Thursday, July 3, 2014

Food and Wine

Burgundy wine country. Photo Jill Wilson
With a title picture like that, there are no prizes for guessing that I’m in France this week visiting a few of my favorite areas with wine-loving friends from Australia. I’m not going to bore you with a list of restaurants visited, meals eaten, and wines quaffed, but on Monday we had a different and interesting visit to a Burgundy wine négociant - Olivier Leflaive. They feel that most wine is drunk with food, and yet most tasting is done in a fairly rushed environment of one wine after another with no opportunity for comparison and certainly no wine and food pairing beyond, perhaps, a crust of bread and a swig of water to clear the palate before the next wine.  In an attempt to move beyond that, they cleared their tasting room, added a number of tables, hired a chef, and set up a food and wine pairing to show off their wines.  The food is good regional cuisine – nothing fancy – and it is chosen to work with the wines available for tasting.  The five course lunch is 25 euros and you can use it as a backdrop to 5, 7 or 9 wines.  Needless to say we chose the last option.

I know a few other wineries attempt something similar.  Rockford in South Australia, for example, has wine lunches.  But there the focus is on the food and company with the wine to complement; at Leflaive it’s the other way around.

Leflaive is in Puligny-Montrachet, one of the great white wine areas of Burgundy so Chardonnay is the main focus.  However, they also make fine reds (pinot noir, of course) from the regions of Volnay and Pommard a little to the north.  Unfortunately, when we fetched our friends at the railway station on Saturday, we were caught in a vicious thunderstorm which peppered the car with hail. That hail wreaked havoc on those red wine grapes, so 2014 is going to be a sad vintage there.

Olivier Leflaive
But back to Olivier Leflaive.  Olivier himself was something of a prodigal son.  He studied business in Paris, but then became an entertainer and subsequently an agent for preforming artists, turning his back on the wine business (except for drinking it, I would guess).  However, in 1981 he returned to take over the business and it went from strength to strength.  He retired in 2010, handing over the reins to the next generation.

The tasting starts with an ordinary chardonnay – cheap and cheerful.  But with a small cheese puff, it suddenly has more richness and flavor.  As sommelier Régis put it – the wine is alive not only because it is changing in the bottle over time, but also because you are changing – your mood, your age, what you are eating, who you are with.  You will enjoy the expensive wines not only because they are better, but because you know they are special.  On the other hand, the cheap and cheerful will work with good company and food and can still be memorable.  With a chuckle, he suggested at least a case of each wine in the cellar to be tried from time to time, not so much to see how the wine has changed, but to see how you have changed.  And, of course, to try with various foods.

Régis indicating the different wine regions during the tasting
We went on to a parallel tasting of three 2010 whites, one each from Meersault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet.  Some of us found our favorite one changed with the seafood pâté. Then the same flight with premier crus (one step up) from 2009 with, and without, chicken with morel mushrooms.  Then reds with, and without, cheese and as expected a huge taste change with the food.

Dessert and coffee were necessary punctuation points, but one’s mind remained fixed on the wines and the extraordinary diversity they had exhibited in terms of vintage, area, food pairing.  It’s all summed up by a French saying we saw at the restaurant we ate at last night: “Je boirai du lait le jour où les vaches mangeront du raison!” That is: “I’ll drink milk the day cows eat grapes!” 


Michael - Thursday


  1. I can't read this, Michael. I can't even look at it. Leflaive's Chassagnes are my favorite wines in the world. I will go and lie down now and wallow in my envy and think about how those flavors bloom in one's mouth like a bouquet a flowers. And curse the fact that I am not there.

  2. And slainte to you! How is your liver?

  3. :-) Love that last line, Michael! My dad started making his own wine in the early 70s. I was never a big alcohol consumer, but I, too, started making my own wine about 4 years ago, and though I don't expect my wines to ever approach the 'professional' level, I'm having fun experimenting and trying to figure out how to make the wine that best suits MY taste. It's a very enjoyable hobby (well, except for all the WASHING I have to do... who would have thought that the majority of your wine-making time would be spent washing bottles and carboys and all the other equipment???)

  4. I have but one thing to say.


  5. Hmmm, sounds like Russell Crowe played Olivier Leflaive in "A Good Year."

    And yes, you're in the land of my two very favorite white wines. if I have to tell you.

  6. Yes, this is a rather special part of the world. On Saturday we move on to Alsace. Not a bad part of the world either.

    Hope I can taste your wine one of these days, Everett!

    1. Heh. As I said, "not professional level," I'm still a rank (no pun intended...) beginner. But if you were to come to Left Coast Crime 2015, something might be arranged. :-)