Grand Wines: A wine-changing experience

by Tom Fiorina on April 9, 2011

We’re all products of our life experiences. Good or bad, memorable or quickly forgotten, every experience affects your life in some way. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a wine-tasting experience that has expanded and altered my view of wine—well, at least the upper echelon of French wine. It wasn’t really a “Eureka” moment, but it certainly has allowed me to understand better what the “Grand” in Grand Vin or Grand Cru really represents.

Most of what I write about in The Vine Route involves southern France’s lesser-known wine appellations and the idiosyncratic winemakers who make wines that reflect their personalities and their terroir. These are some of the most interesting wines anywhere, and I’m still in awe about how these winemakers can extract, through method, tradition and that mysterious element of terroir, something extraordinary from fermented grapes.

But I’ve always heard whispering and comments about a more-rarefied wine world, that of Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines from regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. I mostly chalked it up to arrogance or snobbery (neither of which are in short supply here), but now I’m not so sure.

The aforementioned wine tasting that altered my opinion took place with three other students from my oenology school. We gathered one evening at the home of Yves-Michel, a doctor who is somehow balancing his medical practice with full-time wine studies, to taste from his extensive wine cellar.

The others were French, long-time dedicated wine enthusiasts, and knowledgeable about virtually all of France’s major wine regions. My neophytism was apparent, as the blind tasting left me grasping to name grape varieties or regions that I had little or no experience with. Although humbling, seeing how the others were able to identify the wine regions by the aromas and tastes of the different grape varieties was enlightening.

I’m not qualified to, nor do I care to, score the wines that we tasted (and I didn’t take any tasting notes), but the below photo will help me to remember this tasting experience. My primary impression, particularly of the Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines, was that they showed me the potential that wines are capable of achieving, but that only a few will ever obtain.

(The wines, from left to right)

2008 Toques et Clochers Chardonnay, Limoux, Les Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques cave cooperative

2009 L’Empreinte de Saint Mont (three quarters Gros Manseng, 10% Petit Manseng and 15% Petit Courbu), Les Producteurs Plaimont

1999 Meursault 1er Cru, Les Perrières, Domaine Bernard Millot

2002 Pommard 1er Cru, Les Platières, Domaine Prieur-Brunet

2004 Nuit-St-Georges 1er Cru, Les Vaucrains, Domaine Christian Conferon et fils

1996 Château de Pommard, Jean-Louis Laplandre

1999 Mazy-Chambertin Grand Cru, Domaine Henri Rebourseau

2008 Vin Doux Naturel, Mas Karolina, Maury

Thanks again to Yves-Michel for his generosity, hospitality, and for having made possible this unforgettable wine tasting.

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