Last week I had a chance to sit down at Angele Napa with Dennis Sherman of Elden Selections during his visit to Napa Valley. Finding people who share my love of wine, food and travel usually takes about two seconds before the conversation turns warm and friendly. Sharing lunch in wine country with Dennis was no different. It felt like we had known each other for years swapping stories about our favorite experiences as if we had traveled together.
In the early 1980's, Dennis and his wife were in their mid twenties hungry for adventure. They decided to leave their restaurant jobs here in the states and go explore Europe. Their first stop in France was supposed to be temporary, but after thirty years they haven't come back. Sherman's entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and he promptly on arrival when he purchased a barge that allowed him to travel around France via river hosting tourists to fine local food and wine.
"What makes Elden Selections so interesting is they import the wines and sell them direct through their website so there's no extra markup in price from the middle man."
Over the past three decades, Dennis and his wife have gotten to know small quality producers in Burgundy and around France. Many of these producers make excellent wine, but aren't distributed here in the states. Dennis' guests would get to meet the producers and taste their wines, but couldn't get them back home. Again, Sherman's entrepreneurial spirit kicked in with the creation of Elden Selections. He began importing wines and selling them directly to wine lovers from his river tours after fielding continuous requests for people to get the wines they tasted on vacation.
Since that time, Elden Selections has matured like a bottle of fine wine. Wine lovers are able to find hand picked well-priced gems and order them directly from the website. My favorite part is shipping is included on wine picks.
Here were a few Burgundian gems uncovered during our visit:
2012 Domaine Borgeot Bourgogne 'Clos de la Carbonade' Monopole - $20 (shipping included)
The Bakas house has a new every day drinking white wine and this is it. The small winery-owned parcel sits in the village of Bouzeron at the northernmost part of Cote Chalonnaise. For the money, this ticks the boxes of Chardonnay from Burgundy at its best. Clean winemaking, structure, restraint, minimal intervention in the winery and a little 'x-factor' aka unexplained bonus enjoyment.
The two Borgeot brothers, Pascal and Laurent, inherited a plot of land with 40-year old Chardonnay vines from their grandfather. Their view of the situation is the land is small enough to farm correctly, yet humble enough to surprise and delight. If this wine went through the usual channels it would probably be on your store shelf for around $50 but buying it directly for twenty bucks makes it very sexy. For those who notice the word 'monopole' on the label will appreciate the fact the Brothers Borgeot are the sole farmers of the vineyard so they control everything about the fruit without having others come in and farm portions of the vineyard differently.
The food match I went with for this gem was the Frisée Salad with lentils and a warm poached egg on top. The palate weight of both the wine and the dish provided some comparing and contrasting flavors:
2010 Domaine Borgeot, Santenay, Premiere Cru, Les Graviéres - $28
Just south of the well known Chassagne-Montrachet commune lies Cote de Beaune's southernmost commune, Santenay which, along with another Cassagne-Montrachet neighbor, Saint-Aubin are two of my favorite places to look for value in Burgundy. Santenay finds a way to produce delicious and affordable wines. The wines tend to be richer in color and lean toward the red licorice and red berry end of the fruit spectrum, often times with non-fruits of rose petals and violets which is common in Pinot Noir, but with an exclamation point here in particular.
Approximately 15% new oak and 85% neutral oak house juice pressed from vines ranging from 20 to 45 years of age allowing the Brothers Borgeot to get out of the way and let Santenay's 'best' premiere cru vineyard to show its stuff. The 2010 vintage was an especially good one in Burgundy, although there's less of it to go around due to poor flowering, lower than average yields and devastating hail.
Angele's pan roasted chicken with roasted summer vegetables, seasonal figs, potatoes and pan sauce brought out some contrasting olive tapenade and damp earth notes in the wine. I can imagine it might be the kind of dish the winemaker might have with the wine after a long day of working in the winery.
2010 Maison Capitain-Gagnerot, Aloxe-Corton, Premiere Cru, Les Moutottes - $75
Destemmed, dark fruits and a modest 10% new oak were some of the first personality traits that popped from the glass. Again, 2010 was a great vintage made accessible minimal intervention of fruit coming off vines ranging from 30 to 65 years in age. Although muscular and well-structured, it only took 4 years before we felt good about popping the cork. With a few more years in bottle it'll be exceptional.
The Capitain family has farmed this vineyard for generations where limestone soil dominates the landscape just outside the northern border of the city of Beaune and neighboring Corton-Charlemagne's grand cru vineyards. Dennis mentioned this is the one wine he can always pick out of a blind tasting based on it's purity and unique fruits as well as non-fruits. I did a little double-fisting between this Pinot Noir and the Santenay during the main chicken course.
2010 Jean-Jacques Girard, Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru -$90
It may be that producers like Latour, Bichot, Gambal or Roumier get the best of it when it comes to fruit from one of Burgundy's most famous (if not most picturesque) Grand Cru vineyards, but that's to your benefit when comparing price tags and quality in the bottle. Just shy of a Ben Franklin and every bit as good, Jean-Jacques flies under the radar even though his family has been making wine in Burgundy since 1529. After running Domaine Girard-Vollot for years, George Girard split the domaine in half and gave a piece to each of his two sons, Jean-Jacques and Phillipe. Since the mid-1990's Jean Jacques has built his vineyard holding to just over 40 impressive acres.
Pale gold color with white hot green highlights sparkle in the glass like liquid diamonds that only begin to reveal an astonishing display of Chardonnay characteristics from this vineyard. Girard's Corton-Charlemagne reaches an ideal balance on the palate between remarkable and rounded opulence with everything good in between. Power, finesse, concentration and remarkable natural acidity
At the end of the day, there was an apparent thumb print to Dennis' Elden Selections. Across the board lighter bodied well-structured wines with minimal oak and modest alcohol give transparency to each vineyard's unique personality—just as it should be in Burgundy. And my favorite part is buying directly from his site to make the prices more palatable.