Chapter 69: The Legend of the Gods of Wine
A taste test, obviously, was determining the type and quality of an alcohol by taste alone, without the benefit of seeing it’s bottle or label.
“Taste test? Great!” Lan Jue smiled. “Just don’t give me anything too nasty. If it’s too bad I wont be able to stomach it.”
The Wine Master chuckled and extricated a bottle from the wine cabinet at their side. He placed it before Lan Jue. The bottle was without adornment, covered in a thin layer of dust. The only hint to it’s contents was it’s deep red color.
A bottle opener was produced and the bottle was opened. Two glasses were spread before him, within which the Wine Master poured a small amount from the bottle.
Lan Jue didn’t immediately reach for the wine, instead taking a sip of plain water from a separate glass. He then took up the wine and passed it under his nose. He swirled the contents, breathing deeply.
In a flash Lan Jue’s expression underwent a tremendous change. Shock, appreciation and disbelief flitted across his features.
“This… this is…”
He lifted the glass higher and peered at it through the light, checking it’s opacity.
It wasn’t the ruby shine of your average red wine. Instead it appeared almost turbid. But despite the unconventional appearance, Lan Jue’s gaping expression managed, “Burgundy Domaine de la Romanee-Conti?”
The Wine Master was silent, simply sitting there with a smile.
It wasn’t long ago Lan Jue had nearly given the Wine Master a stroke by drinking one of his ‘celestial elixirs’, a Romanee-Conti. A masterwork of red wine. The pride of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Abbreviated as DRC, it was a wine-producing area in Burgundy, ancient France. It was home to the best ever made, from one of the most famous and storied manufacturers.
It was unique, and required only a sniff from Lan Jue to determine it’s nature.
“Try it,” the Wine Master said, motioning for him to take a sip. He took up his own for emphasis.
Lan Jue took a large sip, holding the liquid in his mouth. In the brief moment on his tongue the high-grade flavors of the wine burst free, rich and aromatic. The spectacular taste filled every corner of his mouth, and although it didn’t have the heavenly flavor of the Romanee-Conti from earlier it remained an astounding experience for any wine connoisseur.
The lingering tastes stayed with Lan Jue for a long moment. Finally he found his voice. “Excellent vintage. Only the people of ancient Burgundy could make something with this sort of flavor. Flowery, fruity, plum… enduring and excellent. From the tip of the tongue to it’s base and back again, the texture is wonderful no matter where it lands. The tannins are smooth – not silky like Romanee-Conti but not far off.”
“So, in your estimation, what are we enjoying?” The Wine master inquired.
Lan Jue answered without hesitation. “DRC La Tache, or possibly Grands Echezeaux. As for the year, I’d say 2012 Former Era, about.”
The Wine Master burst in to peels of laughter.
“Wrong?” Lan Jue blinked, stunned. “Was it the wine that’s wrong or the year? There’s no way it can be anything else! DRC wines are very rare and I’ve had very little, so I suppose there’s the chance I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s a Richebourg, or a St. Vivant? It’s not a St. Vivant is it? St vivant isn’t as good as this is…”
“Wrong, wrong, all wrong.” The Wine Master sat smugly before him. He took another sip of his wine, appreciation plain on his face.
“Wine Master, it’s no fun if you play tricks on me.” Lan Jue was fairly certain of his abilities.
The Wine Master leaned closer. “How many ranks of Burgundy exist?”
“Four,” Lan Jue replied. “The Lowest is called AOC, Appelation d’Origine Controlee. Then there is communal, or village-level. Next are premier cru, and finally grand cru. These are the DRC level wines. Romanee-Conti is chief among the grand cru, king of wines.”
“What you just tasted, was village wine,” the older gentlemen said indifferently.
“What?” Lan Jue rose to his feet, nearly knocking over his chair. Such was the surprise he felt from the Wine Master’s revelation.
“Impossible, how can a simple communal wine possess the taste of a DRC? Like a Romanee-Conti? Wine Master, you know very well that wine is my most important hobby. You mustn’t tease me about these things.”
The Wine Master only laughed. “We had the same reaction, you and I, when I had it first. My first sip of this wine I was completely taken aback. More shocked even than you. It must be a trick, I thought. However, later when the truth was revealed to me, I knew I wasn’t wrong in my original estimation. Nor was there are trickery. Because, the village wine in your hand indeed should be that good. It is a communal wine, but if I tell you it’s name you will understand how it is like it is.”
“The average connoisseur knows Romanee-Conti as the king of wines, but ancient France had three ‘Gods of Wine.’ Did you know that?”
“You mean the three burgundy wine masters of the time, the ones honored as the Gods of Wine?”
The Wine Master nodded his head in affirmation. “The three gods of wine as recognized by the world were Aubert de Villain of DRC; former co-owner of the DRC Lalou Bize-Leroy; and independent vintner Henri Jayer.”
“Aubert de Villain is credited with the creation of DRC’s dominance, the most famous of which is the Romanee-Conti. His masterpiece. He was fully deserving of his status as one of the Three Masters, and further displayed that with his excellent management capabilities.”
“Mrs. Lalou Bize-Leroy was originally co-owner of the DRC domain. However, eventually creative differences on how the vineyards should be managed brought her in to conflict with Aubert. She was eventually elbowed out of the board of directors and became an independent vintner, of the Domaine Leroy. She made it one of the most sought-after wines in the world, and thus also grew to be successful. So goes the story. She was also instrumental in creating new biological brewing methods with Aubert.”
“Finally we come to Henri Jayer, whose name is mentioned least among the Three Masters. However, in the world of wines he is held highest of all. Should his name be mentioned within any auction, you can be assured the item will be it’s biggest draw. If it is said that the Romanee-Conti is the King of Wines, then Henri’s three top wines are the King of Kings. Stranger still, his crowning achievement was not a grand cru, instead being a premier cru. The Cros Parantoux. A name difficult to pronounce, and impossible to match.”
Lan Jue took another look at the unlabeled wine set before him. “You can’t mean this is a wine created by one of the Three Masters,” he nearly whispered.
The Wine Master stood, chuckling. “That’s exactly what I mean. This is a village wine, but the man who made it was the best of the very best. One of only several hundred bottles made per year when the master, Henri Jayer, enjoyed success as the God of Wine.”
*This information is mostly true, with some bias. You can learn about the ‘three gods of wine’ by looking their names up in Wikipedia. If you’d like to learn more about Burgundy classifications, famous vineyards and naming practices, you can check out this excellent resource here: http://www.bbr.com/wine-knowledge/burg-classifications. It’s a good start on the basics of wine appreciation.