2011 Domaine Andre Bonhomme Vire-Clesse
 
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Domaine Andre Bonhomme Frayed Lapels and "Meursault at One-Third the Price"

In 1983, with the dollar soaring, we booked a table for two at Taillevent in Paris. If M. Vrinat's 3-star Michelin palace was one of the five best restaurants in the world, his wine list was nonpareil. When the sommelier handed us the tome that featured dozens of vintages of Pétrus, Latour and Romanée-Conti, we felt like kids in a candy shop.

We were conspicuously underdressed for the occasion. In a room full of crisply pressed designer suits, our blue-and-beige sport coats with their embarrassingly frayed lapels stood out. The sommelier gave us the once-over, eyeballed the page we were perusing, and didn't miss a beat.

At the bottom of the white Burgundy list — below the Ramonets, Leflaives, Ampeaus, Niellons, and Roulots — was a single entry from the Mâcon. The name was Bonhomme. The vintage was 1978.

The short ceremony that followed would make for one of the most unforgettable memories of our careers. The master sommelier quickly uncorked the Bonhomme 1978 and tasted from his silver tastevin cup. He nodded, and then poured three ounces of a fabulously rich, marvelously mineral, golden-hued Chardonnay into oversized crystal. Looking right, then left, as if passing on a house secret, he leaned forward, looked us in the eye and winked. "This is Meursault at one-third the price!"

Over the last 30 years, we've made the drive from Puligny-Montrachet to Viré 23 times. On July 2nd, we returned. The sign hanging above the whitewashed outer wall stoically displays the name of the most revered winemaker the Mâconnais has ever known. In the courtyard, the parakeets still chirp in their cages. Since André took ill, his daughter Jacqueline and her husband Eric Palthey oversee the vineyards and finances. In the cellar, it was the couple's son, Aurélien (André's grandson), who couldn't help but smile when when we said that the just-released 2011 Viré-Clessé may well outshine Taillevent's 1978.

Then began a familiar ritual. On each visit to chez Bonhomme, tastings commence with the current vintage, then hurtle back two or three decades — concluding with strikingly youthful wines from the 1950s. In warm, larger-crop vintages, these Chardonnays are rich and forward, though still sufficiently vibrant to age for a decade. In fine, leaner harvests, the wines are more wound-up and mineral, often requiring 5-10 years to come into their own.

Young Aurélien Palthey's truly Meursaultien 2011 Viré-Clessé is one for the ages. Brilliant pale-green to the rim with piercing aromas of apple, bitter honey, anise, and ripe pear, like all of the great Bonhomme whites of the past 30 years, the attack is richly mineral, finely layered yet unusually plush. Broad, dense, and beautifully concentrated, with Côte de Beaune weight, the finish remains firm and crisp, arguing again for a 10- to 20-year slumber in the coolest of cellars.



Tasting Notes

2011 Domaine Andre Bonhomme Vire-Clesse
"Brilliant pale-green to the rim with piercing aromas of apple, bitter honey, anise, and ripe pear, like all of the great Bonhomme whites of the past 30 years, the attack is richly mineral, finely layered yet unusually plush. Broad, dense, and beautifully concentrated, with Côte de Beaune weight, the finish remains firm and crisp, arguing again for a 10- to 20-year slumber in the coolest of cellars."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

 

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