Every year, I make a pilgrimage to Burgundy. "Pilgrimage" is the correct word to use, as this is a devotional rite that has an almost religious significance. I have been returning to the Côte d'Or for 10 years, and every trip is a different experience. Not much except the weather changes, but the wines are always completely different.
For a region with only two grape varieties, Burgundy has more variability than any other region I know. The constant is the producers. They are connected to the land and act like ambassadors of the soil. Each vigneron knows intimately the aspects of the particular plots he works. It is not uncommon to find a producer who can tell you in almost personal detail about every vine he farms. That sort of relationship with a vineyard is almost unheard of today in any other region. Simply put, most Burgundian producers are farmers, and they have the personalities to prove it.
In turn, these personalities are reflected in their wines. After spending a lot of time with certain vignerons, I can recognize their images in their wines. Some may dismiss this as a neat little mental reflex, as our minds' ability to create symmetry and connection where there is none. But I prefer to think of it as a different kind of writing than the written word, just as an essayist can't help but commit to the page the very words and phrases that shaped her, so the winemaker imbues her wines with the qualities, esthetics and tastes that shaped her own personality.
Sometimes the nature of the wines can reveal something of the personality of the winemaker that you wouldn't have otherwise noticed. A quiet man makes loud wines; a crude type makes exceedingly elegant ones. Seeing the personality is like making the connection between terroir and a finished wine: difficult for scientists, easy for poets.
The flamboyancy of Dominique Lafon in his-hard-to-find Meursaults. The precision of Jean-Marc Roulot in his nervy whites from the same commune. The finesse of Christophe Roumier in his pure and aromatic reds from Chambolle-Musigny. Over the years, these men have become friends and shared their knowledge and wines with fanatical followers like me. The greatest moments are when they are all together in the same room. The interaction is not competitive but communal.
These trips get quite hectic, as we leave the house at 8 a.m. and don’t return until 8 or 9 p.m., tasting at four to five domaines. We could spend up to two or three hours at each place, just tasting and contemplating the nuances of the different soil or weather patterns.
To me, the greatest example of terroir or site typicity is expressed in the two parcels of Bonnes Mares that Christophe Roumier has. One is on white chalky soil, the other on reddish clay. Even though they are but steps apart, they taste totally different. And the blend of the two is always the best.
Last year’s trip had many highlights. Among them was tasting the 2005s in barrel. They were exceptional. Others were connected with food, like the day we had lunch with Christophe Roumier (FYI, he is a great cook).
After a long week of tasting we decided to go have dinner at Troisgros. It was supposed to be a party of four, but grew to 10. We could not say no to the joiners, who include chef Daniel Boulud, Daniel Johnnes, Jean-Marc Roulot and Alex de Montille. Michel Troisgros produced one of the most memorable meals for us. During the evening I also discovered the blind tasting skills of chef Boulud. He tasted a wine and correctly identified it as Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Champans 1993.
Now I am waiting to board the plane to Paris, headed for another great trip. My companions this time are Jim Clendenen, Greg Linn, Gaia Gaja and Silvia Altare. I’ll let you know what happens.
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — June 9, 2007 11:11am ET
Olivier Masmondet — Larchmont, NY — June 11, 2007 4:19pm ET
Olivier Masmondet — Larchmont, NY — June 11, 2007 4:48pm ET
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