Admittedly, drinking Burgundy any day of the week doesn’t suck. But learning that those wines are part and parcel of a much greater, more meaningful context makes each sip a thousand times more gratifying.
This past week, I was given the opportunity to taste through some selections from the 2006 vintage of ‘Hopsices de Beaune.’ Though I was vaguely familiar with this project, I had never taken the time to research it, nor had I ever a chance to sample some. To my delight, I discovered a most intriguing story…
Hospices de Beaune was founded in 1443, just following the Hundred Years War, by Nicholas Rolin (chancellor to the Duke) and his wife Guigone de Salins. They wanted to find a way to help those on the street who were sick, old, abandoned, and destitute by providing a hospital for them to recover and take refuge for little to no charge (apparently heathcare coverage was as much of a problem then as it is now).
This caught on quickly. Soon, artisans, farmers, woodworkers, nobility, and tradespeople were donating anything they could—land, labor, art, money—in order to support these ‘hospices’ that were being established throughout Burgundy—Pommard, Meursault, Nolay.
Among these generous donations came vineyards.
The year 1851 marks the first auction for the wine produced from these vineyards. Today, they auction off 44 styles—31 red cuvées and 13 whites. In 2009, at the 149th annual wine auction, they sold 799 barrels of wine (perspective: about 20,000 cases or roughly 240,000 bottles!)—the profits of which go entirely to the Hospices de Beaune. Christie’s has taken over and executed this much anticipated event since 2005, which no doubt speaks to the record amounts sold in recent years.
I was able to try the 2006 Hospices de Beaune, well… Beune. As well as the 2006 HdB Grand Cru Corton Cuvee Charlotte Dumay and the 2006 HdB Meursault-Charmes Cuvee Albert Grivaut. Each spoke with such a different voice. The Beaune was like a child who wanted badly to grow up faster—bright, cheery and loaded with cherry fruit but undeniably serious beneath it all.
The Meursault-Charmes was elegant and classic. If it could, it would wear Coco Chanel. It was a true reflection of the warm, ripe 2006 vintage. Higher sugar levels allowed for longer pressing–a tactic that really encouraged deeper aromatics to surface. That said, the acid levels indicated that it will age much better than ’05 Burgundy whites. The 25% increase in price for ’06 whites at the auction seem to indicate that they are in agreement with this assessment as well. Much to my un-surprise, it paired wonderfully with rich, buttery wild King Crab legs.
And finally, the Corton. That puppy was not ready to meet my lips… or my nose, or my tongue. It was a pensive Pinot. Pregnant with unrealized prose. The second day, it had a little more to say, but still… all it really wanted to do was sleep for a few more years.
If you ever have a chance to participate in this legendary auction that so often sets the market prices every year in Burgundy, you should. It takes place the third Sunday of November each year, coinciding conveniently with Burgundy’s food and wine festival. You can participate online, on the phone, or in the flesh, enjoying the festivities of the weekend as well. The prices range considerably to fit any wine enthusiast’s budget, plus all proceeds go to an incredible cause. To learn more about this historic wine event, go to: http://www.hospices-de-beaune.com/gb/hospices/index.php and http://www.christies.com/features/2009-Sept-Beaune-Hospices-de-Beaune-Charity-Wine-A-214-1.aspx.