21 May 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: françois bertheau, chambolle-musigny

One uses metaphorical language to describe wine because our language is under-equipped with literal terms to describe taste and smell. Whatever scent molecules produce the smell of violets surely have a technical name, but it would be vastly less informative to employ it in describing the nose of a glass of wine. Metaphor, in winespeak, is a form of shorthand. 

Unfortunately, in most other genres, metaphor is a form of indulgence. (C.f. any Tom Friedman column.) It's why reading reams of tasting notes is so tiring. To process metaphor-heavy winespeak in the first place requires a mental adjustment, even for someone who employs such language often. And the impact is diluted the more one reads it. I sometimes fancy that in a perfect world, writers would be penalized for applying such descriptions as, 'An explosion of glimmering blueberry fruit laced with woodsmoke and bacon' to anything found at, say, Tesco's. 

In such a world, where hyperbole were reserved for special occasions, it would be a lot simpler to do descriptive justice to rightly famous mouth-watering appellations like Chambolle-Musigny, and in particular - simply because they're the ones I've tasted most recently - the wines of Domaine François Bertheau, which estate was the last stop of our whirlwind Burgundy road trip last fall.

Located within the village of Chambolle, Domaine François Bertheau comprises 6,22ha, of which the majority is 1er cru. François is the fifth generation to produce wines from these vines, having taken over from his father in 2004. The average vine age of the holdings is about fifty years, and François informed us that yields are about half the appellation's permitted maximum. 

One reason my friend J likes the domaine so much, besides the outright majesty of the wines themselves, is the simplicity and elegance of the range. After the basic Chambolle, there is a 1er cru blended from various parcels, then a 1er cru "Charmes," 1er cru "Les Amoreuses," and the Grand Cru "Bonnes Mares." This is of course just a function of how many vines the family happens to own where, but one is nevertheless grateful for it, in a region of infinite subdivisions and micro-cuvées. 

I spoke of indulgent language earlier - in describing François Bertheau, I'll invoke a master of the genre, David Foster Wallace. Along with the rest of the literary world, I'm a great fan of DFW's non-fiction. Unlike, seemingly, the rest of the literary world, I positively detested Infinite Jest and wish I could sue its publisher to reclaim the eight months I wasted reading it. 

But the book did give us the character of Charles "CT" Tavis, whose labyrinthine prevarication, apology, and self-effacement were roundly feared by everyone at the tennis academy. In making small talk with Bertheau, J good-naturedly chided him for not having yet come up to visit J's restaurant in Paris, and this prompted the most witheringly polite, byzantine mea culpa ever delivered outside the pages of Wallace's novel. As J grinned through it,  I had time to go over all my tasting notes, and stare for ten minutes at some picturesque old tools hung on the wall of the cellar. 

François is thin, spritely, and semi-famous for never tasting his own wines with you as you taste them. He nods, thanks you for your inevitable praise, and smiles. It might be thrift - total production at the estate is just 1250 cases per year - or it might be just unblinking confidence in the perfection of what he is producing, which would be justified. J had tasted the wines before; for me it was revelatory. 

The wines are typically called feminine. This sells them short, though; I find just about anything floral with integrated tannins is called feminine. Uniting Bertheau's wines - beyond floral qualities, perfect ripeness, and other high-scoring aspects - is a searching, unbelievably thorough persistence, wherein each flavor component is iterated and reiterated on the palate until all expressive possibilities have been exhausted. They are sort of like Bertheau's hilarious manners, in a good way. 

The 2010's we tasted from barrel were all magnificent, with the "Bonnes Mares" predictably showing the most regal. The aromas of this wine project almost absurdly, mile-high and holographic in their detail. 

After tasting a few recent vintages from bottle, we repaired to Bertheau's office, where J officially reordered whatever he could possibly chisel off. For my part I sat there marveling at the density of strange objects in the room - a mobile suspended from the ceiling, numerous wooden sculptures of birds, etc. At Domaine François Bertheau one is reminded that the rural isolation and solitary effort inherent in the winemaking project can yield, along with mastery of said project, a great deal of idiosyncrasy. It only adds to the mystery. 

Domaine François Bertheau
5, rue du Carré
21220 Chambolle-Musigny
Tel : 03 80 62 85 73

Related Links:

N.D.P. in Burgundy: Yann Durieux / Recru des Sens, Villers-La-Faye
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Le Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Guy Roulot, Meursault
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Vincent Dancer, Chassagne-Montrachet
N.D.P. in Burgundy: François Mikulski, Meursault
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Comte Senard, Aloxe-Corton
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Alain Burguet, Gevrey-Chambertin
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Le Bar à Vins, Gevrey-Chambertin
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur, Vosne-Romanée
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Denis Bachelet, Gevrey-Chambertin
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Bar du Square, Beaune
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Ma Cuisine, Beaune
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Bertrand Machard de Gramont, Curtil-Vergy

A profile of Domaine François Bertheau @ KermitLynch
A 2012 post on Domaine François Bertheau post @ ChristopherMassie, notable for containing almost zero new information
A profile of Domaine François Bertheau @ VinsduSiecle, almost unreadable for the indulgent tasting notes clotting the text

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