Friday, November 10, 2006

Bibendum in Burgundy Episode One

As with every great Bibendum trip, the fun begins on the journey and this was no exception. After Joe, Alex and I scored a direct hit with speedy passage on the Democratic Republic of Gatwick Express, poor Alex came a cropper as we stood in the queue for security. Delighted with their impending Nile cruise, a charming couple in front decided to share their feelings by turning around and calling Alex an “Australian a**e-kisser.” The poor Kiwi didn’t even have time to pull out his British citizenship test handbook in protest. Barely had that slight gone through to the wicket-keeper when the security guard at the X-ray machine got a bit shirty and waved our boy off with a rather loud “bloody foreigners”. With it still being very early in the morning, we were left wondering whether he might be insulted three times before the cock crowed! So far, so welcoming…and we hadn’t even arrived in France yet!

Our Easyplane sat in dense fog for an extra hour, which gave the Russians in the seats behind us ample time to mutter abuse about Tottenham and their win over Chelsea – just as well Willie wasn’t there. Even with the plane filling up with this sort of hot air, at least it didn’t smell like our Mitsubishi Grandis at the other end in Geneva. Early opinion was divided as to whether the “Chunderbus”, as it soon became known, eclipsed the Citroen “worst car ever made” Xsara Picasso of the Bordeaux trip.

It wasn’t long before “straight on, my man” could be heard from the back seat as Ben Collins, who had arrived on a different flight, announced himself as the Maitre de Directions.

“We need one of those glass screens between the back seats and the driver to drown out Marton. You could have one of those buttons you press if you want to talk to us. And you can address me as ‘Your Eminence’….wait…you’re not writing all this down are you?!?!” With a swift and stealthy clip round the ear from Ben chalked up early on, the stage was well set for Bibendum goes Bonkers in Burgundy. Smooth motorways, beautiful sunshine, a dash of electro on French radio, and a hilarious running commentary from Ben “I’m giving myself 10 for that one” Collins.

Sit back, soak it up, and enjoy…

First stop that afternoon was at Fontaine Gagnard where we were treated to a succession of extremely good whites. Of course, the real business here is the 2005 Burgundy vintage, which is exciting everyone who gets anywhere near it. The often subdued Burgundians can hardly keep the smile off their face this year and the wines are a joy to taste. Without wanting to over-generalise, both whites and reds, where well-made, are showing great balance, with wonderfully fresh acidity keeping sweet and often opulent fruit well in check. There is great elegance and wonderful texture in many of the wines and they are much easier to taste at this early stage of their lives than has been the case in previous years. Now back to Fontaine Gagnard…producer of Chassagne Montrachets of the finest quality. Each premier cru retained its very unique individual style, and while the Caillerets and Vergers were excellent, the Boudriottes was positively singing. At grand cru level, the real star of the show was the Batard Montrachet which showed incredible definition and character, and a finish that even the great Serge Blanco would be proud of.

Next stop was Clos des Lambrays with its very elegant maison and incredible caves. Thierry, the smartest and most genial host in Burgundy, welcomed us and showed us into the “new cellar – built in the 18th Century” (above). There we tasted delicious Morey St. Denis Villages and sensational quality premier cru before moving on to the awesome grand cru Clos des Lambrays. For many this was the wine of the day and Thierry summed it up best with “Il y a du punch”. We couldn’t agree more mon ami.

Then on to Hudelot Noellat in Vougeot, where we were treated to a slightly unexpected but sensational line-up of wines. Both here and Lambrays were new producers for Bibendum to visit this year and both were well worth the trip. Wonderful village wines from Chambolle Musigny and Vosne Romanee were followed by equally impressive premier crus. And by the time we got to the Clos de Vougeot, Romanee St. Vivant and Richebourg, the word ‘yum’ was echoing around and smiles were wide. Great concentration, complexity, freshness and just plain luxury.

A pattern had already started to emerge and it’s really good news for the vintage. The grand crus are, in most cases, exceptional, as you would expect given the vintage conditions and the prices they will garner when they hit the market. Under that though really wonderful wines have been made all the way from Bourgogne rouge and blanc, through village and up to premier cru level and there will be some really great value buys this year. And so after 20 hours, one plane ride, 40-odd wines, many jokes about Kiwi carpenters, and one lost Bibendum branded clipboard, an exhilarating first day came to an end – great stuff.

Wines of the first day…
Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Les Boudriottes 2005
Clos des Lambrays 2005
Hudellat Noel Chambolle Musigny 2005


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