On hand was Jeanne-Marie de Champs, a celebrity (in the Burgundy aficionado world) importer-exporter of some really quality shtuff (and Tim's primary connection--right, Tim?). Her position is defined under French law as a "negociant en chambre," meaning that, unlike brokers, she buys wines from her producers and, unlike ordinary negociants, she buys finished wines rather than lots to blend herself.
Jeanne-Marie (in ascot and glasses)
About Jeanne-Marie, Michael Franz of WineReviewOnline.com writes:
"Her manner is very light, breezy and funny, with no apparent intention to impress...But ask her a question about one of the wines, and WHAM: she answers comprehensively and in intricate detail, demonstrating a powerful mind that has sought out and mastered every little nuance about the domaine and the wine and the vintage and the growing site."
She's exceptionally knowledgeable and engaging. So when she explained Hospices, everyone was tuned in to the story:
The Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, was a XVth century charitable almshouse . It received the first patient on 1 January 1452. Elderly, disabled and sick people, with orphans, women about to give birth and the destitute have all been uninterruptedly welcomed for treatment and refuge, from the Middle Ages until today.
Over the centuries, the hospital expanded, joining similar establishments in the surrounding villages of Pommard, Nolay, Meursault. Many donations - farms, property, woods, works of art and, of course vineyards - were made by grateful families and generous benefactors. The institution has thus become one of the best and oldest examples of an historical, philanthropic, and wine-producing heritage, and has become linked with the economic and cultural life of Burgundy. And in November of every year, there is an important wine auction.
So there we were in Tim and Francoise's home, mingling with the likes of Jeanne-Marie. We had the vintages above as Tim explained to us the characteristics of each...
...He also quoted some fancy-pants wine connoisseur friend of his, who made the prediction that we all would guess wrong on the "mystery bottle". (Tim had decanted one of the vintages and had us figure out which it was.)
With dramatic flare that would make Yale Drama proud, Tim showcases the mystery bottle with a spotlight.
As we drank and tried to figure it out, we also savored Madame Francoise's lovely fare, including this Basque cheese:
...Some lovely Gougeres (French cheese puffs, a typical appetizer)--I ate about 20 of these:
And in the kitchen, we found Francoise herself, grilling up the WONDERFUL sausages:
They included Venison, beef and pork with merlot wine and blueberries; Wild Boar with cranberries and Shiraz; and (the best IMHO--that's "in my humble opinion" for you fogies) Smoked Duck Sausage with Apple Jack Brandy. She had a stew of onions and pear (or was it apple?) to accompany the simple but wildly flavorful meat. So smartly done!
Then we had this loooovely pear tart with almond ice cream.
There were some Hospices de Beaune whites around as well (the frumpy younger sister, if you will). But to be honest, though they were good, they were anti-climactic compared to the reds.
So did anyone guess correctly, you ask. Well in fact G did! He was the only one!!! (I'm especially proud of him because there were a lot of people from Tim's wine club there.) The "connoisseur" friend predicted that most of us would think the Volnay in the decanter (the mystery wine) to be the much younger and greener-tasting Pommard (that's what I guessed--but what do I know).
It was a wooonderful evening. As always, they did it up nice, long on authenticity and short on pretense. We learned a good deal about this area of Burgundy and had a great time mingling with Tim and Francoise's neat array of friends!