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Thursday 20 December 2012

Forty years of Burgundy’s best

Words & photos by Su-Lin Ong

The invitation was a starry one.  It was to be a night of tasting vintages spanning 40 years with the winemaker for Louis Jadot.  The real privilege was the fact that Jacques Lardière himself would be selecting these wines and talking through the tasting – one of his last before retiring at the end of 2012.  A grand stretch, 40 years.

Photo: Louis Jadot

So we gather in the gleaming white tasting room of the Antique Wine Company in Marylebone.  It is a model of understatement.  Whilst it is dark and dismal on the street, here you are in a spa-like cocoon away from the Oxford Street mayhem.  We are a group ready to thrill at connecting with the winemaker and watching his every reaction as he raises the glass to his lips – as if it’s always his first time. 

This is a once-in-a-lifetime selection.  Tonight’s comprises top of the range Louis Jadot wines - six whites, six reds - which are not found as widely in the UK as their more mass styles.

M. Lardière senses the pitch of his audience perfectly.  Despite the diversity of expertise, we share a passion for wine which is so memorably strengthened by the sense of place, its creators and moments of enjoyment.  What bonds us is that we are all communicators in wine, and so watching an expert of his calibre lead such a seamless commentary is a joy.  Each wine gets its due attention, especially when he lays bare the reasons for those peculiarities of each in the vertical tasting.  There are no distractions of stats and pricing to influence our appreciation.  Facts and contemplation are moderated with some looser moments when M. Lardière lunges like the TV horse racing pundit John McCririck; hands and arms waving in some language which we as wine people absolutely get!

We taste 12 wines leisurely over 90 minutes and share the odd opinion across our table.  The winemaker’s philosophy is based on minimum intervention and letting the Burgundian terroir shape the wine.  So, immersing myself in this premise, I vow not to sway to naming my favourites, but rather to select for this short write-up just those wines which shake up my senses the most.

The Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru vineyards are amongst the oldest owned by Maison Jadot and are located in the north of the Côte de Beaune. The line-up shows the full capability of the Chardonnay grape in reaching a supreme concentration of richness. We taste from the 2008 to 1974, from young and fresh through to the 1988 with its petrol-like nose - that’s a good thing – reflecting a long fermentation and more acidity.  My second choice is the 1978.  Harvested late, it was a small crop.  I hazard a whisper about fresh soft cheese, a brie, and relish the finish of light crème caramel.

Now the reds.  There are 36 Premiers Crus Beaune vineyards, though no Grands Crus.  These are warm Pinot Noir wines with giant waves of flavour.  Some of our six tonight have an almost cherry liqueur finish, which says something about the length and strength.  I sense that the reds are stirring M. Lardière tonight.   He punches his fist and his words become intense with a scattering of savage shorthand language which only a master can use about such elegant wines: abominable, intestinal, fécondation!

Am I still limiting myself to selecting two wines?  Let’s make that three.  The Beaune 1er Cru Grèves 1996 reflects one of the greatest Burgundy vintages.  M. Lardière tells us this one should age majestically and how the cold north wind, la mère nourricière, has shaped it.  Its aroma is pure, elegant coffee.  But it is the Clos des Couchereaux 1979 which beguiles me, and Sam across the table and I utter simultaneously, “cooked mushroom!”  In honour of our host, I must mention the Boucherottes 1970.  This is the year when M. Lardière joined Maison Jadot as assistant oenologist.  The wine is noble in flavour with superb deep tannins.  He pauses, then adds, “This is the only one which is starting to be ready and drinkable” - a breathtaking lifetime’s work.  It’s almost a tease.  I sip it wistfully.

Oh yes, we enjoy supper too – if only as an excuse to pour full glasses of three more wines.  Boeuf Bourguignon, mushroom risotto and cheeses were the robust accompaniments needed.

So what will be keeping M. Lardière busy as from 1 January, I ask.  A spot of painting and wood turning at home, he tells me.  He will enjoy the house he had commissioned in 1978 which is just five minutes north east of Beaune; clearly a house built with the soul of the terroir.  

Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be able to keep away from the tasting room.

The wines:
Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru  2008,1999, 1993, 1988, 1978, 1974.
Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules 2001, Grèves 1996,  Theurons 1995,  Clos des Ursules 1988, Clos des Couchereaux 1979, Boucherottes 1970.

Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru 2010
Moulin à Vent Clos de Grand Carquelin 2009 in magnum
Beaune 1er Cru Boucherottes 2000


Read about Luiz @TheLondonFoodie’s barrel tasting at Maison Jadot in Beaune

Su-Lin Ong (@sloLondon) enjoyed the London #4Decades tasting on behalf of The London Foodie as a guest of Louis Jadot, Antique Wine Co, R&R.

1 comment:

  1. I had a 2002 Engel Brulees a few months back – utterly brilliant. I used to buy the 1995 from Berrys for a hilarious £14 a bottle.


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