Valentine’s Day

For the many years Margaret was in the flower business, Valentine’s Day was the day from hell. Men, apparently, awoke to the fact of its being February 14 sometime around noon, then called in their orders, for roses mostly, to be delivered to wives and girlfriends, and the occasional boyfriend, sometime that day. She would arrive home exhausted, often enraged, and full of stories of idiotic behavior by my co-genderists.

From this evolved a new tradition in our house. I prepared a fine dinner, served in our library (otherwise known the other 364 days of the year as our front hall), on the rosewood drop-leaf table we bought in 1974, with our antique Viennese chairs, the cost of which shall never be disclosed.

Although she is no longer in the flower business, our tradition lives on. Last night we started with a simple shrimp cocktail, followed by grilled veal chops with my own version of Sauce Diane, consisting of Dijon mustard, lemon juice and capers. I also prepared sliced roasted potatoes and a tossed salad.

The wine was 2005 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos Saint Jean. That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down.

Chassagne is a commune in the Côte-d’Or region of Burgundy. In 1879, following the lead of many Burgundy villages, the commune appended the name of its most famous vineyard, Montrachet. Although the area produces some fine pinot noir, the Chassagne-Montrachet appellation is best known for its Chardonnays.

At the time of Napoleon, the inheritance laws of France were changed such that all children, not just the eldest, received a share of the estate. One result, in Burgundy, was the division of the vineyards. After a few generations, it was not uncommon for a particular vineyard to have dozens of owners. Small holdings were not efficient, giving rise to the négociant system, whereby the owners sold their grapes to a middleman, who produced and bottled the wine. In Burgundy, it is often more important to know the reputation of the négociant than of the grower. In the 20th century, however, some of these small holdings started to be consolidated by large growers, corporations, or through marriages. Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard was created by the marriage of Richard Fontaine to the eldest daughter of his neighbor Jacques Gagnard, Laurence, in 1982. Our wine was bottled at the property, a surefire sign of quality.

For hundreds of years, people made lists of the best wines. Thomas Jefferson had 16 wines on his list. In 1855, the official classification of Bordeaux wines identified 62 chateaux, out of more than 1000, for inclusion in 5 categories. Not to be outdone, in 1861 the vineyards of Burgundy were also classified based on the vineyard’s reputation for producing good wine. The highest classification is grand cru, followed by premier cru and village.

Clos Saint Jean is a particular vineyard belonging to Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard. In the wine store where I bought this bottle, there were three different vineyards on sale, all at the same price, $75. I’d be lying if I said I had any particular knowledge of any of them.

Now that we’ve narrowed this wine down to its exact location, a simple check of the vintage charts tells us that 2005 was a terrific year. So much for the label; how was the wine in the bottle?

The wine was ethereally delicate. As it warmed in the glass, the faint aromas of peach and apple made its way to my nostrils. The wine had light acidity, good minerality, and a toasty, long finish, probably due to its time in 30% new French oak. There was nothing brash, or forward, about this wine; we had to tease out the flavors, a painstaking but rewarding effort.

Clearing the table, I served our chocolate mousse cake dessert. In the back of the refrigerator I found an open bottle of 2008 Treleaven Late Harvest Riesling. We sampled this wine on Christmas Eve, and seven weeks later it had lost none of its sweetness and spice. Proof, if one was needed, that sugar is a great preservative.

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