On the Trail

After Hours Burgundy

Gary Westby
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This past Tuesday the Redwood City and auction department staff got together for a tasting that focused on the evolution of Burgundy over time. I spent the better part of the year pulling inexpensive Burgundy from our old and rare department for the event, and I am happy to say that the group of wines showed really quite well. Of course, since it was Burgundy, the tasting was loaded with surprises!

As folks were arriving we started off with a glass of Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne from a magnum that I had cellared for five years. I didn’t want to stray from the theme of older bottles, but this was still so fresh that it was hard to tell that it was old. It was only more integrated, textural and balanced than the current release, with no sacrifice of freshness. If you have space in your cellar, magnums of good quality non-vintage are one of the best things that you can lay down for the short term.

After we had all assembled and sat down, we began the tasting with the youngest reds, and moved into the oldest. At trade tastings in Burgundy and in France in general, it is common practice to start with the reds and then move onto the whites. Unlike a dinner, where the more delicate fish courses call for white wine to start, at a tasting without food pairings it is a good strategy to start with reds, particularly if there is a lot of wine to taste. The first white refreshes the palate, and even if you feel tired from tasting reds, it is easy to keep going.

From the 2000’s we had five reds, starting at eleven years old with the 2006 Domaine de la Vougeraie Nuits-St.-George 1er Cru "Les Corvées Paget". Luckily, Muriel Sarik from our customer service team was in attendance, and lots of good insights for us on this biodynamic property, as she had worked for them in the past. This wine was still very young, with classic dark fruit and some unresolved tannin. It was the biggest, densest wine of the night by far.

We then moved on to the 2005 Domaine Camus Bruchon Savigny-lès-Beaune, a wine that sold for well under $30 at release. This too was far too fresh to call old, and a few of the group felt that it could benefit from even more time. I found this twelve year old to have great texture, and open knit red fruit personality, and plenty of lively refreshment. I wished that I had my Sunday roast chicken in front of me to eat with this marvelous drink. Note to self, age more modest village Burgundy from good producers for longer!

I had been looking forward to tasting the 2004 Domaine Robert Chevillon Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru "Pruliers” and was surprised at how advanced it was. Since 2004 is my wedding year, my wife Cinnamon and I have drunk a lot of it. A lot of Burgundy lovers put down the 2004’s as being green and lean, but both my wife and I are very forgiving of those characteristics, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that in general we really like the vintage. It is usually very fairly priced as well. The Chevillon was much more advanced and savory than other wine that we have had from 2004, even much lower priced and less famous offerings. This was a tarry Nuits with lots of porcini and quite a bit of density, but rather little snap or focus.

The little 2002 Domaine Besson Givry 1er Cru "Grands Pretans" Vieilles Vignes was Clarissa in our auction departments surprise of the night, but this time for how bright and lively it was. I don’t know if the folks at Besson thought that anyone would keep this so long, but I am sure that they would have been thrilled at how well it showed. The crunchy, cranberry fruit was very well preserved in this super tasty bottle, and besides from being richer and weightier than what one would expect in current release, it had not aged much at all!

Jordan Stone, from our phone crew here in Redwood City called out the 2002 Philippe et Vincent Lecheneaut Marsannay "Les Sampagny" as his favorite wine of the night, and Sean from auctions called it his surprise of the night. I agree that it had a tremendous amount going for it, and it was a great advertisement for cellaring the best producers (think Domaine Bart) from this underrated village. It was loaded with dark fruit and framed by subtle black truffle complexity, and still had a good bit of tannic structure to go with its lively acidity. This was full bodied stuff, and I couldn’t help wishing for a big confit duck leg over a bowl of lentils to go with it!

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The wine of the night for three of our crew was the outstanding 1999 Domaine Daniel Rion Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru "Les Beaux-Monts” that Jeff Garneu generously pulled from his own collection. It was an example of Burgundy breeding for sure, from a great vintage that was just now entering prime time for drinking. It had a super generous nose of intoxicating, catnip like oak and perfect Pinot dark cherry fruit. In the mouth it was full, silky and rich with a finish that expanded and fanned out in true peacock tail fashion. What a bottle!

Our only poor showing for the night was the 1995 Domaine Marius Delarche Corton Renardes Grand Cru that Jeff had also brought. Although many at the tasting appreciated its savor, it had a little bit too much soy and decay for most of us. Too bad, but was this was this a bad bottle or did something go wrong at the winery? Hard to say, but that's Burgundy.

My red surprise of the night and Sean Fernandez’s wine of the night was the 1987 Domaine Aleth Girardin Pommard 1er Cru "Rugiens". This vintage has a bad reputation for being thin and acidic, but I have had great luck with 1987’s over the past few years. Acidity is a good preservative, and Burgundy does put on weight with time! This had shockingly pure red fruit on the nose for a thirty year old wine, with solid medium body and a very bright and long finish. Impressive.

The 1988 Domaine Jean Tardy Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru "Les Boudots" was Jeff Garneu’s surprise red of the night, and it showed almost as much breed as the 1999 Beaumonts. This was from the period that Tardy sharecropped Domaine Meo Camuzet’s plot of Budots, a very nice parcel of old vines indeed. This vineyard abuts Malconsorts, and it would be easy to throw a ball from Budots over Malconsorts and into La Tache! This had great dark cherry fruit and excellent length from the lively acidity. I wish I had another bottle to have with Dijon braised rabbit!

Sadly, we had one corked bottle, a perfectly filled, beautifully ruby 1979 Domaine A. Ropiteau-Mignon Monthelie 1er Cru "Les Duresses". Domage! From the same collection, the 1979 Domaine A. Ropiteau-Mignon Beaune Rouge "Grèves" was my wine of the night and Andrew Nunes from our auction department’s surprise of the night. This vintage has always been over shadowed by 1978, but if it hadn’t been next to such a legend, I think that collectors would talk more about it. This was the first of the wines that I found tasted like real old Burgundy, loaded with savory, chanterelle framed red fruit, buzzing with energy and encyclopedic in complexity. Like all great Burgundy, writing about it seems like a silly exercise.

The 1971 Domaine Senard Corton "Clos des Meix" was the wine of the night for Alex Schroeder on the Redwood City sales floor. It is easy to see why he liked it so much, this was blood making Grand Cru in every way, with fantastic richness, savory rainier cherry fruit and an intricate, complex finish that many more expensive producers would envy. It was the oldest wine in the tasting, but definitely not the oldest tasting, with good freshness for further cellaring. If only we could have had it with boeuf bourguignon!

Our first white was the unanimous surprise of the night, the 2000 Dom. Jean-Marc Boillot Rully 1er Cru "Mont Palais". Stephanie from Redwood City and Clarissa from auctions also had it down as their outright wine of the night, with Clarissa noting that it was just the most exciting offering. This was the kind of white Burgundy that reminds one why so many wine makers in California want to make big Chardonnay. It can be so good. While I don’t think that the folks at Boillot imagined that anyone would cellar this so long, the collector that our Old and Rare team sourced this from obviously cellared it perfectly. This was still bright white gold in color, and hade fantastic mineral tinged acidity to balance its broad, buttery, full bodied mid-palate. Wow.

What would an old Burgundy tasting be without a bit of premature oxidation? The 2000 Château de la Maltroye Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clos du Château Maltroye" Blanc that we tried was nutty, and still interesting, but definitely far passed its prime. What a shame!

The last addition to our tasting was an incredible, once-in-a-liftime bottle of 2004 Coche Dury Puligny-Montrachet "Les Enseignères". This great Chardonnay was the high note that we ended on, and I cannot thank Molly, our auction and old and rare director enough for bringing it. Usually a bottle like this has expectations so high placed on it that it is only possible for it to disappoint, but this bottle had no problem living up to and surpassing those expectations. Les Enseignères is a village level plot that is in both Chassagne and Puligny, located immediately below Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and fancied as better than many premier crus. Bottles like this connect with me on such an emotional level that it is hard to turn the impressions into words. Most of the staff, when asked for their wine of the night simply found this to be in a separate category…and it was! The color still had a flash of green at thirteen years old, and the nose had both pure lime and lovely fromage fort elements in perfect harmony. The texture was full and expansive, but the refreshment was on the level of Mesnil blanc de blancs. I won’t ever forget it!

It was a great night, and I hope that I am sure that a few of the staff caught the bad habit of Burgundy collecting over the course of it. They are wines worth the patience required!

-Gary Westby