Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Jacky Truchot Wine Dinner

It's taken me a long time to write this post. On the occasions when I get to do something spectacular in the wine world, I usually write something rather quickly. Not this time, and it's because I don't have the typical unabashed praise for the wines and for the dinner. This was indeed a spectacular event, and still, I have some criticisms. It's been hard to figure out how to write about them without making blanket judgements that I do not actually have the depth of knowledge to support.

So I will say this: I want to tell you about the amazing Jacky Truchot dinner I attended recently - the good parts and the bad parts. And please remember while reading this that my criticisms (and my praises) are just my own opinions, nothing more.


Jacky Truchot made wine from plots in Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St.-Denis, and Chambolle-Musigny from the late '70s through the 2005 vintage. His wines have always had a very high reputation among Burgundy cognescenti, and you might think of them as "insider's" wines. He retired after the 2005 vintage and sold almost all of his vineyards. Since then Truchot's wines have skyrocketed in price. Good Burgundy is never cheap, but a 2002 Truchot villages wine that would have cost about $45 on release now fetches something like $150 at auction. The top wines...I saw $250 as the starting point in a recent auction.

Why so much money now? As with the wines of Noël Verset of Cornas, for example, every time a bottle is opened, there is one fewer left on the planet, and no more will ever be made. And perhaps Truchot isn't as much of an insider's wine anymore. It's hard to track exactly how word gets out in these cases, but all of the sudden collectors who hadn't been buying Truchot are buying it in force. And the prices have risen as a result.

When I asked friends who are far more knowledgeable about Truchot than I am, two main themes emerged. Purity - I heard that several times, from everyone I asked. The wines are supposed to be brilliantly pure in their expression of terroir. And traditional - farming and wine making are both done in the traditional style. In this case traditional means good farming, old vines, high yields, minimal intervention, no fining or filtering.Yup - high yields. No thin yield, super-powerful wines from Truchot. These are described as feminine wines of grace and finesse.

So I was thrilled and grateful to be part of this dinner, to have the opportunity to drink a selection of Truchot wines from several vintages. This is something that I am unlikely to experience ever again. The lineup was impressive:

Fight 1
1999 Morey-St-Denis
2002 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbes
2003 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers

Flight 2
2002 Clos de la Roche
2003 Clos de la Roche
2004 Clos de la Roche

Flight 3
2002 Charmes-Chambertin
2003 Charmes-Chambertin
2004 Charmes-Chambertin

Flight 4
1999 Charmes-Chambertin
1990 Charmes-Chambertin
1989 Charmes-Chambertin

Before I share thoughts on the wines, I want to share a few criticisms about the food - the pairings specifically. We ate at Union Square Cafe, the classic NYC restaurant. The food was delicious and I enjoyed everything I ate. But with flight 1 we were served Vanilla Scented Poached Lobster with Sweet Pea Salad. An excellent dish, beautifully prepared and presented. But with those three wines? I was open-minded, honestly I was. It just didn't work, to my taste, and I wound up drinking Champagne with this dish.

The biggest food problem, however, was the final course served with Flight 4. Mature red Burgundy is a gentle thing and the complexity of its aromas can be overwhelmed by strong tastes or smells. With these grand old wines we were served a plate of delicious and well-selected cheeses. Including the wonderfully grassy, pungent, and stinky Hudson Red, from upstate NY. I couldn't smell the wine, and I was not able to discern much detail of flavor either. Perhaps I am too sensitive and precious of a Brooklynguy, but all I could smell was cheese. And it hung like a cloud, it never left.

And I might as well complain about the wines a little, while I'm complaining. We drank wines mostly from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 vintages. One could argue that with 2005, these might be the very worst vintages for current drinking in that they are no longer young, but they are not mature either. They are likely to be shut down, or at least tight and constricted. This makes it hard to appreciate whatever glory is within, and when dealing with something as rare and pricey as Truchot, that seems like a shame. Whatever. I certainly didn't protest as I drank these wines. I'm just sayin', that's all.

The real issue I had, the disturbing realization for me, is that the wines are probably not worth the money they now cost or the iconic status they now have. It is possible to expect too much from wine, especially when retirement or some other finality makes the wines scarce. Truchot devotees are now readying themselves to type out indignant ripostes in the comments. Do as you must, devotees. All I mean to say is that the wines are very good, and made in a lovely style. But are they among the greatest red Burgundies? Is Truchot's top wine, Clos de la Roche, the finest example of wine from this vineyard? Is the Charmes-Chambertin the finest of its type? Many people would say no in both cases, and yet the wines are now being traded at prices to rival Bachelet's Charmes-Chambertin and not quite yet Dujac's Clos de la Roche, but getting closer. This probably says more about the way high end Burgundy is bought and sold than it does about the actual opinions of the most knowledgeable Burgundy lovers, but it is still a shame.

Okay, now about these wines. I was impressed with how clearly they reflected vintage character, and by the clarity with which they conveyed aroma and flavor. And yes - by their faithful expression of terroir. And by how good they smelled and tasted.

The 2004's seemed to transcend the problems of the vintage. They were more generous and ready-to-drink on this evening than the others, and I thought they all showed lovely floral perfume (not even a slight trace of 2004 "green-ness"). Not as substantial as the other vintages, but still quite lovely. The 2003's also were better than I expected, except for the Chambolle Sentiers - I found this bottle to be hollow and uninspiring. They were ripe, but not in any way ponderous or overdone. Some complained that they lacked mid-palate depth. Most folks agreed (and they are all more experienced than I) that the 2002's were the best wines and that they would be quite grand at maturity. I must say that I did not understand the 2002's, that I simply am not experienced enough to be able to interpret them in their current state of tightness. For example, I found the 2002 Clos Sorbes to show fruit aromas that were too heavy, verging on overripe.

The 1999 Morey-St-Denis was in a great place for drinking, with complex musky aromas that still echoed ripe red fruit. A great example of why it can be so rewarding to hold onto a simple villages wine for 12 years. After the first flight came a trio of wines from Clos de la Roche. This might seem obvious to you, but it was fascinating to experience this for myself: Clos de la Roche is one of the greatest terroirs of Burgundy. It simply outclassed the other wines, including the Charmes-Chambertins, with layers of complexity and an articulate depth that the other wines did not achieve. My first sip in flight 2 was 2004 Clos de la Roche and it was truly startling. The 2002 was very constricted, but others thought it was stunning. Even where I found the fruit to be a bit heavy, the minerality was immutable.

The fight of Charmes-Chambertin wines suffered a bit after the Clos de la Roche flight, I thought. The 4th flight promised to be exciting, but the 1990 was off, re-fermenting possibly, as the wine was effervescent and tingly on the tongue. And I have nothing detailed to say about the 1989 or the 1999 (the cheese problem), but they both seemed lovely and very well balanced.

It feels kind of funny to be criticizing aspects of an evening such as this one. I did enjoy people's company, I certainly learned a lot, and I do not take for granted the opportunity to drink these wines. I recognize also what goes into an evening like this.  Someone had to know enough to buy these wines in the late '80s and in the '90s. They were patient with them and stored them properly. They worked to get a group of pleasant people together who can contribute bottles, and to arrange a fine dinner at a fine restaurant. This evening was successful in most of those things, and I was lucky to be along for the ride.

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