For 3 days La Paulée raged in the city of San Francisco. The biggest, most glorious celebration of fine Burgundy of the year took over the hearts and minds of the Burgundy's faithful, as they shelled our their hard-earned cash and their best bottles to take part in this unbridled debauchery, one I am most proud and satisfied to have contributed to.
I wish I could say I attended all events, but alas my time, money, and cellar are not bottomless, thus I focused on two events - the Burghound Seminar "A Study in Terroir", followed by the Grand Tasting. Hosted in the gorgeous Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square (where Rona and I had held our magnificent wedding), bright and early at 10am on Saturday morning of March 13, myself and a crowd of about a hundred wine geeks were staring at Allen Meadows (aka "Burghound") - perhaps the most influential wine critic of Burgundy wines in the world, as he moderated the presentation alongside Veronique Drouhin, the Head Winemaker of Joseph Drouhin and Jacques Lardiere, the Technical Director of Maison Louis Jadot.
For an hour and a half, I was being properly indoctrinated in the concept of terroir and its extreme relevance to Burgundy. Allen went over the history of the region and why it was so natural for the neighboring plots of land to have developed and been accepted as different terroirs, but what I was really paying attention to were the 6 glasses in front of me, 3 select Chardonnays from the 2006 vintage from Drouhin and 3 Pinot Noirs from the 2002 vintage from Jadot, the most worthy line-ups from their revered stables.
Veronique Drouhin, the 4th generation of Drouhins, featured Chablis 1er Cru Sécher 2006, Beaune 1er Cru "Clos des Mouches" Blanc 2006, and Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2006. Notice all 2006's. (Aha! I've been quite impressed with 2006 white Burgundies, and this was yet another confirmation.)
The first wine Chablis 1er Cru Sécher 2006, biodynamically grown, comes from a special sub-plot called "Sécher" within the Vaillons 1er Cru vineyard. In the 1960's, the Drouhins were among the first wine domaines who saw the potential of Chablis after the region had been ravaged by phyllorexa a century prior, and lay largely devoid of fine winemaking ever since. There are a total of 8 lieux-dits (sub-plots) in Vaillons, and while others may have more masculine personality, not Sécher. Interestingly, even Drouhin's own website says that Sécher is located next to Vaillons, rather than being a part of it. But Veronique stated it very clearly that it's one of 8 sub-plots of Vaillons, one with a more elegant, feminine character. I loved this wine - elegant and balanced - classical Chablis, classical Burgundy. Citrusy and round, zero oak, great acid that was refreshing but not sour, not a trace of alcoholic heat, what a pleasure of a wine. Veronique explained that the ripening window was very short in 2006, so picking the right date for harvesting was critical. Those who got it wrong even by a couple of days, ended up with inferior wines. Not Sécher, my new fave 1er Cru Chablis. Ah, only in Burgundy do you talk not just about vineyards but sub-plots!
Next, I tasted Beaune 1er Cru "Clos des Mouches" 2006. Grown on soils that are supposed to be planted to Pinot (hence "Clos des Mouches" Rouge), the Blanc is surely one of Drouhin's claims to fame (they own the majority of this renowned vineyard). You can follow this informative link to learn the technical details about the vineyard and the vintage published on the Joseph Drouhin web site, including Veronique's tasting notes. Here are mine -- perceptible influence of oak and honey on the nose, viscous, nice unaggressive acid and quiet fruit on the palate gave the impression of classic Cote d'Or. However, the wine seemed to have a tiny bit of corkiness or some sort of greenish roughness that made the aftertaste seem a touch unpleasant (since noone else mentioned anything, it could not have been cork, could it?). Veronique did point out that early in its life, Clos des Mouches is known for having a reductive note - perhaps there was a connection. Allen Meadows chimed in to point out the distinctive characteristic of Clos des Mouches is that it's "agreeable young, but ages for a long time". Compared to the Chablis, I was not as impressed with Clos des Mouches at this stage, especially considering the QPR (approx $35 for the Chablis vs $100 for the Clos des Mouches).
And then we arrived at the most highly anticipated wine of the hour - Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2006 from the most revered white wine vineyard in the world - Le Montrachet, the wine of Thomas Jefferson and the monarchs of Europe, even the modest examples going for no less than $400/bottle these days. From the fine white Burgundy grand cru that I've had the pleasure of tasting, Batard-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and Chevalier-Montrachet are certainly amazing wines (see my recent write-up here.) But Le Montrachet is supposed to be the apogee! So imagine my hands shaking and my heartbeat quickened, as I kept peeking at the glass throughout the presentation and the tasting of the Chablis and the Clos des Mouches. Finally, the time had come - and I took a whiff!
...To be continued in Part 1.2.