The term ‘entry level’ is a very useful marketing and quality phrase, indicating some real quality, affordable price (a relative term itself) and the enticement of something outstanding at a much higher price. It gets around the problem neatly which you have in Italian where the normal term for entry level wine is ‘base’ wine with all the wrong connotations. But sometimes ‘entry level’ is used, as here, as a joke. Échèzeaux is a Grand Cru but the bottom of the reputation ladder of the six magnificent Grand Crus which are produced by the top Burgundy property, Domaine de la Romanée Conti in the village of Vosne Romanée in the northern part of the Côte d’Or.
I had the privilege of tasting this wine at a dinner held by very generous friends. There was a series of fully mature classic wines at the dinner – and a upstart of mere 12 year old which I brought. But for me at least, the wine that really stood out was the Échèzeaux. Before we got to it we had already drunk some fine old wines. Clos, Coulée de Serrant, Savennières, A Joly, 1976 was deep gold, honeyed, with a touch of marmalade and characteristic good acidity. A sweeter Loire Chenin was a couple of decades older yet: amber in colour, a combination of pleasant oxidation and remaining fruit and bit of sweetness in Savennières-Roch-aux-Moines, Dom. aux Moines from either 1945 or 1947 – just a slip of a label. And one for the claret lovers: classic cedar box, black fruit, undergrowth notes, medium weight, good acidity, fine chalky tannins from Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou 2° cru, St-Julien, 1982. When the next wine was poured it was pale garnet but with some reminiscence of ruby (see photo above), a nose full of dark, forest-floor notes, fine perfume and a palate which led with subtle red fruit, fine boned, very fine tannins, subtle acidity, long and sumptuous. Guessing that it was old Burgundy was not particularly difficult but I said that I thought it was younger than the wines we had been tasting from the 1970s and early eighties – and was completely wrong! This was bottle number 00383 of Échèzeaux Grand Cru, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, 1972, imported by J L-P Lebegue. Though we like to criticise the French for the lack of information on the labels, this has an informtive back label with a map of the great vineyards. But what really stood out in this 30 year old wine was the freshness of the Pinot Noir fruit, a real sign of quality.
Other wines tasted on a splendid evening:
Duval-Leroy, PC Fleur de Champagne, Champagne – delicate and a touch of richness
Taittinger Special Prestige Champagne – structured, plenty of oak, impressive
Tempus Two Blanc de Blanc, Australia – restrained simple tropical fruit, dry and quite rich
Cune Rioja Gran Riserva 2001 – good but atypical: I thought it was Cabernet Sauvignon for its blackcurrant fruit, mint, leafy notes, and superb fruit
Vigna Caselle Aglianico del Vulture, Riserva, D’Angelo, Basilicata, Italy, 2000 – farmyardy, smoke, lots of rustic fruit and still lively substantial tannins: would hold for another decade?
Dom. Huet, Cuvée Constance, AC Vouvray Moelleux 1995 – another Loire classic: superb, lifting acidity, light and beautiful for all its sweetness
Mas Amiel, Cuvée Prestige 15 ans, Vin Doux Naturel, Roussillon – the classic ‘you have tasted this before (ie quite recently) moment’: woody notes, some fruit, quite austere from its heat treatment in the sun. See my post here
With many thanks to Lefty and Trish for their generosity and friendship. I haven’t dwelt on the magnificent meal that went with these wines but it lived up to the above which is quite an accolade!