French vin at Italian Ristorante
By Don Merlot
There is a French Burgundian saying about a great red Burgundy: “On croit avaler le bon Dieu en culottes de velours ( « One seems to have swallowed the good Lord himself wearing velvet pants.) »
Back in 1969, when I encountered my first real Burgundy, there were rival opinions in our corporate department at Whirlpool Corp. as to which French red wine was better: Bordeaux or Burgundy.
Most of the guys in our international sales department had lived in Europe and had their own wine preferences and opinions. The more I read the more I found out it was a natural rivalry. There were many historical references, and it was clear that the different sides would not bend on any logic: Do not confuse me as I have made up my mind!
A story goes back to France’s Ancien Regime (pre-revolutionary France under the Bourbons). A jurist was asked by a Marquise (the hostess) at supper one evening which he preferred, Classic Bordeaux or Grande Vin de Bourgogne? He replied, 'Madame, in this sort of trial I get so much pleasure examining the evidence that I postpone giving my verdict from week to week.'
The sales manager had invited me to join some foreign guests at Tosi’s Restaurant, a cozy little trattoria in Stevensville, Michigan, not far from our company's factory and not far my home at the time. Emile, Tosi's late owner, had a great wine cellar and most Whirlpool executives were frequent visitors, either entertain or go there on their own. The menu was very good, and they grew their own vegetables and made fabulous soups and their specialty in season were Zucchini flowers that were batter fried.
That night’s menu was minestrone, salad, Zucchini flowers batter fried and a rack of pork barbecued ribs. The wine went perfectly with the meal and complemented the flavors.
John Steeb, the sales manager, was enamoured with Burgundy and Pinot Noir grape. His absolute favorite Burgundy was Nuits St. Georges, but that evening he chose a Grands Echezeaux. John knew his Burgundies; he was based in Switzerland and would drive through the vineyards on the way to our Paris office. The prime real estate for Pinot Noir is from Dijon to Lyon -– more or less. The area is called the Cote d’Or.
That night I encountered my wine epiphany: I have no idea why but that lit up my palate. I looked up the experience for this writing from my reference books, and it was a 1964 Grands Echezeaux form Henri Gouroux. That night - 40 years ago -- the wine cost about $10 a bottle. It became my favorite wine. My palate tasted it all night.
I remembered that wine when I saw the wine story of the jurist. I committed to Burgundy that night and have never wavered in preference. That wine comes from one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in France (and the world). A Grands Echezeaux today starts at $150 and the most prestigious will command over $500.
Over the years I have had a bottle given as a gift, and downing the wine still excites me.
The rules have been re-written since 1969, and I do not feel anyone should start there. Today with both the old world wines and new world wines becoming available I try mini tasting of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux (Médoc and Pomerol) and Syrah’s to determine the state of my palate. Studies show that if you have a blind tasting once in a while, you will be surprised what you pick out as your favorite.
(Don Merlot is a pen name for Ron Alonzo, a businessman who lives, wines, and dines from his home in Florida).