If you are a lover of great White Burgundy, the catalogue for Zachys Friday installment of its La Paulee auction was impossible to resist. Leflaive, Ramonet, Niellon, Coche Dury and other great names, with multiple and sizeable lots going back to the 70s and 80s. Case lots of the great 96 Chevaliers from Leflaive and Niellon. Magnums of 86 Ramonet Montrachet and 92 Ramonet Batard Montrachet. A famous cellar promising excellent provenance. All the enticing ingredients in place. Problem was, the event quickly became an exercise in masochism as most lots hammered at prices substantially (not marginally) in excess of the high estimates and just as substantially in excess of actual historical market pricing. For the narrow minded, tethered to some foolish notion of “value”, the pickings were slim indeed.
But did I mention the 96 Leflaive and 96 Niellon Chevalier Montrachets? Because they were for me the redeeming value of the day. Goodness, what special wines. Brad, who is both perceptive and poetic (for a Minnesotan), called them “Majestic”. Always fun to drink side by side, these are–in my personal experience–among the greatest wines of a very great (when not premoxed) White Burgundy vintage. On this particular day the Leflaive came out of the box swinging and hours later I hadn’t changed my initial view that it was the best wine (among many, many other fine wines) at the table. The nose was wild with mature White Burg stink with Leflaive’s particular signature. Great volume in the mouth, but balanced by excellent acidity and wonderful minerality. Only the experience of drinking the Niellon by its side–and yes, perhaps the memory of past bottles–hinted that this was a relatively forward example. As for that Niellon, it was by contrast perhaps the youngest version I’ve experienced to date. Minerals, minerals, minerals…and focus and length. Peter (who brought a 96 Carillon BBM whose troubling color thankfully wasn’t reflected in the mouth–an excellent wine when not premoxed) is a wise and experienced White Burg guy who correctly advises that these great wines benefit from hours in the glass, and my first thought on tasting both was that the tortoise Niellon, given time, might catch the hare Leflaive. Well, while predictably it continued to evolve and grow in the glass, in my opinion the day was Leflaive’s.
So not such a bad consolation prize. And I haven’t mentioned the DP, Krug, Pommery, Mugnier Musignys and Amoureuses, and trust me they are worth detailed notes which perhaps some others among the company at the table will provide. Ray, for one, seemed reasonably satisfied and I suspect the White Burgs played a limited role for him.
Congratulations to Zachys and Rob Caine on a what for them–and sellers in general–was a great auction. As for me, my selfish hope is that the “La Paulee effect” had more than a little to do with the elevated prices, and that I will get the opportunity in the not too distant future to replace those bottles of Leflaive and Niellon in my cellar. For now “Plan B”, sadly, is to simply pay up.