A great white wine in the snow

I received quite a few responses to last week's wine article concerning one of my most "memorable" glasses of wine over these many years of being in the wine scene. With that in mind I thought I'd relate just one more wine story for you that concerns a glass of very lovely white Burgundy.

White Burgundy is a wine produced from the noble Chardonnay grape and there are many folks in the wine business, as well as consumers of nice wine, who feel that the region of Burgundy, France, makes the finest example of Chardonnay in the world. This is the home of the Chardonnay grape and fine Chardonnay has been made there for many, many, years. In fact, there are wine people who spend many dollars and time devoted to just this white wine phenomenon: Chardonnay and Burgundy.

The attributes of white Burgundy cannot be overstated. When they are well-made, they can be one of the finest taste treats on the planet. The better white Burgundies come from small villages within Burgundy and can have single vineyard appellations placed on the label, as well, and might also tell us that "old vines" are involved in the production. In a general sense, the more specific the appellation in certain villages, the better the wine is likely to be with a spike in price, accordingly.

I can spend reams of paper describing the attributes of fine white Burgundy, but suffice to say, the wines can be spectacular when the planets align (such as great growing season, fine wine maker and great cuisine) and the wine is at its peak to consume. Great white Burgundies have depth on the palate, gobs of silkiness, a hint of spice from the oak and and enduringly long finish. The bouquet of great white Burgundies are heady with hint of light tropical notes, or buttery tones or of rich, meaty-red apple with that oak spice that can linger in a glass for hours. These are rare treats.

It was 1972 and I was just back from harvest in Italy when my stepfather asked me to "close the cabin" in Lake Tahoe. Closing the cabin was a ritual done every late fall before the snows fell. This process included draining the pipes, adding anti-freeze to the system, pulling the fuse box plugs and doing other general winterizing chores inside the cabin and around the land as required. These were important duties, as pipes could explode during the harsh winter, causing an expensive headache in the spring.

I brought with me, in my VW camper, some provisions for the trip from the Bay Area to the Tahoe basin, including foodstuff and a very lovely bottle of 1966 vintage white Burgundy called Chassagne Montrachet from one of the top Burgundy houses. This was a very expensive bottle of wine which in today's market would fetch about 100 bucks. It had been a gift from a friend in Burgundy while I worked there, so I thought, "What the hell. Time to have a nice treat up in the woods!"

It was late October and our cabin sat deeply in the woods at the eastern border of Desolation Valley, just under the shadow of Mt. Tallac. In the afternoon, walking around the pathways through the trees, it began to snow. Some of the other cabins and houses had children in them and jack-o-lanterns were sitting on the railings and porches. It was surreal to see snow falling on the lit pumpkins in the late fall afternoon. As a precaution, because I knew how hard and long a Tahoe snow fall could last, I chained up the bus.

Back in the cabin I had to decide what to eat for dinner. The snow was really beginning to fall and I lit the fireplace and scoured my provisions. Nothing looked appetizing to me. Finally, in the cupboard, I found a tin of sardines, a small can of tuna and some saltine crackers. I took them to the table, opened my bottle of wine and went to the living room and turned on our 100-pound, military surplus, tube-filled short wave radio. I was taking the first sip of wine, turning the massive dial (after everything had warmed up) and viola (!) in came a French song as loud and clear as if I were in a Parisian bistro! So there I sat, sipping great white Burgundy in Lake Tahoe, watching the snow fall on pumpkins, listening to French music, eating sardines from Norway and marveling at the world. Now that is a memorable glass of wine!

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