Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Love among the vines

Last Friday we joined forces with 4 other couples and headed to Burgundy for the wine-tasting trip of a lifetime. We were led by Alexandre Lazareff (, a mountain-climbing, extreme skiing, internet entrepreneur and Figaro wine critic all wrapped into a humorous, charming, high energy package.
After an exciting, everyone on board with seconds to spare departure, we were whisked away by the somewhat magical French TGV train from Paris to Burgundy. Over two days we tasted 60 wines, while also having two of the most memorable meals of a lifetime. Despite this ferocious pace, we all managed to be remarkably well-restrained and escaped the weekend a few pounds heavier but none the worse for wear.

We talked to the vintners, walked the vineyards, felt the dirt (in the olden days they used to taste the dirt as well) and marveled at the mosaic of tiny plots that make up Burgundy. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, the vineyards were just starting to bud and for us wine-lovers, love was in the air.

Our favorite stop was at Chateau de Mersault (, where we tasted incredible Mersault white wines and Volnay reds. A close second was at the very stylish Louis Max winery (, where we tasted a ’76 Corton that stands as the single best red wine I have ever tasted.

So what did the best wine I ever tasted taste like? This is going to sound really weird, but to me it tasted like dirt – an incredibly fine taste of the chalky, dry, clay soil that characterizes the region of Burgundy. I know this doesn’t sound too appetizing, but throw in an aroma of mushrooms and a sense that you are drinking time itself (how old were you in 1976 anyway?) and it makes for a magical experience.

The winemaking philosophy of the area is infused with the belief that the key to a good wine is suffering (maybe this has something to do with the fact that all the major wineries were originally started by Catholic monks). The wine must not only suffer on the vine (watering vines or protecting them from frost is considered cheating) but also in the barrel (temperatures are carefully controlled to slow fermentation to a crawl).

What did we learn? Burgundy is a place that is impossible to understand from a distance and impossible to forget once you have visited.