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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The cure for the '07 Chateauneuf hangover? An '06 horizontal

What’s the statute of limitations on note taking? A week? A month? A year? While I haven’t quite hit the latter mark, I feel as if my procrastination has been drawn out long enough to compel me to prostrate myself before you and repent. Let’s hope my brail-inflected chicken scratchings are reliable enough to jog my memory of a not so recent February evening.

With regards to Chateauneuf du Pape, most of my tastings have been research oriented, but this last gathering was inspired purely by purchasing decisions. See, I’ve been drinking up my ‘98s (save for an uber cuvee or two), ‘99s, ‘00s & ‘04s, while hanging onto most of my ‘01s & ‘05s, which is all well and good, but what should I be stocking up on now? I’d been nibbling at some ‘06s and indiscriminately buying any 2007 that is priced between 8 and 25 dollars (w/ almost universal success). Now the thing about ’07 is that the line between the entry level cuvee and super-mega cuvee is a bit blurred, at least at this point in the game, but the pricing is hardly reflective of this phenomenon. I’m all set w/ 200 dollar wine, so I wanted to see if I could scratch the surface on some other buying opportunities in the region.

I decided to put together a pow-wow of sorts for a young, but already forgotten vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape, 2006. While ’06 lacks the snap, crackle and pop of recent juggernauts like ’05 & ’07, its wines also lack the high price tags. For those that feel overstuffed on opulence, hype & scores that ooze from the pours like salty sweat, I figured that some accounts on the still available, modestly priced 2006 vintage would be music to your ears (as well as mine). The beauty of tasting the ’06 vintage at this juncture is 3fold:
  • The wines are cheap enough to sample the big boys, which are otherwise prohibitively expensive in top years
  • The character of the vintage is forward, fresh & easy on the palate, allowing for pleasurable samplings early & often
  • Bargain searchers have to strike while the iron is hot. Which values are legit & worth stocking up on before they disappear?

Stylistically, fans of the 2004 vintage will generally gravitate to the ‘06s as the profiles & quality is comparable (much less the price, less we forget that ’04 also fell between the cracks of ’03 & ’05 oblivion). The tasting, which was single blind, demonstrated that top wines of the vintage shared a uniformity in quality (my scores for each were all w/in a few points), with a bit more structure than most of us had originally anticipated. While the wines were generally approachable, just about all could have used a 1-2 hour decant to unwind (I made a point to note wines that were not decanted and suffered from it. In these cases, I blamed the person bringing the wine, not the wine itself for its performance, eh-hem Jaouen). Surprisingly, none of the top cuvees showed any over-blown or blowzy characteristics at this stage, as there really wasn’t a dud in the batch (save for a bottle or two).

We commenced the tasting w/ a Boxler Riesling Sommerberg 2001, which has slid into a nice, ample phase. Its waxy aromatics gave way to a teeth-chattering profile of green apple and citrus, leaving an electric tinge on the tongue as it went down the gullet. The 2nd white, an ’06 Clos des Papes blanc, showed how vexing white Rhones can be. This is typically one of my favorite whites in the Rhone (alongside Beaucastel & Chave’s Hermitage), but this particular bottle had stumbled into some clumsy drinking. The nose reminds me of the under-ripe fruit found in Chenin, with persimmon and quince notes rounded out by a mélange of background nuts. The undressing began in the palate, as the texture seems to have flattened to a dull, soft shape that was perforated by alcohol and jumbled licks of fruit cocktail. It is almost impossible to predict the evolution of these wines, so let’s hope it is a bottle issue and not a phase that it’s already entered (though it is always smart to heed Avril’s advice on waiting 10 years to drink his whites).

As for the reds, the first of the flight was one of the more backward showings of the evening. A deep nose of bing cherry, rose and warm liqueur wheeled into a core of finely grained, youthful tannins on the palate. Broad shouldered, well defined and polished, this beauty needs another 2 years to drive. It was Suzanne’s wine, and I believe she called it, Usseglio’s Mon Aieul. The second, obviously touched by a kiss of new oak (though one wonders if it would have been less obviously oaked by itself), revealed a layered, dark personality as it aired in the glass. Notes of fruitcake, bittersweet cocoa powder and smoky toast rounded out the full bodied fist of flavor, still wrapped in a youthful bite on the finish. I guessed Mordoree Reine des Bois correctly (score!) and happily took home the sloppy seconds which really came into their own on day 2. The 3rd of the flight was just fabulous. A blossomy bouquet of rose petals opened up in sheer perfume, as only old vine, naked Grenache can. The muscular, beefy notes showed a firm edge of rippling acidity, maintaining long, full flavors in the mouth well after the Janasse VV had expired.

So, whoever ordered the ‘blind’ wines FUBAR'd a bit here. The next flight was all Jaouen’s and he knew it. Not because he’s a soothsayer, but because he cheated and tasted them all moments before. Couple that w/ the fact that he didn’t decant them and his junior varsity colors really begin to show….but I digress. The first of the flight actually sang sans decant, sleazing its sweet goodies without the slightest nugget of foreplay. The rainbow of smells danced up and down the red fruit spectrum, curdling in potpourri, licorice and hard spice notes for added depth. A heady, powerful entry zigged and zagged over the palate, needing a bit of air to fill out the frame but at $19.99, this Clos St. Jean is about as rock star as an Andrew Jackson greenback gets you in wine. Now the next in flight was served at too chilly a temperature, quelling its cassis & almost tropical notes to a dull roar. It seemed soft & easy drinking at first, w/ an almost pillowy, murmurous finish. That said, as it warmed to the air its sinew showed, broadening up on the palate & reminding us a bit more of what young Beaucastel should taste like. Lastly, Paul’s final snafu came in the shape of Charvin, which I’d tasted on 4 previous occasions (eh-hem, all w/ an hour decant) but this showing could be dubbed as paradoxical at best. The wine had a creamy, milk chocolate edge, yet turned a stemmy leaf in the palate, whooshing garrigue & other earthy oddities into the lactic mixing bowl. While I remain un-tempted to season my salads with Hershey syrup, the combination wasn’t as unpleasant in vinous form. Go figure- Paul’s fault.

Lucky number 7 happened to be the ringer, and although I’ve felt Tablas Creek aquitted itself well in side by side tastings w/ Beaucastel in the past, the ’06 Esprit de Beaucastel was a tad turbo-charged in this particular Rhone company. That said, its warm gananche, cassis and exotically spun dark fruits were absolutely delicious, almost with a Saxum-bent to ‘em. Perhaps the peer group brought that comparison out, who knows…either way, the middle of the flight was a straight up brett-bomb, with funky Seabiscuit scents that suppressed the fruit & left a metallic film on the back end of the palate. Perrin & Fils were playing w/ matches a bit too close to the spoilage yeast perhaps…or maybe Josh’s bottle just needed a hand sanitizer. The next bottle, another Raynolds special, was easily the most surprising showing of the evening. A tarry, almost Syrah-like spice whirled from the stem, circling a smoke of graphite, grilled herbs, lavender & hearty plum through the air like a sandstorm. The entry was as bloody as they come, w/ savory layers pumping along a fresh, iron-rich finish. Fans of Pegau (at this point I just kept saying every bretty wine was Pegau to ensure I was correct in at least one of my guesses) should check out Mont Redon’s ’06 Chateauneuf du Pape. While this estate has been painted w/ an underachieving brush for years, this particular bottle was absolutely outstanding, dwarfing its performances in top years like ’98, ’00 & ’01.

Finally, I guessed Pegau correctly. The telltale spicy nose of pepper, black olive & grilled steak did not lie. While the Pegau punch is a bit lighter in ’06 than previous years, it atones for its lack of breadth with a well rounded, almost chiseled frame that should Sheppard it well into its mid-teens. The next in the flight, a Domaine et Selection, another bottle courtesy of Mr. Raynolds, comes from the Marcoux sisters. Like Marcoux, the Domaine et Selection is terrific in ’06, w/ a warm nose of anise, cola, black forest cake and spicy clove notes. Much more effusive aromatically than texturally, the youthful palate could benefit from 2-3 more years of cellaring to unwind. Saving the best for last, I was convinced someone threw in a bottle of Cayuse. One smell gave me all the bacon grizzle goodness that makes me swoon for Christophe Baron’s Washington Syrahs. It had to be Cayuse, no questions asked. Perhaps a late birthday present for me? Or…maybe someone tried to trick me, to see if I really do, in fact, turn goo-goo ga-ga over such vile swill. Either way, I called their bluff. It’s Cayuse and I’m not even putting down a note, other than ‘friggin awesome.’

I seemed to have forgotten that Rich was in for a Clos St. Jean Combe des Fous (the only wine we hadn’t had up to that point). Ah well, I was close enough though right? Predictably, I was one of the few at the table that wasn’t repulsed by it. Now what does it say about the wine that I confused it w/ a Washington Syrah? I don’t care, but feel free to talk amongst yourselves & make of it what you will. Tasted pretty good to me :)

Wine Rating
Boxler Sommerberg Riesling 2001 92 points
Clos des Papes Blanc 2006 ?
Usseglio Mon Aieul 2006 93+ points
Mordoree Reine des Bois 2006 93+ points
Janasse VV 2006 95 points
Clos St. Jean CDP 2006 93 points
Beaucastel CDP 2006 90 points
Charvin CDP 2006 ?
Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel 2006 91+ points
Perrin & Fils CDP 2006 ?
Mont Redon CDP 2006 93+ points
Pegau CDP 2006 92 points
Domaine et Selection 2006 92+ points
Clos St. Jean Combe des Fous 2006 96 points

Monday, March 01, 2010

Pulling away from the breakdown lane

If wine is a moving target, the way we perceive wine makes the carousel spin even faster. There are plenty of cynical wine geeks that view wine as an extended dogma, perforating their experiences w/ bias and bullshit. Me, I just like wine. Perhaps I’m a bit too broad, but better to expand too far than contract too narrowly, I say. I’ve definitely got my sweet spots (eh-hem Chateauneuf du Pape), so I can’t say my tastes are so varied that my love of wine has become diffuse. While I’ve continued to jot down impressions of just about each bottle I drank over the past month, I have to admit that the backlog of notes has begun to clog up my hard drive space. I wouldn’t call February of 2010 a moratorium on wine writing, but I’d be remiss to not state that I’ve put on the e-brake w/ regards to my feverish documentation of detail. I began to write a post covering some impressions of a recent ’06 CDP horizontal, but it began to feel mechanical so I had to put the kybosh on it. No room for robotic servitude on this site.

The wine bookworm has removed his spectacles and loosened his pocket protector a bit, but let’s not go so far as to say that he’s rockin’ the Cristal at the night clubs just yet. I’m still nerdy.

During the past month I’ve committed multiple heretic behaviors that I previously considered inconceivable. I went to the Bahamas and drank ‘house wine’ without cringing. I dove through a deluge of drinks that may or may not have had umbrellas in them, loosening the skirt, err belt, to undisciplined proportions. I let my wife finish the bottle while I had a beer. Not just any bottle but a nice, hoard-worthy one. Oh, and I think I chugged Champagne from the bottle…maybe not Champagne Champagne, but the sparkling stuff from some non French country. You know the drill. Let’s just say I’ve splashed a bit of cold water on the old dome and stopped taking wine so damn seriously. I’ve blown up the bible and washed out my veins w/ some refreshing acidity for the soul.

That said, I’m still inappropriately obsessed w/ fermented grape juice, I’ve just taken a bit respite; a sort of Lamaze breathing bump in the road to re-focus the faculties. Renowned wine critic Robert Parker takes a 2 week hiatus from wine each year to recharge the batteries, something I still can’t quite do but I’m beginning to embrace the concept. Who knows if it will balance things out for me or not? I doubt it, considering my wiring is more off-kilter than an Elephant Man’s gait. One step at a time…

How do you stay sane w/in your passions? I suppose if you’ve already got a healthy relationship w/ wine you won’t need to change a thing; but how do you cool the engines when the smoky chassis starts to burn out?