“We have how many?!” I asked, slight panic in my tone when I arrived to work the Friday of what was now a sold out White Burgundy seminar and tasting. Couldn’t believe it. Simply could not believe that we had filled every last possible seat for a Chardonnay class, a French Chardonnay class at that. Forty people, we had forty people signed up for our Understanding White Burgundy event and I found myself, as I almost always do, in the middle of a mini panic attack.
I always suffer a nervous tummy leading our classes here at The Wine Country. I’m not at all talented in the public speaking department. I get wobbly knees each time I step before a crowd and find that my already soft, albeit raspy voice does not carry above all those staring at me heads. My face goes hot and red the second I open my mouth and I find myself leaning against the tasting bar that rests upon the wall, not to look cool as I spout my bits of retained information, but so I can grip the bar and hold myself steady as I struggle with the internal conflict of wanting to share and teach and feeling like I might just hurl right then and there. The teaching always wins and I am happy to report there has been no, um, unfortunate incidents as of yet but that last Friday in January, well let’s just say it was touch and go.
So here’s the thing. I don’t do or see Burgundy as vineyards and slopes. Can’t wrap my head around which villages have what kind of sun exposure, which vineyards have east or west facing slopes, how many hectoliters per hectar, and who is using what percentage of new and used oak. I know those factoids mean something to some people, not to mention they sound damn impressive when wine people, (unlike myself) rattle them off. I get that and have honestly always felt that my lack of interest and retention of those things has marred me as less than credible, or less serious in some way. When looking at that long list of people coming, to learn from me, well I was guessing that tasting bar and I were going to be spending a lot of time fused together.
Hopped online, pulled out all my resource materials and buried myself in pages while scribbling feverishly on my notepad. Was up to my elbows in notes when it came time to pop the corks and check my beloved wines for correctness and make sure I had them in an order that would best demonstrate their uniqueness. My was heart pounding away in my chest, panic attacking my shoulders and making me stand a little less tall, my wrist twisting away as I pulled expelled corks off my trusty wine opener. All thirty wines opened and ready and I grabbed my glass. Buried my nose in the first wine and as the sultry, doughy, damn near salty aromas clung to the side of the glass and slowly wiggled past the lip to my waiting nostrils, my eyes closed in that way they do when sheer pleasure grips you, “Ah, Azo Vau de Vey Chablis” the aroma so familiar to me that simply smelling that wine made my shoulders soften and feel like they were being massaged.
The room began to fill with the evening’s attendees and by the time I had finished tasting the last wine I too was in attendance. Standing just a little taller, as confident as I have ever been standing before that many people. I began my wee lecture by reaching for one of my uber thick and packed-with-factoid books and spread its pages before the waiting crowd. The stark white pages full of tiny text and more information than any sane person could ever possibly retain, “This is one way to see Burgundy” I belted at my highest octave, fingers flipping the pages slowly, one white and tiny text page after the next. Then I reached for another book, one I have always felt retained just as much information but in a very different way. As I spread the gorgeous picture book of Burgundy before the crowd, the photos of vineyard workers, winemakers, families cooking and eating, drinking and celebrating, the faces behind the slopes and soil types, the people that create the wines we were about to taste looking back at the crowd, “This, this is another way. This is how I see Burgundy.”
My point was made, the whole crowd went beyond “Understanding Burgundy” they understood that wine is so much more than something to acquire, read about, hoard or covet. Each bottle has a history, a family, a face and has been made for you to enjoy. My hands never touched that tasting bar again as I flitted about the room pouring, talking, sharing each wine and the people behind them. One of the best classes I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach. Sure, some of it was digging into my own confidence but the real star, the wines.
2009 Herve Azo 1er Cru Chablis Vau de Vey $27.99
Azo has had placement here at The Wine Country for as long as I can remember. The wines always offer traditional Chablis flavor and texture and at prices that make a weekly indulgence possible. Classic Chablis aromas; stony, doughy, citrus, cold wet stones and toasted nut skins. Plump in the mouth with a finish that goes on forever. Heart stopper and bring on the oysters.
2009 Les Heritiers de Comte Lafon Macon-Chardonnay Clos de la Crochette $33.99
Brought to you by famed Chardonnay producer Dominique Lafon this wine is a screaming deal when you think about the fact that his wines from the Cote d’Or start at around $100 and fetch upwards of $1,000.00, a bottle! We poured this wine alongside the Azo Chablis just to show that Burgundy isn’t a style of wine but a product of its environment, soil and weather. This sumptuous Chardonnay is positively popping with ripe pears, toast, minerals and a sexy cut of caramel. From one of, if not the, oldest sites to produce Chardonnay, this is a wine that might even woo the domestic wine lover. Nice richness and has enough body to hold up to anything from steaky white fish to heavily seasoned chicken dishes. I dig it on it’s own but if you need food, think fuller and richer.
2009 Jean Chartron Rully $21.99
What a freaking rock star of a wine! Was the most purchased wine of the night and one sniff, taste, you will get why. Deep, really deep for a wine of this price point, fiercely nutty and almost greedy in its demand for your attention. So rich and toasty but still retaining that snap, that zip and bite of citrus that makes White Burgundy what it is. Quite complex and I recommend you buy at least two, one won’t be nearly enough. Trust me.
2010 Evening Land Pouilly Fuisse $26.99
Okay, this poor wine might have gotten lost in the lustiness of the more heady tasting and earthy whites in its flight. Whatever. I dig the purity of fruit here. Stark and exuberant, busting at the seams with ripe, cooked pears, almost as if they were simmering in a thick syrupy sauce. You get a big aroma of green herby notes in the middle but the finish is everything you want in a Pouilly Fuisse, soft caramel and sweet cream. Luscious.
2009 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Meursault $49.99
My wine of the night. The second I took a tiny indulgent sniff of this wine I knew what wine I would be revisiting once the chairs were all put away and the dishwasher was chugging away. Etienne De Montille has nailed it here, his generous but deft hand with oak adding just enough sexy seasoning to lift this alluring fruit to mind bending levels. Nearly thick in the mouth, staining, with a little nibble of acid that snaps you right back to reality and dares you to not take another sip. The finish is a river of sliced, dripping pears and toasted hazelnuts on a cup of citrus rind. We sold out of this wine but the second I got home I sent off and email begging for more. I need more and once you taste it, you will too.
2009 Deux Montille Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Cru Sur Gamay $41.99
Made by the other face of Montille, Alix, Etienne’s sister, who I can tell you is one firecracker of a woman but is steeped in the tradition of her family and the importance of place. A wine that vibrates in the mouth, seems to bounce from tongue to gums and back again. Alive and while weighty has the fluidity to spread, grow and expand across the palate with buttered toast, marmalade and savory toasted, oily hazelnuts. Shows plenty now but I ache to taste this wine after 3-5 years in the cellar.