Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bordeaux's Top Growths - 2007 v. 2008

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the Comparative Bordeaux Tasting hosted by Hart Davis Hart Wine Company at Wright auction house in Chicago where 20 of the best chateau in Bordeaux and their 2007 and 2008 vintages were represented. It proved to be quite an educational, as well as enjoyable, venture. Hoping to get the most out of the experience, I did do some background research prior to attending and I will share the hi-lites of this research, what I experienced and what I learned with you here.
I had a bit of a mix of preconceptions going into this event. On the one hand, I can honestly say - with the exception of a bottle of Dom Perignon - I have never had a wine of the caliber or reputation represented here. On the other hand, I was a bit pessimistic since Wine Spectator’s report card on the 2007 and 2008 vintages were a C+ and a B-, respectively.
The education gleaned here was invaluable. The primary lesson learned was what a wine that will benefit from aging is supposed to taste like. The finish on all of these wines was remarkable. I had to force myself to move on to the next wine due to a 90 minute time limit, when I really just wanted to sit and enjoy the last wine still lingering on my palate. It did not take me long to notice the consistently higher tannin in the 2008s versus the 2007s. While one explanation offered was an increase in heat (alcohol %) in the 2008s, I feel strongly it is just an illustration of the benefit of the additional year in the bottle. The 2007s were softer and less astringent across the board. It really made me want to see what these wines will be like in another 5, 10, 15 years.
The journey here will start with the Medoc on the left bank, specifically in Saint Estephe. Saint Estephe is considered by some to be the “bargain basement” of Bordeaux. The three producers represented here were Chateau Cos d’Estournel (2eme Cru Classe), Chateau Montrose (2 Cru Classe) and Chateau Calon-Segur (3eme Cru Classe). My favorite was the 2007 Calon-Segur with its delicious red fruit and spice flavors. In addition to the increase in tannin that the 2008s had consistently over the 2007s, the 2008 here also had a notable “greener” feel.
Next is the Pauillac, home of the majority of the premier crus, but also home of the majority of lower level crus. It is in this area that Cabernet Sauvignon’s blackcurrant character is said to shine at its brightest. The six producers represented here include Chateau Latour (1er Cru Classe), Chateau Lynch-Bages (5eme Cru Classe), Chateau Pichon-Longueville Lalande (2eme Cru Classe), Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron (2eme Cru Classe), Chateau Lafite Rotschild (1er Cru Classe) and Chateau Mouton Rothschild (1er Cru Classe). Black fruits certainly dominated the Latour, but the surprise was in the finish. The 2008 ends with notable graphite, whereas in the 2007, this was more of a minerality. While the black fruit was certainly present in all others from this region, I did not pick up that finish on any of the others. In comparing the Pichons, the Baron ended in both vintages with licorice and the Lalande had a bit of a “stemmy” taste, even in the 2007. Lynch-Bages, which is said to be the “poor man’s Latour", made its oaky characteristics known, which I found interesting since it uses less new oak than the other producers in the area. Finally, some of you may know that a different artist is commissioned every year to design the label for Mouton Rothschild. I believe I would be lax if I didn’t share the artwork with you here. My favorite - the 2008.
We now move a bit farther south to Saint Julien, the smallest of the Medoc. The three candidates here were Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (2eme Cru Classe), Chateau Leoville Poyferre (2eme Cru Classe) and Chatau Gruaud Larose (2eme Cru Classe). My least favorite wine of the night was the Larose as it has what I describe as a “gauzy” taste, but others describe as medicinal, which is something I have not been able to get past in all my years of drinking wine. Another of my favorites of the night, however, was right next door in the Ducru. In addition to the concentrated ripe black fruit present in both vintages, the super-soft texture just drew me in.
Margaux is the most famous of the Medoc regions and the wine bearing its name - Chateau Margaux (1er Cru Classe) - is the most famous wine in the world.....for good reason. This wine was, by far, my favorite of the night with its absolutely delicious black fruit flavors, lush texture and crazy long finish. I did not fully understand the term “sweet tannins” until I tried this wine. I am not ashamed to admit I went back for seconds and I am very glad I did not start with this table as I cannot see how I would have been able to much appreciate any of the others. To illustrate, my tasting note for the Chateau Palmer (3eme Cru Classe) - the only other Margaux wine here - reads simply, “just not as good.” It didn’t have a chance.
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion (Cru Classe) and Chateau Haut-Brion (Cru Classe) of the Pessac-Leognan bridge the transition from the Left Bank’s Cabernet dominated wines to the Right Bank’s Merlot. Although La Mission showed one of my favorite combinations of blueberry and licorice, I still preferred the mixed fruit of the Haut-Brion (black fruit, red fruit, stewed fruits - yum!).
Moving to the Right Bank’s Saint Emilion, we have the Chateau Cheval Blanc (Premier Grand Cru Classe A) and Chateau Pavie Macquin (Premier Grand Cru Classe B), where the average age of their vines is 35 years. The 2007 Cheval Blanc was a better wine for me as it was dominated by 55% Cabernet Franc. It returns to majority Merlot (60%) in 2008 and loses me when it loses some intensity of fruit in the transition.
As much as I preferred less Merlot in Saint Emilion, I preferred more of it in Pomerol where the Chateau Trotanoy and its 90% Merlot made a better impression on me than the Vieux Chateau Certan and its 65-70% Merlot. Interesting comparison on the two who compete with Chateau Petrus, the world’s most expensive wine.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Windy City Wine Festival 2011

The Windy City Wine Festival, otherwise known (to me) as Chicago’s birthday present to me, took place this weekend. We decided to go Friday despite rain forecasts and, although we did get wet the first half hour, our parking space was excellent. As always, the festival overall did not disappoint. I will say, however, that they really need to forego the whole ticket situation. Most distributors there don’t adhere to it, much less embrace it. They are there to peddle their wares - the more you taste, the more you buy. Give it up, U. S. Bank, Whole Foods or Chicago (whoever is responsible for this), and treat it like every other tasting out there. It is for this reason I wait until I get home to make my purchases just on principle.
So now I will take a backward step (watch your feet) off my soap box and tell you what I feel are the good, the bad and the ugly of the festival. I can say that my wine courses have definitely paid off as I was able to help an unfortunate soul working the festival that was in over his head - either voluntarily or otherwise - who, when asked what grape(s) are in the Telmo Rodriguez Basa Rueda Blanco ($16.99), replied, “Rueda,” after searching the label. He was quite appreciative when I pulled him aside and explained that Rueda is a region, the grape is Verdejo. The wine, by the way, was one of my favorites, with standout flavors exactly as the grape intended - fruity, floral nose followed by fresh, crisp citrus and tropical fruit.
I seemed to have been on a white wine roll as every one of my real favorites were whites - and cheap. There was another Verdejo - Francois Lurton Rueda White ($13.99) quickly followed by another of my favorite aromatic varieties, Terrazas Reserva Torrontes ($14.99). We then moved to France for a Chenin Blanc, Chateau Moncontour Vouvray ($15.99) and the steal of the day - an Ugni Blanc/Colombard blend called Tariquet Classique. This wine was wonderfully fragrant and fruity (apple/peach/pear) and for $8.99 is a definite stock up wine.
The reds were not a complete bust. Vina Zaco Red from Rioja was quite tasty (another steal for $13.99). This is 100% Tempranillo with red fruit, vanilla and a little spice. Arrocal (Fine Vines) ($16.99) of Ribera Del Duero was pretty yummy as well (as was the guy pouring, if memory serves). Another Tempranillo with red fruit and vanilla, but this one adds some black fruit as well. Santa Julia Malbec Reserva ($11.99), Four Vines Zinfandel Old Vine Cuvee ($11.99), 6th Sense Syrah ($16.99) and Cass Winery’s Grenache (sorry, the wine is not listed and the annoying couple next to us did not allow me to get a price) are honorable mentions.
I did ask the gal at Bodega Elena booth to show me a great sake for those new to the sport. She came thru by having me try a Gekkeikan Nigori and a Zipang sparkling sake. Both are $5.99 for 300 ML or 250 ML, respectively. The first had, to me, a cantaloupe flavor (although, surprisingly, she said I was the first to pick up on that) and the second was just a very subtle, slightly sweet, almost Fino Sherry-like flavor. Her advice to me was to order either unfiltered or sparkling the next time I want to try sake at a premium restaurant and I should not be disappointed. I plan to take her up on that.
What I was hoping would be the hi-lite, but turned out to be a disappointment, was the Cotes Du Rhone (Southern Rhone) booths. I could live with the fact that they were somewhat unorganized and even that most of their wines were not on the sheet. What bothered me most is that I do like Grenache - not as much as the Northern Rhone’s Syrah - but I found nothing that I liked here. With two notable exceptions. The first was a Tavel rose - Chateau d'Aqueria Rose (looks to be around the $16 range). The second was a surprise I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I was excited to discover the white wines made from Grenache; on the other hand, I was disappointed that, in all of my courses to date, these little gems (more like amethyst than emerald or ruby) are glossed right over. My clear favorite was the Ogier Heritages White ($15.99). My other favorite could have been M. Chapoutier Belleruche White ($13.99). While my notes, which were taken on very wet paper due to the rain say “Grand Marrenos”, I could not find this wine in online research.