The Wine That Changed My Life (Again)

Before wine appreciation became more about what was different, unique, or bizarre (orange wine?), most wine aficionados would get all agog when they spoke about white Burgundy. And I was one of them. For me, a great white Burgundy was the pinnacle of the wine world, and the best of those wines would often promote an emotional reaction (often verbal), that would cause casual observers to be more than a tad uncomfortable.

In my book, you have not lived until you have Burgundian escargot with a fabulous white from the region.

With the addition of some bottle age, however, white Burgundies would pass from merely emotional to ethereal as the wine would lose a touch of its fruity exuberance, replaced by a refined elegance that would often result in chills down one’s spine. While my “gateway drug” to this crazy world of wine was actually a red Burgundy, it was the whites from the region that cemented the change in my world view.

As such, back when I was leading bike trips in the region, I would frequently load up my bike with 6-18 bottles of the slightly golden elixir, with the intent of storing them in my cellar for a decade or more. I had a simple rule: the wines I bought had to be at least Premier Cru. Why? First, they tend to age better and second, in Burgundy, there is a decided hierarchy of wine quality (from bottom to top):

  • Regional Appellations, which make up roughly half of the production in Burgundy (e.g., “Bourgogne Blanc”).
  • Village Appellations, which constitute a shade over a third (37%) of production (e.g., “Chassagne-Montrachet”).
  • Premier Cru, 10% of production across 640 different climate or vineyards (e.g., Meursault 1er Cru “Charmes”).
  • Grand Cru, less than 2% of Burgundy wines across 33 Grand Cru climate (e.g., Cotton-Charlemagne, Montrachet).

My theory: why go through all the hassle of bringing back wine that is, by definition, of lesser quality? Sure, I understand the argument that there are some Village wines that are better than some 1er Crus, but generally speaking, the higher you go up the ladder, the better the wine.

It was with this approach that, at some point in 2007 (or maybe 2008), I bought a couple of cases of wine from the 2004 vintage, since, with the much heralded 2005 vintage about to hit the market, there were some good deals to be had on the 2004s (which was no slouch when it came to vintages).

One of the fine bottles I brought back that year.

Starting in 2012, or so, I started “harvesting” some of those 2004 white Burgundies and, much to my dismay, most have them have been oxidized. I have since realized that this is a problem that has plagued the region since the late 1990s—wines that in the past could easily age gracefully for a couple of decades (or more), were virtually undrinkable  just a handful of years past bottling. Many people had experienced the same calamity, apparently, to the point that it had a name: premature oxidation, or ”premox.” 

After at least a dozen of such bottles, I removed white Burgundy from the pinnacle upon which I had placed it as there were far to many other wines to enjoy; many others that could take up the limited space in my cellar. Wines that would not bring me to the point of tears—that would not pour into the glass a deep golden color, revealing their ruin even before I had the chance to sniff.

Yes, white Burgundy was dead to me.

Then this past summer happened.

The family and I made our semi-annual pilgrimage to France and my wife intimated that she would like to visit a new (to her) region. After going through the litany of possibilities, she mentioned that she had never been to Burgundy, and I acquiesced. Even though the white wines from the region had burned me far too many times, the region itself is magical and well worth another visit (during my tour guide years, I had visited the region close to two dozen times).

With sunsets like this, you should want to visit Burgundy, too.

After a wonderful few days, on our last night in Dijon, for whatever reason we ventured out to dinner rather late, past nine o’clock. Normally, that would not present much of a challenge, but it was the middle of August, a time when most of the country is on vacation. After striking out at a number of my familiar restaurants, we happened upon a place that I had not been to in years: La Dame d’Aquitaine.

The restaurant is in a 13th Century vaulted crypt, and has a rather different pricing structure: it is essentially 29€ just to sit down, upon which entrées and main courses are added at prices ranging from a 5-25 Euros.

After negotiating the boys’ rate  down (they were not that hungry after a rather large lunch), my wife and I ordered meals that really screamed for…a white Burgundy. Since I was both tired and in a relatively safe space (any wine with even the slightest hint of premox would be sent back even before the server finished pouring the glass), I relented. One of the wines immediately jumped off the page. I knew the producer, having many of their wines in the past, but they had all been red, and the wine was from Vougeot—a region synonymous with Pinot Noir. In fact, this was the first time I had ever seen a white from the town.

And it had a bit of age on it.

I had to try it.

The impressive dining room at La Dame d’Aquitaine that appears in the movie Paris Can Wait.

What followed was simply magical. Not only did it rekindle my love affair with white Burgundy, but it caused us to add another day to the trip so that we could do a bit of wine tasting, a bit of searching for some good deals, for some wines that we could age a bit.

But, as my wife pointed out, onlybit.

2011 Domaine de la Vougeraie Vougeot 1er Cru Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot Monopole: Retail $85. 100% Chardonnay. The nose? Simply majestic: lemon curd tightly wound with oak and vanilla. Whoa. On the palate near perfect harmony as the fruit, acidity, and depth perform a near flawless ménage à trois. The midpalate is difficult as you wish to speak, to emote, to gush about the wine, but that would require swallowing to soon. No, this needs to last, to endure. Eventually, you do swallow in anticipation of the finish, which does not disappoint. Whoa. It lasts for minutes, confirming the reasons I fell in love with the region’s white wines so many years ago. I still can’t afford the best that Burgundy has to offer, and even this wine is too steep, but this one time it was well worth the climb. Outstanding Plus. 94-96 Points.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Burgundy, Chardonnay, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Wine That Changed My Life (Again)

  1. “Before wine appreciation became more about what was different, unique, or bizarre…” Very interesting. I wonder how much instagram has to do with this, at least among wine (dare I say?) enthusiasts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the escargot and Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot! I certainly don’t have two dozen Burgundy visits under my belt, but the region has gotten under my skin. It’s just a shame it costs so much to play!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure if there is a better singular pairing anywhere. As for the price, I was going to mention it in the piece, but left it out —it was already way too long. But you are right, back in the day I could get incredible St. Aubin 1er Crus for under $20 and Santenays for less than that. Sadly, the Chassagnes, Pulignys, and Meursaults were already out of my price range (could find those often in the $30 range). Not any more!


  3. Nancy K. says:

    Orange wine is not bizarre or something to turn one’s nose up at. In fact, it’s one of the earliest types of wines that was made. Will you be at WBC? I will bring you a bottle. I agree that sometimes people are looking for the thing to make them stand out but I promise you that orange wine is not a fad but rather an important historical marker in wine’s history. There are several excellent examples of American orange wines, specifically from the Finger Lakes. For excellent examples of terroir try those from Slovenia and Croatia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just because something was done hundreds of years ago, does not make it worth repeating (slavery, blood letting, and crucifixion come to mind). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional orange wine, but it is strange–I dare you to find me someone outside the “wine enthusiast” world who is a fan of the style.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. chef mimi says:

    A lovely post. I hope you enjoyed Epoisses while you were there. I can’t remember if I had any white Burgundy, but I remember, in 2002, when I was introduced to that lovely cheese, in Beaune. Oh la la.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post like always. I love reading it. I also had some wine epiphanies with great bottles from classic regions. Sassicaia and Gaja. Today, everybody wants to drink obscure wines

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So lovingly exquisite!!


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