How to have a great day with Burgundy in Napa Valley

Weather in the perfect 70's, blue skies and sunshine. Vines covered in green foliage, coating the Napa valley floor and the hillsides along highway 29. At 11am, Rona, my friend Krishna and I show up at the door-step of estate-like Wilson Daniels building just south of St. Helena for a private tasting of the new releases of the Wilson Daniels portfolio. On the way, we stop by the original Oakville Grocery to grab a croissant and a coffee, bringing back the old memories of when we used to come here almost every single weekend in the days of my Cali passion. The food and setting still beckon me to this day, but alas the wines do not.

Lori, the media relations manager at WD, set up this private tasting after we'd met at La Paulee earlier this year. Wilson Daniels Ltd. of course are famous for representing such elevated properties as Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Faiveley, and Champagne Salon. Taking a day off work and a 2-hour drive from Palo Alto was well worth it, for the wonderful day that followed was just beginning to unfold.

Lori led us to a spotless, antiquish tasting room, beautiful light spilling through the windows onto an expansive table where over 20 bottles had been opened for our inspection, multitude of glasses and a stack of marketing materials neatly placed in front of us.

Having just recently enjoyed Domaine Leflaive's 2007 Macon-Verze on 3 separate occasions, I had been looking forward to tasting the 2008 release. Next to it, Lori placed a relatively unknown white Burgundy from Domaine Faiveley - a 2007 Mercurey "Clos Rochette" Monopole, from a vineyard in an unheralded village of Mercurey in Cote Chalonnaise, owned entirely by the Faiveley family.

Both Burgundies can be deemed as entry-level wines for the respective producers. Although at that level it's often hard to find compelling examples, these two very different wines both impressed. The 2008 Leflaive was also very different from its 2007 version. I'd found the 2007 to have Champagne-like nose and yeastiness, ripeness and roundness of the fruit, supported by solid acidity and minerality. The 2008 was more Prosecco-like, lean, limey, very mineral, super high acidity, very vibrant, racy, with tons of energy, I could easily imagine bubbles in it. Coming from Maconnaise, area far more southerly than Champagne or Chablis, these wines nonetheless took me north, begging seafood. While I prefer the flavor profile of the 2007 Macon-Verze, for lovers of Chablis, Leflaive's 2008 Macon-Verze provides an excellent alternative. Faiveley's wine from Mercurey was totally different - rounder and more elegant than Macon-Verze, with deft influence of oak (where Leflaive had none), good acidity and minerality, a lovely example of a balanced white Burgundy at the below-Premiere-Cru level. Admittedly I have a bit of a positive bias toward monopoles (vineyards owned by a single domaine, a rarity in Burgundy) - which often provide shining examples of stand-out wines in the vast portfolios of larger Domaines, such as Clos des Ursules from Jadot, Chablis Secher and Beaune Clos des Mouches, both from Drouhin. For me, Faiveley's 2007 Clos Rochette is definitely worth seeking out (at around $30-35 price tag).

A mini-vertical of Faiveley's red Burgundy from Nuits-Saint-Georges (village level) - 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 - very much followed the classical distinctions of those 4 years. 2004 - aromatic high-acid vegetable; 2005 - balanced and tannic (though Faiveley's 2005 NSG seemed lighter than what I'd expect from that vintage), 2006 - open and generous, fragrant raspberry, great acid, a touch of bitter spice (in a good way), a little mint, and charm - my favorite of the four wines - once again reaffirming to me the pleasures of the under-rated 2006 vintage (in both reds and whites); and 2007 - firm and angular, high-acid (here Faiveley's version seemed more meaty and muscular than I'd expect from 2007 - perhaps even musky, with a touch of milkiness.) Clearly food wines, all with plenty of earth and acid, still I couldn't get overly excited about them. Having previously tasted a good number of Faiveley's Grand Cru level bottlings, my feeling is that the domaine peforms better at that tier of reds.

We moved on to Italy, where two wines stood out for me. 2006 Rosso di Montalcino from Val Di Suga - a producer I'd never tasted before - showed like a baby Brunello, still tannic, nicely integrated fruit, earth, wood, acid and spice, not heavy, with character - my kind of Rosso that at ~25/bottle is well worth it. And Ceretto 2005 Zonchera Barolo - the basic Barolo from Ceretto - lustrous translucent ruby color, young and tannic, but showing pure, bright, primary sweet fruit, delicious and consistent with other 2005 Barolos I've had recently - quite a charming vintage. Ceretto is perhaps better known for their high-end Bricco Rocche label. Having had no experience with this producer, the first one was promising. Not inexpensive in 2005 (suggested retail $49, should probably sell for closer to $40), the 2004 can be found for $29. Note to self: this producer has a large portfolio of properties and single-vineyard bottlings that I need to research and taste more.

3 hours later, well past the customary lunch time, we bid thanks and farewell to Lori and were on our way to Bottega, a restaurant she reminded us of in Yountville that we'd never been to. Sitting outside on a perfect afternoon, sharing tasting notes, a sort of Italy-meets-Spain-meets-Napa-Valley food was spectacular. Krishna, never to be caught without a killer Burgundy in his trunk, produced a bottle of 2002 Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes Rouge (old vines red) by Bernard Morey that hit the spot - bright, fresh, tart, light-to-medium body, with intense red berry flavor, it reminded me of another Chassagne-Montrachet rouge - a 1990 Leroy - a killer wine, both from excellent vintages. Chassagne-Montrachet is all about the whites, so drinking a red from that village is unusual. But I must say - these wines have it - a certain irresistible tart cran/cherry profile, purity, energy and silkiness of texture. Though normally I prefer Italian wine with Italian food, the wine's refreshing tartness was perfect on a warm sunny afternoon.

A great meal and an awesome bottle of Pinot behind us, and a quick coffee pit-stop at Bouchon bakery, where one can buy the most delicious ridiculously expensive sweets in the Napa Valley (and to-die-for sandwiches), Krishna was on his way back, while Rona and I hit our customary shopping spot - Napa Premium Outlets. Normally a shoppo-hater, I have grown to embrace the Napa Outlets - where we easily spend 2-3 hours, stocking up on shoes, shirts, jeans, and god knows what. Before we knew it, it was 7pm and time to head home. The hour-and-a-half drive back was just long enough to allow both of us to contemplate the day's pleasures and to think fondly of the time we hit the Napa route again.


enochchoi said…
Another step for me to like Burgs more...

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