As I arrived in sunny Beaune, it was safe to say it was tourist season. Families, historians, wine-lovers, food-lovers, art-lovers, plus many more from all over the world, flock to this ancient and exceptionally beautiful town in Burgundy to visit and spend time. I’m lucky to be able to visit Beaune regularly, but regardless, its charm and civility will never get tiresome. The people, the buildings and the history… all are very special indeed.
But on this day, it was 38 degrees and busy. Bustling. Some quiet time and solitude were required. I was in town to visit an old friend, who also happens to be one of one of the world’s foremost wine collectors. The plan was to meet at their private members club, the exclusive 1243 Bourgogne Society, which has fewer than 100 members, all with their own personal collection of wines held in the cavernous, underground cellars underneath the historic Hospices de Beaune. Their private garden - with dappled shade, a gentle breeze, tucked away from the bustling streets - was exactly what I was looking for.
Dining at 1243
The evening was generously hosted by my friend. Also in attendance were some discerning guests; several prominent Burgundy growers, authors, critics, experienced collectors, MWs. And me. All united around the table as Burgundy obsessives.
We were preparing to be treated to a magnificent six course, exceptionally well-constructed menu by esteemed Burgundian chef Christophe Queant of Le Carmin in Beaune. Christophe trained with 3 star chefs Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon, before returning to his native Burgundy, to open his own restaurant. Passionate about ingredients, seasonality and not over-engineering dishes, the menu was built around the breathtaking line up of wines.
The selection was a mind-blowingly rare list of historic Champagnes and Burgundies, spanning a full spectrum of the top domaines, and with a phenomenal depth of vintages back to 1929. All expertly sourced by an extraordinarily accomplished and experienced collector, the quality of the bottles across the whole selection was simply outstanding.
On arrival, we were greeted with a glass of 2006 Salon Le Mesnil - taught, vibrant and persistent, this is still phenomenally youthful but showed real class and depth.
2002 Krug Clos du Mesnil followed swiftly - slightly more rounded than the Salon, but hugely vinous and energetic. A core of rich fruit supported by bright acidity and unbelievable freshness, this is legendary effort and undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements Krug have made. A truly remarkable Champagne.
Vin Blanc Flight
2008 Meursault from Domaine et Selection (Coche Dury bottle)
2009 Meursault from Domaine et Selection (Coche Dury bottles)
The 2009 in isolation would be delicious and gratifying, but next to the nervy and bright 2008, it was definitely upstaged. 2008 white Burgundies started out very austere and for many, troublesome to appreciate and understand. After 10 years of patience, the wines have gained some weight and the best examples maintain extraordinary freshness and bright acidity. A little reduction, not too much but just enough, struck match on the nose, but the mouth-coating level of extract in this Coche 08 was fantastic. Long live 2008 white Burgundy!
2006 Chablis Les Clos, Raveneau - one of the lighter vintages of Raveneau’s legendary Grand Cru Les Clos I’ve encountered, which I normally associate with deep, concentrated richness and flesh, but the restraint and delicacy of the 06 vintage worked perfectly with the very elegant and vibrant dish of shredded crab, herbs, green asparagus and Kristal Caviar it was served alongside.
Vin Rouge Flight(s)
1978 Pommard, Grands Epenots 1er Cru, Michel Ganoux
1969 Pommard, Rugiens 1er Cru, Michel Gaunoux
Being the better vintage, the expectancy was the 78 would shine brighter than the 69. Not so. The 78 was more youthful, denser and I’m sure will eventually blossom. But right here, right now? The 69 was in a wonderful place, ethereal and delicate and perfectly balanced. Soft, bright and perfumed, wonderfully fresh and sweet. So expressive, structured still but silky and long. Some very subtle spice on the finish, married beautifully with the fillet of veal which was scrubbed lightly with cumin. Certainly one of the stars of the evening and so wonderful to be remined of just how well Gaunoux’s wines develop with time.
Domaine Michel Gaunoux is a grower we know intimately here at F+R and have imported for many years now. To try a couple of the rarer back vintages together, particularly knowing how little wine the domaine has left of these vintages, was very special indeed.
1971 Echezeaux from Bouchard - classic and rich, quite pure, perhaps slightly outclassed by the 71 Roumier which followed.
1971 Musigny, Roumier - on the rare occasion one is lucky enough to encounter what can be considered “one of the world’s great wines”, it is fair to say the level of expectancy is heightened. This is an experience, rather than a bottle to open, try and move on from. It delivered. Fragrant and perfumed, rich supple fruit displaying some of the heat seen in the 71 vintage, but seamlessly balanced by retaining the acidity levels and amazing freshness. In perfect shape, sweet fruit and spice at the end. The bottle was straight from Christophe Roumier’s cellar, so safe to say, it was in magnificent shape. Stunning, and a privilege to try. On this occasion, expectations were met and exceeded. What a wine.
1969 Musigny, Drouhin - outshone by the ’69 Gaunoux for sure, yet still a joy to drink and worked well with the food.
1967 Chambertin, Rousseau - ‘67 is a renowned “challenging” vintage, with very few wines of any note made or around today in any kind of shape worth drinking. Rousseau has a knack of getting the very best out of each vintage and squeezing the joy out of each vine the domaine owns, regardless of appellation. This was another example, this Chambertin was pure and sweet, with delicacy and real fragrance.
1957 Charmes Chambertin, Rousseau - sadly shot. Yet whilst certainly unrepresentative of how it should have been, a rather fascinating wine to try. Slightly cloudy, with some raisined fruit evident and volatile acidity.
1952 Musigny, Bouchard – the replacement for the Charmes, perfumed and delicate.
1929 Clos Vougeot, Maison Poret – ‘29 is in fact a brilliant vintage in Burgundy, though I had to confess my experience was only a single bottle previously and it was rather forgettable. I also had to confess to having never heard of Maison Poret, a now non-operational negociant. Luckily for me, the depth of Burgundian history and knowledge around the table was astonishing, and one particular guest was able to educate me that Maison Poret was an old negociant, based out of Nuits, with a merchant business in Paris, and who operated during this period. Impressive. The wine was remarkable, still alive at nearly 90 years of age. Core of sweet fruit, freshness - testament to impeccable storage all this time. Served alongside a dish of Corton pigeon legs, potato mousseline and fresh white truffles – complete perfection. This could not have been improved.
1966 d’Yquem - Rich, decadent but still remarkably energetic and fresh for over 50 years of age. Always a real pleasure to encounter perfect bottles of Yquem. Whilst not reputed as a great vintage, this showed just how well this famous Sauternes is capable of ageing.
It’s safe to say, this was one of my more memorable trips to Beaune. My friend excelled himself. And I returned to London maybe a few pounds heavier, but ten times happier.