About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Aged Red Burgundy

Our monthly wine group returned once again this week to the The Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, NJ. for this month’s tasting.  Howard was responsible for the wine and he selected aged red Burgundy Crus for the evening.  He selections, which included one Premier Cru and 4 Grand Crus provided for a most enjoyable tasting.
I am a big collector of both red and white Burgundy.  I find the wines to be very feminine and elegant in style and simply delicious to drink.  Since there are only two grapes in Burgundy, Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white, it would seem that the region would be simple to understand.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  The various plots of vineyards and their location (the terroir) make an enormous difference, both in the quality of the wine and its price.  A matter of a few feet in a vineyard can make a huge difference in both. Along with grape selection, they also determine which of the four possible classifications the wine falls into.

The top appellation in Burgundy is Grand Cru. These vineyards were established and documented by monks centuries ago, and formally recognized in 1861. The combinations of soil, exposure, rain, wind and sun provide exceptional terroir. Only 33 vineyards in Burgundy have this designation. 32 of these vineyards are located in the Cote d’Or, the remaining Grand Cru vineyard is found in Chablis. Of these prestigious vineyards, 24 grow Pinot Noir grapes, and 9 grow Chardonnay grapes.

Grand Cru wines produced by these grapes account for less than 2% of the wine production from Burgundy each year, making these wines rare, highly sought after, and expensive.  Only the name of the vineyard appears on a bottle of Grand Cru wine.  Grand Cru wines command the highest market price.  Rarely will you find a Grand Cru Burgundy for less than 3 figures, and in exceptional vintages 4 figures is quite common.

The Premier Cru appellation identifies single vineyards that have terroirs with the potential for exceptional wines. These vineyards were also established and documented by the monks who, for centuries, made wine from the grapes grown in them. They were officially designed as such in 1935 when the present day AOC system was created.

Widely misunderstood as a measure of quality, the AOC laws are really a guarantee of authenticity. In other words, they ensure that the wine in the bottle actually comes from the place stated on the label, and adheres to a set of winemaking regulations. Often, the best Premier Crus can equal the quality of Grand Crus at a much lesser cost.  Premier Crus account for about 11% of Burgundy’s annual production.

Village wines are produced by grapes grown around the name of the village identified on the label. Village wines are blended from grapes grown in multiple vineyards. While these vineyards do not have the terroir of either the Grand or Premier Cru appellations, and are not as likely to produce grapes that make exceptional wine, the wines are recognized as of consistently superior quality, and are very affordable, usually in the $25 to $40 price range.  There are 44 village (or communal) appellations in Burgundy. These village wines account for 34% of Burgundy’s annual production.

Regional wines (Bourgogne) are made from blends of grapes grown in vineyards within the Burgundy region.  A regional wine can be named after the region that it comes from, such as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Hautes–Côtes de Nuits. Often these wines are simply labeled Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Rouge and offer amazing value, usually in the $20 to $30 price range.  There are 22 Regional appellations that produce 52% of Burgundy’s total annual production.

Howard’s selections for the evening:

1988 Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Volnay “Champans” Grand Cru.  The Rare Wine Co. comments on Volnay thusly, “Nothing demonstrates red Burgundy’s magic like great Volnay, with its enveloping aromatic complexity, silky texture and tremendous aging potential”. Champans is a Premier Cru climat of the Volnay appellation in the Cote de Beaune which yields impressive wines.  This bottle had a pronounced and pleasant barnyard bouquet on the nose and palate. However, the lush fruit typical of Volnay wines never showed up.  I kept wine in the glass throughout the dinner hoping the fruit would appear, but alas in never did. The 2011 vintage is available at around $120. Wine Searcher.

1999 Domaine Faiveley Chambertin Clos De Beze Grand Cru.  The wines of Domaine Faiveley are widely recognized for being among the finest produced in Burgundy.  Tonight’s bottle lived up to that recognition.  It drank very well, beginning with an enticing bouquet; vibrant fruit, balance, complexity, finesse and an elegant finish.  A good example of Grand Cru Burgundy at its best. $250. NY Wine Warehouse.

1991 Domaine Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru.  Another classy wine from this producer.  Soft tannins and loads of “terroir” enticed the palate with each sip.  Finish was long and elegant.  I felt that this was the wine that drank the best on this night, as well has having the longest future ahead of it.  A great wine that will be very hard to find.  The 2010 vintage however at $230 is available at The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.

1989 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru.  A new producer for me.  The wine was quite nice with rich, ripe fruit and good focus on the palate.  It lacked however the depth and finesse of the previous wine.  This vintage does not appear to be available, but the 2010 vintage at $168 is available. Wine Searcher

1985 Thomas Freres Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru.  Another new producer for me.  This wine from the famous and highly regarded Grands-Echezeaux climat unfortunately was oxidized and really not drinkable.

Great wines are always enhanced by great food, and I am happy to report that tonight’s meal was outstanding.  We thoroughly enjoyed:

Tortelloni w/ potato, mortadella, parsley, black truffle, parmesan
Niman Ranch Pork, Fingerling Potatoes, broccoli rabe, artichoke, parmesan, vinegar peppers
Veal Scallopine, Anson mills polenta, wax beans, osso bucco, tomato soffrito, escarole

Not pictured, but also very much enjoyed was Pappardelle with wild mushrooms, escarole, chicken oysters, rosemary, fontina cream and Risotto with mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, parsley, lemon aioli.

Thanks again Howard for a wonderful evening with older Burgundy Crus.


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