In praise of grace and authenticity...
Dinner last night in Beaune was lovely. Thiébault Huber (Domaine Huber-Verdereau in Volnay) his wife Mariel and daughters Constance and Clara took me out to Les Popiettes - a new-ish resto (now open 18 months or so?) that I've been hearing great things about and have been wanting to try. In a word, it rocks. The 29 EURO menu gives you a choice of appetizer, entrée and cheese or dessert. It's a fabulous value, and just plain delicious. Highly recommended!
There are only 5 or 6 choices in each category on the menu - they keep it simple and focus on quality. And for the first time this week I don't feel like I ate too much. That's a good thing, with the half-marathon looming tomorrow. Today will be a day to detox, hydrate, and get my body ready for the hills of Pommard and Meursault tomorrow.
With all of the festivities and the two Paulées I'll be taking part in over the next few days, there will be a lot of amazing older wines coming my way. I've always been especially taken with the great wines from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Yes, their age, and the wonderful complexities that can only come with that amount of bottle age have a lot to do with it. But there's something else worth noting and thinking about.
Wines from that era were made without the benefit of any of the technology we take for granted today - temperature control, sorting tables and the like. They were made without the benefit of modern oenology and all the chemical tricks that are ubiquitous today. What is most evident and most striking about these older wines is that it is so clear they were vinified gently, and simply, with grace and care. They were not poked and prodded like a patient being tested for allergies in a modern hospital.
There was no understanding of malolactic fermentation back then, much less reverse osmosis, spinning cones or gum arabic. They were simply the products of beautiful fruit grown in very special places, and left to their own devices. It is so rare to find wines like that made in the modern era, and that's really pretty sad.
It all took a turn for the worse in the 70s and 80s, when the oenological consultants and the better-living-through-chemistry advocates proclaimed that they had all the answers. I'm not saying that having a better scientific understanding of what is going on during fermentation, what happens in wine, is a bad thing. But when it is taken as far as prescribing massive interventions, mega doses of SO2, tons of toxic chemicals in the vineyards - the consultants ended up killing the golden goose and took Burgundy into a pit of mediocrity that has taken decades to recover from.
The Burgundians started to turn things back around in the 90s - the same time when it got worse in the New World. Consultants sprung up in California in that era purporting to analyze wines chemically to predict what scores that wine would get from the critics, and to tell you how to make a wine that would get 95 points from Parker or 96 in Wine Spectator! That to me was the nadir. And I guarantee you that none of those 95+-point "Franken-wines" was or will ever be as interesting, complex, or long-lived as a 1945 Burgundy made by a farmer who had no idea there was such a thing as malic acid.
Thanks for letting me ramble philosophically here, as I prepare for the arduous task of sampling a lot of great old Burgs in the week ahead. I am perhaps the luckiest man alive...