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Burgundy Tasting Pleasures


We (Dorit, myself and our wine-partners friend couple) just got back from Burgundy, where we paid a visit to five very different top winemakers. All visits were pre-arranged in advance.
Though each domaine was totally different in almost every respect, the one thing in common was the incredible kindness we were received with everywhere. The time and generosity extended to us by all winemakers were only limited by our own schedule (an appointment at another winery or dinner at a fine restaurant...).
I am not a great fan of tasting wine (much better at drinking it < g >). From past experience at cellar tastings I knew not to expect much in the way of great wine experience. This time however, the wines themselves were excellent. But the tastings, coupled with the educational experience, the opportunity to talk to and learn from some of the greatest and friendliest winemakers in Bourgogne - made this a unique experience.

Domaine Thomas-Moillard, Nuits-St. Georges

This domaine, the first on our visiting list, was different in every respect from all the others. The amount of wine produced by Moillard in one week is greater than the total annual production of all the other domains put together! This is not an exaggeration. Moillard produces six million bottles a year!! A huge amount everywhere, but especially in Burgundy.
Moillard produces 85% of his wine as a negociant. i.e they buys the grapes from different growers and 'elevate' the wine in their immense cellars. These negoce wines were of no interest to us. We were after the Domaine wines, which come from the vineyard holdings of the family. These wines, which are vinified and bottled as a totally separate operation from the negociant wines, are sold under the label of Thomas-Moillard. Moillard's own Domaine cover some 20 hectars, of which about 2 hectars are in the Grands Crus appellations.
Monsieur Henri Thomas was away in Japan, so we were received by a very kind lady who manages the tasting at his office. Apparently, instructions were left as this lady freely opened bottle after bottle of whatever we asked her to. As this was our first visit, we were a bit shy (comparatively < g >), and tasted "only" the following:

Corton, Clos du Roi		1993

Romanee St. Vivant		1993

Vosne - Les Malconsorts 	1991, 1988

Chambertin Clos de Beze	1989

All the wines were quite tannic. The Clos de Beze '89 had plenty of fruit, while the two 1993 Grand Crus were truly superb wines though very closed.
Bought 4 bottles of Clos du Roi '93 and 2 bottles of RSV '93.

Domaine Bruno Clair, Marsannay

Bruno Clair is one of the "Young Turkish" winemakers in Bourgogne (to which age-group belong the other three top growers we met). He is the grandson of the last owner of the famous Clair-Dau domaine, though thru the weird inheritance laws of France, it was his aunt and not his father, who inherited most of the Domaine. The Domaine Clair-Dau fell into shambles at her hands and eventually was sold to Louis Jadot.
Bruno Clair, a tall and friendly guy (who speaks only French) has his home and cellar in the town of Marsannay, on the northern tip of the Cote d'Or. He inherited whatever his father left him. His domaine include some choice parts in Chambertin Clos de Beze and in other super 1er Crus in Gevrey and Savigny. Bruno has large holdings (6 ha.) in Marsannay itself, where he makes red, white and rose Village wine. The white Marsannay is made from equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Another interesting wine (and better than the Marsannay) is his white Morey-St. Denis made purely from Chardonnay. Bruno Clair's 1er and Grand Cru holdings amount to about 5 ha.
We went down to his very cold and very dump cellar (I was lowered down by a makeshift 'elevator' that is used to bring up the barrels!). The whole Domaine (and the man and the house) look pretty rustic, though I mean that in the best possible sense. Once downstairs, Bruno started to talk in speedy French, which hampered our ability to understand everything.
We tasted some 1995 wines from the barrel, most of which have not yet undergo the malolactic fermentation. Don't tell anybody, but this barrel tasting is awful... I guess experienced tasters can tell a lot by tasting these embryonic wines, but for me it is just fresh fruit and alcohol with no complexity at all.
On the issue of vintages, Bruno remarked dryly that a vintage is only good as the wine in the bottle. He thinks that the 1989 was underrated by the press because it fell between two great vintages. The 1988 is currently disappointing as it lost most of its fruit by now but haven't gained much else. The 1991 was underrated because it followed the great 1990. The 1993 is a bit overrated as it followed the '91 and '92. All in all, vintages don't count much with Bruno Clair (as they don't with most of the other growers). Each vintage expresses something which to him is important to preserve.
After some two hours we emerged from the dump and cold cellar, and were greeted outside by hot cheese-bread made by Bruno's wife.
Apart from the '95 wines, we tasted the following:

Gevrey - Clos du Fonteny	1994

Morey-St. Denis (rg, bl)	1994

Marsannay (rg, bl, rose)	1994

Chambertin Clos de Beze	1993

Savigny - Les Dominodes	1992, 1989

Gevrey - Le Cazetiers	1989

The Clos de Beze '93 is a truly great (though closed) wine, the Cazetiers is excellent, the Dominodes is very charming and ready to drink.
Very reluctantly, Bruno Clair agreed to sell us one bottle of Cazetiers '89 and two bottles of Savigny - Dominodes '90.

Domaine Ponsot, Morey-St. Denis

Certainly one of the most exalted and exclusive domaines in Burgundy. The domaine's total holdings (both true ownership and crop-sharing lease) are less than 10 hectar. But what 10 hectar! About 60% are in the Grands Crus vineyards of Gevrey and Morey.
We were greeted by Laurent Ponsot, who took the actual winemaking from his father some 10 years ago. Laurent is a man of the world. Speaks perfect English and actually started his wine-life pretty late. He lived in Paris for many years, has two masters degrees, traveled extensively and is in the process of building his own WEB site!
His wine making philosophy, in his own words, can be summed up as follows: "We are lazy, we don't interfere with nature.", "My aim is to express the vintage and the terroir thru my wines, not to express myself.", "Some people say we are inconsistent. To me this is the greatest possible compliment". Laurent does not hold great respect for journalists and wine critics, especially for you-know-who...
I asked him what percentage of new oak he uses for his great wines. He made a zero figure with his fingers and explained that for the great cuvees they use 30-years-old barrels(!) that undergo a special very expensive process each year.
As time went by we all found we have a common language and became really friendly (a fact that was reflected in the bottles he kept on opening < g >).
The odd bird of Ponsot's wines is the Morey-St. Denis 1er Cru 'Mont Lusiants'. A white wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and yes - Aligoté! I guess only Ponsot can get away with calling something made from Aligoté a Bourgogne 1er Cru (a delicious wine BTW). His really great stuff though are the Grand Cru wines of Gevrey and Morey.
We tasted the following:

Clos de la Roche		1992

Griotte Chambertin		1992

Chapelle Chambertin		1992

Morey - Mt. Lusiants (bl)	1992

Chambolle - Les Charmes	1989

Chambertin			1989

Of the last wine, the Chambertin, Laurent's yearly production is all of 460 bottles! The annual allocation to the U.S are two full cases... I must conclude he liked us a bit if he opened this bottle (which was by far the best wine we tasted anywhere...).
The most he was willing to sell us were three bottles of Clos de la Roche 1992. (though for less than $40 a bottle!).

Domaine Daniel Rion, Premeaux

This is a modest domaine in terms of great Grand Cru vineyards, but it is the most sophisticated and modern small operation we have seen. The domaine is now run by Patrice Rion, an extremely friendly and modest winemaker who believes in natural tending of his vineyards and great sophistication in the cellar.
The shining stainless-steel containers, tanks and pipes on the upper level, contrast sharply with the individual wooden casks and barrels downstairs.
Patrice vinifies ten different 1er Crus from Chambolle, Vosne and Nuits, and sets to show the individuality of each wine.
Rion also has an oddity. A white 1er Cru Nuits called 'Terres Blanches' which he just started in 1994.
We tasted some 1995 wines from the barrel (which as usual I didn't like), then we tasted the following:

Nuits - Terres Blanches (w)	1994

Chambolle - Les Charmes		1993, 1992, 1991

Vosne-Romanee			1993, 1991

Vosne - Les Beaux Monts		1993, 1992, 1991

Nuits-St. Georges			1993, 1991

Nuits - Haut Pruliers		1992, 1991

Nuits - Clos des Argilleres	1993, 1990

All the wines were too young, but all showed fruit, depth and complexity. The best wine was clearly the '90 Clos des Argilleres.
Bought one each of Hauts Pruliers '89 and '90, Argilleres '90, Beaux Monts '90 and '91, and Terres Blanches '94.

Domaine G. Roumier, Chambolle-Musigny

Our last super domaine, run today by the charming, intelligent and extremely friendly young Christophe Roumier. It was late afternoon in a sunny spring weather. Instead of tasting in the cellar, Christophe put a table and chairs in the beautiful garden they have, brought bottles and glasses and started to pour. In a short while we were joined by his father, uncle and sister. Soon enough we were all having a really good time.
Like Ponsot, Christophe believes in rigorous selection in the vineyard and de-classifying if the resulting wine is not up to par.
We tasted a few wines only, but enjoyed the experience tremendously:

Chambolle-Musigny			1994, 1991

Morey - Clos de la Bussiere	1994, 1991

Bonnes Mares				1994, 1991

Naturally, the Bonnes Mares was the most serious wine, though ages from being ready.
We bought one bottle of Bonnes Mares '92 and two bottles of Clos de la Bussiere '90.

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Jacob "Yak" Shaya.