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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No Need to ‘Cry Wolf’ in 2005 Bordeaux

As most of us know, the Bordelais tend to conjure more hype than a Heavyweight Boxing promoter, but every so often there is some substance behind the push. The term ‘vintage of the century’ has been thrown around so often that one can’t help but treat it like the mundane 3 a.m. infomercial it has become. In the case of 2005, chateau owners were yet again flogging the term into submission, but this time they were not alone in coming to that conclusion. The Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and just about any publication w/ ‘wine’ as a preface is singing the praises of the 2005 vintage louder than a rooster at sunrise. While great quality, great press and a weak dollar create a veritable perfect storm for inflated pricing, savvy shoppers can still get outstanding 2005 Bordeaux for extremely reasonable prices. I’m sure several of you imagine ‘value Bordeaux’ to be an oxymoron, but regardless of your budget, 2005 offers tremendous quality at all price points.

In my view, what makes a vintage truly great has very little to do with the quality of the classified growth. The top producers are well equipped w/ the terroir, experience and financial resources to make outstanding wine w/ a fair amount of consistency. What does separate a 2005, from say a 2004, is found in a Cru Bourgeois, an unclassified Haut Medoc or a pedestrian Premieres Cotes de Blaye. Quality is found across the entire spectrum of Bordeaux wines in 2005, from the left bank to the right, and with thousands of Chateau producing wine, competition in the 10-30 dollar price range is fierce. If consumers choose to shop for great claret, instead of great labels, they will uncover a sea of rich ’05 Bordeaux for not so rich prices.

At a recent Unions des Grands Crus tasting in New York, one thing that became immediately apparent from my experience is that these young Bordeaux are extremely structured wines that demand, at the very least, short-term cellaring. The drought of the vintage, coupled w/ warm days and cool nights, produced firm backbones and crunchy acidity in even the most unheralded appellations. Right bank wines, composed predominantly of Merlot, tend to be a bit more approachable with their gobs of fresh, juicy fruit concealing the wealth of firm tannins. For those that are interested in storing wines for the long haul, the wines of Margaux have the stuffing and potential to evolve for decades to come.

The appellations that impressed me most were Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Saint Julien and Margaux. Some top notch values of note were the delicious Chateau Greysac, the ethereally perfumed Chateau Dassault, the succulent Chateau Larmande, the smoky and layered Chateau La Tour Figeac and the perennially ‘under the radar’ Chateau Cantemerle. Sleeper appellations like Fronsac and the Cotes de Castillon performed exceptionally well thanks to Mother Nature (along w/ some outside financial investments) and certainly merit consumer attention. My favorite wines from these unheralded areas include Chateau d’Aiguilhe, Cap de Faugeres, La Vieille Cure and Michel Rolland’s Fontenil.

The stars of the show definitely came from the Right Bank and Margaux. While not inexpensive, the following wines are some of the finest young Bordeaux I’ve had the pleasure to taste:
  • Pomerol’s La Conseillante was a cunning, flawlessly textured temptress of a wine that I still can’t get out of my mind.
  • Pavie Macquin could be one of the most super-ripe, powerful expressions of St. Emilion I’ve ever put to my lips. It was knee-buckling!
  • Larcis Ducasse was completely closed, but hauntingly explosive and as opulent a Merlot based wine as you’ll ever see.
  • Rauzan Segla brought such tremendous viscosity and mouth coating texture to my palate that I nearly felt overwhelmed.
  • Finally, the star of the show for me was without a doubt Chateau Angelus. I was lucky enough to attend a vertical tasting of this Chateau last month and never thought they could have made a wine that eclipsed the quality of their 2000. I was wrong. Their 2005 is, in a word, perfection.

This is just the tip of the iceberg folks. There were countless trophies on display at the UGC, but there was also an enormity of outstanding values to be had. Whatever your budget, 2005 has something for just about any Bordeaux lover out there….but I implore you to not take these wines lightly. Even the unclassified wines have the sinewy character of a Greco Roman wrestler and demand patience. In some cases, the wines of this ‘vintage of the century’ may need just that, a century, to become mature.

Stay tuned for all the notes from the UGC tasting in NY...

Some changes around the Appellation...

In case you are wondering, there has been a bit of a face lift to my labor of love ‘du vin,’ as I attempt to take this project to another level. To offer a point of clarification regarding the ‘subscription’ to the blog, never fear as this doesn’t involve junk mail or credit card numbers. All the subscription entails is a notification email that alerts you to a new post on the Appellation. When you consider how many emails you receive from retailers that coax you into poverty, I figure a friendly message from a new post may be a welcome feature to your inbox.

I encourage you to ante up and jump on board….big post on 2005 Bordeaux is on the horizon!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Old and the New of the Pessac Leognan, Haut Bailly vs. Pape Clement

A group of New Yorkers chose to take a fairly comprehensive look at two key producers in the Graves region of Bordeaux, Haut Bailly and Pape Clement, showcasing vintages that span through 1978 to 2005. Pape Clement was a notorious underperformer up until the acquisition was made by Bordeaux giant Bernard Magrez (whom utilizes world renowned consultant, Michel Rolland, for every single one of his projects) in the late ‘90s, which drastically changed the quality and profile of wines made at the chateau. On the other hand, Haut Bailly has been a relatively steadfast, traditional producer of the region that we believed would provide an interesting counterpoint to the more progressive Pape.

This tasting took place at the Upper West Side's Compass Restaurant, and we were blessed to have Haut Bailly's manager Veronique Sanders and owner Robert Wilmers join us. Their presence provided us w/ a veritable 'winery tour' through Haut Bailly as we tasted each vintage. I was blessed to sit ‘en face du Veronique’ but unfortunately, the walls of Jericho (a rather large, protruding beam that bisected the table in the Compass private room) kept me from communicating much w/ Robert. Veronique has the elegance of a ballerina and is as good a sport as any to endure the wretched, vile company of crudely drunken New York men.

While I did pan her 2002 a little more vocally than I should have, I couldn’t help but be taken a back by the typicity, finesse and cunning charms that Haut Bailly offered throughout the years. Preconceived notions of mine dictated that there would be a marked transformation from the 80’s era Pape Clement to the late 90’s versions, and that notion was indeed correct. The other notions I had, specifically that modern Pape Clement would steal the show (at least for my palate), were as off the mark as a B-12 and lidocaine shot from Brian McNamee. Hope you enjoy my impressions.

1978 Haut Bailly
One of those mature clarets that truly provided a beguiling experience as it evolves like a chameleon w/ each sniff, swirl and sip. Hints of orange peel and citrus zest are followed by touches of savory notes that weave in and out like a slalom skier. The palate is still quite substantive, providing notions of hearty plum, leather and slight touches of green mint to keep things fascinating as well as satisfying, 86 points.

1978 Pape Clement
At first, my Rhone sensibilities were intrigued by what I perceived to be brett, alongside some notions of charcoal, Indian spice and game. Alas, she faded fast and had a dilute, lack of focus that made us question the provenance of this bottle (or the soundness of the cork), N/A.

1988 Pape Clement
Remember the Parker note on the ’65 Mouton? Well, unfortunately this brought to mind some notions that inspired that vision (at least it did, initially). Mildly offensive scents evoked fresh sewage and rotten garbage, but thankfully, there was something delectable underneath worth waiting for (the stank, along w/ my hatred for this wine, thankfully blew off w/ aeration). The Indian Jones in me apparently drank from the right cup in the Temple of Doom, as iron, loam, truffles and fresh blackberries greeted my palate w/ delight. The texture was a bit chewy and thoroughly primal, but there was enough rustic charm in this 20 year old claret to make me realize that good things come to those who wait, 85 points.

1988 Haut Bailly
This 88 was the most precise and focused wine yet, as it provided one of those mystical moments where we caught this wine at the right place and time. Veronique had mentioned that her previous experience w/ the ’88 was less than complementary, stating that previous tastings revealed a wine of one dimension, narrow focus and a harder, charm-less personality. She was pleasantly surprised to find that this bottle expressed such finesse, equilibrium and allure. Not a showstopper, but one of those mature clarets that brings a pleasant and easy pleasure to a meal, much like several better wines of this vintage (along w/ the somewhat forgotten 85s). I can still remember that ‘easy satisfaction’ as if it just happened, 89 points.

1989 Haut Bailly
If you are searching for a last minute birthday present to bestow upon Jay Miller, look no further my friends. I’ve never seen him giddier, or more content than when he stuck his nose into Mr. 89. I had scribbled down that this was ‘what older Bordeaux is all about,’ and if Ambrosia had a name, it might was well take this one. Notions of crushed rose petals, bitter chocolate, crisp cassis, dark currant and lead pencil shavings speckle their way down the palate in such beautiful harmony, thanks to crunchy acidity & sublime balance. This is a wine that was supremely fashioned from head to toe, and again, not a monster but certainly a winner, 92 points.

*With regards to the acidity and cut of this wine, Veronique added that a cooler fermentation was implemented in the cellars in order to tame the intensity of the fruit. A great example of how ripe fruit still requires a deft touch to achieve balance and complexity. Kudos!

1989 Pape Clement
A formidable showing, especially after the brilliant Haut Bailly made an encore presentation no easy task. A sweet perfume is typified by loamy notes of roasted coffee, cassis, dark fruits and a beam of pure minerality set the stage for this top notch vintage of Pape. The palate has lovely texture and sound depth, but fell just a hair short of the penetration showcased by the Haut Bailly, 91 points.

1990 Haut Bailly
Wow, here is where the men are separated from the boys! A brooding wine that was packed and stacked to the gills with rich, dense cassis, dark chocolate, bay leaf and smoke tones that have a sense of seriousness that set itself apart from the former peers. Weightier in the mouth w/ a thick, viscous texture that was powerful but still showed the definition of a middle weight boxer. Next to the 2005, this was the most constituted and endowed Haut Bailly that we tasted, 94 points.

1990 Pape Clement
A very good showing when you consider Graves typicity, but somewhat underwhelming when the power of the vintage is taken into consideration. The scents of pipe tobacco, smoky cedar, earth and blackberry are all there, but I found this effort to lack the depth, length and dimension of the Haut Bailly in the same vintage, 89 points.

*1998 is where the dividing line w/ Pape Clement began (post acquisition by Bernard Magrez and consultation via Rolland). I believe this was also the time in the tasting that we began to discuss evolutionary potential of today’s wines picked sur maturite & it prompted Veronique to reminisce over the ’78 we had previously tasted. She feels the 78 is a wine that will never be replicated again because of today’s enological practices. She was clear to state that she is proud of the more modern Haut Bailly, as it is a riper wine of concentration and character, but she feels a bit of a void when discussing the 78 as it had a elegance and understated subtlety that she doesn’t feel the chateau will ever achieve again. I don’t recall the vintage, but she had tried to convince Robert Parker that one of her wines, while lacking power, still had plenty of allure and grace. He didn’t agree. I can’t comment on the wine as I hadn’t tasted it and don’t recall the vintage, but it was interesting to hear how tenacious she was in ‘proving her wine’ to Bob.

1998 Pape Clement
Well, Ben was waiting for licorice, and the 98 brought the licorice train roaring down the tracks! A softer, plumper wine that was obviously lower in acidity, with richer flavors of melted licorice, black currant and tobacco leaf that took center stage. The wine was gorgeously textured, but still compact and seemed to shorten up a bit on the finish, leaving me wanting a bit more. I’d surmise that a bit more cellaring could help her stretch out a bit, 93 points.

1998 Haut Bailly
The 98 was a riper, smokier version of the chateau but still screamed Haut Bailly in character. Notions of charcoal, violet, blueberry and blackberry emit from the glass in an attractive, pleasurable fashion. While it is not loaded on the palate, there is adequate stuffing and richness to aid in another decade plus of positive evolution, 92 points.

2000 Haut Bailly
This is a denser, more structured version of the 1998 and was only an infant in terms of development. Rich and extracted elements slowly unfold to reveal smoky cassis, cigar ash, lilac and singed toast elements that are still youthful and powerfully channeled. The palate is laced in sinew and is not yet ready to explode, but is sure to impress down the road, 93 points.

2000 Pape Clement
This was my disappointment of the evening as my expectations for this wine fizzled away as I tasted it. This is currently a two dimensional wine, full of plump, jammy and sappy textured fruits that are undelineated, unevolved and quick to disappear on the finish. The best way to describe the current character of this wine is pleasantly superficial, but hardly profound. The likely rationale for the performance of the 2000 Pape is that it’s struggling through a weird evolutionary phase, caught between long hibernation and slow evolution. I will be an interested spectator as it progresses and hope it can re-emerge w/ authority, 91+ points?

2001 Haut Bailly
This was a pop ‘n pour, so observations attempted to take that into consideration. Another fine ’01, in the same league as the Malescot St. Exupery (enjoyed last week) of that vintage in terms of quality. Scents of roasted coffee, licorice, lilac and crushed fruits make their appearance in this medium bodied, charming 2001. Not the most dazzling or remarkable Haut Bailly, but a very good introduction to what the chateau is capable of, 87+ points.

2001 Pape Clement
Atonement for the 2000’s performance came in the shape of the 2001 Pape Clement, an outstanding and sexy concoction that rivaled the ’90 Haut Bailly for wine of the evening. Notions of toasty cassis, creosote, melted licorice and cigar ash explode from the glass in a generous, accessible and heart throbbing fashion. The effusive nature of the wine is kept honest by a rock solid structure and a texture that is to die for. The 2001 Pape Clement was just what the doctor ordered, 94 points.

2002 Haut Bailly
Yikes; the reason I was so vocally harsh on this wine is because it shocked me how paltry a performance it was in relation to its much more competent peers. While plenty of 2002’s are surprisingly giving pleasure today, this is not one of them. This Haut Bailly showed austere, rigid and angular, with a structure that easily dominated its lean, inconsequential fruit. Drying tannins engulf the finish of this wine and leave me hoping there will eventually be something worth liking about this 2002, 75 points.

2004 Pape Clement
Who planted Grenache in the Graves?! Talk about a weird showing for a wine that I was quite pleased w/ last year. This ’04 showed warm fig, kirsch and blowzy fruit notes that I’d associate w/ a poor 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape. No idea what was going on here, while I didn’t hate it, I’ll reserve my slandering judgment on this because Pape tasted nothing like this to me a few months ago. Could have been a cooked bottle?

2004 Haut Bailly
Ahh, the beauties of decanting! Veronique knows her wine, as this ’04 needs quite a bit of coaxing (I was dismissive of this vintage a few months back, but alas, here is the recant of my previous testimony). This, to me, was the essence of the Pessac (or is it the Leognan, you’ll have to ask Veronique about that) as it expressed a perfume full of charcoal ash, cigar box, sweet tobacco, dark currant and cocoa that could have only come from you know where. Spot on typicity, wonderfully deep and rich on the palate and had enough length to make me scream for more. An outstanding ’04 and one of which that I’d be happy to have in my cellar to drink in the midterm, 93 points.

2005 Haut Bailly
Well my teeth were still stained from the UGC I attended earlier that afternoon, but this ’05 was not one that I had the good fortune to taste until the end of the evening, and it was well worth the wait. An exotically ripe ’05, exploding w/ extraordinary aromatics of blackberry reduction sauce, plum pudding, fig and a mélange of other wildly inviting dark fruits. There is solid brightness to the tone of the fruits in the palates and a strong, authoritative structure (hallmark of ’05) maintains the wine’s beautiful focus. One that Graves traditionalists will need to wait for…but hedonistic tongues may want to dive in a bit earlier, 94 points.

*As for the question regarding pre-phyloxera vines, those vines are incorporated into the master blend each year (w/ one exception, I think in 1998, when a barrel or two was isolated and tracked at the winery). The old vines produce extremely low yields of super-concentrated fruit that they feel needs to be incorporated into the final assemblage. They don’t believe in luxury cuvees as it is their impression that the house wine suffers without the best fruit, so I suppose you could place Haut Bailly in a train of thought that is similar to Clos des Papes of Chateauneuf du Pape.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Some perspective on the Portuguese wine industry...

Mark Squires was kind enough to have Julio Bastos, a stalwart producer of the Alentejo region in Portugal, available for interview this past week on his message board. I had asked him a few questions regarding his take on the progression of the Alentejo, Duoro and Portuguese industry as a whole. Here are his thoughts:

Click here.

I encourage you to peruse the entire forum to view the slew of questions offered up by board members. I found Julio's insight to be fascinating and hope you enjoy it as well.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Margaux Mystique

This recent vertical tasting of Chateau Margaux left me w/ a couple impressions. One is that of consistency. While the selected vintages were hardly exhaustive, the steadfast quality of Mentzelopoulos era wines did seem to belie vintage characteristics, especially evident in the 1980 performance. Considering the price of these wines, this model of consistency has become an absolute expectation (at least they deliver). Another observation, perhaps a blatant one, is that this famed Chateau is one, uncompromisingly elegant claret. While Lafite can give her a run for her money in the category of ‘most feminine Cabernet of the Medoc,’ the attraction of Margaux in her youth and maturity seems to be of a profile all her own. I must have used the adjective ‘pretty’ in just about every tasting note of the mini-vertical! The better vintages, like the ’96, seem to marry an understated power w/ finesse in such a classy fashion that truly is brilliant to witness. Having said all of that, this wine has become a luxury item that is well out of the grasp of wee-little tasters such as myself and I’ll have to consider its beauty a mere tease until I hit the lottery. Love it at 50 bucks, laughable at 500 to me, but hey; the market will bear it so to all its purchasers, bottoms up.

The tasting was kicked off w/ a couple ‘petit Margaux’ wines of the Chateau herself, as well as its frugal but formidable neighbor, Malescot St. Exupery. The wines were served non-blind and are listed in the order they were tasted.

Pavillon Blanc, 2000
I happen to like Margaux’s pure Sauvignon Blanc as I find it offers up a unique overlay of complex textures in an impressive synergy. The nose sports a confluence of flint, bailed hay, key lime and hints of quince that turn racy on the palate; with a rich core of cream off-setting the wine’s piercing mineral definition. This is a fascinating interpretation of the varietal from a fabulous terroir, 91 points.

Malescot St. Exupery, 2001
This, along w/ the 2003 Gloria, is perhaps the perfect weekday claret for early consumption. This young Margaux is already evolved and maturing, with lovely flavors of pipe tobacco, lilac, cedar box and red currants that cascade across the palate. Pretty and fresh, with a medium bodied personality, bright perfume and fine balance, 88 points.

Pavillon Rouge, 2001
The second hand vin of Chateau Margaux in 2001 is currently showing very tight, structured and unevolved in relation to the Malescot. There is a solid core of dark raspberry, plum and savory spice notes buried underneath the wine’s current façade that will likely need 2-3 more years of cellaring to emerge, but impressively stretch out on the finish, 89+ points.

Margaux, 1980
This is my second offering of my birth year wine and one that pleasantly surprised the group as the vintage was, we’ll say ‘less than optimal.’ From the pop of the cork, this high toned, expressive gem was pure poetry. Aromas of truffle shavings, lead pencil, bright red cherries, scorched earth and crushed rocks greet the taster in mature delight. Not only did the wine begin well, it persevered and gained a bit of depth as it aired, 90 points.

Margaux, 1978
Got to love the history of Bordeaux, the listed alcohol content of this wine is 11.5%! Well, although it seems to have the potency of a German Riesling in respect to its alcohol, this 30 year old claret is vibrant, intense and very structured. Very youthful in the mouth, exhibiting plenty of sappy black currant, bay leaf, fresh tobacco, blackberry and smoke notes that are persistent, generously textured and still quite rich in tannins. Perhaps the most masculine Margaux tasted this evening as it was not nearly as pretty as the rest, but it certainly was outstanding, 92 points.

Margaux, 1999
Hands down the most decadent, precocious vintage tasted this evening. The 1999 showed very rich and forward, w/ explosive currant paste, cassis, smoked mushrooms, tapenade, cocoa and plum pudding notes that are loaded w/ delicious, opulent baby fat. While youthful and exuberant, the wine is super endowed, layered and showed gorgeously enough to be drunk today, or cellared for up to 15 years, 94 points.

Margaux, 1998
This was my least favorite vintage as the harvest rains seems to have caused some dilution in Margaux, as well as several other upper Medocs from ’98 that I’ve tasted (I generally prefer the ‘99s Medocs to the ‘98s, so this is no surprise). The wine is backward, austere and currently has a structure which overwhelms the modest character of the wine. There are some cassis, violet and huckleberry notes to be found, but this wine is currently more about acid and tannin than it is about enjoyment (although the Margaux charm is still there!). While time may resolve some of the tannin, I wouldn’t imagine that the substance can withstand too much aggressive aging, 87 points.

Margaux, 1995
Here’s where the class of Margaux becomes very evident. While taut and compact (it shut down even more severely throughout the evening), this wine is exceptionally focused and hints at the exotic, with notes of violet, boysenberry, mocha, espresso and crème de cassis lurking in the background. In the palate, you can sense the wine is impeccably balanced, supremely channeled and light on its feet (although it demonstrates quite a bit of power). Don’t expect an explosion anytime soon; hibernation seems to be the word of the day for this vin de garde, 95+ points.

Margaux, 1996
Although ’96 was in line w/ the ’95 in the regard that it was more about potential, it was the crème de la tasting! This vintage of Margaux was somewhat reserved as well, but much flirtier and more exuberantly perfumed than the ’95 as it simply wouldn’t be contained! Notions of lilacs, cut cedar, graphite, black currant, blueberry sauce and wild berries seem to be on the verge of total eruption, but are grounded in a streamlined sense of impeccable finesse that seems almost haunting. A true synthesis of strength and grace and should be a wonder to watch evolve. If I were a millionaire, this would be the wine for me to pop on my 25th wedding anniversary, 97+ points.

Friday, January 11, 2008

From one world to another, Beaucastel & its offspring, Tablas Creek

The colonization of the ‘New Rhone’ can largely be attributed to one very important partnership involving the Perrins of famed Chateau Beaucastel and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands. The purchase of a 120 acre plot in western Paso Robles in 1989 marked the beginning of a project that would serve as the foundation not only for the Tablas Creek vineyard, but as a springboard towards providing Californian vintners w/ the plant material needed to craft world class Rhone-style wines.

After the high altitude, limestone rich land in Paso Robles was acquired, vines from Beaucastel’s estate vineyards were imported, indexed (to demonstrate that they were free of virus and disease), grafted and multiplied. Tablas Creek constructed one of the most invaluable nurseries in the state, providing pioneers like Bekcmen, Qupe, Ridge, Bonny Doon, Garretson and Zaca Mesa with access to over 200,000 bench grafted vines. Before the nursery was founded, access to reliable sources of Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Picpoul blanc was sparse, mostly via ‘suitcase clones,’ smuggled in by various growers (John Alban perhaps most famously). Varietals like Grenache Blanc and Counoise did not exist in the United States until Tablas Creek imported them in the ‘90s, enabling them to achieve BATF recognition in 2003 and 2000 respectively.

Tablas Creek has acted as a harbinger of Rhone influence and insight to the New World not only by providing exceptional plant material, but also by crafting some of the finest examples of Rhone inspired wine that the state of California has ever seen. With the exception of Edmunds St. John, there are hardly any Rhone Rangers that can exhibit the subtlety, finesse and complexity of a Tablas Creek wine. For that reason, I thought it would be interesting to taste their wines alongside their parent expressions from Beaucastel. I didn’t know whether I’d witness a brother-sister relationship in the wines or something more akin to that of distant cousins. Nevertheless, I figured that juxtaposing wines from different areas that came from the same clones, same producer and same ideology would be an intriguing match-up. The tasting did not disappoint.

The wines were served non-blind and decanted accordingly.

The whites:

Tablas Creek Roussanne, 2001
This ’50 case experiment’ came from the two best barrels of Roussanne and is the first year that Tablas Creek bottled the pure varietal. While Roussanne notoriously endures a finicky maturation process, this 6 year old bottle showed no signs of oxidation nor did it reveal that the wine had entered a dumb phase. A surprisingly open knit effort that exudes dried honey, flowers, poached pears and exotic coconut spice notes in the nose. The palate evokes notions of a fine Meursault as it is lavishly textured, nuanced and underpinned by a defining mineral character on the caressing finish, 92 points.

Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel White, 2003
The performance of the Roussanne made the showing of the ’03 seem like a bit of a let-down. This young white is currently taut and unyielding in its somewhat drowned character. Showing vanilla bean, candied lemon and high grade toast, the wine’s poise was undeniable although the complexities felt like they were hibernating a bit. A toughie to evaluate at this juncture, but patience may be rewarded, 88+ points?

Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes Roussanne, 2004
The standard bearer of fine white wine from the Southern Rhone showcased just what distinguishes it from the pack, as its haunting depth and marathon length were on full display once the cork was popped. A pure Roussanne, from 50 plus year old vines, explodes w/ waves of orange marmalade, honey coated pineapples, lanolin, buttered walnuts and green tea notes that coat the saturate the palate w/ thick, intense flesh. The texture can be likened to flan, as the wine’s low acid, pleasure-filled thrill-ride overwhelms the senses to infinity. Depending upon the vintage, Beaucastel’s expressions can achieve what is perhaps the apex of the varietal, 96 points.

Esprit de Beaucastel White, 2005
Now I was worried that tasting this wine would be like bringing a butter knife to a shotgun fight, but much like the Giants against the Patriots, this guy held his own! Even after the VV, the grace of the Esprit was impressive, as were the generous fig, pecan, melon and beeswax notes that personified the personality of this wine. The Grenache Blanc (25%) and Picpoul (5%) obviously charge this wine w/ much more racy, green apple driven acidity than a pure Roussanne, making a direct comparison between the two difficult (the ’01 Roussanne provided a more interesting side by side experience w/ the VV). The ’05 Esprit is a wonderfully textured, full bodied, crisp white that serves as a terrific homage to the Rhone, 92+ points.

The reds:

Tablas Creek Reserve Cuvee, 1999
This blend of 40% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 23% Syrah and 10% Counoise marked the second vintage for Tablas Creek, and it has matured beautifully. The first scents transplant me to the Rhone, as a cornucopia of saddle leather, cedar, dusky spice, white pepper, pipe tobacco, dried cherries and currant paste notes remind me of a cigar lounge. The palate shows spot on evolution as the tannins have resolved and the savory elements seem to harmonize in perfect symmetry. This was certainly fine form and style from Tablas, especially when you consider that the vines were barely a toddler’s age at the time, 91 points.

Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, 2004
A cepage that was heftier on Mourvedre (50%) and Syrah (27%) than the ’99, expressed one of the more distinctive profiles you’ll find in a Rhone Ranger. The aromatics were purely Provencal, with freshly picked rosemary, ground black pepper, hearty plum, hoisin sauce, and black berries leading the way to a suave, finesse-driven palate. This wine is wonderfully fashioned from head to toe and I find it’s melding of French sensibility and New World terroir to be riveting, 93 points.

1995 Beaucastel
This vintage of Beaucastel has always proved to be outstanding, but shows frustratingly irregular in terms of maturation. This bottle was the most evolved and expressive yet, as scents of truffles, cigar box, graphite, black currant, raspberry and loam emerge from the glass. While there is still a sinewy grip to its body, all the pieces seem to have fallen in the right place in this highly nuanced Beaucastel, 93 points.

1998 Beaucastel
A stark contrast to the ’95, this vintage’s pleasure driven personality is exuberant and explosive w/ just about every sensation a Grenache thrill seeker could ask for. Ripe, luxuriously rich notions of black forest cake, kirsch liqueur soaked Provencal herbs and roasted figs command the taster’s attention immediately. The wine is full and decadent in the mouth, w/ plush, boisterous character that would fool just about any Beaucastel purist in a blind line-up. A total knock-out, 96 points.

2000 Beaucastel
Much like most 2000’s, this wine is extravagantly perfumed, forward and out-right precocious from the starting gates. Aromas whack you over the head w/ plum sauce, black currant, spice box, dried mushroom and gravel leading the way. A rich, multi-layered body, with a core of rich, gorgeous fruit gushes over the palate with such ease, making this wine nearly impossible not to love, 94 points.

2001 Beaucastel
To me, this wine was the surprise of the evening as I had never tasted it previously and did not expect it to wow me more than the 2000 did. Boy, were my pre-conceived notions inaccurate! This was, hand down, the darkest, deepest and most seriously structured Beaucastel of the tasting and is an absolute masterpiece in the making. Black cherry, raspberry ganache, cocoa, garrigue and grilled meats power their way through the senses. A thick, opulent palate slowly unfolds to hint at its core of pure, dark fruit, massive concentration and show-stopping potential. Compared to its sibling vintages, this 2001 had by far the most intense, cascading finish that is sure to foreshadow a remarkable future, 97+ points.

Not only were the Tablas Creek wines not out of place adjacent to their more illustrious siblings, they were down right formidable. It is clear to me that they don’t want to make a French wine in California. Harnessing their unique terroir, clones and rich tradition has provided their New World wines w/ a character that exudes an Old World sensibility, a combination I have seldom noticed in other Rhone Rangers. It is a bit early to discuss track records w/ Tablas Creek, but this tasting demonstrated that these wines not only possess the ability to maintain in the short term, but to evolve favorably as well (something of which many Californian wines can’t claim). While the Perrins set the bar extremely high at Beaucastel, it seems the Haas family is poised to give the Rhone a run for its money, California style. Considering the youth of the vineyards at Tablas, these wines have nowhere to go but up in terms of quality. Considering their current modesty in pricing, I’d start experiencing these gems sooner rather than later. Something wonderful is happening in Paso Robles, and if you haven’t tried them already, I highly recommend you give the wines from Tablas Creek a shot.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fired from E-Bob!

The wife has given me the official boot from the boards and I gladly heed her request as I have a vested interest in keeping my testicles in tact. We’ll call it a temporary period of plonk probation. Never fear though, I’ll be rocking out w/ my wine cock out a la the appellation hizzy; sans the bickering, tubby old men that hate on this little boy and his subversive, inexperienced wine potty mouth. Hey, at least I’ll be getting laid.

There are a bunch of wild and wooly tastings in store and thousands (literally) of back-logged notes that are ready to gush out onto the ‘ole bloggie. Hopefully my cyber wine withdrawals will harness my focus into this industry w/ the laser like precision of an 80’s rock star’s mullet. I hear wine drinking is good for those types of symptoms….

To kick things off, my senior editor, wife Ejehan, will list her top ten reasons why there aren’t more chicks on wine boards. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Cayuse Experiment

I just slurped my way through multiple vintages of varied vineyard designated Syrahs from Cayuse. This exercise (much like exercises in college involving forty ounce curls) offered up some preliminary conclusions regarding these wines that I'd like to share w/ the group.

1). The wines are flat out delicious. Obviously not constructed in a 'universal tastes will adore them' fashion, but this particular palate is still salivating over the Great American Scream-machine rollercoaster ride they provided me with (I’m already back in line for another spin).

2). There are sparse other wines from the New World that have the singularity and unbridled zealous character of a Syrah from Christophe Baron. With the exception of Clarendon Hills, I’ve yet to find a Syrah outside of France that tasted more like a Cote Rotie than Cayuse.

3). There is a hallmark style that Cayuse exhibits in each vintage that strikes me as more sharply specific than most any other producer. Although different vintages display varying weight, acidic tone and length, these wines are unmistakably Cayuse year in, year out.

4). Cayuse Syrah is the most forward, precocious fine wine I’ve ever experienced. Irrespective of the vintage, the wine essentially screeches out of the bottle once the cork is popped. Decanting this wine has been as senseless as watching a Lifetime movie; it simply doesn’t change it a bit (for better or for worse). I’ve yet to experience tightening up in any one of Christophe’s Syrahs, regardless of vintage and/or bottle variation.

5). Now I’ve hardly done an exhaustive study (and these wines don’t possess enough of a track record for me to accurately gauge), but from the ’00 to the ’04, these stubborn little buggers don’t seem to change at all! Up to this point, I’ve yet to experience an evolution in response to neither modest bottle aging nor oxygenation. It would be a massive leap of faith for me to predict any evolution other than the wine maintaining status quo for an impressive amount of time (10-15 years perhaps) and then inevitably degenerating. Because they perform so beautifully via pop ‘n pour and have such great typicity, blindly buying the wine and drinking it at your leisure (assuming you enjoy the profile) is nearly guaranteed, sans TCA….but waiting for a miracle to happen in the cellar seems a bit foolish, at least at this juncture.

I can’t possibly correlate these ‘types of wines’ w/ other ‘types of wines,’ to broadly state that ‘New World wines don’t evolve,’ but as of now- drink ‘em if you got ‘em, or hold ‘em for that special moment…perhaps tucking one bottle away to see if the unpredictable does eventually happen….but when it drinks this well young w/ almost immediate complexity, and shows no signs whatsoever of budging, why wait & what exactly are you waiting for?