A Week In Burgundy With John Truax (Part 3)

A Week In Burgundy With John Truax (Part 3)

SATURDAY November 14TH

Saturday the tragic events in Paris cast a pallor and sense of uneasiness over the celebratory mood. Some questioned whether the auction would even be held. Would the party at the Clos Vougeot be cancelled? The Paulee de Meursault? People responded in different ways, a somber tribute of music at one dinner, declarations of freedom and solidarity and patriotism.

We had coffee and a croissant at our apartment and hurried through Beaune’s crowded center. Stands were set up on every side street selling oysters, sandwiches, antique winemaking equipment, glasses, decanters, trinkets, hot dogs, bahn mi, pizza, pasta, snails and what have you. The cobbled streets were crowded with vendors taking advantage of this great influx of people from all over the world effectively doubling their customer base for one Saturday. We crossed the square where normally the Saturday market would be set up and went to the main entrance of the 15th century Hotel de Dieu, passed through security (tighter than usual) and went into the magnificent inner courtyard of this architectural masterpiece of the Middle ages.

We passed into the tasting hall and once again marveled at the medieval splendor of these rooms, the unique reddish-brown and white floor tiles emblazoned with the elaborate monogram of Nicolas Rollin, founder of the Hospices de Beaune and the vast collection of portraits depicting the many donors of vineyards over the centuries since the hospital was founded in 1443. A massive altarpiece dominates one end of the hall, Roger van der Weyden’s “Last Judgment” commissioned in 1452 by Chancellor Rollin and his wife, Guigone de Salins. Originally it was installed where the sick beds were situated so that the deathly ill patients could attend mass where they lay. It is a great masterpiece of the early Renaissance and influenced many later artworks including paintings by Hiermonyus Bosch, Michelangelo and Peter Paul Rubens.

We had arrived early to the tasting and met the newly appointed regisseur, the thirty-seven year-old Ludivine Griveau, who is the first woman winemaker in the history of the Hospices de Beaune. Her training as a technical viticulturist, agronomist and winemaker has well prepared her to oversee the 150 acres of vines, harvest and vinification. She is very enthusiastic about the 2015 vintage for both red and white wines, a great gift for her first harvest. She is obviously thrilled to start her tenure with such a fantastic vintage. I asked her about the Chablis, a new donation to the Hospices. How did they get the grapes down to the winemaking facility in Beaune? With great pride and excitement Ludivine explained that she had gone to Chablis to oversee the harvest and had personally driven the grapes down to Beaune in a refrigerated truck. I always want to know these seemingly mundane details. My friend Jay was interested in buying a barrel of white so we started with the 15 whites on offer. My (always) brief notes are even more so than normal because we had limited time to taste and the room was filled quickly with a crowd of people. Some people take long and detailed notes while tasting and I have never been able to do this. I write down brief impressions in a sort of personal shorthand that means something to me and if I really like something I may add some asterisks or a check mark or a smiley face. If I find a wine particularly unpleasant my notes will end with something derogatory. 

Saint-Romain, Cuvee Joseph Menault - Medium bodied, lovely, long finish
Pouilly-Fuisse, Cuvee Francois Poisard - light, fragrant, very nice
Chablis 1er Cru, Cote de Lechet, Cuvee Jean-Marc Brocard - Mineral, pure, clean, correct, very “chablis”
Beaune Blanc 1er Cru Les Montrevenots Cuvee Suzanne et Raymond - rich, full, robust ***
Meursault, Cuvee Loppin - full, rich, very good.
Meursault, Cuvee Goureau - good, good structure and poise, lean compared to the previous wine.
Meursault 1er Cru Porusots, Cuvee Jehan Humblot - full, rich, sweet fruit, very good.
Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru, Cuvee Baudot - full, rich, very fine **

In contrast to my terse notes punctuated with asterisks - here is a tasting note that Anthony Hanson MW wrote for the Baudot Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru: “Pale green-gold, with pungently fragrant, rich aromas.  All sugars have finished fermenting, revealing a creamily textured, intensely fruity wine, with nutty aftertaste.”  After all, he is a Master of Wine.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru, Cuvee Philippe le Bon - odd, disjointed, harsh, not as “together” or harmonious
Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru, Cuvee Bahezre de Lanlay - Full, rich, great mouthweight, very long finish.
Meursault Charmes 1er Cru, Cuvee Albert Grivault - from a parcel in Charmes just below Albert Grivault’s famed “Clos des Perrieres” - Soaring aromatics, very sweet fruit, funky mid-palate, long finish. Out of sync? 

But Jay loved it, by the way. So did Pascal Marchand. Jay ended up buying a barrel and Pierre-Yves Colin will do the elevage… I hope I get some!

Corton-Vergennes Grand Cru, Cuvee Paul Chanson - Sweet fruit with a funky element in the mod-palate and a very long finish. A fascinating and rare wine that used to be all Pinot Blanc but I believe is all Chardonnay now.
Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cuvee Roi Soleil - Very intriguing aromatics of white flowers and cinnamon and aromatic spices, wound up very tight, lots of dynamic tension. Very powerful. A lovely wine I would like to try again someday.
Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cuvee Francois de Salins - Very sweet fruit but somehow lacking depth and length of finish.
Batard Montrachet Grand Cru, Cuvee Dames de Flandres - Big, rich, powerful.

Then we tasted reds. People are excited about the 2015 vintage for both red and white.

Monthelie 1er Cru Cuvee Lebelin - Nice, simple, forest floor “sous bois”
Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Fouquerand - good fruit, astringent finish
Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Arthur Girard - Deep color, perfumed, like anise, great fruit, very fine
Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Vergelesses Cuvee Forneret - Big, rich, full-bodied and long
Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Cuvee Rameau Lamarosse - very powerful, rich, perfumed.
Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Les Duresses Cuvee Boillot - simple, but interesting. Light bodied.
Beaune 1er Cru Les Montrevenots Cuvee Cyrot-Chaudron - good fruit, brambly, sous bois*
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Maurice Drouhin - Rich and sweet - very nice*
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Hugues et Louis Betault - funky, OK, dryish
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Brunet - very sweet fruit, good length, very nice*
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Pierre Floquet - very sweet fruit, good length, very complete
Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Avaux - Sweet fruit, rich, astringent finish
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Rousseau-Deslandes - Deep color, rich fruit, great length, noticeable tannins, a big wine
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Dames Hospitalieres - very sweet fruit, very complete, very very fine*
Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Guigone de Salins - great cherry fruit, long finish, very complete and rich
Beaune 1er Cru Nicolas Rolin - deep color, concentrated, long finish
Volnay 1er Cru Cuvee General Muteau - deep purple red, rich fruit, ripe tannins, long finish.*
Volnay 1er Cru Cuvee Blondeau - deep purple red, full bodied, rich, long.  Great volnay!

I tried as many of the reds as I could before we rushed out of the tasting and went out to meet the rest of our group. The five of us were driving to Volnay to taste at Domaine Lafarge and Domaine d’Angerville. I wished I had tried to get to the Grand Crus before the room became hopelessly crowded, but I wanted to try all of the whites first. Looked to grab something quick to eat from the various market stands.  Saw a hot dog vendor but they hadn’t turned on the heat. Rather than a cold hot dog I went to a sandwich stand and in a few minutes had a warm ham and cheese sandwich – it was fast enough for even an impatient New Yorker! We drove on the beautiful road lined with plane trees that leads out of Beaune. After some mobile phone chatter we met two of our party outside of the car rental and were off on the picturesque D973 through Meursault and on to Volnay.

We arrived at Domaine Lafarge around 11:00 am and were met by Chantal and Frederic Lafarge. Domaine Lafarge’s 12-hectare estate was founded in the early 20th century and first bottled at the domaine in 1934. Frederic’s father Michel first began practicing organic farming long ago because he was in his vineyards everyday and didn’t want to breathe poison. He is now a robust 88 years old. By the 1990’s they were moving towards biodynamic viticulture, today the labels have Demeter certification although the estate has been “bio” since 2000. We took the elevator down to the most atmospheric cellar in Burgundy, some of which dates to the 13th Century.  This is a wonderfully claustrophobic, cold, humid and moldy aging cellar, with casks and bottles strewn everywhere. A place well in tune with their native microorganisms!

We first tasted from bottle a very exciting trio of wines I had been waiting for - a new project from Beaujolais called Lafarge-Vial. Chantal’s maiden name was Vial. A 2014 Chiroubles and two Fleuries. The Chiroubles is sourced from vines planted in the 1970’s. It has dark fruit, good weight in the mouth - delicious. The Fleurie Bel Air comes from a parcel right next to the cuverie on the property, it was planted in the 1930’s and 1950’s. It is elegant Cru Beaujolais, complex, good weight and steady finish. The Fleurie Clos Vernay was much more powerful, tasting of the granite rich soil in this vineyard. Ancient oak trees surround the vineyard, and the vines were planted in 1970 and 1985. It is a long term Cru Beaujolais. While I am sure these will be expensive (like Foillard or Metras) there will be lots of interest.

Lafarge often makes two versions of Aligote, Meursault, Passetoutgrains but because of terrible hailstorms there is only one of each wine. In addition the Bourgogne Rouge 2014 contains all of the Cote de Nuits Villages and Pommard Pezzeroles. Hail has been a terrible problem in Volnay in recent vintages. Frederic said that if you add up the harvests of 2011 + 2012 + 2013 = 2009’s large crop. Frederic further said that 2013 was a difficult vintage but a very good vintage - a late flowering, then very humid, very slow development, a difficult June and July followed by better and better weather in August and September and an October harvest. He said that 2014 is elegant and rich like 1966 and has the depth of 1978.  Then he said this:
“2013 is a very good vintage.
2014 is a great vintage.
2015 is a vintage that you hope to see once or twice in a lifetime.”

Aligote Raisins Dores - Good crisp fruit, citrus aromas, saline finish - a complex and wonderful bargain of Burgundy.  75 year-old vines of a low yielding variety of Aligote which is seldom planted these days except by the best growers only Ramonet, d’Auvenay, de Villaine, Ente, etc.
2014 Meursault - really nice, fresh, crisp, simple, well balanced Meursault with good mouthweight. This is a very good wine for mid term drinking.
2014 Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Aigrots Blanc - Only one barrel instead of 6. Floral, like chardonnay blossoms and white flowers, good mouthweight, pure, rich, good long finish. A very good wine that will be nearly impossible to find.
2014 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain L’Exception - 50/50 Gamay/Pinot Noir from 85 year old vines. This is a serious wine - great aromas, crunchy fruit, good body, tannin, astringence, a crisp finish. Like the Aligote and Bourgogne, a great bargain for Burgundy lovers!
2014 Bourgogne Pinot Noir - Light red berry fruit, pure, tannic, astringent, good body, great value. Made from 40+ year old vines that used to be classified as Volnay Villages plus this vintage includes all of the Cote de Nuits Village and Pommard Pezzerolles.
2014 Volnay - From Volnay vineyards outside of the village close to the borders of Pommard and Meursault. Fragrant red fruits, firm, very pure, long finish.
2014 Volnay Vendanges Selecionnees - from 4 vineyards in the village of Volnay, primarily red fruit on the nose, good mouthweight, long astringent finish. Wine for long term.
2014 Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Aigrots - Frederic says that this vineyard has the kind of clay with gravel that has good drainage - The wine has black fruit, really dense crunchy fruit with good mouthweight and a long finish. I hope I can try it again someday.
2014 Beaune 1er Cru Greves - from 93 year-old vines. Greves is one of the very best Beaune 1er crus and this is one of them - it has lots of red fruit, it is cool, rich, great body, pure and fine and very refined - top notch wine!
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Mitans - A favorite wine of Frederic’s - very Volnaysien! Pure, cool, like menthol strawberries - nice wine!
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Clos du Chateau des Ducs - This is literally Lafarge’s backyard. They have owned this vineyard for 100 years. There is about a foot of topsoil on top of a layer of gravel and under that is the bedrock which the roots bore into. Pure and rich and fine with very ripe and supple tannin on the finish. Very nice wine.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets - Powerful and full and rich with a tight mineral core.  A long lived wine. Very very refined.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chenes - Mostly red fruit, big, rich, generous and fleshy.

As a farewell, Chantal and Frederic blind tasted us on a bottle of 2008 Mitans that had been opened the day before. It had red fruit and earthy, bramble like aromas.  Good weight. I thought it was a 2010. Very nice wine.

We walked out of Lafarge and walked up the street to the big house at the top of the village of Volnay - Domaine d’Angerville. We strolled into the courtyard and walked past the 18th century house to the backyard - the magnificent 2.4-hectare Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs. It is a most picturesque Burgundy vineyard, a beautiful tilted trapezoidal shape with trees at the top, perfect exposure to the sun and marvel of marvels - a spring in the center of the slope that drains into a creek at the bottom below the vineyard. Guillaume D’Angerville says that this protects the grapes from hydric stress in the hottest of years. 

We walked into the immaculate anteroom to the winery, a groined vaulted ceiling, beautiful stone floors, the walls seemed new although they were centuries old. There was a curious large sink fashioned from an ancient horse trough - it has a clever drain that is channeled down one of the stone legs. Guillaume is constantly improving and maintaining his historic domaine. We went through a door and down a ramp into the cool barrel room beneath the house. He was explaining how after one of the frequent hailstorms that seem to annually plague Volnay the damage to the vines is alleviated by spraying a solution of arnica, valerian and clay which helps to heal the wounds and prevent humidity. This is a biodynamic treatment, Lafarge, Lafon D’Angerville in Volnay and many growers across the Cote d’Or have embraced biodynamic practices in their vineyards. Guillaume further explained that in 2004 he bought a sorting table, previously sorting was done in the vineyard through pruning and selection of grapes to be harvested. Less wine is made but overall quality is greatly improved. We started to taste wines from barrel:

2014 Bourgogne Rouge - pure and bright and clean with bracing acidity
2014 Volnay AC - Bright, clean, pure, someone says “Very Volnay”
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Angles - 6 barrels produced from a vineyard just below Fremiets. Red fruit and spicy, bright, pure, clean with good acidity.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Fremiets - pure rich red raspberry fruit with a lovely saline finish.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets - richer raspberry fruit, tannin and astringency, a bigger wine.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - So named for the sharp stones that used to cut the feet of the vineyard workers - Cool menthol, raspberries, mineral notes and a great dynamic tension and focus.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Champans - Pure bright red fruit, clean, fine, round, curvy, silky. A very complete wine, very harmonious.
2014 Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs - Big, rich, pure, tannic, stunning length and coiled power beneath the fruit. Great wine.

Guillaume went into a locked caged in room off the barrel cellar, the library of old bottles. He came back with a 1991 Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds, one of perhaps half a dozen left from this great yet often overlooked vintage. We sniffed and snuffed, tasted and discussed. A group of five New York wine professionals always have a lot of banter. Not much spitting out of this particular bottle.

We went out into the sunshine and while Guillaume was pointing out the adjacent farmhouses he had recently bought as he consolidates his hold on his particular corner of Volnay we started to discuss lunch. Which is a difficult thing to do in France as the hour approaches 3 PM. Guillaume called the local spot. Impossible, they replied. We tried a popular wine bar in Beaune - La Dilettante - but they were full up and could not accommodate any more people. Guillaume offered to open some cans of food and feed us there but warned that he was a terrible cook. We set off for Beaune.

We drove from Volnay to Beaune and we stopped for a traffic light. I glanced over and exclaimed, "Hey, that's the place I was telling you about!" It was La Dilettante, Lolo's wine bar. Laurent was the longtime sommelier at Caves Madeleine. We parked the car and went in to see if we could get a table or eat at the bar, but the tiny wine bar was packed, every seat was full. There were a bunch of sommeliers from London at a table littered with fancy bottles like La Tache. We asked if there was a chance we could eat at the bar when people left and LoLo relented and told us we could stay.

When you're traveling with four opinionated wine professionals from New York, arguments about what to order are inevitable. We ended up on agreeing on some bottles from the chalkboard wine list. When it came to the next bottle, I pointed out there was a whole shelves full of wine that weren't on the list, but had price tags hanging around the necks of the bottles. Why not get the Freddie Mugnier Fuees for instance? Further discussion ensued and someone championed Roumier Morey St. Denis. We had a nice lunch of wonderful prosciutto, cold salads and cheese. A good time was had by all.

After lunch we headed to another tasting of Domaine Clos Des La Chapelle. The tasting was in some ancient cellar in Beaune that used to belong to Maison Champy.  American financier Mark O'Connell bought a lovely property in Volnay and just kept buying vineyards in Burgundy until his wife admonished him. "We're not buying anymore doggone vineyards!" The O'Connells graciously ushered us along with a group from London and we tasted through their 2014 wines.

Beaune 1er Cru Teurons - rich fruit, tannic finish, very nice.
Volnay 1er Cru En Carelle - sweet fruit, tannic and astringent finish.
Volnay 1er Cru Clos des La Chapelle - was owned by the Church. Was once part of Bousse d'Or. Soil is brownish clay with lots of gravel and has put very sweet fruit, long saline finish.
Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - one half hectare. Dark, rich, tannic, very long finish.
Pommard 1er Cru Les Chanlins TVV  - planted in 1930, one quarter hectare. Really pretty fruit.
Pommard 1er Cru Grands Epenots - very stinky, good fruit, very nice wine.
Corton Rognets - 50% whole cluster, very fine, great fruit, very fine tannins.
Corton Bressandes - .2 hectare. Wow! Very, very fine. Three barrels. 50% whole cluster.
Beaune 1er Cru Reversees Blanc - sweet fruit, fleshy, like peach flesh. Very pure.
2013 Corton Charlemagne on the Pernand Vergelesses side -100% new oak, very fresh, very fine, very persistent with a long, lingering finish. One barrel in 2013.

My cohorts were ready to go off to another tasting and I was exhausted. I also knew they would like some breathing space in the car they rented. Time for a much-needed nap before dinner! I wandered through the narrow cobblestoned streets of Beaune back to my modest efficiency apartment - just a room and a bath off the interior garden courtyard the ground floor of an 18th century house. Lots of Beaune looks exactly as it did hundreds of years ago. If you ignore the cars and modern signage, imagine horses and oxcarts, a world of the Middle ages can come alive in your mind’s eye.

Rosi and Anthony Hanson had graciously invited me to an elegant dinner at the 1243 Bourgogne Society so named because the building was built in 1243. This is a private club in a most impressive building - the convent next to the Hotel Dieu of the Hospices de Beaune. You go through an ancient doorway at the street right just to the left of the Hotel-Dieu and pass through a courtyard open to the sky but enclosed by the walls of the building. To leave the noise and commotion of the street behind and enter another world, a cloistered world of the home of the sisters whose sole duty was to care for the sick in the adjoining hospital. This would be their service to God for the rest of their lives. My footsteps on the gravel path seemed loud in the quiet of the enclosed courtyard. Undoubtedly the architect had designed this transition from one world to another.

On the ground floor there is a foyer, grand salon, a very elegant dining room with a complicated groined vaulted ceiling. In 2012 the 1243 Society was formed to create a wine society for its members. Bernard Hervet of Faiveley founded the club and spearheaded the renovation of the property. This night M. Hervet was hosting a large group in the main dining rooms. Our group was upstairs in a dining room that is called “The Promenoir.” It was once a hallway where the nuns would pass through from their living quarters into the Hotel Dieu to their duties caring for the sick. Apparently there are still three nuns living next door but we didn't see any nuns during our dinner, just lots of collectors from London and Beijing and the people from Christie’s.

I was seated next to the effervescent Rosi Hanson, her husband Anthony was across the table. Seated directly opposite me was Huang Shan, a very beautiful young woman from Beijing. She is the only resident of mainland China studying for her MW.  Her English is quite good, she attended university in Bristol, England. Putting on his very best West Country accent the gregarious David Elswood, Christie’s International wine director had to ask her something about Brissols asking her out on dates during her years at Bristol. I am not sure that either one of us understood quite what he was talking about.

We had a five-course dinner, accompanied by fifteen wines. A private chef was brought in to cook for both our party and Hervet’s group downstairs. We were all served the same wonderful menu. It started with two preparations of foie gras with chutney, then scallops with a butternut squash veloute. A filet mignon of veal with autumn vegetables, cheeses with a salad of lamb's lettuce and a pistachio and raspberry cake with sorbet. What did we drink? 2013 Christian Moreau Chablis les Clos des Hospices, 2005 Hospices de Beaune Meursault Genevrieres Cuvee Philippe le Bon, Criots Batard Montrachet, Savigny les Beaune from the Hospices, Pommard, Cote Rotie, 2002 Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Comtes de Vogue, 1998 Faiveley Echezeaux, 2002 Potel Mazi Chambertin, 2004 DRC Grands Echezeaux. All from Magnum. Oh and then three different Sauternes. 

Halfway through our meal Anthony Hanson stood and announced that we had been invited to join the party downstairs in the grand dining room by Bernard Hervet. Bernard's son Charles is a talented cellist and wanted to play a song as a tribute to the victims of the terror attacks in Paris the night before. He performed a beautiful yet somber solo cello piece by Pablo Casals, “Le Chant des Oiseaux.” It was a very moving performance and a solemn counterpoint to the festive occasion.

 

JB Truax

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