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The beauty of age in a top white Burgundy

Looking for a new summer pick? Wine columnist  Edward Deitch shares an upscale, mature bottle that's both slightly expensive and a great value.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s not often that I write about a $100 wine (yes, that’s with two zeros) and try to make the case that it’s a great value, but allow me the very occasional indulgence.

The setting was a special dinner with old friends on Nantucket last week at the Straight Wharf Restaurant, which has been around for more than three decades and which has some new buzz after ownership changed last year. It was not hard to see why; the food is superb.

As we sat down, the wine list inevitably landed at my place and the process of matching food and wine commenced. The trick, of course, is to order one or two bottles that will leave everyone feeling that the wines are just the right ones for their dishes. When there are four of you ordering appetizers and main courses, that becomes as many as eight dishes to pair with a couple of wines. You can see the challenge.

For the first course I settled on a rosé, the very dry 2006 Rosé from Commanderie de Peyrassol, a Côtes de Provence estate in southern France. At $45, it was one of the less expensive wines on the list (gulp!); you’ll find it at wine stores for $13 or so. It’s made from four red grapes — grenache, cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre.

I chose a rosé not only because I’ve been enjoying them in the warm weather, but also because they are such versatile and refreshing food wines (which you can learn more about in my recent column and Today show segment on rosés).

The Commanderie de Peyrassol, with its pretty, red-berry fruit, matched nicely with a first course of tagliatelle pasta with sweet and sour eggplant, smoked bacon and goat cheese that I split with my wife, Carla, and also held up to a salad with three types of basil that our friends ordered. Many white wines would have been overpowered by the assertive tastes in these dishes; rosés, which capture the essence or reds but have the refreshing qualities of whites, are not so easily intimidated.

Our main courses, all of them seafood dishes, provided more of a challenge: panko-crumbed halibut with lemon zest for our friends; seared Maine diver scallops (yes, they dive for them) for Carla, and for me the evening’s special, roasted striped bass with fennel, potatoes and mussels in a light lobster bisque sauce that was perfectly balanced between the cream and the tomato.

While the wine list included a number of light, young white wines, I really wanted something more substantial and complex. Fortunately, the Straight Wharf offers an impressive list of white Burgundies, which are made, of course from the chardonnay grape. Notably, many of the wines were from older vintages, including the one I chose, the 1996 Chassagne-Montrachet “La Maltroye” from Verget.

While wine stores mainly stock current releases, restaurants often go back in time, offering diners the chance to enjoy top wines that benefit from age, as Burgundies, both white and red, often do. The Chassagne-Montrachet, named after the village of the same name and one of Burgundy’s most famous appellations, was strikingly beautiful, a wine of balance and elegance with notes of apple, pear, apricot, lemon, lime and vanilla, as well as crisp acidity and minerals — a great food wine that not only complemented but enhanced our dinner.

I tend to think of young chardonnays as a combination of component parts, with the wood from oak aging often dominating the fruit. Age tends to mellow the wine, integrating the elements and eliminating the rough edges. And that’s where the value comes in. While $100 may seem steep, the chance to experience a mature wine of this caliber made it well worth it on this special occasion.

“What you find is that in our restaurant, value lies in wines that are ready to drink,” Scott Fraley, the Straight Wharf’s general manager, told me.  He noted that the restaurant purchased the ’96 Chassagne-Montrachet on release in 1998 and that the price on the wine list hadn’t been raised since.As it turned out, it was the restaurant’s last bottle of this wine. For me it was one of the more memorable wines I’ve enjoyed in recent years. And by the way, I saw it listed for $250 on one New York City restaurant wine list. At $100, then, we had ourselves a real bargain.

Edward Deitch’s wine column appears Wednesdays. He is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at