Wine choosing responsibility for the party of 15 that included a TV personality, TV executive and several business community leaders was passed around the table. Finally, the wine list sat on my unused appetizer plate.
An easy enough task for a small party, but how could I meet the needs of everyone at the table?
The chef’s tasting menu was a versatile collection of meat, poultry, fish dishes and some exotic components. Versatility would be the key, as I wanted a wine that could be the star yet blend seamlessly with what was going to be a blowout dinner.
My interest peaked with a Burgundy on the wine list. Domaine Michel Sarrazin “Sous la Roche” was a tension-filled red from the Côte Chalonnaise, just south of the Côte de Beaune and part of the Givry appellation or AOC.
It’s translated as “under the rock.” Fortunately, I turned over the right “rock” on the wine list and found a winner for the entire party.
The Sarrazin family has been growing grapes in the small town of Jamblès since the 17th century. Only 50 residents or so live in the town, where narrow valleys and vineyards surround houses where time has stood still.
North Berkeley Imports started its relationship with the family in the mid-1990s. When the winery’s namesake died, his sons, Guy and Jean-Yves, assumed winemaking duties. They began an examination of wines from other French AOCs, to further their understanding of what the work other young winemakers, Frederic Magnien in Morey-Saint-Denis and Vincent Dureuil in Rully for example, were doing in the vineyard.
Billy Weiss has owned North Berkeley Imports since 1999. With already steep Burgundy prices on a continued ascent, the value in the Sarrazins’ wine is remarkable.
“These are fabulous, mineral-driven wines with absolutely balanced fruit,” Weiss said. “They are a great price for Pinot Noir from Burgundy, especially in light of rapidly rising prices of Côte de Nuits wines.”
For the Sarrazin brothers, the experience allowed them to compare their wines against the best in Givry but also Burgundy from the Côte d’Or. It’s a small family business in a small town, committed to its craft for centuries. It’s not located in a world-famous appellation like some of its Burgundian counterparts that fetch three- or four-digit price tags.
With the “Sous la Roche” 2014 ($34), the brothers have a medium-bodied red with a nose of wet leaves, black tea, dried violets and blackberry. It’s a potent mix that is the opening act for a wine with a bold elegance. Cherry, sage, blackberry and fresh cracked pepper flavors highlight a wine with an extensive finish.
But it’s the pursuit of a gem from a little-known village that is the thrill. To find the “mom and pop” winery. Weiss took satisfaction in the hunt for “Sous la Roche” and added there are other gems out there waiting to be discovered.
“It has been extremely rewarding to find and work with this grower,” Weiss said. “It shows that if you search a little farther, you can find some great under-appreciated producers. In the Côte Chalonnaise, there is a lot of truly wonderful wine-making talent, including Domaine Vincent Dureuil in Rully, and, also, in another under-valued region of the Hautes-Côtes above the Côte d’Or.”
• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.