Burgundy: more than politics


Jeffrey Kelly invited me to Terroirs & Signatures de Bourgogne. Even though I got an A in high school French – the closest I could come to understanding the invitation – was that it had something to do with France and the ground. Usually my politics overcome my better judgment and destinations that are not user friendly with the US are immediately placed in the recycle bin. For whatever reason, I read through the rest of the email to find that I was invited to taste the wines of Burgundy at the Tribeca Skyline Rooftop on Desbrosses Street, NYC.

There was an educational session in the morning which would be helpful to understanding the nuances of the wines of Burgundy. Unfortunately, eturbonews.com/tourismexecutives.com (with 235,000 international subscribers and millions of readers through CNN and Google RSS feeds) was not considered for this opportunity.

Looking on the bright side, the PR people assumed that I knew all there was to know about the wines of Burgundy and the seminar would be redundant and therefore boring for me.

The larger question still remained: Could I overcome my French – phobia and be willing to accept the fact that a) the wines from the region are considered to be among the best on the planet and b) the tasting was likely to provide a wonderfully mouth/soul pleasing afternoon?

I RSVPd my acceptance and on the appropriate date I set off to locate Desbrosses Street and the Rooftop. Most of Manhattan is easy to navigate…all except this bit of terrain that runs adjacent to the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. In this nether region of the City there is almost no rhyme or reason to the layout of the streets. The subway and busses drop passengers blocks away from the intended destination and even people walking the streets (including the local police) do not know one block from the other.

On the date of the event, I was tempted to be a no-show. The weather was a combination of drizzle, mist, and dampness (the best place to be was a sauna) and the bother of finding the location really put me off my game. The lure of French wines finally won the toss and I trekked off to the subway to get to Canal Street where a really cute guy offered to walk me to Desbrosses Street, since he was heading in the same direction (but I digress).

Finally I locate the building, take the elevator to the rooftop and was instantly engaged in a jaw-dropping spectacular view of the NYC skyline. Even on this dreadful day it was a perfect venue for indulging my taste buds with fine French wines from 40 different vintners.
The Primer

The wines of Burgundy can be dated back to the Celts and then the ancient Romans (over 20 centuries ago) and refined by the Benedictine and Cistercian monks. In other regions the chateaux are ranked, in Burgundy it is the vineyards that are compared. The process gets confusing because there are likely to be many dozens of winemakers producing wines in the same locale.

The meaning of terroir was my next lesson. Now I know that it is the basis for the French wine Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) system that is the model for appellation and wine laws around the world. It assumes that the land from which the grapes are grown develop a unique quality that is region – specific. The scope and influence of the terroir is frequently debated in the wine industry.

Next lesson: The term climat is associated with the wines of Burgundy and specific to privileged plots of ground that are endowed with unique geological and climatic conditions (i.e., landscape, soil, subsoil, vegetation). When this soil is combined with traditional methods for wine-making from two grape varieties, Pinot Noir (red wines) and Chardonnay (white wines), world-class wines are produced. The wines of Burgundy are usually made from one single grape, giving the wine a unique and authentic personality.

The Wine Tasting Oenophile
So, I walk into this huge room with 40 tables covered with wine bottles, and hundreds of people sniffing, swirling, tasting and spitting out some of the best wines on the planet. Where to start? I could follow the lead of some of the guests and try every wine at every table which adds up to tasting almost three hundred wines. Or I could be a gourmet, tasting only the Grand Cru. Neither choice seemed like a good idea. No matter how much spitting I would do, and no matter how many clean glasses I would use, there is no way I could review so many wines.

I noticed that most of the crowd was selecting the Grand Cru (vineyard name alone) which accounts for only 2 percent of production and refers to wines produced from the small number of the best vineyard sites in the Cote d’Or. The Premier Cru (450 vineyards) accounting for 12 percent of production is produced from specific vineyard sites that are still considered to be of high quality, but not as well regarded as the Grand Cru sites, were also very popular tables. The Premier Cru wines are identified by the name of the village and then the name of the vineyard. The Village wines had the smallest number of tasters hovering over the bottles. These wines can be a blend of wines from supposedly lesser vineyard sites within the boundaries of an individual village, or from one individual but non-classified vineyard. Village wines make up 36% of production.

I finally decided to taste a few of the wines that I had never tried before; therefore I would not pre-judge or have any expectations.

1. Domaine Pierre Naigeon: Marsanny, La Charme au Pretre, 2009. Marsannay is the most northern appellation of the Cote de Nuits sub-region of Burgundy. Pinot Noir is the principal variety used for red wines.

• Not my favorite wine of the day. The first swallow hit the back of my throat with an unpleasant sharpness, while the hints of cherry and strawberry fought each other for dominance. This is a great wine to take on a late summer picnic, along with a book of poetry, rustic bread and a mild soft cheese (i.e., Lille from Vermont or Brie de Nangis from Brie, southwest of Paris)

2. Maison Stephane Brocard: Pommard, LaRue aux orts, Closerie des Alisiers, 2010.

• You know that you are drinking a red wine with severe tannins that coat the tongue on the first go-round. This is followed by a robust mouthful with rich fruity cherry, black currant and plum essence that is blended into one flavorful experience. Best enjoyed with rare roast beef and Livarot (from Normandy) for dessert alongside apples, pears and grapes. The full spicy flavor gives the cheese a strong personality and is considered one of the greatest cheeses in the world.

3. Domaine Latour-Giraud, Jean Pierre Latour: Pommard, Cuvee Carmen, 2009

• Deep dark and beautiful to watch as it swirls in the glass. Leaves lots of tannin on the tongue, followed by a richness of apples and cinnamon, strawberries and cherries, all searching for an identity. Good for sipping late night with a mystery movie.

4. Louis Max, Philippe Bardet: Pommard, 2010.

• The best of the Pommard’s with a good balance of flavor (cherries, strawberries and raspberries). Light on the tannin, tangy and smooth finish without a hint of sweetness. Brings forth visions of late fall walks in the woods, followed by a dinner of cheese fondue and Chopin.

Cheese Selections from Burgundy
• Epoisses is a smelly, gooey cheese from Burgundy with a rind washed in marc de Bourgogne, a local brandy. The round wooden box in which the cheese in packaged does not keep the aroma controlled. The 250g wheels have a smell of their own; however, they can be delightfully paired with the wines of Burgundy (try with Pommard).

• Delice de Pommard is produced by Monsieur Alain Hess in the village of Beaune. The cheese is made from cow’s milk triple crème cheese and blended with brown mustard seeds. It is recommended as the perfect first cheese at a picnic.

• Langres is made in the high planes of Champagne from cow’s milk. It has a soft center that is creamy in color and crumbles to the touch. The cheese is surrounded by a white penicillium candidum rind. It is recommended that Champagne be poured into the crater in the center (cuvette). Accompanied by a strong aroma and a bit salty, it melts quickly on the tongue and offers a wonderful ly complex taste experience. The best time to enjoy it is between May and August after 5 weeks of aging.

• Affidelice is made from pasteurized cow’s milk that has been washed in Chablis wine from Burgundy. The texture is dense and velvety in the center and fluid around the edges – all held in place by a soft and moist orange rind. This is best paired with a Chardonnay or sparkling wine and sweet fruits.

Leave the politics to the folks with nothing better to do with their time. Call your travel agent or head to www.bourgogne-wines.com and make arrangements for a superb wining and dining experience. Starve before you go as the wines and cheeses, and other goodies are so seductive that the words “no” and “calories” must be banished from your vocabulary. This is a wonderful opportunity to say “yes” to every glass of wine and every bite of cheese. Additional information: Burgundy Wine Board.