Red wines at their peak with AuZone

Long time, no blogging (neither in Swedish nor English), but the rumour of me stopping drinking wine is much exaggerated. It’s just that I haven’t gotten around to blogging after I slowed down all intellectual activities over the holiday season, and later suffered the typical metabolic shock of returning to work in the new year. However, it’s time to inaugurate the blogging year 2011 before auld acquaintance be completely forgot. And I will do so by writing about the last real wine tasting I attended in 2010, which was on 30 December. (Yes, there was wine the day after as well, but no note-taking or scoring.)

The wine tasting club AuZone arranged a “BYO” activity on the theme “red wines at their peak”. There was also room for a couple of non-bringers of wine, so 15 of us tasted 11 wines in two flights, with separate best/worst voting for each flight. Each of us basically got a numbered carafe to sneak down our wine into, so no one knew the identity of all the wines, but everyone who had brought a wine knew which was their wine. However, some pre-communication had obviously been taking place, since we had two instances of two consecutive vintages of the same wine, of which only one was due to one person bringing two bottles.

Flight 1

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003, Guigal
Southern Rhône, France. 80% Grenache from old vines, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre and 5% other varieties. Only 13,5% alcohol despite the vintage.
Medium red, lighter edge. In the nose barnyard aromas, slightly sweetish, tobacco, some herb, eucalyptus? Developed, pleasant aromas. On the palate clearly herbal, with red and dark berries, quite tannic (slightly dry tannins), spice, some alcoholic bite, good concentration. Nice development, but should benefit from some more time. 92-93 p. Perhaps a Bordeaux blend from the New World? Say, Napa? As a backup guess, perhaps Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And, yes, that’s what it was. I must admit, though, that this was an evening when I associated many wines to Châteauneuf, so this is a recurring (backup) guess for many wines. Surprisingly good for such a hot and often atypical vintage, and for not being a prestige cuvée. Sure, Guigal only produces Châteauneuf-du-Pape (i.e., none other that is better), but it’s not listed among their prestige wines, the ones with individual label designs and large-size price tags.
Votes: 2 best, 1 worst

Cuvée Laurène Pinot Noir 1998, Domaine Drouhin
Oregon, USA
Medium red, lighter edge. Some volatile acidity, got milder with swirling, but didn’t go away, which made it not that complex in its aroma. Also some mild spices and barnyard in the nose. On the palate definitely sweetish, a little more than medium-bodied, some tar and red berries, rather good fruit concentration, some tannin. Although the nose indicated “over the hill”, the palate sticks together. 86-88 p? Difficult to evaluate, perhaps a Châteanuneuf-du-Pape? (Yes, here the same guess comes back again.) Pinot Noir wasn’t a common guess around the table.
Votes: 0 best, 5 worst (including mine) – tied with #6 as worst of the flight

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 1999
Central Otago, New Zeeland
Light to medium red with some amber, brick-coloured edge. In the nose decaying autumn leaves, undergrowth, mild dried spices, leather, slightly sweetish impression, some tar, rose hip, cherries. Gorgeous nose with development and some oak notes. On the palace clearly spicy, more than medium bodied, relatively tannic, developed aromas, rather good acidity, dark cherries, slightly alcoholic impression, long aftertaste. Good development. 93-94 p. This was my wine, so there was no need to guess. Among other guesses were Syrah (Côte-Rôtie) and Burgundy Grand Cru (either Corton or something from Côte de Nuits) from a great vintage such as. “It smells expensive” was another amusing comment.
1999 was the first vintage of Block 5 (Block 3 was made from 1997), and according to E.H. (who was at the tasting and is probably the club’s foremost but far from only Felton Road fan and kiwihead-at-large) the producer themselves thought that this wine was at risk of being “tired” and showing bottle variation. That this bottle was in excellent shape wasn’t disputed by anyone, but since this was the third bottle of Block 5 1999 I’ve tried in 2009-2010, I can say that they have been quite consistent. Possibly, this bottle showed slightly less fruit on the palate than the two bottles in 2009, but this could be the effect of an additional year – either on the wine or on my memory. These three bottles have come from the same auction lot, and have been in excellent condition on visual inspection.
Votes: 10 best, 0 worst – best of the flight. I didn’t vote for my own wine, because modesty is supposed to be a virtue. 🙂

Vigneto Campé 2001, La Spinetta
Barolo, Piemonte, Italy
Medium to light red with some amber notes, brick coloured edge. Aromatic nose, slightly floral, sweetish, roses, some liquorice, red berries. On the palate red berries, medium bodied, present and quite dry tannin, good acidity, tar notes. Despite a bit dry tannins it gets 91-92 p. Surely a Barolo? And yes, it was. My impression was that this was from a traditionalist producer, but La Spinetta absolutely doesn’t belong in that camp. I must have liked it better than most, considering that it got several votes for worst. I usually like La Spinetta’s wine (and sigh over the prices) when I’ve encountered them at exhibitions and the like. At an earlier Piemonte tasting (soon to be reported here) I noted that the Italian who led it considered them even more Parkerized and overpriced than Gaja, so possibly I’m more pro-modernist than what you’re supposed to be if you consult local wine aficionados. But perhaps it’s possible to like both traditionalists and modernists?
Votes: 1 best, 4 worst

Valpolicella Superiore 1995, Dal Forno Romano
Veneto, Italy
Rather dark medium red, lighter edge. In the nose tobacco, herbs, some green bell pepper, black currants, barrel notes, some development but seems young. More herbal and powerful aromas than number 1, “classic” in its style. On the palate full-bodied, good fruit concentration, dark berries, powerful tannin, herbal notes, slight hint of sweetness. Some development but still young, surely better in 5-10 years. 93-94 p. This should be a Bordeaux with a significant proportion of Cabernet Franc. Perhaps a Saint-Émilion? And it turns out to be a monster Valpolicella from an expensive prestige producer. I must admit that I don’t have that much experience from quite expensive Valpolicella wines in a “regular style”, i.e., non-Amarone. I’m surprised to find the classic herbal impression that made me associate to a high proportion of Cabernet Franc, because I haven’t associated this type of aromas with the typical Valpolicella blend of varieties. I’m also impressed that the wine came across as so young at 15 years of age!
Votes: 2 best (including me), 0 worst

CAP ISM E-E 2009, Domenico Clerico
Langhe Nebbiolo, Piemonte, Italy
Medium red, slightly lighter edge. Clearly sweetish nose, dried red berries, hints of liquorice or tar, raspberry liqueur? Nice, but a little too sweetish nose. Medium bodied, dark berries, slightly herbal, obvious and quite dry tannin long aftertaste with dry tannin. 91-92 p. (In retrospect, my score looks high in comparison to my description.) Should be something Italian, perhaps a modern-styled Barolo or Barbaresco? A wild backup guess could be a Taurasi? Or is it perhaps a Châteauneuf-du-Pape? But it was a Nebbiolo-based Piemonte. But why on earth a 2009 under this theme, in a club which may not fully deserve the name “Dead Wines Society” but where definitely there is sympathy for the so-called goût anglais? Well, it was supposed to be produced in a style that made it accessible young.
Votes: 0 best, 5 worst – tied with #2 as worst of the flight

Flight 2

Fraser Pinot Noir 1998, Murdock James Estate
Martinborough, New Zeeland
Medium red, some brick colour to the edge. Animal aromas in the nose – blood and meat juice, red and dark berries, spice and oak, tar notes. Quite acidic on the palate, red berries and some bitterness, cranberries, acidic-bitter aftertaste. The bitterness is a bit higher than it should, but I still score it 90-91 p. Northern Rhône? Or perhaps Rioja? Oups, it turns out be a NZ Pinot.
Votes: 2 best, 0 worst

Fraser Pinot Noir 1999, Murdock James Estate
Martinborough, New Zeeland
Rather light red, brick edge. Some volatile acidity, mild dried spices, red berries, slightly aromatic and flowery, elegant. Slightly more than medium boded, rather acidic taste, mild spice, some tannin, red berrries and long aftertaste, elegant. 92-93 p. Piemonte? No, another vintage of the same NZ Pinot. Interesting that it is more developed than the one year older wine.
Votes: 5 best, 4 worst

La Chapelle Hermitage 1989, Jaboulet
Northern Rhône, France
Medium to dark red colour, some brick colour to the edge. Rather stalky, green nose. Weird! Behind these aromas possibly dark berries and tar, sweetish. Rather acid taste, a bit more than medium bodied, some tannin, bark berries. 89-90 p? A bit difficult to come up with a serious guess that I really believe in. Perhaps a Bordeaux? Oups, a supposedly big Hermitage scored 96 by Parker. I bet it wasn’t this bottle or a similar one that good ol’ Bob tasted. How could a top Syrah from an unusually hot vintage (1989 was only slightly less extreme than 2003 or 1976) show green and stalky notes? There was something not quite right about this bottle. However, I couldn’t name a defect that produces this effect, but I recall that something similar seemed to have happened to a bottle of Le Cèdre 1996 (a Cahors, i.e., a powerful Malbec wine) that I included in a tasting at eastertime 2010. It had green and dusty notes, and didn’t give the expected impression or show Malbec notes, even though the palate also then was more intact than the nose. I would rule out cork taint or oxidation in both cases.
Votes: 0 best, 9 worst (including me) – worst wine of the flight

Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1988
Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark red colour, some brick colour to the edge. Herbal, dark berries, cedar wood/pencil shavings, oak barrels, mild spice, elegant. Slightly more than medium boded, dark berries, quite present tannins. 92-93 p. Surely this is a Bordeaux? And yes it was! Perhaps it’s worthwhile to point out La Mission Haut-Brion’s relationship to Château Haut-Brion – it’s not a second wine, but rather a separate neighbouring property with the same owner.
Votes: 2 best (including me), 2 worst

La Chapelle Hermitage 1990, Jaboulet
Northern Rhône, France
Medium to dark red colour, some brick colour to the edge. Slightly sweetish nose, discreetly aromatic-flowery, dark berries, black olives, oak. On the palate slightly tough, mild spice, dark berries, quite tannic. 91-92 p. This should be something from Rhône, either Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Northern Rhône. Yes, it was Northern Rhône, and this time a wine with nothing less than 100 Parker points. Based on what I felt in the glass, I have some problems thinking that it was quite that outstanding. Event though it was quite good and typical for Rhône, I neither thought it had the amount of “extra everything” or the obvious elegance of both nose and palate that I think have to be there to discuss 95+ points. Based on the tannin level I would say that the wine would benefit from more age. Obviously many others thought it was a better wine than I did, since it was voted best in this flight. Possibly, my senses were a bit dull at wine number 11 out of 11.
Votes: 6 best, 0 worst – best wine of the flight

An interesting tasting theme that was quite successful in terms of the quality of the wines as well as in educational value. (No, I don’t just say that because my wine was voted best in the first flight… 🙂 ) Some statistics: vintages present were 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1998 (2), 1999 (2), 2001, 2003, 2009. Average age in 2010 therefore 13 years. Taking away the 2009, we get 14 years. I had probably thought that this theme in this club would result in some more wines around 20 years of age than it actually did. Of the 11 wines, I would say only one was possibly but not certainly “over the hill” (Cuvée Laurène 1998), while several of them would probably benefit from more time. However, many of the wines were more or less at their peak, in the sense of being somewhere in its optimal drinking window, rather than in the sense of “drink now, because soon they decline”. Possibly, the Fraser 1999 would fit the latter description.

Another interesting observation is that four out of eleven wines were Pinot Noir. While I’m a big fan of this variety, I was somewhat surprised by this, for two reasons. First, it its often a bit tricky to successfully taste a Pinot Noir next to other, more tannic wines. Second, it is often difficult to know when they are at their peak. Or perhaps I’m to much influenced by rules that mostly only apply to simpler Burgundies? Some readers are sure to react to this with Zut alors! – he’s insulting Bourgogne! In any case, I considered if I was to bring a Pinot Noir or not, before deciding that a “Block” is powerful enough to work in a mixed flight of mature wines.

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

This entry was posted in AuZone, Bordeaux, Nebbiolo, New Zealand, Oregon, Piedmont, Pinot Noir, Rhône, Syrah. Bookmark the permalink.

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