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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In Pursuit of Wine Happiness

In part two entitled "In pursuit of Wine Happiness" we continue to take another insiders-look, into the world of high-end Food and Wine, an article written by new and weekly guest contributor; Ilona Thompson the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility. She is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief. Look forward to seeing Ilona's contributions here, each and every Wine Wednesday, please help me welcome her to the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog.

Due to its uncanny emotional appeal, wine has long been a source of inspiration for many. Nonetheless, some have ridiculed the cost of drinking the world's finest wines. In my experience that it's simply the price you pay for greatness. Next time someone assures you that you can get just as exciting of a bottle for $40 as $400, don't believe them. In wine, as in life, you often get what you pay for.
If you want a good bottle of wine, $40 will often get you there. If you want an experience unlike any other, you have to play the odds in a category prohibitive for most. $400 will not guarantee you an ethereal experience, but spending that much will certainly improve your chances of achieving wine ecstasy.Trends come and pricing follows, however nothing worthwhile is subject to trends of the moment. DRC may fluctuate in auction market, but it will never be a bargain, and for a good reason.
Those of us who spend quality time on 'Planet Wine' have had a few epiphanies. My initial epiphany occurred with my first sip of 1995 Bryant Family Cab, an experience that I’ll never forget. Shortly thereafter, I was privileged to taste a 1997 Marcassin Pinot Noir,  which rearranged my perception of what this varietal can deliver.

With tasting extraordinary wines comes an inevitable conclusion that truly exceptional examples transcend the original source, i.e. grape, varietal, winemaking, time and any preconceived notions you may have had.  Somehow, the confluence produces a result that is more magic than mere manipulation. An illusion that feels as real as the purple liquid in your glass.
One of  my wine-life’s defining moments came from sampling a 1978 Henri Jayer Richebourg from a Magnum. I was fortunate enough to be a dinner guest at a prominent restaurant in San Francisco that involved some extraordinary Burgundy wines. I have only had Henri Jayer wine (Cros Parantoux) once prior to that and it was a mind boggling affair. What happened that evening made me feel like my definition of wine experience was highly inadequate. One of my dining companions, a man who is not easily rattled, cried. Another one excused himself to walk around the block; to have a solo moment in order to clear his head. Instinctively, all of us knew that this was a special moment, not soon to be forgotten.
It's human nature to try to replicate these rare,  ultimate ecstasies. The rules of the game is that there are no rules. You simply don't know where your next wine revelation will occur.  On numerous occasions I have sat through elaborate, multi-course, food and wine pairings prepared by the finest chefs and served by top winemakers and felt grateful, but not turned on. Like really great sex, if you knew the precise ingredients that facilitate it, you would never stop having it.
My most recent winegasm occurred under somewhat unlikely circumstances. Yes, Champagne Krug is a revered house unlike any other in the world, which was amply confirmed by Olivier Krug who brought a stunning line-up to the GourmetFest Festival in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The thing is, I always thought my next wine epiphany would come from a red wine, likely a Pinot Noir. I often compare Pinot to a watercolor painting, unlike Cabs or other red blends, Pinot Noir is pure. Winemaker can’t allow you to paint over or blend the flaws when producing Pinots. They cannot be manipulated post-production. Perhaps that's why Pinot folk had always struck me as a different breed of winemakers and wine drinkers.

To put it in proper context, here are some wines which were presented:

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg line-up included bottles from 1971, 1991, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010.

Chateau Cheval Blanc tasting featured wines from 1967, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2010.

The Krug line-up of Champagnes included:
•Krug Grande Cuvée (current)
•Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1998
•Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000
•Krug Vintage 2000
•Krug Vintage 2003
•Krug Grande Cuvee (2003 base)
•Krug Rosé (NV)
•Krug Collection 1989
Krug is regarded worldwide as the King of Champagnes and Champagne for the Kings. Third generation vintner, whose grandfather is responsible for the legendary 1928, Olivier Krug made it clear that the Krug name is synonymous with greatness for a reason. For Krug, when it comes to quality there are no compromises. Every square inch of the vineyards is meticulously tended to, harvested  at different times and by hand. Great acidity and "freshness" are key.

The lots are fermented separately in mostly 20L lots. For Krug, the blends are not about varietal composition, it's about choosing the right combination of "ingredients" from their vast, 150 plus wine "library" and creating a wine with superior balance that is worthy of the name Grande Cuvee. 

The brand is constantly innovating and coming up with new ways to extract the essence out of the varietal many associate with joy and celebration. Arguably the most age-worthy Champagne on the planet, Krug places tremendous value on it, their philosophy is "part of the definition of quality is how the wine ages" and versatility is another hallmark, as well as food pairing.

Krug Grande Cuvée is an annual blend of well over a 100 wines (this year is was 142!) utilizing Pinot Noir , Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay sourced from numerous vineyards and vintages. Often it takes over twenty years to craft it, including several spent in the cellar once bottled.

Krug Clos d’Ambonnay hails from a postage stamp of a vineyard of 1 ½ acre, with miniscule yields, that sits in the heart of Ambonnay, a village in Champagne. Once bottled its aged for twelve plus years. Krug Clos du Mesnil is sourced from a single plot (“clos” in France) of Chardonnay: a 4 ½ acre vineyard located in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger. It’s aged in Krug’s cellars for a decade plus.

Krug Vintage is composed of wines from a single year.  It sits in Krug’s cellars for at least a decade before release. Krug Collection is an arm of Krug Vintage, with bottles that have been cellared for at least ten additional years with the current offering of 1989.

Krug Rosé is an annual blend of several different vintages from Krug’s library of hundred and fifty reserve wines, aged five plus years. Apparently, when asked, Madonna said that her two guilty pleasures are french fries and Krug Rose. If that does not give it sex symbol status, I don't know what will.
To further contextualize what I tasted that weekend, there was Maison Joseph Drouhin, Harlan Estate, Quintessa,  Weingut Donhoff, Weingut Kunstler, Calera, Flowers, Roar, Pahlmeyer, Lail, Heitz and many, many more. As you can see, this was no ordinary wine weekend, rather the kind that evoked self-envy. To pick one bottling out of this line-up is like asking the Duggars picking a favorite child. They are all different yet beautiful in their own way.
Beauty is not a standardized notion. It is often associated with symmetry, balance, harmonious appearance.  It reveals itself in an unmistakable way and has inspired humanity since its inception. I was surrounded by it that weekend, in a form of terrific, glorious wines, thoughtful, impeccably executed food and many amazing personalities, whose paths I would not have crossed had it not been for David Fink who plotted to create an event that was nothing short of epic. By any stretch, to stand out in this lineup.

"So there I was, utterly clueless as to what's about to happen to my heart and my palate, casually putting my lips to 1998 Clos d' Ambonnay."
The world has effectively stopped moving at that moment. It wasn't abrupt, yet palpable, unmistakable, strangely comforting and disturbing all at once. Time and space became a casual if not superfluous commodities. Any tasting note I could have produced would have fallen far short of what I was actually tasting. I didn't want to merely taste that wine, I wanted to be any stretch, to stand out in this lineup is a coup d'état.
"It was getting close to noon as I reclined on a balcony of a sprawling Chateau, overlooking French countryside. A light breeze was caressing my face and the air was filled with spring in all of its refreshing glory... The perfume emanating from my glass was subtle yet entirely intoxicating... alluring, profoundly seductive filled with floral, creamy, delicate notes, balanced on the palate by superb acidity, laser-like focus and vivid minerality that lingered on for a luscious lifetime...  The delicate, golden bubbles reminiscent of the tiniest, perfect caviar spheres were dancing in my sunlit filled glass and an aura of sweet anticipation filled my heart before each sip."
In my transformed world, there will always be a BC (before Clos) and after, that much was clear. What is not clear is whether I will ever get to experience the same high again. The bar has been set and it is impossibly high. Will I subconsciously compare every single glass of bubbles to my new Crown Jewel?
Over the years, I've asked dozens of prominent winemakers and vintners the same question: What is your epiphany wine? The details, varietal, producers, vintage, or circumstances all varied. However, what was constant was the way they spoke. When the recounted their experiences, their demeanor changed. Their voices became softer, their eyes glazed over with that dreamy look when someone is sharing a special, somewhat naughty, secret with a stranger. The emotion those wine experiences evoked was clear and present. Like a great book or film, wines can transport your mind and take your emotions to a whole new level. Cheers to that.

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