Sunday we had a free day after a wild Saturday spent tasting Jura wines in Salins-les-Bains for the Percée du Vin Jaune. There were four of us - Arnaud, Philippe, Caroline, and I - and we set out from Philippe's parents' house near Dole to drive across the A36 to Beaune, and on up the Côte d'Or.
After a sporadic start to the day, with a disappointing tasting in Pommard, we broke bread for a short Burgundian lunch (simple stuff - just some snails, coq au vin, cheese course, and tart), then ambled along through the villages of the Côte de Nuits until we hit Chambolle-Musigny. It was a Sunday afternoon in February, and this jaunt was pretty much spur-of-the-moment.
We weren't high rollers, weren't going to taste wines from Roumier or Dujac. I had the name and address of a small producer a friend of mine used to go to, before she broke up with her French boyfriend and moved back to America. The winemaker's name was Philippe Amiot - not to be confused with the two or three other Amiots making Chambolle-Musigny.
So we had made an appointment no later than that morning, from the kitchen of our friend Philippe's parents, where Cacolac, the gray cat, lolled at my feet. Mme Amiot had said yes, we could come taste her husband's wines at 4pm.
We got to the place de la Mairie at 3:45pm and rang for M. Amiot. He leaned out over his balcony and pointed to his car, a little camionnette, telling us to get back in our car and follow him to his cellar, which was on the edge of town.
When we got out of the car, parked now in front of his little cellar entrance, he went down another stairway to get some tasting glasses. "Because when you drink out of your hand, it's not good," he said, over his shoulder. Right then, I knew we had a live one.
Then we entered the bunker, a thin, small cellar lined with bottles of Chambolle-Musigny. At the end were two benches and a low, round table. He told us to sit down, and we all sat together.
"So, what did you bring to eat? Some sausage? Cheese?"
We looked at each other, stumped. The portly M. Amiot laughed. "My clients often come with a picnic basket. They know my style."
His style was atypical, at least in his talk and way of serving. We had no foodstuffs, but we tasted his wines sitting down, with generous pours and his asking for requests on what to taste next.
In fact, his stable of wines is succinct: Bourgogne red, Chambolle-Musigny village, and Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru "Les Charmes."
When I told him I wanted to taste his "Charmes," he said that, alas, this was something women said fairly infrequently to him now...
And when Philippe, who was driving, asked where the spit bucket was, M. Amiot gave a belly laugh and shook his head. "You can't spit out my wines," he said. I was shocked, until I realized he was joking, gesturing toward the ground, which was covered with loose stones. "There's your spit bucket, son," he said.
I have to say, the stones near me didn't get too wet. The wines, aside from the somewhat perfunctory Bourgogne, were as I had remembered, when my friend had brought some back for me a few years before: elegant, delicate, supple and lush in their red fruits. And even better, there were several vintages on hand: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. There were barrels in the room - the 2005, still not bottled, neither for the village Chambolle nor for the "Charmes."
His style, recognizable, favored the lacy elegance of the best Chambolle-Musignys. The 1er cru had more weight and a measure of thickness, but I was impressed with the village Chambolle, especially the ethereal 2002.
Then I asked him about the 2006, how that seemed to be shaping up.
"Not great," he said. "I retired in 2005. So I let the vines to a young guy; you see him more often down at the café, drinking, than working in the vines."
And as we finished our tasting on a fine 2001 Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru "Les Charmes," I sat there ruminating before getting up from the bench, considering how wine is such a precarious thing. That there will be no more wines from this crafter, that things change, fall apart, new ones take their place.
M. Amiot had a bad knee and stayed downstairs in the cellar while we walked back up into the sun. Nevertheless, he called out his farewells, and said that if Philippe and Arnaud ever wanted to fill up the car with bottles, he would gladly keep the girls.