Friday, May 18, 2012

Europe - Part Deux

One of the beauties of our European buying trips is that our vintner hosts have an excuse to go big in the name of hospitality. By and large, these are not fancy people who regularly indulge in extravagant meals or sip Romanée-Conti on a Tuesday night. In Burgundy, most are closer to what one might think of as a romantic expression of a French famer refueling with a wedge of cheese, some pâté and a baguette and a glass of simple village wine. But when the Americans show up ready to plunk down dollars for the new vintage, things get a little more interesting.

What the growers lack in terms of a grand château or aristocratic bearings, they make up for with their secret weapon: the cellar. Most of the wineries we visit are multi-generational with a collection that stretches back decades. One senses the pride some of the younger guys get when they open a bottle made by their father or grandfather. And it’s always a good sign when a grower asks a member of our group, “What year were you born?”

One such display was in effect at Frédéric Magnien’s domaine in Morey-St.-Denis. After tasting through about four dozen of his 2010 and 2011 barrel samples – the man makes a staggering amount of small-batch bottlings – it was time for a lunch none of us will soon forget. The food itself was incredible. One of Fred’s best friends is an immensely talented chef, plating up courses that included local escargots in a pumpkin purée and chilled lobster tail in a curry cream sauce. But once the conversation got flowing and Fred realized this was a group deeply passionate about Burgundy, it was all about the wine.

It started out innocently enough with an ’04 Chassagne-Montrachet “Maltroie”, ’05 Meursault “Genevrières” and ’05 Morey-St.-Denis “Larrets” to pair with lunch. It then got very serious, very quickly. ’04 Le Montrachet, ’96 Chassagne “Maltroie”, ’07 Echezeaux, ’05 Clos de Beze (in screwcap!), ’03 Chambolle-Charmes, ’01 Charmes-Chambertin, ’98 Bonnes-Marres. And as if to leave us thoroughly mind-boggled, a “basic” village-level Morey-St.-Denis from 1971 that tasted like a dream involving palm fronds and South Pacific women.

It is difficult to describe the impact that such a lineup has on fans of aged Burgundy. It’s rare that we get to experience one or two Grand Cru directly from the cellar, let alone a lineup like what was poured for us that afternoon. It’s both a testament to Fred’s generosity and the winemaking talent of him and his father. It also reaffirmed our belief – which has never been in doubt really – that any conversation about the world’s most beautiful wines has to involve the magical soil of Burgundy.

--Rhett Gadke
Wine Director

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