Dinner at Home: One Montrachet Deserves Another
After finishing up two weeks of intensive tastings in Champagne, I returned to my apartment in Beaune. I was in the mood to relax and drink some interesting older Burgundies, and two dear friends who were visiting for the weekend were happy to go along with that. We began with an aperitif at one of my favorite places to eat on the Côte d’Or, a restaurant that always has the wines of Domaine Ramonet for a very fair price. Being in a celebratory mood, we ordered a bottle of the 2013 Montrachet Grand Cru, an exquisite wine that’s already quite expressive. According to the late Pierre Ramonet, Montrachet is best drunk on its own, for its own sake rather than paired with food, and I’m inclined to agree.
The Ramonet family have produced a Montrachet since the 1978 vintage, and for me, theirs is the greatest expression of this fabled grand cru. The 2013 white Burgundies are generally quite open and giving, sometimes showing a touch of botrytis-derived exotica, and that certainly applies to the Ramonet portfolio. This particular Montrachet offers up a striking bouquet of citrus oil, mandarin, pear, honeycomb and wheat toast, followed by a supple and enveloping palate that’s immensely intense and penetrating despite its comparatively open-knit, charming profile. Aromatically, it’s quite a bit more classic than some of the muskier, more exotic wines from Ramonet in 2013 such as the Boudriotte and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet. The palate-staining finish is of such duration that it’s possible to savor each sip for minutes, and as we worked through the bottle, it was clear that this would be a memorable Saturday. And when my friends generously but nefariously paid the bill while I stepped away from the table for the moment, I knew exactly what I would open that evening by way of revenge!
That evening, we enjoyed a simple dinner at home. Since my Shanghai-based guests are poultry lovers who struggle to source great French chickens in China, I cooked a poulet de bresse for the main course. While I am also a partisan of chickens from the Landes from the southwest, which are honestly easier to roast successfully than Bresse chickens, the latter are extraordinary when properly prepared, with crisp skin and dense, succulent and rich dark meat. To accompany the roast chicken, I served some simply prepared vegetables: freshly shelled peas and spring carrots.
While I was cooking, we had some fresh gougères, a traditional Burgundian delicacy that aren’t really done justice by the translation “cheese puffs.” Gougères are baked balls of choux pastry with grated Comté cheese and nutmeg folded into the dough, and they are a splendid accompaniment to white Burgundy and Champagne. Since I had visited Francis Egly of Champagne Egly-Ouriet a few days earlier—for what must be the fourth or fifth time this year—I couldn’t resist opening a bottle of his 2009 Vintage. Even better than when I last tasted it, this is a textural, vinous Champagne that spent almost a decade on the lees before disgorgement: complex and powerful, it has all the depth and dimension one expects from meticulously farmed old vines in Ambonnay.
Bresse chickens take their time to cook, so while we savored the Champagne I had ample time to select a few older bottles from my cellar. To begin, I picked out a bottle of Jean-François Coche’s 1988 Meursault and a bottle of François Jobard’s 1989 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes to compare. Both had perfect levels and the corks came out intact. I often decant these producers’ wines, and after tasting the bottles I decided that they would benefit from it. By the time the chicken was ready, the wines had had half an hour to breathe and were really singing.
We began with the Coche-Dury, which soared from the glass with aromas of buttered orchard fruit, pralines, orange rind, fresh peach and oatmeal. It was medium to full-bodied, satiny and textural, but with the unerring spine of acidity that’s typical of both the vintage and Coche’s style. Its vitality was a reminder that appellation hierarchy has surprisingly little impact on a wine's potential longevity when the wine is built to age and perfectly stored. By contrast, the Jobard was, if anything, still a decade too young—and I am not exaggerating, as his 1979s are just reaching their peak today. Opening up to reveal scents of bergamot, confit citrus, hazelnuts and iodine, it was even more concentrated and chewy than the Coche-Dury, but also more introverted and tight-knit. It was hard to choose between them, and I found myself preferring the Coche one minute, then the Jobard the next. It was lucky we didn’t have to choose.
After the two whites, which we savored down to the last drop, I selected a couple of reds. Roast chicken and good Beaujolais can be a glorious combination, but my friend had never tried an old Beaujolais. Before chemical farming, filtration and thermovinification despoiled this region, the wines of the Beaujolais had considerable aging potential—and a few still do. With age, it becomes harder and harder to tell top Beaujolais apart from Pinot Noir, so I decided to serve a bottle of the 1964 Moulin-à-Vent from Desvignes Ainé & Fils, a small négociant that no longer exists that was based down the street from where Richard Rottiers’ domaine is located today. Mingling rich, smoky black fruits with nuances of spice and fallen oak leaves, the Moulin-à-Vent was velvety, supple and fleshy, with excellent depth at the core and ripe balancing acids. My friends found the vintage but thought that was a wine from the Côte de Nuits: they were amazed.
To follow the Beaujolais, we decided to go back in time three more decades. Maison Thomas Bassot was a high-quality négociant best known as the former proprietor of the parcel of Ruchottes-Chambertin that’s today divided between Domaines Armand Rousseau and Mugneret-Gibourg and Michel Bonnefond, who has a sharecropping agreement with Christophe Roumier. And the 1934 vintage was one of the finest inter-war vintages in Burgundy, producing concentrated and muscular wines that have stood the test of time. The stars, therefore, were aligned for the 1934 Nuits-Saint-Georges, a bottling that was likely a “cuvée rond” including wine entitled to the premier cru appellation today. I had high expectations, but they were transcended when the wine burst from the glass with a kaleidoscopic bouquet of candied peel, dried red fruits, warm spices and subtle hints of camphor. On the palate, it was medium to full-bodied, broad and satiny, with melting tannins, incredible depth of flavor despite its age, and a long, sapid finish.
At this point, having finished the chicken and a few mild cheeses with the two reds, the time was right to riposte with my bottle of Chanson’s 1947 Montrachet Grand Cru. I had acquired this a few weeks before from one of my favorite cavistes, and it came from a cellar in the region, so the wine had hardly moved. While many white Burgundies from this hot vintage are a little long in the tooth, the color and level—as well as the high quality of Chanson’s wines in this era—were attractive enough to make me take the plunge. We didn’t regret it. The wine offered up aromas of dried white flowers, preserved citrus, warm bread and praline, with only subtle hints of walnut oil and sotolon pointing to its age, and on the palate, it was full-bodied, satiny and enveloping, with immense power and concentration but no sense of excess, its creamy and textural attack segueing into a deep, multidimensional core, concluding with a long and resonant finish that displayed no signs of fraying. Harmonious and lively, even in this warm vintage, this was a magical bottle that testified to the magic of which Montrachet was capable. As we finished the last glass, I felt that my lunchtime debt to my friends had been atoned.