One of the reasons I love coming to France once a year for three months is the wine. I know, there are those of you who love California wines. Maybe you are in love with the cabernets or the merlots. I know people who are gaga over California or Oregon Pinot Noir. Hey, if you love it, drink it. Me, I have grown to love the Bordeaux and the burgundies. Now I do love a good Malbec from Argentina and the occasional shiraz from Australia. And if truth be known, the cabs and merlots that Chile produces are really very good. You know, the Lafittes and Moutons and Latour’s invested a fair chunk of change in those two south American countries and have made some excellent wines. The influence of the French has been felt very deeply in South America. And Mexico, if you can obtain the best that they grow there make some excellent cabs and chardonnays. The world of wine is ever expanding. South Africa has been making some very good wines and their style is a little different in each varietal. But that is as it should be. California is very much addicted to that knock your socks off style. So one expects to pick the splinters out of an over oaked chardonnay from Napa or Monterrey County.
But when I come to France I expect finesse, I expect balance, I expect that perfection in wine making that the French and the Italians seem to have mastered. I was fortunate, perhaps lucky, if you like, to have discovered wine in 1972. Like most individuals, I drank the sweet stuff, the junk, if you like. Frankly, one has to start somewhere and Mateus was a starting point. Chennin blancs and sweet California Rieslings are good wines. They may not be the best expressions of the wine makers art, but that is a more subjective judgment. But I traveled on to Zinfandels and Cabernets and the occasional California Pinot Noir. Yes, the thought horrifies me to think that I actually likes some of the pint noirs made in that state. But one learns by tasting, and taste I did. I met a few people in the business, mostly those who ran the tasting rooms or a few cellar rats that worked at the local wineries. Then a couple of them started a retail store where they served wine and sold by the bottle and case. For the most part they were guided by a couple of good wholesale reps and the store was stocked with some excellent wines, including French. The Tasting Room, what a place. The street number said it all, 502, the code for drunk driving in California. You have to love the irony. Friday and Saturday nights were fun times since they hired some local singer and guitar player to serenade the crowd. They also hosted a few tastings and some of the local wine makers showed up on a regular basis. I met Dave Banyan from Ridge and became know to him. Same with David Bruce and a few others. I even held a couple of my own tastings there. One was a Grand Mark Champagne tasting. The vintage was 1966 and the wines were Crystal, Bollinger, Tattinger, Rene LaLou, Dom Perignon, La Grande Dame, Pommeray, Lanson, and one other I can’t recall at the moment. Imagine being able to sample seven different champagnes, all vintage, all the best of the individual houses had to offer. Inflation had not taken its tole on the wine prices and the good stuff was cheap in comparison to ten years later and even today.
I also held my own private tastings for the wine friends I had acquired. The great 1967 bordeaux tasting of a14 different of the second and third growth chateaux. True, 1967 was a near perfect year when compared to 1966 or 1961. Eight guests, three ounces of wine in each glass, and god knows we took all night to evaluate those wines. Then there was the great Bollinger RD tasting. In 1959 Bollinger made a perfect champagne, that is, no sugar was added to the dosage, the fill to top off the bottle when the neck that contained the yeasty bodies was frozen and removed. Add to that the 1961, the 1962, the 1964, the 1966, the 1970, These were the finest champagnes Bollinger had made and the excellence was bar none. Then there were the dinners I eld and did the cooking. God, I learned to cook well. I loved planning the menus and paring the wines. I mean the wines were first class. Well, I may a lot of overtime and that paid for my excess. I has a wine cellar with some of the best wines one could collect, over a hundred cases worth, about four times my normal 40 hour a week pay per year. If I listed them you would accuse me or name dropping. I used to soak the labels off and paste them into one of those large drawing books. My ex-wife stole my label collection, the bitch. But she couldn’t steal the memories. The labels are only bragging rights, nothing more.
Funny thing is, whenever I encounter a second label for one of the best bordeaux, I take a sip and the memories come flooding back. Yes, I remember you, I’ve had this chateau many times and many different years. I’ve had every Chateau Latour vintage from 1945 through 1985. Few individuals can say that. Which was my favorite? The 1945, followed by the 1959 and then the 1961. At one time I had drunk my way through two cases of the 1964 vintage, a near perfect vintage. God, what good wine. I wish I had more. So tonight I am trying a 2013 Pommard. This is suppose to be the better year that 2009 for burgundies. I drank the hell out of French burgundies. The best of the lot, 1955 Romanee Conti, although the 1952 La Tache was a close second. I laugh when I see the price of Romanee Conti these days. The airport duty free shop at Charles De Gaul had the 2009 Romanee Conti for sale at $25,000. Is it worth the price? Only if you are a billionaire and care about bragging rights. I might have paid $250 for one but not one hundred times that amount. No wine is worth that much money. Hell, I won’t pay the six hundred to over a thousand dollars for Chateau Latour these days. Those wines are so greatly over priced. But you know what? There are a lot of little chateau that make very good wines, even in the off years, for 10 euros or so. This is wine that a fifty dollar bottle of California cab can’t touch. I have a friend from those wine days, a real nice guy with a real sweetheart of a wife. He bought a three acre vineyard in Amador County with 60 year old zinfandel vines. Back in the seventies we all had our dreams to owning twenty or so acres of vineyard planted in cab, chardonnay, and so forth. If you are going to dream, why not dream big. His three acres keeps him busy since he lives in Santa Cruz and has to work for a living. But he makes some damn good zin. The bottles I have tasted are much like the Ridge Vineyards Amador County style of the seventies. The man has done well for an amatuar wine maker. I’ve poured him and his wife some damn fine wines in the past, stuff they could never afford. They came out last year to my place her in eastern France and we sampled wines out of the cellar. We did the tour of Dijon, the independent champagne producers, and ate some great food. And when he tastes some California cab that is suppose to be the last word in cabs, he says, it’s good but I want what Bill drinks in France. The good well made wines with finesse, complexity, and balance that one can appreciate all night long. Well, this 2013 Pommard is nice, well made, balanced, and easy to drink. But it will not age, is a bit light and does not have that typical fire in the belly that denotes a very goo pinot noir. I’m not sure they make the good burgundies in that old style any more. God knows I drank more than my share of the great ones. I haven’t found one to match those made in the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. I do miss my burgundies, truly. Well, I have another Pommard, same year but different producer. I’ll open it next weekend. maybe I’ll be surprised. Yeah, wine and cheese, nothing like it.