I had the great pleasure of travelling to North Carolina this week for my first ever market visit in that state. I have travelled a fair amount to support our sales across the country in the past, much less so this year but curiously, to me, North Carolina is always in our top five states for Bergstrom Wines sales and I had always marveled at how much wine was being demanded from this state. And so I just had to go and see for myself what was happening down there.
Our distributor, a small, hard working, high quality outfit named “Bordeaux Fine and Rare” who, as you can see from the name, focuses on European wine treasures is owned and operated by Mr. Bill Bowman. He helped to set up my three day whirlwind tour of the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) and Charlotte. The trip was a great success with visits to numerous restaurants and retailers, but the highlight of my trip was a Bergstrom Wines dinner that we put on at the “Umstead” Inn and Spa in the Cary area around Raleigh and Durham.
The Umstead’s flagship restaurant called “Herons” is a top notch dining establishment in the careful hands of executive chef Scott Crawford and Sommelier Hai Tran. The dining room looks out over the lush landscape of pines, maples and magnolia trees densely but almost artistically arranged, hovering over a decorative pond and peppered with red Cardinals perched in their branches. The forests here are stunning and rich. The wine list is almost as deep as the forest outside and impeccably organized with new and old vintages from world class properties around the world.
The food that comes out of the kitchens here is well thought-out with care and imaginative zeal. I was blown away by the careful preparation and artistry that these men and their staffers put into our winemaker dinner, and the time that they took to pair each wine with a thought provoking dish. The menu was as follows:
BERGSTRÖM WINE DINNER
May 15, 2012
Vanilla-Corn Salad, Green Strawberries, Crisp Tapioca
Old Stones Chardonnay 2010
Smoked Duck, White Peach, Saffron Sunchokes, Brioche
Sigrid Chardonnay 2010
Quail & Foie Gras
Pecan Pudding, Spiced Sweet Potato, Wild Huckleberries
Gregory Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Morel Mushrooms, Caramelized Onion, Peppered Cherries
Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009
de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Liege Waffle, Muscovado Mousse, Smoked Fireweed Honey
Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
The dinner went off without a hitch and a few of the pairings, namely the Sigrid and hazelnut soup were eye-opening. And how about pairing Shea vineyard with dessert? The meal was stunning and it was great to see a packed room full of happy foodies who felt the same way. How wonderful and refreshing it is to do a wine dinner where the wine and food work together to bring to the palate nuances and textures and flavors that they simply cannot reveal on their own. I give a very big thank you to the staff at the Umstead for making this dinner one of the great highlights in my winemaker’s dinner series this year. Bravo Umstead!
To make the evening even better, as if it could have gotten better at this point, when I had bid farewell and thank you to the last guest, My friend and distributor Bill decided to switch gears and decided that what we really needed of course was more wine. Since I had been talking about Oregon and Burgundy and my education in classic wines all night long, he treated us to a rare opportunity to taste two monumentally historic and classic wines side by side from the legendary Burgundian Domaine de la Romanee Conti as a post-meal celebratory moment to catch up, talk about wine, life and North Carolina.
We had the chance to taste the 2005 Domaine de la Romanee Conti “La Tache” and the 2006 Domaine de la Romanee Conti “Richebourg” And what was interesting with this tasting was not only the chance to taste wines that are extremely rare and sought after (Even as an avid buyer and drinker of the world’s greatest wines, I believe that I have only ever tasted “La Tache” on 4 or 5 other occasions, and never from my own pocket book) but the chance to examine the vintage differences with the 2006 and 2005 years from Burgundy; one warm and one classic.
The Domaine de la Romanee Conti is a storied multi-generational wine domaine in Burgundy’s Vosne Romanee village and they just happen to farm and make some of the most sought after Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay in the world. These wines are made in miniscule quantities, fermented using a traditional whole cluster style, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels and then aged an additional 18 months in bottle prior to their release to the market where their wines are so allocated and expensive that, according to the wine critic Robert Parker, they are now the wines of Millionaires exclusively, as only they can afford to find and drink them on a regular basis with prices per bottle varying between $700-$3,000. and even more, sometimes ten times more, at auction. This is the winery that every top shelf Pinot Noir producer in the world aspires to be some day. These are the wines that originally inspired me as a young winemaker just returning from Burgundy and put the shine in my eyes and hope on my horizon when it came to farming and making wine in Oregon.
I have been talking a lot recently about the merits of 2010 and 2011 from Oregon; cool, long and complicated vintages that will yield wines of high acid content, low alcohol content and that take time to come around and develop their hidden nuances and complexities. Juxtaposing these vintages with the warmer and riper 2009 vintage which yielded delicious, opulent mouth filling wines of higher alcohol and lower acidity levels has been interesting from my perspective. Which style of vintage is better for Pinot Noir? Which style of vintage do you like the best? Are warmer “California Style” vintages in Oregon a good thing and do they make the kind of Pinots you are looking for? Or maybe more appropriately; do you have the time, patience and cellar space to wait for the cooler vintages to come around? I personally think that this is a hot topic in the world of Pinot Noir.
Well these were my thoughts as I tasted through these two amazing wines from two drastically different vintages in Burgundy and here are my notes as I tasted each wine carefully over a two hour period watching and smelling and tasting them slowly evolve in the glass. (I should also mention that each wine was decanted upon opening and sat in decanter for the rest of the evening.)
From a vintage that has been hailed as one of the classics of the decade, these wines were densely packed and youthfully tannic in their youth and will take years if not decades to fully open up and express their true characters and terroirs. This wine had a gorgeous color but not a color that I would call dark or brooding, just a classic Pinot Noir dark ruby red with garnet tints. The wine opens up with Umami driven aromas of soy, sesame, salted edamame, wasabi paste…. It reminds me of a sashimi plate in a glass and is very savory. Then the wine develops a chocolatey or spicy style sweetness which helps to round out the savory meaty core of this wine. After 30 minutes, exotic spice aromas like sandalwood, graham, incense begin to explode from the wine and the savory component now smells like sweet tarragon. This wine makes you think and then re-think. Eventually the sweet fruit and meat core turn into something reminiscent of tomato leaf, meat, basil, reminiscent of Margherita pizza aromas and very high-toned and treble but then after one hour that dissipates and chocolate, malt, easter candy, and cinnamon or Mexican chocolate aromas and flavors can be found. Finally in the second hour when there were only a few drops left of this wine, the aromas and flavors were of game-meat like lamb and rosemary with a tremendous strength and purpose. This wine probably would have continued evolving for several hours if we had had the patience to wait. A stunning bottle of wine from a great terroir.
This wine is what I would consider a classic cool climate vintage wine and one that will need patience and time. The complexities were astounding and although delicious tonight, we probably did this wine an injustice by not waiting 5-10 more years to begin drinking it.
2006 Domaine de la Romanee Conti “Richebourg”:
From a warmer vintage that has produced lush, ripe, opulent Burgundies, these wines are showing tremendously well young and may be more of a crowd pleaser vintage than a candidate for long term cellaring as their fruit and their punch are their best attributes and are showing those characters in spades right now. This wine had a smilar color to the La Tache although slightly lighter at the rim of the glass. This wine immediately showed its charm and fruit up front with red fruit aromas like cherry and “fraises des bois” with a sweet cinnamon character that reminded me of freshly baked pastry or streudel. This wine has elegance and a sense of nobility with its lofty aromas and purity but tremendous silky frame. This, like the La Tâche, develops some soy and sesame type aromas but is much softer and gentler. As well this wine shows off some of the higher toned whole cluster influenced aromas of tomato leaf and tarragon to match the sweet easy fruit which is very ripe and forward. Interestingly enough, over the two hour period that we tried both wines, this wine had very little evolution of complexities but continued to show the great fruit and spice character and lush broad personality that it had upon opening throughout. This wine to me was a classic warm vintage wine that is showing beautifully now and although it may continue to age well and develop interesting tertiary notes, this wine will be better in its youth than with long term ageing.
You can maybe draw your own conclusion from these tasting notes, or maybe you have even had the opportunity to try wines from the same winery from two different years (hot and cooler) and you have a preference for styles. In this tasting, although honored to try both wines (what a privilege, Thanks Bill!) I preferred the 2005 wine from “La Tache” as I believe that this is the wine that will continue to evolve and develop intense complexities and multiple personalities for the next 20 or 30 years while the Richebourg from 2006 will come to be known for its generous noble fruit and spice character which is hard to resist now.
I honestly did not know what to expect going to North Carolina. I had no idea what the landscape looked like or what the people would be like. What I found was more than a pleasant surprise. The landscape, although fairly flat where I was, is richly lush and the people are warm and welcoming and proud of their state and their barbecue (vinegar based) and basketball. And I was told that I had to see the coast line and the outer banks and the mountains and the artistic community of Asheville and so much more. So I’ll be back for sure. And I will definitely be visiting “Herons” at the Umstead for another great meal and some more great wines with my friend Bill sometime hopefully very soon.