Bern's Micro-perfection (long, discursive)

Bern’s micro-perfection

It was an ‘arrghhh’ moment. I rarely get to Bern’s, but we had dinner scheduled for four. One guy had the flu, one got called out of town. The other guy was driving. So much for getting a bunch of interesting things off of the list.

We did a whole lot better than ‘make-do’. My friend started with a glass of Collet Champagne, which he thought was just fine. I had a glass of Delamotte ‘Le Mesnil’, a bottling I had not had before. This was a beauty, with a level of refinement I had never experienced before from this improving producer.

Due to the consumer shortage, there was a firework, not fireworks. Wine Director Eric Renaud did himself proud. I ordered a 1979 Jaboulet-Vercherre Beaune Clos de l’Ecu. I am hazy on the history and details, but I believe the firm went bankrupt in the 90s after a long period of poor management. Shortly before that I had visited and enjoyed an older vintage of this, possibly even the ’79, and I have had half a dozen vintages of this outstanding Monopole vineyard. Eric came back, reporting that he had sold out, but offered a 1985 J-V Chambolle. I demurred, as the Clos de l’Ecu had special meaning to me.

I asked Eric about some of the older Burgs on the list; they had some ’61s and ‘64s in 375ml at reasonable prices. He told me that these were very hit and miss. By now he understood what I was looking for and I asked for a suggestion. He stood over my shoulder, ran a finger down the list and stopped at a wine I never would have picked. A 1970 Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey. He told me with excitement that he had sold one the night before and it had been gorgeous, and that there were two left in the cellar.

OK, IMO Corton is about as long-lived as any wine from Burgundy, but
a) I don’t think of Louis Latour for long ageability, and
b) 1970 was a good but relatively light-weight year, and
c) It’s 48 freaking years old!
But Eric is charged up and I say ‘bring it on’.

Pale ruby color, but with no orange or browning. Black cherry, red plum and sous-bois aromas are layered over just a touch of something autumnal. The palate is tender, tannins fully resolved but with enough acidity left to provide balance and lift. The flavors are both savory and very intricate, with some white spice notes under the fresh, tender fruit, the cherries to the fore and a note of black raspberry at the end. I was struck by how strongly the palate skewed towards black fruit despite the age and pale color. This was a sensational bottle, as Eric had predicted. Rated 96.5. Obviously ready to drink. Insanely priced at $120.60.

I live in Maine because I like the climate and Florida is far from my favorite state, but I have family and business here… and Bern’s.

Dan Kravitz

Awesome story, thanks Dan. One day I’ll get to Bern’s.

As much as I enjoy big wine dinners where you crack open a bunch of bottles, sometimes it’s great to just savor one good one.

I guess the lesson is listen to a somm who knows what they’re doing rather than having preconceptions.

I know nothing about Louis Latour reds but whites I’ve had from '89 and older have been stellar.

The Corton Granceys can be fabulous. Sounds like a wonderful experience. I love Bern’s.

Only been once. I need to find a reason to change that. Great note, and a great experience Dan. Thanks for posting


Thanks for the excellent account!

Great read Dan. Thanks for posting.

You should go sooner rather than later. I’ve spent a small fortune there over the years. I haven’t been in a couple years. Most of the wines I went there to drink are gone. But I am meeting friends there next month so looking forward to revisiting.

I recently went for the first time and enjoyed several selections with a small group, including a NV ('77 and '78) Trenton estates zinfandel made by Joe Swan. Noted by the somm (not sure who was there that night) to have significant bottle variation not surprisingly, but for $20ish it was an easy decision (my bottle was excellent).

In chatting with the somm, he told me they apparently don’t buy at auction. Made me wonder how that list may evolved over the near-term as the cellar becomes exhausted of many of the values that have been highlighted on this board and others.


I’d be interested to know what they are doing to maintain the cellar. Are they buying substantial new-vintage inventory for the future? Are they buying cellars? Or are they just running on the fumes of prior generations and about to become much more ordinary?

I don’t know any detail, but I do know from talking to someone there that they still buy a lot of current release wine, or at least that they were a few years ago.

Their #1 selling wine is Caymus.

I spoke with Eric the other night. He said something about purchasing bottles of older stuff. I don’t remember how they were going about it. Maybe Keith Levenberg will see this and chime in. He might remember better than I.

When I was there the other night, while I was enthralled by an ancient bottle of wine I saw at least three tables in the small room I was dining had Caymus- new Caymus. I think I counted a total of five bottles that whole night.

I was happy in one way, because, at least they were not “baby-killing” young Bordeaux and Burgundy!

Thought about going, but after looking at the list, it seems like I might never, unless I’m in the area. (Yes, there looks to be several interesting bits left, but maybe not enough to make it a destination trip out). The list looks pretty picked clean, and there seems to be a hole where the '80s and '90s should be.

Yeap, last time I was there they were having a Caymus at the table next to ours. That’s a great thing… More of the good old stuff for us!

Their wine list includes a lot of current vintages of really nice wines. I don’t think they are running on fumes at all.

In my original post, I did not say that they Bern’s has been buying some of my wine… it didn’t seem relevant to the glasses of Champagne or the 48 year old Corton. In general, I try hard to preface any note about a customer of mine with the words ‘commercial post’. Please forgive me.

I can vouch for the fact that they are actively buying current releases to cellar as they have ordered some wines I import.

I am completely puzzled by M. Meer’s comment about “The list looks pretty picked clean”. I honestly cannot imagine how anybody can say that.

FWIW, I suspect that the list does not include every bottle that is in the cellar. I would think that if you’re looking for a specific region and time period, and you somehow do not see it on the list, you could certainly ask and perhaps get what you are looking for. In another thread, there’s a recent tale of a half bottle of '64 Cote Rotie not on the list.

If they are buying older wines, I would think they would be extremely finicky about provenance and condition. They would have a lot to lose if they were not.

Dan Kravitz