Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Rhone Salon at Fabi & Rosi


Our largest salon to date, with forty attendees, we had a beautiful spring day to dine on some very fine cuisine and celebrate a grand cast of mostly Rhone wines. Cassie Williamson and Wolfgang Murber were our gracious hosts, giving us their one day off to open their restaurant to our passion and play. Wolfgang prepared a table featuring his charcuterie: a chicken liver pâté, a rabbit terrine wrapped in prosciutto, duck rillette with red onion marmalade and riesling gelee, wild boar sausage with dijon mustard and cornichons, pork pâté en croute, and a magnificent sülze (head cheese, a jellied loaf from the head of a pig....). Michael Vilim of Mirabelle Restaurant added eighteen braised lamb foreshanks with root vegetables and a large pot of Lyonnaise potatoes. And reliable James did us his fine salad. Spring had sprung.

(copied from Brian's Cellartracker post - http://www.cellartracker.com/event.asp?iEvent=10465)

Other Southern Rhone

"Not chateauneuf du pape," a look at some profound rhone (and a languedoc) regional appellations that compete for our attention.

  • 1998 Domaine de Fontavin Gigondas Cuvée Combe Sauvage - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas
    Tied as the favorite in a flight of very excellent "other southern Rhone," this is a rare Gigondas. The tasters were all over the place on this one: some thought it young, some past its prime, and some thought it just right....a bit like the three bears. We'll start with the fans of this wine, of which there were several. The restauranteur and former wine sommelier thought it was the most complete wine of the day, with gorgeous perfume and beautiful fruit, nice mid-palate and finish, and a bigger palate than the nose indicated. Red fruits with bacon grease/fat and quite spicy. I remember having a bottle of this wine two years ago at the Salt Lick barbecue joint and it was great with the brisket and short ribs. Others thought the wine round and easy, with strawberry and a mineral component, anise and licorice, cocoa, bitters, licorice, chocolate and light cherry notes. The wine was friendly, though a couple of people thought it finished short and even medicinal. This would be a fine wine for a "Guess when this wine should be drunk" session. Which is quite typical of many gigondas's (and good grenaches). (5 views) (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Patrick Lesec Vacqueyras V.V. Cuvée Jean de Lagneroux - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Vacqueyras
    The least favorite of a very good line-up of other southern Rhone, this was quite drinkable and showed no flaws, but was rather dull. A leather and gamey red fruit nose, with some graphite, flavors found included green olive, leather, dried cherry, root vegetable, tomato leaf, and cranberry. Most thought this wine was towards its drinkability end, as the acid was low, it was light, and fell short at the end. A good value from a producer with an interesting portfolio of southern Rhone wines, including some very good chateauneufs. (90 pts.)
  • 2003 Alain Jaume & Fils Lirac Clos de Sixte - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Lirac
    The favorite of two tasting groups, and the least favorite of one group, among a flight of southern Rhone wines, this looks like an outstanding value as it was the least expensive wine of the night. Most tasters thought this wine needed more time. It had a soft, subtle candied cherry nose with big, sweet, ripe tannins. It had blackberry and dark cherry and chocolate flavors, high acid, good balance and alcohol. Some tasters thought it syrupy, with plum, honey, and licorice flavors. Floral and chalk notes were also detected. The wine was a pleasant surprise for most. (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Domaine de l'Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Réserve des Seigneurs - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne
    Almost the favorite in a flight of other southern Rhone, this wine is "very interesting" and a great value, a chateauneuf wannabe. It had "a beautiful nose," a bit hot, and was quite exotic. Tasters noted that it had lots of acid, tasted of orange juice, citrus, pine cones, evergreen, peach, and herbs. Some thought it funky and sharp, from the high acidity--even described as "a love/hate wine." This sounds like it might be best with some sausage and charcuterie from the region. (91 pts.)
  • 2000 Prieuré Saint-Jean de Bébian Coteaux du Languedoc - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
    With such a pedigree, with grapes from Hermitage, Trevallon, and Rayas, I thought this would capture the flight of other southern Rhone, but alas and a lack, it was near last. "Himalayan mountain goat blood," with good balance was one re:Mark. The three groups who tasted the wine were quite divided about it. The pros found it had an asphalt, tarry character, nice body and smoothness, with baked red fruit, earth, hint of chocolate, and some herbs--several noted it had very good balance. The cons, all two of them, thought it disjointed and funky. I think I'll hold the other bottle for several years, as the older gigondas and chateauneufs performed very well in this tasting. (89 pts.)

Other Northern Rhone

One of the best flights of this salon, we added a new Washington syrah to taste alongside a couple of noteworthy young syrahs from the northern Rhone. If this hadn't been a "definitive" Rhone salon, we'd have opted for an all Cornas flight here........

  • 1985 Noël Verset Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
    Not as interesting as an outstanding 1990 Clape cornas next to it (which might have lowered this score), the 1985 drank well now but may have been better a couple of years ago. It had a lean elegance, with a floral component complemented by a visit to the meat market. Spice flavors were noted: white pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, marjoram, rose petal. For one veteran the 1985 was reminiscent of cherry lifesavers (with black raspberry undertones). Purple plums, kirsch, red currants, stewed cherries, and blueberry were also noted. In fact, this wine had a subtle smorgasbord of flavors: bacon fat, tree bark, animal fur, fat, smoked meat, horse hair, old leather, along with all the fruit and spice. With its fruit on the decline, you might drink up and taste the nuance. Or dry age your meat. Yes, old cornas delivers a very interesting and unique syrah. (90 pts.)
  • 1990 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
    An outstanding wine among the many rhones we tasted in our salon, two groups put this wine at the top of a very good flight, another group preferred the younger wines of the flight. Upon opening the wine was quite barnyard-y, which blew off after 5 minutes. This is a big wine, probably young, and continued to develop for more than an hour in the glass. For one vet, it reminded of a classic hermitage (and he does like his hermitage!), for another vet, of a bordeaux (some bell pepper). The wine is bretty and funky, but some discernment into its smoke, pork fat, and leather character finds loads of flavors: black plums, black cherry, sweet black currant, black pepper, graphite, black olives, wet stone, brine, earth, tobacco leaf, stewed tomato, cherry pit. "Bright, happy, beautiful," she declared on this fine spring day, about the wine. Another established taster thought it "killer tight" with much time to go, and scored it a 98; a younger taster thought it dry herbal and barnyard, astringent, gave it an 85. Of course there is no right or wrong in taste, que syrah, syrah, but for me the '90 Clape was the best cornas I've drunk, and I think it will improve. I want it. (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Delas Frères St. Joseph Sainte-Epine - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
    [Decanted three hours before tasting] Surprisingly approachable, several tasters thought this wine new world-ish (until they tasted the wine from Washington), reminiscent of a rhone ranger rather than Australian. Quite a dense wine, with dark color, the wine had a fruity, succulent nose, and aggressive tannins. A young, expressive food wine, this was "rock solid" and "a baby," yet had much flavor. Blackberry, black currant, raisin, dark fruit and black raspberry, with some white pepper, oak, chalk, thyme, fennel, bitter chocolate, herbs de provence, and stewed fruit notes. It will improve with age, and improved with our charcuterie and lamb. (90 pts.)
  • 2006 M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage Les Varonniers - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage
    [Decanted three hours before tasting] The best young wine of the salon, the Varonniers surprised many. "Potential!" stated the young sommelier, "Love this wine" added the donor of many of our older wines for this salon. With cedar, pepper, and cherry cough drop noted on the nose, the wine had soft, sweet tannins and was quite spicy and rich. The label read a surprisingly low 13.5% alcohol, for this wine was forward and yummy. Classic flavors of pepper, spice, and black cherry were well integrated, with additional flavors of vanilla, blackberry, earth, tree bark, white pepper, bacon fat, smoked provencal herbs, Asian spice, and licorice. Outstanding. Can you put off drinking this wine? (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Rasa Vineyards QED - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    [Decanted three hours before tasting] We decided to not rate the Rasa in our flight of "Other Northern Rhone" because it was the odd wine out, but we wanted to taste this fledgling Washington syrah alongside a fine young Crozes Hermitage and St. Joseph, and it almost held its own--its French oak helped much. It was riper, brighter, and sweeter than our other wines, and yet was also salty and savoury. It was the favorite wine of a young wine distributor, who found lotus root, red licorice, and white birthday cake. Our most veteran taster noted a classic California band-aid aroma, some VA, and complimented the wine "nice." Tasters found chocolate, vanilla, cherry syrup, licorice, bacon fat, currants, prunes, stewed fruit, and molasses--in short, some of the flavors we found in our lesser northern Rhone syrahs. The difference was more wood in evidence, higher alcohol, and lesser mid-palate. A very good first effort by a former Austinite, its "future looks oh so bright" (to quote another former Austinite).

Bandol & Provence

What is one taster's meat is another taster's poison. This flight had the greatest range of reaction. From proclaims of "unprotected sex-who cares?" and "mmmmm" to disdains of "dishwasher of dirty dishes" and "liquid beef jerky." Bandol reminds me of some foods. With oysters and escargots, some declare their love, many won't touch either, and others "can" eat them. So as escargots goes, so goes bandol.....in fact, they go together quite well.....for some, that is.

  • 1991 Domaine de Trévallon Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Les Baux - France, Provence, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Les Baux
    A "favorite" in a flight of provencal red wines, the Trevallon was the second or third favorite wine of three groups of tasters. As its provider noted, "good, not great, nice balance, not enough intensity." Whether it was "sweaty horse," musky, or "old world" is a debate of taste buds, but this Trevallon was classic, and maybe just a bit old. The "neigh-sayer" of the sweaty horse comment added it was funky, olive, barnyard, hay animal, and, yes, horseshit. And it was his favorite winel in this flight. Others found it iron rich with nice structure and flavors of herbal, waxy fruit, cherry turning herbaceous, and leathery. It had an orange rim and a light cherry nose (somehow discerned through the musk). A foodie thought it acidic with nice tannins, structured, had a hint of finely ground white pepper, would go well with cassoulet, and paired nicely with our prosciutto-wrapped rabbit terrine.
  • 1990 Domaine de la Gautiere Côtes de Provence - France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
    I thought this was a bandol, but did not see the bottle and could find no references to a Gautiere bandol- it was purchased new by our largest collector. The wine was consistently the third or fourth wine of our tasters in this flight of five wines. It was the lightest wine in this flight, with some finesse and good structure--a quaffing wine. It was past its prime, and had some candied red fruit, currant, dried fruit, and mild saltiness on the palate. One taster described its metallic finish as "like a plow in soil." The descriptors of flat mid-palate and lightness of appearance and tannins leads me to believe this was indeed a red provencal blend. Oops! Quaff it.
  • 1993 La Bastide Blanche Bandol Cuvée Fontanéou - France, Provence, Bandol
    The bandol-its liked this wine, though their favorite was the Tempier in this flight. This had a fine nose of leather and cherry, a light mouth-feel, and was fading a bit. Some called this restrained, others tired. It had good minerality, gamey and light spice notes; a sommelier found sweet vermouth, plum, black raspberry, and nice structure. The CDP crowd thought the fruit was gone, it had drying tannins, not much acid, drank like "liquid beef jerky." Still a lovely taster found it had a subtle loveliness. Meat and poison. Not so subtle, and subtle.
  • 1999 Domaine Tempier Bandol Cuvée Spéciale Cabassaou - France, Provence, Bandol
    Here was where the sex descriptors happened in this salon, and I won't quite go there, but there were some over-the-top comments among a few with this wine, and others thought it "hot and monolithic." No, that wasn't a sex term. From a sommelier: "my favorite, outstanding, smoky, amazing flavors of sweet tobacco." From others: light red, prune-y smell, sweet jam, fruit forward, spicy, leather and game, good length. Some thought this wine was past its prime, probably because of its prune character, others thought it young, with good clarity, bright cherry notes, and sharp tannins. Then there was the dirty dishes allusion, with a low score. The mmmmm.... from another. And the "I'm not protected, are you? Who cares?" An advocate of bandol.
  • 1991 Ridge Mataro - USA, California
    Where do we start" How about "does not go with bread!"? What seemed a fair comparison, a 19 year old California mourvedre with several like-aged bandols, was hardly that. This wine was anything but......bandol-like. Some comments: fun wine, port, bizarre, strange, raisin, roasted fruit, chocolate cake batter, fig cake with powdered sugar, late harvest, and so forth. Some found this over-bearing, or over-ripening, others enjoyed the exotic nose, its cherry and chocolate port character; a taster detected overtones of floral viognier. Ruby purple in color, a surprisingly light nose, there was a spicy plum mid-palate, and then the prunes and raisins kicked in. Does not go with bread. But tasted like chocolate-covered cherries with the pate, and pecans and dried cherries with the wild boar sausage.

Older Chateauneuf du Pape

One wine in this flight, a 1992 Chateau Rayas, was thought to be corked by most tasters, though not all, so a 1992 Chapoutier Barbe Rac was substituted.

  • 1985 Clos du Mont-Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    This wine had aged gracefully, and most tasters enjoyed it. It had a pretty nose, good acidity, a nice mid-palate, good ripeness, and resolved tannins. Rustic, but with pretty notes of baked red fruit, tart raspberry, cedar box, stewed tomato, rosemary, clove, and stewed blackberry with plum and strawberry overtones. Some tasters had difficulty finding the fruit and thought it tired and musty, while others found the wine surprisingly lively, a quarter century old and still kicking.
  • 1988 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    The favorite wine in this flight of five older CDP's, most tasters thought this very well balanced, but lacking a finish. Some thought it might improve over time, others thought it fading. This is a light styled wine, reflective of the vintage in CDP, with a good front to mid-palate, and, at best, a subtle finish. It was smooth, almost too easy to drink, was chalky and had some strawberry and fresh fruit flavors. Some thought it a bit gamey, but its lightness and balance stood out.
  • 1989 Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des Générations - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Always a great value, this wine shows the power of the vintage for CDP. It had a spicy, sweet, floral nose and wrapped around the tongue, with lots of flavors: caramel, cheap (Hershey) chocolate,raisin, lavender, clove, nutmeg, cranberry, and raspberry. Some found it reductive and closed, and sour, but most enjoyed the size and the palate on the wine....."not mellow" declared a lawyer.
  • 1992 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    From a mediocre vintage, this wine had a surprising amount of fruit and alcohol. It had medium acid and body, with a sweet nose, candy shop and tart fruit flavors, and a soft finish. Roasted beets, cranberry, game, tree bark, and honey were detected. Some found it "out of whack," with hot tannins and bitter, rustic,sour, asphalt components; others called it bright and enjoyable.
  • 1996 Yarra Yering Shiraz Dry Red #2 - Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
    We wanted to put a few new world wines in this wine salon, and this seemed a good candidate for an older CDP flight. Wrong. It didn't fit well, though it certainly fits the CDP varietal formula, combining grenache, syrah, and mourvedre. For all our tasters, this wine was decidedly "different" than the older CDP's. It is a clean, well-made wine, with oak overtones, medium tannins, and good balance, but definitely not exciting. Its flint, smoke, and saltiness were noted, along with flavors of game, graphite, blood, eucalyptus, vegetables, and even coconut (maybe from the oak).

Four decades of Chateau/Domaine Beaucastel

Yes, in 1973 Beaucastel was a" Domaine de", and its magnum sold for $11.95 here at Centennial "package" store. I remember buying cases of the 1989 and 1990 "Chateau de" for $250 and $218, respectively. Recently I learned of the great deal on the 2007 Beaucastel at the local Costco, for $75. The rhones they are a'changin'..... So we drank the '73 magnum at this salon, cheapest bottle we had.

  • 1973 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    From magnum. As the bottle's provider said, "it climbed out of a cave and was delicious....then started to fade." I pulled one of the shortest corks I've ever encountered from this magnum (actually I pushed the mushy cork into the bottle and easily pulled it with a cork retriever) and was stunned that the wine was alive and kicking. We opened this wine simultaneously for twelve tasters and shared the bottle immediately afterwards with all. The wine was cloudy and smelled funky, "chicken liver metallic, but in a good way," said one. There was fully resolved, "mellow" (polite for slight) round fruit, with flavor notes of tart red fruit, cranberry, cherry, stewed tomato, soy sauce, rosemary, grilled meat, clove, cinnamon, fennel, and thyme. It had a "ham quality,' and the word "interesting" abounded. The wine climbed a small hill for fifteen minutes, then dropped off rapidly, and went back into its cave.
  • 1981 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Outstanding in a broad rhone wine salon, the 1981 Beaucastel was quite a surprise for Beaucastel afficionadoes. When the bottle was finished, they had just begun to talk and exclaim about it--they were not finished. Right out of the bottle, the barnyard nose was singing. It was bright and harmonious, complex and smooth, exotic and delicious. Lots of flavor notes: bright red fruit, plum, bacon fat, olive, intense provencal herbs, crushed rose petal, cardamon, clove, basil, middle east bazaar, dried herbs, lawn, dirt, human blood, stewed tomatoes, christmas tree shopping, candied cherry, strawberry, fireplace hearth, a speck ham quality. Everyone liked this wine and all three tasting groups gave it an outstanding award. The most critical taster of it said : "funky, and digging the sting."
  • 1995 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    [Decanted for three hours] This wine drank surprisingly well, maybe because of the decanting--I had drunk this wine three weeks previously and it was not nearly as complex, though I and others thought it still needs time. It had the tell-tale Beaucastel barnyard nose, was a bit astringent and medicinal, was fairly tannic, and had a basil note, with some white pepper, smoked pork, close, and rosemary. It's interesting that the 1998 seems to be the more forward vintage of Beaucastel and shows much more fruit and minerality--the 1995 will be better in 5-10 years.
  • 2000 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    [Decanted for four hours] This is an intense, concentrated wine, not necessarily expressing itself yet, but some tasters found plenty to discern. A little volatility at first, it had dark fruit, and initially had savoury flavors, basil, exotic spice, and then developed some flack fruit, tar, a grape jelly component, raspberry compote, black cherry, plums--flavors we had not found in or earlier Beaucastels. It had a rich, good finish. I wine you want to drink but wish it wasn't so tightly wound. Probably drink great in 8-10 years.
  • 2000 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    We tasted this wine with a group of Beaucastels, including the 2000, to gauge how American rhone is faring, and were broadly disappointed. The Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel is a good value, but it seemed more of a Cotes du Rhone than a CDP, and not of the calibre of the Coudoulet be Beaucastel (which we should have put in this flight instead). Tasters rebelled. This is probably a good restaurant wine, had good fruit, sweet tannins, and some leather and tar. It was a bit one-dimensional, was fairly alcoholic, and had some rubber tubing and horse saddle notes that some did not like. I think this wine was better a few years ago. No one said awful, they just preferred the Beaucastels; those that scored gave this wine 88-90.

1990 and 2000: Pegau and Barbe Rac Chateauneufs

This flight was conceived, and provisioned, by a very discerning taster, and fan, of Rhone wines. Interestingly, after this flight he opened up a couple of his back-up bottles and he and others thought they were even better than the bottles tasted here . The ranking of these wines by three separate tasting groups yielded a three way tie for best, with the 2000 Pegau just slightly falling into fourth place.

  • 1990 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    The most traditional chateauneuf in this tasting flight, the '90 Barbe Rac was dark and rich, rather masculine, and had good flavors: eucalyptus, graphite, spice, pepper, dried cherry, earth, cocoa, candy, underbrush, red licorice, fig. While it was a big wine, it was not syrupy and had a medium finish. (95 pts.)
  • 2000 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    This was brighter, fresher, and sweeter than the 1990 Barbe Rac tasted with it. It had sweet and dusty tannins, and a cooked fruit character, with a great mouthfeel. Flavors noted wee peppered fowl, sweet tobacco wrapper, licorice, garrigue, raisin, licorice, chocolate, molasses, cocoa powder, black plum, kirsch, dried herbs, and creosote. (94 pts.)
  • 1990 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    A big wine with good structure, it had good acid and backbone, a lot of levels. "Textbook CDP," said a fan, he detected tar, licorice, kirsch. Others found dried currants, black cherry, milk chocolate, cherry blossom, licorice, and some spice. One taster thought it burgundy-like and young, with a fruit vs. tannin battle and some cigar box notes. Well-balanced and dynamic--a favorite. (94 pts.)
  • 2000 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    A young wine, developing nicely, it was lively and bright, had good fruit and acid, and a lovely finish. Smelled of new leather, tar, and sweet spice, it had flavors of licorice, black currants, black earth, herbs, black pepper, black fruit. The grenache was discernible and gave the wine its brightness. Still quite young, will get much better in 6-10 years.

Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle vertical, 1987-1991

A great vertical, even with a flawed 1989.

  • 1987 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    A surprise, as the odd man out in a 1987-1991 vertical, this wine was light, slightly oxidized, but drank surprisingly well, had elegance. It had a pepper nose, and had a tea component. We detected some brett, smoked meats, cassis, tar, decar, candid bluebery, black pepper, leather, horsehair, rosemary. Many said that the wine was at its peak; knowing this vintage we'd have guessed it to be ten years past its prime, but it had finesse, smoothness, tartness, was very pleasant. One group scored it a 95, another a 90--enjoyed by all.
  • 1989 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    As much as we wanted this wine to meet the quality of the other wines in a 1987-1991 vertical, this wine was flawed. We tried, but got overcooked green beans, dill, celery, pickle juice, raw potatoes..........disappointing.
  • 1988 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    Richer in body than the 1987, but also showing signs of age, this wine will probably never drink better than right now. Rich on the nose, with cedar and game, this wine was solid and tannic, and had a tea component (like our 1987, but the tea was steeped longer). We tasted leather, tar, pork, grilled herbs, sweet red fruit, stewed cranberry sauce, cassis, dried herbs, graphite, violets, and cedar. It had a smoke character, was harmonious. One taster likened it to a 1988 Leoville Las Cases.
  • 1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    What's not to like. Several tasters thought this perfect, others of us were amazed that the 1991 we tasted alongside it was quite competitive. Some comments from one group: "classic, balanced, beautiful, mature," "favorite, lush, delicious," "everything I want from a fine wine," and they didn't even score the wine. Overall we thought the wine young, with an almost port jam, had great structure and finish. The balance was very impressive, some called it sublime and restrained, and the caramel and sweetness promise more to come as the wine ages. Our discerning palates detected black fruit, basil, provencal herbs on the nose, smoke, crushed violets, raspberry jam, truffles and earth, blueberry, cassis, and black cherry. If we averaged the scores offered (and not all score), we'd give this a 98, but why present an average score when so many thought this a close-to-perfect wine.
  • 1991 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    Among a large group of northern rhones, including La La's and Chapoutiers, this wine surprisingly took the cake. How come we had never heard of the 91 La Chapelle? This drank very well, though some thought it might still be young. Well maybe it did drink really well, alongside the 1990. Had more acid and less structure than the 1990, was more rustic, had some mint on the nose and fresh herbs, was toasty and game-y, this hermitage was also port-like in its richness. Had angular tannins, flavors of plum, black fruit, cassis, blueberry and blackberry, pine nuts, rosemary, and eucalyptus. A young sommelier, who was quite effusive through tasting a dozen wines, simply said "Great!" A nice ending for a long day's journey.

Chapoutier, North and South

The Bernardine and Sizeranne are such good values, north and south. The best single producer to take to your desert island?

  • 1989 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    The second favorite in a flight of various chapoutiers, the wine was soft, elegant, and had fine balance. One tasting group thought it quite outstanding, and commented on its sweet dark berries, marionberry, and fruit notes and stated it had a beautiful, long finish. It had some port and sherry on the nose, was bright and lively, and had loads of flavors: anise, blackberry, stewed red cherry, iron, golden raisin, earth, pepper, kirsch, grilled herbs and rosemary, and spice. It went 12 for 12 among tasters, rare in our salon.
  • 1993 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    About half the tasters firmly thought this bottle was flawed, and half thought it was sound and needed more time. The neigh-sayers noted a funky nose and off-putting flavors of sea salt, oysters, iodine, medicine, and band-aid. The patient (a bad pun here) found some floral and earthy notes, thought it mineral driven with a fruit structure and that it had a much better palate than nose--they added notes of sage, dark fruit, blood, 5-spice, and, yes, medicine. They stated "SOUND." The nose vs. the palate here.
  • 1995 M. Chapoutier Gigondas - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas
    Probably from purchased grapes, most tasters enjoyed this wine, but not all did. It had pepper, spice and vanilla on the nose and good balance, had good and somewhat linear fruit, was slightly metallic and dusty, and had a short finish. Earth, cracked pepper, barnyard/animal, anise, blood, some plum and iron, and even hand soap flavors were detected. It was a good quaffing wine, probably better five years ago. A few thought it possibly heat damaged, muted, suffering, and they drank this an hour and a half after it was opened, so the wine fades and is a bit over-the-hill. Drink up.
  • 1998 M. Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    Surprisingly an almost unanimous favorite of the flight, this was called textbook old world syrah and "really, really great" by a tasting group. It had an earthy and barnyard nose, well-integrated tannin, good balance, bright acid, a pleasant mouth-feel, big fruit, and the bacon fat character we like to associate with hermitage and some cote roties. Black fruit, blackberry, leather, cherry, plum, butcher paper, clove, and sweet spice were also noted. The real deal, what happened to our 1993 Pavillon in the tasting? And I must say that the 1998 Pavillon, L'Ermite, and le Meal, which we did not taste here, are super, so this is quite a Chapoutier Hermitage vintage!
  • 1998 Ojai Syrah Thompson Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    This was tasted in a flight of four various Chapoutiers to get a sense of how a good and older California syrah compares to its French forebearer. It didn't compare well, though, and most tasters decried it wasn't fair. The wine was too chewy and lacked balance. This was the first vintage of the Ojai Thompson and Parker scored it highly, but we found it lacked mid palate and structure. It had some dust and alcohol on the nose and lots of molasses, earth, and cherry juice on the palate. Tasters also noted vanilla, cola, burnt rubber, barnyard, and spice. A taster said it reminded of a "spit-licked, home-made cigar," and another thought it lovely but a little ponderous compared to the Chapoutier CDP and Hermitage. Sorry, Ojai--you make a very good syrah, we just needed a better context for you.

Guigal and La Ladonne

A quick take on a side of the Cote Rotie.

  • 1985 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    A surprisingly good wine, it had bacon fat and tapenade on the nose, dirt and fruit on the palate, high acid, roasted fruit, almost raisin, and developed nicely over two hours. Some liked the nose better than the palate, all liked its balance and elegance. It stunned a few people that a $13 bottle, which could be bought in a grocery store almost 25 years ago, could evolve into such elegance and softness. It had flavors of mineral, meat, spice, pepper, plum, blackberry, and bacon. The color turned amber after awhile, the flavors persisted for most tasters, it was named outstanding by one of our three tasting groups. Another group thought it the weakest in the flight, but they were the first tasters of the wine... they thought it was fading fast......but the succeeding tasters all liked the wine much. Old and getting better with time. (90 pts.)
  • 1992 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    A bit of a disappointment in that this wine should have stolen this Guigal flight, and it didn't; usually the Guigal la la's take some years to drink well, and off vintages like 1992 are usually accessible and quite enjoyable (say, compared to the 1990 and 1988 vintages). This wine had some good flavors and characteristics, but it was a bit out of balance with its tannins and should be much better in 3-5 years. Overall it was somewhat monolithic and had a tannic finish. That said, some tasters enjoyed it much: slightly cloudy and deep purple in color, a masculine wine, with spice, minerals and wet rock, chalky and gamey, it is a powerful wine. Flavors of black pepper, slate, licorice, blackberry, peas, jolly rancher candy, herbs, and bacon fat were noted. The palate was better than the nose. Healthy tannins. Wait, wait, don't open me. (92 pts.)
  • 1998 Jean-Michel Gerin Côte-Rôtie La Landonne - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    There is not much of this wine produced, and this was interesting to taste with an older, 1992 Guigal La Landonne. The wines are quite different,with the Gerin feminine, accessible, drinkable. This had a perfume character, with some pronounced viognier, and was soft and well-balanced. It improved over two hours and probably should have been decanted earlier. It had more on the nose (including oak) than the 1985 and 1992 Guigals, was more new world in style, had good fruit and no flaws, and lacked some structure. It had a bright, dark red/purple color, and lots of flavor notes, including cherry and cola, candied red fruit, kirsch, black raspberries, olive, bacon fat, sage, ham, and oak--some complained of the oak. Several thought this wine needed another 4-5 years to show potential. (91 pts.)
  • 1998 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    A favorite of one group, the least favorite of another, this wine was decanted for several hours and still was a bit closed. One thought this was a Miss Texas in the Miss Universe contest. Maybe it was the beautiful nose. Initially it was a bit one-dimensional, then gained some layers over time and a good finish. As one taster said, this is not made to be the greatest wine, but to be delicious and have much more perfume. The nose again. It had notes of sweet red fruit, caramel, butter, cotton candy, asian spice, pepper, currants, coconut, some oak. One taster called it intoxicating, yet simple. Miss Texas goes Rhone. Give her some time. (90 pts.)

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