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Dr. Strangewood or How I Learned to Love Oak

batard montrachet latour

Like many middle-aged wine writers who came of “wine age” during the early 2000s, I subscribed to the notion that oakiness in wine was a bad thing.

In all fairness to me, I was a product of my times.

In part, it was our generation’s reaction to the wine that we grew up with: The “over-oaked,” “fruit bomb” red, and the “oaky, buttery Chardonnay” that the American wine industry wanted us to drink during the 1990s.

But it was also an expression of our generation’s longing to connect with the “old world” style of the wines that we all discovered on our year abroad in Europe.

Like many people my age (I was born in 1967), my first visit to southern Europe entirely changed my perspective on wine when I tasted Sangiovese, Barbera, and Friulano that had been raised in stainless-steel vats. For me, it was a 180° experience with respect to the wines that I had grown up drinking in Southern California, where the oakiness of Zinfandel and the vanilla flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon were points of pride among the grownups.

I think that many of my peers (and perhaps, many of you reading this) would report an analogous arc in the formation of your wine palate.

Memories of my oaked and unoaked epiphanies leapt into my mind during the Boulder Burgundy Festival this year when I tasted a number of wines where the oaky component was most definitely pronounced and most definitely delicious.

Over and over, I found myself tasting oakiness in the white wines were were drinking and loving it, like the 2005 Bâtard-Montrachet (above) that I tasted at this year’s Paulée Inspired Lunch at the Flagstaff House.

One of the things that is so great about the Saturday lunch event is that collectors and trade members are both enormously generous in their pours of rare and expensive wines like that one.

The wine was such a great example of how the judicious and sage application of oak can greatly enhance the wine drinker’s pleasure.

Of course, the oakiness in this wine was probably much more evident when it was first released. And had I tasted it then, I may not have loved it so much. But getting to taste it 10 years after its vintage, I had the fantastic opportunity to taste it at a more mature point in its evolution.

And that’s what’s so special about the Paulée Inspired Lunch and the Boulder Burgundy Festival in general: Collectors and wine professionals have no reservations in bringing out their best bottles to share with the group. The spirit of collegiality and community are so strong at this event that these wines are poured liberally and plentifully and you can really enjoy them, as I did.

Tasting this superb wine, I was reminded of something that New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov wrote in 2007:

“ASSERTION No-oak chardonnay is better than oaked chardonnay.”

“TRUTH Oaky may be bad, but oak is good.”

“Back in the 1990’s, when the fashion for big, bombastic, oaky chardonnays was at its height, nobody would have taken this belief seriously. Fashion has changed and oak barrels have now been branded the villain for previous excesses. The fact is, for aging wine, no better vessel than oak barrels has yet been discovered. How those barrels are used is another question.”

Wise words from the Solomon of American wine writing.

And so true when it came to this stunning wine that I never would have the opportunity to taste had I not attended the festival this year!

Boulder Burgundy Festival: Notes from the Bonneau du Martray dinner at Frasca

duck confit recipe boulder colorado

Above: Roast duck breast and leg confit paired with 2001 Bonneau du Martray Corton (rouge), one of the most remarkable pairings of the evening (and thoroughly delicious!).

Food and Wine magazine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle (one of the featured speakers at this year’s festival) joked on the evening of the gathering’s cornerstone event, the Saturday night dinner with Jean-Charles le Bault of Domaine Bonneau du Martray.

“It’s my first time eating at Frasca Food and Wine,” he noted while speaking with the restaurant’s wine director and co-owner Bobby Stuckey, “and tonight it’s not an Italian restaurant but a French one!”

Executive chef and co-owner Lachlan Patterson’s menu is usually devoted to the delights of Italian gastronomy (and Friulian cuisine in particular).

But on the night of Jean-Charles’ visit, he created a Francophone menu especially for the occasion.

Bobby reminded us that before moving to Napa Valley in 2001 to begin cooking at the French Laundry, Lachlan had lived, cooked, and studied in France — honing his skills in some of its most prestigious kitchens — for nearly two years.

ray isle wine writer

Above: Food and Wine magazine executive wine editor Ray Isle (left) chats with Jean-Charles.

Chef Lachlan’s menu and Bobby’s pairings follow. What an incredible evening!

Boulder Burgundy Festival 2015

Dinner with Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière
of Domaine Bonneau du Martray

October 24, 2015

Quatre plats


Boulder Natural Chicken, Black Truffle, Frisée and Cornichon
Bonneau du Martray 2012 Corton-Charlemagne


Petrale Sole, Winter Radish, Parsnip and Tarragon
Bonneau du Martray 2010 Corton-Charlemagne
Bonneau du Martray 2008 Corton-Charlemagne


Roasted Duck Breast, Confit Leg, Robuchon Potato and Mushroom
Bonneau du Martray 2001 Corton Rouge


La Tur
Piedmont, Italy
Bonneau du Martray 2006 Corton-Charlemagne

price bonneau du martray

Bonneau du Martray seminar and vertical tasting

ray isle food and wine

As in years past, the cornerstone event of this year’s Boulder Burgundy Festival was the seminar and vertical tasting on Sunday morning.

This year the event featured a flight of Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne and the domaine’s legacy winemaker Jean-Charles le Bault.

That’s Jean-Charles (above, far right), with Burgundy authority and importer Paul Wasserman (second from right), Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle (second from left), and Jeremy Parzen (far left), the festival’s blogger and moderator for the panel.

boulder wine merchant

One of the things that sets the Boulder Burgundy Festival apart from other wine festivals of this size and scope is the caliber of the wine service.

From the polishing of the stemware to the pouring of wines, the volunteer waitstaff from Frasca Food and Wine executed the tasting with seamless, world-class style.

At one point, about 15 minutes before the seminar began, Jean-Charles expressed his disappointment with one of the bottles that had been poured (it wasn’t corked but it wasn’t “showing” as he would have expected, he said). The Frasca team snapped into action and swiftly replaced the glasses and re-poured for the more than 70 guests without missing a beat. By the time the attendees began to enter the conference room at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa, all was right and not a glass was out of place.

bonneau du martray

Jean-Charles spoke at length about his family’s history and the role he played at the domaine after his father retired from winemaking.

It’s been under his tenure, he recounted, that the conversion to organic and then later biodynamic farming was set into motion.

He spoke at length about his view that he and his current staff are merely caretakers of a treasure that they must protect and foster for future generations.

gran cru best burgundy white

Toward the end of his talk, he waxed poetic when he described Corton-Charlemagne, one of Burgundy’s few Grand Crus that faces west toward the setting sun.

Noting how unusual this is in the panorama of Burgundian grape-growing, he spoke of the beautiful light that bathes the fruit every afternoon.

“It is wine that is made of light,” he said to the rapt wonder of the tasters who had just enjoyed a flight of wines that included the 01, 03, 05, 07, 09, 11, and 13 Corton-Charlemagne by Bonneau du Martray.

It was one of the most magical moments of the weekend and one of the things that makes the Boulder Burgundy Festival such a memorable experience.

The Boulder Burgundy Festival adds two new causes this year

boulder colorado charity events

Now in its fifth year, the Boulder Burgundy Festival continues to support locally based charities like the Growe Foundation and the Davis Finney Foundation with proceeds from the gathering.

This year, festival founder Brett Zimmerman has added two new causes: The Family Learning Center and There with Care.

The Family Learning Center “is an inclusive community where children and families of all races and cultures, and from all walks of life, are welcomed. We believe that family and community offer the best support system for healthy social, academic, civic, and ethical development. By offering educational opportunities to the entire family, we create families who value education, self-reliance, and community service.”

Click here to learn more.

There with Care provides “support to hundreds of families being treated at 12 hospitals and medical facilities across Colorado. Through the kindness of volunteers, generosity of business owners and the philanthropy of donors, we have been able to ease many of the burdens of children and families facing critical illness.”

Click here to learn more.