I was twenty-something when I was seduced in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin. It happened in the dark, damp cellar of a winemaker whose door I knocked on because I needed a red wine to go with the saucisson, cheese and bread that I purchased at the local epicerie.
He handed me a glass and took one, too. Plunging a long glass tube into the first barrel and siphoning some wine, he released an ounce of it into my glass. I inhaled it and tasted. Its perfume was tantalizing and the texture as delicate as lingerie. He moved to another barrel, repeated the procedure and I inhaled and tasted the second wine. The fruit was ripe and sensual, like the first kiss of a lover I had unknowingly waited for. We embraced more barrels, and by the time I ascended from the cellar with bottles in hand, my senses swirled from the array of aromas, the silkiness of the wines, and the long, lasting pleasure from the final drop on my palate. I was in love with Burgundy.
But love can be unrequited. Since that time, I have longed to be seduced again; instead, I’ve been jilted by Burgundian winemakers who didn’t care, were indifferent, or plainly incompetent to make great wine. I learned that love requires passion. I learned that in Burgundy it’s not the label the bottle wears, but the person behind the label who must charm your senses.
Burgundy extends from northern Chablis to southern Macon. Within those boundaries lies the Cote d’Or, the golden slopes. A fraction of Bordeaux’s size, the hillside vines are devoted almost exclusively to two grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay, in some of the most exalted vineyards on earth: Montrachet, Romanee-Conti, Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, Clos de la Roche, Corton, and Corton-Charlemagne.
In the Cote d’Or there are also thousand of growers, tiny domaines, miniscule vineyards, large negociants, and world-renowned winemaking families like Faiveley.
In 1825, Peter Faiveley began this family-owned wine company now in the hands of its seventh generation 33-year-old Erwan Faiveley. Over the course of nearly two centuries, Faiveley suffered from Phylloxera, a vine eating louse, the Great Depression, and a self-inflected wound of unreliable winemaking that I experienced in the 1970s and early 1980s. By the late 1980s quality improved, but I continued to experience a mix of excellent and ordinary wines. Yet, through it all, Faiveley retained its assets: ownership of great vineyards, and smart family members at the helm.
Erwan Faiveley graduated from Columbia University’s MBA program, and is working to reclaim Faiveley’s position as a top Burgundy producer. In 2007, he hired top-flight winemaker Bernard Hervet as Faiveley’s general manager. Hervet was the winemaker at William Fevre, the outstanding Chablis house, and he elevated the quality at Bouchard Pere et Fils, the largest vineyard owner in Burgundy. During the last few years, Faiveley purchased more grand cru and premier cru vineyards.
Last month, Erwan Faiveley presented five vintages of the grand cru Domaine Faiveley, Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley from 2009 to1928. In the 1930s, a French court ruled that Faiveley could attach its name to its grand cru vineyard, making it the only one in Burgundy where the owner’s name is an integral piece of the vineyard’s identity.
We started with the 2009 Domaine Faiveley, Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley. Its pure black cherry hue and blackberry, basil and plum aromas are a captivating introduction. An elegant body carries rich black fruit flavors that glide across the palate and leave you with a cranberry-like finish that is so long lasting Faiveley should pay rent. Perfectly balanced tannins, acidity and fruit display the quality of pinot noir in 2009 and the expertise of the new winemaking team at Faiveley. Buy the 2009 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley with the commitment to age it until 2019 and, depending on your cellar, savor it to 2035-2040. Expect to pay about $225.
As good as the 2009 is, the 1999 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley is a step higher. Its clear black cherry color, billowing black fruit aromas and flavors are the historical footprint of this great vineyard. The fruit and tannins are as harmonious as a Bach concerto. And the wholeness of the wine is symphonic. If you find the 1999 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley in a retail store, make sure it has been in temperature-controlled storage. Current retail is around $135 to 150 dollars. It sold at two auctions this year at $100 (which is a steal for this quality).
The 1990 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley has a youthful red-color and black cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors. Its delicious fruit is wrapped in a velvet texture with a finish as long as a summer sunset. The 1990 vintage was superb throughout France: Elegant Bordeaux, exquisite Champagne, suave red Burgundies and muscular Rhone wines. It’s a vintage that you can still buy with confidence if you can validate the storage. A few retailers offer the 1990 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley for approximately $200-225; earlier this year it sold at auction for $180, and last month, two magnums sold at Zachy’s auction for $325 each.
The 1979 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley was poured from magnum. I don’t recall anything particular about the 1979 vintage other than it followed the excellent 1978. That said, one should not generalize too much about Burgundy because it is really about the winemaker or producer, not the year. In the right hands, the wines will seduce you with their delicate character and enchanting flavors no matter what Nature wrought. And in the wrong hands, you’ll be heart-broken by the wasted potential.
Just the slightest signs of age appeared in my glass of the 1979 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley: brownish edge, a red center hinting of autumn orange, and the scent of a forest floor mixed with red fruit aroma. But the mouth was treated to vibrant red fruit flavors stacked on soft tannins that have every intention to remain on the palate until you recognize that this is why Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley is truly grand cru.
France’s 1928 vintage produced great wines. I have been astonished by bottles of youthful 1928 Krug Champagne and remarkable 1928 Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Latour. The 1928 Corton, Clos des Cortons Faiveley reaches the same level. While the edge of the wine shows some disintegration, the center retains its red shade. And there remains a vibrant cherry scent combined with a leather-like aroma. But what marks this 1928’s greatness is its pronounced red fruit flavor and elegant body. It retains its chic, streamline figure and enthralling liveliness. This is a wine you sip not drink. It enchants. It seduces. It makes you fall in love all over again.
Photo courtesy of Domaine Faiveley