An old friend of mine treated me and one of her business associates to some serious drinking last night. When industry people and wine geeks get together, there’s usually some pretty serious drinking. I definitely learned this in Seattle during my Certifed Court of Master Sommelier’s exam.
We started the evening in one of my favorite ways: Champagne. In this case, a half bottle of Pol Roger’s entry-level, non-vintage cuvee. To give you some of the nerdy low down, Champagne is a delimited growing region northeast of Paris. There are three grapes permitted, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and the more obscure Pinot Meunier. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are red grapes, but, except in the case of Rose Champagne, the grapes are pressed and then the juice is immediately taken of off the skins, which impart color and tannin in the red table wines made from these grapes. A Blanc de Noir (“White from the Black”) Champagne contains exclusively the red grape’s juice, whereas a Blanc de Blanc (“White from the White”) Champagne consists solely of Chardonnay. Champagne is generally a blend of vintage years (low acid warm years, high acid cool years) and all the big name Champagne houses have a “house style”. Pol Roger, one of the big Champagne houses, is one of my favorite. Ripe pear, golden apple, green apple, with a hint of yeasty, bready toast, in short, a wine that starts to give you an idea of why Champagne is marvelous. There’s a lot more to be said about Champagne, but I’ll probably write a whole article on champagne production sometime soon.
This was followed by Chateaux Fuisse Pouilly-Fuisse “Tete de Cru” 2006. Chardonnay is what wine nerds call a “neutral” grape variety. It has no distinct, varietal marker (think Grapefruit for Sauvignon Blanc). Some people might think that’s boring, but the grape does a great job of expressing climate and terroir (this is a loosy-goosy wine term that translates more or less to “a sense of place”). Pouilly-Fuisse (the delimited growing area) is in the Maconnais, a sub-region of Burgundy. Hemmingway writes about drinking, “Good Macon white” in A Moveable Feast. He very well could have been drinking Pouilly-Fuisse. This is a wine with both richness and class. Chardonnay usually expresses some permutation of apples, pears, and a mild lime/lemon citrus character (these are considered “neutral” fruits). This very well-made wine was no exception. Ripe golden apple, lemon, green apple and slate were all present, held together by a nice acid backbone. It was fairly lush, because, if I’m not mistaken, ’06 was a pretty hot vintage, so the fruit definitely had a pretty ripe character to it. The body (yet another coming Technically Drinking topic) was medium to medium plus. I enjoyed this wine greatly, but I’m still not convinced I wouldn’t rather have Chenin Blanc on most occasions.
After decanting for an hour, we were definitely pumped for La Chiusa Brunello di Montalcino 1999. Remember, in the old world, wines are almost always named after places, rather than grape varietals. Pouilly-Fuisse is the name of a place. Chardonnay is the grape. And so it is with almost all Italian wines. Brunello di Montalcino is widely considered as the most high-toned, structured, and dense expression of the Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese is grown widely in Italy and is the base grape in all Chianti. Brunello, like Chianti, is also from Tuscany, a region in west-central Italy. It is 100% Sangiovese Grosso (a clonal variation on Sangiovese with thicker skins) and has to spend at least two years in wood barrel and then at least several months in bottle before it can be released to market. Young Brunello is overwhelmingly tannic for my taste, with the ripping wood tannins obscuring the possible complexity of wine. Old Brunello is fucking expensive, so I very rarely get to drink this wine, and wow, is it killer. A demure 13.5% alcohol, this wine has an incredibly deep black and red cherry smell, with mild vanilla, white and blue flowers, and dusty-country-road quality to it. I just couldn’t get over the way it slinks out of the glass, like a woman smoking a cigarette in a Fellini film. On the palate, the tannins are firmly present, but it definitely doesn’t feel like someone’s attacking my tongue with a belt sander. This wine is just undeniably sexy and makes me understand what the fuss is about with Brunello.
Since we were drunk already, we thought we’d drink some more and so cracked a bottle of Sylvian Cathiard Vosne-Romanee (vohne roh-mah-nay) 2003. This is red burgundy. Pinot Noir is the only permitted red grape varietal in Burgundy, unless you’re in the southern region of Beaujolais, in which case it’s Gamay. If someone says red Burgundy, they’re talking Pinot Noir. Vosne-Romanee is a village in the the Cote de Nuits, which is the sub-region in Burgundy which produces the best considered red wines. Burgundy has four quality levels. Bourgogne rouge (boor-guh-nee-uh), in which the grapes can come from anywhere in Burgundy, but they must be Pinot Noir. Borgogne Village (what we’re drinking), in which all the grapes must come from that named village, in this case Vosne-Romanee. Above that, there’s about 600 premier Cru vineyards (first growths) and 32 grand cru vineyards (great growths), in which 100% of the grapes must come from the labeled vineyard . Vosne-Romanee is a super famous village and has 6 grand crus, and many premier crus. In this wine, it’s likely that a lot of the fruit comes from “declassified” premier and grand cru vineyards. Basically, no one thought the wine was up-to-snuff to be bottled as their premier or grand cru, and so it was blended to create a village level burgundy. Cathiard is a top-flight producer and this wine was definitely showing its pedigree. A robust nose of red cherry, rhubarb, beets, and just a hint of barnyard, the tannins were pretty soft, but the acid held the wine together and kept it driving through the palate. This wine is not nearly as dirty as a lot of burgundy I’ve had, and I think the vintage is important here. Everyone should know that 2003 is the most remarkable (in a “watch out!” sort of a way) vintage of the aughts. It was the hottest vintage on record. Ever. Some producers and regions handled this well, some did not. The already hot regions in Europe (Southern Italy, Spain, Southern France) had a pretty hard time in this vintage, but it’s actually benefited some cooler regions, and allowed them to get their grapes nicely ripe. Fruit dominated here and the wine was very aromatically dense. Again, to differentiate in terms of fruit quality, the fruit wasn’t jammy or cooked, but it was very concentrated. This was still an old world wine, but it was bordering on new world in style. As always, the acid gives old world away.
Anyway, then we had a few really delicious Amari that I don’t remember the name of and I stumbled home. These were really special wines and I really enjoyed drinking them, so a big thank you to my friend. I don’t know when I’ll have an opportunity to drink like this again any time soon.