In this round of Vintage Pairs Blind Tasting, we served:
2004 - Chapoutier make three different single vineyard expressions of white Hermitage. I think of L’Oree as the most richly textured, L’Ermite as the most mineral and detailed, and Le Meal as the most fruit-fleshy and aromatic. And wow! This is a big bold wine, yet it still somehow seems to remain balanced and well composed, the ‘Sumo' of Marsanne if you will. The concentration is undeniable – it’s 15% alcohol entirely absorbed and compensated for by enormous extract, flavour and fragrance – peach, florals, wax, and a hint of Fino sherry in the background. There is a swathe of extract and glycerin on the mid-palate, but for all this scale, there is minerality, fine definition and a very complex array of aromas that ebb and flow, drawing you in the glass with interest. Grand wine for a grand meal. Drink or hold.
Three votes for wine of the night.
1997 - While the ’04 is clearly still on its way up, this ’97 is just beginning is decline. Fully mature but still in play, the colour is evolved. From quite an early and ripe, soft year, the nose echoes this with fruit pudding aromas, an oxidative tone. It is soft, weighty, potent, resolved. Good still but drink up.
2008 - Reignots is just my sort of wine – Vosne with plenty of depth and complexity, but this comes across quiet, discrete. It’s the English gentleman in his Saville Row suit sort of Vosne, so its not bursting out of the glass like a Vosne Brûlées. Rather you have to go to it – this is cerebral Vosne at its best. This 2008 is still fairly closed which only serves to amplify the sense of quiet reserve. A hint of Vosne’s herbal fragrance, red fruit on the crisp mineral-driven palate, still a touch of new oak wafting around. But this is fine, elegant red Burgundy, with sufficient ripeness and strength. Will require 3 to 5 years’ further cellaring. Good quality.
2001 - A touch of garnet and age in the colour and rim now and the nose has opened up. There’s a lovely tension in the aromatics between berry sweetness and mossy, slightly meaty savouriness. It’s very morish. Expressive, fleshy, yet with Reignots reserve. Some sous bois complexity now. This is now entering its long plateau of maturity. Drink or hold.
2006 - In a region steeped in noble family wine estates with vintages stretching back into the 19th century, Sandrone sits as something of a newcomer, their upstart status amplified by having been part of the ‘modernista’ wave of producers in the ‘80s and ‘90s – yields reduced, riper, cleaner fruit, shorter ferments and gentler macerations, a smaller, newer oak vessels for ageing. The result underlines the power of their superb Cannubi fruit, Sandrone’s Cannubi Boschis is bold, dramatic Barolo, packed with flavour and intensity. This 2006 has lovely fruit, intensity and balance, but we see it today at an awkward phase. Aromas and flavour seem so primary, and its underlying complexity has not yet poked through the glossiness of its style and youth. Sumptuous, but not yet satisfying to drink. Cellar and wait.
1998 - For the drinker the great thing about 1998 in Barolo is that it was quickly overlooked amongst a string of highly successful vintages. 1996 and 1999 are the rather grand, highly structured classical vintages, that still benefit from further cellaring. 1997 and 2000 were the more flamboyant, dramatic, softer-structured, more fruit-forward examples. 1998 was the ‘little’ vintage, with less power and less overt fruitiness. But that positions it well for drinking today as we saw last night with this example. The nose was really quite extraordinary. As the son of a pharmacist, ‘medicinal’ was the first thing I noted about the nose. This is so fragrant, with secondary and tertiary notes now in the mix. Still tannic, but resolved, with complex flavours and good length, this is a great choice for current drinking. Give it at least an hour in the decanter first.
Three votes for wine of the night.
1992 - One half of the great Inglenook estate which under John Daniel Jr. in the ’40s and ‘50s produced the greatest wines of California. Well stored bottles still taste great today. (That estate later became Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Niebaum-Coppola’ estate, and after 4 decades’ work Coppola has restored the Inglenook name to it). The other half was the Napanook vineyard just down the road. It’s fortuitous that Christian Moueix, of Petrus fame became the next steward, because Dominus – as he named it – quickly became (and remains in my view) one of Napa Valley’s greatest wines. Further, given the astronomical prices commanded by Napa’s ‘cult wines’ (of which this is not one), Dominus is today in relative terms a screaming ;-) bargain. Almost anyone smelling a mature Dominus like this one will jump straight to Bordeaux (as I would too). The clue to its Napa origin is in the effortlessness of the fruit and tannin structure, but this is cut with the stylishness, proportion, and elegance of top tier Bordeaux. The confusion sets in for the astute blind taster when deciding which ‘bank’ however – the palate is undeniably Cabernet Sauvignon-based (Latour, Mouton?), but the aromatics – especially the Cabernet Franc component, which is simply riper in spectrum than is achieved in the Médoc, points the taster to wines like Cheval Blanc or Lafleur. This 1992 had a little more Cab Franc and Merlot than is usually found in the blend, so it is all the more split personality. I love it. The aromatics are now wide open, the palate softened but well defined, the blue-black line of Cabernet Sauvignon driving the length and anchoring the wine on the palate, the Cab Franc providing a mineral edge and lots of inner mouth fragrance, while the extra Merlot providing an even plusher than usual mid-palate. This is a great choice for the Dominus lover for drinking now right in its absolute prime, but it is also a neat choice for serving blind to your guests!
1984 -This was really quite fascinating to taste. Only the second vintage for Moueix, and as was the case of the first few vintages, the approach is different to what followed. Here we see a crisper, straighter, firmer more early-picked feel in the fruit. The acidity is pronounced and the shape a little slender. The bottle in the tasting was beginning to dry out in my view, but there was still depth and complexity in the wine. It reminded me of an old school Bordeaux from a ‘solid’ vintage – think Chateau Montrose 1970, for example. It was popular enough last night that the subject turned to availability and we were presented with a problem – only one bottle remaining in our inventory! A generous guest bought, opened and shared it so we all got a second look. This second bottle – from the same case was softer, rounder, more fragrant, and a little sweeter in the finish. I’m only sorry now this is all gone, but for anyone born in ’84 looking for a great birth year wine, you are better to look here than France.
Five votes for wine of the night – top choice overall.
2006 - Henri Bonneau, who began with the 1956, makes a small quantity of wine at his Le Crau estate. Alongside Rayas, surely the top of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape quality tree. Although there is some Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarèse, it is Grenache that sits front and centre (90% of the blend). It is astonishingly good. It is so easy for this powerful grape to finish up just to big, sweet and simple. But here at Bonneau the top wine, ‘Réserve du Célestins’, somehow manages to delivery a layered feeling, loads of garigue-laden aromatic complexity, a sense of balance, yet still all of the sheer joy and fun of grenache. To me this 2006 tastes completely classic – an archetype of this label. It is still just a little reticent and ‘young’ tasting, but it is a great choice for confident mid to long-term cellaring.
Two votes for wine of the night.
1999 - Some maturity in the colour, and it threw an almighty load of sediment when I decanted it (no fining or filtering here!), and retained a good ‘crust’ on the side of the bottle even then. In line with that this has now reached its plateau of cellar ageing. Very open on the nose showing garrigue and spice, candied sweetness, but still sufficient freshness of ripe fruit; on the palate this is so complex, flavoursome, spicy and exotic. What I really love about the ‘99s is there relative freshness – there is a touch more acidity here than is typical, and it brightens the overall expression and feel. Perfect for drinking now. Decant!
|2004||Ermitage Blanc ‘Le Meal’, M. Chapoutier||750ml||WA 100|
|1997||Ermitage Blanc ‘Le Meal’, M. Chapoutier||750ml||WA 96-100|
|2008||Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru ‘Aux Reignots’, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux||750ml||BH 92|
|2001||Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru ‘Aux Reignots’, Domaine Robert Arnoux (now Arnoux-Lachaux)||750ml||BH 90|
|2006||Barolo ‘Cannubi Boschis’, Luciano Sandrone||750ml||WA 97|
|1998||Barolo ‘Cannubi Boschis’, Luciano Sandrone||750ml||WA 94-96|
|2006||Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Henri Bonneau ‘Réserve du Célestins’||750ml||WA 94|
|1999||Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Henri Bonneau ‘Réserve du Célestins’||750ml||WA 94|