The scope and breadth of the now famous Pratt’s offline yesterday was tremendous. Dozens of sloppy geeks braved the trek to Yorktown Heights, teetering through the windy, narrow roads that parallel some of the greenest pastures us concrete-encased city folk have ever seen. As I waltzed through the Inn’s cozy, log-cabin like interior (clothed in my matching ‘Jay Hack sandals’ & beach shorts), I asked my Rhone table brethren ‘where are we?’ Their replies ‘our table is right in front of the cheese selection’ may have been in unison, but certainly missed the mark. ‘No, where the hell are we,’ I replied w/ a bit more vigor as they began to shake their heads a la Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz as she came to acknowledge her new surroundings. Needless to say, it’s good to get out once in a while.
Oddly enough, the wines failed to satiate me, in spite of their plentiful quantity and impeccable quality as I marched off to White Plains for beers after our vinous slaughter was complete. While the suds did indeed beat the summer heat, I still felt compelled to stumble on home for a greasy pizza, which of course demanded another bottle of wine. My internal organs are obviously the worse for wear, but the least I can do is pen an impression here and there, hopefully memorializing the first annual ‘summer session’ of New York’s own Pratt’s extravaganza. May god have mercy on my soul.
Non Vintage Mumm de Cremant
While Rhone varietals can certainly shape broad, rich white wines, they’ve yet to be harnessed into sparklers of any recognition, so we defaulted to a non vintage favorite from the chalky soils north of Paris. The exceptionally toasty nose was quite dazzling, w/ puff pastry, grilled nuts, buttered brioche and lemon zest notes erupting from the glass. While showy aromatically, the plate was much more compact, w/ a racy beam of citrus fruits pumping along a laser-like edge of smoky graphite flavors, reeling in its great acidity and focus on the finish, 93 points.
Procession of whites…
Blind contestant number one:
While I knew what this was the second I tasted it, it doesn’t say much about my ‘soothsaying ability,’ considering Roussanne based nuggets of this intensity don’t exist in much volume. This is a knock-out, acid-free powerhouse of a white, w/ beautifully exotic notes of papaya cream, honeysuckle blossom, quince paste and peach skins that bring a thunderclap of thickness, fat and luxurious flavors to the palate. While a couple percent of Sauvignon Blanc is generally added to the ’05 Stolpman L’Avion, the wine doesn’t profess to be ‘fresh’ and generally is best served at very cold temperatures. With all the being said; this white is a hedonistic delight and does manage to pull off its opulence w/o being cloying or ponderous, 93 points.
Alban Viognier, 2006
I initially thought the sequence we served the whites wouldn’t matter as the Viogniers and Roussanne-based whites were all fairly full-throttle, but all this changed as we tasted the Herman Story & Alban Viogniers after the Stolpman bombshell. The Ablan showed disjointed & hot, w/ a distracting persimmon and bitter almond finish clipping the wine well short of its typical outstanding profile. The temperature was a touch much and the body of the wine showed like a 6 foot tall toddler, clumsy, out of place and frankly off-kilter, 77 points (though not in sync w/ my other tastings of this wine).
Herman Story Viognier, 2006
Easily a step up from the Alban, showing a much more compact, linear and poised structure, full of ginger snap, wild flower and bright apricot flavors. While there was excellent focus and fine symmetry to this Viognier, it lacked excitement and was less than enthralling when push came to shove, 88 points.
A blind, little red devil:
Bob’s red definitely brought the smelling salts to my nostrils, as gamey, savory notes of wild mushroom, braised chestnut, Indian spices and hearty plum sauce notes tickled the senses like a feather duster. In the mouth, there is a severity to the youthful, tannic grip that makes this come off a bit raw and chunky, but there is so much character in this ’06 Perrin & Fils Les Cornuds (from the Cotes du Rhone villages, Vinsobres) that you can’t help but fall for it (not to mention its 15 dollar pricetag). I was fooled that the cepage of this 65% Syrah, 35% Grenache cuvee was Mourvedre based & was forced to eat a slab of humble, Rhone pie after my jubilant, blind victory on the L’Avion, 86 points.
Texier Chateauneuf du Pape, Reserve Improbable 2001
I was a huge fan of this big boy at first sniff, as I was greeted by some up-front subtlety hinting at rich loam, bailed hay, violet and tilled earth notes that belied the intensity that was to follow in the mouth. A huge, sweet attack of dark fig, raspberry compote and braised beef notes explode in the mouth in an uber-concentrated, flashy style that pumps out beef blood flavors on the lengthy finish. While this ’01 is loaded w/ a monstrous core of fruit, the wine is deceptively structured & certain to reward cellaring over the next decade, 94+ points.
Clos des Papes, 2000
I’ve shamelessly put down at least a half dozen bottles of this vintage and found this performance to easily be the most underwhelming. The nose and palate were unyielding, tight as nails and offering relatively no pleasure at all. There was zero indication that this wine was of the same breed of previously tasted bottles, yet there were also no noticeable flaws in terms of handling or TCA.
Pegau, Cuvee Laurence 1995
The profile of this wine revolves around telltale Pegau characteristics like fresh tobacco, garrigue, glazed mushroom, sea salt and red currant paste, yet lacks the depth of fruit that Pegau fans expect (making its skeleton a bit more apparent than most vintages). Don’t listen to what Michel or Jaouen have to say about this wine ‘dying’ or ‘being dried out,’ their palates are fried on Burgundy ;) While this vintage is hardly hedonistic or a mouth-filling performance for Pegau, it has plenty of nobility and jaw-searing structure to last (not necessarily evolve positively) for another decade. The question remains the same for this wine as it may for the ’05 Reservee (which brings to mind many of the ’86 Bordeaux that I’ve recently tasted), is there enough substance to balance out the sinew? 92 points.
Janasse, Cuvee Chaupin 2004
Reminding me more of the top Cotes du Rhones from Janasse in ’06 (especially les Garrigues, which is mostly old vine Grenache adjacent to the Coudoulet vineyard at Beaucastel), this vintage of Chaupin is precocious and loaded w/ up-front, lush fruit. Striking notes of raspberry ganache, kirsch liqueur and pine resin turn silky and sultry in the mouth, finishing with fabulous purity and a tantalizing. lingering note of crushed blueberries, 92+ points.
Domaine Saint Prefert Collection Charles Giraud, 2003
This producer, particularly along w/ Charvin and Pegau, really nailed this irregular vintage, showcasing the ripeness from the weather w/o compromising integrity of structure. Heady, seductive notions of linzer torte, café au lait, warm ganache, fig bread and seaweed weave in and out of the nose in a suggestive, tantalizing style. Layered and fabulously generous in the mouth, the classic Saint Prefert polished textures really shine through, gliding along w/ finesse & ease. While this is top shelf expression of the vintage, I still find the ’05 Charles Giraud cuvee to be her finest, 95 points.
Jaboulet Saint Pierre, Cornas 1997
This Cornas showed pruny, stewed fruit notes that were cut by searing acidity, awkward texture and minute length. I assume this bottle was heat damaged (it certainly better be), as it brought to mind a watered-down, late-harvest Zinfandel that was poorly acidified and destined to end up down the drink. I have been implored to mention that this wine had a distinct, five minutes of fame, much like the skies opening up in the eye of the storm briefly, before the heavens dump gallons of horrific hail and sleet all over the earth…but hey, a couple people really dug those five minutes of sunshine ;)
Colombo Hermitage Le Rouet, 1995
Considering Colombo has been stabbed w/ a ‘modern sword’ in terms of his style and overall enological practices, I was shocked to notice how brett-laced this funky creature was when I first smelled it. The wine is fresh and compact, steering its pepper, aged beef, earth and blackberry flavors tightly, as a river of acidity drives the mid-weight frame to a piercing, iron-laced finish, 89 points.
Ojai Thompson Vineyard Syrah, 1999
This 9 year old Syrah was a lovely surprise, showing not only wonderful purity of fruit, but fabulous freshness and definition. The vivid, floral aromatics became brighter in the mouth, showcasing black cherry liqueur, cocoa, hoison sauce and violet notes through the streamlined palate. There wasn’t substantial heft or power to this Thompson Vineyard expression, but it certainly showed off impeccable balance and vibrant, zippy acidity that surprised just about everyone, 92 points.
Alder Roadside, 2004
The Roadside bottling comes from the now defunct Rhone varietal based project called Alder and is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. Winemaker Steve Clifton’s deft touch is noticeable in this wonderfully rendered bottling, expressing pure strawberry preserve, pine resin, cola, rose petal and melted licorice notes in the nose. A sweet attack of red berry fruit pumps over a bed of sweet tannin with great definition, lift and poise. Whether the varietals stem from Burgundy, the Rhone or Italy, Steve Clifton has demonstrated his versatility from just about every angle and deserves to be mentioned in just about any discussion that involves California’s top winemakers, 91+ points.
PAX Obsidian Syrah, 2005
A Knight’s Valley based Syrah isn’t something I see everyday, and this vineyard seems to be in great hands w/ PAX at the helm. The flamboyant nose of decadent fruit explodes w/ violet, boysenberry, rhubarb pie, road tar and blueberry reduction sauce notes that are out of this world. In the mouth, there’s surprising grip, keeping the exotic layers of fruit in check & framing the full-bodied palate quite well. While the style is very frank, verging on outrageous, there is an undeniable sense of refinement that belies the wine’s indulgent character & may prove to channel this beauty into an impressive evolution, 94+ points.
Sine Qua Non Atlantis Syrah, FE203 1A 2005 I feel distressingly stale when I type this, but this had to be the most mind-boggling wine of the tasting. I’m certainly unoriginal and not one to ruffle any cuffs in terms of my commentary, but this, like all Sine Qua Non wines that I’ve tried, is a superlatively textured wine that not only wears its broad shoulders well, it seems as if it were sanded into shape by a perfectionist architect. Riveting notes of blackberry reduction sauce, roasted meats, warm brioche, cedar and lead pencil shavings cascade through the monstrous layers of flavor in as seamless a fashion as any hedonistic connoisseur could hope for. What really wows me is that a wine of this magnitude can still build in the mouth incrementally, and doesn’t really burst at the seams until the finish….which was as sensational and vivid as any I’ve experienced in a New World Syrah, 98 points.
Sean Thackery Orion, 2004
There are some brilliant raw materials at work in this ancient Sryah vine based red, yet I had a tough time getting passed some of its short-comings aromatically. There was an overwhelming scent of glue & a medicinal element that marred some of the more compelling notes of huckleberry, blackberry sauce, anise and fresh rosemary. The herbal elements managed to peek through again in the palate, which was thick, yet seemed deficient in terms of acidity and verve. While this is certainly an esoteric & impressive collection of ingredients, this showing seemed to reveal that the chef was a bit sloppy in his preparation and, to me, this was overshadowed by the other two titans from California, 89-92 points+?
Time for a couple '77 Napa Cabs to close the book on the afternoon...
Chateau Montelena, 1977
Boy was this a dead-ringer for an aged-to-perfection Pauillac or what? The aromatics were as aristocratic as they come, w/ classic notions of lead pencil shavings, cigar tobacco, black currant and gravel characteristics all making an appearance. The attack is still full of sweet, black fruits, pumping along a full body that is still formidably constituted & not short in terms of grippy tendon. The Montelena certainly demonstrates that patience can be a virtue, as this ’77 was a class act from head to toe, 94 points.
Heitz, Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet, 1977
Let me be abundantly clear, I tasted the Sine Qua Non first, and then dipped into this masterpiece of evolution (and it still brought a heavy stick to the dog fight). The essence of cool eucalyptus cascades from the nose like a waterfall, coating its crème de cassis and milk chocolate flavors in a finely woven quilt of finesse. In spite of its three plus decades in the bottle, the wine is massively concentrated w/ striking intensity, layers of flavor and uncanny richness. Like Mark Aubert’s Chardonnay, this is a class that I’m happy to lap up every last bit of sediment until the glass is spotless. Make no mistake about it; this was a genuine wine experience that will be filed away for a rainy day in my memory, 96 points.