I just discovered that alternative tasting concepts have been around for a while in France :
"La Table d'Olivier Leflaive" for example, has been offering a different wine tasting experience for 11 years now in Puligny-Montrachet.
The "Table" looks like a small restaurant set on the 2nd story of an old village-house (see the door and window on the left on the picture above). You reach it after entering the small courtyard and walking up a flight of steps. We immediately liked the cosy, family atmosphere of the place, with the fireplace on the left.
Domaine Olivier Leflaive is both a winery (with roots going back to 1735) making wine out of its own vineyards (about 14 hectares today) , and a negoce house making wine out of contracted vineyards (90 hectares). The Domaine makes high quality wines on both ranges of wines, and the ones you can taste at the Table are a selection made out of the 70 to 80 (Burgundy) Appellations vinified at Leflaive. The Domaine makes 20 different reds, the rest in white.
All the wines are vinified here in Puligny-Montrachet and the Chablis grapes, with the long distance between the vineyard and the chai, are hauled in refrigerated trucks.
While Olivier Leflaive drops every day at the Table and chats with visitors, the king of the place is Pascal Wagner. This energetic and charismatic sommelier speaks fluent german (he is half german by his mother, lived in Saarbrücken) and english, in addition to french, and goes from table to table to pour the wines, to explain in detail the hows and whys of each wine you could have a question about, and even to joke or tell a side story about another (discreet) star of the place (I concede, this was my question here) : Resine, the dog. Pascal studied oenology in Beaune, then worked in different wineries across France, until the day he had a daughter and chose to settle down here. He is also a musician (he worked for CBS), and Olivier Leflaive who was a guitarist and an active element of the Paris music scene until 1982 felt the right pulse and hired him. A picture pinned against a lamp shows Pascal with japanese sommelier Shinya Tasaki, during his visit here.
There are two formulas (which are changed every 5 weeks or so) for the tasting : the "Degustation Selection", with 7 white wines offered with a meal (39 Euro), or the "Grande Degustation" (49 Euro), with 15 wines including 3 reds, served 2 or 3 in a row, all with good-size pours. We chose the latter, and with that, we had Charcuterie from Burgundy (paté persillé and terrine), then Blanquette de Blanc de Volaille with assorted vegetables (and good, tasty bread all along the meal), then a Cheese selection (5 different) and coffee and Valrhona.
The plates at the "Table" have (if I counted right) 58 Appellations of the Domaine printed on their edge like flower petals.
The wines are served at a very accurate temperature and Pascal lent us his amazing thermometer/laser pointer with which you can instantly read the temperature of any liquid or surface without even touching it... With the day being hot, he said that serving the wines a little cooler than necessary helped enjoy the wine while it gradually warmed.
The wines :
__1 Chablis Les Deux Rives 2004 (11,5 Euro a bottle). Straight attack. Citrus.
__2 Bourgogne Chardonnay 2004 (6,9 Euro/bottle). Generic blend of Chardonnays from several Appellations inside Burgundy.
__3 Auxey-Duresses 2004 (15 Euro/bottle). Creamy nose. Nice ample mouth. I like this one. B. says it is a little tight in the mouth.
__4 Saint Aubin 1er Cru Charmois 2002 (19,20 Euro/bottle). Raisins aromas and round in the mouth, B. says. After reflexion, she says she likes it.
__5 Meursault Narvaux 2002 (29 euro). Nice buttered aromas. Richness filling the mouth.
__6 Chassagne-Montrachet 2002 (28,3 Euro). White flowers aromas. Nice richness. Along the minutes we spend going from glass to glass (they are serves 2 or 3 in a row), I feel I also like this one much. B. notes its nice straight structure.
__7 Puligny-Montrachet 2002 (29 Euro). Beautiful nose here : white flowers. Some discreet wood. Structured mouth.
__8 Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2001 (23,5 Euro). 5 year old Chablis. Fruity and balanced.
__9 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Blanchots 2001 (40 Euro). This Chardonnay is comparatively much more powerful than a 1er Cru Chablis. Freshness and fineness. Less generous than the #8 but very classy. Very nice structure, B. says. It was served at 13,5° to allow us to taste it on several minutes without warming too fast (it's hot today). As we ask for details about this wine, Pascal makes a drawing on the wine list [see pic on the right] to show how the Blanchots climat is cornered against the very prestigious climats of Les Criots, Montrachet, Batard, and Chevalier (at 200+ Euro a bottle) along the N 6 (road). Les Blanchots shares the same magic soil and terroir than its neighbours, but without the slope, it has a less optimal drainage.
Here come the cheeses...We help ourself on the cheese plate but the nicely smelly Epoisses (some would say stinky) is so runny that it has to be served with a spoon [picture dedicated to Jack and Joanne from Fork and Bottle whom I know also love this cheese...].
__10 Meursault 1er Cru Poruzots 2002 (40 Euro). Very ripe nose. Buttered. Nice immediate pleasure.
__11 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2002 (40 Euro). Nice mouth, very very long... That is really good...
__12 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2003 (64 Euro). Fresh nose. Some wood. Nice full mouth.
The reds :
__13 Monthelié 1er Cru 2001 (16,2 Euro). B. notes the cherry nose and suppleness in the mouth.
__14 Volnay 2001 (21 Euro). Animal nose. Suavity in the mouth. Very nice Pinot Noir.
__15 Pommard 1er Cru Epenots 2001 (31,5 Euro). Ripe fruits, chocolate, liquorice. Pairs beautifully with this ripe and runny Epoisses cheese...
This was a tasting... Arrived at 1 pm, we were still there at 4 pm with Pascal asking us if there was a wine we would like another pour of. Both of us agree for another pour of the #11. Great finish...
I missed something, though : On the bottom of the wine list, it reads "Don't take the wheel before checking your estimated blood alcohol concentration. Ethylometer at your disposal". I would have liked to know...
Visitors should not be long bothered by this problem : Olivier Leflaive opens this september 2006 "La Maison d'Olivier Leflaive" on the other side of the square with 13 renovated rooms with the same spirit of authenticity and quality.