By Jeff McCarthy

This last week I had the privilege of hosting a member and his guests for an incredible Burgundy tasting.  Mayacama member James Johnson is a true wine lover and experienced Burgundy collector.  One of his friends boasts the largest collection in the United States of wines from Burgundy and the other guests made up an impressive lot of Burgundy aficionados.  The tasting focused on two very fine vintages, 1999 and 2009 with some very old wines sampled at the end of the two day tasting. 

Drinking an aged Pinot Noir is a unique experience.  Those primary fruit aromas found in the younger wines give way to smells that these fine wines acquire over time, known as bouquet.  After many years in the bottle, old wines develop smells of truffle, fungi and mushroom.  There are other olfactory charms as well including loamy earth, sweaty leather, old library book, mahogany, smoked bacon, rust and iron, musk, tobacco and so forth.  Not everyone finds charm in an older wine’s bouquet, but zealous fans find it magical.

The 1999 and 2009 wines were enjoyed as part of the receptions and paired with Chef Scott Pikey’s carefully chosen cuisine.  These wines were still young enough to show beautiful fruit, structure and acidity yet begun to develop those secondary characteristics.  To enhance the flavors and add a beautiful element to the meals, white Truffles from Piemonte were used in almost every course, including the scrambled eggs for the Thursday breakfast.  After lunch on Thursday, one of James’ guests shared four old Burgundies from his special collection: 1959 Richebourg, 1949 Richebourg,  1919 Musigny and an 1889 Pommard.

 When it comes to older Burgundies, there is no definitive rating or judgment.  The wines simply represent snapshots frozen in time and the memories that flow.  There is considerable bottle variation so part of the charm of drinking old wines is the anticipation upon popping the cork.  Knowing the provenance of the wine is of course preferred, but is often shrouded in the many years that have transpired.  While there is great debate on whether or not to decant old wines, the fact remained that each had considerable sediment so separating the wine from the solids was necessary.

All the wines were very well preserved and I was blown away by each.  The biggest surprise was the 1889 Pommard that at the very second I opened it showed beautiful dark color, fruit and acid.  However, as each minute passed, these four wines, especially the ’89, began to rapidly change. Oxygen had not been present for such a long time so when you expose a particularly delicate wine to air for too long, the oxygen quickly converts the ethanol into acetaldehyde, which can mask a wine’s flavors.  This is especially true with whites and well-aged reds, which remain highly susceptible to quick oxygen damage.  By the time I poured the wines for the tasters, they had significantly changed and by the time I got the Chef’s samples back to the kitchen the wine had browned and lost most of its fruit.  I had heard about this phenomenon but it was the first time I had actually experienced it.  Still, the tasters had a memorable experience and of course, I was thrilled.

Contact Jeff McCarthy, at 707 569 2906 or if you have any questions.