Napoleon's troops, when marching past Chambertin, saluted
Berry Brothers’ factory outlet in Basingstoke, just 20 minutes’ drive from where we live. I had in mind a German wine and first selected a 2008 Riesling from Van Volxem, a producer in the saar Valley. Then I noticed Berry Bros’ own-selection Riesling Kabinett 2009 from Johannes selbach in Zeltingen.
The Volxem wine was decent enough, with a positive yellow colour, its nose and taste with a touch of grapiness; dry, quaffable and only 11.5% alcohol.
The selbach wine was very pale, with a crisp, middle-Mosel acidity. Light in style, 10% alcohol. We enjoyed it. Refreshing and versatile. I immediately telephoned Berry Bros with an order.
Daphne, browsing, had spotted another Van Volxem wine, a 2003 scharzhofberger Riesling spätlese at a substantially marked-down price. We tasted this too.
It had the yellow gold of a spätlese with bottle age. The nose was that of a classic, mature, kerosene-toned Riesling, with the medium- sweetness which is hard to place. Anyway, most people prefer their Mosels young and fresh.
Now for something completely different…
Daphne and I are long-standing life members of the International Wine & food society. We also belong to its London branch, whose events organiser is the indefatigable Carole Goldberg. some time ago, Carole told me that she was planning a Chambertin tasting and was busy sourcing wines.
At last she had managed to purchase nine, all grand cru except one premier cru Gevrey-Chambertin.
Now, it is rare enough to have had the chance to drink Chambertin. Napoleon was the exception: it was the only wine he drank. his troops, when marching past Chambertin, saluted with an ‘eyes right’ (or left, depending on the destination).
The first four wines were from the excellent 1999 vintage, beginning with Pierre Damoy’s Chapelle-Chambertin. Colour fairly deep; a gloriously fragrant scent with a very distinctive, faintly ‘fishy’ aroma that is hard to describe but one I have frequently noted; on the palate, very sweet, delicious flavour and texture, good length, dry finish. A splendid start.
(Incidentally, as each wine was poured, Carole told us when and what she had paid for the bottle. she had bought Damoy’s Chapelle for £63 in March 2009.)
Wine two was Louis Jadot’s Charmes-Chambertin. Though a long-time admirer of Jadot, I was disappointed.
It was showing some maturity; nose low-keyed, slightly meaty,with a whiff of merde. I thought it was better on the palate: sweet, silky, mature. (Cost: £65, no date).
The next 1999 was simon Bize & fils’ Latricières- Chambertin, its colour fairly deep yet tailing off to a more open rim; nose initially slightly chocolatey, but with that characteristic Chambertin scent; noticeably sweet palate, a very positive flavour and with a good, dry finish. (Cost: £97.20 in 2009).
The only premier cru was Bruno Clair’s Les Cazetiers, Gevrey-Chambertin 1999. It was the deepest, most red and intense; very ripe, with a rich, powerful Pinot aroma, and great depth. sweet, plenty of life, lovely. (Cost: £49, December 2010).
Number five was Domaine des Chezeaux’ Griotte-Chambertin 1996. Deep, yet with an open rim; most distinctive, classic nose with whiff of maturity; sweet, powerful, silky, rich; yet I queried its length and finish. (Cost: £69, september 2010).
Wine six was another 1996: George Mugneret’s Ruchottes-Chambertin. The domaine is unusual, in that they chaptalise (add sugar to) all their wines. Appearance fairly deep; a whiff of bottle stink which wore off, revealing spicy black fruit and considerable depth; dry, lean – but I detected a slight woodiness. (Cost: £122, August 2009)
The youngest, a 2001, was Domaine Maume’s Mazis-Chambertin. It had a wonderfully rich, forthcoming, classic Pinot Noir nose, with a touch of raspberry; sweet, distinctive, lovely flavour and excellent balance. (Cost: not noted)
Wine eight was the first of the 1995s: Domaine Rossignot-Trapet’s Chambertin. fairly deep, mature; a rustic farmyard smell (sounds awful but it was a good, ripe noseful); sweet entry, powerful though with a touch of rawness.
We were told that all the levels of wine in the bottles had been good, but this wine had the worst cork. for a Chambertin, it ought to have been a five-star wine, but I relegated it to four. (Cost: £76, December 2010).
At last, the tasting’s eagerly anticipated star: Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin-Clos de Bèze 1995. Perfect, classic, Pinot nose; sweet, mouthfilling, glorious, with silky tannins. (Cost: £425, no date).
I cannot praise more highly, not only the thorough preparation involved, but also Carole’s commentary, with facts about each vintage and vineyard. My only criticism was the lighting: cold artificial light deadens the colour of red wine.
It is the custom to pour Burgundy without decanting. With 14 tasters, it was sensibly decided to be on the safe side and double-decant, each wine poured just before tasting. It was a rare experience, and I learned a lot.
Written by Michael Broadbent