Louis needed to miss our 2000 Bordeaux tasting. Instead, he was happily conflicted by a commitment to host dinner at his home for a group of thirty like-minded, active community members dedicated to the preservation and improvement of a local school system’s already profound results. Louis was intending to pair each of the evening’s four courses with its own remarkable wine, creating a virtual Wine Tour de France in one sitting. Curious about my reaction, he emailed the lineup and it was immediately apparent that a meaningful level of consideration and knowing palate created this food friendly wine list (with approximate prices):
NV Chidaine, Montlouis Methode Traditionelle Brut (Loire) $25
2004 Domaine Henri Prudhon, St. Aubin “Les Perrieres” (Burgundy) $30
2004 Harmand Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes (Burgundy) $50
2003 Chateau d’Armailhac, Paulliac (Bordeaux) $50
My friend Louis was assisted by the folks at Vintages, a local wine monger I keep telling myself to spend more time with. For the better part of one month leading up to the dinner, Louis arrived home with sample bottles followed by a return visit the next day with thumbs up or down until the final four Wine Tour de France line-up was complete. This meticulous adherence to personal standards of excellence is not surprising considering the level of detail and fanatical approach he brings to salt water fly fishing, bicycle racing, show dogs, community service, work, food, wine, and a myriad other areas of interest that never suffer any degree of casual approach. Actually, (and we have had to call each on it from time to time) Louis and I both combat this plague of too many micro interests that get over-managed to insure primarily ultimate outcomes.
With the classy problem of being committed to separate wine experiences on this one night, I urged Louis to save a bottle of each of the wines for us to taste together. When a few of us arrived at his home the following weekend, our glassware was immediately filled with the sparkling Montlouis Chenin made by Francois Chidaine in the traditional Champagne method. Montlouis lives in the shadow of Vouvray, but is also home to really fine Chenin Blanc like this sparkler. The wine is alive and crisp with with flinty, floral, herbal spice, and biscuit-like aromas delivering bright white fruit flavor. There is significant acidity supporting an amalgam of aromatic components delivering a fun, flavorful, and unique sparkler. Here is what Louis/Dressner had to say about this wine:
The Méthode Traditionnelle, or pétillant, is made with a mix from the youngest vines. Chidaine likes to pick even these grapes at a good degree of ripeness, to avoid any dosage: the wine’s natural residual sugar starts the second fermentation and creates the bubbles. This is a refreshing, dry wine with muscaté notes.
Seven of us moved through an equally detailed presentation of cheeses discovering optimal pairings while Louis poured the second wine, a 1er cru from the Cote de Beaune commune of Saint-Aubin made by one of the older wine families there, the Prudhons. Another favorite importer, Neal Rosenthal, brings these wines in. It was a mind blowing white Burgundy with a crispness and purity of flavor that turns your head. While this wine apparently sees 25% new wood, slightly more than other Prudhon wines, there is not even a hint of overshadowing of the wine’s penetrating fruit flavors which are perfectly balanced by excellent acidity, finishing with remarkable length. There is even a hint of anise in the nose. It is a special wine from a fine vintage.
The third wine, Geoffroy’s old vine Gevrey-Chambertin, consists of fruit harvested from plots of 50 or more years of age. This wine was remarkable in a very specific regard and underscores the insecurity I have about aggressively buying Burgundy in general. This was a weak year in middle of two very good Cote de Nuits vintages, and the wine on this evening had enough rich fruit character, elegance, and aromatic quality to suggest vintage strength. I wish I had more confidence, was open to greater risk, or had wine capital to burn and experiment with, because wines like this are a find. There was an alluring earthy stinkiness in the nose, with rich black cherry fruit accompanied by charred wood tones. The wine’s components came together in a classy, smooth, and elegant package that would not allow me to put it down. What a surprise in a weak vintage! I once remember, back in the late 1980’s, ordering an off vintage of Henri Jayer Echezeaux at Tour D’argent in Paris and asking for a vote of reinforcement or reassurance from the stuffy sommelier when he looked down his nose at me with arrogance and dismissal declaring “Misseur, the true insight into great producers is to try their work from less spectacular vintages!” He was right that night and it rang true again in Louis’ living room.
Our final wine of the evening was from the notable 2003 Paulliac vintage. It was drinking really gracefully now, already, and had classic Bordeaux qualities of sweet fruit and earthiness. There was a distinct measure of anise on the nose intermingling with creamy sweet aromas. The wine was absolutely lovely, something I would love to drink over and over again. But, I have to say, this Paulliac was not nearly as exciting as the discoveries that Louis organized in the first three spots of this Tour de France line up.
It was really generous and kind for Louis to hold back a few bottles of each of these wines for a group of us to taste in a more critical environment than he originally presented them in. Now, either I have to hang out at Vintages more or I just have to wait out his next dinner party to discover more of these palate pleasing finds.