I have been around long enough to be both pleasantly surprised and utterly disappointed by blind dates and modern matchmaking. My affair with Burgundy began just shy of a year ago and I became a self-proclaimed vinophile with, possibly, an unattainable list of demands. I wanted strong and opinionated with a refined and understanding finish. I wanted something predictably safe, but curiously intriguing. The privileged downfall of being in the wine industry was that I was more often than not the one selecting the wine menu for the evening. These were the ballet flats and Hudson jeans + striped collared shirts with fleece pullover crowds. They were the play it safe by price -creamy chards-and cult cabs crowds. These were not the evenings with Raj Parr, exploring the obscure Chenin Blanc on a Hawaiian island, or with John Hilliard with an adolescent 2008 Chateau Cheval Blanc Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, and just “winging it.”
I spent an alluring past few days with a swagger wine proprietor with an even more flirtatious wine cellar. And to my delight, I did not select the wines. Rather, I was set up on blind dates- uncertain of my rendezvous for the evening –whether we would get along or clash like a fine burgundy and a rose. An old saying holds that a wine’s first duty was to be red. I had done a rather shoddy job at selecting my partners, but if one thing held true it was that my wine must be red. Bubbles were nice, like the boy in sixth grade that held your hand to the lunch yard. Or Chardonnay-in your early 20’s, who took you to the movies and a dive bar on a Friday eve. Or the Cabernet- your first real adult relationship- young, precarious, heavy heat on the nose but with a quick burnout. A young Bordeaux often was harsh and off-putting, seductively demanding and unforgiving. I cannot tell you how many events I had been to with Bordeaux consultants who whispered in the corner, “ I am a Burgundy man myself.”
In the age of Tinder and instant gratification, no one should be shocked that Burgundy was user friendly. In contrast, a young Bordeaux required years to mature. Last weekend I had a 2002 Igor Larinov Cabernet and it was rather like my first kiss with an overly ambitious teenage boy- quick to move in, muscles flexing, a quick finish and left you with a sore mouthfeel. While Burgundy must also mature, it developed earlier, and quite frankly often was delicious right from barrel. At its best, Burgundy was supple, strong but not overly muscular. It was the man that stroked your arm at dinner and did not grope you from the get-go. It could be complex or one dimensional, but it would always give off an unequaled aroma of pinot noir, and unlike Bordeaux, it was always approachable.
Like anything worth your time, the demand was overwhelming and the suppy short. During the savage days of winemaking, wines would pass through Algeria and meander their way through Dijon and into Burgundy, passing themselves as noble dates but regrettably inexperienced. Like anything of quality, “good cannot be cheap.”
Last weekend I had the dream list of red Burgundy at my fingertips. But I was shy. For once, I was not assertive and let my date be chosen for me. Normally when this sort of incident occurred I am polite on principle, but expectations were usually low. My friend chose a 1998 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, and damn, it was sophisticatedly charming with a little “salt and pepper,”clear definition but not overly strong. It was smooth on the palate, with a slight bite and an earthy, lingering finish. It was not the 2012 Santa Ynez Valley Cab with overpowering tannins. It was not the dense late harvest Grenache from Napa. It was the weathered pinot noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands, it was the persuasively powerful but subtly reserved meticulous Pinot that I came to love but rarely encountered outside of Europe. It brought me back to my 1989 Richebourg. It was my weekend rendezvous. It was the relationship I wanted to last, but was limited in supply. I went on a date with something other than Burgundy. We watched a silent film. We stayed up all night discussing literature. I fell asleep in fetal position. This blind date caught me off guard, with more than flirty banter, I walked away, lipstick smeared and thinking…maybe American [pinots] do have a chance.