Sunday, September 18, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.