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The French Connection : Domaine Bellenand Pouilly-Fuisse Takes the Gamble Out of Burgundies

FOR RED wines, 1985 was an outstanding year, and the whites, the Meursaults, Montrachets, Chablis, and Pouilly-Fuisse of Macon, in English authority Hugh Johnson’s view, are “ripe, full wines.” But 1986 and 1987 are unknowns.

How can one be sure about Burgundies? With the current high prices of these famous wines, no one can afford to be disappointed. To find the best of the French Burgundies--or any wine--this is the soundest advice: Learn the names of the good producers.

One of the best is the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, and its related wines of LeRoy, subtitled “The Guardian of Great Vintages.” Then there are Louis Latour, Louis Jadot, Joseph Faiveley, Joseph Drouhin, Bouchard Pere & Fils, Reine Pedauque and--from the Maconnais--Mommessin, with fine vineyard estates not only in Beaujolais but in Pouilly-Fuisse as well. Mommessin is the exclusive owner of Clos de Tart, the 18.5-acre grand cru considered by connoisseurs to be almost as important as the regal Chambertin only a few kilometers up the road in the Cote d’Or.

On a bright Sunday morning, Didier Mommessin took us for a tour of his ultramodern fermentation, storage and bottling facilities just west of Macon. Before leaving Mommessin’s plant, which includes the elm-shaded family home, we were treated to a tasting of current-release white wines. One, Domaine Bellenand Pouilly-Fuisse, had come from a vineyard owned by his cousin, Claude Bellenand. It was perhaps the finest, most engaging Pouilly-Fuisse I’ve tasted.

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Pouilly-Fuisse, which takes its name from two hamlets in the lee of the gigantic thrusts of Solutre and Vergisson, is an outrageously popular 100% Chardonnay that is often too acidic and outrageously overpriced. This Mommessin example from the Domaine Bellenand vineyard, however, was a delicious exception.

Barrel-fermented and judiciously aged in one-third new oak, then given over to slightly older oak before being bottled, it had none of the bite I’ve so often found in commercial Pouilly-Fuisse wines. This was from the 1986 vintage, which has sold out. The 1987 will be in limited supply in the Los Angeles area by early this month.

The 1987 White Burgundies are magnificent; the reds, very good. A 1985 Mommessin Pouilly-Fuisse is available and has the same beguiling balance, taste and character of the Domaine Bellenand, confirming the reliability of the Mommessin label. I have sampled the 1987 Domaine Bellenand Pouilly-Fuisse from Claude Bellenand’s vineyard, made and shipped by Mommessin ($14.50). It has the same disarming softness of the 1986, with a lingering aftertaste of dried, candied apricots. There’s no sweetness implied, but its engaging, subtle complexity invites another sip, then another.

If you are planning to make a luxury investment in wines, spend $65 for the 1983 Clos de Tart, a magnificent, translucent ruby from this historic Mommessin-owned vineyard. But buy now while it’s still available.

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Also a zero-gamble is the 1979 Grands Echezeaux from the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. It is at its peak and probably can be found for about $185 per bottle. It will hold for a few more years, but today is a standard of the perfect Pinot Noir, a kind of wine that inspires poets to compose sonnets and justifies a sensitive oenophile’s predilection for the classic wines of the French Cote d’Or.


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