Driving into Volnay, once at the center, I followed the signs to the larger town of Meursault, further south, home to some of the best white Burgundy around. Meursault does not have any Grand Cru vineyards, which I find a crime as I would not hesitate to say that the region’s Premier Cru vineyards of Les Perriers, Les Charmes and Les Genevrières are as good and capable of producing great wines as any of those Grand Cru vineyards of neighboring Pulingy Montrachet. A fact that was proven to me bythe kind and gentle Pierre Morey and his incredible wines.
Pierre Morey, a tall, friendly, soft-spoken man of a d’un certain age waived me down as I had driven past his house about a dozen times trying to find it, in the outskirts of Meursault in a non-descript building where he both lives and works. As we walked in to the warehouse his wife bid us hello. She wasn’t decked out in Oscar de la Renta, but wore jeans, a shirt and thick goggles as she stood in front a clanking and ancient bottling machine preparing the latest shipment.
Pierre, which also owns the negociant firm Morey-Blanc, led me to a cellar underground. No show, no fancy lighting, just a cement underground warehouse lined with bottles. If there was any shows of touristy-driven pretension it was a barrel-cum-table with a spittoon and a wine map on the wall. It was 45o Fahrenheit and I was freezing. the other four dozen or so cellars I would visit in the following days didn’t get any warmer. Burgundians drink their wines, red or white, the same way: cold and traditionally out of a snifter. When you put a stem on a snifter it takes the shape of the more familiar classic Burgundy glass.
Pierre looked at me and apologized, “I hope you speak French,” he said, in the cleanest French I had heard in a while (Burgundians have a heavy accent) “because,” he continued, “my English is not so good, and I could tell you about my wines much better in French.” I asked him not to worry, I had been reading Tin Tin and the Petit Prince the entire previous week to re-calibrate my French, and we began our journey. In this bout we would taste all of the Morey-Blanc wines’ beginning with the Aligoté and while I wouldn’t say that Aligoté is the bastard-child of Burgundy, it is predominantly used to make a straightforward interesting crisp white, which is locally consumed and seldom leaves the region, let alone the country (ok, so it is the bastard-child of Burgundy). It has soft bosc pear tones, peony and flowers … beautiful. I spat, chatted a little bit about the wines and moved on. Every so often I looked at my watch. Soon I would have to make my way to the venerable house of Domaine Leflaive and I certainly did not want to be late, but I kept getting lost in the raciness of Morey’s wines. “Finally,” Pierre cut in as I held my shivering glass in the weak light of the cave, “Les Perrier, for me one of the most interesting crus.”
To me, this whole deal of a vineyard or “cru”, from a vintner’s perspective is fascinating. In the case of Meursault, the commune possesses no official Grand Cru vineyards, although three Premier Cru vineyards are recognized amongst the best, those being Les Charmes and right across the narrow road Les Perriers and Les Genevrières separated by a small stone wall. Having walked the vineyards the day before I can attest for the slight soil variation in each, along with the large stone galletes, here called perriers, which give the one vineyard its name. But alas, they are within less than five feet from one another while Genevrières and Les Perriers are contiguous. Can and do the finished wines, made from the same Chardonnay grape on each vineyard truly differ? How does a winemaker account for this? “Do you,” I asked, “approach each vineyard differently? That is to say, do you have one approach for Les Perriers and another one for Genevrières? Or do you use the same blanket recipe and just let the terroir (that indomitable French idea of sense of place) speak for itself?”
He gazed into the distance and thought for a bit, almost confused by the idea. “No,” he said a minute later, “I let the vineyard tell me what it needs, they’re all different… and each year they require something different.”
It truly was that simple. Let the grapes speak—and Chardonnay here does so loud and clear. So I might as well ask this humble vingneron what distinguished one from the other. “Les Perriers is always heavy with minerality, but well built. Les Charmes is massive, mineral, but supple. Les Genvrieres, a woman, with a bouquet of white flowers.”
I took a whiff of the Meursault “Les Perriers” 1er Cru 2001 and the first thing to hit me was a slight smokiness with a background of river stones lightly bathed in fresh quince. An incredible depth of flavor and aroma wrapped around a near perfect core of fruit, acidity, and, I must say, sense of place. I was in the presence of a master, although I did not know it yet, but I had an inkling merely based on his wines.
I felt, well… happy.