The people who seemed closest to enlightenment who taught me many of my values couldn’t have been more outwardly different from each other; my childhood next-door-neighbor’s mother who came from a poor background in Mississippi who always was so compassionate to everyone who crossed her path, the mother of my superintendent in my old New York City apartment building who spoke only Spanish and my time communing with her that went beyond language barriers, or a yoga teacher who lived an extreme, monastic life that based his life on social justice. All of these people have their own pile of hurtles in life yet they all lived by a similar philosophy: you have to find a way to work around the reality of the world while never forgetting your soul along the way.
For each of us, what feeds our soul is different and sometimes it is not so easy to recognize what will nourish it when we feel removed from it. It is not the same thing as ethics as I think an ethical code is more concrete… but what keeps that empty feeling at bay, relinquishes us from the constant battles with ourselves to endlessly find worth through superficial accomplishments? I have found, for myself, it is those things that stir our passion yet there is no real logical reason to pursue it except that it makes our heart skip a beat… and keeps our existence from being purely pedestrian. Burgundy wines, especially those from smaller producers, are those that fall into the category of feeding some wine lovers’ souls.
Burgundy makes no sense in so many ways… the weather is brutal (too much rain=disease, frost during Spring=tiny yields and hail=complete destruction), they work with mainly only two grape varieties in a place that has vintage variation (not giving much of an opportunity to blend different types for difficult years) and they work with one of the most challenging noble grapes in the world: Pinot Noir. Burgundy constantly enflames your heart as it will never exactly be what it was before… it is always evolving as a wine that expresses a specific snapshot in time from a particular place that is at once transcendental and illogically exquisite in how it moves you.
Back in February, I attended a wine/media tasting for Terlato Wines, a U.S. premium wine/spirits importer. I was surprised to see that this tasting only showcased the wines of three small Burgundy producers, as usually winemakers on this small of a scale are only known by hardcore Burgundy wine nerds and they are typically imported by much smaller importers. Long ago, Terlato established itself as one of the main luxury wine importers in the U.S. with the vision of its chairman, Anthony Terlato, and the help of his sons Bill and John Terlato. It was a mystery to me why would they gamble on these wines.
Mysteries of Life
I think there are many times when we are mystified by others’ reactions as well as are never able to explain our own motivations to people whose souls are not fed in the same way. These motivations may have been woven into our mental wiring from birth or our early childhood experiences – those moments that flooded our minds with feel-good chemicals in our brains. My next door neighbor’s mother (the type of woman who didn’t bother taking the cigarette out of her mouth before she cursed someone out) and my environmentally-conscious, vegan yoga teacher couldn’t have been more different but there was one mantra in common that they both lived by – you have to first conquer paying your bills (a lifetime pursuit, and yes, life is unfair when it comes to surviving) before you can even attempt to try to save the world. No one can be enlightened or even preach such a path if they are not dealing with the harsh realities of what surrounds them.
It is certainly quite an undertaking to be a long-standing, fine wine importer in such a competitive market and it takes leadership that chooses the logical path to success at each turn. But it was interesting to talk to vice chairman, John Terlato, as he shed some light – that this collection of artisanal Burgundian producers was an actualization of building these relationships for several years. He said that Terlato’s commitment to quality, which is centered on an expression of sense of place, was taken to another level with these wines. He openly admitted that others were critical of taking on such a portfolio, but as he enthusiastically poured a 2001 Bâtard-Montrachet from a decanter into my glass while beaming with joy, he noted that sometimes you need to get behind what you believe in… and when he tasted these wines and talked to these producers about their vineyards, there was no doubt in his mind that these were the wines that represented the heart of his portfolio.
Slipping Off the Edge
It is a constant balancing act – trying to fulfill your responsibilities while reminding yourself of why you take on these responsibilities – day in and day out. I remember when I first moved to New York City around 25 years ago with no family, no connections and no idea of how to function in the world… I was so overwhelmed with working as much as I could since I felt that that was the only way to continue my existence in NYC – so downtime was few and far between. But every time I had a package delivered to my tenement apartment, the superintendent’s mother would accept it and I would have to go down to get it from her… she always welcomed me into her home and made me something quick to eat and sat there across from me, talking in Spanish with a big, beautiful smile on her face. Many times I felt anxious since I came from a dysfunctional home where I was an accident and not wanted, so I felt that somehow I was intruding on this woman’s time and she was being nice out of unnecessary obligation. But when I look back, I realize that despite never knowing what she said to me, it fed my soul to spend time with someone who seemed to cherish my company, and perhaps I did the same for her. Back then I didn’t know what nourished my soul, but thank goodness the Terlato family has no doubt what does.
Terlato Burgundy Wines Tasted on February 25th, 2019
The list below is broken up into four different names yet Domaine Pierre Labet is made by the same producer, as well as in the same winery, as Château de la Tour – the name Château de la Tour is reserved for their Clos-Vougeot vineyards. All of the Blanc wines are 100% Chardonnay and all of the Rouge wines are 100% Pinot Noir with the exceptions of where it states that it was made from 100% Aligoté. Any wine that has a name in quotes without having Premier Cru preceding it notes a specific vineyard that has not been classified and any wine starting with Grand Cru will have the specific Grand Cru vineyard noted after it. Finally, Vieilles Vignes means old vines.
Domaine Michel Niellon
2016 Bourgogne Chardonnay Blanc: Moderate palate weight with a hint of hazelnut and bright acidity.
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc: Richer, more textural body, with energy and fleshier peach fruit.
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Champgains” Blanc: Linear with hints of stone fruit yet minerality dominated.
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos de la Maltroie” Blanc: Intensely stony with pretty white flowers and focused.
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos St Jean” Blanc: Broader but still had white chalky notes with a long flavorful finish of golden apples.
2016 Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet Blanc: Sensational acidity that had a nice bite with complex nose of limestone, citrus blossoms and honeysuckle that had a rich, expressive finish.
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: Wild flowers with baking spice and fresh raspberry fruit.
2006 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Vergers” Blanc: Smoky minerality with slate and exotic spices that still had marked acidity with subtle fruit and a thrilling precision on the finish.
2016 Bourgogne Aligoté Blanc: 100% Aligoté. Aligoté is one of the other grape varieties that one can find in Burgundy that is a fiercely acidic white grape. Light, nimble body with a sharp-edged acidity that was extremely refreshing.
2016 Bouzeron Blanc: 100% Aligoté. More aromatic, with citrus rind and jasmine that had a sharp-edge as well yet with more flesh on the body.
2016 Puligny-Montrachet Blanc: Laser focused minerality that was vibrant.
2016 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Enseignères” Blanc: Flinty nose with mouthwatering acidity and a thrilling tension.
2016 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Boudriotte” Blanc: Hint of nuts with rounder body and allspice with juicy apricots.
2016 Bourgogne Rouge: High-toned red cherry fruit that pranced on the palate.
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: More floral, with brooding flavors of dark fruit on the palate that was richly textured.
2014 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Ruchottes” Blanc: Poured from 6 liter bottle. Delicious almond paste with white peach skin and fierce acidity that, overall, was a wine with breathtaking delineation in its expression.
2001 Grand Cru Bienvenues Batard-Montrachet Blanc: Poured from 3 Liter bottle. Richly powerful yet elegant in its pristine purity with mint and lemon confit that had seamlessly integrated oak, a lush body with layers of complexity and a mineral laced, long length.
Domaine Pierre Labet
2015 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” Blanc: Lemon flavored pastries with creamy body.
2015 Meursault “Les Tillets” Blanc: Pure quince fruit that was tingly and fun that had subtle hazelnut notes – a vibrant Meursault.
2015 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes: Intoxicating perfume with more richness than one would expect on a Bourgogne.
2015 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” Rouge: Tight on the nose so may need some decanting, with a wonderful texture that had lots of definition and shape.
2015 Beaune Premier Cru “Coucherias” Rouge: This wine displayed the same textural component of the previous but with more available fruit – blackberries that had hints of forest floor in the background.
2015 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes Rouge: Lots of spice with cinnamon and cardamom that was extremely focused with an edgy energy.
Château de la Tour
2015 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Rouge: Richly textured with lots of generosity for a Clos Vougeot so young that had dried herbs and freshly picked mushrooms that were intriguing.
2014 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Rouge: Fresh tarragon and dried red cherries that had a fantastic finish of orange blossoms and crumbly earth with splendid definition.
2015 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: The nose was singing with violets and ripe blueberries that had more structure and power than the others, with hints of espresso and cocoa powder on the finish.
2014 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: Mineral-rich with marked acidity that had succinct black and red fruit that was well knitted together, with well-judged oak and a sustained, lifted finish that left pressed flowers in my head.
2013 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: The nose was pretty and bright with rose petals and orange peel that was expansive on the palate with cherry liqueur that had fine tannins creating ribbons of silk on the length.