Does terroir bring us immediately to the essence of all wine or should we just grow anything anywhere?

In the mid 1930s, when the rules for appellations or origin were being drawn up, each French wine-growing region chose what would be the determining factor in naming their wines. This was indeed an historical moment. In Bordeaux it was the domaine; in Champagne it was the brand name; in Alsace it was grape variety; and in Bourgogne it was terroir-native soil.

Clearly it is terroir which gave to each appellation from Bourgogne its historic and tangible identity.

The idea of terroir – the patch of native soil from which a given product springs – is given precision and definition by the notion of “climat” – that is a parcel of ground, delimited and named, with identifiable characteristics going back centuries which lend a unique character to whatever is grown on it.
Thus broader geographical areas give the wine its appellation but each distinct plot within a given appellation – each climat – produces its own distinct wine.

A climat may be a “monopole” holding, that is, the property of a single owner. But in Bourgogne ‘climats are frequently shared among a number of owners. The division of Bourgogne into separate wine-growing districts and the subdivision of wine growing land within each district go far to explain the large number of Bourgogne appellations.
This fragmentation is not arbitrary. It is due to physical variations between one plot and another. And these variations, in turn, are largely explained by geology.
Climate, aspect, exposure to sun and wind, susceptibility to frost, and the system of cultivation in force all have their influence on terroir. But behind these lie the hard facts of geology: landform, rock and soil.

The hill-slopes which form the “Côte” were formed by the same earth-movement that brought the Alps into being some 30 million years ago in the middle of the Tertiary Era.
The particles of iron which are found in the soil and which are of value to the vines are older (about 50 million years). The rocks of which the Côte is composed are older still.
They date mostly from the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods of the Secondary or Mesozoic era, which started some 200 million years ago and lasted over 100 million years.

Does Burgundy have a monopoly on the notion, the concept of terroir? No. Consider the Piemonte area in northern Italy, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and the other great wines growing regions of Germany…for example. I have always thought of Barolo and Barbaresco as ‘Italian Red Burgundy’ for these reasons and more. Nebbiolo has the age-ability of Pinot in great years and is in some ways as transparent a grape as Pinot Noir (and Riesling) …showing the true nature of the soil/climate and vineyard care. If you have ever had a 1947 or 1950’s Barolo or Barbaresco you will know this to be true.
Thanks for listening!


Of great food, great wines but most of all …great bread!

The Grand Olde White Lady of My Cellar

Our Paris dinner at Rene Rostaing’s signature restaurant was magnificent. Frederick Soize, my friend in the ancient wine trade in Paris, had artfully arraigned the evening so that we were given half the floor of the entire restaurant! Amazing!

How did I know that the food would be true Michelin 2 star fare? The answer…the BREAD. It was divine; celestial…it made my gums bleed. I have never had bad bread in France…anywhere…but this bread was truly exceptional. And the butter was to die for. Frankly the above plus the wine and the cheese plate (which was a culinary masterpiece of artful arrangement and so grand that two men had to pick it up) would have been just fine for dinner. Alas we would have to eat 7 more courses after the bread was served…ouch.

Let’s cut to the chase: The wood pigeon wrapped in pastry was better than any beef wellington I’d ever had and just delicious. Everything else we had was equally impressive…especially the artfully created exotic deserts (that came after the real desert course)…that I never expected to see or eat.

Does drinking older white wines like the Bollinger RD 1964, Meursault Perrieres PC Lafon 1993 and Haut-Brion white 1983 tend to change ones view of when to drink older dry whites? Yes indeed it does! It’s an out of body experience…sort of. So immediately after the dinner I purchased three bottles of 1947 Meursault with rotted labels, but with ullages to die for. Then a bottle of 1929 Montrachet because everyone should have at least one museum piece to ogle in the cellar. I am guessing that they will all be divine.

Finding someone to share these old gems with is far more difficult than buying them believe it or not…especially in Southern California- an ‘old wine’ cultural waist-land of epic even gargantuan proportions that makes me shudder with fear and loathing when I think about it. No really…I’m not kidding. “Old wine” in SoCal is somewhere in the category of 2000-2005…and I wish I was joking. Why is this? Easy. Hawaiian Punch just does NOT age well….go figure. Perhaps these new screw caps will help?? I certainly hope so!

If this doesn’t make any sense to you…then you are reading the wrong blog!  Exit now or face permanent excommunication within the church of “why can’t I make one of every varietal on the planet at my new winery in nowhere California – who cares about that stupid terrior thing anyway…school of thought”.

By the way…if you have banged up against many oxidized white burgs from the middle 1990’s forward…do what I do…buy even older white burgs from 1980’s, 1970’s, 60’s, 50’s etc…you’ll be astonished at what you will find. All that matters is the ullage, vintage and the pedigree…forget the label condition (that’s just your ego talking my dear). Actually rotten labels are a good thing in that they indicate a boat load of humidity.

The Three Wise Men from 1947

Burgundy Enslaved in Time


Welcome to the inaugural edition of Magnifique Vielles Vins!

Nectar from pre phylloxera vinifera vines. Simply sublime.

Does Pre Phylloxera Madeira EVER really die?

I have started this unique blog in order to share my experiences with grand old wines and great food as well. You may be wondering if the breadth of the blog extends to ANY older wine. The answer is emphatically …NO.

I am prejudice and don’t mind saying so, plus I can’t afford to collect and consume from all corners of the world…so I prefer to focus on what are clearly the BEST wines on the planet:

• Those wines that live on like great old women (my godmother and grandmother come to mind) similar to a grand old tall ship that sails on to new adventures long after her captain has died.
• Wines that are born from ancient terrior that has been mapped with a (mostly) noncommercial lens (this eliminates New World wines and many others as well). The New World (US, Aussy, New Zealand, South Africa) all have a very long way to go before the word ‘terrior’ can even be uttered without the ancients trembling in their graves.
• Wines that have history (this absolutely eliminates New World wines)
• ‘Magnifique Vielles Vins’ are mostly French…Yes …mostly older Red and White Burgundy and vintage Champagne.  NOT Bordeaux …except for the white kind. Magnifique Vielles Vins will also include notes and prejudicial thoughts on old German Rieslings, Italian Barolo, Barbaresco, Italian sangiovese based wines, Madeira, Port and Tokaji.
• You’ll notice that none of the above genres include Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc or Merlot or Malbec or Syrah or Granache. That is not an accident. Those may be for my next life…not for now. With a few exceptions…

  • Is most/nearly all New World wine built on a structure that has Hawaiian Punch as a base formula? Is sugar a main component in New world wine regardless of color? Why does New World “white burgundy” fade quickly after a few years (except for Kalin, Kistler)?
  • Why is ‘old’ as in old wine a  four letter word to most New world drinkers.
  • Why…oh baby WHY do so many people have lavish often overwrought wine cellars for these expensive New World bottles built on that Hawaiian Punch foundation….makes no sense really. They don’t REALLY think they going to age well do they???
  • Why is the only consistent thing in New World wine is that it is radically INCONSISTENT?
  • If youre still reading and not spitting your Hawaiian Punch at your PC/Apple screen…then youll like the ensuing editions of Grand Old Wines quite a bit I think.

A sublime experience in the myriad of flavours known as 'caramel'

If you believe that Burgundy drinking windows are wider than six cases of New World Pinot all lined up end to end (see Bruce Sanderson’s lucid, enlightening Wine Spectator article on rich old red burgundy from March 2010-“The Beauty of Aged Burgundy’) that 30-50-70 year old champagne can lead to a mystical gastronomic experience and that 1971, 1975, 1976 Riesling is sublime … read on. You may then indeed find a home with ‘Grand Old Wines’….Magnifique Vielles Vins.

My second post will dive into the details of a fabulously decadent dinner with friends in Paris at Rene Rostang’s signature restaurant this year – March 15, 2010. Rene provided half his restaurant for the seven of us to dance through his epicurean creations for an entire evening. And he added his own commentary as we drank ourselves into a dream like ‘vinous euphoria’. The wines we choose to share with each other were as follows…. I provided the 1964 and the 1875 offerings. Both were sublime..(Thank goodness!)

Bollinger RD 1964
– Bollinger RD 1990
– Meursault Perrieres – Lafon 1993
– Haut-Brion white 1983
– Charmes-Chambertin Dugat-Py 2000
– Château Latour 1970
– Château Climens 1937
– 1875 Barbeito Madeira Malvazia

One of my dinner friends posted her thoughts on her own French language blog. I have included her well sculptured words below for your perusal.
M’Audouzerais-je ?

Dîner du Lundi 15 Mars 2010 chez Michel Rostang.

A force de fréquenter les salles de ventes, nous finissons par faire de très belles rencontres. Au fils des enchères, mon Astre et notre hôte du soir ont créé une amitié autour de leur amour du vin et des grandes tables. Un grand amateur américain, le frère de notre hôte et les épouses complètent la table.

Nous prenons nos marques autour de l’amuse-bouche du jour (Royale lardée) et d’une mini-verticale de Champagne RD de Bollinger.
Le 90 est sur les agrumes et des arômes de fruits rouges (fraise des bois et framboise) dans une finale qui n’en finit pas. Le second est d’un niveau et d’une couleur extraordinaires pour un 64. Peu évolué, il se marie parfaitement avec le lard de la Royale.

Les deux Champagnes accompagnent également notre première entrée : L’émincé de Saint-Jacques crues au vinaigre de Riz, tartare de bar en croustillant de sarrasin, caviar Sévruga « Pétrossian ». Ce plat éveille nos papilles en douceur avec ses fines saveurs iodées.

Le foie chaud de Canard rôti, mandarines poêlées sur un lit de jeunes carottes et panais est accompagné d’un Meursault 1erCru Les Perrières des Comtes Lafon 1993. Un accord ton sur ton sur les agrumes (mandarine vs zestes de pamplemousse) avec ce vin structuré et équilibré.

Le deuxième vin blanc est ouvert, épanoui, sur des arômes de fruits blancs (poire williams). En bouche il a un équilibre idéal avec Le dos de Bar rôti en écailles de châtaignes et sa Marinière de coquillages. Le Château Haut-Brion blanc 1983 nous surprend par sa personnalité si particulière et généreuse.

Un rince-doigt fait son apparition : Chouette ! Nous allons pouvoir manger avec les doigts.
Le suprême de pigeon rôti, Salsifis lardés et glacés au jus … et surtout La cuisse en salade.
Bourgogne ou Bordeaux ? Et pourquoi pas les deux ! Château Latour 1970 et Charmes-Chambertin 2000 de Dugat-Py.
Au nez le Latour n’est pas très causant mais laisse percevoir un monstre dormant. Bingo, en bouche, il est peu évolué avec des tanins bien présents, l’élégance d’un Pauillac et une finale sur le cèdre et la figue.
Néanmoins le Charme me charme plus. Plus profond, avec de beaux fruits rouges et une structure qui me font plus penser à un Morey terrien qu’à un Gevrey cistercien.

Un assortiment de chèvre sec, époisses, comté et fourme d’Ambert m’est servi avec un vin ambré/brun aux notes de pâte de coing et de gelée de pomme. Son nez est enivrant et sa bouche est une merveille de botrytis. Le sauternais Climens 1937 éblouit toute la table.

Le dessert est un Caramel moelleux très riche en sucre et en saveurs caramélisées, grillées, noisettées, avec une pointe de fraîcheur apportée par un sorbet cheesecake.
Le vin qui l’accompagne est tout aussi riche avec des arômes de rancio noble, de café, de confiture de cerises noires et d’eau-de-vie de cerise. Extrêmement puissant, cet Attila œnologique emporte tout sur son passage, limite « too much ». Un grand merci à notre ami d’outre-Atlantique qui a ramené pour nous ce Madeire Malvasia 1875 de Barbeito.

Is 1964 Bolly better than the current release: 2003? You Betcha!


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