Meeting George Derbalian of Atherton Wine Imports

The other night I had the privilege of attending a private dinner hosted by our neighbors, who invited the owner / founder of Atherton Wine Imports - George Derbalian and his wife Sue-Min to be the wine stuarts for an aspiring group of wine aficionados. Atherton have been around for over 30 years and established reputation for carrying some of the top names in Burgundy, including producers like Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Groffier, Roty, Hudelot-Noellat, Anne Gros, and many others whose wines I cherish in my cellar. They also import some other famous regions, but it's Burgundy where I have typically seen and bought their bottles. The dinner hosted by a prominent Chinese family consisted of home-cooked Shanghai-style (non-spicy) seafood, vegetables, poultry and pork-based courses. I have noted in the past that Chinese food when not spicy, tends to pair well with both white and red burgundy, and this experience further cemented that belief. George and Sue-Min seemed like a delightful couple, and it was my true pleasure to hear their remarks on the producers, vineyards, and vintages before us.

1. Upon arrival, guests were treated with a glass of chilled Krug Grande Cuvee (NV), one of my favorite champagnes, always classy, with great energy and precision, and a touch of gingery complexity and a brioche note. Krug for me strikes the perfect balance between ripeness, roundness and crystallinity.

Two superb white burgundies and seven red burgundies followed to delight taste buds. Here are my notes.

The Whites

2. 2013 Lucien Le Moine Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Canet - despite the 2013 vintage having reputation for producing leaner, higher acid, zesty, crystalline whites, it was clear that the richer style of Lucien Le Moine resulted in something different... and decadent. Exotic notes of botrytis were evident, with tropical fruits supported by excellent acidity and oak - an incredibly delicious pairing for a ginger stir-fried crab with noodles.

3. 2014 Charles Van Canneyt Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets - my first time with Charles' own (negociant) label, one of the two excellent wines represented at the dinner, and another stroke of greatness of the 2014 vintage for the whites of Burgundy, this wine was much more classic in profile than the previous one - more crisp, structured, very clean and pure, with perfect balance of elements. As all other 2014 white burgs I've tasted so far (probably 20 or so), this is already delightful, and will only get better with a few years of age!

The Reds

For the reds, we had three excellent examples of the same Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru vineyard that I had never had before - Les Hauts Doix, which was exciting! We then had a brand-new 2014 Vosne Petits-Monts from Hudelot-Noellat's Charles Van Canneyt who now makes some clearly excellent wines under his own label. We finished the progression with three Grand Cru's.

4. 2013 Lucien Le Moine Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Hauts-Doix - very open and fruity, this is a pleasure to drink now for its breadth of aroma and exuberance. The structure is currently obscured by the fruit.

5. 2012 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Hauts-Doix - comes across as more serious, with more power, more structure, and more refinement. Superb with time.

6. 2008 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Hauts-Doix - with few more years of age under their belt, the 2008's are starting to drink well. This bottle was great - some secondary development, excellent balance of fruit and earth. Broad wine without hard edges, and my favorite of the 3 examples of this vineyard, although the 2012 seems to be destined for even brighter future. In general, the Groffier style came across as more refined, while Le Moine was (as usual) more opulent and luscious.

Then came the excellent 2014 Vosne-Romanee from Charles Van Canneyt.

7. 2014 Charles Van Canneyt Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Les Petits-Monts - an excellent vineyard, this was the only Vosne Romanee in the line-up and the more serious, more sculpted character of the commune was evident. Blind, I could have mistaken it for a 2013, but perhaps with a slightly better balance, and less acidity sticking out, which pointed to 2014. There are several excellent producers such as Joseph Drouhin, Georges Noellat, Comte Liger Belair and Mongeard-Mugneret now competing for top honors at Petits Monts, and I suspect Charles Van Canneyt will soon be among them. While this 2014 is still not fully integrated, it seems very well balanced. I wish I had more time to spend with it, but alas, the next set of wines was ushered in.

The party closed with three red Grand Cru's.

8. 2007 Domaine Joseph Roty Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru TVV - this is a flagship wine for the famous domaine, and considered by many to be the best example of that vineyard due to very old vines. It is also hardly a secret to Burgundy lovers that 2007's have been drinking superbly for a couple of years now. So this was the right time to take a look at this wine, and we were not disappointed. Though Roty's Charmes has a reputation for being deep, dark, extracted, and destined to last decades, it was apparent that the lighter 2007 vintage served well to soften the wine and make it approachable relatively early. Excellent density of material, perfectly balanced between red fruits, earth and herbs, still with long evolution ahead, this wine easily betrayed its pedigree without any overt flash, exoticism, or opulence. In the evening's exemplary line-up, this was the quiet but confident star.

9. 2002 Frederic Esmonin Chambertin Clos-de-Beze Grand Cru - the most elevated grand cru at the dinner, from an excellent vintage, this wine should have been fantastic. But the truth is it was relatively uninteresting, and perhaps too young and undeveloped (?) Not bad but nothing special. Bummer. Frederic Esmonin is much better known for his Ruchottes-Chambertin, so I was not totally surprised that his Beze did not shine.

10. 2000 Nicolas Potel Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru - I have had this wine a number of times over the last few years and it has never disappointed, as first described in my ecstatic note three years ago. It has continued to evolve and is getting better. This was the bottle I brought, and funny enough, it had been imported by Atherton. It was stellar this time too, with pungent, vibrant, powerful, complex cherry, pomegranate and forest notes, clearly grand cru weight and intensity. Drinking well now, but no hurry.

The wonderful evening organized by the gracious hosts underscored the versatility and charm of Burgundy. Having multiple bottles of Le Moine, Groffier, and Charles Van Canneyt, and that's before even getting to grand cru's, is not something that happens every day, and in fact, each bottle would have brought great pleasure to accompany a whole meal all by itself. Drinking them all in one evening was clearly too much "fun", and I paid the price (of hangover) the next day, but who's complaining?


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