23 April 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: le montrachet, puligny-montrachet

The guiding principle of the Bro-gundy road trip my caviste friend J and I took last fall was thrift. It's like this with most of the trips we take together, because I'm congenitally broke, and he's tactful, and neither of us are very fussy about accommodation. We usually sleep on floors. The point, after all, is the wine: learning about the wine and where it's made and about the people who make it. 

But J and I also share an inclination towards targeted profligacy, particularly at those moments when splashing out will tick-off some cultural landmark or other. Internally I categorize these times, which occur with alarming frequency in certain regions, as a sort of sociological expenditure. 

This is how I rationalised doing a bro-lunch with J at Le Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet's famous formerly-Michelin-starred restaurant-hotel, a staidly ritzy place that would otherwise seem better suited to couples renewing their wedding vows. 

It was nonetheless a welcome respite from two days' of muddling through vineyards and spitting in cold cellars. And striding into classic French service establishments at off-peak hours is actually a great joy: all the minor pedantries and silly flourishes seem to hang in the empty air a little longer for one's consideration. Following J, I squeaked over in my muddy Converse to our amusingly romantic window-side table, which permitted an uninterrupted view of the dining room, spacious and un-bustling in the rain-coloured light from the windows.  

Together we nodded at each page of the wine-tome, a sort of mopey exercise, since not in a zillion years were we going to spend thunderous sums on any of the stunning back vintage Bâtard-Montrachets on offer. Both of us were actually quite sick of wine by this point. We considered we might just get glasses of what-have-you, mostly as a gesture towards meal-completeness. But in leafing through the list's piddling afterthoughty section of non-Burgundian wines, I spied one of those pinch-me-I'm-dreaming killer bargains that wine geeks perennially dream of, and there was no resisting it. Feeling faintly blasphemous for not ordering white Burgundy, we shared a bottle of 1997 Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura. 

For 28€. 

(For comparison, the current vintage - 2007 - of this fairly rare wine, which is nigh-on impossible to find in the USA and only slightly more accessible in Paris, retail for about 23€. In effect, we paid 5€ for ten years' aging, plus restaurant service.) 

Of course it was tasting fresh. Macle's wines are pretty indestructible. The persistent, waxen, tropical nutty house style was in fine form, elaborated now, more oloroso, with notes of brown butter and roasted pineapple. A wine like this is almost worth the trip alone. 

Coincidentally, it cost about as much as Le Montrachet's lunch-only seasonal menu (28,5€), which consisted mostly of low-cost ingredients arranged in sturdy, classic preparations guaranteed to wow the fannypacks off the attendees of guided wine tours.

I liked 'em well enough too. But the pork dumplings' simple flavors didn't justify the weird Chinatown element they added to the meal. Also, J's spinach souflée looked precisely like Kryptonite, but was less flavourful. 

It was also hard not to laugh at the first of two desserts, which was a soupe de fruits, or, in layman's terms, tricked-out Jamba Juice

It was at this point that it occurred to me that, with the exception of the blippy fried dumplings, every component of the meal could be gummed down with minimal teeth. 

I might as well recuse myself from making any overall judgment on Le Montrachet on the grounds that I'm just not the target audience. I'll say that the service was pretty stupendous. The meal's high point came early on, when our young server - surely a bored hôtellerie school intern, eagerly awaiting an internship elsewhere - enthusiastically accepted the glass of Macle we offered her, agreeing that it certainly wasn't something she served her clients every day, or, indeed, ever. 

Hotel Le Montrachet

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