A Remarkable Wine From 1942
Wednesday - June 13, 2007
I’ve just returned from a tour of Champagne and Burgundy. There were so many great wines, meals and visits to cellars. Each visit to a cellar holds unexpected experiences, but our descent into the cellars of Domaine Henri Gouges in Nuits St. Georges held an unforgettable experience that went beyond the realm of wine and hedonistic pleasure.
Domaine Henri Gouges is known as one of the top producers of the village of Nuits St. Georges, with a reputation for producing wines that not only age gracefully, but actually require cellaring in order for the wines to blossom into greatness. The domain consists of no less than seven of the best Premier Cru Vineyards in the village.
We began our visit with Christian Gouges, the founder’s grandson, with a tour of the newly built portion of the cellar complete with all the dust and new cement aromas. The new cellar will allow the domain more room for movement and expansion if they have a chance to purchase more vineyard land. It provided a stark contrast with the original part of the cellar, which was laid with brick and covered in mold dating back to the founding of the domain at the turn of the 20th century, more than 100 years ago.
We began our tasting with several barrel samples from the 2006 vintage, including their noted Nuits St. Georges “Clos des Porrets” 1er Cru, which is a monopole or vineyard entirely owned by the Gouges estate. Being so young, they were still coarse with tannin, but their fruit and intensity were evident. With time they will soften and show their true beauty, but it is very difficult to taste at such a young age. We moved to the oldest part of the cellar to taste a selection of bottled wines of the same vineyards from 2005. This vintage has already garnered much praise, and I must say that they are indeed outstanding and will please aficionados and collectors for many years.
As we stood in the oldest part of the cellar, Christian remarked that it held the oldest bottles in the cellar, and how this cellar held many stories. He recounted that his grandfather, at the beginning of World War II, had walled up the entrance to this cellar to prevent the Germans from looting and destroying their best and oldest wines. But when the Americans came through the village after the victory, the Gouges tore down the wall to share some of their treasures with their liberators. He also pointed out wines that were made during the Occupation, and showed us the bin that held 27 bottles of the 1942 Nuits St. Georges “Clos des Porrets.” He nonchalantly said that we could taste it. As he was speaking French and I was translating for my friends, I had to ask him again to see if he was just kidding. His answer was affirmative. I excitedly told everyone what he was about to open for us to taste.
As he poured it into the first glass of one of my companions, who happens to be one of the most avid consumers of Burgundy, he let out an unexpected “OH BABY!” As I held my glass to my nose I also felt the elation of tasting such an amazing wine. It was perfectly mature with awesomely complex aromas and flavors that only come with age.
Christian reminded us that the years during the war were terrible vintages. There was no labor, as the men had gone off to war. In fact, his grandmother and great aunt actually made this wine. There were only six people to harvest the entire domain, and it took them a whole month to do even that. He also mentioned that those wines were made almost organically, because there was no copper or sulfur available for managing the vines or to use in making wine. This wine was such a pure expression of the vineyard, and the fact that they were able to make it and it tasted so absolutely delicious was just amazing!
I was awestruck at the magnitude of the moment and the wine. All the effort and challenge that this family had undergone and overcome was reduced in this beautiful wine. After a while, as we drank and enjoyed the rest of the bottle, Christian admitted that he had only expected to spend an hour with us, but two hours later we were still tasting wines.
It will be an experience I will never forget for the wine, its culture and the people that make it all happen. Merci beaucoup, famille Gouges!
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