To Burgundy and Back Again: 2018 Hospices de Beaune

Last year, on the third Sunday of November, the 158th annual wine auction was held at the Hospices de Beaune. People from all over the world meet in the historic walled city of Beaune, the “wine capital of Burgundy.” It is a treasure trove of medieval and renaissance architecture. There are still ramparts and a moat and battlements, fortresses and castles of the Dukes of Burgundy and the royal fortress of the Chateau de Beaune built in the 15th century for King Louis XI.

In the center of this bustling metropolis of 20,000 people is the Hospices de Beaune, a flamboyant masterpiece of Gothic architecture capped with a glorious roof of polychromed tile. This is a free hospital for the citizens of Burgundy. It opened in 1452 as the region was recovering from the dual ravages of the black pague and the enduring misery of the Hundred Years war.  Over many generations, winegrowers have donated fine vineyards to this great institution. The annual auction of wine by the barrels refills the coffers.  It is a great event and an excuse for the world of wine to meet in Beaune and party.
This particular year, I was there for a very quick week. Arrived Thursday the 15th and went to “La Releve – Salon de Jeunes Vignerons”.  A new generation of very young winemakers, the next generation of historic domaines. Everyone was about 25 years old. The domaines included Pascal Bouley, Chavy-Chouet, Y. Clerget, Philippe Colin, Topiary, Simon Colin, Edmond Cornu, Michel Niellon, Dufouleur, Arnaud Ente, J-M Gaunoux, Henri Germain, Maison Goichot, Alain Gras, Henri Delagrange, Joblot, J-L Joillot, Lucien Muzard, F & L Pillot, J-M Pillot, J-C Ramonet, Arnoux Pere et Fils, Caroline Morey & PYCM, Lafouge, Geantet-Pansiot, Confuron-Gindre and on and on… and on.
I then had dinner at La Superbe where I saw a Burgundy exporter with whom I work, having dinner with some of her best clients from Hong Kong, Singapore and Amsterdam. We shared greetings and a glass of champagne. I claimed the seat I had reserved at the counter and had scallops in the shell with chorizo and 2014 J-M Roulot Bourgogne Blanc. Crispy sweetbreads with girolles in creme and a glass of 2012 Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Guettes”. Pavlova for dessert. Great food and very good wine by the glass.
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A spooky, foggy Friday in Morey-Saint-Denis.

On a spooky, foggy Friday, I went to Morey-Saint-Denis. It was almost raining and very damp, good for growing mushrooms. The weather is always like this around the Hospices auction. I tasted at a couple of my favorite domaines including Dujac. (I wish I could buy more of their wines.) Beautiful 2017’s, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Combottes, Vosne-Romanee er Cru Malconsorts, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint Denis – almost painfully beautiful. Two thousand seventeen is a lovely and transparent vintage and finally, a plentiful one. The barrels in the cellars are once again full of wine. 

My old friend Pascal Marchand picked me up and we met his wife Amandine at a fantastic Nuits-Saint-Georges restaurant La Cabotte. You always see great winegrowers there and the Friday before the auction it was fully booked. I saw Thibault Liger-Belair and Nicolas Faure and Marie-Andrew and Marie-Christine Mugneret-Gibourg. They all got to try Nicolas Faure’s wonderful Aloxe-Corton. His domaine is all of one hectare and none of them had heard of him or tried his wine. They approved. He was thrilled to get praise from this illustrious group.

Then, I went back to Marchand-Tawse and tasted the 2017’s with Swedish buyers for the government monopoly. Very nice line up at Marchand-Tawse. Pascal asked me to come back the next day and taste the grand crus. The Swedish monopoly rarely buys any expensive wines so he did not present them to taste. My cab driver told me if I wanted to go from Beaune to Nuits-Saint-Georges on Saturday I would have to take the train because of the first day of “yellow vest” protest, the “gilets jaunes.” He was planning to stay home in Dijon with his wife and kids. As it turned out Pascal drove there in record time – because there were no police on the road.

Went to Beaune, met my friends at Becky Wasserman and Company and we drove to the Chateau de Bligny to taste 2017 & 2018 Maison des Joncs with winemaker Jae Okchu. Originally from Korea, she works at Domaine d’Eugenie during the day and is doing her own micro-domaine thing at Dominique Lafon’s custom crush facility. I had two nice 2017 reds, a Cote de Nuits Village and a Savigny les Beaune and a a 2018 red and white.  Her wines have a lovely purity and presence. I am excited to be getting ten cases of each wine, beautiful, pure, natural wines. Arriving soon with Nicolas Faure’s 2017’s.

Then, I went to a wonderful party. Everyone was there except Denis Bachelet and Aubert de Villaine. Well, to tell the truth Lalou Bize-Leroy was not there either. Everyone else was, including Santa Barbarian Jim Clendenen. Alain Gras brought a terrine of woodcock decorated with the head and wings. Olivier Merlin tucked the wings into his glasses and they looked like rabbit ears. He is a very fun man who enjoys a party.  Jean-Marc Roulot and Dominique Lafon and I were drinking Olivier Lamy’s 2010 Saint Aubin “Derriere Chez Edouard” and they said it was the best white wine there.  Olivier Lamy blushed and looked sheepish. The two kings of white burgundy giving him praise. A good time was had by all.

Saturday morning was the tasting at the Hospices de Beaune. I really enjoyed the 2018 reds and whites. Many people were talking red, but Benjamin Leroux and I both really like the whites, especially the Corton-Vergennes Cuvee Paul Chanson and the Meursault-Charmes Cuvee Albert Grivault which is from the very top of the vineyard next to Meursault-Perrieres. I liked the Volnay 1er Cru General Muteau, Corton Cuvee Charlotte Dumay and the Mazis-Chambertin Cuvee Madeleine Collignon. Ben ended up buying two barrels of the Cuvee Albert Grivault. A friend bought a barrel of this in 2015 and Pierre-Yves Colin did a beautiful job on the elevage.

Saturday night I had dinner with Pascal Marchand at the wonderful Japanese restaurant Bissoh. Amazing food. Tuna Rossini, broiled tuna topped with foie gras. A Poulet de Bresse chicken leg cut off the bone and cooked tataki style. Had a bottle of Prevost Rose Champagne Fac-Similie from the first vintage, It was fabulous. A young man came over and asked who we were.  I told him I was a caviste from NY and that we had a shop in San Francisco too. He said, “Oh, you sell all of our wines.” He was a Perrin, from Beaucastel. He was with a young woman from Vieux Telegraphe, a Torres and the people from Vega Sicilia. Hospices weekend.

Sunday there was a wonderful, simple luncheon before the auction, lentils & sausages.  I brought a bottle of 1993 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru and my hosts told me that I should bring a bottle to the Paulee de Meursault on Monday. So I did.  Went to the auction and got shut out. Again. A friend got a barrel of Clos de la Roche and Ben Leroux got his Meursault-Charmes.

Sunday night was back to Bissoh, I had reserved a seat at the bar. Ended up having dinner with a Burgundy exporter, a young geologist from Santa Barbara, a friend from NY who is studying in Dijon, a collector from China and the owner/winemaker Egon Muller IV of Scharzhofberg fame. He showed us all photos of the trockenbeerenauslese grapes from the 2018 harvest and explained how difficult it is to make such a labor intensive wine. He also said that making eiswein was easy, you just had to get up very early and pick frozen grapes on the cold, dark hillside. It as fascinating to spend time with a great German winegrower in Burgundy and the typical kind of thing that happens during the crazy Hospices week.

Monday was the Paulee de Meursault, the annual party for the Burgundy growers that was founded in the mid-1920’s by Comte Lafon of Meursault. It is one of the few occasions where the growers get to see each other and share their best wines. The lunch starts at noon and ends around seven. There were almost 700 guests packed into the Chateau de Meursault.

The Paulee de Meursault used to award a barrel of Meursault to the author of the best book written about Burgundy the year previous. Many wine authors lament the fact this entire barrel is no longer awarded but the “Laureate” does get a nice parcel of Meursault and this year’s was donated by Domaine Latour-Giraud.  There is a literary prize, a scientific prize, a philosophy prize and an award to a Meursault producer. Or two. Or three. These honored Meursault producers then open the doors to their caves after the seven or eight hour lunch and continue this dionysian revel.
The guest of honor this year was prolific author Irene Frain. She is a novelist, journalist and historian, author of thirty-three books, countless essays and works of journalism. She taught at the University of la Sorbonne.  She was honored for her life’s work, fiction and non-fiction works and many social causes, particularly dealing with women’s rights and economic equality for women.  She has written about Simone de Beauvoir, Marie Curie and Phoolan Devi, the Indian bandit woman who terrorized India between 1981 and 1983.  She is an amazing author.
The food started with a foie gras dish.  Then a lovely fish, Daurade Royal.  Navarin de homard. Charolais beef.  Three cheeses.  A chocolate passion fruit dessert. Coffee. A Dionysian revel.

People bring big bottles. I had a magnum of 1999 J.F. Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Fuees”. I went with an old friend from Saint Louis and Peter Burroughs from Becky Wasserman & Co. and a fascinating German businessman who has decided to take the wine business class at the Lycee Viticole in Bordeaux. At the age of 66. He brought some fabulous wines, 2002 Rousseau Clos St Jacques, 2001 De Vogue Musigny, 2001 De Vogue Musigny, etc.  Benjamin Leroux brought some really big bottles, six liters.

Sitting behind me was Carlton McCoy Jr. the chef sommelier from The Little Nell in Aspen, CO. He was with a gentleman from Arkansas named Graylon who had just bought Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley. We ended up going to La Colombiere later that night for a late night supper, a bottle of Prevost Rose Fac-Simile, a bottle of 2012 De Montille Pommard Rugiens and a 2007 L-M Liger Belair Vosne Romanee 1er Cru “Reignots”. Quite a night!

Not bad for a quick week in Beaune!

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