Jacques continued our tour to the cellar, more than 20 feet below ground. It held their entire stock of bottled wine and was flawlessly organized. Dark and dingy, as an old cellar should be, the air was dense and I couldn't help but think about the wine in all of these old bottles. Decades upon decades of wine, still alive, evolving and changing in ways that we fully don't understand and likely never will. We were only 30 minutes into the tour but after being surrounded by thousands of Burgundy's most prized possessions, I was salivating for wine. I wasn't sure when we'd be tasting but I wanted it to be soon.
To my relief, our next stop was the barrel room. Jacques led us to the immaculate space and, after some explanation about the winemaking process, tasted us through five different barrels from the 2015 vintage, each filled with wine sourced from each distinct area of the vineyard (see map below). Keep in mind, all of the vineyard is planted in pinot noir and the grapes were treated the exact same way throughout the winemaking process. Also important to note, the wines in barrel had not completed malolactic fermentation, and as a result were still a bit rough around the edges. Jacques carefully extracted wine from barrels of his choosing with a glass pipette. He then went down the line, releasing a small amount into each of our glasses, and left us for a minute to smell and taste.
The value of the end product was quickly evident during the tasting. After we tasted and briefly discussed each sample, he went back down the line and asked us to pour what was left in our glasses into his own glass so he could pour them back into the barrel.
Wait, back into the barrel?
My thoughts swirled as he poured what was left from our glasses, what could only have been a few ounces total, back into the barrel. Mon Dieu, I thought. What's the big deal? I know it's Grand Cru, but why not let us finish what's left?
And then it became immediately apparent that those measly few ounces were worth a lot of money. $12 per ounce for what a new bottle of Clos de Tart cost at retail in France. If Jacques entertained a single group tasting each week, that could equate to thousands of dollars of wine each year, given away gratis to the freewheeling palates of visitors. This made even more sense later when we learned that 1) Jacques would not be charging us for the visit and 2) Burgundy's most recent vintages weren't exactly bumper crops. I felt a bit sheepish as I hadn't left any in my glass after the first pour. I fell into line and used all of my willpower to slowly sip the rest of the pours, dutifully leaving a small amount in each glass for him to give back to the barrel.
Jacques led us through a discussion of each wine, asking us to highlight the distinctions between them. I was too beside myself to take specific notes for each tasting (and it's not really the raison d'etre of the story) but there was significant variation among the barrels. Several were decidedly more structured and tannic while the others were soft and fruity. A deep earthiness on the nose and the palate was on display with another. While a foundational similarity existed between them, much like the resemblance between siblings, a blind tasting of the five could easily have fooled wine critics into thinking they were sourced from separate vineyards. This was the essence of terroir, and while I have been to similar tastings in Oregon, I have never seen such an impressive variation of terroir for a single site. This was Burgundy and I was as happy as a pig in shit.
The quality of the wines was immediately evident. Despite not having completed malolactic fermentation, these were "serious" wines, worthy of long aging and extended nights of contemplation. I often tell friends that "wine is for drinking," but these asked for more: an acknowledgement of the wine's historical roots and the truly handcrafted process, from vineyard, to bottle, to table.