Burgundy Christmas Dinner

(Somewhere near Windsor in a very large house)


The Food: 

Smoked salmon on brown bread

Pea, mint and truffle soup with Parmesan crisp, bread and truffle butter

Scotch egg

Daube of venison, Yukon gold creamy mash, salt-roasted celeriac, creamed cabbage, chestnut and quince

Eton Mess – raspberries, Chantilly cream and white chocolate meringues

Selection of cheeses

The Wines:

2005 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne93
1988 Krug Collection97
2006 Krug Vintage96
2006 Domaine Arnaud Ente Meursault La Goutte d’Or 1er Cru96
1995 Domaine Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru98
2005 Domaine Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru88? 
1998 Domaine Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru90
2000 Domaine Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru96
1988 Domaine René Engel Clos de Vougeot Grand CruNR 
1964 Domaine Comte de Vogüé Musigny Vieilles Vignes Grand CruNR 
1934 Doudet Naudin Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts88
1984 Domaine J-F Mugnier Musigny Grand Cru89
1989 Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques 1er Cru       94
1990 Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques 1er Cru97
1949 Pierre Ponnelle Musigny Grand Cru96
2004 Domaine Georges Nöellat Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru92
2007 Weingut Keller Riesling Westhofener Kirschspiel Auslese 93
1948 Taylor’s Vintage Port100

Waking up in an extraordinarily comfortable bed, I wipe the sleep from my eyes and look around the bedroom. It takes a couple of seconds to remember where I am. Tapping my forehead, I am relieved that there is no headache induced by the previous night’s libation. Wandering over to the window, I survey the sweep of the Berkshire countryside. After a quick shower, I set about the main task, which is to trace the route I took to my room the night before. I am not being facetious. You see, this must surely be the largest house that I have ever seen, with multiple floors and annexes, unexpected staircases and dead ends. It takes three attempts, including one where I end up barging into the staff quarters. Will our host send out a search party? What if I end up trapped here forever? Would my family notice I’m missing? Just as mild panic begins to set in, I hear the distant sound of young children singing “Happy Birthday.” I follow the enchanting chorus and, after a couple of wrong turns, finally make it to the front entrance.

“Coffee?” asks the co-host of last night’s extraordinary festive dinner.    

“Yes, please,” I reply, impressed by his mind-reading skills. Over a couple of revivifying espressos, we survey the small armada of fabulous bottles martyred, their glass bodies lined up along the marble kitchen island. Did we really drink that much? 

The meal was prepared by a private chef for the occasion. Each dish was supremely well cooked and presented, simple but effective, complementing the wines and politely allowing them to take center stage. Though the venison was the star of the show, I adored the pea and mint soup served with a Parmesan crisp that married brilliantly with the white wines, not to mention one of the best Eton Mess desserts that I have ever eaten. But I’m not going to focus too much on the food, because this evening was all about the bottles so generously proffered by our hosts and guests.

This Scotch egg was an additional course and was so ridiculously delicious that I had to resist slipping it into my pocket and taking it home. I didn’t. I just ate it.

We began with three champagnes. Taittinger’s 2005 Comtes de Champagne was a perfect way to commence proceedings. Orchard fruit and hints of brioche on the seductive nose are joined by a hint of lemon verbena filtering through with time. The palate is beautifully balanced, perhaps not as riveting as a recently tasted 2008, yet underpinned by a fine bead of acidity and exuding harmony on the apricot-tinged finish. This is drinking perfectly now but should give 15-20 years of drinking pleasure. The 1988 Krug Collection, a 2017 disgorgement, offers an enticing bouquet of grilled walnut, baked bread and a touch of freshly baked gingerbread on the nose, displaying exquisite delineation and focus. A tang of bitterness on the entry refreshes the senses. This Champagne is impressive in terms of depth and salinity. Vibrant and bright, it conveys a sense of completeness, so that you can’t help coming back for just one more sip. At its peak? Probably.

The 2006 Krug had a tough job following the 1988 Collection, but it performed well. It has an airy nose at first, then reveals citrus peel, apple tart and a slight metallic note that fortunately dissipates with aeration, eventually becoming quite floral. The palate is very harmonious, sylph-like in texture, and quite penetrating, with a surprisingly honeyed, extremely persistent finish. This will mature into a fabulous Krug.

Moving on to the whites, I first tackled the magnum of 2006 Meursault La Goutte d’Or 1er Cru from Domaine Arnaud Ente. I have a love/hate relationship with this producer. I dislike how prices have attained astronomical levels, even compared to the rest of Burgundy, and I must confess that occasionally I taste a bottle that leaves me wondering whether the adulation is misplaced. Yet this Meursault is indisputably stunning. Quite deep in hue, it sports a slight reduction on the nose but displays brilliant delineation and scents of tangerine, grilled hazelnuts and a touch of smoke, almost Chablis-like. The palate is taut and focused, powerful yet exceptionally well balanced and loaded with mineralité. It just seems to reach a higher level with every sip, until I could not deny that this is a thrilling wine. Not to be outdone, the 1995 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru from Domaine Vincent Dauvissat ranks as one of the greatest mature bottles that I have encountered from this esteemed producer. It is blessed with a fabulous bouquet, featuring fresh earth, cockle shells and just a hint of menthol. It’s one of those aromatics that you could nose all evening; it’s almost ineffably complex. The palate matches the brilliant aromatics with astonishing spiciness and profound depth. This Les Clos is like a heavyweight boxer entering the ring and flooring his opponent with balletic grace. Wow. Ramonet’s 2005 Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru could not keep pace with the previous pair. I find it far too reductive on the nose, obfuscating the terroir expression. The palate dishes out more of the same, coming across very reduced and indicative of an incorrect SO2 addition. Maybe we were just unlucky with this bottle.

We opened a mouthwatering selection of red Burgundies, including two from one of my favorite producers in Vosne-Romanée. This would have been overseen by Sylvain Cathiard himself, predating the arrival of his son and current winemaker, Sébastien. The 1998 Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru has a perfumed, heady bouquet of dark cherries, cassis and incense. The palate shows lovely balance and tastes sweet and candied, quite plush for a 1998 and not as elegant as the 2000. Though I admire the pastille-like finish, I feel there are some unresolved tannins, rendering it a bit stocky and unwieldly. The 2000 Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru is far better than the 1998, an ethereal wine that transcends the growing season. It has a stunning nose of mineral-saturated black fruit, evoking a sense of transparency that is absent on the 1998. It’s just pure unadulterated Pinoté. The palate has a slightly ferrous entry, a little earthiness, fine structure and just the right amount of sapidity on the finish. This long and tender Malconsorts is à point. Its current market price brings a tear to my eye when I think how much of this wine I guzzled back in the day.  

I was eagerly looking forward to the 1988 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru from Domaine René Engel, so I will spare you the expletive that ran through my head when it became obvious it was corked. It wasn’t the only misfiring bottle. Alas, the 1964 Musigny Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru from Domaine Comte de Vogüé was clearly out of condition (though I was compensated by its sibling at a dinner the following month – look out for that). Then the 1934 Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts from Doudet Naudin begged the question: How much Pinot is in this wine? Not 100%, yet it’s still quite pleasant, with muffled mulberry scents and a chalky, truffle-tinged palate marked by fine acidity. Authentic? Doubtful. Did I finish my glass? You bet. The 1984 Musigny Grand Cru from Domaine J-F Mugnier comes from an infamous off-vintage, yet acquits itself well. It’s simple on the nose and rather muffled, displaying a light dusty attic scent and a touch of menthol, perhaps mothballs. This actually improves in the glass. The palate has a sweet core that implies some heavy chaptalization, but I appreciate the Chinese five-spice and desiccated orange peel notes, and it holds up well in the glass. Drink soon if you happen to possess a bottle.

Domaine Armand Rousseau’s wines are now so eye-wateringly expensive that one treasures the rare occasion to drink mature vintages. We were blessed with a fabulous pair, neither of which I had tasted before. The 1989 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques 1er Cru has an exquisite nose of morello cherries and cranberry and hints of bergamot and wild mint, perhaps surprisingly missing the precision of the 1990, but improving in the glass. The palate is sweet and fleshy, with layers of red cherry and strawberry, perfect acidity and nuanced allspice notes. It coalesces marvelously with every swirl of the glass, though it never catches up with the 1990. The 1990 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques 1er Cru is magnificent. It displays stunning definition on the nose; there’s no messing about as it ladles out captivating raspberry, wild strawberry and light oyster shell notes. Though opulent and reflective of the growing season, the bouquet oozes class. The palate has a sorbet-like freshness and so much vitality after 31 years, building toward a perfectly symmetrical finish featuring vivacious morello cherries and raspberry coulis and hints of bay leaf. This is simply Rousseau in full flight. How do you follow that pair?

The 1949 Musigny Grand Cru from Pierre Ponnelle waltzed on stage and entranced its audience. This wine was been made by Christophe Roumier’s grandfather, Georges, who retired in 1961 (Roumier’s mother comes from the Ponnelle family). Not that I get to taste it often, but I adore the 1949 vintage, and thankfully this bottle was not tainted or dimmed by antiquity. There is so much clarity and focus on the nose, featuring slightly darker fruit, hints of black olive and light estuarine scents that manifest with time, as well as fleeting wild heather aromas. You can sense the aromatics ratcheting up the gears as it responds to air. The palate might be just a tad rustic by comparison, yet it conveys the arching structure one expects from a Musigny, leading to a sapid, perfectly balanced, intense finish. Clearly, there was gifted winemaking behind this wine. 

There was one more red Burgundy, a late addition (well, two including my own, but that will appear in a forthcoming horizontal). The 2004 Grands-Echézeaux Grand Cru from Domaine Georges Nöellat comes from a much-maligned growing season. It was cracked open just to see if it displayed displeasing green/vegetal notes, like so many other bottles. Answer? Surprisingly, no. It’s very pure, with brambly red fruit, loamy scents and light floral aromas. The well-balanced palate delivers a fine bead of acidity and, again, no signs of greenness. The blueberry-tinged finish is pliant and pure. This was a delight. 

We had one sweet wine. The 2007 Riesling Westhofener Kirschspiel Auslese from Klaus-Peter Keller has quite an intense, petrol-infused nose, scents of lemon thyme, white flowers, nectarine and orange sorbet emerging with time. Surprisingly, I found the palate laden with less sugar than I expected for an Auslese, perhaps because of the acidity. But it is extremely focused, with a saline, oyster-shell-tinged finish that beckons you back for another sip. I have no tasting note for the 1970 Quinta do Noval Nacional, so either I did not taste it, or I was too busy obsessing over the other vintage port, one of the legends of the century. The 1948 Taylor’s Vintage Port encapsulates everything you could want and more. This was as good a bottle as I have ever drunk. The bouquet is perhaps not quite as “soaring” as the previous examples, but it is elegant and refined, scents of raspberry, dates, blood orange and sage unfolding in the glass. The palate is powerful, though the perfectly poised balance makes it barely noticeable. Layers of red fruit are laced with black truffle, fresh figs, marmalade and a dab of cassis toward the ineffably pure finish, which lingers for more than a minute. Heavenly.

That completed a stellar lineup. The wines, the company and the banter were all Grand Cru, and, being denied the opportunity for bacchanals like this in recent months, it was a joy to get back in the swing of things. Sadly, Burgundy has become too expensive for most wine lovers, but it was wonderful that these bottles, many bought on release at a fraction of the cost, had fulfilled their raison d’être: to be drunk and shared. Wines like these are not meant to be consumed in silence and solemnity. They should be accompanied by the kind of noise and laughter that echoed through the never-ending corridors and annexes on this night.

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