It is the last week of March. You’re standing in the bright sunlight on the sidewalk on the west side of busy highway N74 as it passes through Gevrey Chambertin. You step through the gate that opens onto a courtyard in the middle of Domaine Trapet. Walk to the right across the courtyard to the stairs to the cellar. The sounds of the busy road outside have faded. Go down the stone stairs into the cold barrel cellar.
There you meet Jean Louis Trapet who is waiting with tasting glasses and a wine thief.
The first glass you taste is a simple Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc he draws from a tank around the corner from the barrels. It’s a simple unwooded white but it refreshes and sets up the palate. You swish the wine around your mouth and slurp a bit. The wine is very good but you spit it into the spittoon sitting on top of an empty upended barrel.
The next wine, also drawn from a tank, is Bourgogne Passe Tout Grains (Burgundy from two grapes) – a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. This is red Burgundy at its most basic with lots of cherry and a bit of earthiness. Even though basic, it also is very good.
Now Trapet takes his wine thief to the first barrel. He lifts the bung and slips the curved glass tube of the thief inside. Once the tube is filled, he covers the end with his thumb and removes it from the barrel. You hold out your glass. He puts the bottom of the tube in your glass and briefly removes his thumb from the top allowing some wine to slide out into your glass. You an ounce-and-a-half to two ounces. Then he replaces his thumb and moves to the next person. The wine, Gevrey Chambertin “Ostrea”, is from old vine Pinot Noir grown grown on fossilized oyster shells left from when Burgundy was part of the seabed. The wine is full of lively cherry fruit with earthy mineral notes and hints of cherry stone, spice, black pepper, and cola. It’s harder to spit this one out.
Next you taste Gevrey Chambertin Petite Chapelle 1er cru (premier cru) from just below the Chapelle Chambertin grand cru vineyard and Gevrey Chambertin Clos Prieur 1er cru. These are richer and more intense made from lower yielding vines grown in classified vineyards. Then come the lovely, concentrated, rich grand crus of Chapelle Chambertin and Latricieres Chambertin. Finally you taste great grand cru Chambertin. This you don’t even try to spit. You just hold the wine in your mouth and slowly swallow a bit of it at a time. The intensity and richness have moved to a higher level. Your thoughts turn to art or music. It is almost transcendent. Then you come back. You think you’re done…
…but Trapet walks to the next barrel, pulls the bung, inserts and draws out the wine thief and says “Gevrey Chambertin Ostrea …”. He has gone back a vintage and you are starting again. You are torn because by now you are freezing in the cold cellar but the wines are so good that you can’t say no. You taste through the range again, marveling at the quality from two vintages still in the barrel and at the linear upward progression of quality throughout Trapet’s range. When you finish the range, you are grateful to climb the stairs to taste one or two bottled wines in the relative warmth of the domaine’s office. There are a couple of new releases and then Jean Louis pulls out a dusty bottle that he serves with a flourish and a knowing smile. That’s when you realize why he asked you what year you were born …
Welcome to Burgundy.