Last Wednesday, Christie’s opened their their Board Room doors for a tasting of 17 wines from the Hospices de Beaune, preceding the official auction that Christie’s has officiated since 2005. Taking place on the third Sunday of each November, since 1859, the Hospices de Beaune hosts this auction to benefit the charities of Hôtel Dieu. For Burgundy aficionados it is the first glimpse of each vintage, and though the cost at the auction is inflated, it sets the framework and tone for the year to come.
Established in 1443 to aid the destitute and sick, the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune accepted its first donation of vines in 1459, by Jean Plampays and his wife. Since then, many of the rich and fabulous have donated, expanding the holdings to the Hôtel Dieu to over 61-hectares (or 146 acres) of vines. Currently, it takes a total of 23 wine growers to attend to the vineyards, many of which are premium growths. And though it’s actually 44 Cuvées by the barrel (that still needs tending), and not bottles, that are auctioned by candle-light, each label bears the Grand Cru or Appellation and benefactor, alongside the lapis blue and gold Hospices de Beaune crest.
Though I would be happy to die with a glass of fine Burgundy in hand, I will not be attending the auction nor bidding on barrels. I am actually quite thankful to have made my way to 49th Street, where there was room to breathe in elegant surroundings and a selection of curated wines. Over the course of two hours, Ellen and I made our way around the tables, unhurried, spending time with the wines we liked. The next night, I attended the Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Tasting of Barolo and Barbaresco, and all this did was confirm that I really need to get my ass enrolled in the WSET Diploma program. Here, Christie’s Education showcased over 80 wines, and though I love Barolo, it was most overwhelming. When it comes to knowing the producers of Barolo and the greatest Nebbiolo vineyards, I am lost and totally incapable of fighting my way around the vine.
Back to the Hospices de Beaune. Out of the five whites, one picqued my interest, perhaps due more to familiarity than intentional preference. 2005 Mersault-Charmes 1er Cru “Cuvée de Bahezre de Lanlay”. With scents like Oma’s peach cake sprinkled with cinnamon, above which hangs a monsoon cloud of tropical fruit, en lieu of whipped cream. The acidity is light, but there’s minerality mid-palate, and eventually aromas of green spice, like pine.
1999 Beaune 1er Cru “Cuvée Guigone de Salins” (bottle pictured above)–Skunk and strawberry fruit with a floral essence in the middle, as if a Tootsie in a Pop. This one’s comfortable in her own skin–forest undergrowth on the nose with slips of cranberry and sour cherry. She’s astrigent with a woodsy cedar spice. And when I revisited, she’d turned musty and cellar-dank, almost like pacholi.
Wow, wow, wow! am I glad I got the last drop! 2003 Corton Grand Cru “Cuvée Charlotte Dumay”. Seaside oysters, salinity, and oyster shell minerality, with a thin coating of powder-dry cherry. The nose seamlessly transitions to the palate, each note in line, none missing a beat–aligned as the spine upon which fleshy fruit hangs. Cherry, ripe and sweet. It’s almost jaunting, but the tannins pull the fruit back into place for a harmonious finish.
It’s odd, that a pescatarian would be drawn to such things, but the 2006 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru “Cuvée Georges Kritter” is meaty, almost carcass-like, with dabs of perfume. It’s initial skunk becomes a damp fall forest floor. Followed by minerality and bright fruit with starlights of spice (think Shopska salad); cherry and cranberry fruit lingering acidity, and lip-smacking tannins.
Pictured higher above–2002 Mazis-Chamvertin Grand Cru “Cuvée Madeleine Collignon”. The final wine on my list. Plum fruit and dirty minerality. A breeze wafting off the surface of a fresh stream running through cool woods, with a violet mist. Like woven fibers, the tannins and acidity complete each other, over pieces of lustrous fruit.