“When it comes to wine, I tell people to throw away the vintage charts and invest in a corkscrew. The best way to learn about wine is the drinking.” …… Alexis Lichene
How secure are you in trusting your own palette? Are you willing to consider that maybe the high price you paid for a bottle influences how good you think the wine tastes? Would you agree that you might be influenced by the wine’s country of origin, the region, or even its label? Can one wine taste as good, or better than another at more than twice the price?
Recently, Craig Perman of Perman Wine Selections in Chicago issued a “challenge” to Chardonnay drinkers. He recommended a $20 bottle of Montagny and suggested tasting it against a more expensive Chardonnay, such as the famous Chassagne-Montrachet. I gave my last bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet to my nephew, but I did have a 92 point 2008 Puligny-Montrachet Sous Le Puits. I should mention that Wine Spectator rated 2008 slightly above 2009 for white Burgundies, so I considered Perman’s "challenge" probably something that would reaffirm my instinct to go with the Montrachet given a choice in the store.
To make the test fair, I met with the Chicago Wino. First I opened each bottle and removed all the foil while he removed himself from the room. Then, I put each bottle into a paper bag and tightly wound a rubber band around the neck of each bottle. Then it was my turn to leave the room. The Chicago Wino inserted each bagged bottle into another cloth bag. The bags had been made for one of his tastings and were numbered 1 and 2. There was no way either of us could tell which wine was in what bag, and we could only taste and make notes based on the bag number. All the glassware was the same, as was the temperature at which the wine was served. We each had two glasses, so as to compare the wines side-by-side.
We both observed that the color of wine # 1 was more pale; a light, almost translucent yellow compared to wine # 2 which was more gold. The nose of wine # 1 was very strong and pleasing. I noticed some floral notes. The Chicago Wino sensed canned fruit. I suggested fruit cocktail. As we swirled the wine in the glass, it opened beautifully. The wine was somewhat acidic, said the Chicago Wino, while I thought it was perfectly balanced and thirst quenching.
Wine # 2’s nose was very weak. It needed several long swirls for any nose to be detected. Maybe a hint of violet? The taste was tart. The Chicago Wino observed some slight toast but also “a little funk” in the back taste. I agreed. I observed that the mouth feel was thick, viscous and left the wall of the mouth somewhat dry, whereas the #1 wine was satisfying and cleaner.
The Chicago Wino and I both agreed. Wine #1 was far better. Better in its nose, better in its initial and back tastes. Better finish. The Chicago Wino deferred to name which wine was which, whereas I have no hesitancy toward making a fool of myself. Given the superiority of wine # 1, I proclaimed it the Montrachet. It was a fun and interesting comparison, but there was a clear winner – we both agreed. It had been over a year since I tasted a Montrachet, but it is Montrachet after all. How can you make such a comparison to a wine of that reputation, and from a better year, and costing two and a half times as much? And while the Cote Chalonnaise is a prized area in Burgundy, it is south of the Cote d’Or where Puligny-Montrachet originates. We removed the bags and – you must, by now, know where I’m going with this – wine #1 was the $20 Berthenet Montagny 1er Cru 2009.
Montagny is fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in both tank and oak. A very nice balance of steel preserved fruit and wood matured taste. Perman says this wine comes from Berthenet’s oldest plots of vines (vieilles vignes) in Premier Cru vineyards in Montagny and that this wine is an outstanding value. As the Wine Mizer, It’s not enough to just agree and recommend this gorgeous wine. I have to thank Perman for making me aware of it.
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Wines, I have noticed, “update” themselves as do computer programs. So I have to mention that the next day, another friend stopped by. Joining her for a taste, I observed that the nose of Montagny had become fainter and the “funk” of the Puligny-Montrachet had dissipitated (but I kept my observations to myself). Both wines had been vacuum sealed and kept chilled. She preferred the Montrachet. I remained a fan of the Montagny. I am reminded of the words of Pliny the Elder: “The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him who drinks it.”
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