Some two weeks ago I have been invited to dinner during a tour of the Douro region (on which I will report soon) by a great winemaker in his quinta besides the Douro river.
It was a dinner with a few friends in order to celebrate the end of the harvest, when the Douro area is still more charming with small trucks plenty of either grapes or "pisadores" (the men and women who are pressing the grapes in the traditional way).
At a certain moment of the dinner, after a long serie of charming wines (a splendid Batard-Montrachet 2001 from Morey, a typically vegetal Gruaud Larose 1979, a perfectly aged Rioja 1964...) all served blind by our guest in large decanters and rigorously in shared glasses, a dark liquid appeared in a decanter.
Since it was a guessing exercise, and I was in fact the first in the row, I approached my nose of the glass and tried to identify the mysterious living element in front of me. However, the anonymous wine was keeping his charme tightly closed to the outside and clearly needed to get used to the fresh air like a new born baby. The other friends around the table and notably another wine producer sitting besides me was of the same opinion and suspended his judgement and analysis.
Only after some 20 minutes and after the glass had circulated all around the table we started appreciating his powerful aroma combined with an extreme elegance and finesse. A clear and strong floral aroma (rose, violet) was appearing, together with a strong sensation of earthiness and black fruits. After a short moment when I was trying to figure out the roots of that wine I poured it and kept it for some seconds in the mouth. Elegant and soft tannins in a strongly structured wine, with a great concentration that confirmed the rather dark color in the glass.
The first thing that I said was that the first image was an association with a "brasato" (a beef braised in a sauce, typically a Barolo in Piedmont), and then a memory of great barolos. However, and was pretty sure of it, this was not a barolo. It reminds me very much of a barolo, both for its structure, elegance, floral aromas, but in the mouth in particular the tannic structure was rather different from a barolo, also a modern barolo (with shorter maceration and aged in barriques which acquires a less astringent character when young). It was clearly a French wine, but the association of aromas and concentration was making more difficult the final answer (yes...sure, everybody was focusing on the east France, but that was making even more difficult the guessing).
Our guest finally brought the bottle and we discovered a Romanée Conti, Vosne Romanée Cru Duvaul-Brochet 1999. It has been a very good year for Romanee Conti and that cru is actually made from a second selection of fruit picked from all 6 DRC Grand Cru vineyards. The result is a great wine that shows the great character of La Romanee Conti.
But the clear association between a great burgundy and barolo came again recently during a discussion with Elio Altare (a great winemaker from Piedmont who has been promoting the use of modern winemaking techniques in Piedmont). He is a great lover of Burgundy and strongly believe that Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo have a common root and this appears in particular with regard to the evolution of their aromas.
If we take some of the characteristics of these two grapes we find similarities, like the composition of antocyans (responsible for the coloration of wine, and giving this pale red color that tend to move into brick through aging: mainly a responsibility of the strong presence of malvidine compared to peonine), some floral aromas notably after some aging. However, the two grapes have also strong difference, notably with regard to the maturation (a much later harvest for nebbiolo, which receives his name because it is picked up during the beginning of foggy days - nebbia - in the Langhe late October) and to the tannic structure (nebbiolo grapes have a strong tannic component, both in the skin and notably in the seeds).
But apart from the technical characteristics of these two grapes I like the idea expressed by Elio Altare that they were born from the same father and that it is for that reason that these grapes may produce the most elegant and complex wines in the world.