All I want for Christmas...wines that define the occasion

November 2021

Most wine, most of the time, is an enjoyable adjunct of a good meal and social occasion. Occasionally, the wine is special and becomes the focal point of the evening’s conversation. And on very rare occasions indeed, the wine is one of those hedonistic, monumental pinnacles of achievement that becomes the very reason for gathering. Such are the supreme Grand Cru white wines of Burgundy – the rarest, most expensive and by far the most spectacularly wonderful white wines in the world.

There are only half a dozen of these in total (depending how you count), all in Burgundy’s renowned Côte d’Or. In the year 775, the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne donated his vineyards, known today as Corton-Charlemagne, to the Catholic church. Just twenty kilometres south lies Le Montrachet, with its immediate neighbours: Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, and Chevalier-Montrachet. The counting issue, in typically Burgundian fashion, is complicated, and linked to their long, convoluted history: all those Bâtards form one seamless vineyard, separated into parcels only by invisible lines. All these Montrachets combined total some 80 acres, slightly smaller than the 85-acre Corton-Charlemagne vineyard, making a total of some 165 Grand Cru acres altogether – about the size of one average farm here. And because Burgundian classification links to the specific piece of ground where the grapes are grown, that’s all there is, there can never be any more.

What elevates these wines into a celestial realm where others simply cannot follow is a supreme concentration of everything that makes a wine great. Start with colour, a lustrous golden hue that radiates intense, fiery brilliance. Swirl your goblet, and great, limpid, cascading beads cling to the sides of the glass. Raise it toward your nose, and the enveloping bouquet demands that you stop, wait, and ponder that which is invading your senses. At last it is time to sip, and the world stops as you confront a challenge you are totally unprepared for, a sensation that is at once both fierce and gentle, an immersive depth and richness that defies description. Here you must pause – the wine will tell you when to proceed. Then the entrancing finish, the afterglow, takes over, seemingly forever.

Now, all that sounds somewhat fanciful, I grant you. If you are not really into wine, its sensory evaluation, the unending quest for some undefined, elusive perfection, then perhaps this is not for you. But I recall to this day the first time I encountered a profound white Grand Cru Burgundy, and it stopped me where I stood. I genuinely felt that I could not proceed to drink this wine. I was not ready for it; it was too awe-inspiring, too profound, too intense for me to comprehend. It took me several tentative, terrifying attempts before I was actually able to sip that wine, then blissfully succumb to its seductive enticements.

With rarities such as these, the wine defines the occasion. As you can imagine, with such limited supply and potential for sublime experience, these wines are expensive beyond belief and almost impossible to find. Earlier this year the LCBO managed to get one case of Le Montrachet; all 12 bottles sold instantly, for $1,295 per bottle – at that price, nobody drinks this stuff very often! The next best thing is to move down one level, to a Premier Cru from Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet (remember those hyphenated Burgundian names?) or Meursault. While rare and expensive enough in their own right, these are wines you can occasionally find and, if you choose, actually buy for under a couple of hundred dollars. So, if you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas.

© Paul Inksetter 2021

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