I like tasting wine with Harry. He’s not a wine guy; he’s a guy who likes wine. In order to pay for that wine, he takes pictures of buildings at night, with his infrared camera, to see where they are leaking heat. He’s the kind of guy who does the work and then never sends the invoice. Well, not never, but it might take him a couple years to bill you.
To Harry, good wine is French wine. Especially Burgundy. Especially red Burgundy. Red Burgundy is always made from the grape Pinot Noir, whose popularity skyrocketed in 2004, due to the movie Sideways. Watch it if you haven’t. It’s Edutaining. Pinot Noir is known as the heartbreak grape, mostly because it is challenging to grow, but probably also because the best wines from Pinot Noir tend to cost a mint.
So, when I was in Calgary, last Thanksgiving, I jumped at the chance to taste dozens of Pinot Noirs, from all over the world, lined up back to back. Harry and his girlfriend (my sister), along with my boyfriend and I, headed off to Willow Park Wine and Spirits to indulge in a sea of heartbreak.
I tasted about 40 wines that night (which is only possible if you don’t swallow the wine). We tried many Pinots from Burgundy, next to some from New Zealand, and still others from California. We experienced, first hand, the impact place has on taste. The French Pinot Noirs were earthy, with aromas of mushroom and forest floor. The Californians were packed with flavours of bright strawberry fruit wrapped in vanilla from new oak. In between the two styles, we found the New Zealand examples; floral, fruity and laser focused.
Our favourite wine that night came from a double magnum of Joseph Drouhin, Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru. Grand Cru means that the wine comes from one of the best patches of soil in Burgundy, in this case, Charmes Chambertin.
Double Magnum. As in: Tom Selleck and his twin brother in a red Ferrari. Or, in this case, a 3 litre bottle, the equivalent of 4 regular sized bottles. A.K.A Jeroboam. I love drinking wine from big bottles. I love it because these bottles are rare, and, as everyone knows, in the wine world, rare equals good.
Back to the Charmes Chambertin. Vintage 2003. It was an incredibly hot year in France, as it was in much of Europe. The weather during the year the grapes are grown has as much of an impact on the way a wine tastes, as the region or the grape does. This is called vintage variation, and it is why, in years with ideal weather conditions the wines taste the best and cost more. Vintage variation comes more into play in European wine (because Europeans tend to rely on rain instead of irrigation to water their plants) and in wines from marginal growing regions (because only a few times a decade does it really get warm enough to fully ripen the grapes). Vintage matters in Burgundy.
We affectionately nicknamed the 2003 – Stallone. As in: Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. A real knock your socks off A-Lister. This bullish wine was created by the very warm weather conditions that year. Mouth-filling with chewy tannins. You don’t taste tannins, you feel them. They give structure to red wine (and tea), translating as a drying sensation. In this case, however, thanks to the experience and expertise of the Drouhin house, the statuesque tannins were beautifully matched by generous red berry fruit and notes of vanilla. (Think scent of a freshly baked strawberry pie). I wondered to myself, how will this wine age? According to Wikipedia, 2003 was the hottest year since 1540. Basically, in the scope of modern winemaking, 2003 is unlike any other vintage. Unprecedented. Hard to read the future, but not necessary. “Live in the moment,” whispered Drouhin, and we did.
That easily could be the end of the story, but thanks to Harry it wasn’t. A few nights later we celebrated Thanksgiving / my Mum’s birthday. King Harry contributed a double magnum of Joseph Drouhin Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2005, which he had been hatching diligently since its release years earlier. What an incredible experience to taste these 2 vintages side by side. Ok, technically not side by side, but within a week of each other, and believe me, the impression of the 2003 remained (remains) clearly imprinted in our minds.
2005 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy. Drouhin fruit, grown in the idyllic soils of Charmes Chambertin, soaked in the warmth of the 2005 sun had been masterfully transformed into a wine offering layers of mushroom, violet and earthy dark fruit. A velvet pantsuit. This bottle was just approaching its peak drinking window, but through balance and concentration, it confidently reassured us that it would continue to develop over the next 15 years. “Until then, my dear.”
I can’t say which wine was better. Both were fantastic. The best part of this adventure was the reminder of just how fundamental vintage can be in the final impression of a wine. That, and the reminder of another constant truth: Sharing wine with cool people makes wine taste better.
Wine Goggle Alert: Apparently Tom Selleck was flying solo. Not Double Magnums. Just Magnums. Thanks sis.