An eclectic line-up of double blinded wines, tasted w/ Napa's Mike Hirby & company
Ben Sherwin put together a cozy gathering of geeks at the behest of his friend Mike Hirby, the winemaker of Relic and Realm fame. Mike is an easy going, engaged connoisseur & we had the pleasure of enjoying his brief furlow in New York at Dovetail in the upper west side (Sherwin and his damned west side). I ignorantly confused Mike w/ Juan Mercado multiple times, yet Mike took it in stride, and when I asked him if experimenting w/ such a variety of styles would render his brand diffuse, he replied ‘probably, I guess. But then again, I really don’t care about that, I like a bunch of different styles of wines and that’s what I intend on making.’ I liked him immediately. While Mike was generous enough to pour a few of his more inventive bottlings, the order of the night was more of a blind grab bag. I’d imagine there was a bit of rhyme and reason to this tasting, as we’d originally slated ‘Bordeaux blends w/ Mike Hirby’ as a makeshift theme, but it was followed rather loosely. Considering that Ben Goldberg did not bring a white (his customary bottle of Fevre Chablis) and Paul Jaouen wasn’t in attendance (w/ his super-secret blind bottle of Musar), we were in a tough way in terms of guesses. I hedged my bets, refraining from my customary spew of the usual suspects.
We began with a pair of whites; the first was Izzy’s idiosyncratic gem that smelled of wax, bee pollen and a mélange of other Savennieres-like delights. The wine’s real virtue lied in its flavors, which were a creamy, enveloping mixture of quince paste, ginger & honeysuckle, littered in chalk dust and exploding w/ uber-complexity. Full and long, with its multi-layered, almost chewy texture turning heads across the table. I settled on an older Chave Hermitage Blanc, as I have had a handful of mature samples that seemed akin in profile. I was wrong, but only a stone’s throw away, as it was the ’99 Beaucastel VV, a wine which I reveled in my incorrectness, sneaking multiple pours as the night went on. We juxtaposed the Beaucastel (my first ‘mature’ sampling of Beau, as my other tastes have all been babies) w/ Mike’s Relic ‘Sage’ ’08, an innovative blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Viognier and a smattering of Rousssanne and Marsanne. While 70% of the oak usesd for Sage was new, it was well concealed, displaying the poise and balance one hardly expects from a wine of this alcohol content (15%+?). The floral, tangerine blossom notes stay light on their feet, whispering across the palate, letting the wine’s nutty edge take over to a strong finish.
The two Relic Pinot Noirs couldn’t have been more distinct. The first, the ’07 Tradition, originated from the Alder Springs site in Mendocino. The tradition is a 50% whole cluster job, which was housed in 3 year old oak barrels during elevage. The wine was a really spicy, earthy concoction that kept its strawberry, olive and cola notes at bay w/ an old world twist, emphasizing severe minerality and crunchy acidity. Fans of Whitcraft’s Pinot Noir line-up are likely to find pleasure in this wine. The sleazier ’08 Sonoma Coast speaks more to the New World folks, w/ lovely red berry fruit, buffered by sea breeze and rose petal notes that I found immediately attractive. I found it to be an exceptionally pure, super-suave effort, yet I seemed to be alone at the table in my adoration (damn those old world palates that caved so easily for the whole cluster of the tradition!). That said, each respective style is crafted well, so diametrically opposed palates are likely to find one wine that suits their taste buds, while the other is sure to elicit indigestion.
As for the blind reds, we began w/ mine, which stank up the place, but only for a moment. Once the sultry spoilage yeast baked off, a lovely bouquet of mushroom, lead pencil, black currant and savory spice strut from the stem. The wine’s sophisticated and classy side was demonstrated in the palate, w/ firm, yet regal tannins holding sway over the belly of dark fruit for now, yet its length and definition bode well for the cellar. Guesses were all over the place, from Napa, to Bordeaux to South America (Mike pegged it as Chilean, which I thought insightful, albeit erroneous), and so I teased out that it was a 2003 from Europe, which brought the pundits to their knees. The Super Tuscan Oreno, from Tenuta Sette Ponti, held its own, a producer that I love, yet a wine I don’t often drink. This was followed up by Jim’s lip smacking, almost Burgundian red, w/ its smoky cherry and pomegranate flavors that shed nary a tannin in the mouth. Its acidity and freshness were the most prominent features, and intelligible guesses were nil. The 2000 Granges des Peres baffled me w/ its lean, yet crisp profile that belied its pedigree and cepage.
Another Relic slid its way into the tasting, the ’07 Artefact from Napa, with its grounded, authentic profile of sweet black currant, gravel and pepper. Finely grained tannins lead the way to a long, full-flavored finish. This strong effort was followed by the grossest offender of the tasting. Wine’s seldom piss me off, simply because I don’t take their performances personally, and I tend to have a broad enough palate to stomach well made juice from a bevy of distinct styles. That said, I found the ’05 Amuse Bouche not only insipid, but borderline offensive in its ribald tone. A blocky amorphous drool of fudge toast smarted from the glass, with enough volatile acidity to penetrate marble. The wine reminded me of cheap birthday cake frosting, flogged w/ artificial colors and grotesquely sweetened by sugar, yet without the cakey dough to offset its cloy. This utterly false wine product bears no class & is as obvious as aspartame.
The following two bottles both bore California origins, w/ the first showing its age. The nose of sawdust, old cedar, sweet balsamic and red currants was more attractive (or tolerable) to others than myself. Its flavors were filtered through a salad shooter, turning a touch desiccated on the lean finish. The second was a heartier, dense wine that brought an old Dunn to mind. The savory scents of mushroom, seared meat, anise and spicy cherries turned packed and gutsy in the palate, maintaining quite a bit of muscle through the firm finish. The vintage guess, 1986, turned out to be spot on for the Spottswoode & Montelena, though our minds were improperly set on the Medoc.
The final two samples from the Hirby express were the ’07 Realm To Kolan & a barrel sample of the ’08 Relic Rock Ledge. The To Kalon’s high pedigree was immediately evident, with its decadent scents of espresso roast, melted chocolate & crème de cassis. The ’07 is a rich, full-bodied mouthful of Cabernet, w/ sweet, free flowing flavors that had the hallmark To Kalon texture and an almost ethereal grace from start to finish. The Rock Ledge was a primal, powerfully imbued wave of bittersweet cocoa and blue fruit, pushed by high quality tannins to a long, lusty finish. We wrapped up the evening, thanks to the generosity of Izzy, w/ a ’93 D’Yquem. The ’93 was keenly selected by Izzy’s logic, whereas a bad red Bordeaux vintage is sure to yield a top flight year for Sauternes. The ‘93 had to be the closest thing I’ve had to a ‘mature’ D’Yquem that I’ve sampled, or at least the first blatantly tertiary one. This is a Sauternes of exquisite texture and nuance, w/ salted nut, saffron, cedar and honeysuckle notes filling out the middle-weight, persistent profile. It appears that the botrytis wasn’t abundant in’ 93, suppressing the typical dried apricot and peach from the belly of the wine, yet I enjoyed it from a more provocative standpoint nonetheless.
Beaucastel VV 95
Relic Sage 91
Relic Pinot Noir Tradition ’07 92
Relic Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ’08 93
Oreno ’03 94
Grange des Peres ’00 88
Relic Artefact ’07 91
Amuse Bouche ’05 61
Spottswoode ’86 71
Montelena ’86 89
Realm To Kolan ’07 94+
Relic Rock Ledge ’08 92+
D’Yquem ’93 91