While I have a few spare moments, a rare occurrence at this time of year, I'd like to post some impressions of a recent wine tasting. I attend several different formats of wine tasting, such as large, walkaround tastings for the trade, a tasting group where we blind taste, evaluate, and attempt to identify a set of wines as a group, comparative open and blind tastings with my study partner, and, recently, a practice exam-type tasting. In addition to all of that, I also do the occasional comparative set of 2 or 3 wines alone at home (trying to learn more about a particular region or grape variety), and, once in a while, the most fun type for me, which is an informal tasting with a small group at a restaurant or someone's home. The last type of tasting involves less spitting than most of the others I mentioned (I don't drink at all at most of these events so that I can keep my palate sharp, remember what I have tasted, and maintain a completely professional demeanor), which is part of the fun (I do, after all, enjoy actually drinking some of the wine that I am always tasting). More than that, though, these tastings are fun because each person brings wine that they really like and want to share with their friends and fellow wine nerds. We might choose a theme of some kind, or decide to enjoy whatever hodgepodge of wines happens to be brought. This is also the only type of tasting that my wife regularly attends with me. We will generally bring more than two bottles (one per person is generally an understood minimum unless a couple brings something really special) so that everyone can try an even greater variety.
Recently, a good friend invited us to come take part in just such a tasting. When this friend and I get together, we usually end up opening a kind of ridiculous number of bottles because we don't see each other very often and we really enjoy sharing some of our most interesting bottles with each other. That means a bit more spitting than usual so that the later bottles are not opened completely wastefully, and it also means a lot of leftover wine. Unfortunately, not all of those leftovers will generally be consumed, though I will usually try to have guests the following evening to give it a good effort. That aside, opening more wine than we could hope to consume might seem excessive, and certainly a bit hedonistic, to some. It's not that we are trying to drink as much as possible, as I mentioned. The idea is to be able to compare quite a few really nice wines to each other. This can be a great tool in deciding what to purchase in the future, and learning about the styles of certain producers and regions. The wines that shine in the company of other very serious wines are truly exceptional, and this type of comparison allows us to identify such wines without being at a big trade tasting where all of the high end stuff is too young and must be tasted during a marathon of tastes which leads almost inevitably to a fatigued palate and sometimes rewards power over subtle complexity.
On this day, my friend decided to compare some Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon in the 2007 and 2010 vintages. We only had one of each of the four wines, so it was much more a comparison of producers than broad styles. The styles are different enough, though, particularly from the 2007 vintage, that it was obvious which wine was which when tasting them blind. For those who don't follow such things, 2007 for California Pinot Noir was a ripe and concentrated vintage. In Oregon, however, there was rain late in the season, which made the less successful wines dilute, while the best wines were very elegant, light, and some were almost Burgundian.
A quick note that I will include some qualitative evaluations of these wines. The scale I use is poor - acceptable - good - very good - outstanding - classic. Outstanding means really outstanding, which most wine critics using the 100-point scale seem to have forgotten, and classic means the wine redefines my view of its entire category and maybe even wine in general; in short, one of the best wines I have ever had. Sometimes I use a plus (+) or minus (-) to designate to myself a wine that is near the top or bottom of its category.
We started off with a comparison of a couple of Pinot Blancs from regions not often thought of for Pinot Blanc, at least not here in the USA. The first was the 2009 Meßmer Burrweiller Schloßgarten IGJ Weissburgunder Großes Gewächs from the Pfalz in Germany. This wine was mindblowing. What a ridiculously good wine. It had the mineral presence (very chalky
and stony) and lees impact of a great white Burgundy, with this spike
of peachy, ripe fruit running through it. The layers of flavor were
impressive. outstanding+ The second Pinot Blanc was Cédric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne La Boloree Champagne. This Champagne is 100% Pinot Blanc, which is not one of the "big three" grapes in the region. When you read introductory wine books, they tell you that there are only three grape varieties allowed in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The truth is that there are several other grapes that were used historically and are still allowed, Pinot Blanc being one of them. Bouchard believes there is great potential for this grape, so he makes this Champagne from a single, tiny parcel of it which he owns and farms. The wine tasted much like a still wine upon opening, but with air, the toasty,
autolytic notes emerged a bit more, supporting but never overpowering
what was also a peach-driven fruit presence, along with chalky minerals
and tropical notes. To me, this was an outstanding wine, but just, and
very much unlike any Champagne I've ever had (not surprising). You can
get some very impressive wines for what it costs, so I'm not sure I'll
be buying it again, but it was well worth comparing to the Messmer.
As an interlude, and for something to have with our pizza, which had Thai-style peanut sauce instead of red sauce (absolutely delicious, by the way), Our host kindly opened a bottle of 2001 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. I was really surprised at how well this wine showed for how young it is. This was a tremendous bottle of Riesling. So floral, ethereally delicate and nuanced, such firm acidity balancing the sweetness, I could chug this wine if it were more affordable. An outstanding wine, and it was perfect with our pizza.
Then it was time to drink some Pinot Noir. We had a Burgundy to get us started on the reds, a 1996 Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos de Ursules. This is a monopole vineyard, meaning it is owned solely by a single producer, so theirs is the only bottling from this plot of land. I had decanted the wine at home before making the 2-hour drive to Portland with some trepidation, because sometimes aged wines can show well initially only to degrade very quickly once exposed to oxygen. The other factor, though, is the sediment in aged Pinot Noir, which can often be extremely fine. I was worried about that sediment being shaken up in the car, which would have made it impossible to pour clear wine out of the bottle. Plus, I'd had a bottle of '96 Jadot 1er Cru from a different vineyard in the same part of Burgundy recently, which had been very youthful still, Jadot being a traditional producer whose wines tend to be long-lived. My friend found a bit of off-putting funkiness to this bottle, but my wife and I found it charming and complex. It did decline over the course of the evening, unfortunately, but we thought our first glasses were fantastic, though more advanced than the other '96 I mentioned, with dried red fruits and flowers, and mature notes of forest floor and mushroom. I thought the wine, for me, was right at peak drinking in terms of its evolution, which might have meant that it was overly advanced for its age, but that is of no concern when a wine drinks well at the time you drink it.
Of the domestic Pinot Noirs that followed, I thought the 2007 Copain Kiser "En Haut" and the Patricia Green Etzel Block were the stars. The Patricia Green was more elegant, the Copain a bit more concentrated and tannic. I loved both, and think there is an extremely bright future ahead of both with some more years in the bottle. Patricia Green is a producer whose wines I've decided I would like to purchase on a yearly basis from now on. I've been buying Copain for a while and will continue to do so with confidence.
I think it was at this point that our host opened a real show-stopper, by far all of our favorite wine of the night. 2002 Domaine Ponsot Charmes-Chambertin Cuvée des Merles (a Grand Cru red Burgundy) was definitely
the best young Burgundy I have had, and one of the best period
(surpassed only by a couple of more mature wines). It was breathtaking,
and as much as I had enjoyed the Patricia Green up to that point, it
held absolutely no interest to me once I tried this Ponsot. I'm sorry, but a tasting
note could not do it justice, especially one from memory. It's in this type of context that I can really appreciate the greatness of such a wine. Almost any wine we had that evening would be highly enjoyable on its own, but this wine was so ridiculously good even in comparison to a lot of other really good Pinot Noir. classic.
The other really noteworthy wine for me was a 1969 D'Oliveiras Sercial Madeira. I love old Madeiras because they are good pretty much indefinitely, even after the bottle has been opened. This wine had a certain mature note that I also get in older Cognac, and I think of as the smell of antique furniture, with the leather, the old wood, and that slight whiff of varnish, the last of which has to be very subtle for me to enjoy the wine. The wine also had a burnt orange peel character and notes of exotic, Asian spice. All of that with an almost bone-dry fortified wine with razor-sharp acidity holding it all together. An outstanding wine, and I still have plenty left, which is great.
Those were the highlights of a hedonistic, highly enjoyable evening that I will remember for a long time to come. Once in a while, excess can seem rather fitting.