With good fortune, great weather and a lot of Burgundy knowledge in the room, the 2012 version of the Burgundy Roundtable held court at the bucolic Nantucket Golf Club during this year’s Nantucket Wine Festival. What began years ago as a good idea has blossomed into one of NWF’s premiere not-to-be-missed affairs year after year. Familiar faces filled the crowd, and some new ones participated at the table of Burgundy experts as well.
Anthony Hanson, British Master of Wine, author, Christie’s wine consultant, and all around bon vivant, led the proceedings. A lively panel of extremely accomplished members of the Burgundy wine elite were on hand, sharing their quips and quaffs during a delightful lunch.
Michel Anglada (Anglada-Deleger) graciously pronounced, “This is our 10th year coming here… we are happy to be citizens of Nantucket!”
And most welcome indeed, as Burgundians and Nantucketers do share a kinship, formalized by the Jumelage (“twin cities”), but commonly based on two communities with avid devotees, wise wine consumers, and a love of gastronomy.
Appreciation ruled the day. Winemaker Alex Gambal (from both Nantucket and Burgundy) spoke of the Englishman Hanson, and said:
“Anthony has always shown an appreciation for Burgundy wines, along with a great expertise in the matter. He knows how very hard it is to make wines, and how hard we work at it, year after year. Knowing there’s an appreciation for the final result, in all its forms, is not lost on us. He’s right, there are no bad wines.”
But there are vast differences in them, and in Burgundy just a few feet may mean Villages or Grand Cru on this side of the street, and Premiere Cru on the other. The first pours on the tables today illustrated the point. All the wines were beautiful in their own capacity, each with a distinct personality. The wines included Michel Anglada’s 2009 Chassagne-Montrachet (Morgeot, Bruno Colin 1er Cru), Laurent Drouhin’s 2008 Chassagne-Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche (Joseph Drouhin 1er Cru), Alex Gambal’s 2009 Puligny-Montrachet, Pierre Rovani’s 2009 Beaune-Greves (Remoissenet 1er Cru), and Philippe Senard’s 2009 Corton, Clos de Meix (Domaine Comte Senard Grand Cru).
Gambal spoke of his Puligny-Montrachet, saying, “You can taste the berries… and the 20% new oak. It was a lush year in 2009, and these are 50-year-old vines. Also our wines are certifiable organic now, we’ll be bio-dynamique across the board by the end of this year.”
Laurent Drouhin noted of his offering (Chassagne-Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche), “We produce wine in the vineyard, much more so than in the winery. There’s a purity and precision to the 2008′s: here you have the saltiness, the straw on the nose, some apricot and the acidity at the finish. We let the wines speak for themselves.”
Drouhin paused, and then carried on, “This wine is more than ‘Chardonnay‘ – this is what wine can be.” He seemed to enter a dream state as he waxed poetic, enjoying the beauty of the wine, momentarily transformed by the experience of sharing it with others.
Pierre Rovani (Remoissenet Pere et Fils) gave hints as to why each vintage, and each appellation, can be so different. He explained his winemaking philosophy. “We believe in ‘natural rules’. That is, it’s up to nature to lead, we just have to get out of the way. We treat the vineyard with respect, and we accept nature’s curveballs. We only harvest when the grapes are ripe, and trust the terroir such that the wines will achieve their natural balance.”
Rovani continued, “I believe there are two purposes to wine. First, wine must give you pleasure. Is it good to drink now? Then it is good. Second, wine must go with food. Food unleashes tightly wound wines, and allows you to appreciate their natural salinity.”
Alex Gambal offered his take, “One sign of a great wine is length. Unlike the American tendency, bigger is not better. Concentration is better, and that to me means length. The flavor of it gets branded in your brain, and joins your sensory memory. In the way that you don’t soon forget great art that you see, you will also find yourself recalling great wines.”
The lunch continued this way, from wine to wine, and course to course. The best parts of the Burgundy Roundtable are the kernels of knowledge that inevitably come out, the little gems that only these experts, these titans of their trade, could offer. It really is astounding to sit with such a group, if Burgundy is your cup of tea. Anthony Hanson kept the conversation moving, with a subtle and sublime understanding of the wines, and winemakers, that revealed his own mastery.
Philippe Senard served up the next kernel, “The best wine is the one you want to drink.” He left it at that, as only a man of confidence could say. He knows the best wines will be appreciated, and more people will find Burgundy as they open more bottles. When asked by someone in the audience “how much wine do you produce each vintage,” Philippe with perfect timing replied, “Not enough!”. C’est vrai. He then revised his answer to “a lot of good wines,” but his first response betrayed his heart. If only they all could make more, there would be many happy people in the world (particularly in today’s devoted crowd).
Pierre Rovani spoke of his strict sorting policy (he turns off the conveyor when he has to take a phone call, and he is at every sorting table of the harvest). He said, “the first most important thing we do is the harvest; the second is the sorting. Only the best grapes will survive. As does everyone else here, we hand-sort. Then we put those that make it through into the barrels, and let nature and tradition take over. We just put it in the cellar.”
The conversation wound on, and turned to the 2009 Burgundy vintage. Laurent said, “2009 reminds me of the greatest vintages of Burgundy reds on record. It just never closed down, it is always showing great, never a down moment for the 2009 reds.” Pierre concurred, “2009 will blow your mind on down the road. Put it in your cellar.” Alex Gambal chimed in with, “Once or twice in a career you will see grapes that beautiful. There was a wonderful flowering period. It was all ripeness throughout in 2009, and perfect even ripeness leads to perfect balance in the wines.” Laurent added a footnote, “It was the good producers who did a fabulous job in 2009 in Burgundy.” That was a reminder that not all 2009 reds are equal, and the best producers will make the best wines. It was a year to appreciate, and placed punctuation on just who sat in the room. The best were there with humility, skill, laughter and some really great wines with generations of tradition behind them.
Philippe Senard added his two cents on 2009, “We are in Corton, and have been in the family vineyard for seven generations. Power is the main characteristic.” Philippe echoed earlier comments that the best producers will make the best wines, and sometimes nature just takes over in spite of your intentions: “In 2009 it was a question of vintage, in 2010 it was a question of terroir.” He also wryly said in perfect English, “I have been listening to all of the English speakers today, and I am dreaming we will have the same tasting and lunch and people again… in Beaune! It will be in French there, our revenge. You are all invited.” C’est la vie.
The last kernel of knowledge poured eloquently forth from Alex Gambal, as the afternoon concluded. “You can’t make this wine anywhere else in the world. It’s Burgundy, and it comes from a little 35 mile stretch of limestone along the Cote de Beaune. This is just 1% of all of French wine produced in a year. And it is unique in the world. It has its own personality.” In reference to his Clos Vougeot (Alex Gambal Grand Cru, 2007), Alex said, “This is not ‘Pinot Noir‘. This is a taste that can only come from this little patch of dirt in this one single place. It is not a consumer product. It is a unique product for a small select group. It is not for everyone. We love it.”
As did the rest of the room before the Burgundy Roundtable today, their common love of Burgundy bringing them back year after year to do it again, with these gentle experts. It doesn’t get old. It brings people together. Like citizens of an odd little country of its own, these folks today are Citizens of Burgundy. Unite! And enjoy every last gem of a drop. See you next year.
Thank you to the Nantucket Golf Club for hosting a wonderful event.
The Roundtable consisted of: Michel Anglada, Laurent Drouhin, Alex Gambal, Pierre Rovani, Philippe Senard, Lorraine Senard, Diana Gambal, Martine Deleger, and Anthony Hanson.
The menu of NGC Chef Steven Haverson:
2009 Chassagne-Montrachet, Morgeot, Bruno Colin 1er Cru (Anglada-Deleger)
2008 Chassagne-Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche, Joseph Drouhin 1er Cru (Maison Joseph Drouhin)
2009 Puligny-Montrachet (Alex Gambal)
2009 Beaune-Greves, Remoissenet 1er Cru (Remoissenet Pere et Fils)
2009 Corton, Clos de Meix, Domaine Comte Senard Grand Cru (Domaine Comte Senard)
Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, Oestra Caviar on Edible Spoon Waskami Seaweed
Lobster Cake, Wild Rice, Saffron Vanilla Sauce, Beet Chip
2009 Puligny-Montrachet, Les Truffieres, Bruno Colin, 1er Cru (Anglada-Deleger)
Prime Medallion of Filet Mignon, Mushroom Reduction, Roesti Potato, Haricot Vert Bundle, Baby Tomatoes Marmalade
2006 Corton, les Paulands, Domaine Comte Senard AOC Grand Cru
Epoisses, Delice de Pommardy, Comte 18 month old, Fig Paste, Black Cherry Preserves and Pain d’Avignon
2007 Chapelle-Chambertin, Remoissenet Grand Cru (Remoissenet Pere et Fils)