A Barrel of Burgundy

I have just returned from a rather special trip to Burgundy. Our purpose wasn’t just to taste some great wines and eat wonderful food (although there was plenty of that too) but to collect a barrel of wine. Unfortunately I can’t claim possession of this barrel – although I hope to take care of some bottles from it! The barrel of wine in question was bought by three of my friends in the 2014 Hospice de Beaune wine auction.

The annual Beaune auction, run by Christie’s, takes place on the weekend of the third Sunday in November. All the wines come from an estate that has been formed of donations and bequests made over 500 years, and are mostly classified as Grands Crus and Premiers Crus. The auction’s profits are for charity and go to heritage conservation and hospitals, hence prices paid often exceed the “norm”. The average barrel price in the 2014 sale was €13,750 and the total sale achieved over €8m – at the time the highest ever – but since exceeded by the 2015 sale, and it will be interesting to see what happens this November. If you’re tempted to experience the auction but aren’t able to spend three days in Burgundy tasting and enjoying the festivities it is possible to join the auction on the internet.

Having bought your barrel (or barrels) it is then a matter of finding a winery to handle vinification and bottling. My friends settled on the world-famous wine maker: Maison Louis Jadot, and their barrel was transferred there. So it was to Jadot’s premises that the five of us arrived on a sunny Saturday morning in October. We merely expected to collect an initial case but were offered the chance of a private tour of the winery – needless to say we jumped at the chance.

Harvest had just completed in most vineyards and so despite being a weekend there was plenty of activity. I’ve toured many wineries all over the world (both old and new world) so my interest is usually just in the particular methods and equipment used, and there is certainly some impressive modern equipment in the Jadot winery.  However on this tour I experienced a first – hearing the wine fermenting in the barrel.

We all listened to the wine – music to our ears!

Our next stop was somewhere to taste the first bottle from the first case.  At an impressive dinner the previous evening we’d enjoyed a wondrous white from the village of Pernand-Vergelesses – so that seemed like a good place to head for.  We found a small restaurant where the patron was happy to let us open one of our bottles, on the basis we’d eat lunch and buy at least one of his bottles of wine (not a difficult task!).  In fact the opening and tasting became a communal activity with us sharing the bottle not only with the patron and his wife but also three others at the bar (two vineyard workers and a tourist).  This introduction actually led to other fine wine tasting later that day hosted by one of those at the bar, but that’s for another blog post.

The first case

So what was the verdict on this relatively young Burgundian red? It had a delicate nose of smoke, leaf and a hint of vanilla, which developed into more of a red fruit aroma as it opened up. It has (as you’d hope for a wine to age well) high acidity and medium yet velvet-smooth tannins. The flavours, despite its youth, already showing redcurrant, strawberry, hints of raspberry and perhaps even unripe red cherries with hints of vanilla and cream. 2014 was a difficult vintage with Asian fruit flies and poor weather the main culprits but the general consensus amongst experts is that there are still some excellent wines from the year. Certainly this preliminary bottle was not a disappointment, and bottle number two (drunk the next day with bread and cheese) confirmed this.

After a superb weekend in the vineyards, enjoying the local food – and, of course, wines, our trip had to conclude with the original purpose – getting the wine back to England. On a grey Monday morning, with the help of Jadot’s warehouse staff, we achieved the feat of packing into two estate cars: one empty barrel (Burgundy barrels hold 228 litres), 21 cases of 12 single bottles, 2 cases of 6 magnums and 3 Jeroboam cases, plus four adults (a fifth having returned by train), one dog and assorted luggage. Often the “hardest” part with buying young wines that need time to mature and develop – is resisting temptation – but for me, at least, this is easier as the bottles are not with me but in my friends’ cellar!

Carol Hardcastle

About the Author: Carol Hardcastle spent her professional working life in information technology and travelling extensively gave her the chance to visit wineries as far afield as New Zealand and Australia. Achieving the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 3 qualification Carol was thrilled and surprised to find that she came in the top 30 for the year. However, far more than just learning and studying Carol loves sharing her passion for wine with friends – old and new.

You can find more about Carol at www.winesandgrapes.com Or on Twitter or Facebook 

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