For those wine-lovers who have to deal without the richness of a well-built wine-cellar, unfortunately I’m one of them, wine auctions are a perfect solution to purchase either drinkable or affordable wine of quality. De initial pleasure is great: the carefully documented catalogues make you remember those days when you made your Christmas wishing lists from toys stores’ brochures. You can be sure to be captured by massive greediness, when you see top vintages of Giscours (like my year of birth 1975) on the side of collections of ripened Clos des Lambrays. And all of that for prices that may only cause you a short cold shiver of your back. After hours and hours of puzzling, determining and consulting Robert Parker, Clive Coates for reference, some favorites will last. Let the show begin!
This month, two not-to-be-missed auctions will be organized in Amsterdam, firstly the one at Christie’s, November 2nd, and then the 30th the one at Glerum Auctioneers. The aristocratic correctness of the London-based house with the witty but knowledgeable Peter Mansell vs. the warmer atmosphere in the synagogue, where always-smiling Talitha Teves knows how to seduce you to make a higher bid. Both auctioneers have professional skills and a mainly classical offer, of mostly blue-chip wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. But beware, there’s a snag in it, when you forget to add the Buyer’s Premium (ca. 25%). But still you can do good business, as long as you have done your homework. Limit yourself, and don’t try to but at any cost.
Another risk of course is the state of the wine. The older, the bigger the chance that the wine is oxidized or damaged. How can you be sure the wine was stored under perfect conditions? Sometimes this is mentioned like “recently removed from excellent storage”. The level in the bottle is another indication, a wine that has a level of 4 cm under the neck is rarely drinkable anymore. After all, this can be considered as part of the game, every time you open up a bottle, it’s a surprise, and I must say I’ve always been quite lucky this far. A disappointment is inevitable, but that even happens with the best stored wines. Let’s call it a calculated loss.
To get their customers in the right mood, and to let them judge a small part of the offered wine collection, there is usually a pre-tasting just before the auction starts. This is seldom impressive, because older bottles don’t show their character in just one sip, and on top of that, it’s mostly very crowded. Not all visitors have the same level of seriousness. Nevertheless, the atmposphere is likely to be pleasant, and the spittoons stay remarkably clean. An event that I appreciated was last Thursday’s combined art gallery and “Hospices” tasting at Christie’s. Apart from a collection of art that would make the average museum jealous, they presented a collection of “Hospices de Beaune” auction wines, that I would like to discuss here.
Since 2005 this world-famous Hospices de Beaune auction is organized by Christie’s. A gigantic performance, if you look at the numbers: even in a medium quality vintage like 2007 they succeeded in lifting up the total business with 26% compared to 2006! Not in the least because of their impeccable organization and professional exposure. Some barrels (228 liter)sold for more than € 50.000,=, an incredible sum! The days before this charity auction (in fact the profits are donated to the hospital), there is a spectacular tasting in the cellars of the Hospices, that are no longer located under the picturesque Hôtel-Dieu, but in a suburb of the provincial town Beaune. In these immense cellars a centipede-like crowd meanders through the walls of barrels of (still fermenting!) wine, that is offered here for degustation. It should be clear that is mainly folklore, because it’s hard to say anything that makes sense about the future of these wines-to-be. Still you’d better not underestimate the importance of this tasting, as the initial quality of the vintage and the differences, between a relatively simple Pernand-Vergelesses and a gorgeous Clos de la Roche are instantly recognized, the concentration, fruit, and minerality give a good impression of the potential. I can’t wait until 14th November, when I will visit these celebrated cellars with my good friend and Burgundy expert Karel de Graaf.
Back to Amsterdam now, Thursday night. The tables were positioned just like in the above-mentioned cellars: that means you start with red, from good to best, and after that, the whites. Most people I know find this a strange habit, but from an organoleptic point-of-view it’s not so bad. Peter Mansell and his team did a great effort with a mouth-watering collection:
1. Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru, Cuvée Arthur Girard 2005. Medium body with a promising nose of sweet cherries. Not big, just pleasant.
2. Beaune 1er Cru, Cuvée Dames Hospitalières 2005. As expected, this 2005 was still closed in the nose, a taste of blackberries and a spicy finish, supported by ferm tannins.
3. Pommard Premier Cru, Cuvée Dames de la Charité 2003. Lovely, this opulence of the rich and warm 2003. An almost Rhône-like glow, little fruit, but a bunch of soft herbs and well-integrated oak. The typical Pommard-nose, the earthiness, I missed here.
4. Corton Grand Cru, Cuvée Charlotte Dumay 2004. Somewhat disappointing, good structure, medium-plus body, but a somewhat strange smell of animals, dry tannins and lack of fruit.
5. Same Cuvée, the 1999. Different story here, nice development, this wine is growing adult. Quite stubborn, ferm tannins, enless length. Stll, red Corton will never be my favorite.
6. Clos de la Roche Grand Cru. Cuvée Georges Kritter 2002. A wine to enjoy down on your kneels, worthy of a detour through pouring rain! Whát a pleasure! Typical Morey with power and elegance, a complex perfume of seductive cherries and sunny herbs, subtle use of oak and a fabulous length.
7. Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru, Cuvée Madeleine Collignon 2004. After the Morey slightly disappointing, but surely a fine wine. Vegetal in the nose with half-ripe blackberries. Harsh tannins and a medium body, quite high acidity, but a long length. Back into the cellar, this one!!
8. Meursault-Genevrières 1er Cru, Cuvée Philippe LeBon 2006. Oh, my God, what a jewel is this 2006 Meursault! Like a Bond-girl she twists you around her finger with her lovely citric fruit and subtle minerality, but with the precision of a sharpshooter, she hits you with her perfect acidity. No man can resist her, why would you want to age this one?
9. Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru, Cuvée de Bahèzre de Lanlay 2006. We know that the name of this “climat” finds its source in some kind of hedge, but still this one has a charming side. Not as refined as the previous one, with more body and volume. My preference was clearly the “femme fatale” Genevrières.
10. Same Cuvée, 2004. Strange development, of wax and ripe apples. I recognize this smell form 15 years old Meursualt, but now I am surprised. The 2004’s from cooler parts, such as Les Narvaux or Les Tillets, that I taste regularly, are more convincing than this heavy Charmes.
11. Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Cuvée Dames de Flandres 2005. Wow, what a finish! Still a bit shy in a corner, but the potential drips off this one. Many dimensions in taste, plus a medium level of acidity make this one the true pretender to the throne! I would not object to volunteer to try this one after 15 years!
After all, a very prosperous collection of different vintages and climats. An excellent initiative by Christie’s, and a great opportunity to watch the many different faces of Burgundy. Too many people regard this as a snake-pit, where they stay away, strengthened in their conviction by Robert Parker. Such a shame, because with some knowledge of producers and vineyards, there is so much to enjoy here. Ambassadors of these unequalled elegant wines, and I count myself to them, are very enthusiast about such tastings. Maybe next year they should invite a Burgundy-expert for explications, that would help the wines present themselves better. Now they had to be content with my passionate stories….