’s learning more and more about the terroir and its capabilities, and so far, he’s satisfied. The 2005 is darker and more rustic than some of the other wines, but quite elegant at the same time. This might be a diamond in the rough that needs polishing. NB: he also made some white, which we didn’t taste as he’s not certain how it will show, never having made whites before. Then he pulled a sample from a barrel labeled BM, and I knew what that was: the Bonnes Mares. Yay! Big and brawny, yet supremely elegant, with darker fruits than anything tasted so far, this held a massive amount of tannins that coated the back of the palate, and a finish that lasted for a minute or more. Heck, I think I'm still tasting it 24 hours later. Wow. As happy as I was at this moment, I was about to be getting a slap in the face. At this point, I thought I'd tasted the top of the top of the wines of 2005. But I was about to be put straight.And so it happened...

Kill me now, for I have tasted perfection.

This next wine was Mr. Mugnier's Musigny. Absolutely brilliant red and black fruits emerged from a flowery, perfumy bouquet that was so intensely pure and enticing that you didn’t want to taste, you just wanted to sniff this for days, weeks, years, centuries. The texture was crunchy yet silky, fresh and lively, ending with some serious tannins. This was the promise that the wine would live long and prosper, even after most of us were long and gone. This is a wine for the ages. Amazing. I do believe I shed a tear or two knowing that if I'd be able to afford a bottle, my children, their children, and possibly their children would be able to enjoy it as much as I had. Then Mr. Mugnier went into his cellar and pulled a bottle he said he'd been curious to try, a 2004 Nuits St Georges Clos de la Marechale. As good as this was, after tasting the 2005s, this was a bit of a letdown (dare I complain?). The 1st vintage from this vineyard, this showed hints of the now-notorious green elements present in the 2004 reds, but not overpoweringly so, with dark red fruits and spices and a long finish. Rustic but nice. We chatted some more before he went back down to the cellar and brought up a bottle of 2003 Chambolle Musigny les Amoureuses. More typical of the vintage and less the vineyard, this showed lots of syrupy, almost extracted dark ripe red fruits, earth, and spices, but in comparison to other ‘03s, this was positively elegant. Then again, everything’s relative. Mugnier believes this will be better with lots of age as the fruit calms down and everything comes into balance.

Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes. Mr. Mugnier, despite his gruff appearance, is a typical Burgundian: reserved at first, they do open up somewhat after some discussions. But he is the sort of person who won't speak unless he has something to say.

From Mugnier, I drove along the beautiful winding Route des Grands Crus to Morey St Denis, where Jeremy Seysses was awaiting me at Domaine Dujac. The first time I had been in Burgundy I'd tasted here, and at the time it was Jeremy's first vintage. He had been pretty shy, but now he's come into his own and is outgoing, switching fluidly between English and French. Wasting no time, we headed down to the cellar, glasses in hand. To facilitate tastings, they'd bottled in half-bottles some of their 2005s. What, I wasn't the only person coming to visit? What a surprise...

The first wine was a white, a Morey St Denis Blanc. Quite nice and elegantly ripe, with some lovely white flowers, ripe lemons and a tart finish, everything in nice balance. We moved on the first red, a Morey St Denis Rouge, a rustic and fruity wine, with some earthy tannins and a medium finish. We talked a bit about the vintage and their new directions, and then he poured the Chambolle Musigny. More feminine and delicate than the MSD, this too had a nice bouquet and a slightly rustic finish. Jeremy opened the Bonnes Mares, which was definitively a step up, with some enticing dark fruits, a flowery nose of violet and purple fruits, a brooding hulk with a lovely earthy, minerally note, buttressed by spicy tannins. Big-bodied, it danced over the palate before ending in a long, long finish. Now we kept moving into Grand Cru territory with one of my favorite Dujac holdings, the Clos de la Roche. Oooh, big and brawny, very masculine, with tons of dark red fruits and spices balanced by a noticeable minerality and a long, mouthcoating finish. Yummy. On the other end of the spectrum, the Clos St Denis was amazingly different: feminine and yet powerful, with fabulously long notes of red fruits and game, ending with a long tannic finish after coating the palate in a wonderfully light texture. Finally, we hit the newest wine in their portfolio: the Chambertin. Wow, this was just out of this world. Huge, dark and brooding, as well as light on its feet and elegant, this was, as I told Jeremy, "a Sumo wrestler dancing ballet". He laughed and agreed. It was just absolutely fantastic, with so many different notes appearing, disappearing, then reappearing that it was a thinker's wine, in a hedonistic sort of fashion.

As the tasting wound down, we said our adieux, and I left, my palate tingling at all the phenomenal wine I'd just had in the space of 2 hours. I do believe I may have TXT messaged quite a few folks in my buzzed state. I headed back to Beaune via the Route des Grands Crus, taking pictures of some of the more important places as I did so (see previous post). However, dinner at Sushi Kai with some sake was a welcome reprieve after all these wines, believe it or not.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Intermission - Random Pics of Burgundy

So I had some free time and decided to drive through the back roads and even the vineyards (I abused the heck out of my rental car!) of the Cotes de Nuits. I love just meandering along the hillside paralleling the N74, the views are amazing. It feels like I'm travelling through time, following the path forged by centuries of monks, farmers and winemakers.

I usually take my camera, and this past trip was no different. So here are some long, boring shots of the Cotes de Nuits.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Reasons to love Burgundy Part 2 (Roumier and more Roumier)

Another day in Burgundy, another orgy of wines and food. And I wonder why I love the region?

The 2nd day of my stay here began with a (very) late lunch at La Regalade, on the outskirts of Beaune. While the wine list leaves a lot to be desired in terms of depth, it did have some finds. And the owners are so welcoming it makes the place quite warm and inviting. We were all somewhat exhausted from the previous night's debaucheries, but somehow we rallied and ordered a 2003 Henri Boillot Meursault Perrieres.

Not being a big fan of 2003 whites, I was surprised at the quality of this one. Of course, the vineyard helps a lot. Fat and thick, just filling the mouth, with white flowers, somewhat ripe tropical fruits buttressed by some oak and a lovely acidic finish, it had a lively aspect that belied the vintage. This is what California Chardonnay wants to be but somehow misses most of the time.This went very well with my dish of scrambled eggs with black truffles... If anything can be called a hangover cure, this is it.

Then, it was off to our first and last tasting of the day: Domaine Georges Roumier. As usual, Christophe was the essence of grace and hospitality as we arrived, spending time with us chatting before getting some glasses. He was quite happy with the development of the 2005s, and seemed content with his 2006s as well. And then we were off to taste the 2005s...

First, let me say a few generalizations, as I didn't have my notebook and "recorded" everything with what few mental faculties remain. Now, I am going to go out on a limb and say that after tasting the 2005s, I can honestly say God exists and wants us to be happy. Yes, they're that good. Let me repeat that: YES, THEY'RE THAT GOOD. All the wines had this lovely nervosite, a certain liveliness, that kept them alive in the mouth despite the tannins, most of which were quite polished and not intrusive. The fruit was sweetly ripe for Burgundy, but not as in 2003, which I'd consider over-ripe. In addition, the acidities were high but not too high, and balanced the increased size of the fruit quite well. The finishes on some of even the 1er Crus went on for what seemed like hours. And the bouquets on all the wines I've tasted, and I do mean all, are more perfumy than I've ever seen. Basically, everything's where it needs to be.

First was the Chambolle Musigny, always a lovely village wine, and this year even more so. Right from the get-go, we knew were in for a good night: crunchily fresh, with bright berries and a wonderfully fresh and minerally mouthfeel. Ready to drink now. Next Christophe poured us some Chambolle Musigny Les Cras, which was the bigger, brawnier cousin to the village wine. Riper, more vibrant than the village, with darker fruits, this also had a lovely floral bouquet and a longer finish. The Chambolle Musigny les Amoureuses was another step up, but in a more feminine direction. Oooh, softly flowery, with bright red and dark fruits and a lovely perfume, ending in a long finish. Now we hit the Morey St Denis Clos de la Bussieres and found a masculine, earthily fruity wine, which was more earthy but still lively and lovely with bright ripe red and black fruits leading to a minerally finish. To change things, Christophe decided to go rustic, tasting us on the Charmes Chambertin, which was a bit more rustic than the Chambolle, with darker red fruits backed by some serious minerality.We started heading up the food (wine?) chain, Christophe's pippette pouring the Bonnes Mares Terres Rouges, a hearty, brawnily fruity and somewhat metallic wine with big dark fruits and minerals. Next to it we found the Bonnes Mares Terres Blanches, which was much more minerally as opposed to fruity. Still, it had a nerve to it that made us think it would stand up to the Terres Rouges in the final assembly. And we were right: the Bonnes Mares final assemblage, 55% Rouge and 45% Blanche, was amazing. Absolutely stunning. At the same time brooding, dark and yet lively and exuberant, this was just about one of the best wines I've ever tasted young. Incredibly long on the finish, it filled the mouth and wouldn't let go. Now we hit the Musigny, and even though I thought I was in love with the Bonnes Mares, I dumped her and fell for this wine. Gorgeously perfumed, with a delicately big bouquet you could smell a mile away, this offered tons of light dark fruit and a wonderful mouthfeel, just seducing you with its softness. If the Bonnes Mares was the dominatrix, the Musigny was the shy woman who goes wild. We went further into the cellar, visiting some barrels that Christophe's working on for friends. The Le Corton had great aromatics and a wonderfully animale note to it but the palate was rather tight and unforgiving, just hinting at its greatness.

Christophe then asked us if we wanted to see the development of the 2004s, so how could we refuse? He pulled out two half bottles and opened the first, a 2004 Roumier Musigny. Nice, but no 2005, this had some green hints that worried me, though the somewhat tart fruit seemed to balance it out. Next he offered us a taste of the 2004 Roumier Chambolle Musigny les Amoureuses, a distinct step up and much more feminine and approachable.

Now we were off to dinner, and happily Christophe joined us . We headed over to Chez Guy, a small place in Gevrey Chambertin. The list was interesting but nothing crazy, but we were thirsty and wanted more good stuff after being teased by Christophe's wines! In the mood for white, we ordered a 2004 Coche Dury Meursault. This was the textbook definition of Meursault: fat, with an oily texture and notes of bacon-scented lemons and nuts, with a mouth-coating body that ended with a burst of acidity. Gorgeous! But things weren't going to stop there, oh no. Next, we ordered the 2001 Roumier Chambolle Musigny les Cras, a wine which to my nose had a hint of green and reduction in it. But I wasn't about to say anything to the winemaker when he was within striking distance... It had very strikingly crisp red fruits, with just a hint of syrupy aspects to it. As it sat in the glass, everything seemed to calm down, until it was showing quite well. We turned to a bottle of 2000 Trapet Chambertin, a stunningly gorgeous wine of intense perfume, taste and structure. Huge notes of earthy dark fruits, sous-bois and mushrooms filled the nose and palate, with a softly elegant moutfeel that ended with a tannic finish, everything coming together amazingly well. Still thirsty, we reached for the 1999 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques. Another stunner, filled with robust dark mushroom-covered fruits, an intense mouthfeel and amazing weight. Lovely secondary aspects came and went, teasing us with their seductive softness. Wow!

Then it was back to Beaune, dropping Christophe off as we went on our merry (and drunken) way. Someone mentioned that a night cap was needed, and feeling it would be rude, we agreed: 2002 Pierre Colin Meursault, a wine of intense liveliness, with minty, crunchy minerals coating lemon-scented almonds and a searing acidity that stripped the enamel off the teeth. Absolutely gorgeous and just what we needed to wake our palates up. At this point I began to fade and decided to listen to my body, heading to sleep at the early hour of 2:30am.

What a day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It's been a long, strange trip...

OK, I just realized I've been quite remiss in posting. I've been travelling through France doing research on a new project, but I thought I'd relate a few fun evenings tasting wine and eating great food with wonderful people. After travelling through the Rhone Valley, I met up with friends in Beaune, capital of Burgundy, and the moment I arrived it was a non-stop party.

First up was a bottle I picked up in Lyon for a steal, a 2001 Mugnier Chambolle Musigny. Say what you will that it was the village wine, this was glorious from the get-go. It defined crunchy freshness, with smooth bright cherries and mushrooms on the nose and a gorgeous, silky texture that brings the fruit to the front, the funk to the middle, and leaves you with a lovely, long finish. As it breathed, dark cherries and smoke began to appear, but in a very balanced and harmonious way.

Then it was off to Le Gourmandin, where a true steal was found on the list: 2002 DRC Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Cuvee Duvault-Blochet. This is where we realized we had stepped it up a bit, now we were in a new world of flavors. Oooh, lovely flowery, peppery and dark fruit notes emerged, with hints of soy sauce and a lovely perfume. Soft yet precise on the palate, with similar notes ending in a long, fruiy finish. Amazingly open and ready for business. It was a ringing success with both the escargots and the ris de veau aux morilles (sweetbreads with morel mushrooms... YUM!).

Back to L'Hotel de Beaune, where we began acting like the wine pirates we were turning into. The wines were coming fast and furious, but I managed to pay attention to most of them. 1972 Clair Dau Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses was waiting for us, so I poured a glass and sniffed. Essence of morels, with some soft dark cherries adding a fruity note to the funky aromas. The palate was light and almost tea-like, with a softness on the palate that didn’t bring the lovely nose to the mouth. Dying fast. Aaah well...

My friend was in the mood for white, and wanted to do a vertical of Niellon, so who was I to argue? Out came two bottles, one the 2004 Niellon Chassagne Montrachet Clos de la Maltroie, the other one the 2005 Niellon Chassagne Montrachet Clos de la Maltroie. Both were poured and we began sniffing and swirling. Amazing, how one year of separation makes a world of difference. The 2004 was crunchy and precise, with tons of soft lemons, pears and almonds, backed up by solid minerals and some hints of white truffle and popcorn. The palate was intense and focused, like an I-beam supporting the weight of the fruit and stones. Long finish, with intense acidity yet very nicely balanced. The 2005 was the younger, bigger, brawnier brother. Compared to the '04, the '05 offered ripe lemons and lime, with relatively larger amounts of popcorn and nuts. On the palate, however, this was nothing but structure, with only the foundations showing the fruit. Imagine seeing a building with nothing but the first floor built, scaffolding rising to the heavens offering hints of things to come. One day, that 2005 will be glorious.

Still thirsty, we brought up a bottle of 2004 Roulot Meursault Tessons Clos de mon Plaisir. Rich and powerful, this was full of pears and apple notes and flavors carried on a surprisingly light frame that ended with a crunchy finish. "I want something bigger!" my friend called out, and someone offered the 2004 Coche Dury Puligny Montrachet Enseignieres. Compared to the Roulot, we weren't even in a different world, we were in a completely different universe. Ooooh, HUGE nose offers funky lemons, pears, apples and almonds, with a spicy richness and flowery perfume that I couldn’t turn my nose from. The palate was big, with a soft opulence that carried the fruit and the acidity on a well-balanced structure that ended with a long, mouth-filling and mouth-coating finish.

By now it was 4am and we pondered the wisdom of visiting the Pickwick Arms for some beers, but saner heads than mine prevailed and I stumbled back to my room.

God, I love Burgundy!!!!