How nice to have memories of freer and more pleasant times in this covid-19 era. Thursday March 8, 2007, was just such an occasion for our wine scribe, Jim Walker and his wife Hélène Buisson. The fact that it was spent in Burgundy wine country certainly didn’t hurt.
We must have mentioned to our old friend Graham Nutter that we were going to be in Beaune to visit one of our new wineries, Maison Alex Gambal (see my Gentleman’s Portion contribution – A Burgundy Gambal for all the messy details). Graham, the owner of Château Saint Jacques d’Albas in Languedoc-Roussillon got in touch with us and said that he loved Burgundy and hadn’t been there in a while. Could he join us? He added, “I might be able to organize some winery visits.” How could we resist?
We met Graham in the city of Beaune the evening of March 7, 2007 and we all went to dinner at the renowned restaurant Ma Cuisine. It was grand catching up on all the gossip. The meal and wine were terrific, except that is for the large chunk of green glass that came imbedded in my roast chicken in cream sauce. Having nearly lost a prized molar, I brought it to our waiter’s attention. He unsympathetically intoned, “What do you expect from free-range chicken?” Hmmmm!
Domaine Louis Latour
We collected Graham (for more about Graham, see one of my earliest Gentleman’s Portion contributions – Last Delicious Tastes of Cannes) bright and early the next day and drove the short distance to Domaine Louis Latour and its massive winery complex. We were parked at the business side of the imposing edifice and could see no sign of life. We rapped soundly on the more obvious points of entry, but to no avail. This interlude gave me the opportunity to go for a walk about in the adjacent properties. It was like being in a vinous wonderland as you can see from the featured photograph I took at the time.
As I was returning, one of the winery doors opened and out stepped a distinguished looking gentleman who could well have been a university professor. Now then, none of us can remember his name for certain, but Graham believes it was M. Feltzman. We do recall that he was Maison Louis Latour’s business manager. It seems that Graham had been introduced to him by a colleague at a bank where they once worked. In any case, he was most welcoming and invited us in to the reception hall where all sorts of wine-related exhibits were on display. Our professorial first impressions of him bore true as he skillfully presented the Latour history and explained many intricacies of the local viniculture.
He explained that the Latour family had been in the Burgundy wine trade for centuries. Already in the barrel-making business, they began growing vines in the Côte de Beaune in 1731 and went on to establish Maison Louis Latour in 1797. The family has owned the company for 11 generations and is now led by the seventh person named Louis Latour. Today they are one of the region’s most famous names creating wines from their 125 acre domaine in the Côte d’Or and from grapes and wines purchased through the negociant arm of the business. They also produce all their own barrels at their small traditional cooperage in Savigny-Les-Beaune. And, they own more Grand Cru vineyards than any other winery in Burgundy.
M. Feltzman went on to describe the intricacies of grape growing and wine-making in Burgundy. He showed us the soil variations that lead to the wines’ complexities as the vines’ roots burrowed into the ground. He explained that it wasn’t enough to just own Grand Cru parcels but that they also must be situated on the correct part of the hill to attract optimum amounts of sunlight, wind and rain.
We then entered a very rickety old service elevator that groaned and protested as it took us down into the bowels of the building. If that wasn’t scary enough, what we saw when the doors opened was enough to make us take flight. Cobwebs and black mould covered absolutely everything. Endless rows of racked wine bottles dating back over a century were virtually obliterated by the hideous stuff. It seems we had been deposited in the ancient storage area of the cellar. It might as well have a set for a Halloween horror movie.
We ascended one level to another vast but much more pleasant space where more recent vintages were resting peacefully. And, not too far away was a large wooden table laden with wine glasses and open bottles of Burgundy about to make the ultimate sacrifice. Most regrettably, there is no record of what we sampled, but I do have a vivid recollection that it was copious and delicious.
After thanking M. Feltzman profusely and bidding our adieus we drove a few kilometres over to Meursault and stopped at the gates of Domaine Jacques Prieur, another major Burgundy producer. There we met up with Jean-Claude Pion, a Gallic version of Burl Ives. Graham, who had befriended Jean-Claude years before, asked him to show us a couple of his favourite Burgundian wineries. Jean-Claude was in the tour business in the region, so he was very well connected.
The first winery he had chosen was Domaine Marc Colin in the hamlet of Gamay.
Domaine Marc Colin
Marc Colin was born in 1944 and established his winery in 1970 based on the vineyards that he and his wife Michèle inherited. The Colins had four children, Pierre-Yves, Damien, Joseph and Caroline who all became totally immersed in the winery. In 2002, Pierre-Yves took his share of the vineyards and formed his own domaine called Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey leaving his three siblings to look after the remainder of Domaine Marc-Colin.
It was still a large enterprise by Burgundy standards with 49 acres spread over 30 appellations, 25 of them white wines. It should be noted that before he left, Pierre-Yves made major improvements, updating the winery, investing in new equipment and upgrading vineyard management. Damien is now responsible for the winemaking and aging, Joseph looks after the vineyards, and Caroline tends to sales and marketing. One of the things I love about the Colins is that they use a horse to do their ploughing to avoid compacting the soil between the vines.
It was Damien Colin who greeted us. He took us on a tour of his immaculate winery and passionately explained his wine-making approach and the overriding principles that guide operations at Domaine Marc Colin. Damien was particularly proud of the wide range of Saint-Aubin wines that the family produces. Then came the matter of tasting, and boy did we taste. Here’s the line-up (I’ll spare you my tasting notes, but believe me, they were all marvellous, particularly the Bâtard-Montrachet):
From the bottle:
St-Aubin 1er Cru “Remilly” 2005
St-Aubin 1er Cru “Les Chatenières” 2005
Puligny-Monrachet “Les Enseignières” 2005
Chassagne-Montrachet “Les Enseignières” 2005
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Cheneottes” 2005
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Caillerets” 2005
Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2005
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Caillerets” 1999
From the cask:
St-Aubin 1er Cru “Les Chatenières” 2006
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Caillerets” 2006
Next on our vinous agenda was a visit to Domaine Arlaud. Located in Morey-Saint-Denis, the domaine was established in 1942 through the marriage of Joseph Arlaud and Renée Amiot, whose dowry included superb parcels in choice vineyards throughout Burgundy. Over the years Joseph added several more pieces of prized grape growing property and in 1966 acquired a 14th Century historic building in the heart of the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges in which to age their wines.
Their son Hervé along with his wife Brigitte took over the domaine in 1983 and continued to add property (extending to 37 acres including 19 separate Appellation Controlled vineyard sites, with choice plots in four Grand Crus: Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis, Charmes-Chambertin, and Bonnes-Mares). They also upgraded all phases of the domaine’s operations including the return to the use of horses for ploughing. At the time of our visit their daughter Bertille could be seen using the horses Nougat and Oka to plough the Estate’s Premier and Grand Cru vineyards.
It was Hervé who greeted us at the door of the modern winery, gave us a spirited history of the estate, took us on a tour of the facilities and, to our great delight, conducted a tasting of some of his finest reds. The 2004 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru was ethereal!
Here’s the line-up, all from the bottle:
Bourgogne “Roncevie” 2004
Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Les Millandes” 2004
Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Aux Cheseaux” 2004
Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Les Ruchots” 2004
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Noirots” 2004
Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2004
Clos Saint Denis Grand Cru 2004
Restaurant Le Charlemagne
Slurping all those great Burgundies (some 25 in all) made us rather peckish. It was definitely lunchtime. Jean-Claude had anticipated just such a crisis. He had organized a modest little snack for us at Le Charlemagne in Pernand-Vergelesses. On the way there he told us all about the restaurant and its owner-chef Laurent Peugeot. After working in the great establishments of the region, including Maison Lameloise and spending four
years in Japan expanding his culinary skills, Laurent opened his restaurant in the shadows of the revered Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru vineyard. Laurent had created an ultra-modern dining establishment combining the finest elements of French and Japanese cuisine in a Zen-like setting (he earned a Michelin star in 2012). The dining room was bright and airy, the kitchen state-of-the art and no detail was overlooked in making the clientele’s experience a memorable one. Even his staff was thoughtfully considered. Their separate relaxation and eating area sported a large picture window overlooking the adjacent vineyard.
But, we came for the food. Here’s what we joyously devoured, the wines provided by Jean-Claude. The gustatorial orgy commenced with some dainty amuse-gueule (nibbles) washed down by a thirst-quenching Bollinger Brut ‘Special Cuvée’ Champagne (a brilliant start). Next appeared a dish of scampi-laden risotto with chèvre and a hint of truffles (the aromas were heavenly) paired with a tasty little 2000 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon (sheer nirvana). The main course was roast pigeon amid a medley of vegetables that were complemented by a simply otherworldly 1999 Pommard 1er Cru ‘Les Jarollières’ from Domaine de la Pousse d‘Or. Then followed a marvelous assortment of local cheeses, enhanced by a stupendous 1999 Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru from Domaine des Lambrays (I had died and gone to heaven).
If this wasn’t enough, we concluded with a most remarkable dessert platter artfully comprised of cigare au chocolat, white chocolate, yuzu, mascarpone, genmaicha enroulé de bambou (a Japanese tea wrapped in bamboo shoots), gaspacho d’ananas et caviar version 2006 (pineapple and caviar gaspacho) and quenelle de litchi (little litchi puff pastries).
What a day March 8, 2007 was. I look forward to a time when we can enjoy more days like that.
Bon Courage and cheers, Jim
PS: We have several shipments of wines (reds, whites and rosés) from the southern Rhône on their way to the LCBO. Ontario residents can keep an eye on their availability at Arthur’s Cellar Wine Club.
This is Jim’s 51st wine post on Gentleman’s Portion. Please “like” our blogs, if you have enjoyed our musings, or add a “comment” — clickable at the top or bottom of each story. The search function works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous articles.