French Wine Tour 2014 - June 12

June 12 – Thursday

The day was free up until our appointment at the cellars of Joseph Drouhin scheduled for 4pm. We ran across several of the group whilst enjoying breakfast in the hotel gardens. From there a plan was hatched to split up; the girls wanted to explore the shops of course as were the boys; only our shops were of course filled with all the wine treasures of Burgundy.

Later we met up with the girls and they, like us, were ready for a light lunch and a glass of wine. Christophe had directed us to a delightful local café in a backstreet of Beaune called Le P'tit Paradis, where we enjoyed a delicious and inexpensive lunch accompanied by an Auxey-Duresses Blanc and a 2005 Chateau de Pez, which Royce had struck a good bargain on at one of the wine shops.By 2pm we were back at the hotel to rest and freshen for our 4pm appointment at Joseph Drouhin.

The nice thing about our hotel location was that it was only a 10-minute stroll to the centre of Beaune where Joseph Drouhin offices and underground caves are also located.Christophe greeted our group then led us into a room where the pressing of the wines was done by the monks in the 18th & 19th centuries; the original vertical press remains on display and potentially functional. It has a unique, gentle pressing action and recently Joseph Drouhin have experimented with the building of a modern prototype that mimics the process. Christophe shared the history of Joseph Drouhin with us, which dates back to 1875 and these days the business is run by four brothers and one sister named Veronique (missed the brothers names sorry – so much information to take in), they are the largest family owned winemaking business in Burgundy with 85 hectares of vines in Burgundy and Chablis under their ownership (including village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru holdings). They also have 120 hectares in Oregon in the USA.

Like all Burgundy producers they have differing philosophies on viticulture (they are bio-dynamic producers), winemaking processes and selection of oak. After delivering a brief overview of their 139-year history Christophe led us down into the caves, which are 1km in length and crisscross the surrounding buildings and streets. In the main barrel storage cellar Christophe had set up a tasting for our group of eight Joseph Drouhin wines as follows…

The white wines…
Chablis Premier Cru Vaillon 2012 – very citrus, clean, mineral and with typical Chablis oyster shell notes on the finish.
Saint-Veran 2012 – a un-oaked replica of the Vaillon Chablis but more spicy with floral notes, warm and creamy reflecting the influence of the schist/granite soils.
Puligny Montrachet Folatieres 2009 – from a very warm, ripe vintage the fruits were rich with sweet nutty oak, wild ferment notes, lemon curd and almond butter with an appealing savoury/salty finish.
Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot – Marquis de Laugiche 2011 - A lovely, elegant wine with creamy nougat, fresh pastry and baking spices permeating concentrated citrus and stone fruits.

The red wines…
Cotes du Beaune 2011 – mostly premier cru fruit… it was well structured with strong red fruits threaded with savoury/spicy/earthy notes.
Beaune Champimonts Premier Cru 2009 – exhibited the warm, ripe tastes of the 2009 vintage and generosity of red fruits and deep spicy notes ending with a savoury freshness.
Chambolle Musigny 2011 – quite closed on the nose it was surprisingly fleshy on the palate with red fruits dominating. It had an excellent tannin/acid balance with a salty note on the finish.
Nuits-Saint-George Proces Premier Cru 2007 - very full flavoured with secondary notes of truffle oil, riper black fruits and game evolving. Nice fruit/acid balance with underlying milk chocolate notes and nutmeg spice… good wine beginning to drink near its best.

Just when we thought we had concluded a very fine and generous tasting Christophe returned from a short absence with two rather dusty, unlabelled bottles in hand and began to draw their corks at the same time asking if we would like to try something a bit older. “Of course” was the unanimous response from our group. I suspected we were in for a real treat and we most certainly were. This was a rare experience and the wines were exceptional - my brief notes as follows….

Chambolle Musigny 1990 – from the great 1990 vintage it was in terrific shape with many years life ahead of it though nearing its peak. I enjoy the feminine expression of top quality Chambolle Musigny and that was evident both on the nose and the minute it hit your palate. It was now developing gamey/truffle/earthy/spicy complexity and the palate was very poised and silky… a real treat.

But wait… it gets even better!

Clos du Mouches 1976 – I was yet to experience a Burgundy of this age, which proved an amazing experience and treat. As expected this was a more masculine than the Chambolle, intense and complex wine in excellent heart and likely to drink for another 15-20 years stored in such cellar conditions, though pretty much at the peak of its evolution. Loads of savoury complexity and velvety mouth feel with lively acidity still. It opened up in the glass as we sipped slowly on it for the next 15-20 minutes while discussing its merits and conveying to Christophe our appreciation of his generosity.

Christophe then led us on a tour through the underground cellars which were filled with thousands of bottles and magnums (serious stock holding of aged wines), unlabelled and only recognisable by code. We arrived back in the cellar door reception and after a brief farewell headed back to our hotel to freshen for dinner in the Hotels Michelin restaurant where Christophe was set to join us. The hotel had unbeknown to us had relocated the dinner to the private cellar room directly under the restaurant. We began with a glass of the local Bourgogne Cremant (Chardonnay based Methode Traditionnelle made like Champagne) spiked with a shot of a local beverage called “Marc de Bourgogne”, a brandy like spirit pressed from grape skins, which tasted rather like vintage Port and added a velvet edge to the bubbly, but was still quite refreshing; though one glass was enough. The dinner was superb and perfectly matched the Joseph Drouhin wines Christophe had selected; the menu and matching wines as follows…

Pan-sautéed Escalope of Duck Foie Gras – Joseph Drouhin Mersault 2011Pike Perch fillet a la Plancha – Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Folatières 2010Roasted Beef Fillet – Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin 2009Duet of cheeses – Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin 2009… continuedAlmond Mousse – Henriot NV Rosé Champagne

It was 11.30pm and we were all very replete – all that was required was for Craig King to deliver a vote of thanks to Christophe for what had been a privileged and remarkable day. Craig did it right from the heart encapsulating the group's feelings with aplomb. Christophe felt a touch overwhelmed as the group requested him to sign their individual menus as a memento, and while fairly gregarious he is a rather humble man. After saying their goodbyes and heading to bed, Virginia and I adjourned to the bar for a single Champagne nightcap with Christophe and a chance to say an extended goodbye to our great friend from Burgundy. As we said our final farewell we extracted a promise from him that he would return to Auckland within 12-months to host a couple of evenings at FWD Co. for our customers – we'll keep you posted.