“Hey, you want to go meet Meadows this evening,” Charlie shouted across the office. I quickly lost focus on the order that I was entering.
“Really?” I replied.
“Yeah, he is speaking tonight at the Burgundy Wine Company,” Charlie shouted back. “I can get a couple tickets.” I immediately called my wife and said that I would be home late. Allen Meadows, who is more commonly known as the ‘Burghound,’ is the Godfather of Burgundy wine geeks. A former businessman turned wine collector, turned wine critic, Mr. Meadows lives and breathes the wines from Burgundy. In fact, he rarely drinks anything else other than Champagne, which is a noble exception. At 5:30, I packed my bag and we headed towards the elevator. At a brisk pace, it only took us 15 minutes to get to the store in the frigid Manhattan air. An impressive lineup of prestigious bottles stood at attention in the store window. I pushed open the heavy wood door and a warm wave of lively conversation greeted us. A row of coats and empty hooks were to the right. A woman took our names and we were immediately handed a glass containing a crisp white Burgundy. I scanned the room for Meadows, but no one stood out.
After some mingling, it was announced that the guests should be seated at several round tables in the back of the store. The long, wood planks creaked as we marched towards the tables. A dozen glasses had been placed at each seat along with a stapled pamphlet listing the wines to be tasted.
“Good evening,” a small woman announced as she moved to the front of the room. “Thank you for coming this evening as we are very fortunate to have one of the world’s most knowledgeable authorities on the wines of Burgundy to speak to us.” As the introduction came to a close, a man roughly 50 with a gray crew cut stood up and took the stage. The ‘Burghound’ was revealed. Using a rich baritone voice, Mr. Meadows described the wines and their terrior in detail. While listening to Meadows talk, I imagined that he spent his days schmoozing with winemakers and sucking down one great wine after another. He probably had a private table at Ma Cuisine, the restaurant in Beaune that is the ‘in’ spot for the wine trade. Who knows, maybe there are even beautiful wine groupies that follow him from one cellar door to another. In reality, the groupies are more likely middle aged, balding men with the most recent copy of the ‘Burghound’ newsletter in hand. Although nervous, I had managed to meekly introduce myself to Mr. Meadows that evening. I was just another unforgettable groupie.
A year later, my wife and I decided to spend a week in Burgundy and live out the ‘Burghound’ experience. No travel agent promised to deliver such, but I was confident that I could arrange for a proper simulation. We would stay at the best hotel in Beaune, visit top domaines, search out undiscovered gems, and, on more than one occasion, dine at Ma Cuisine. I packed an outfit that I thought befitting a wine adventurer. It was somewhat of a cross between Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes. The first day of the trip was relatively light. We visited with three estates and my teeth were only moderately stained from red wine. After a quick stop by the hotel, we headed to dinner. Monsieur Escoffier, the owner, stood at the doorway and greeted us in a charming, efficient manner. It was early by French standards and the sun still lingered over the town. We were escorted to the raised seating area at the rear of the cozy space. Two men and a woman sat at the only other table in the section. Ma Cuisine is a husband and wife operation. Mr. Escoffier works the front of the house and manages an impressive wine cellar. The kitchen is run by his wife, who is rarely seen. On most evenings, local vignerons, wine writers, and importers socialize at the tightly packed tables. The carte de vin was presented and, for a brief moment, I felt overwhelmed by the massive list. Roumier, Coche-Dury, Comte Lafon, DRC, Leroy…..All the great producers were listed as if one was looking at the roster for the Burgundy Hall of Fame. The names began to spin into a blur as Mr. Escoffier approached to inquire about my selection.
“Une bouteille de Coche-Dury Bourgogne blanc s'il vous plaît,” I spit out after an extended hesitation. When in doubt, just pick the best producer. The wine was excellent and illustrated the magic touch of this great winemaker. A subtle dose of spicy oak came through on the nose, but I have heard that it disappears after some years in the bottle. In the mouth, the wine was elegant and pure. I was preparing to give my wife a dissertation on the wine, when I heard a familiar voice. A tingling sensation shot across my scalp. I paused and made sure that I was correct. "It’s Meadows," I whispered.
"Where, how do you know?" my wife questioned glancing over my shoulder.
"I know that voice," I replied. Tempted to turn, but also scared to do so, I decided to take a reconnaissance mission to the toilette. I shot a quick glance at the neighboring diners. The man on the right bore some resemblance to Mr. Meadows, but his hair was of normal length. I washed my hands, looked in the mirror, patted down a few stray hairs, inhaled deeply, and pushed open the door. Voices bounced around the room in a competition to be heard. I weaved through the occupied chairs, mumbling “pardon” several times. Half consumed bottles of Burgundy, most with well known labels, littered the tables. Mr. Escoffier was at the bar, quickly pulling corks, each making a loud pop as it was extracted. I paused as I neared my destination. Three small steps leading to the raised seating area, which I had barely noticed earlier, seemed insurmountable. Perhaps it was because my legs had turned to Jello. The gentleman resembling Mr. Meadows turned as I moved past his table and our eyes locked in a frozen embrace. A look of puzzlement washed over his face.
"Mr. Meadows, I met you last year at the Burgundy Wine Company." The man seemed relieved.
“I thought you looked familiar,” he replied, in a strong, confident tone. “Are you here on vacation?”
“Yes, my wife and I are spending a week here visiting producers,” I said turning back towards our table. “We tasted some great 2006 whites this week.”
“There are some good ones, but I am concerned that some of the wines are too ripe,” Meadows said, speaking with the confidence of someone who has nothing to prove.
“Oh,” I responded in a surprised shrill. “It could be that we have only tasted at top estates so far. I assume that you are here tasting?”
“Yes, I will be here for a month,” Meadows said as looked over at his dinner companions. He introduced the gentleman as a collector from California and the woman as the man’s wife. “I also attended an amazing dinner of DRC wines and it has inspired me to write a book about Vosne-Romanee.”
“Wow, I look forward to reading about that,” I answered in an excited tone.
“I wish I could have been there for that one,” the collector responded. “Do you work in the trade?”
“Yes, for an importer/distributor in New York.”
“Here is my e-mail address,” the collector said as he opened his wallet and removed a business card. “Send me a message and I will forward you my gray market sources. I get some great deals.”
“Thank you,” I replied as I placed the card in my wallet. I glanced at the collector’s wife. “I hope you enjoy wine.”
“Yes, but we are really only here to satisfy his addiction.” The collector glanced away with his lips pressed together.
“True, but I had to spend a week at a spa in Switzerland before you let me come here.”
A clock ticked in my head. There is a fine line between being friendly and annoying. “Well, it was a pleasure seeing you again. Enjoy your meal.”
“We will be dining at the new place in the square tomorrow night,” stated the collector. “It has a marvelous list.”
“That sounds great,” I replied. “Perhaps we will see you there.”
For the remainder of the meal, my head was tilted in the direction of their table. The talk was mostly about friends the three had in common, but Mr. Meadows did comment on the wine they were drinking. It was a Meursault from Domaine Roulot, who Mr. Meadows said he regarded to be the finest producer in Meursault. The statement was surprising since Coche-Dury and Comte Lafon are also based in that village. After washing down the last of our second bottle, a wonderful 2000 Les Saint-Georges from Domaine Henri Gouges, we said goodbye and wandered through narrow streets back towards the hotel. The sky was filled with bright stars and the town relatively quiet. I was giddy about the encounter and felt as though I was floating above the cobblestone. It may have been the alcohol, but I believed that I had felt a strong bond with Mr. Meadows. Perhaps he had picked up on the depth of my passion and recognized a likeminded palette. Or, maybe he sensed that the Burg force was strong within me. Regardless, we’ll always have Beaune.