Volnay & Pommard on the Holiday Table

Volnay & Pommard on the Holiday Table

Holiday meals, especially more intimate gatherings or holiday season dinner parties, offer a stage ripe for exploration of wines that may stretch the budget in other circumstances. The table is set. Someone, maybe you, is already cooking a multi-course seasonal meal. Instead of just pairing wines and foods, why not use the opportunity to take your guests on a journey? A couple of well-chosen bottles of Burgundy can certainly elevate a celebration.

Which brings me back to Volnay and Pommard. Perhaps no two communes illustrate terroir in Burgundy as clearly as these neighboring villages. Like Barbaresco and Barolo in Piedmont, they are unmistakably feminine and masculine expressions of the same grape variety, in this case pinot noir. Drive or bicycle south from Beaune on the Route des Grands Crus and you will arrive in Pommard, an appellation whose relatively low elevation, underground spring water, and sediment composed of a heavy mix of clay and iron yield wines of deep color, intensity and structure. These are appealing, powerful, ageworthy wines that will be especially attractive to fans of collectible cabernet sauvignon.

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Charles Curtis, M.W. on Buying Wine at Auction

Photo by RICHARDSUGDEN/iStock / Getty Images

Buying wine at auction can intimidate even the most passionate wine lovers. But with a little preparation, it is a great way to build a collection.

“It’s a misconception that only super expensive wines are at auction,” says Charles Curtis, MW, and former Head of Wine for Christie’s auction houses in Asia and the Americas. “You can buy wine at auction all day and not spend a fortune. It’s a matter of having the discipline to buy well.”

Curtis advises: Only buy wines from a reputable auction house. Before you go, you should decide which types of wine you want to add to your cellar. Know the lots on offer. Research the going price for the lots you that are of interest to you. Pay attention to the condition of the wine. Finally, decide which lots you want to bid on, bid up to that point and stop.

Curtis adds, “What you don’t want to do is say, ‘So-and-so is having a wine auction. Let’s check it out!’” Auctions can be where greed, gluttony and drunkenness converge. They will feed you and pour you nice wines before the bidding starts. You have to make it like homework. After you do your research, make a little spreadsheet and stick to it! Otherwise, when a lot comes up that you really want, you may bid until all of the sudden you’ve paid 40% more than the market price. Yet with a little preparation and discipline, you could build a cellar of mature treasures at a very reasonable price. 

The Gold Standard in Grower Champagne

Terry Theise calls himself an introvert capable of portraying an extrovert in small doses. In those small doses he has done more than perhaps any person on earth to bring respect, attention and legions of fans to the grace and precision of rieslings from the classic growing regions of Germany and Austria. With far less fanfare, and arguably even greater success, over the last decade and a half he has also introduced Americans to the pleasures of ‘grower Champagne’. Today his portfolio, Terry Theise Estate Selections, is the gold standard of this category, broadly defined as sparkling wines from the Champagne region produced by the estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. Grower Champagnes can be identified by the presence of the initials RM (for récolant-manipulant) in tiny print on the wine label. At their best, grower Champagnes express choice vineyard sites and artisanal winemaking. For example, Denis Varnier of Varnier-Fanniére forgoes temperature-controlled fermentation when making his Grand Cru Champagnes, and Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet includes within his blends a high percentage of wines from older vintages. This gives his final Champagnes a sense of integration and richness.

Grower Champagnes can sometimes deliver higher quality at lower prices than the large Champagne firms , since large PR and marketing budgets are not built into the cost of each bottle. But not all grower Champagnes are created equal. With their soaring popularity, it can be difficult to sort the transcendent from the mediocre. That’s why it’s helpful to have a passionate and experienced treasure hunter as your curator. If you look at the back of a Champagne bottle and see it is one of the Terry Theise Estate Selections, you are in for the real deal.


The Coravin

Argon is a colorless, tasteless, odorless inert gas. Its name comes from the Greek word for “lazy,” an allusion that underscores the fact that the element undergoes no chemical reactions. For years, winemakers concerned about surface oxidation have used the gas to top off their barrels. Meanwhile, consumers could only dream of having such a sophisticated preservation tool at their disposal for wines they’ve uncorked.

Enter Coravin founder Greg Lambrecht, a nuclear engineer who spent his career developing medical devices and a passionate collector of wines from Bordeaux, Piedmont and the Rhone. Not wanting to give up his favorite wines when his wife became pregnant, or commit to an entire bottle each night for nine months, he applied the design concept he developed for needles to pierce the septum of a vascular port to penetrating a wine cork.

With the Coravin, Lambrecht attached a hollow needle with holes on the sides to a canister of argon. Push the needle through the cork, press a button and argon is pumped into the bottle making it possible to extract a sip, a glass or even a carafe of wine. The wine left in the bottle is never exposed to oxygen. It remains unchanged, as if the cork had never been touched.

Ticking off potential applications is thrilling: enjoy a glass of your favorite wine when your significant other is out; decant a quarter or half bottle to see a wines evolution over time, then do it again the next night, week or month; explore multiple vintages of wines you’ve collected; taste multiple examples of a wine or region that has piqued your interest; preserve a delicate wine after having a glass as an aperitif; sample a treasured bottle over time. The list goes on.

Coravin is a tool for creating options regarding how, when, where and why -- at any given moment -- we taste the wines we love.

Graves and Entre-deux-Mer

Bordeaux’s dry white wines are too often overlooked for those of Burgundy and the Loire. Perhaps because the region’s signature white blend -- sémillon and sauvignon blanc -- lacks a clear new world reference like chardonnay from the Napa Valley or sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Perhaps because the wines struggle for airtime, given Bordeaux’s identification with collectible cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Still, the category begs for discovery. There is very good dry white Bordeaux at every price point. Given its reputation for soaring prices, the region may be the world’s least expected source of value wines. 

Dry white Bordeaux comes from three appellations: Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers, with the most exalted examples, such as Domaine Chevalier and Laville Haut-Brion, coming from Pessac-Léognan. But it is in Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves that the unexpected treasures are found. Gems from Entre-Deux-Mers, the area between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, tend to be simple and well priced. At $12 Château Fonfroide, a blend of sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle, is as refreshing as it is pleasing, offering hints of white peach and honey on the nose and a soft yet lively expression on the palate.

In Graves, the appellation directly south of Pessac-Léognan, each wine tells its own story about why bright and herbaceous sauvignon blanc should be blended with fleshy honeyed sémillon. At $16, the award winning Château Les Clauzots, speaks generously of citrus and tropical fruit anchored by a firm mineral backbone. At $29.99 the Vieux Château Gaubert is a tightly coiled double helix of seashells, honeysuckle and lemon pith, suggesting a wine with true aging potential. Tuck it away for three or four years in the back of your closet and witness the transformation. You are likely to be rewarded with a textured wine possessing aromas of honeyed almonds that is supple and broad on the palate. 

A helpful place to continue exploring Bordeaux’s value wines is Today’s Bordeaux, which features 100 wines from the region priced between $9 and $55.