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Monday, October 06, 2008

A 1998 Rhone Retrospective, There's Always Room for More Ten Year Anniversary Tastings!


My wife and I, being the newfound ‘Brooklyn suburbanites’ that we are, headed up to West-chowder this past Saturday evening to spend some time w/ the Great Dane himself, Peter Baekgaard. You could say we were invading the Denmark of New York, sticking out like the Turkish & Portuguese sore thumbs that we are, yet getting drunk is always the perfect remedy for blurring any type of cultural distinction amongst diners.

Peter and his wife are as kind hearted and musically eclectic as they come. Is there any better backdrop to a ’98 Rhone retrospective than select hits from Wham! & U2? Well, wake me up before these notes are a go-go cuz’ it’s time to Actung Baby!

We began w/ a bubbly brought in from Neal Rosenthal, an importer that Peter has convinced me to become more acquainted w/…and while I don’t tend to swoon over his selections, I respect the nobility and chiseled spines they all seem to share. In fact, with the exception of the more showy wines from Yves Cuilleron (a producer that I admire greatly), they all share unadorned authenticity and speak w/ an honest tongue that only an experienced grandmother could have.

Guy Larmandier Rose Champagne, NV
This bubbly is an infectious, sweetly perfumed customer, that greets the nose w/ a chord of bright cherries, chalk dust and gun flint. In the palate, the sweet fruit turns snappy and weaves in a fresh bed of minerals through the stony, expansive finish. The soul of the wine is rooted in some serious structure, yet the sweetness of the flesh round out its frame honorably, 91 points.

1999, Meursault Perrieres, Darviot-Perrin
A vigorously youthful bouquet of wood smoke, glazed nuts and honeycomb belie the wines age. The fatness of the frame is clearly suffocated by its coiled youth, leaving a lean, almost skeletal mouthfeel that turns much broader towards the finish, whispering a potential that demands vigorous decanting or 2-3 years in the bottle to come of age & reveal those charms, 87+ points.

On to the line-up of ‘98s:

Senechaux
Save the best for…first? While not quite the most profound wine of the evening, this was by far and away the biggest surprise and easily the finest Senechaux I’ve ever tasted. A cunning, sensual nose of red plums, sweet red cherries and beach sand cause the knees to buckle a bit, evoking imagery of a fine vintage from Chateau Rayas. Medium in weight, yet alluring in its Burgundian charms, revealing the essence of freshly picked herbs intertwined in sandalwood notes that linger along a suave finish. This is an alarmingly sexy wine and a value that is not to be missed, 92 points.

Marcoux
Initially this bottle seemed sound, though uninspiring. As it aired, its alcoholic and overblown personality began to emerge, coming to a head w/ port reduction, burnt cocoa and raisinette scents that were vacuous and shallow in the palate. I liken this wine (if it’s a bottle variation and/or heat damage scenario, then I we’ll refer to this wine as the ‘defect’) to a full throttle engine running on diesel gasoline and in dire need of an oil change. Ironically enough, one of Peter’s guests adored it, 75 points (I could drink it, but would rather not as it was flawed and surrounded by good juice).

Pignan
Pirouettes in the glass are what I’ve come to expect from Rayas wines, and this was a case and point. Initially it revealed surprising structure in an almost austere fashion, as the nose was tinged in iron and wilted rose petals, hinting at the minerality to come in the palate. As the wine aired, the body fleshed out, unfolding layers of plum sauce, graphite and the classic cinnamon note that I tend to find from this estate. The spicy, crunchy acidity is offset beautifully by its round tannins and fine length, 91 points.

Clos du Mont Olivet
This domaine crossed all its t’s and dotted every i during the ’98 vintage. Even though the Papet is a superior wine, this has to be the finest base cuvee ever made at Mont Olivet, personified in its ripe, serious liqueur of fruit nose that expels kirsch, black raspberries and gravel from the glass. There is great concentration in the chewy palate which reveals fantastic depth and tension, paving the way for an alluring black tea note to chime on in the finish, 92 points.

Saint Cosme Gigondas
Mmmmm, moldy newspapers.

Santa Duc Prestige des Hautes Garrigues
The Mr. Olympiad vintage for Santa Duc of Gigondas, weighing in at nearly 16 percent alcohol, yet hiding every bit of it as it flexes from the glass. A touch of new wood is still evident (especially when tasting amongst largely un-wooded wines), yet the dominant characteristics are savory. A huge, vigorous attack of raw beef, salted pork, black currant paste, chestnut and grilled herbs envelope the palate in a loamy, chunky tidal wave of flavor. Though its still in an embryonic stage at 10 years old, there is really something special buried here that will make your continued patience worthwhile, 93+ points.

For the record, I still find Yves’ ’99 to be a better wine. I don’t know how much he alters his elevage (particularly the amount of barrique used) based on vintage characteristics, but ’99 was a somewhat less robust year and perhaps that is why the wine has a more seamless feel than the ’98 (where he may have been a bit overzealous w/ the upbringing).

Vieux Telegraphe
A fantastic, roasted nose of graphite, incense, bay leaf and beefy cassis shoot from the glass as if they were propelled from a spring. The thickness and poise in the palate is flat-out loaded, yet still coiled and is a few years away from firing on all cylinders. The richness, expansiveness and potential longevity of this vintage make it a contender for the best Vieux Telegraphe ever, but I still favor the ’95 by a hair, 94 points.

La Nerthe Cuvee Cadettes
This is how modern should be done! Characteristics of La Nerthe’s super-cuvee are always easy to pick out in a line-up of Chateauneufs, yet this year they seem to have found a really striking tension on the pendulum of the sweet and the savory. A sexy, super-charged nose of crème de cassis, shaved vanilla bean, nutmeg and warm ganache turn broad and hedonistic on the attack, yet there is an underlying hint at the sauvage that catapults the palate to a really special place. While other vintages I’ve tasted of Cadettes share the polish and richness of the ’98, none are as compelling to my palate, 95+ points.

Finishing off the evening w/ cheese and Meursault, a Jadot ’05, has to be the perfect recipe for sweet dreams….until the hangover emerges the next morning, begging the question, did we really need to open another bottle?

The Jadot was surprisingly forward and showed remarkable balance, weaving in notes of warm brioche, fig, honeysuckle and white flowers to the precise, round mouthful of golden delicious apple flavors. The fatness of the fruit are already showing a great framework of minerality, keeping the body defined and focused to the finish, 91 points.

Thanks again Peter B. You rock mate!

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