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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Chateau Palmer Vertical

I can count my experiences w/ this estate on one hand (save for multiple samplings of the great ’99 vintage), so I drew upon a familiar M.O., vertical immersion, to get the ball rolling with Chateau Palmer. Perhaps one of the reasons that I haven’t given Palmer much play has been due to its price. Well, that and its siren of a neighbor, Chateau Margaux’s sea-sized shadow, trimming my view of the appellation to tunnel vision. My few experiences w/ Palmer have been fine, but hardly remarkable enough to keep me searching. So our Bordeaux clique gave it a shooter’s chance at Allegretti see if there are, in fact, points awarded for second place.

A duo of Fevre Chablis lit the candle, w/ the lightly oaked ’04 Preuses impressing me w/ its precision and clarity of flavor. Its nutmeg tinged green fruit glided over a refined, stony frame. Chiseled yet fleshy, the Preuses is already in a sweet spot & primed to drink well over the next half-dozen or so years. The ’02 Valmur, on the other hand, was caught in a funky phase. Its nose reminded me of an old Savennieres, w/ creamy hazelnut, quince and ginger scents hitting at disjointed angles, leaving a dull and flat impression on the palate. It’s debatable whether or not this has fallen to premature oxidation or has crept away to an awkward corner of its lifespan. The always affable NV Duval Leroy cleansed our palates afterwards, with its slightly evolved notes of coffee, grilled nuts and honeysuckle. She’s bright & fresh, w/ a refined bead of bubbles framing its finish w/ class.

The single blinded flights of 3 commenced w/ the sweet perfume of the ’95, a simply beautiful nose of pure black currant, truffle oil & morning earth. Closed and a bit lean in the mouth, while obviously ripe it was just too taut to yield its inner virtue. This vintage continues to be overshadowed by ’96 in side by side tastings (at least from a left bank perspective), and I begin to wonder if their snail’s pace towards fleshing out will be eclipsed by their proclivity to dry out. The latter two vintages of the flight couldn’t have been more transparent. The first, obviously the 2000, revealed the power & raw density of the vintage, w/ broad, yet sweet tannins coating the smoky graphite, dark chocolate and blackberry flavors. Primal and still a touch too young to start playing with, the wine’s shield of sinew is sure to Sheppard its full belly of fruit well into its 40s. The final member of the flight, obviously the ’99, seduced with its sensual, up-front sweetness, bringing an almost cherry cordial-like note to the bouquet. Its suave, velvety roundness spread sweet licorice & graphite flavors over the palate like melted butter to bread, offering up the pure pleasure of its primary coat. The only problem w/ our group’s brilliant take on the vintages is that we flip-flopped them, mislabeling the ’99 as the titan and the ’00 as the vixen. Whoops?! I don’t think there’s any question left to what the wine of the vintage was in 1999.

The second flight was yet another moment where our group’s bravado outweighed the situation’s tangible reality. The first vintage, clearly the great ’83, had an absolutely gorgeous, tertiary bouquet, full of mint, basil leaf, porcini mushrooms & lead pencil shaving, leaving me weak in the knees. The savory entry left the palate awash in sweet cassis and ripe cherry fruit, driving its full bodied band of flavor over a rock solid backbone. The apex of the mountain is a remarkable experience with great wine, and this was just that point in time that all its beauty has touched the summit, for if it were to fly any closer to the sun it would surely leave your lips in flames. Its pinnacle was followed by the stern, struggling youth of what must have been the ’90, w/ grippy, black tea-like tannins squeezing the core of uber-fruit to the point of strangulation. Spicy notions of licorice snap & black currant fanned a bit of opulence, but there was simply too much beefed up tannin dialing back the high notes. Finally, the lone contamination of the evening brought up the rear of the flight, and I seem to have lost its origin through the TCA haze (the ’89?). Well, smart minds think alike, and our genius was showing yet again. The ’90 was the ’83 and the ’83 was the ’90. The ‘bizarro Palmer world’ continues to trudge on, leaving us w/ the impression that the ’83 is over-rated & under-evolved, and the ’90 was under-rated and over-evolved. In spite of the rapid progression of this particular bottle of the ’90, the fact remains that it performed impeccably. That being said, if this bottle was at all representative of its true lifespan, I’d drink up whatever stash I had over the next 5 years….before lightning leaves the bottle.

The final flight rendered me so idle that I forgot to jot down the correct vintages of each. Thankfully, Kravitz paid more attention than I & we’ve since connected the dots. The first was fresh, with a lip-smacking, mouth-watering disposition that gave its dusty cherry core nice drive and focus. There’s a good deal of substance remaining in the ‘85, especially on the finish, which fans out an attractive array of cedar and spice notes. The second, the ’75, had demonstrated considerable decay, with its fading colors and watered down character turning greener & greener w/ each subsequent sniff. The soil tones were too dirty to be pleasant & the surrounding cherry and tea flavors were too modest to keep the wine afloat. We capped off the night w/ the modern, big-dollar youth of the 2002. The unattractive high char-nose was obvious, w/ splintery elements funneling over a mixture of dark fruits & rubbing alcohol. I considered this an unmasked, almost vulnerable showing, w/ a midpalate pummeled by extraction & shallow fruit, ending on an abrupt note. Far from an outstanding wine, yet in all fairness its phase appears to be an unforgiving one. Don’t touch.

All told, the ’90, ’99 and ’00, for me, were the most singular expressions of Palmer during the vertical. While distinct, they all synthesized elegant, full frames w/ terrific perfume. The ’83 and ’95 had outstanding elements, yet I’m concerned that their stubbornness may get the best of them. I would have liked to see what Palmer did w/ the raw materials of ’89 (especially as a contrast to the rapidly evolved showing of the ’90), as well as ’96 (juxtaposed to the showy, yet hard ’95). In terms of older vintages, if anyone has had experience w/ some of the more heralded vintages (ie: ’61), please chime in. I’m curious to see what Palmer’s perception is, particularly to Margaux buffs. My sample size is far too small to have formed an opinion of any validity, but the top performers of this tasting have piqued my curiosity to dig a bit deeper.

Wine Rating
Fevre Preuses '04 93
Fevre Valmur '02 78?
Duval Leroy NV 90
Palmer:
'95 91
'99 96+
'00 95
'90 97
'83 92
'89 ?
'85 89
'75 71
'02 79?

*For fair balance, I believe Rich was the only source of dissension in correctly identifying the ’99 and ’00. His reasoning was that ‘I always like the 2000’s best, and it is a slutty vintage.’ Well played Mr. Stahmer.

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