This week Robert Collins is flying low over the villages, vineyards and vintages of Burgundy … yet respecting the recommended 2 meters distance to friends and foes.
The last known bottle
Vintages always evoke nostalgia, more so when it is your birth year. Mine was a great one, not that I had any choice in the matter, but it has led to numerous opportunities for me to indulge, due to its good reputation. My list of ’45 Burgundies is long and rewarding, directing personal biases toward Cote de Beaunes. The wine itself arrived from the bottle in good health, filling the glass with a gaudy presence a profound depth only created by maturity. I found the bouquet off-putting, but rustic and dirty in a pleasant sense, but as the night progressed, one by one the earthy components morphed into treasures, fulfilling the best expectations of the grape.
Just in time. Last weekend [March 7-8], just before travel became difficult due to the restrictions dictated by the corona-virus, an old friend joined me in San Francisco to celebrate life and Burgundy, in that order. For ‘Old Guy’ night, we opened my only bottle of an odd red I had bought in Beaune, 1945 Blagny, ‘Piece sous le Bois, from Joseph Matrot. We expected an ‘interesting’ experience; we received a profound lesson. A series of lessons.
Inspired by Friday night, the next 24 hours we made Nuits night, and opened my friends only bottle of Grands-Echezeaux, Domaine Ropiteau-Freres, also 1945. Twice lucky, it was a perfect cork that once removed, filled the senses with a rose-petal styled elegance. I must admit a prejudice for Grands-Echezeaux, a vineyard sandwiched between two ultra famous addresses, glamorous Musigny and cathedral de Clos Vougeot, somewhat denigrated with its hyphenated dual name. Relegated to supporting actress status, it frequently shines bright in my eyes, a nearly electric vibrancy whose stage lights seem to increase a few watts upon arrival. The bottle was perfect for the part it portrayed, Initially overpowered by the memory of the Blagny but relentless in its role, so seamlessly executed.
Aside from thanks that I and my ‘deux amis’ [Mr. Blagny and Madame GE] had all survived reasonably well to be healthy for this rendezvous, and good friends to share the memories, there were some wisdoms not to be overlooked.
Revelation! Blagny better than Grand Cru! Rush to find some bottles. No, that would be too Hollywood-esque . A more appropriate lesson is to value the individual statements and try not to judge by the initial impression. Leave the mathematics for something more appropriate, and see what you are offered. Too often we lessen our interactions by failing to listen carefully.
The Blagny may very well have needed many decades to blossom. How often do we refuse to wait? Grands-Echezeaux is not lessened by this comparison, instead enhanced by the stage it was set on.
Never stop learning. When you close off your mind to that which is explained to you, you stunt your growth. It is why we should look forward to maturity and with it, wisdom. 1945 was an adverse time for Burgundians, not unlike today. The harvest was much more than a picking, but a re-birth of peace to many. Abundance of changes. The lack of sugar meant that no-one could chapitalise, departing a natural balance to the bottles. The acting, not the costumes, came to the forefront. Harvest is a strong positive time in the cycle of life. We may well benefit from the inspiration when faced with todays difficult events.
There is no reason to now try to find a bottle each of these wines to duplicate my weekend, they are the LAST KNOWN bottles, in many ways. Instead, look to find your own inspiration. I am the survivor of shooting wars and economic privation. War has left me in a weakened condition, so I face this time with a little trepidation. I have contacted as many friends on both sides of the Atlantic to wish them well. Your spirits will be better served. Here’s to the coming armistice. May we all enjoy a glass.