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Monday, October 26, 2009

100 Point Wine, Before & After

Expectations and experience tend to soften excitement in wine, muffling the high pitch of greatness to meager moans. It can be difficult to savor the high highs once a sensory resume has been established, just as the anticipatory thrill of perfection can carve the pleasure from the stem like a critical mass. As oddly as it sounds, the Quilceda Creek 2003 & Barroche Pure 2005 had the odds stacked high against them on football Sunday. Adding two 100 point albatrosses to two discerning palates, coupled w/ atrophied wallets, was certain to net disastrous results of squared proportions.

The backdrop, a non-competitive NFL match between the New York Giants and Oakland Panty Raiders, proved to be as scintillating an event as a horizontal comparison of country appellation boxed wine. I pity the people of Oakland, home to a professional band of charlatans, who continue to pilfer millions of dollars from their masked fans, governed by a throng of stern senility.

We began with a chuckle, swilling down a bottle of 2007 Beaurenard blanc, which had the ullage of a 35 year old wine and all the zip one could hope for from a local grocer’s hard apple cider. Secondly, I unearthed a bottle of 1986 Trotanoy, which managed to fan a flame of mediocrity w/ all the smoke & heat of a damp kindling fire. Insipidly vegetal, with beet root and tired fungal flavors smoldering through the palate like dead leaves. A quintessential example of what tertiary wines taste like with nary a drop of fruit left in the well, leaving the mouth w/ a hankering for Australian Shiraz, desiccated.

As the Quilceda & Barroche lay in their decanters, juxtaposed in dark brooding shades, all I could think of was how much I wanted a beer. Bad football and over-priced, frothy Bud Light go together like Stilton and Sauternes. That said, my apathy for the game kept me away from Miller time, so I drew some of the Barroche into my Burgundy stem like a scientist sucking away a sample into a slick pipette. It had been brewing in the decanter for over an hour, intensifying like hot coffee in a French press. Now I’d tasted every other vintage of Pure to date, the ’04, ’06 and ’07 (Julien came on board at Barroche in ’02, w/ his first two vintages being to erratic to bottle), but I had yet to taste ‘the vintage.’ ‘The vintage,’ deified w/ a 3 figure salute in the Hedonist’s Gazette, is scarcer than a defected Cuban ballplayer on Castro soil. My opportunities to savor one of my two bottles hadn’t existed up to that point, so I created one. I took a deep breath & did my best to extricate all the pomp and circumstance from the glass, then tasted the wine.

It was closed at first, almost blinding you to its intensity and depth. As I patiently swirled away, scents of rose petals, pepper and sweet kirsch emerged, on the verge but far too coiled to disband. Its flavors attacked slowly but continued to progress, elevating like numbers on a dial with each swish and swirl. Full and enveloping, then absolutely blasting off to an explosive finish that leaves your senses recoiled, like an abrupt stop to a high speed chase. The flavors ran the gamut through the dark side of the Grenache-spectrum, twisting a bitter cocoa and fruitcake note on the midpalate, then spackling its tactile mineral core on the back-end.

The ’05 Pure is tangibly young, but seems to share a bit of its neighbor’s sandy soil driven minerality, in spite of its immense size, structure and breadth. I own one more bottle, and I aint’ touchin’ it for at least another five years. One down….

If the Quilceda Creek were a person, it would be stewing away in that decanter thinking ‘great, now it’s my turn?!’ Tough act to follow, but the Quilceda did have a leg up on the Pure from a couple angles. One, I’d only tasted one previous vintage of the wine (’04), and two, the Cabernet grape was sure to seem like a novelty to my palate, seeing that I draw Grenache fluids into my body intravenously. Well, the stars were aligned for QC ’03, scattering a constellation of fruit that blanketed any possible dissension from each one of its 100 points.

Its perfume, redolent of eucalyptus and the oils of crushed flowers, was as pure and natural an aromatic expression of New World Cabernet as I’ve ever smelled. While large-scaled in the palate, it possessed an ethereal sense of ease that belied her density, unspooling layers of flavors like wavering fields of wheat in the breeze. The finish was awash with tiers of cassis and blueberry fruit, packaged by impeccably suave tannins. I found myself more contemplative after I swallowed it, as it grew in presence the longer the flavors lingered. If I were an architect conjuring a Cabernet from the ground-up, I don’t think I could have even imagined assembling a structure more impressive than this.

On this particular day, the two wines defied all the drugstore psychology. While it is quantitatively impossible to smash the expectations of a 100 point wine (save for a new scale), these wines left resounding impressions in addition to their promise, and I found that particularly noteworthy. If a certain entity is supposed to illicit a certain familiar emotion, does that render the end result less pleasurable? I’d gather the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Wines, like people, are moody, fickle creations that are too multi-dimensional to predict or expect. Even if they possess the raw materials & acute evolution to affect you in a subjectively ‘perfect’ manner, what if you are incapable of embracing that affection at that given point? The mood wasn’t right, the company was stifling, the food was loathsome, you didn’t sleep well last night….so on & so forth.

Should I be more impressed w/ these wines for their ability to deliver perfection in spite of some peripherally damning elements? Or should I credit the environment for enabling the experience to proceed w/o a hitch? I’m inclined to champion the former, particularly w/ the Oakland Raiders and hot dogs filling out the nexus of the latter.

As an epilogue, I can say that the two wines shared an objective profundity in terms of presence and length. While it is difficult to quantify either trait, I can only describe them as aspects of 3 dimensional wines. They affect your senses through a range of emotions. Their perfumes, textures and array of vivid flavors seem to mature and excite each aspect of taste & all at once, while the wine is present and when it is gone. They evolve like scenes of a play, maintaining the moment while impressing upon a broader scope.

For comparison purposes, we drank a bottle of 2000 Beaucastel afterwards. With all due respect to the Chateau, it seemed a mere aperitif after these two goliaths, demonstrating just how ‘normal’ even a great wine can be in such classic company. When interpreting scores, don’t kid yourself into believing that the differences between a 100 point wine and a 93 point wine are negligible (for those that don’t score wines, you can extrapolate the points into whatever classification of experience that you choose).

As an addendum, these wines were all drank 3 weeks ago. I took no notes but remember the Pure & QC as if they were still on my lips. I had no intention of using Beaucastel as a whipping boy, but it provided a much needed sense of relativity.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Super Sardinian

Agricola Punica is a sprawling 370 acre estate that lies in the southwestern region of Sardinia, splicing its land between the Barrua & Narcao sites. Admittedly, the only reason I sampled the Barrua was due to its high pedigree, as it is the brainchild of Sebastiano Roca of Sassicaia fame, the President of Catina Santadi Antonello Pilloni & under the technical supervision of Giacomo Tachis. Whatever the catalyst, I’m glad to have Barrua as part of my vinous consciousness.

Tachis found enough similitude from his origins at Bolgheri to jump into Sardinia waters & explore the virtues of old bush trained Carignano. As for Barrua, it is labeled under the I.G.T. of Isola dei Nuraghi, which makes allusion to the Neolithic stone towers that were erected by the Nuragic civilization, an archetype of the pre-Roman Sardinian landscape. The Barrua vineyard is a cross-section of 25 acres of old vine Carignano & 50 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and younger Carignano vines, planted to soils of clay and sand.

Intense Scirocco African winds are a thumbprint of the southwestern Sardinia climate, sprinting over the hot Sardinian sea like a southern Rhone mistral. The arid, sun-baked summers draw another parallel to the Rhone, which further elucidates the success of Cannonau (Grenache) in the island. The more I traipse through the tunnels of the island’s climatic data, the more I dig it.

Barrua is a blend of 85% Carignane, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon & 5% Merlot. It represents the finest lots, unfined and unfiltered. The elevage is exacting, as the wine spends 18 months in a third of new, a third one year old & a third 2 year old Allier oak barriques. The wine retails in the high 30’s price range.

Agricola Punica Barrua, 2004
I loved the '03 vintage of this wine & the '04 version follows suit. This novel Sardinian blend represents the nexus between Sassicaia's Cabernet and the rugged garrigue of the Rhone valley. The perfume is redolent of warm, Cabernet Franc-like scents, with thyme, cedar, pepper and menthol essences seeping from the stem. Its richness of character translates to the palate, as a lacy entry drives spicy red currant and plum flavors along a finely textured frame. The symmetry & elegance are of Bordeaux text, yet a certain zesty freshness speaks in another volume, 94 points.