Dinner with Friends

The more I taste Burgundy, the more I tend to think that the great whites age better and more consistently than the great reds. I suppose that's heresy among most Burgundy enthusiasts. In any event, all of these wines came from my cellar, and the whites were spectacular. They were young, vibrant, and incredibly complex with underlying minerality as well as gorgeous levels of fruit and extract. The fully mature 1989 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucellesneeds to be drunk up, but it remains fresh, with no hint of oxidation, but an amazing ability to hold on in the glass without fading. One of the greatest Bâtard-Montrachets I have ever tasted is Domaine Niellon's 1985. My last bottle, it was nearly perfect. A deep honeyed gold color was followed by an extraordinary perfume, great purity, incredible intensity, and not a trace of fatigue or oxidation. Truthfully, it did not stay in my glass very long, so I really didn't have a chance to evaluate it over several hours. Another wine I have always loved, and one of the great successes in an erratic vintage, is the 1983 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. Still extraordinary, it possesses a petroleum-like nose similar to that found in certain Rieslings. Thick and rich, but surprisingly vibrant, it has always been an anomaly in a vintage that produced over-the-top, often oxidized and short-lived Chardonnays from the Côte d'Or. This brilliant exception remains at the top of its game.

The reds were a mixed bag, with some exquisite examples, and others that didn't deliver, so typical of Burgundy. The 1995 Grivot Clos Vougeot was totally closed and hard. While we argued about whether there was a touch of cork on it, there was something not quite clean about the wine. It had such an excruciating tannin level that I wonder if it will ever come around. The controversial 1993 vintage produced two wines that demonstrate the vintage's extremes. When I was covering Burgundy, I gave this vintage some of my highest as well as lowest scores. The 1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Bèze was lean, hard, and austere, with a nice perfume, but no real sweetness or texture. It will undoubtedly collapse before it ever blossoms. On the other hand, Hubert Lignier's 1993 Clos de la Roche is an exquisite, virtually perfect red Burgundy. It exhibits notes of figs, plums, game, smoky black cherries, and earth in a medium to full-bodied, gorgeously vigorous and refreshing style. The bouquet merits 100 points, and the flavors slightly less than that. Another fully mature, brilliant offering was the 1991 Domaine Leroy Latricières-Chambertin. From an underrated vintage, it boasts a medium ruby color with some amber at the edge. It smells like roasted Peking duck with hoisin sauce intermixed with forest floor, smoke, and sweet plum and cherry fruit. The spectacular aromatics are followed by a medium to full-bodied, luscious wine with perfect structure. Like the Hubert Lignier, it should continue to drink well for 5-7 years, possibly longer.

Capable of hitting home runs, but also failing miserably is Domaine Ponsot. The 1990 Ponsot Clos de la Roche is a tour de force in winemaking. There are notions of amber at the edge of its color, but also an exquisite bouquet that fills the entire dining room. Scents of game, mushrooms, meat, beef blood, sweet plum, cherry, and currant fruit, and high class cigar tobacco emerge from the phenomenally complex, multidimensional bouquet. In the mouth, it reveals the vintage's opulence, high glycerin, and fleshy, succulent mouthfeel. This spectacular wine appears to have hit full maturity, where it should remain for the next decade.

The disappointing 1988 Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches's notes of damp earth, mushrooms, and dried vegetation as well as an absence of fruit and texture made it taste like a skinny stepchild to its peers. It was better several years ago, although it has never been exciting. We finished with another controversial 1983, Henri Jayer's Echèzeaux. An odd vintage, it has power, weight, muscle, and high alcohol, but there is also an element of rot, decaying vegetation, and mustiness in many wines I previously thought were totally clean. Even though this wine was quite funky, some tasters felt it to be exceptional. Surprisingly rich, if you don't mind the somewhat decayed nature of the aromas and flavors, it has plenty to offer. More than any other wine, Burgundy seems very subjective when it comes to agreements/disagreements, and this offering caused quite an uproar - some people loving it, and others finding it terribly flawed. I was somewhere in the middle, loving the wine's power, vigor, and youth, but finding the decaying notes off-putting and somewhat fecal.

As for the food, a web site that was recommended to me for incredibly fresh shellfish and seafood is www.farm-2-market.com. The food is guaranteed fresh, and I admire what these people are attempting. Getting fresh white shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico is no easy task in Maryland. They were marvelous with the white Burgundies. The hanger steaks from Lobel'sprepared on a charcoal grill were terrific. To quote the famous medieval philosopher Sir Mongo ... "life be good."

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