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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“You taste and you taste and you taste until you see the light!”

How does one understand Burgundy? According to Jacques Lardière, who spent forty-two years as Louis Jadot’s technical director before officially handing the reigns to Frédéric Barnier in 2012, “You taste and you taste and you taste until you see the light!” It’s a deceptively simple aphorism that cuts through the usual wine jargon to underscore the essential truth that a wine can only be known through your senses – seeing the color, smelling the aromas, tasting the wine and experiencing how it feels in your mouth.

Sampling enough Burgundy to begin to know the wines requires a strategy for sourcing bottles that are both affordable and compelling. Wine from the high-integrity producers in Burgundy’s southern appellations, the Mâconnais, Côte Chalonnaise and Beaujolais, are an excellent place to start. The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon Verze is a chardonnay of exceptional complexity and finesse. The Domaine Francoise & Jean Raquillet Mercurey exhibits the classic wild strawberry and violet aromas associated with Burgundian pinot noir. The Cru Beaujolais of Stéphane Aviron are lucid expressions of vineyard site. When choosing wines from marquee villages on the Côte d’Or, the négociants Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin consistently offer value and quality, both are major landowners throughout Burgundy and leaders in organic and biodynamic practices.

Chablis: Chardonnay for Champagne Lovers

If you gravitate toward Champagne and Sancerre and prefer your chardonnay without overt flavors of oak, vanilla or butter, try Chablis. The eponymous wine of the most northerly appellation in Burgundy, Chablis is pure unadulterated chardonnay cultivated in Kimmeridgian limestone, a type of ancient (Kimmeridgian period) soil containing fossilized seashells. Combining the juiciness of the chardonnay grape with the fresh dry mineral qualities of wines from Sancerre or a Champagne Blanc de Blancs, the wines are delicious without being showy.

There are four levels of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The wines grow weightier and more complex as they scale the hierarchy. A good quality Petit Chablis, such as Domaine Seguinot-Bordet, tends to be refreshing with citrus and mineral flavors. Wines at the Chablis and Premier Cru level, such as Domaine Romain Collet Les Pargues, have more weight, body and structure, yet retain all the liveliness and gripping mineral flavors of their siblings. In recent years, young producers like Thomas Pico of Domaine Pattes Loup have brought organic and biodynamic practices to the region resulting in Chablis’ of remarkable clarity of flavor. Meanwhile, Grand Cru Chablis, such as the Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Valmur are among the world’s most age-worthy white wines. Not only do they develop attractive almond and caramel flavors after a few years in the bottle, once opened, the wines evolve in the glass in a way normally associated with Burgundy’s best pinot noirs, growing richer and more nuanced with each passing hour.

Because of its high acidity and restrained fruit character, Chablis is an extremely versatile food wine. It makes for a delightful aperitif served with fresh goat cheese or a nutty hard cheese such as Emmental. It holds up well in the face of salad dressing and asparagus, and will enhance any meal that features oysters, seafood, poultry or pork.

The Genesis of Louis / Dressner

When Long Island son Joe Dressner met Burgundy native Denyse Louis at NYU, the two were studying for their masters’ degrees in journalism. At the time, they had no idea that one day they would start a wine importing business together. Yet with their partner Kevin McKenna, they have created one of the most influential wine portfolios in America. Today, Louis / Dressner represents over a hundred properties, mostly in France and Italy, but also in Spain, Portugal and Croatia. Advocates of organic and artisanal practices long before it was fashionable and simply because the practices made wines taste good, they have introduced some of the most characterful wines available in the country. When they imported the Didier Dagneau Pouilly-Fume Silex, it set a new standard for the level of complexity one dared to expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. With Arianna Occhipinti they revealed the potential for Frappato and Nero d’Avola to capture the wild elegance of southeast Sicily. Their Alice et Olivier de Moor A.O.C. Chablis “Bel Air et Clardy” is ethereal in its clarity. Dressner passed away in 2011, but his spirit is very much alive in the catalogue of passionate vignerons he assembled during his lifetime.