Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Victoria and Albert's Queen Victoria Room: Chef's Table experience sans Chef

Back in the good old days, Florida residents could book the Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's for dinner and, over the years, we have used this privilege to good advantage. Disney has recently modified the Chef's Table requirements, restricting reservations to individuals actually staying at the Grand Floridian Resort. This is a bummer as the environment, staff, food, and service are all impeccable and we loved holding special tasting events at the locale.

Recently it was brought to Ron's attention that the Queen Victoria Room -- an enclosed 8-seater off the main dining room which serves the same menu as at the Chef's Table -- was still available for booking by locals so he set up a dinner and tasting in order to check out its viability as a rotational site for our tasting events. The tasting diner was scheduled, and held, on July 18th and is the subject of this post.

The night had no specific theme -- just bring (good) wine and they would be flighted on location. We were the first to arrive and were welcomed warmly by Israel (the Maître d'Hôtel) and his reception staff. We opted to wait in the reception area until the others arrived so that we would all experience the new locale simultaneously. When Ron, Bev, and Linda arrived, we were ushered into the room.

It is adjoining and to the left of the main dining room but it is a world removed. It stands in stark contrast to the the Chef's Table: Tasteful period decoration, quiet, privacy, enclosed, deficit of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, no sous-chef testosterone on display. I was liking this place already. The table setup and the presentation of our wines further added to the allure.

Traditional setup for Queen Victoria Room
Setup of the room for our event

Ron ordered a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blanc off the list while we wrestled with Israel about the wines that we had brought. His preference is to display/decant all of the wines up front while we are a little more cautious, especially as it relates to older Burgundies. Two of the wines that I had brought -- 2005 Masseto and 2006 Méo-Camuzet -- probably required decanting but we wanted to revisit that at a later time. Ron described the Champagne thusly: Toasty brioche; citrus with a touch of green apple; very refreshing.

At this time Israel stepped to the front of the room to officially welcome us and to introduce the menu. We would be having the same fare as the patrons who were currently at the Chef's Table but he understood all of the dietary restrictions in the room and those would be accommodated in the plates served. A total of 10 courses would be served. The Champagne was paired with the amuse-buche shown below, itself a study in contrasting flavors and textures.

Maine Lobster "jar" with Siberian Osetra Caviar

Upon completion of Israel's intro, we eased into a white Burgundy flight comprised of a 2007 Remoissenet Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatierres and a 1997 Remoissenet Montrachet. They both were gold in color with the Montrachet being just a little darker. The Montrachet exhibited a waxiness on the nose, a slight hint of tropical fruits, and tangerine. Andrew identified a creme brulée character. On the palate a dried-tangerine character with the waxiness on the nose manifesting as an oily texture. Long finish. The Puligny-Montrachet had notes of lime, sage, pepper, and a trace of phenolics. Lean and sharp on the palate with a long, balanced finish. The Montrachet was clearly the class of this pair. This flight was paired with the beautifully constructed Jumbo lump crab shown below.

Jumbo Lump Crab with Cucumber Gelée

We followed up the white Burgs with a red Burgundy flight: 1971 Remoissenet Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, 1966 Leroy Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru, and 1983 DRC Richebourg. The Bonnes-Mares and Richebourg were disappointing and, thus, made the Leroy shine even brighter in comparison. The Leroy exhibited aromas of a musty closet, earth, and ripe red fruit. Great acidity on the palate along with a spiciness and a long dried-herb finish. Balanced. The Bonnes-Mares was pruney, piney, and resinous with balsamic and amarone tones. VA on the palate with a short finish. Unpleasing. The Richebourg was musty and moldy with notes of preserved dried cherries and orange rind. Disappointing on the palate. Disaggregated and lacking acidity. The lamb, which was paired with these wines, had a smoky, salty, herbaceous character which worked well with the wine that worked. The Leroy was the WOTF.

Hot "Smoked" Niman Ranch Lamb with Fuji Apple and
Curry Dressing

The Bordeaux flight consisted of that Old Faithful -- 1966 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion -- plus a 1966 Talbot and a 1986 Comtesse de Lalande. Thanks to Ron's never-ending supply of '66 La Mish, we have drunk this wine on many an occasion and we are never disappointed. This wine generally presents dill, smoke, tar, black olives, and perfect balance. Tonight was no exception. The Talbot showed blood, iron, spice, mint, anise, and baking spices on the nose. I felt a misalignment between nose and palate. Ron characterized it as "very rustic." I tagged the Pichon as having bell pepper notes along with brown shoe polish, cinnamon, clove, and beer. I found it to be tight, tannic, and linear. The fruit is not there currently and it is an open question as to whether it will outlive the tannins. Definitely does not compare well with the other wines in the group. La Mish as WOTF.

Fennel Crusted Diver Scallop in a Salt Bowl

One of the wines we were looking forward to with great anticipation was the 2006 Domaine Méo-Camuzet Premier Cru Cros Parantoux; and this wine delivered. It was the subject of a post all its own.

Poached Chicken Egg with Corn Foam

Ron's notes on the 1995 Chateau Rayas which followed indicate cherry, raspberry, and garrigue characteristics. In his estimation it is "Grand-Cru-Burgundy-like" and no other CdP "is in the same league."

Marcho Farms Veal with Peas, Carrots, and Morels

The next flight was a very uncharacteristic grouping of two of our very favorite wines. We have had these wines where the Vega Sicilia was paired with other Spanish wines and where the Masseto was either grouped with other Super Tuscans or with other Merlots. Vega-Sicilia is arguably the greatest wine from Spain while Masseto is one of the great Super Tuscans, the best Italian Merlot, and one of the finest Merlots in the world. They were flighted together because of a perception of an underlying "Pomerolian" nature to both. According to Ron, the 1970 Vega-Sicilia Unico exhibited dried red fruits, licorice, graphite, earth, and spice box. Very focused with polished tannins. Elegant and silky. Balanced. First-growth-like. The 2005 Ornellaia Masseto was very rich and very young with plentiful chocolate on the nose and palate. Pomerol-like. Excellent length on the finish. Needs another ten years to fully realize its potential. Drinking now but patience will produce even greater rewards. These wines were paired with an Australian Kobe-Style Beef with Potato Sphere.

The final bottle opened was a 1998 Guigal Ampuis Cote Rotie. Ron pegged its aromas as smoked meat, black olives, coffee, and spice box and expressed a fondness for the wine.

Selection of Cheese from Trolley
Peach Quark Panna Cotta
Peruvian Chocolate Timbale with Roasted
White Chocolate Gelato

Our experience throughout the evening was wonderful. I have already described how pleasing the environment was and I would be remiss if I did not give a shoutout to the service staff. We had a husband and wife team rotating as the shot callers from course to course and they had a trying job. Not only did they have to announce the general course highlights, they also had to go to each seat with a dietary restriction and explain the contents of that plate. They did a really good job and contributed mightily to the success of the evening. The courses were brought in by uniformed waiters bearing covered plates on white chargers (not the horses). The covers were then removed in a choreographed fashion once all of the chargers had been placed on the table in front of the owning patron. No mistakes here.

At the end of the evening Chef Hunnel came over to our room to chat us up. He missed us. He looked lost.

Sorry Chef, but you know the rules.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Domaine Méo-Camuzet Cros Parantoux 2006: An encounter with perfection

I had but a passing knowledge of Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Cros Parantoux until I read a full-throated acclaim of its virtues in the Japanese manga series Drops of God. That encounter led to me investigate the wine further and to, eventually, acquire a bottle for a tasting we were having in Orlando on July 18th. The wine was everything I hoped it would be. And more. Before talking about this specific bottle, however, some background is in order.

Burgundy's Vosne-Romanée vineyard has been referred to as the Pearl of the Côte; and for good reason. It is home to some of the world's most famous Grand Cru sites (La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg, etc.) but it is also home to some well-regarded Premier Cru sites, led by the subject of this post, the 1.01-ha (2.5-acre) climat, Cros Parantoux. The site is relatively cool, sits at 285 m (940 feet) elevation, and is underpinned by shallow, limestone-rich soils. In describing the site, Henri Jayer stated thusly (Jacky Rigaux, A Tribute to the Great Wines of Burgundy):
Nested at the entrance of a small valley, this plot is exceptional. It is well sheltered, a little less exposed to the sun than "Le Richebourg," but pinot does not require a lot of sun. While the potential alcohol content is lower, the pH is always more interesting.
This plot has led a "storied life" but will forever be associated with Henri Jayer, one of the giants of Burgundian winemaking. The plot had fallen into disrepair after the phylloxera infestation of the late 19th century and was re-purposed as an artichoke farm during WWII. Jayer bought his first parcel in 1951 and, after extensive use of dynamite to clear away the rocks and artichoke roots, was able to begin planting vines in 1953. Jayer's final purchase in 1970 brought his share of the climat to .715 ha. The remaining .295 ha was owned by Jean Méo, and was farmed by Jayer until 1987 under a sharecropper agreement. When Méo's son Jean Nicolo sought to the produce wines under the Méo label, it was agreed that the contract between the two parties would not be renewed upon its expiration. A summary of the history of the climat and its wines are provided in the figure below.

The bottle purchased for the tasting was the 2006 Méo-Camuzet Cros Parantoux.

In the Jayer book, Rigaux described the 2006 Burgundy vintage as follows: "The grapes were sound and achieved a beautiful physical maturity ... Red wines were of a great sensuality, with a beautiful consistency, a silky texture, and a delicate touch from their early stages, but promised good harmonious aging." Méo-Camuzet expressed surprise at the depth and maturity of the vintage (, referring to it as a classic year with balance its most evident characteristic.

The tasting was held at the Victoria and Albert's Queen Victoria Room at Disney's Grand Floridian Hotel. There were seven people in attendance and a lot of great wines graced the table.

The Cros was of a much younger age than we typically like to drink Burgundy so we decanted it for an hour prior to its scheduled appearance. All of the other wines tasted were grouped into flights; this one stood alone under the glare of the lights and anticipatory eyes.

The initial impression upon bringing the glass to the nose was a florality. Fresh-cut violets, said Ron. Potpourri, said Andrew. Accompanying this florality were notes of cinnamon and lifted red fruits. This wine was obviously young but wore its youth like a Toga rather than with uncouth brashness. On the palate a concentration which belied its color in the glass. Balanced. Palate-pleasing acidity and weight. Drying finish. With one mighty leap this wine had ascended to the top levels of wines that I have drunk. It seems somehow relatively inconsequential to designate it the wine of the night.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Contrasts between Right-Bank (Bordeaux) and Tuscan Merlots

I have written a series of posts on Italian Merlots and, while tweeting a link to my latest post on the topic yesterday, I received a query from a follower who was unaware of the existence of the genre. Having previously written a post on Tuscan Merlots of note, I tweeted a link in his direction. The interchange got me thinking, however, about a comparative tasting (Italian Merlots versus Right-Bank Merlots) we had done and the contrasts that I have observed between the two main Merlot-producing regions (Tuscany and the Right Bank of Bordeaux) represented in that tasting. In this post I summarize those contrasts, specifically as it relates to Tuscan Merlots that I have previously covered in this blog.

While both the Right Bank and Tuscany have two major Merlot areas (Pomerol and St. Emilion for Bordeaux and Maremma and Chianti for Tuscany), the intra-regional differences are greater for Tuscany. In the case of Bordeaux, Pomerol and St. Emilion have similar climates (mild maritime) while, in the case of Tuscany, the Maremma region is temperate while the Chianti region is continental. As I have pointed out in previous posts, the ideal climates for vitis vinifera are Mediterranean and marine west coast climes. In this instance, the Bordeaux and Maremma locales would be advantaged over Chianti.

Merlot rose to prominence in Bordeaux and has been planted on the Right Bank since 1784. A significant amount of knowledge and expertise regarding the Merlot vine and wine has been amassed in the region over that time. Merlot has been planted in the northern regions of Italy since the late-19th century but the move into the Tuscan region is of a more modern vintage and, relatively speaking, the lessons are still being learned and internalized. Further, the adoption of Merlot in Tuscany is not as broad-based as it is on the Right Bank, so the opportunities for winemakers to learn from each other are not as plentiful. Additionally, there is no Bordeaux L'Ecole du Vin in Tuscany with all of its research resources dedicated to the study and advancement of Bordeaux varieties.

The average size of a Right-Bank estate is 5 ha but between 75% and 85% of the land is dedicated to the growth of Merlot vines. The largest devoted Merlot planting that I have been able to identify in Tuscany is the approximately 7 ha that is used to grow the Masseto grapes. The next nearest is 3.8 ha for L'Apparita. In terms of production, Masseto leads the way in Tuscany with 33,000 bottles annually with Galatrono next with 13,500 bottles. In all of the cases in Tuscany, the Merlot production is a small percentage of the estate's production which is instead focused on Sangiovese or multiple other varieties. On the Right Bank, Merlot is the main focus. and production in St. Emilion, for example, averages 42,000 bottles per producer.

By far the most significant difference though is the predominance of blends on the Right Bank and Merlot-only wines in Tuscany. Looking at the Right Bank wines, they are primarily blends (notable exceptions are Petrus, Le Pin, Peby Faugeres, and La Gomerie, among others). All of the Tuscan wines studied are mono-variety. Vieux Chateau Certan's Alexandre Thienpont (cited in held that "it is the blending that adds the extra special dimension to the Merlot grape." On its own, Merlot tends to have higher alcohol levels and lower acidity, problems that are mitigated when it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon which also lends structure to the marriage.

Overall, the paucity of Merlot labels on the market today is a reflection of the Tuscan winemakers'  level of commitment to the variety. Minimal. However, the quality exhibited, and the market acceptance attained, by Masseto provides a signpost for the interested.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Italian Merlots: Querciabella's Palafreno (Chianti Classico, Tuscany)

My continuing exploration of the world of Italian Merlot has yielded yet another Chianti-Classico-based mono-varietal in the case of Palafreno, a wine produced by Querciabella from grapes grown in the commune of Greve (Other identified members of the Chianti Classico Merlot class are San Guisto a Rentenanna's La Ricolma and Castello di Ama's L'Apparita, both from the commune of Gaiole.). This post summarizes the available information on this, the newest member of our Italian Merlot gallery.

Palafreno is produced by Querciabella, an estate founded in 1974 and which currently owns 74 ha (183 acres) of vineyards in Chianti Classico (Greve, Panzano, Raddo, and Gaiole in Chianti) and 32 ha (79 acres) in Maremma (Albarese in the province of Grossetto). The estate has farmed its vineyards organically since 1988 and biodynamically since 2000. The full range of its wines are presented in the table below.

                                      Full Range of Querciabella Wines
Tuscan Sub-Region
Initial Year
Production (btls)
Chianti Classico
Toscana IGT
Pinot Blanco (50%)
Chardonnay (50%)

Sangiovese (30%)
Cabernet Sauvignon (70%)

Chianti Classico DOCG
Sangiovese (95%)
Cabernet Sauvignon (5%)

Toscana IGT
Sangiovese (50%)
Merlot (25%)
Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon (N/A)
Syrah (N/A)
Merlot (N/A)

Palafreno, the estate's Merlot offering, is a mono-varietal which was first produced in 2000. Grapes for the wine are sourced from the estate's Cipresso and Marrone vineyards (less than 1 ha in total according to a Twitter conversation with the estate) in Ruffoli (Greve in Chianti) which are sited at 350 m altitude on loose, schistous, skeletal soils with southwest exposures.

The winemaking process utilized in the production of Palafreno is illustrated in the figure below.

Palfreno is only produced in favorable vintages and, as such, the label was not produced in 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2009. Production in 2010 was below normal levels due to "voracious bears and deer" (Twitter conversation with the estate). The wine, which has been described by Nicholas Belfrage MW as "... deep yet silky, fruit-driven yet with the perfect touch of toasty oak, enhancing rather than overwhelming ...," has received much critical acclaim including the coveted Gambero Rossi Tre Bicchieri (2004 for the 2000 vintage) and scores of 95 (2007 vintage), 92 (2008 vintage), and 94 (2010 vintage) from Antonio Galloni.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The night the lights went out at Bern's Steakhouse

It was Friday July 11th, 2014. And we were there. But that was not the marquee memory of our evening at that venerable establishment. Rather, that honor was reserved for the components -- as well as the totality -- of the lineup that we consumed over the course of the evening.

But wait. I am getting ahead of myself.

Allan Frischman, of Chicago-based Hart Davis Hart Wine Company, was coming into Orlando on business and, as he had never been to Bern's Steakhouse -- a gap in his wine/food experience that he was anxious to fill -- Ron arranged for us to host him at the restaurant on the aforementioned date. The opening of the Epicurean Hotel across from Bern's has made traveling to Tampa to eat at the restaurant even more appetizing as your bed is only a stone's throw away from a stellar dining/foodie experience.

Dinner was at 7:00 but we began the evening with a pre-dinner Selosse fix in Ron's suite. A little before 7:00, we descended to the lobby and made our way over to Bern's.

The Bern's reception area was crowded as usual but we were quickly buttonholed and ushered to our standing table. Our regular Somm at the restaurant is Brad and before we were fully seated he had appeared with the first of the many wonderful wines that we would have that evening. Now this was a dual purpose visit: (i) the Bern's education of Allan and (ii) drinking a lot of great wine. The wine lists were handed out (a ceremonial process really as we tend to come to the restaurant with a set of defined targets in mind -- wines that have to be drunk before the carpetbaggers drink them all) and Allan remarked that he thought the list would be more commanding in size. Brad left and returned with the list as it used to be in the olden days -- behemoths that had to be chained to the table.

Ron and Allan examining a ginormous vintage Bern's wine list

While Allan and Ron perused the old wine list, Brad opened our first bottle and poured its contents into our glasses. This wine was the Bouchard Père et Fils 1978 La Romanée. This wine was a study in evolution during the course of its residence in the glass. It started out with sweet red fruits (cherry, strawberries) with a molasses undertone along with blood, raw meat, and a hint of dried cork. It was youthful and fully engaging on the palate, with a slight alcohol burn on the chest. Tannins were still aplenty. At the second visit, coffee and mocha began to show along with a perception of increased acidity. On a third visit, herbs became dominant with rosemary and thyme implicated. On the palate the wine was now smooth, elegant, and refined. The wine continued to evolve with a highly perfumed phase (vintage-Barolo-like) followed by a cinnamon and baking-spices phase. A definite hint of tamarind on the palate in these latter phases. This was an absolutely awesome wine.

The second wine poured was the 2000 DRC Grand Échézeaux. This wine was much more rustic in comparison to the La Romanée. It exhibited cinnamon and baking spices along with turpentine, pimento, mocha, coffee, road tar, and animal skin. Over time the mocha and coffee gave way to mushrooms and dried herbs. On the palate, elegant, fine grained, with drying tannins. Layered complexity with a long, elegant finish.

I paired the Grand Ech with an Escargot appetizer and it was a perfect match. The slight salty character associated with the cheese was muted by the Burgundy while the mushroomy, earthy character of the snails was reinforced by similar characteristics in the wine.

The third wine opened was the 2000 DRC Richebourg. Floral with coriander and cumin on the nose and baking spices layered on top. Coconut oil and orange rind. Sprightly and elfin on the palate though bolstered with an earthiness. Paired with a rich, thick lobster bisque.

Before the lobster bisque arrived, the lights went out. Luckily this is hurricane country so emergency lights flipped on immediately. The lights stayed off for about 5 minutes during which time Bev kept assuring Allan that this was highly unusual. "This has never happened before," she said. There were no grand announcements from management. No one seemed overly concerned. So I began wondering whether it was a divine message targeted at me. Could it be that some higher power was saying get out while you still can? Bern's has it hands halfway down your pockets but if you leave now you will still be able to feed your family in the future. I looked around but no one else seemed to be paying attention to this voice. So I ignored it. And I paid. Dearly.

And then, just like that, the lights went out

Lobster bisque
With lights once again abundant, we turned to the fourth bottle from the Grand Cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée/Flagey-Échézeaux, the 2000 DRC La Tâche. This wine was dusky, ephemeral, and muted, with a loose tea leaf note. Expressive on the palate, much more so than on the nose. Bright red fruit. Rich but elegant. Appropriate acidity. Stony minerality with a drying character. Balanced with a tea finish.

As Ron pointed out, the drinking of this bottle of La Tâche signals the end of an era. Brad had told us a few visits ago that we had drunk the last bottle of 2000 La Tâche but then he had found two more cases in the byzantine cellar. He again informed us on Friday night that we had bought the last bottle of the wine. This means that if you ever see this wine on the Bern's list, they would have acquired it at auction ( a non-Bern's original) and it will be priced accordingly.

We ordered steaks for our main courses and decided to pair it with a Bourdeax. After some hunting around on the wine list, we settled on a 1934 Leoville-Poyferre. This wine had a tar, black olive, and dill nose. Rich and oily. Mint, dried sweet red fruits, tobacco, and an earthiness. Bright with a long finish.

Having just completed a tour of the Mugneret-Gibourg cellars in Burgundy -- and been impressed with the wines -- we were excited to try a 1995 vintage of that wine that was on the Bern's list. It was disappointing. It was both tight and closed. We also had a less-than-stellar 1990 Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne and a 1987 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco. The Tondonia was bright and fresh and was less oxidative than I had expected. It was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate at the end of the evening.

In keeping with the educational thrust of the evening for Allan, Brad had taken him on tours of the dry-aged room, the dessert room, and the wine cellar. He was now fully up to speed on the charms of the restaurant. I can only hope that we have not created another carpetbagger.

A wonderful time was had by all. It was now 2:30 am and the strategic nature of the Epicurean Hotel positioning was clear to all. We had intuited it. Now we were experiencing it.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Stump the Somm" at DRC bottle tasting (Burgundy, France)

We had been down in the DRC barrel cellars for a while so the light seemed especially bright when we re-emerged from our temporary subterranean domicile. Our struggles to adjust to the light did not in any way diminish our high. We had just completed tasting-through the 2013 lineup from barrel and were ready to go talk about it over lunch. But wait. Not yet. Bernard said something and then began walking off into the distance. Peter said that we needed to follow him as the tasting was to continue at the estate's bottle storage facility which was housed in another building a little ways away. This was a welcome, though unanticipated, development. A crowner. A topper. Found money.

We followed Bernard down a few narrow streets for about 250 yards to our eventual destination. We entered through large wooden doors and then immediately stepped down into the obligatory cellar. Except this one was populated by dark, unlabeled bottles set into alcoves, with each alcove identified by the wine contained therein and the number of bottles in the stock.

We rolled by a number of these alcoves until we arrived at a dimly lit room -- which was also the terminal point of the cellar -- furnished with a solitary table positioned centrally and adorned with two candles on stands. Bernard laid his (now) straw basket on the table and disappeared. After a short while he re-appeared with three .375 ml unlabeled bottles which he placed on the table beside the straw basket. We were going to be blind-tasting the wines contained in these bottles and providing our conclusions as to the labels and vintages. We were okay with this. We had two "Somms" in our group.

As he was pouring the first wine, Bernard mentioned that it was from a great vintage where both the quantity and quality of the harvested grapes were high. The wine showed some stemminess along with floral notes and spice. Great complexity and a lengthy finish. Youthful. This wine was revealed to be a 1999 Grand Échézeaux and I do not recall anyone hitting that on the button.

The second bottle, according to Bernard, was from an exceptional vintage. It had a reductive nose which soon gave way to a savory complexity. Ron noted ripe fruit, elegance, and power. This wine had some age on it. Revealed to be the 1990 Grand Échézeaux and my notes do not indicate anyone jumping up and down because they nailed it.

The third bottle had apple-pear notes, a rich oiliness, honey, brown butter, hazelnut, almonds, caramel and a stemminess. I thought the acid level was low. This wine turned out to be a "ringer." It was a 2007 Bâtard-Montrachet, a wine of which the estate only produces 300 bottles for family consumption. Ron felt that it was the best Bâtard that he had ever had. I know that no one got this one right.

Bernard was having such a great time that he brought a fourth bottle to the table. While pouring, he described the wine as the product of a difficult vintage. It had a watery-gold color with a broad, pale rim. On the nose, molasses, brown sugar, caramel, a nuttiness, dates, figs, and mushrooms. Ron thought it had, additionally, tangerine and orange-rind notes. Balanced on the palate. This was a unique wine for both Ron and me. Raj thought that it was a 1977 Montrachet and provided the reasons for his conclusions. It was  a 1977 Montrachet. I was doubly impressed: first by the wine and then by Raj's recall.

Now Bernard had created a monster. We kept saying things like "encore" but he did not get the message. He began trudging purposefully towards the exit. We followed grudgingly. It was over. Now we could go to lunch and talk about our great experiences.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, July 7, 2014

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vintage 2013: Barrel tasting the lineup (Burgundy, France)

Wednesday morning dawned bright and chilly. This was the day for our visit to DRC and we could hardly contain our excitement. We had had dinner the previous evening with Raj Parr and he was supposed to meet us at our hotel at 9:45 am so that we could have a leisurely trip over to Vosne-Romanée for our 10:30 appointment. We were all in agreement that we did not want to be late for this one. Raj appeared during our breakfast and, after some milling around, we boarded the minivan and headed out.

The trip was uneventful and we arrived at DRC right on time. The DRC office is separated from the street by a walled, paved courtyard with ingress provided through a black wrought-iron door. The gate was locked but there was a communication device on the wall and we used that to announce ourselves. A tinny voice queried as to who we were there to see and whether we had an appointment. We provided the required information and, after a short delay, were buzzed in. We crossed the courtyard and entered the building through the main door. A woman was sitting at a desk to the right of the entrance portal and she asked us to sit and await M. de Villaine's arrival. The M. (Aubert) de Villaine, co-Managing Director and the face of DRC. This was great news to us. We were not sure if he would be there during the course of our visit but, not only was he here, he would be meeting with us.

M. de Villaine literally came down to our level from the floor above and meticulously shook the hands of every person present. He paused for some additional dialogue with Raj and then proceeded to address us as a group. He first thanked us for coming and then apologized for not being able to lead us in the tasting due to a prior commitment. He then introduced us to Bernard Noblet, the DRC Cellar Master who, he said, would be leading us in the tasting in his stead. He explained that we would be tasting the 2013 vintage out of barrels in the cellars below. After some additional dialogue he turned us over to Bernard who beckoned for us to follow him.

Ron and Aubert de Villane
We exited the building via the door we had entered and made our way to a second door which Bernard opened. Small stone steps led down into a series of small, oak-barrel-occupied rooms. While still on the outside, we had each been provided with a wine glass. Bernard was carrying a pail which contained a wine thief and his wine glass.

Our first stop was at the room containing the 2013 Échézeaux. According to Bernard, all of the wines we would be tasting would be in one stage or the other of malolactic fermentation (MLF); this particular wine was approximately 50% through. The 2013 vintage had been a difficult one he said ( a refrain we heard at every stop during our tour of the region) due to widespread rain and hailstorms which kept volumes low.

Bernard working the wine thief

As Bernard began pulling wine out of the barrels for us to taste, he shared some of the estate's winemaking philosophies and practices with us. The chart below is a high level view of DRCs winemaking steps and practices.

The estate harvests its grapes late as it pursues phenolic ripeness (Please follow this link for a recounting of the DRC vineyards and viticultural practices.) They sort assiduously and will make several passes through the vineyards in their effort to ensure that every berry is picked at optimal ripeness. In his view, wines should be drinkable at any point in their bottled life so they strive to make wines that are accessible but will still age well.

The entire lineup had been tasted by the time we exited the cellars. The wines were in varying stages of malic acid to lactic acid conversion, polymerization had not yet begun softening the tannins, and the micro-oxygenization associated with oak aging had not yet begun to make a meaningful contribution to the final organoleptic characteristics of the wine. There was some hardness to the wines and aggressive tannins in the case of the Gran Ech and Romanée-St-Vivant. Ron found the Corton approachable and in possession of cherry flavors. Bernard described the Richebourg as still awkward, "like a girl that has not gone through puberty." The La Tâche was smoother and more elegant with an element of savoriness. The Romanée-Conti, even at this early stage, manifested finesse and elegance to accompany a florality. Overall, the quality of these wines were unmistakeable and it will be interesting to see what happens to these wines in the marketplace upon release given the limited quantities and high quality.

A couple of times during the tasting, Ron and I looked at each other and smiled in disbelief. We were at DRC tasting the "drops of God" out of barrel in a vintage where production had been severely curtailed so every glass was extremely valuable; with the person (Bernard) who had been responsible for the elaboration of these wines for many a year; accompanied by one of the leading Burgundy experts (Raj); and our wives were along to share the experience. It was fascinating and educational to watch and listen to the interaction between Bernard and Raj. Bernard, while dressed as a farmer, exuded an air of confidence and suave urbanity while his wine descriptors were loaded and suggestive of an appreciation of the fairer sex. He only spoke French while his audience spoke English (with 1.5 exceptions) but he did not allow the facts on the ground to in any way limit his verbosity. Peter Thustrup, a wine dealer specializing in DRC, was along on the tasting and did a yeoman job of translating the Bernard/Raj interactions and Bernard's ruminations for us.

Ron, Jean-Charles, and Peter

After the barrel tasting, we proceeded to taste DRCs from bottle. I will cover that tasting in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme