December 11, 2008

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Taste Burgundy, drink Pommard
Advice, sort of, from Bruce Willis
By Tim Protzman food@hippopress.com

I remember my first Pommard.

It was at a French restaurant. I ordered it because it was the only wine on the menu whose name I recognized. I recognized it from a Bruce Willis movie, Mercury Rising. The scene takes place in a wine cellar where Bruce is busily breaking bottles to get the villain’s attention. There’s a party going on upstairs so the villain can’t just shoot Bruce, because it would endanger his social standing. Bruce uses a mounted corkscrew with prongs to open a bottle. The bottle is placed under the screw device, but the device has no worm (the augur-shaped piece of metal that drills into the cork). Instead it uses two long flat pieces of metal to lift the cork out. These tongs do not penetrate the cork, they slide between the cork and the inside of the bottle, tightly gripping the cork and pulling it out. It’s manually operated and has a drill press-like handle that’s lowered into the bottle and then raised back up, bringing the cork with it.

In the movie, Bruce pulls the cork, takes a swig and smashes the bottle on the floor. He then announces to the villain, “I think that Pommard’s a little corky.” At least that’s what I thought he said. What he actually said was “I think that Pomerol’s a little corky.” Which turned out to be good thing, because the wine Bruce smashes is a Chateau Petrus, a delicious Bordeaux with a high merlot content that costs hundreds of dollars a bottle.

Pommard is a Burgundy, all pinot noir, at an affordable but not cheap price. It’s one of the more masculine wines Burgundy produces. The restaurant had it for $65 on the French restaurant’s wine list. I remember that dinner because of three things. First, while driving to the restaurant we saw a huge rat or muskrat, big, really big, scurry across the road and into a storm culvert. Second, the couple next to us was intrigued by my date’s attention to her Weight Watchers points chart.

They were well dressed and older. Very patrician looking. The restaurant was formal so the guys were in suits and ties, the women in dresses. And Norina was very actively and conscientiously counting her Weight Watchers Points. These points are an ingenious little system that assigns a point value to each food, which allows the dieter to calculate and track how much he or she is eating. The woman at the neighboring table, who was rail thin, was amazed by Norina’s determination to eat healthy in this French gastronomic temple of butter and cream.

The food was nice, but the wine was delicious. Very structured with subtle fruit and firm tannins.

Not the best wine I’d ever tasted, but for the second cheapest wine on the wine list in the Burgundy section it was a bargain and a treat. The only thing is I can’t remember the name. My greatest wine talk pet peeve, people who bring up a great wine but don’t remember the name. I talked with Norie this morning, but the restaurant has closed.

I’ve been thinking about Pommards lately because they seem to be a good bargain and a nice way to taste Burgundy. And because I thought about Bruce in the movie wine cellar. And because I read a column about Pouilly-Fuisse and remembered an episode of Mary Tyler Moore (the one in Minneapolis where she throws her hat up in the air) where Murray the writer got tipsy on Pouilly-Fuisse. The wine was one of the most popular varietals in the 1970s. And I’m sure the TV show helped boost sales.

Pommards are supposed to be the most robust and tannic wines in Burgundy. I agree, but to the American wine consumer they seem nuanced. To see what I mean try them against an American Pinot Noir or even a Cabernet Sauvignon. Then you’ll appreciate the delicate features. Hopefully, one day Pommard and Pommard-style wines will capture our fancy and be available, or their style will be copied and produced in Chile, New Zealand, California and Oregon. Maybe then they’ll be in a movie or on TV, and it will feature Bruce Willis and Mary Tyler Moore.

Here’s what I tasted recently:

• 2007 Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel — $19.99. From Sonoma. This was number 10 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of an old style Californian Zinfandel with a little bit of Amarone flavor. Enjoyable? Eminently. Number 10 out of 100? You decide. 

• 2005 Domaine Charache-Bergeret Pommard — $34.99. Cherry fruit flavors with a touch of chalkiness, a hint of cherry Milk of Magnesia. Tannic structure and nice finish. A nice Pommard.

• 2005 Paul Garaudet Monthelie — $29.99. I got this one because: the 2005 Burgundy vintage was excellent, the wines of Monthelie are a great bargain and David & Sacha always grabbed a bottle from her father’s cellar because he bought six cases when he was in Burgundy. Monthelie is also known as “the poor man’s Volnay.”

• 2005 Louis Jadot Pommard — $31.99. This wine was excellent. I just wish some smaller, more artisanal producers have a chance to get shelf space against this wine giant. But the wine speaks for itself. Cherry, black currant, cranberry and plum fruit in a structured, slightly tannic framework, which will calm down in 2010. One I’ll definitely buy again.

• 2005 Charles Krug Chardonnay — $19.99 From Carneros and part of the Peter Mondavi wine family. This wine confirms my distance from California Chardonnay’s.
 • 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Roux Pere et Fils — $35.99. A smaller producer who’s wine was more austere and less luscious than the Jadot. Tight, well made, but not very approachable.

• 2006 Montinore Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir — $18.99. Try this wine side by side with a Burgundy to see the classical differences between French Pinot & Oregonian Pinot. Most of the Wine Rookies picked the Gevrey-Chambertin, but the fruit on the Montinore was incredibly rich.


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