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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Pratts Invitational, Rock n' Rhone

Excess pushed to excess….gluttony gone ga-ga. The 4th annual Pratt’s pow-wow was embarrassingly my first (though I did show for the summertime siesta…so perhaps this makes me an honorary two-timer), but I think this year’s Rhone table put out a performance that more than compensated for 3 years of missed opportunities to over indulge during the Super Bowl bye week. I’d like to thank Mark Franks for his due-diligence in setting up yet another smashingly successful afternoon, complete with excessive libation, laughter and….lard. Kudos for rounding up 80 plus of us Yankees all the way up to the quaint village of Yorktown; which seemed as remote as the possibility of staying sober throughout the afternoon.

Where do I begin? Perhaps at the beginning…yet I’ve completely lost any sense of where or when that may have been. On to the fizz:

1996 Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame
A beautiful, yet tightly wound expression of the ’96 vintage that uncoils notes of buttered citrus, warm brioche, tangerine oil and passion fruit notes from the glass. A focused, fresh entry leads to a medium weight, lip smacking river of bubbles that zip along a firm skeleton, remaining backward and full of potential. This vintage showed very little yeasty characteristics, making me wonder if Veuve backed off the battonage in ’96, 92+ points.

2001 Les Cailloux Centenaire
I’ve had a total of 6 bottles of ’98, ’00 and ’01 that were underwhelming to say the least, and this example of ’01 was an outright wretched expression. The nose was an appalling array of rotten garbage, grilled vegetable and burnt soy notes that turned anemic and mouth-puckering in the palate, feigning a sour vinegar flavor that made me grit my teeth just to swill it. The brown, rust-colored hue was a dead give away that this bottle had been six feet under far before its time. What is wrong w/ this cuvee? 50 points

2001 Caillou Quartz
Relative to the Centenaire, this was an impenetrably dark colored Chateauneuf, full of vigor and extract, w/ a thick ‘n rich mouthful of black pepper, tea, anise and black currant paste flavors. The profile was a bit rugged and primal at first, but airtime really helped stretch out the texture, letting the dark fruits sing all the way through the finish, 95 points.
1990 Pignan
Next to Aubert (which is notoriously cloudy and crammed w/ chunks even in its youth), this was perhaps the most fun I’d ever had chewing my way through sediment in a glass of wine. Sloppy seconds will never taste this good! An almost shockingly primary, spry expression of pure bing cherry and raspberry fruit pumped along a fabulously juicy, full bodied current, cutting a broad swath from the attack to finish. Forward, fruity and full of intensity in reserve, this vintage showed fabulously well, albeit in a very youthful fashion, 94 points. This is as close to a ’90 Rayas high as I’ve had, and the little sister sure was a showboat.

1989 Beaucastel
This was the first in line for our impromptu ‘mini-Beau vertical,’ shouting ‘don’t look a gift horse in the nose’ from the glass. The ’89 Beaucastel demonstrates what the brilliant oxymoron ‘classy brett’ is all about. Though the archetypal leather, soy and game notes are all there, but it’s almost as if they were woven into the nose w/ kid gloves, playing background tunes as opposed to chamber music (read, 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape). The palate is impeccably refined, fleshing out its garrigue, tapenade, red currant and plum sauce notes beautifully along the fresh, gorgeously delineated spine that has yet to let go of its youthful tannins. While I find the ’89 to be in its prime today, it will likely continue to show well over the next dozen or so years, 96 points.

1998 Beaucastel
Thankfully Dave came much more prepared than me and reloaded our line-up w/ an extra vintage of Beaucastel to atone for my foul debris of a ’01 Centenaire. Although it was served a bit chilly (and sans decant), the ’98 revealed striking purity and sweetness of fruit that gained a full head of steam as it sat in the glass. A pretty, floral bouquet of cinnamon, kirsch liqueur, rose petals and licorice turn round and supple in the palate. The full bodied, multi-dimensional flavors are backed by a plush texture and great drive, leaving you thirsting for more, 95 points.
2000 Beaucastel Hommage Jacques Perrin
What a way to end the Beaucastel portion of the program! A flat out WOW performance from the house’s luxury cuvee, launching a spectacular nose of Indian spices, cured beef, fresh cedar, tree bark, melted licorice and warm plum sauce scents from the glass. Once this hits the palate it truly spellbinds, unfurling a stacked, almost primordial display of layer after layer of dark, yet exquisitely polished berry fruit that stays impeccably focused through the marathon of a finish. This tastes like a superhuman version of Domaine Tempier’s Tourtine, except the poise and sheer succulence of the wine simply can’t be matched, it is perfection personified, 100 points.

1997 Guigal La Landonne
The perfumes of the ’97 had a subtle allure, almost hypnotizing w/ the sweet cassis, milk chocolate and mint notes that seemed far more primary than I’d expected. Far less evolved in the mouth than the La Turque of the same vintage, yet silky and plush, cut by a seamless ease to the fruit, carrying the wave of flavor to the firm, youthful grip of the finish, 93+ points.

1998 Delas La Landonne
Far more mature than the Landonne and perhaps a more enjoyable drink today is the Delas ’98. A classic rendition of spicy blueberry, bacon fat and smoke shoot from the glass as if it were sitting on a spring. The entry isn’t as suave as Guigal’s, unfolding to reveal a bit harder, more foursquare dimension, but not sacrificing flavor one bit. The concentration is outstanding, which bodes well for drinking over the next decade, 92 points.

2000 Guigal La Landonne
The nose is much more savage than the ’97, w/ a smokier, beefier profile that speaks more to the animal end of the spectrum. The sweet attack of black currant paste turns surprisingly rigid in the midpalate, flexing some serious tannic sinew and closing down a bit on the finish. A la ’86 Bordeaux, I expect this to evolve glacially, but I don’t imagine patience will be awarded w/ a sheer transformation, 91+ points.

1998 Autard Cote Ronde
While very good, I found this cuvee to be a bit disappointing. Perhaps it simply couldn’t stand up to the company, showing a lightly colored robe and smelling of fresh pepper, strawberry, nori wrappers and fleur de sel. A brisk, almost sour cherry entry fans out on the palate to a medium bodied, juicy close that left me wanting a bit more depth and intensity of fruit, 88 points.

1998 Jamet Cote Rotie
First thing I thought of when I stuck my nose into the glass was ‘mmmm, beef jerky!’ A gorgeous leather, pepper, iron and blackberry sauce scented boquet sailed off to a resolved, juicy palate of fresh fruits that tuck away to a round, tidy finish, 91 points.

I had the good fortune of tasting various other terrific bottles...including Romanee Conti (I broke my cherry!), Quartes de Chaume, Clinet '89 & a Richebourg....I'll try to get up a vague picture of those wine experiences in a bit...I've got a bit of the Monday morning blues to fight off first!

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