Sunday, April 25, 2010

2004 Top Flight Bordeaux Blind 
(sort of)

     Some time ago I attended a tasting of 2004 vintage Bordeaux wines.  At first it happened to be full according to the web posting. I called anyway to see what level of wines would be poured, check if there was another date or even try to slip in if I was lucky enough to find someone who maybe cancelled. I was told there may be a cancel and later that day I received the call that there was in fact a cancel - I was in!  

     The tasting was small with only 11 attendees plus the organizer.  I would say that it was split down the middle between those there that worked in the wine business and those that were there for the pure enjoyment of drinking great wines.  Personally I feel I fall somewhere in the middle.  

     The tasting was originally touted to be completely blind in that we knew that the wines were Bordeaux but not which ones they were.  As we started, we were told that we would know all but one of the wines as we drank it.  I have to say I was kind of disappointed as I wanted to test my skills - blind tasting is the "equalizer" in the wine world, humbling the most educated and respected palates and wines on any given day.  At this point I figured the last wine served blind had to be a First Growth, more on that later.

We were to taste one wine from each of the better known communes of Bordeaux:

Saint-Emilion, Right Bank 
Pomerol,  Right Bank
Margaux,  Left Bank, Medoc
Saint-Julien,  Left Bank, Medoc
Pauillac,  Left Bank, Medoc
Saint-Estephe,  Left Bank, Medoc
Pessacc-Leognan, South of the city of Bordeaux
Last bottle served completely blind

     The lineup was great, ranging from right bank Grand Crus to mostly second growth left bankers.  The lineup was as follows, all from 2004 and decanted for 6 hours:

Chateau Magdelaine, Saint-Emilion
Chateau Certan de May, Pomerol
Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac
Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Leognan
Chateau "X" Served Blind

     Each wine was undoubtedly very Bordeaux.  The smoky, toasty oak is hallmark and very reminiscent of Bordeaux to me.  After that the terroir, fruit, tannin and other subtleties will define which wine is from which region and which Chateau.  The French whole-heartedly believe in terroir and that the consistency of a  vineyard's terroir should evident every year, but of course varies in complexity and depth depending on vintage conditions.    The 2004 vintage was a good, not great vintage according to the critics.  2004 is considered to be more classic of a vintage and reminiscent of the days before global warming talk and modern wine techniques which now allow a Chateau to extract (and unfortunately manipulate) more from the fruit they are given in a vintage.

     Overall I was not blown away but came away with a much better understanding of Bordeaux.    Some of what I already knew was reinforced, though I believe I took away a better understanding of the subtleties each commune has as I was able to compare them first hand and side by side.   I thought 6 hours was too much decanting for some of these wines, especially the right bankers.  Additionally the tasting glasses were correct, but they are small.  I think the wines had sat in those small glasses for too long, not smelling and tasting as fresh as I feel they could have been.  2004 is a vintage with a higher level of acidity in the wines, something not exactly I crave in a good Bordeaux. 

     As we tasted through each wine, the lead taster spoke about the commune the wine was from and what to expect, what was typical of that region.  She also mentioned how much of each grape varietal the wine was composed of.   True to form the left bankers were mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and the left bankers were anchored with Merlot.    

     As we tasted each wine in order I was going back and fourth comparing the subtleties of Margaux and Pomerol to the power of Saint-Estephe, and the coupled finesse and power of Pauillac.  I was guessing that the blind wine initially was Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillo or maybe Chateau Palmer, possibly even Chateau Margaux.  I was hesitant on a first growth initially as the wine did not really taste any more great than the mainly second growth wines we were comparing it to.  Ultimately I had forgone DB as I was definitely thinking this wine was from Margaux.  I was right as the instructor revealed at first what the region was.  Palmer is an interesting wine as it is one of the very few Chateau on the left bank that primarily puts Merlot in its wines.  I felt the wine had more power, more structure than what a Margaux would have, this had to be First Growth Chateau Margaux and I was right as that was the wine in the brown bag!  I was hesitant in guessing Chateau Margaux, but I was right.  Lesson learned that you should always trust your instincts.

Some notes and highlights from the tasting:

Chateau MagdelaineSaint-Emilion
Soft red fruit aromas, light ruby claret in color.  Tart cherry, earth, some leather and bright acidity.
50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc

Chateau Certan de May, Pomerol
Aromas of smoky oak, dark Cherry and currants, plush.  Same plush fruits on the palate, with earth and good acidity cleaning up the finish   
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon

Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux  Dark cassis and smoky oak aromas.  More palate depth than the previous two, richer deep core of fruit and silky but bigger tannins.
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Aromas of purple violets, cassis, barely any main oak influence.  Lots of deep red fruits and currants, fine grained and silky tannins.
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac  Not giving as much in the nose, more minerality, fruits.  Bigger fruit on the palate, big yet supple tannins, good acidity. 
53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc

Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
More earth, barn-yard, meaty and fruit aromas.  Burly big black fruits, big tannins, huge wine, typical and what I expected from a wine from St. Estephe.
64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Leognan
More animal, forest floor and some barn yard notes, red fruits and some subtle oak.  
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

Chateau Margaux, Margaux, Served Blind
Wonderful aromas of toasty oak and coffee, some chocolate.  Powerful, yet graceful, typical of Margaux wines.  Silky smooth and graceful on the palate with black fruits and chocolate, roasted coffee.  

Cabernet Sauvignon 55%, Merlot 40%, Cabernet Franc 5%

     I will be in Bordeaux at the beginning of June with Lisa on vacation to visit some of these and other Chateau all over the Bordeaux region.  This will be our first visit to Bordeaux and we are very excited for this opportunity to eat and drink our way through France.



Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New Zealand Pinot Noir
What's the Scoop?
The Next Big "Pinot Hype"?

Recently I have read in a few wine publications of the great strides in quality that New Zealand Pinot Noir has made.  I wanted to see for myself because many of these New Zealand Pinot's are priced rather smart at $12-30.  Price points that are much less than Oregon, California and especially the home of Pinot Noir, Burgundy.  Burgundy is to Pinot Noir, as Lambeau Field is to the football:  hallowed ground rich in history and tradition where little has changed in the last 50 years.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the uber-value Sauvignon Blanc made from New Zealand.  With its zesty tropical flavors of guava, mango, and pineapple mixing with the hallmark gooseberry and lemon/lime flavors they are easy pleasing and hard to miss.  One could say they were one of the best wine success stories in the last 10 years.  The NZ SB's exploded onto the scene in the late 90's and never looked back.  Its hard to find a bad bottle, though tougher to find one that is unique and dare I say it exceedingly great.  I am hoping I do not run across the same problem here with Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

The main regions for Pinot Noir in New Zealand are Marlborough, Central Otago, and Canterbury on the South Island; then Hawkes Bay and Martinsborough on the north island.   The wines I chose were mostly from Marlborough as those were the better priced wines and more widely available.  Central Otago was the second most widely available followed by wines from Hawkes Bay.

I decided to run the gamut and try to get a wine from each popular region, price scale and style.  I purchased a few in the $8-$15, $20, $25 and $30 bottle to try over the past week.  A good amount of $35-70 bottles exist, but at that price point I would use that kind of money on red Burgundy or even a high end American Pinot Noir from Oregon or California.  

Since I was only familiar with a few producers, I spoke to the salesperson at a shop I purchase a lot of wine from that had a nice variety of NZ PN.  He seemed pretty down on the wines in general, stating that the best are too expensive when compared to Burgundy.  He also said that that the sub-$20 wines tend to taste like cranberry juice, OUCH!  Not to worry, I did my due diligence ahead of time and knew what I wanted.  I only took one of his recommendations and the wines I already chose he did not lambaste.  I chose one that scored well with the Wine Spectator, one that scored well with Decanter (and I was familiar with), one that was really cheap, one middle of the road, and the last the most "Burgundian" of the lot.  If any of these pan out and have any solid Pinot Noir character to them at all, they could be a good value depending on what was in the bottle and at what price.  At worst I'd get something that tasted like red wine, as opposed to Pinot Noir which is very common with Pinot Noir costing less than $15.  It was difficult to find a sample from Hawkes Bay in Martinborough as the wines from this region are much more expensive, and few good examples exist in my local shops for under $20. Many of NZ's best Pinot Noir are from Hawkes Bay (Craggy Range), but are in the $50+ range.

Here was my short list:

2007 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir (South Island, Otago, Central Otago)
2006 Delta Vineyard Pinot Noir Hatter's Hill (South Island, Marlborough)
2008 Yealands Estate Pinot Noir (South Island, Marlborough)
2006 Tohu Pinot Noir Marlborough Cuvée (South Island, Marlborough)
2008 Sileni Pinot Noir Cellar Selection (North Island, Hawkes Bay)

ew Zealand's wine regions are split in half like the islands themselves with regions on both the North and South Islands.  Just look at the logo that starts this post!  Pinot Noir was first planted in NZ in the 1970's with little to no success.  Later in the late 90's after more attention, know-how, and most importantly investment funds from the success of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir became the next grape to focus on the 2000's.  Many clones and plantings were experimented with varied success.  By the mid-2000's NZ was able to produce Pinot Noir wines with large enough production that could make it to the USA in enough quantities to sell (I am sure you have heard of Kim Crawford?). I wonder if similar to South Africa, many of the smaller and better wines never leave the shores to foreign buyers, but I am only speculating by saying that. 

Overall I'd say that these were very nice wines, nothing inferior or defective and showing plenty of Pinot Noir character.  New Zealand is definitely not the next Burgundy, but rather another wine region in the world that has found a way to work with the contentious grape we love and hate called Pinot Noir.  For the price, New Zealand delivers good Pinot character.  If I had to say what region they are most similar to I'd have a tough time with just one region, however if I were to describe it I'd say they are a hybrid of Oregon and California, with less oak and higher acidity.

Best of the Tasting

2006 Delta Vineyard Pinot Noir Hatter's Hill $26 
Color: Ruby to lighter red, some brick hues.
Nose: Beautiful red fruits and perfumes, earth, almost Burgundian.
Palate: Expansive palate. Cherry and a minty strawberry, earthy, silky smooth tannins, good acidity. After a while the mint turned more like eucalyptus. Well balanced. Great wine.

Best Values

2006 Tohu Pinot Noir Marlborough Cuvée $9

What a nice little wine, good Pinot Character. Acidity and fruit are its strong points, as well as some good pinot character. Nothing mind blowing but for $9, solid value.  Blows away the oak laden, under $20 crowd of generic Cali Pinot Noir.

Color: Burgundy core with rose edges, starting to fade
Nose: Some flowers, strawberry and cherry, nice Pinot fruit nose.
Palate: Some earthy cherry, sweet cranberry and strawberry-rhubarb. I love the juicy acidity....superb value!

2008 Yealands Estate Pinot Noir $12
More California than Burgundy, in fact not much Burgundy at all. However though very smart for the money.  You do get nice Cali Pinot aromas with simple cherry and strawberry flavors.  Easy to drink a lot of this quickly.

Color: Very light red, little gradation or color variation
Nose & Palate: Cherry & strawberry rhubarb flavors and aromas. Pretty wine, smooth, easy drinking with identifiable Pinot character. The palate is rather simple, not much acidity and structure, which is fine for being a simple wine but I think it could use more to lengthen and delineate more of a finish.  Good for the price.

The Rest

2007 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir $30
(Central Otago)              
Mt. Difficulty has shot to fame in the last few years and is a well regarded Pinot Noir producer in New Zealand.

Color: Deep purple-red to lighter red edges.
Nose: Subtle, faded in and out all night. Red fruits, a touch of earth. Pretty faint.
Palate: Stronger, more powerful palate. Cherry, black raspberry, some strawberry, & earth. Very noticeable chewy and drying tannins. The tannins, alc., and acidity over power the delicate flavors. High abv for the lack of generous fruit. 
Maybe not a great vintage or too young, this was not showing well. The tannins alone at this level are too much, then add in the high abv and it seems like too much.  I would like to try this in 2 years to see if the tannins melt away and reveal more of the fruit.

2008 Sileni Pinot Noir Cellar Selection $20(Hawkes Bay)
A nice medium styled Pinot Noir, the most like the Hatter’s Hill yet slightly less complex and concentrated. Less fruit and more earth and acidity, a little bit of funk.

Color: Medium red core with rose edges
Nose: Strawberry, cherry, sandalwood, a secondary faint touch of green herbal tea and earth
Palate: Spicy red fruits, sour cherry, citrus peel, bright acidity. Finishes a tab short.

Now readers, go get some as there are many at prices for all to afford and enjoy themselves!


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