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About the author and these posts:

I was fortunate to have grown up in a house where, unusually for the U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s, wine was typically served with dinner (though not to me).  It was not the sort of wine I search out avidly today, but it was of good, everyday quality, and it succeeded in piquing my curiosity.  As a student at college and then law school, I was able to begin to satisfy that curiosity, but my real wine education began after I moved to New York in 1973 to practice law. For those with long memories, 1973 was when the wine market last crashed, due to a combination of rampant speculation on less-than-stellar Bordeaux vintages and a spike in interest rates that resulted in a flood of wine coming on the market. It was a perfect time to learn, as, with a few fellow-enthusiasts to pool resources, we could buy and blind-taste even first-growth Bordeaux for very little money.  Also, happily as it turned out, there was very little written guidance as to why we were supposed to like or dislike particular wines—no Wine Advocate, or other influential critics–and the “experts,” particularly the British wine-writers of the time, were prone to such lofty but essentially useless descriptors as “an upright pillar of polished stone” or  “a lady of a certain age and discretion.” So we had to figure out for ourselves what we liked and didn’t, and defend our often divergent assessments.

After the almost-obligatory apprenticeship with the wines of Bordeaux (I still have a decent amount of ’82 Bordeaux in the cellar, although I have a feeling some of it may be making a pilgrimage to Hong Kong in the near future), I became increasingly beguiled by the wines of Burgundy. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, older Burgs were not valued and, for example, ‘62s and ‘49s were cheaper than ‘83s and certainly than ‘78s.  So out of curiosity, I would buy the older vintages. I discovered that, with enough age, great Burgundy acquires a seamlessness and a velvety texture that is irreproducible. Of course, there were also in those days a lot of bad Burgundies (or semi-Rhones) out there, both old and young, and so I quickly learned the first lesson any Burgundy-lover must assimilate: Burgundy is a minefield.  Discrimination and information are critical in buying and cellaring Burgundy, and while it is often true that a modest-vintage wine from a great producer is far better than a great-vintage wine from a modest producer, it is also true that, Burgundy being produced under often greatly varying circumstances each year, even first-rate producers can have bad vintages (witness some of the top names in Burgundy, who produced mediocre to terrible 1995s or 2007s,  while others produced stunning wines in those same vintages).

For twelve years now, I have been going to Burgundy each year to taste the prior year’s wine in barrel. For more than half that time, this annual trip has been undertaken together with other members of the Tastevin’s National Wine Committee, which buys wine on behalf of the various U.S. chapters of the Chevaliers du Tastevin. Our selection of  estates to visit largely reflects our own tastes and opinions, and therefore I do not pretend to have the same breadth or depth of view of a Burgundy vintage as would a critic who visits scores of producers across the stylistic and quality spectrum. I am also under no illusions about the difficulty of predicting the future of young wines, whether in barrel or bottle. I thought the 1990 de Vogue Musigny was the finest young wine I had ever tasted (for what it’s worth, Clive Coates has said the same); today, when it should be reaching its apogee, it is instead a dried out and shriveled wreck. But if a dose of humility is always helpful, along with a willingness to constantly revisit your conclusions, there is no substitute for following the development not only of the vintage, but of each producer’s wines—not to pick exclusively on any particular domaine, but there are producers whose wines consistently taste well in barrel and just as consistently fail to reach their apparent potential as they attain maturity. For this reason, I like to participate whenever I can in comprehensive tastings of these and other vintages at various points in their maturation.

In furtherance of that goal, I have for the last decade been involved in organizing, along with my good friend Michael Rockefeller, a series of comprehensive multi-producer tastings, including broad, 100+ wine surveys of Richebourg, Romanee-St.-Vivant and Chambertin vs. Chambertin-Clos-de-Beze. Other tastings we’ve organized have had a narrower focus: a retrospective of virtually every Cros Parantoux ever produced, a tasting of Clos-de-Tart back to 1877 and the most comprehensive tasting of Romanee-Conti ever held: 74 vintages reaching back to 1870.

Every taster has preferences (some might call them biases). My preference is for wines of balance and elegance, and I tend to be relatively dismissive of wines that are heavily extracted, alcoholic, or substantially marked by heavy doses of toasty oak. I prefer the flavor profile of older Burgundies, where the individual elements have become subsumed in the whole, and balance, structure, purity and harmony become the critical measuring rods, to that of younger wines, even though the fruit in the latter will be more vibrant—though I hasten to add that despite the japes of some of my friends, I do not care for wines that are dead or dying, and have poured many an oxidized old bottle down the drain in the search for that elusive bottle that retains its vitality despite great age. (Perhaps because of this preference for mature Burgs, I also tend to be more interested in the reds than whites, although I do very much enjoy the whites, both young and old.)  I have been rewarded in my quest by some amazing bottles, from vintages such as 1865, which through the magic of pre-phylloxera vines, use of whole clusters and extraordinary winemaking, can still be transcendent today. I also am a believer in terroir: while the concept is more elusive than some of its passionate defenders make it out to be, one cannot stand in the cellar of a quality-minded producer, tasting two wines–from vines of identical age, treated identically in the vineyard and in the cellar, from plots of land separated only by a narrow path, and yet tasting dramatically different—and not believe that something more is at work than merely the hand of man.

I began writing reports on my annual barrel tastings several years ago, in response to the many questions I got from friends each year on my return, asking what I thought about the vintage and which producers had done well. I am not in the wine trade nor do I have any ambitions (or illusions) about being a journalist. While 2010 marks the first year of my voyage into cyberspace, I still write these reports, and the other notes and reports on tastings that will appear here from time to time, for my friends, and also because the act of writing helps me to clarify my own thoughts. I have a predilection—or is it another bias—towards not simply leaving an event with a set of tasting notes, but trying to draw from each tasting some set of conclusions, however provisional they may be, about the state of a particular vintage, or the character of a particular wine, or the quality of a particular producer at a given moment in time. The reports that appear here will be in that vein—less detail about the flavor profile of a particular wine than one would get, for example, from a professional critic, and more of a focus on what conclusions can be drawn, what lessons learned, that may be helpful in buying or tasting other wines.  If you, the reader, find some useful information here, then I am happy. I love Burgundy not only for the sensory pleasure it provides, but also because, no matter how much you know or think you know, there is always so much more to be learned.

Doug Barzelay

 

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4 Comments
  1. Carlos Arango permalink

    Doug:
    Thank you for including me in your cyberspace newsletter. I think your comments are masterful, and beautifully written. It turns out our viewpoints are quite similar (despite my preference for whites) — it’s not necessary to detect ‘dirty socks’ or ‘wet pebbles’ to assess whether a wine is great or has lasting power. Your words are perfect for me as a simple afficionado, and more meaningful than the jargon of the so-called professionals.
    Congratulations, and I look forward to future postings.
    Best,
    Carlos

  2. Majid Fateh permalink

    Doug,
    Last night I learned about your blog,
    and this morning I read it and enjoyed it
    tremendously. It is a wonderful learning and shopping tool . I look forward to
    reading more of your blog., and sharing your blog with friends .I feel like
    I am late to the table since I did not know about your blog.
    Thank you
    Cheers
    Majid

  3. DaveS permalink

    Great blog and wonderful writing. As a novice burgundy drinker, thanks for contributing to the community.

  4. Mark Cran permalink

    Doug — this is a delight. Thank you for some stimulating thinking, and particularly for its felicity of expression. If you are a trial lawyer, your briefs must be a pleasure to read.

    You tantalise us by referring to major tastings of Chambertin, Close de Beze, Clos de Tart and Cros Parantoux. But clicking on “Tastings” above draws a blank!

    Also, Carlos above refers to a cyberspace newsletter. Is that something other than your once-a-year postings on you trips to Burgundy to taste in bottle?

    If any of the above is available other than through this website, I would be glad to know how to access it. Happy to pay to do so!

    Regards

    Mark.

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