Q&A with Allen Meadows

Allen Meadows is the author and publisher behind Burghound.com – a quarterly online subscription that is viewed as the definitive reference for the wines of Burgundy.  As a wine critic his style is to be diplomatic, intellectual and precise.  Often quoted by auctions and wine merchants, it is said that Burghound’s coverage of the 2005 vintage of Burgundy did as much to Meadows’ reputation as the 1982 vintage of Bordeaux did for Robert Parker.  As a collector himself, Meadows understands the nuances of being a passionate wine lover and the details involved in the art of collecting. In his book The Pearl of the Cote, Meadows offers an extensive tribute to the most revered area of Burgundy the Vosne-Romanée including a tasting of 74 vintages of Romanée-Conti, from 1870-present as well as chapters on “Collecting Tips”, “Reference Standard Producers” and “Grower and Ownership Profiles”.

Often quoted by auctions and wine merchants, we pose a few questions to Meadows that has nothing to do with points.

What is your tasting schedule like? Do you limit yourself, lock yourself up in a room with a spittoon?

AM: I have two different approaches depending on whether I am in Burgundy going from domaine to domaine versus when I am tasting in my office.  When I’m in Burgundy, I try to do no more than 75 wines per day and it’s often less but almost never more.  You can’t do too many and stay sharp.  And even the 75 wines typically take place over a 10 hour period with a two hour break at lunch (no, I drink only water at lunch).  When I taste in my office, I eliminate distractions and do no more than 24 at a time and usually only 18.  I find that my palate stays the sharpest that way.  And yes, I always spit.

You made your own maps in your book. What prompted that?

AM: There are plenty of maps of Burgundy out there including some very good ones.  But all of them, at least in my experience, have either small errors or are dated in some fashion.  I wanted my maps to be as accurate as possible so we used what are called sections maps and basically constructed each vineyard from these incredibly detailed maps as each grower’s holdings are intricately detailed.  From these we built up each vineyard to arrive at what I believe are the most accurate maps of Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Echézeaux that exist.

What did you do before becoming the Burghound?

AM: I was a finance executive for 25 years holding a variety of positions including senior vice president for Great Western Financial where I spear-headed the mergers and acquisitions and specialized finance departments.  In 1999 I elected to retire to author a book on the subject of Burgundy, my long-time passion and obsession.  The book project evolved to become an extensive quarterly review, Burghound.com. It was initially devoted exclusively to the coverage of the wines of Burgundy and later added U. S. pinot noir and occasional coverage of Champagne. Burghound.com was the first of its kind to offer specialized, and more importantly, exhaustive coverage of a specific wine region/grape and pioneered the on-line format.  I now spend nearly five months a year in Burgundy and visit more than 300 domaines during that time.

Your French is quite good. Do you find the French express themselves differently in a tasting note?

AM: Yes, definitely.  The French are less literal with more imagery involved in describing facets of a wine’s character or structure.  But overall I would say that the two approaches, while different, still have more in common than not.

Erica tells a great story about when you first met and how you wowed her with an Indian dish you brought to the party. Do you still cook?

AM: Yes I do but not to the same extent as I once did.  This is partially because I eat somewhat differently than I used to, which is to say very “clean” and partially because I just don’t have the time to cook long and involved dishes.  But for special occasions, I still love to spend a day in the kitchen to create something that my friends and family will love.  [Erica:  Allen is modest; while it’s true he doesn’t have the time to cook since our work days are long, he is an exceptional cook and of course pairs wine and food masterfully.

Tell me about your most memorable wine experience.

AM: To be really honest, I have been incredibly blessed with so many fantastic experiences that it would be frankly impossible to narrow them all down.  But I might observe that there are two magical kinds of experiences.  The first is where the wines themselves are brilliant and the focus is on their brilliance.  The second kind though is perhaps my favorite where a lovely wine, which is not necessarily something to write home about by itself, transforms an evening with a my family or a good friend into something really special.  Great wines can impress you, but great people impress you even more.  And for me, there isn’t much better in life when the two are combined to create unforgettable meals in the company of people that you love.

I have to ask… what is your most memorable Bordeaux?

AM: That’s easy.  It was a 1961 Château Palmer drunk when I was just starting out in the world of wine while in grad school.  When I smelled that unique and gorgeously perfumed nose that Palmer is so justly known for, I knew immediately that I was hooked on fine wine.  A year later I had my Burgundy epiphany and largely forgot about Bordeaux thereafter.  But as great as Bordeaux can be, even the best bottles can’t match the finest Burgundies.  I do wish to stress however that this is obviously an intensely personal opinion and I would completely understand, and respect, someone who had the opposite opinion.

Allen Meadows is the author and publisher behind Burghound.com – a quarterly online subscription that is viewed as the definitive reference for the wines of Burgundy. 

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