Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bordeaux and Burgundy: An Evening with Clive Coates

I guess everyone with a passion for wine has their story of how they were hooked. I was talking with a friend/colleague the other evening when he asked what wine I had tasted that really ignited what has become a sometime passion and a late life career.

I gave a great wine-guy answer. It was a Burgundy. A 1964 Beaune 'Les Boucherottes' from Domaine Parent, the label is still tucked away in my 1974 edition of Frank Schoonmaker's Encylopedia of Wine along with a number of early favorite bottles. 

Where did the wine come from? Sigel's. I had a friend who had dropped out of UT law school and wound up working behind the counter of the store at Lemmon and Inwood. (He did OK in the long run, he's now Sigel's executive vice-president.) He had a stash that he kept in the back. That was probably 1975, the wine would have been 11 years old and would certainly not have been kept in optimal storage conditions, but the wine had something to it that kept me buying more.

When the wine was gone and all had been consumed, I spent a number of years searching for that wine and never found it. The bottles that I could afford, just never measured up. 
Welcome to Burgundy, some would say.

But I somehow thought that if I just learned enough, I would know enough to find that elusive flavor that was stuck in my memory.

And that's where I entered the wonderful world of wine books. I pored over the pictures and descriptions by the likes of Hugh Johnson. It was something like pornography. Graphic descriptions of expensive, sensuous experience beyond the reach of poor schlub like me.

And one of those great English writers who created the mythic worlds of Bordeaux and Burgundy was Clive Coates. Only Mr. Coates didn't stop with the romantic, mythic world, he went for encyclopedic books of incredible detail, profiling not vintages and appellations, but individual domaines and estates.

So, I was delighted to get the call to work the recent dinner where Clive Coates was the guest of honor. 

The event was something of a landmark event in that it was co-sponsored by the Commanderie de Bordeaux and the rival  Burgundy group, Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin along with the Chaine des Rotisseurs, Sigel's and the Park City Club, the gracious host of the evening. To satisfy both parties, the wines featured selections from both Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Mr. Coates provided pithy commentary on the wines and pairings in his inimitable style, a lovely British rumbling voice, no sentence without some measure of humorous, twisting invective. I'm a poor reporter, I can't make heads or tail of my notes of exactly what he said and I know I didn't understand quite everything he said. But everything was a story and a story told well.

Since I write a wine blog, a bit about the wines:

Oh, and check out Mr. Coates comments on tasting notes on his website (click here), "Why Tasting Notes are a Waste of Space."

Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Champagne - Straw gold, fine bubbles, baked golden apples with nuts and faint yeasty aromatics. Long mineral finish. Delicate with good authority. 'Grower' champagne - grand cru fruit at a negociant price.

Jean Philippe Fichet 'les Gruyaches' Meursault, 2008. Fat tropical fruit which morphs through notions of smoky nuttiness into lean mineral finish. In the words of Mr. Coates, "premier cru quality at a village wine price" with "ripe acidity."

Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin 2005. Dark, deep plums, silky and rich. Big "wow' factor. Slight lift of acid on the finish makes it sparkle. Mr. Coates took the moment to blast the "over-oaked, over-extracted wines of the demonic importer Robert Kacher." (Ironic. Half the evening's wines were Kacher imports. Of all Bobby's wines, the least oaky is Dugat. Robert Kacher has been a mainstay of Sigel's French portfolio for years. We LOVE his wines!)

Bertrand Ambroise Echezeaux 2005. Now if any of Kacher's wines are overextracted and over-oaked, it's the wines from Maison Ambroise, but Mr. Coates was silent on the subject and spoke only of the glories of Echezeaux. Subdued fruits were buried in a mass of mocha and coffee and rich sumptuous structural elegance. The wine was perfect with the rich lamb dish, perhaps the best pairing of the evening. 

Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2005 was served with the same course as the Echezaux. It is a powerful, magnificent wine, redolent of young delicous Cabernet Sauvignon. Its roar overwhelmed the sophistication of the lamb dishes. Throw this baby into the ring with some young Napa powerhouses,  it will hold its own. "Infanticide" according to Coates.

Chateau Leoville Barton 2000 accompanied, should I say steamrolled the cheese course. Magnificent, still a baby, but starting to show how it will come together, this is great wine. It still features the bottomless pit of cassis that it showed when I tasted a pre-release sample bottle 10 years ago. The once massive tannins are showing signs of integration, this wine has years to go.

Beaumalric Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2008. As much as I have loved this wine in the past, it shows its shortcomings on a card with the other wines of the night. Sweet, it seemed well, a little muscaty. Even very good has a hard time competing with great.

All in all, a memorable evening. Sometimes the job has its perks!

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