We should all perform good works. A friend of mine helps to run a soup kitchen in Soho. She summons the wives of the mighty from their seats, in order to fill the lowly with good things. There is a degree of competitiveness. Soignée ladies arrive from Belgravia and Knightsbridge, keeping narrowed eyes on one another’s provender. The rough sleepers are comforted with ris de veau comme chez Troisgros or gnocchi alla Milanese, even if they would prefer a bag of chips and a bottle of meths. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.
My duties are more demanding. I serve on the wine committee of a London club. That is much harder than it sounds. It would be equally simple to satisfy the easy sleepers of Pall Mall and St James’s. All they want is crisp, flinty Chablis followed by subtle and sonorous claret — at the prices of two decades ago. So there is a lot of frustration, especially when dealing with the cynicism and ruthlessness of the Bordelaises. Some of the Bordeaux that we have been offered was only fit to be turned into meths.
‘All right for some,’ friends will retort when told that one is off to a committee meeting. Occasionally, I will try to string them along. ‘Yes, a horizontal tasting of the ’82 first growths. Could be in for a disappointment. Gather some of them have gone back into themselves.’ I will then cut off the salivation by saying that we are actually looking for a house claret which is a little better than Berry Bros’ good ordinary claret: never an easy task.
The other evening, there was a tasting which made it all worthwhile. I have often praised the wines of Pierre Bourée, based in Gevrey Chambertin and run by my friend Bernard Vallet. Bernard believes in tradition and simplicity. Respect the grape, respect your terroir, and remember that men have been harvesting their vines here for at least 2,000 years. Ultimately, if your are true to your craft, the wine that you bottle will reward you.
It rewarded us all the other week. Bernard brought a dozen wines, and created a problem; a budgetary one. We wanted everything, in quantity. There was a Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru Morgeots 2010. My tasting note falls short of complexity: just ‘length’ followed by three exclamation marks and ‘a cracker’. It was followed by a Corton-Charlemagne, also 2010, the greater wine, as it ought to have been, but without diminishing its predecessor. I wrote: ‘White Burgundy does not get much better than this.’ Neither is remotely ready: both are worth a long wait.
I remember praising the Pierre Bourée 2008 Bourgogne Blanc in these pages: scents of hay and lemon and honey, evoking a flower-filled meadow on a May morning, with larks singing overhead while a shy, beautiful girl danced barefoot and Le Grand Meaulnes watched, equally shyly. When I tried the 2011, I was not so well tasted. Also, it needs another six months. But it has a delicious freshness. In maturity, it might even be slightly better than the ’08.
The reds were equally impressive. A Fixin 2009: as good a Fixin as any of us could remember. Beaune 1er cru Les Épenotes 2010: ‘power and promise’. The Charmes-Chambertin grand cru 2010: even more promise. The same wine from 2001: promise in the plenitude of fulfilment. Chambertin 2010: ‘balance, harmony, class: superb’.
There was some dissension over the Clos de la Justice 2010. There was a view that it lacked depth. But I remember a ’76 Clos de la Justice two years ago, when it still had plenty to tell us. The same might well prove true of its descendent.
Bernard’s wines are still relatively inexpensive. But the Chinese are taking an increasing interest in Burgundy. I suspect — and fear — that in ten years’ time, today’s prices will seem like Meaulnes’s lost domaine.