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Thank you, Jacques Lardière
By Michael Apstein
Dec 11, 2012
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Pierre-Henry Gagey, President of Maison Louis Jadot, set the tone for a dinner honoring the retiring legend Jacques Lardière with the invitation he sent months in advance. The invitation noted that the dinner was to thank Lardière for all he had done for “Burgundy and Maison Jadot.” Note the order--Burgundy and Jadot. It was not thanking him just for what he had done for Maison Jadot, which was enormous, bringing Jadot from a small négociant to one of the preeminent Burgundy producers of today, nor was it for Jadot and Burgundy. It was first and foremost, for Burgundy.

The Burgundians Came

The presence of so many renowned Burgundian producers at the dinner clearly demonstrated the affection and admiration all of Burgundy--and beyond--have for Lardière, who is stepping down after 42 years with Jadot. Among the 120 or so guests were some of Burgundy’s top growers, including Anne Claude Leflaive, Dominque Lafon, Frederic Mugnier, and Jeremy Seysses, to name just a few. Veronique Drouhin’s and Louis Fabrice Latour’s attendance showed the respect other major Burgundy négociants (Jadot’s competitors, mind you) must have for Jacques. The luminaries were not limited to Burgundy. Angelo Gaja, the renowned Italian producer, came and gave a heart-felt tribute at the dinner. Jean Trimbach, from one of Alsace’s top firms, Marcel Guigal, who brought Rhône wines from obscurity to fame, and a bevy of Bordeaux producers were also on hand.

I normally don’t write about grand tastings because I worry that I’ll be seeming to gloat about my good fortune. However, this dinner--and the wines that were served at it--have a lot to teach, so here goes:

Education from an Extraordinary Tasting

The tasting was held in Jadot’s newly completed barrel room, included as part of the addition to their already expanded winery. Two long rows of tables spanned the room. Pierre-Henry quipped that it was easy to hold the tasting in the new barrel room this year because they had far less use for barrels due to the short crop in 2012.

Jadot served nine vintages each of their Chevalier Montrachet “Les Demoiselles” and Musigny. For Les Demoiselles, Lardière and Gagey chose the 2009, 2006, 1998, 1992, 1990, 1985, 1978, 1967 and 1929. For Musigny it was 2002, 1997, 1996, 1993, 1985, 1979, 1978, 1976 and 1971.

Lardière and Gagey said they selected some controversial vintages (2009, 2006 and 1998) for Les Demoiselles, not just those that were considered the greatest, to make the point that it is often hard to predict how Burgundy will eventually turn out (and, of course, to show Lardière’s genius at judging the vintage as he makes the wine). Some of the wines Lardière and Gagey selected for dinner showed their whimsical side, while still teaching.

Lesson One: White Burgundy Develops with Age

Only in Burgundy can there be a vertical tasting in which the whites span four more decades than the reds. White Burgundies not only age, they, like great red wines, develop incredible complexity with bottle age. (And as we saw at dinner, it was not just the Grand Cru wines that do so.) Indeed, the 1998 Les Demoiselles was the first wine that was ready to drink. The 1992 was a great surprise because that vintage for whites produced ripe forward, early drinking wines in general. But Jadot’s1992 Les Demoiselles was just hitting its stride with great minerality and bright, enlivening acidity. The 1985, though older, tasted even younger and fresher. The 1978, at 30+ years of age, was positively perfect--no surprise given the stature of the vintage--fresh and mature simultaneously. The 1967 also had great vibrancy that brilliantly offset a hint of botrytis. The still vibrant 1929 Les Demoiselles was a spice box with caramel overtones supported by bright acidity.

The whimsy started at dinner with a 1969 Jadot Pouilly Fuissé “Mont de Pouilly,” a wine made from grapes purchased from several growers, a.k.a. a négociant wine. Creamy, firm and fresh, it was, without doubt, the best wine from the Côte Mâconnais I’ve ever tasted. Fortunately it was not served blind because all of us would have embarrassed ourselves trying to identify it. And just to show it could hold its own--which it did--they served the Pouilly Fuissé along side Jadot’s 1996 Corton Charlemagne, a breath-taking and still young wine. Lesson one is worth repeating: white Burgundies can develop beautifully. There’s no rush to drink them. They reward cellaring.

Lesson Two: Don’t Overlook Négociant Wines

Lesson two: you needn’t own the vineyard to make stunning wine. As the 1969 Pouilly Fuissé showed, négociant wines can be grand. Indeed, Pierre Henry told me on another occasion that some of the best wines he has ever had have come from vineyards that Jadot does not own. The line up of Musigny reconfirmed that assessment. Jadot did not own any vines in Musigny until 1985 when they acquired some with their purchase of the Clair-Daü estate. Hence, their Musigny from the 1970s were all made from purchased grapes. The 1971, 1978 and 1979 Musigny were all outstanding, three of the best wines in the tasting, mature, fresh, refined and incredibly long and layered. The 1971 was especially glorious--and a négociant wine.

Lesson Three: Beaujolais Can Be Serious Stuff

The whimsy continued with the red wines at dinner. This being Beaujolais Nouveau release day, Jadot decided to serve Beaujolais--a Jadot 1985 Moulin-à-Vent Clos de Rochegrès. And, as with the Pouilly Fuissé, they served it along side tough company, a 1989 Corton Pougets. The Beaujolais was gorgeous and easily held its own delivering spicy complexity. Jadot purchased the Château des Jacques in Moulin-à-Vent, the property from which this wine came, in 1996 and has been making stellar wines from there ever since. But, the 1985 Moulin-à-Vent, like the Pouilly Fuissé, was a négociant wine.

Lardière Helped Transform Maison Jadot

Lardière’s contribution to Maison Jadot cannot be overstated. He oversaw Jadot’s vast expansion in the Côte d’Or, taking it from a sleepy négociant firm in the early 1970s that owned about 9.5 acres of grand cru vineyards and 28 acres of premier cru vineyards located only in the Côte de Beaune to its current position as a preeminent négociant /grower that owns or controls over 20 acres of grand cru vineyards about 120 acres of premier cru throughout both the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits. He was instrumental in Jadot’s visionary purchases in Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon and Pouilly Fuissé. In the vineyard, he was responsible for farming a vast portion of Jadot’s holdings biodynamically and for overseeing two major state-of-the-art renovations in their winery in Beaune.

Despite his ever-increasing responsibilities, Lardière was always available to taste, be it a Sunday morning or even in the midst of harvest. And tasting with him was not a twenty-minute exercise. It almost always involved hours of moving from barrel to barrel in Jadot’s vast cellars. He loved to explain and to teach, for which I am eternally grateful. Over the years, he taught me how to taste young Burgundy from barrel by pointing out the effect that racking or malolactic fermentation had on the wine’s taste. He would politely ask what age barrel did I want to taste from as a subtle way to remind me that it was hard to compare wines if one came from a new oak barrel and the other from a one-year old barrel. An enthusiastic advocate of the unique expressions that Burgundy vineyards deliver, Lardière once told me, “If you taste Chardonnay in my wines, I’ve made a mistake.”

So thank you, Jacques. And thank you for continuing to teach us a little more about Burgundy at your retirement dinner.

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Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelApstein or e-mail him at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com