A few kilometres outside Beaune lies the village of Pommard, with 600 inhabitants, a few restaurants, a wine shop and vignerons' houses. There are approximately 300 individual producers turning out only red wines from pinot noir varietals, which are more suited to the climate in Burgundy, where the soil, location, and orientation have made it a paradise for these great wines.
Chateau de Pommard’s wine bottle is similar to a champagne bottle made from slightly thicker glass in an historic colour.
It is hardly surprising, then, that artists and indulgers of worldly pleasures have gravitated to this area, and at the emblematic heart of the Burgundy wine region lies Chateau de Pommard, which continues to cultivate a passion for exceptional wines today.
As fate would have it, this wine is not available in Thailand, nor is it available in most places in France, as the Chateau only engages in direct sales from its own cellar and does not export. The only way to get your noses into a glass of this Burgundy gem is to travel there, and I can assure you that the experience is a prize in itself.
Recently, I found an opportunity to call in on Chateau de Pommard, where I learnt that the average age of their vines is 75 years. The winemakers there do not harvest any grapes from a newly planted vine until the roots have been given time to descend 10 metres into the ground in order to truly tap into the true characteristics of the terroir, and this takes over a decade.
The fully cloistered Chateau de Pommard is unique in the way that it is its own appellation, and this appellation solely grows pinot noir. More unique than others is the special bottle in which they cork their liquid ruby. Since the late 1960s, Chateau de Pommard has departed from the norm of the standard Burgundy bottle originating in the mid-19th century, reverting to its own trademark bottle, supposedly blown back in the 18th century, and vanished throughout ownership changes of the Chateau.
The trademark thick-lipped bottle with a well marked ring sits on a heavy bottom, shaped similar to champagne bottles made from slightly thicker glass in an historic colour forces one to reconsider the saying that we should not judge a wine by its bottle; I would beg to differ in this instance, and will persuade you to judge the content of this container by its exquisitely crafted aesthetics.
At the Chateau's cellar, I was greeted by wall of bottles covered by dust and mould that were performing the job of a caretaker of these wines by blocking out the light that could damage these delicate Burgundies. Finally, I came to the highlight of the tasting room. Having tasted several post-millennium vintages, the most interesting aspect of the pinot noir grape is that it seems to be more responsive to climatic conditions, thus in my view, the most interesting vintages would be those with the highest variation in the distinctiveness of taste and aroma, and both of these I find in the 2006 and 2003.
Noteworthy is that a smaller yield is the common denominator of these two vintages, and as an economist, reduced supply always makes for greater excitement. It was a particularly wet year in 2006, which was not ideal for the fragile pinot noir, but every cloud has a silver lining; because 2006 was not a great year, and because of earlier harvest and lower yield, there may have been stricter sorting of unripe or rotten grapes, which all contribute to a higher quality wine than expected.
For drinking now, the 2006 has clearly better structure, with a nose of ripe berries, subtle flavour delivered by well-balanced fresh fruits and soft tannins. There is an unassuming lingering finish with little minerality, with the fruit just keeping in the background. This wine is a natural partner for plain and moderately oily food, such as grilled pork neck, roast duck, or soya chicken. Especially with Thai food, I would avoid potent dipping sauces and over-developed flavours that may annihilate the wine, as the delicate pinot noir is not sufficiently robust to survive the spice gauntlet.
By no means uninteresting is the 2003. You may recall the heat wave of 2003 in Europe, and wine drinkers' opinions on this vintage seem to be largely binary. Difficult growing conditions led to a lower yield per hectare, with some winegrowers harvesting of 50% less than usual around the region
The 2003 was deep in colour, and packed full of fruit to the palate. My first encounter of this was back in 2008; the wine was immediately approachable, with such full-bodied characteristics that I felt instantaneously teleported 6,000 miles to the Napa Valley. As the 2003 vintage would have been bottled in 2004, after spending just four years in the bottle, it seemed one need not cellar the Burgundy for any longer.
The debate about the balance of the 2003 vintage still continues, with drinkers and collectors alike keeping a watchful eye on how those wines that have been laid down and tucked away are maturing in their unique trademark bottles. The quantity produced was so small that it will be increasingly difficult to find them in France, let alone in Thailand, so it may take some investigative retail therapy for the privilege to judge how well they have survived.
I believe many Burgundy lovers will toe the line of Jancis Robinson, and I take this opportunity to quote the critic: "Burgundy is like Oxbridge. It has had centuries to develop strange pronunciations and exceptions to every rule." Like Oxbridge, Burgundy has an almost mythical status in the wine world, and has also been a film set for several movies. Like Oxbridge, the people also have their own tradition, language and quirks. And like Oxbridge, Burgundy continues to provide and deliver world-renowned and well-respected wines, deep rooted in history and tradition.
After this recollection of a unique experience, coupled with the Chateau's no-export policy and reassurance of non-availability of this wine in Thailand, we may be searching for any purpose of this critique, and I propose two: firstly, a reconsideration of the 100ml liquid rule on international flights; and secondly, as you think about committing liver resources to a trip to France, you may _ before clicking "Book now!" _ consider looking in a local retailer for a 2003 or 2006 Burgundy from any Beaune producer, and deciding whether the fare is enough to justify a holiday. The best time to visit would be sometime in August or September, so you can ponder yet for several months before deciding.
Nara Decharin has a PhD in economics and spent over 20 years in Europe cultivating his non-commercial passion for wine through experiential learning.
About the author
Writer: Nara Decharin