Here we are at Hospices de Beaune in the beautiful city of Burgundy, one of the oldest and most prestigious wine auctions in the world. It was created in the Middle Ages, the city’s solution to helping the poor and ill. Today the auction is managed by Christie's and attracts a glitzy international crowd.
Yet before the auction is the Fete des Grand Vins Bourgogne (Burgundy Wine Festival), which takes place free outdoors (in the form of parades and special staged events) and indoor paid tastings. Today’s schedule finds me tasting hundreds of 1st Cru and other wines at Fete des Grand Vins Bourgogne (Burgundy Wine Festival), held in the Palais des Congres de Beaune.
For Burgundy lovers, it is like seeing precious diamonds everywhere you look — all the famous names right there, beckoning you to try them. I spend some serious time looking at the list of wines and discovering my plan of attack. In addition to the press and trade, local citizens can also enter for about 24 euros each. They seem extremely excited to be here, both to taste the wine and be a part of this very important event surrounding the auction.
As I make notes on the sidelines I see Jeanne-Marie De Champs of Domaines et Saveurs Collection walk by. If you love Burgundy wine, you may recognize the name. She is a wine merchant representing Meo-Camuzet, Domaine LaMarche, Chateau de la Maltroye, Chateau Genot Boulanger, Domaine Paul Pernot et Fils, etc. The previous night, she held a private reception and dinner for journalists and the trade in her apartment.
Now if you ever saw the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, which featured a swank collection of trendy, jetset, international types (a Japanese women in a Kimono, a Brazilian playboy, etc) at the apartment of character Holly GoLightly (played by Audrey Hepburn) you may have an idea of the kinds of characters present. Many journalists from Asia, myself and a few other American journalists, and many of her friends from the European and American trade. Jeanne-Marie greeted her guests with champagne and went on to formally seat everyone and serve a multi-course meal along with incredible wines from her collection, including many wines she bought at the Hospice auction. In her warm dining room by candlelight it was pretty magical being with this notable Burgundy personality and hearing stories of Hospice auctions gone by.
So in the Congres de Beaune, by a vendor selling sandwiches to hungry wine -tasting locals, I ask her to say a few words about how she happened to become a wine merchant and how she chooses to work with producers (or as she calls them, the farmers).
Continuing on, I spend some serious time with Herve Tucki, whose business card reads “Ambassadeur de Marque” or “Brand Ambassador” for Grand Cru Chablis producer La Chablisienne. I taste his wines and ask him if someone blind tasting all the Grand Cru Chablis wines could identify the vineyards blind. To my surprise, he says yes … and goes on to give a description of each vineyard.
By now, it is time to enter a different salon for journalists where we can taste wines from Chassagne-Montrachet and from Fixin (pronounced Fisson), which has five Premier Cru vineyards, the best ones located near Gevrey-Chambertin. Andrew Bell, of the American Sommelier Association, believes that a typical Fixin wine is said to share the structure of a Gevrey-Chambertin with slightly less fruitiness and believes the difference is due to the slightly cooler microclimate of Fixin along with the flatter land the commune is built upon.
As I enter this salon I meet Alex Moreau of Domaine Bernard Moreau, who tells visitors about the upcoming Saint Vincent Tour 2010 on January 30 and 31 2009, a tradition in keeping with the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin in honor of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of wine-growers. The program includes entertainment, food, and tasting sessions.The Wine Media Guild in New York featured a tasting, lunch, and theme featuring the wines of Puligny-Chassagne and Chassagne-Montrachet and how they are different.
Now its a very guilty pleasure to spend the morning tasting through ’07 Grand Cru Chassagne-Montrachet and Fixin … the Chassagne-Montrachet were remarkable in their brightness and racy acidity. In the WSET (Wine and Spirits Educational Trust) tasting system, I rate few wines high in acidity (most of my marks are medium high) yet these wines were very high, which says a great deal about their ability to age and improve. Searing acidity is more the word, yet with great balance. As a group I found the wines to be incredibly rich in minerals, with a long finish, and hints of butter (some more than others). I discovered I could become seriously hooked on Chassagne-Montrachet – yes, there is a reason they come at such a dear price.
Further down the aisle I saw Panos Kavaviatos, who I sat next to at a dinner at the second growth Chateau Brane-Cantanec during VinExpo ’09 in Bordeaux. He is a writer and Bon Vivant and as typical, he did not have his card. I had misplaced the scrap of paper he wrote it on during dinner, so this time offered him my notebook. Soon it was time for the the “Convival Lunch” for the press and representatives of viticulture and the Burgundy wine trade.
I was surprised to see it would be a formal, seated lunch — Cecile Mathiaud, energetic ambassador for the Bureau Interprofessional des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), was everywhere as she seated guests with a smile and made introductions. Seated next to be was Georges Waser, a Swiss arts correspondent, Nelly Blau-Picard, Marketing and Communication Manager for the BIVB, and other international journalists and BIVB officials.
The starter of crayfish salad was served with Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Maltroie 2007. It was pale lemon in color with lemon highlights, racy acidity, and a long finish of melted butter, apple, vanilla and cinnamon. “Le Clos des Mouches” 2007 from Fixin was paired with the duck in a berry sauce. The wine was garnet, with a nose of sweet violets, sweet bright berries, and a certain “grape-y” aroma. On the palate it had bright acidity, red and purple berries, and no obvious oak – a good pairing for the duck. The fromage was paired with Theulot Julliot Mercury 1er Cru “Le Cailloure” 07, with a long, finish of ripe fruit, blackberry, and black currants. It was quite concentrated and complex.
All in all, a very exciting and promising start to the auction weekend!