Alcoholic History Lesson
GETTING intimate with a 91 year-old isn’t a daily occurrence in my household. Gently dislodged from the 30ft deep cellars of London’s oldest wine merchant, the oloroso-coloured Chardonnay pepped with Pinots, Gris and Blanc proved an intensely new, yet depthfully old experience. Representing the 809th vintage of the tiny (2.29ha) golden limestone triangle of ‘Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot’, I took time to gently coax the slowly matured, seductive scents of marzipan and coconut from my significant elder.
Planted by the astute monks of Citeaux the same year as what is now Grand Cru, Corton Charlemagne, then tended by these expert farmers until the 1789 revolution, that this exclusively white wine island survives amongst an iron rich sea of red further magnified its rarity.
The perfumed nose gave way to an almost sturdy palate of bitter apricot, almond, then fresh citrus. As a ten minute slow carriage clock tunefully chimed, I mentally slipped into what I was sipping. The year the lucent, flax coloured grapes were harvested, Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed, the Bauhaus movement begun and the Treaty of Versailles signed-off World War I.
I sampled the 1919 alongside current and near releases at Berry Brothers and Rudd’s Long Room. Lined in silk panels depicting creeping vines, the quirkily shaped former office was recently gentrified into a private dining room for 16. Amongst the attendees assembled to mark 2010 as the 900th anniversary of the Premier Cru’s planting, was current winemaker Pierre Vincent and Berry Brothers’ Master of Wine, Jasper Morris.
Also of note, was vintage ’06, the flamboyant, concentrated, first wine under Vincent’s tenure. With vibrant aromas of tangerine, the plush yet balanced, subtly long-lived, noticeably oak edged wine bore testament to the warm weather in which it was grown. The ’05, however, made under predecessor, Pascal Marchand, who apparently spoke with a strong Quebecois accent, was closed on the nose, even somewhat medicinal, with a sensation of unresolved sugar on the palate. The ’00, which augured the enclosed vineyard’s full adherence to biodynamic practices, demonstrated the most unusual profile. Biscuit aromas met spice and apricot followed by a substantial palate quivering with puppy fat acidity and apricot jam. I remain unsure as to whether I liked it.
Incidentally, Vincent claims to preference balance over ripeness, less lees stirring and low sulphur (18mg per litre - the maximum permitted is 200mg). He is also working with local forests and coopers to fashion double-sized barrels.
It had been a fascinating afternoon, absorbing versions of beauty in both youth and old age...