French lessons in Burgundy.

French lessons in Burgundy

As a long-term member of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin I try to attend at least one of their several events, this year the Chapitre des Trois Glorieuses which coincides with the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction the following day.

For some, including old hands in the wine trade, these Chapitres are poo-poohed on the basis that they are – by UK standards – somewhat pretentious and publicity orientated, which actually was the idea that started them off; also that they are long-winded and tedious.

The plain fact is that the evenings, though long, are extremely well organised, colourful and have a unique historical setting – the ancient Cistercian Château de Clos Vougeot. Unless one needs to see the induction of newcomers, one can go straight to the reception to network old friends, both wine producers and fellow members. What is particularly noticeable to me is the way that the French do things so convincingly and without the self consciousness of the British. Perhaps the exceptions to this generalisation are certain events in the City of London, in Livery Halls and at mayoral functions. At Clos Vougeot, not only are the events colourful but they can be fun. The food, perhaps unsurprisingly in this gastronomic region, is more than a cut above City of London caterers whose sole aim is, following a ridiculously early start, to serve a lacklustre meal in record time and skedaddle before the speeches.

So what happens at Confrérie events? After a fanfare of trumpets, the Grand-Maître, suitably attired, ushers in the principal guests who preside over the evening. This year these were Claude Lelouch, a veteran French film producer, and two enchanting ‘comédiennes’, Fanny Ardant and Alice Taglioni, who also breasted – if that is the word – the chill night air and patiently sat through the auction on the Sunday afternoon. They were great sports.

A decent enough 1997 St-Aubin Tastevin accompanied the traditional ‘Première Assiette’: poached eggs and asparagus, neither easy for wine to cope with. Suprèmes de Saint-Pierre Homardine were accompanied by a delicious 2001 Meursault Les Genevrières, good nose, lovely flavour and excellent acidity. An equally attractive 1999 Volnay 1er cru Santenots, Hospices de Beaune, Cuvée Jehan de Massol matched Les Médaillons de Geline à la Royal, and a 2000 Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot with cheeses. Now, the point is that these courses were served over the nearly four-hour dinner with, again, traditional interludes presided by cellarman-clad ‘cadets’ whose songs are boisterous and accompanied by much napkin waving, including the induction of the ‘présidents’ and other VIPs.

Time passes quickly and the intervals in between imbibing enable one to digest the food and depart with a clear head. Daphne and I enjoyed ourselves. She sat next to the – clearly dynamic – Mayor of Beaune who, it turned out, was born in Troyes which we had planned to visit on the Monday after our visit to Moillard.

It is easy to be blasé about the oldest annual charity wine auction at which the Hospices de Beaune sells wine from its own vineyards, donated over several centuries, to support the famous Hospices. For the second year, Christie’s ran the sale, the wine of the 2006 vintage raising just over t5 million, considerably in excess of the more renowned 2005s for whites, and slightly higher for reds. A spectacle well worth the time, effort and patience.

In the January issue, I read a rather scathing criticism of organic wines by Joe Fattorini and wonder what he would make of Moillard, a sixth-generation family wine producer based in Nuits-Saint-Georges, for it was its Calendrier Lunaire 2006 that prompted my visit. Immensely complicated but very plausible.

Naturally, I wanted to taste, and

M Thomas-Moillard and his team laid on a parallel vertical of their Beaune Grèves vintages 2000 to 2004 and Pommard Epenots up to 2005. Both 2000s good wines, richly endowed, drinking well though with time in hand. The 2001s were different, the Pommard cherry-tinged, dry, the Beaune sweeter and softer; 2002 Pommard fragrant, very appealing, the Beaune more vegetal and again sweeter. They had completely sold out of the 2003 vintage but a bottle of the Beaune Grèves, extracted from our host’s private cellar, had all that hot vintage’s sweetness and richness. Of the 2004s, the Beaune I found a bit harsh and tart, better with food, the Pommard mouthfilling with good crisp fruit. The 2005 Pommard was a different ballgame, impressively deep, fragrant, beautifully balanced, tannic, and long. Then the 1971 Beaune Grèves was produced. A big vintage, 14% and in fine fettle: many layers, fully mature.

As a grand finale, another bottle, also blind. It turned out to be 1923 Pommard Epenots – a superb vintage in Burgundy. With original cork and showing no signs of decay: amazing, faultless, sweet, totally delicious. The lunar phases must have been propitious!

Michael Broadbent, a director of Christie’s, has more than 50 years’ experience in the wine world.

What Michael’s Been Drinking This Month

20-year-old tawny port

As Daphne had bought a large packet of mixed nuts I had no alternative but to visit Berry Bros, to buy its Wm

Pickering 20-year-old tawny port. A marriage (or rather, a series of affairs?) made in heaven!

Written by Michael Broadbent