January 21, 2007

1990 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches, Burgundy (Part Three)

We did it. We opened the Clos des Mouches last evening and had it with dinner. It was a unique experience. We served it with pan seared and roasted beef tenderloin with a shiitake mushroom and parsnip ragout and a pinot noir reduction. The reduction was made from this wine, that's just how we roll. Dinner was great and the wine paired very, very well with the beef.

Before I tell you how the wine was, I want to drag this out a bit and explain why, perhaps, Clos des Mouches is considered to be so special. Burgundy is a small area, about two miles wide and thirty miles long. Only about 62 acres of Burgundy comprise Beaune Clos des Mouches, and this land is divided among twenty different winemakers. The largest single owner is Maison Joseph Drouhin, and they have the 32 best acres in the lot, land perfectly situated to make great pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Joseph Drouhin acquired the beginnings of his Clos des Mouches holdings back in 1918 and has steadily added to them when possible and believes these vineyards to be their most precious holding. Maison Joseph Drouhin makes terrific wine, and they consider the wine made from Clos des Mouches to be their best of the best.

So, the vineyard is special. The winemaker is prestigious. But then add in the challenges of making great pinot noir (cue your internal clip of the movie "Sideways"). For those of you who have not seen this movie, I offer a brief explanation here. Pinot noir is challenged during each step of the transition from vine to bottle. The vines and fruit are fragile and susceptible to virtually every malady possible. Though favoring of cooler climates, the vines are easily damaged by spring frost. Every grape destroying pest finds a comfortable home in pinot noir vineyards as their fragility prevents resistance. A lack of particularly leafy vines exposes the grapes to much sunlight and makes them easily damaged by heat. Add in attacks by grape eating birds, and the very thin skin of the grapes and you have to wonder why people bother. They bother because when everything works, which is not often at all, the results can be absolutely staggering. When the weather works and harvest is timed well, pinot noir vineyards can produce incredible fruit. But then you have to make the wine.

Pinot noir is incredibly challenging to ferment, too, as it quite often "boils" out of its container. This is because the grapes have 18 amino acids that are naturally balanced, which can increase the rate of fermentation to the point that it is not controllable and can ruin large lots of the fruit. Making wine from this grape requires constant attention and focus. It is not a set-and-forget affair, and the pinot noir winemakers of the world must always be on their game. Making great pinot noir is something that can take a lifetime to get right.

Back in 1990 everything came together for Joseph Drouhin's heirs, and with his son Robert now running the winery (he took over from his father in 1957) they had a miracle vintage. Some of that wine made its way into my cellar. I've been able to sample bottles of the 1990 Beaune Clos de Mouches, and other great Burgundies from this vintage, over the years and remember many of them being excellent, some of them being tight and sharp, and others just not ready to drink. This bottle, though, has remained intact. Until last evening.

We opened the magnum and decanted about half of it to serve with dinner. We bottle poured a tasting and sampled the wine right after being opened. It was as we expected... tight, sour cherry smelling, thin in color and the nose hot with alcohol. It also had a pronounced wet leather smell to the nose and taste on the palate. This concerned me a little, as that musty and slightly stinky scent can indicate the wine is faulty. Ultimately though, there were no big surprises and we just wanted a baseline for when we tasted it again later. We poured glasses about an hour later after we decanted and tasted before we sat down to eat. It had changed dramatically. The nose was still a bit sharp with the same sour cherry scent, but the hot alcohol quality had dissipated and the wet leather scent had become very subtle. The palate was really beginning to open and was beginning to offer fruit that was much more rich. It was very balanced and had a terrific finish. The color, too, had developed and while the wine came out of the bottle with a very thin color ranging from light reds to reddish browns, it was deepening into more ruby reds. We were beginning to really enjoy it.

The kicker came with dinner though. Having the wine with food totally changed it. We ate over the next hour and the wine continued to unfold. It paired absolutely perfectly with our meal, and the ragout brought out more intense fruit in the wine. This was a good match. The wine had perfect structure to hold up to the beef, which is actually a lot to ask of an old pinot noir. Both Cat and I agreed that across the entire palate there were tremendous flavors, but they were all in balance. There was good rich cherry fruit. There was the leathery, earthy backbone. We even tasted a little asparagus... it had a subtle vegetal quality.

What a relief.

To be fair, this was not a wash-off-the-fireengine-we're-having-a-parade wine. But it was really, really good. I would have been happy with just really good, but the wine delivered a little extra for our efforts. Now, the 1990 vintage is going to be tough to come by, but both the 2002 and 2003's are excellent... and much more accessible price wise. I plan on getting a bottle each of the 2002 and 2003 to fill the hole in my basement where this wine sat so comfortably for so many years.

cost - $90 (in 1993)

served with - pan seared and oven roasted beef tenderloin with shiitake mushroom and parsnip ragout

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9

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