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11.14.2006

1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais "Cuvée Rousseau Deslandes," Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

1961_chandesais.jpgI will never be able to taste all the wines out there, no matter how hard I try, just as I'll never be able to travel to all the places I want to go in the world. Wine offers a landscape of exploration seemingly as varied as the world around us, and just as likely to offer up surprises and treasures to those who are intent enough, or lucky enough, to find them.

Great wines sometimes just sneak up on you. They are like precious gems, or veins of gold. Many of the main sources are well known and consistently producing. But a prospector or explorer can sometimes discover great riches by poking about in old dusty corners of the world that many have dismissed or just never bothered to look at closely.

Discoveries of this kind are all that more precious for their serendipity. I never would have guessed a few bottles of 1961 Burgundy bottled for a negociant producer better known for Beaujolais than anything else would so clearly reveal one of the most magical aspects of wine to me.

This wine is made from grapes from premiere cru vineyards in the Côte de Beaune, owned by or leased to the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable organization in the town of Beaune that produces a set of wines under its own name each year and then auctions them off for charity. I don't know who the winemaker for this organization was in 1961, but whomever he was, he made this wine named for the Rousseau-Deslandes family, who founded the namesake of this charitable organization, the Hospice de la Charité in Beaune. This hospital, now a museum, has for the last three centuries tended the sick and the poor of the region.

As the label indicates, the person who bought this auction lot, and eventually brought it to market was Emile Chandesais, a simple negociant based in Fontaines who typically purchased wine made from the various cooperatives around northern Burgundy and bottled it for sale under his name.

It's difficult to ascertain, but apparently Maison Emile Chandesais is still around and continues to make relatively modest Burgundies and a large quantity of Beaujolais Nouveau each year. Perhaps his one brush with fame might be that according to some, Emile Chandesais may have been the first producer to actually bottle Beaujolais Nouveau and market it as such. He will forever have to fight Georges Deboeuf for that title.

Because I know so little about this wine, you need to think of this less as a wine review and more of a meditation.

More rewarding, but no less compelling than the ancient alchemist's quest for transubstantiation, wine offers a tangible way for us to experience aspects of the world we hardly understand. Modern scientists are barely beginning to explore the complexities of how it is that grape juice can transform to taste of raspberries or chocolate or licorice, let alone understand how a simple wine like the one in this bottle can become something altogether different than it was, like a chrysalis unfolding after its sleep -- the three dollar bottle that is now a jaw-dropping, whiplash-inducing, radiant nectar of a wine.

I cannot pretend that this simple, yet not-so-simple-bottle is the best wine I have ever had in my life. It is not the one bottle to rule them all -- I don't play at Best Of or Top 100 lists with wine. But it does represent the depth of profundity that I understand can exist in wine. It tastes of the pure, uncut passion that is my lifeblood as a wine drinker.

Yes, I love this wine. I cannot even bear to write "loved" in past tense because I can still taste it, four days later. I am somehow holding it in my mind's eye (as strange as that sounds) turning it over and over like a bright piece of glass picked up in the beach.

But one man's treasure is another's trash. I know at least one person who tasted this exact wine, on the same pre-auction wine tasting that evening I first did, and pronounced it unremarkable. But isn't that just like life?

The best wines can only be shared like our favorite books. With some friends, the mention of the title alone is enough to elicit knowing sighs of satisfaction and camaraderie. With others, we get indifference or disdain. But the treasure remains in either case, intensely personal at its core.

Wines like this make up for every lousy bottle we drink on the journey to something better.

Tasting Notes:
Light, blood-red in the glass, this wine has a nose that makes me want to take off all my clothes and leap screaming into a New York subway car like some sort of raving, modern-day prophet. How is it that a wine can smell this good? An amazing perfume wafts from the glass with a gorgeous, vanilla-caramel aspect that befits its age, and an altogether astonishing red, tropical fruit character of youth that ends up more floral (don't ask me what kind of flowers) than fruity in my final assessment. In the mouth it has (unbelievably) incredible acid balance, perfect poise, and a texture that reinforces the earlier decision to get buck naked with this wine just based on its aroma.

Seriously. I'd kick Angelina Jolie out of my bed to drink it.

Redcurrant, raspberry, a garrigue-like medley of fresh herbs, and exotic spices mark a few of the high points in the aria this wine sings as it moves down the tongue. Its finish is a ninety-second, soprano-belted high-note that seems like it SHOULD break the glass, it is so clear and pure. There aren't enough good expletives available to say how awesome this wine is. I only wish I knew where to find some of it. I'll have to settle for never pissing off the friend I know who bought the few bottles I know to exist in the futile hopes that I might be around one day when he opens another.

Food Pairing:
With a wine this good, the food pairing shouldn't be geared to match the wine, it should be engineered to showcase it. It's all about the wine, which is why a simple leg of duck confit -- no fancy dressing, sauce or anything of the sort might be the perfect match. Savory, a little salty, and a little fatty -- a perfect foil for the wine.

Overall Score: 10

How Much?: approximately $120

This wine is not really available anywhere. I'm sorry. You don't know how sorry I am. Just thinking about that fact makes me want to crawl into bed and whimper. And if you did buy some who knows if it would be anywhere nearly as good?

Comments (18)

Pim wrote:
11.14.06 at 11:05 PM

You might want to console yourself with this Lafite from 1865. (http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2006/11/for_when_the_wi.html)

I know for a fact it's still available.

Jason Lefler wrote:
11.15.06 at 12:00 AM

I love this sort of tasting note - it's more reverie than review. I can't really tell a damn thing about the wine from it, but I've been there.

I'm inclined to believe there's a certain strata of wines where it makes no sense to speak of the wine in qualitative terms but only to somehow translate and transmit the effect and soul of the wine. Yep, there are wines that reach into a person and change them, perhaps because they defy simply description and categorization. They stretch boundaries for some of us, and we imbue these wines with a sort of religious ineffability.

I wonder how a Clive Coates or Allen Meadows would respond - are there any Burgs that still produce stammering and awestruck tasting notes from these two or is it all relative?

Are there any religious/spiritual wine blogs/publications where I can get more of this stuff?

Tony wrote:
11.15.06 at 4:48 AM

Alder, Lucky you! That is why Burgundy is my favorite wine. You never know when you will stumble upon the worlds most sublime wine. The best time it happened to me was when I bought a six bottle case of some Jadot village wine. The retailer who sold it to me couldn't even find a price, so they charged me the price of Jadot's Beaujolais-Village. It was heaven in a bottle, and I got six for about $7 each.

BRETT wrote:
11.15.06 at 7:45 AM

Once in awhile Parker will get as emotional as this. Rarely / never will Wine Spectator do so. I think it's great, and confirms why I spend so much time and money pursuing old grapes. Thank you!

Tim S wrote:
11.15.06 at 12:37 PM

Kick AJ out of bed?? Wow, that's life changing. Thanks for the fantastic, literary tasting notes. Couple of questions, how did you luck out and get to try this wine? Was it just one glass or more? Were you eating at the time? What did the people with you think?

Cheers, Tim

BrooklynGuy wrote:
11.15.06 at 1:21 PM

I have yet to experience this with wine, although there have been special moments. nothing i would choose over fair angelina. but i will keep looking, and your piece only validates my search. you should keep drinking and writing, and instead get angelina to jump naked into one of our subways here in brooklyn.

Steve wrote:
11.15.06 at 3:49 PM

Wow, great note. Where did you find this baby? It certainly wasn't cellared in a TV cabinet!

Jack wrote:
11.15.06 at 5:10 PM

"Kick AJ out of bed?" Yeah, I questioned Alder about this; he's dead serious.

This was the best showing wine at the last Bonham & Butterfield's pre-auction tasting. It's rare to find an old wine like this, esp. from Bordeaux or Burgundy, and not have it be priced in the stratosphere. But, as you say, Alder (and thanks for researching it!), it was from a pretty obscure negociant; you wouldn't bid on it if you hadn't tasted it; and the other half of the lot was 6 bottles of 1961 Remoissenet Charmes-Chambertin Tête de Cuvée. So, a big roll of the dice. Yet, my own still fairly limited experience told me that this wine didn't need to end up in someone else's cellar. :) Bidding was fierce, with it going for way over the estimate (and my wife giving me heck about spending so much for it...she didn't seem unhappy drinking it, did she?)

What makes this wine so great, like just a few other old great wines I've had, is that it has this perfect balance and wondrous complexity; you love it in your mouth. Young wines, no matter how great, just don't have this.

Alder wrote:
11.15.06 at 6:18 PM

As you may be able to gather from Jack's comments, I have tasted this wine twice. The first time at the Bonham's pre-auction tasting where Jack and I were both struck by this wine (though Jack perhaps more so than I). I got about 2 one ounce pours at the tasting.

The second time was as the result of Jack's deep generosity at a dinner at his house recently, and I got to taste the wine over the course of about four hours, and about three glasses worth. Honestly, I probably got more than my share. At that dinner, it was even more amazing than at the tasting. Better bottle methinks, and perfect serving temperature, and wow.

Jack likes this wine, but wouldn't kick Angelina out of bed for it. My wife preferred the Pichon Lalande that we had that night and I don't know the opinions of the other two dinner guests.

Hope that helps.

Ruth wrote:
11.15.06 at 11:06 PM

Good boy, Alder. As long as you're not kicking your wife out of bed . . . but I'll make you a deal. If you manage to get Angelina into our bed, we can have a threesome ;-)

Alder wrote:
11.15.06 at 11:13 PM

Hot damn. Does anyone have her number? Anyone? Anyone?

matteo wrote:
11.16.06 at 12:32 AM

That is one of the greatest tasting notes I've ever read. "I'd kick Angelina Jolie out of my bed to drink it" is something I never immagined to find in a tasting note... but it doesn't surprise me that it's found in a Burgundy note.

The Corkdork wrote:
11.16.06 at 8:30 PM

Such a great post, Alder. All of us dream of a wine we can taste four days later. --And a wine that makes us run away from Angelina naked. Seems impossibly perfect. But, some wines are. Your writing is once again, an inspiration. -CD

Joanne wrote:
11.17.06 at 7:04 PM

I too loved this wine,(despite the hassles I gave Jack when he purchased it). It was a great marriage with the Liberty duck I served with it (IMHO) and I would have quite happily and with great pleasure finished off the bottle. A stroke of kismet for the other guests, the 1983 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande stole my heart - a perfect kiss with the Horned Dorset lamb which it was paired with. I'm up for a threesome too - but along with Angie we'll need a bottle of the Pichon.

Colleen wrote:
11.18.06 at 6:42 PM

Yes! I had a bottle of a '66 Hospices de Beaune sometime in the early 70s, produced by Emile Chandesais or not, I don't know. But it was close to your description. It was my first revelation of what wine could be, and unfortunately, never equalled since. The finish was just endless. Thanks for clarifying and enriching a memory.

Lance Hardpack wrote:
11.19.06 at 9:04 PM

I'd allow her to stay in bed long enough for me to finish the bottle.... and THEN kick her out just to nail her on the floor.

j wrote:
11.22.06 at 12:24 PM

i'm going to use your review with my students as an example of passion and sincerity- without analyzing it, which will make them happy, a stocking-stuffer...i would like to exchange notes as i like the way you like wine. i live, teach and drink in the rhone, which isn't a bad place to find a drink. i think i might be able to rec. some wines well below the prices i've seen here for rhone varietals. in any case, a few hidden things, as befits lyon.
a bientot j'espere
j

Rajiv wrote:
08.05.08 at 1:16 PM

That is one heck of a tasting note! To anyone who might wonder why Angelina Jolie in bed precludes drinking this wine... it doesn't. But clearly Alder cannot stand to share any with her :)

"Wines like this make up for every lousy bottle we drink on the journey to something better."

-YES!

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