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Blog URL has Moved to

October 4, 2010

I am happy to let you know that, after a few weeks of tinkering and tuning, the new version of this blog (which includes all the posts and content generated here up to this date), has moved to my own domain:, a free hosting site, was a great place to get this blog started, and had a lot of great features that made it easy to design and launch initially, but as the site visits have increased (averaging over 5,000 per month in the past couple months) and as I’ve been looking to add new features and functionality, I found that I simply couldn’t make the necessary changes in the context of WordPress’s free hosting limitations.

The first post on the new blog site includes ratings of 79 current release Champagnes tasted at the 2010 Institute of Masters of Wine Champagne tasting at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Building last week. You can go directly to that post here:

Some of the features I’m looking to add in the coming weeks include an easy way for readers to access and search all of my 18,000-plus tasting notes and reviews on CellarTracker, and easy links to search for recommended wines on On the new version of the blog, I’ve already added an “Oenophile Emporium,” which includes specially selected and recommended wine-related books, videos, magazines, glassware and accessories that can be purchased at I’m also delighted with the new top banner, designed by my sister Janis Snyder, that can now be seen at the new site.

Thanks to everyone who has visited and commented on this blog so far. I look forward to serving readers better, and with more features and easy links, on the new blog. For those of you who have honored my efforts by subscribing to this blog, I urge you to take a moment to set up a similar subscription, for free, of course, over at The subscription options are all on the upper right hand side of the page on the new blog.

Vieux Télégraphe 1984-2006 Blindtasted

September 14, 2010

>VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE 1984-2006 BLINDTASTED – Tom’s House, Palo Alto, CA (9/9/2010)

On a value and consistency basis, year after year, Vieux Télégraphe has to be my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape. Yes, older Rayas can be an indescribable, ethereal pleasure, but they don’t make them like that any more, and the old ones–1995 and older–fetch stratospheric prices. Beaucastel is good many years, but they’ve also raised their prices to the extent that, in some years, at $90 or so a pop, they’re just not worth it. Beaucastel, Pegau, Usseglio, Clos des Papes and others get the really high Parker scores, alter their winemaking practices (i.e., more concentration, more new oak) to keep getting those scores, and raise their prices accordingly, but Vieux Télégraphe hums along, not making significant changes, but taking advantage of their excellent terroir to make consistently good, more traditional, ageworthy wines, without hugely raising their prices each year. For that, count me as a loyal and thankful fan.

I’ve so far recorded 80 tasting notes on Vieux Télégraphe, covering 24 vintages, from 1978 through 2008. My highest rated, in order, have been the ’83, ’88, ’95, ’94, ’98, ’92, ’90, ’86, ’07, ’03, and ’89. My lowest rated have been the ’96, ’85, ’04 and ’99. My scores on all those 80 VTs have averaged 92.29 points.

Hippolyte Brunier first planted grapes on the La Crau plateau, near where the old telegraph tower and relay station had stood, in 1898. The vineyard now amounts to 63 hectares, with an average vine age of 50 years, on a south-facing terrace of clay and limestone soil, covered with smooth, heat-reflecting stones. Hippolyte’s son Jules built a winery on the plain and named it Vieux Télégraphe after the old tower. Jules’s son Henri revitalized the property in the 60s and 70s, expanded its vineyards, and turned Vieux Télégraphe into one of the leading Chateauneuf domaines before passing it on to his sons, Daniel and Frédéric, in 1988. In 1994, the domaine finally honored the plain on which all of the vineyards are planted by adding “La Crau” to the label.

The vineyard is composed of 65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault and 5% other red and white varietals. The grapes are destemmed and pressed, then fermented in stainless steel tanks with temperature control, for a period of two to three weeks. The wine then goes into concrete tank for nine months, before going into oak foudres for up to one year. The wine is bottled at two years of age, without filtration. It tends to be tannic and tight when young, but is capable of glorious cigar box, garrigue, tobacco, mineral and rich cherry complexity when given a decade or two of age.

Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, California, developed a friendship with the Brunier family in the late 1970s, bringing the first vintages seen in the U.S. in the late 1970s, and it continues to be the major importer of Vieux Télégraphe. Kermit and the Bruniers now also co-own Domaine Les Pallières in nearby Gigondas.

Daniel Brunier with RJ, and RJ's sister, Janis

My TNs and group scoring

I’d tasted nearly all of these vintages before, except for the ’96 and ’92. I didn’t expect either of those to show particularly well, as they don’t have a reputation as great CdP vintages, The ’96, the group’s and my last place, reinforced the notion that that was a particularly forgettable CdP vintage, but the ’92 in this line up turned out to be awesome. One would think the ’92 would be a great buy, being off the radar, if there were any out there, but I already checked, and they’re aren’t. Meanwhile, the ’94, a vintage I’ve enjoyed many times, was the group’s favorite. This sample wasn’t quite as good as others I’ve tried, being still somewhat tight yet, but it was very good. I preferred the ’92 and ’90 on this occasion, though. The ’06 stuck out like a sore thumb as being the newbie of the bunch, for all but a couple of us, and sure enough it was. It will be very tasty in another decade or so. The ’89 in this group was also relatively tight, compared to other samples I’ve had. Where the group and I diverged the most was on the ’99, which I found overly bretty, but the group (which included some notorious brett lovers) rated it number 2. Our oldest sample, the ’84, continues to show well, taking on secondary and tertiary flavors while keeping it’s sweet, firm tannins.

  • 1994 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #1 (my #3) – 47 pts; 6 firsts, 2 seconds, 1 third, 0 last places – medium dark red color; garrigue, anise, a little brett, lovely herbs, cigar box nose; tightish, nice herbs, garrigue, anise, tart cherry palate, needs another 3 to 4 years; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 1999 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #2 (my #7) – 53 pts.; 3, 1, 2, 0 – medium dark cherry red color; brett, tobacco, mature herb nose; brett, garrigue, anise, tart red fruit palate with drying, tannic finish; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 1992 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #3 (my #1) – 68 pts.; 1, 3, 4, 1 – bricking medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; rich cigar box, chewing tobacco, dried berry nose; a little tight still, cigar box, dried berry, garrigue, mineral, brett palate; medium-plus finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
  • 1990 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #4 (my #2) – 73 pts.; 1, 3, 2, 1 – bricking medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; maturing, dried red fruit, cigar box, lovely mature herbs nose; mature, sage gravy, cigar box palate with firm tannins; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #5 (my #5) – 77 pts.; 1, 1, 1, 1 – medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; youthful, nice tart red fruit, red berry, raspberry, white chocolate nose; youthful, raspberry, tart cherry, red berry, oak palate, very tight; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 1984 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #6 (my #4) – 81 pts.; 1, 2, 2, 3 – bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; very mature, tobacco, earthy nose; mature, tobacco, tart red fruit, mineral palate with firm sweet tannins; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 1989 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #7 (my #6) – 88 pts.; 0, 2, 1, 3 – medium dark cherry red color; mature, earthy, mushroom, faint garrigue nose; tight, tart cherry, red fruit, mineral, red berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (this was the tightest, most youthful version of this wine I’ve tasted–it needed another 4 to 5 years of bottle age) (91 pts.)
  • 1996 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #8 (my #8) – 89 pts.; 3, 0, 0, 5 – bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; oxidation, VA, mushroom, tobacco nose; better on palate than nose, but very mature, mushroom, tobacco palate with some oxidation and drying medium-plus finish (85 pts.)

“Old & Rare” Tasting with ’55 Taylor Port

September 10, 2010

“OLD & RARE” TASTING WITH ’55 TAYLOR PORT – K&L Wines, Redwood City, California (9/3/2010)

Gary Westby, Old, Rare & Champagne buyer at K&L

This fun, end-of-week tasting somehow managed to link my birth year (represented by a ’55 Port) with my introduction to California wine, i.e., my “birth” as a California wine lover. My first visit to Napa as an undergrad in 1976 took us to Louis Martini around the time the ’75 Cab in this tasting was released. On the whole these wines showed well, and most had some historic interest. I especially enjoyed the ’55 Taylor, from magnum, and not only due to the fact that I successfully guessed what it was (it was blind on the tasting sheet, and the label on the bottle was impossible to discern anything from). From just smelling the wine from Anh Thu’s glass when I arrived, I guessed “Taylor, from ’63 or earlier.” Looks like I learned something on my For the Love of Port trip to Portugal this year with FTLOP’s Roy Hersh.

For comments about the six individual wines we tasted, see below.

’97 Marc Collin Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru

Our single white was a decent lesser premier cru from Chassagne-Montrachet, in good shape for its 13 years. It was made by Marc Colin’s son, Pierre-Yves, who took over winemaking duties at his father’s estate in ’95, before starting his own small domaine, Pierre-Yves Colin Morey, in 2001. A nice start to this eclectic tasting of mature wines.

’95 Panther Creek Pinot

Panther Creek was originally founded by Ken Wright in ’86, but by the time this wine was produced, Wright had had a bad falling out with his original partner and the winery was sold to Ron and Linda Kaplan, Burgundy lovers from Des Moines. Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent was the winemaker for this vintage. This single vineyard bottling, from the Bednarik Vineyard, has been made every year since ’94. This was a lovely, mature Pinot, with silky texture and secondary and tertiary flavors, including soy sauce.

  • 1995 Panther Creek Pinot Noir Bednarik Vineyard – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Medium brick red color with clear meniscus; nice, mature, soy sauce, baked cherry, gravy palate; mature, silky textured, tart red fruit, soy sauce, mineral palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

’86 Pine Ridge Merlot

This Merlot was in remarkably good shape for 24 years, and one of the better mature Cali Merlots I’ve tried. Pine Ridge was founded in 1978 and the winemaker for its first 25 years was Stacy Clark. Pine Ridge typically blended other Bordeaux varietals into their Merlot–this one contained 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec, and they relied on French oak for aging. They currently own 220 acres of estate vineyards in Napa.

  • 1986 Pine Ridge Merlot Selected Cuvée – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Medium red color with pale meniscus; mature, tobacco, dried leather, weedy nose; mature, tobacco, tart currant palate with grip; medium-plus finish (with 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec) (91 pts.)

’75 Louis Martini Cab

Louis M. Martini was one of the pioneering winemakers of California, and–along with Charles Krug, Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyard–a founder of California’s great Cabernet Sauvignon legacy. The Louis Martini style was distinguished from the other three by varietal and geographic blending that produced agreeable wines ready for relatively early drinking. The Special Selection wines, however, were their wines made in outstanding years, produced in small lots aimed at greater quality and longer aging potential.

Louis M. died in ’74, so this wine was made by his son, Louis P., who was already actively working under his father starting in 1940. 1975 was a winegrowing year much like 2010, in which a cool, slow ripening season delayed sugar formation. As mentioned above, I believe I tasted this particular bottling, or at least others from the same year, when I first visited the winery in 1976 on a bus tour from Stanford, that also included visits to Beaulieu and Mondavi. I remember enjoying the Martini wines then, especially the Cabs, and thinking they were decently priced wines given the quality. By 1984, the Martini vineyards totaled more than 1,000 acres. I appreciate Gary including this particular bottle, which was in decent shape for its age, for taking me on a little memory tour to the beginning of my fascination with wine (exclusively California wines until many years later).

’92 Zilliken Spät

This, for me, was the weakest of the line up as a wine, and also didn’t have the same historical interest as the others. I’ve had better Zillikens, and ’92 was a good but not particularly great year. It was okay for a mature Spät, but that’s not saying much, as Späts with 20 or so years on them can be very exciting.

’55 Taylor Port

This was a wonderfully satisfying, mature Port to end the week on. I’ve only had a few ’55 Ports to date, and had never tasted the ’55 Taylor before. It was remarkably harmonious, with great balance and depth, and largely mellowed tannins, but still plenty of structure that will carry it for decades yet to come. It was reminiscent for me of the ’63 Taylor, which is why I was able to pick it out by the nose alone. Because the label was completely eroded, Gary had no idea who the producer was or any clue about the vintage until he pulled the cork, very carefully, with an ah-so, resulting in his being able to make out the bottom 2/3s of the cork, which were clearly stamped “Taylor” and “1955.” I always enjoy meeting vinous fellow children of my birth year, and this one was definitely a treat.

  • 1955 Taylor (Fladgate) Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    From magnum – light medium brown color with ruby lights and clear meniscus; VA, maple syrup, ginger cake, vanilla, dates nose, but drier than Graham, with lovely sandalwood edge; rich, sweet, ginger cake, maple syrup, sweet coffee, dates, brazil nut, almond palate, harmonious, with balance and depth; long finish 96+ pts. (this was poured as a mystery Port, and I guessed “Taylor, 1963 or earlier”) (96 pts.)

Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges “Les Vaucrains” Vertical: ’02-’07

September 8, 2010

ROBERT CHEVILLON NUITS ST. GEORGES “LES VAUCRAINS” VERTICAL: ’02-’07 – Vin Vino Wine, Palo Alto, California (9/4/2010)

This is one of the tastings that Vin Vino Wine in Palo Alto is doing as part of their month-long celebration of their upcoming 25th anniversary. VVW is unique in offering serious tastings on a daily basis, and for focusing on particular top producers with long track records, such as Dauvissat, Joguet, J.L. Chave and Robert Chevillon. This month-long celebration features a different tasting each day, focusing on the wines of a particular producer and in some cases, like this tasting, the wines from a single vineyard.

There are no grand cru vineyards in Nuits-Saints-Georges, the town at the southern end of Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. N-S-G does contain, however, 27 premier cru vineyards, the greatest of which is Les Saint-Georges, the vineyard whose prestigious name was added to that of the town of Nuits in 1892. According to virtually all critics, the honor of second best vineyard in Nuits-Saints-Georges falls either to Les Vaucrains or Les Cailles, both of which abut Les Saint-Georges. Les Vaucrains lies further up the hill from Les Saint-Georges, with rockier soil, which, like Les Saint-Georges, includes clay and sand. Les Vaucrains comprises 6.2 hectares, and has several owners, but the greatest producers usually cited are Henri Gouges and Robert Chevillon. I have personally always preferred Chevillon, whose parcel of Les Vaucrains includes very old vines, 75 years and older.

Domaine Robert Chevillon is famous for the transparency and consistency of their winemaking–really letting the terroir and vintage speak without any significant winemaking interference. The “recipe” at this domaine includes a relatively small proportion of whole cluster, no more than 25%; hot macerations; and 18 months maturation in wood, of which only one third, at most, is new. Given the similarity of non-obtrusive winemaking technique from year to year, and the fact that each of these wines was from the same vineyard parcel, this tasting really made for a dramatic opportunity to “listen” to the vintage characteristics expressed in each of these wines.

I was surprised that my very favorite vintage in this tasting was the most recent, 2007. Top Burgundies are typically appealing and approachable in the first year or so after release, before heading into a “dumb” phase from which they may emerge several years later (often 10 or more years in the case of typically very structured and tannic Nuits-Saints-Georges premier crus). The ’07 does have appealing red and black fruit and spice, which is typical of the vineyard, but very good definition and structure as well. It may not be destined to be as long aging as the highly tannic and structured ’05, but I think it will have a good long life. My next favorite was the ’05, muscular and tannic, but also showing good spice and fruit characteristics, with one of the most complex noses of the tasting. Third ranked for me was the ’02, another great vintage, still showing a little tight, but already taking on lovely secondary mushroom aromas, and possessing strong minerality. Next best for me was the ’06, which had some reduction initially on the nose, but which is also showing some of the lovely fruit of my favorite vintages, albeit with less complexity and structure. The ’03 came next to last for me, showing very mature flavors already, along with the black and roasted fruit characteristics to be expected from such a hot and ripe year. The least of all for me (and everyone else in the store who was doing the tasting while I was there) was the ’04, which was very green, stemmy and earthy, showing very little fruit.

In sum, these were all very good Burgundies, full of complexity and terroir, and all but the ’04 should continue to age beautifully, but the best and potentially longest aging are the ’07, ’05 and ’02.

The Vintage Speaks

Clos Vougeot Tasting Dinner

September 7, 2010

CLOS VOUGEOT TASTING DINNER – Lupa Trattoria, San Francisco, California (9/2/2010)

I’ve had a lot of Clos Vougeots over the years that reinforce the question many Burgundy fans have as to why this entire vineyard–at 50.59 hectares or over 125 acres, the largest in Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits–should be classified as grand cru. As in Echezeaux, the other very large and dubious Côte de Nuits grand cru, there are dozens of owners in this vineyard–about 86 per the last authoritative count I’ve seen–and over 60 different Clos Vougeot bottlings every year. The walled vineyard, built by the Cistercian order of monks in the Middle Ages, and owned by them until the French Revolution, is the only Burgundy grand cru vineyard besides Mazoyeres-Chambertin whose land runs right down to the main road, adjoining vineyards that, just over the wall to the south, are only entitled to villages status. Nonetheless, there are also some very good examples, typically from the best-drained upper third or so of the vineyard, closest to Grands Echezeaux.

When our gang settled on a Clos Vougeot theme for our latest dinner gathering, I signed up expecting to enjoy the company more than the wine. While the company, and Lupa’s food, were excellent as usual, we were also fortunate to have some very good Clos Vougeots, on the whole much better than I anticipated. We poured them all blind, divided into two flights, the first comprised of our three reps from the current decade and the second featuring our older bottles.

My favorite of the whole evening happened to be the one I brought, which I’d never tasted before. I sought it out after reading Jancis Robinson’s lengthy report on a blindtasting she attended this past July of over fifty 2008 Clos Vougeots. The Leymarie stood out for her in that tasting as one of her favorites, which was a surprise to her as she knew little about this property. Leymarie-Ceci is a very small Vougeot domaine which started in 1933 with a little more than half a hectare of Clos Vougeot, at the top of the vineyard, in the Petit Maupertit climat, abutting Grands Echezeaux. This plot was purchased “impulsively,” according to the Maison Leymarie website, by Belgian wine merchant Charles Leymarie. (In the ’70s, Charles’s son René acquired additional vineyard parcels in Burgundy, and the family also owns two properties in Pomerol and one in Canon-Fronsac.) The grapes are totally destemmed and the wines are given 30% or more new wood. Jancis found the ’08 sample she tasted to have “no shortage of stuffing and pleasure.” Intrigued by her write up, I looked for a mature sample to bring to this tasting. There is virtually none available in the U.S., but one store had two bottles of the ’90, so I snapped them up. Silky textured, with plenty of bright red fruit and a beautiful nose, I was delighted that it was showing as well as it was, and it was WOTF for most of the group.

For more details on the wines we tasted, including our delicious 1970 Port, please see below.

White Burgs

We started with a couple of whites, both poured blind. The ’06 Jadot Les Genevrières was so fruit forward and concentrated that I could easily have taken it for one of the better Cali Chards. The ’02 Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet was starting to show some oxidation.

  • 2006 Louis Jadot Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Light golden yellow color; lovely lemon, vanilla, pineapple nose; tasty, rich, pineapple, vanilla, lemon palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2002 Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet
    Light medium golden yellow color; raw egg, citrus, light hazelnut nose; slightly oxidized, nutty, citrus, mineral palate; medium finish (90 pts.)

Clos Vougeot Flight 1

For round one of our theme reds, we blindtasted our three youngsters. A few of us, including me, properly identified the vintages blind after we were told they were ’00, ’01 and ’02. The ’01 Arnoux was the weakest for me of these three. The vines for the Arnoux Clos Vougeot are also from the upper third of the vineyard. The ’02 Jacques Prieur, which was my favorite of this flight, derives from grapes grown in the upper section of the lower one-third of the vineyard, just above parcels farmed by the Raphets. I’m usually a big fan of Anne Gros’s wines, and her little slice of the vineyard comes from one of the two climats thought to be the very best of the 16 contained within the Clos, Le Grand Maupertui (the other most prized climat is called Le Musigni). I found it good but a lot tighter than the delicious Jacques Prieur. I suspect that the vintages these wines hailed from had a lot to do with how they showed, and ’02 was by far the best of these three vintages, and some ’02s, including our very appealing and spicy Jacques Prieur, seem to be starting to show well now.

  • 2000 Domaine Anne Gros Clos Vougeot Le Grand Maupertui – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Dark cherry red color; nice sous bois, cherry, raspberry nose with a touch of brett; tight, tart cherry, red fruit, mineral palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Domaine Robert Arnoux Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Slightly bricking dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; earthy, sous bois, dried cherry nose; brett, mineral, tart red fruit, iron palate with a cliff finish; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2002 Jacques Prieur Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Very dark cherry red color; spice, incense, mineral, cherry, dried cherry nose; tasty, ripe cherry, spice, dried cherry, raspberry palate; medium-plus finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)

Clos Vougeot Flight 2

Round two was also poured blind, but turned out to include a pair of ’90s and a mini-vertical of Louis Jadot. I’ve already talked about the ’90 Leymarie in my introduction above. Both our Louis Jadots were quite similar, and there was less apparent vintage difference than I would have expected. 1997 was a more challenging vintage, but Allen Meadows says that Jadot made some of the best ’97s, and our bottle certainly bore out that view. Jadot’s substantial 2.15 hectare parcel is a slice of the bottom half of the vineyard, down toward the southern end of the Clos. The Jacques Prieur ’90 did not show at all as well as the ’02 had, and seemed quite mature and lacking in focus compared to the ’90 Leymarie.

  • 1996 Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Slightly bricking medium cherry red color; maturing, mushroom, dried cherry, baked raspberry nose; tasty, deep, ripe and tart red fruit, tart raspberry, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 1997 Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Dark cherry red color; baked red fruit, dried cherry nose with a touch of forest floor; tasty, maturing, tart cherry, red raspberry, mineral palate with grip; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 1990 Leymarie Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Bricking medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; mature, mushroom, baked red fruit, raspberry mousse nose; silky textured, mature, bright, baked cherry, raspberry, solid palate; medium-plus finish (94 pts.)
  • 1990 Jacques Prieur Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Bricking, slightly cloudy, medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; mature, mushroom, baked cherry, raspberry nose; ripe cherry, raspberry, lacking some focus though, with good acidity; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)

’70 Port

The last time I had this vintage of Warre was at a tasting in the Graham Lodge in Oporto with Dominic Symington this past May. This bottle, imported by pioneering American importer Frank Schoonmaker, tasted very similar to that one–delicious and well structured.

  • 1970 Warre Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Bricking medium cherry red color with clear meniscus; VA, baked cherry, red bean, raspberry nose; tasty, rich, red berry, baked cherry, red bean palate, delicious; long finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)

Z-H finish

I don’t know that we needed another sweet wine to end on after the Warre, but we got to have one anyway. I usually very much enjoy Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Grises, and this is one of Z-H’s Grand Cru vineyards. I’d had this wine twice before, and this was the best showing of the three times I’ve had it.

Pacific Northwest Current Releases: Oregon Pinot and More

September 5, 2010

PACIFIC NORTHWEST CURRENT RELEASES: OREGON PINOT AND MORE – K&L Redwood City and Wine Club, Santa Clara, California (8/28/2010)

Two retail tastings the same day, at K&L and Wine Club, gave a sense of new releases and the ’07, ’08 and beginning of ’09 vintages from a number of well known Pac Northwest producers.

Back in the early years of the decade, I was a big fan of Oregon Pinot. Oregon Pinot had an extraordinary string of vintages from ’98 to ’02. Something happened after 2002, however, and I fell out of love with Oregon Pinot. I was turned off by excessive greenness and too much whole cluster. 2006 was supposed to be a great vintage there, and there’s been even more excitement about ’08. Both the ’06s and ’08s in these two tastings reinforced what I’ve heard and tasted from those vintages. I think Cali Pinots have improved at a more impressive pace than Oregon Pinots, and the better ones have gotten a lot more interesting than Oregon Pinots. Nonetheless, Oregon Pinot from good vintages is still worth checking out. I’m also a fan of Washington State Bordeaux varietals, but one has to choose very carefully. I was hoping to get a sense of what’s worth drinking now from these two tastings, and a few themes did arise.

The focus was very different at these two tastings. At K&L the theme was red varietals other than Pinot, although there were a couple of Pinots in the mix. At Wine Club, the focus was all on Oregon Pinots. My favorites from the K&L tasting were the ’06 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Zenith, and the ’06 DeLille Harrison Hill. In the Santa Clara Wine Club tasting, the winners were the ’08 Shea Pinot Shea Vineyard, and the ’06 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve (which I’ve tried before, with consistent notes).

I have yet to be really excited by any Northwest Syrahs, and the line up at K&L didn’t alter that impression. I think DeLille did a good job with the Harrison Hill Meritage, but I also thought their ’08 Chaleur Estate Blanc was a nightmare. Chehalem, which makes very good Pinots, is making a Grüner. I’m not sure why. I was underwhelmed. The “House of Independent Producers” made a Chardonnay that’s selling for $10. It’s not bad, so that’s a good thing. Evening Lands is making a Gamay for $20. It was decent, but I can get good Gamays for $20 or less from Beaujolais, so I’m not sure why I’d turn to Oregon for that. The Iota Pinot Pelos-Sandberg was remarkably good for a rough vintage, ’07, and the ’08 St. Innocent Zenith, their shared estate vineyard (with Ramey) was quite good. The two K Vintners wines, including their ’07 Syrah, were not very good at all. The ’07 Trust Syrah, for $30, was decent, but with so many good Cali Syrahs available, I’m still wondering why I should turn to the Pac Northwest.

K&L Pacific Northwest tasting

  • 2009 Chehalem Grüner Veltliner Wind Ridge Ribbon Ridge – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Ribbon Ridge
    Very light canary yellow color; tart peach, mineral nose; creamy textured, tart peach, ripe palate, lacking in acidity; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Hedges Family Estate Chardonnay The House of Independent Producers – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very light yellow color; apple, pear nose; pear, apple palate with balance; medium finish (a decent value at $10 retail) (88 pts.)
  • 2008 DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Light canary yellow color; reduction, oak nose; reduction, oak, stinky palate; medium finish (I can’t understand the high scores from Tanzer and others based on this sample) (81 pts.)
  • 2009 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Light, slightly orange, pink color; ripe pink grapefruit, blood orange nose; tasty, light, tart strawberry, tart cantaloupe palate with poise; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir Celebration Seven Springs Vineyard – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola – Amity Hills
    Dark cherry red color; nice tart red fruit, Gamay, tart red currant, mineral nose; tight, tart red currant, mineral palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Iota Pinot Noir Pelos-Sandberg Vineyard – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola – Amity Hills
    Medium cranberry red color with pale meniscus; nice tart red fruit, forest floor, camphor nose; tasty, tart red fruit, forest floor, camphor, spice, tart cranberry palate with medium acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Zenith – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Dark red color; earthy, tart cherry, camphor nose; tasty, tart cherry, red fruit, strawberry palate with integrated stems; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2006 DeLille Cellars Harrison Hill – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley
    Dark red violet color; nice cassis, red currant, cedar nose; tasty, cassis, red currant, berry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Owen Roe Red Wine Yakima Valley – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley
    Very dark red violet color; cassis, red currant nose with a little herbaceousness; focused, ripe cassis, vanilla oak, red berry palate; medium finish (36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Trust Syrah – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; deep berry, plum, oak nose; tight, ripe berry, red fruit, French oak palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt Vineyard – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope
    Dark red violet color; roasted plum, herbaceous nose; vegetal, tart plum palate; medium finish (85 pts.)
  • 2007 K Vintners Ovide En Cerise Vineyard – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Dark red violet color; oak, toast, plum nose; ripe plum, oak, red berry palate; medium finish 87+ pts. (87 pts.)

Wine Club Santa Clara Oregon Pinots

Vintage is incredibly important in Oregon, and the ’08s in this tasting helped show why that vintage has been getting a lot of buzz, as did the ’06 Domaine Serene for Oregon ’06. The ’07s were less interesting. The ’09 Owen Roe was the only rep for the latest vintage, and it was green and camphory, so the jury is still out for me on that vintage.

  • 2007 Stoller Pinot Noir JV Estate Grown – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Dark red color with pale meniscus; tart red fruit, forest floor, menthol nose; tart red fruit, cinnamon, camphor palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Owen Roe Pinot Noir “Sharecropper’s” – USA, Oregon
    Medium dark red color with pale meniscus; tart red fruit, camphor nose with green notes; tart red fruit, camphor palate with green notes; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Dark cherry red color; tart red fruit, raspberry nose; tasty, tart red fruit, tart red berry, mineral palate with grip; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Patton Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Grown – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    From 375 ml – dark cherry red color; menthol, earthy nose; nice tart cranberry, tart red fruit, mineral, menthol palate with definition; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Medium red color with pale meniscus; tart red fruit, forest floor, raspberry nose; light bodied, tart red fruit, cinnamon palate; short-medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Shea Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Shea Vineyard – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
    Dark cherry red color; tart cherry, tart raspberry, floral nose; solid, tart raspberry, cherry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Big, complex, raspberry, tart cherry nose with subtle oak; tight, raspberry, cherry, black raspberry palate with balance, needs 2+ years; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (blend of 55% Dijon, 27% Pommard and 18% Wadenswil clones; aged 15 mos. in barrel, 48% new) (92 pts.)

Allen Meadows Seminar on Vosne-Romanée

September 2, 2010

ALLEN MEADOWS SEMINAR ON VOSNE-ROMANÉE – The Box, San Francisco, California (8/25/2010)

Allen Meadows is the writer and publisher of the Burghound newsletter, aka, and author of the recently published The Pearl of the Côte, the Great Wines of Vosne-Romanée. He is also one of my favorite wine writers and critics, and I am fortunate to have attended a number of seminars, tastings and dinners with him when I lived in L.A. When I saw that Chai Consulting and Wine Gavel Fine and Rare Wine Auctions was hosting a two-hour seminar with Allen in San Francisco, I rearranged my schedule to be there.

Philip Abrams’s glowing review of Allen’s book was posted here early last month. I’m in the middle of the book now, and enjoying it immensely. The book contains the most current and authoritative description of all the great Vosne vineyards, including the results of Allen’s lengthy research into the historical and current boundaries of those vineyards, complete with maps and photos of each vineyard that were created specially for the book. It also contains a terrific brief history of Burgundy that includes the most thorough description I’ve seen anywhere of the phylloxera years, how Burgundians grappled with the destruction of their ancient vineyards, what it was like to be a wine grower and winemaker during those years, and how the phylloxera era ultimately altered Burgundy permanently. Sprinkled throughout are Allen’s thoughtful recommendations as to benchmark producers, and what to buy, including top values. Another extra is the most extensive tasting notes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines, including bottlings dating to the mid-1800s, to be found anywhere. I highly recommend the book, which is currently only available to purchase via the Burghound website, through this link:

Allen’s seminar was largely in promotion of the book, giving those who haven’t read it yet a feel for what it covers, and of the rich topic of the wines of Vosne-Romanée. The seminar included a tasting of six wines from the appellation, from different vintages and producers, and Allen’s comments about them. Allen agreed to let me video record some segments from his talk, which will give a flavor for how he presents the material, and some of what the book covers. I also asked him a question afterward about what was the single most surprising thing he learned in doing his research for the book, so that answer appears at the end of this post.

Over 80 people (close to 100?) were on hand in the large space of The Box for this event, so it lacked some of the intimacy and interactiveness of smaller seminars I’ve attended with Allen in the past. Nonetheless, it was nice to see such a large turnout mid-week to hear from Allen, and I hope it encourages him to get up the Bay Area even more in the future.

Here’s a clip of Allen talking about the origins of the concept of terroir in Burgundy, deriving both from animistic ideas of the uniqueness of place, as well as the view that the Catholic Church (owner at one time of many of the best vineyards in Burgundy, whose priests and monks played a vital role in analyzing and comparing wines from the different vineyard sites) eventually promulgated that differences in vineyards were “messages from God, that deserved to be celebrated”:

This next clip shows Allen talking about his own experience of smelling the soil in individual Burgundy vineyards, following the example of the vignerons he regularly visited, and learning what a great difference there is between the individual terroirs:

Tasting Portion

I thought the producers of the event put together a rather odd assortment of Vosne-Romanée wines for us to taste, including two villages wines, two premier crus and two (in my opinion, remarkably weak) grand crus. They literally had an assortment of ’99 Dominique Laurent premier crus for the tasting–one bottle of each–and were a little vague as to exactly what section of the room had been poured from which bottle. In the second hour of the seminar, however, Allen dutifully got to each of the wines and told us something about the producer, the vineyards from which the wines were made and the vintages represented, without commenting directly on what we were actually tasting in our glass. By far the standout of this motley assortment of wines for me was the stunning ’02 Méo-Camuzet Aux Brulées–not surprising because it’s a terrific year, top producer (one that Allen calls the “reference point” for this vineyard) and superior premier cru. In Allen’s view, Aux Brulées is a wine “of muscle, rich, that’s reminiscent of Richebourg without the minerality.” Allen explained that the Domaine Méo-Camuzet holds it in such high regard that when visitors come to the domaine, they serve them three of their grand crus before it, with only Cros Parantoux and Richebourg coming after.

The ’97 Jadot Grands-Echezeaux that I tasted may have been from a faulty bottle–my buddy Eric Lundblad tasted from a different bottle after the seminar which he said was showing a little better–as it was definitely fading in the glass, and lacked the power and depth I expect from a Grands-Ech. Allen opined that Jadot made some of the best ’97s among negociants, having managed to get ripe but not roasted fruit. He also said that Grands-Echezeaux is the “value play” of grand crus in Vosne, although you “never find the same level of finesse in them as in more refined grand crus.” Our other GC, the ’01 Charlopin-Parizot Echezeaux, was the weakest wine of the tasting. Allen told us ’01 is one of his favorite vintages for drinking today, with finesse, but not lightness, and the fact that many are ready for drinking already. He also explained that this wine was from a third of a hectare Philippe Charlopin owned in the En Orveaux climat of Echezeaux, a climat he shares with Sylvain Cathiard.

I rather liked the Mugneret-Gibourg villages ’06, which has some potential for development. Allen told us that the ’06 vintage “had the unfortunate occurrence to come after ’05.” He described it as a “lovely vintage, especially in the Côte de Nuits.” He thinks it will be a medium-term vintage, worth holding for awhile, but also drinkable while we’re still waiting for the ’05s to come around. Allen personally likes to drink his Burgs “when you can start to see secondary characteristics.” I thought our ’98 Rouget villages wine, from a few parcels Rouget’s uncle Henri Jayer used for his Vosne villages, including a parcel right next to Jayer’s house, in Vigneaux, was less successful than the Mugneret-Gibourg, but decent for a villages.

The remaining wine, that my row and the couple in front of mine received, was the ’99 Dominique Laurent Aux Malconsorts. It was beefy, powerful, and tight yet. It led Allen to talk at length about Malconsorts as an underrated premier cru, and one that he believes will be seen as being in the very top rank of Vosne premier crus in the future, in part because one of the historically underperforming producers, Thomas-Moillard, sold off his large parcel in recent years to two superior producers, de Montille and Dujac. Here’s a clip of Allen talking about the vineyard:

  • 2006 Domaine Georges Mugneret/Mugneret-Gibourg Vosne-Romanée – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée
    Dark cherry red color; bright cherry, mineral nose; tasty, tart red fruit, lifted, rosehips palate with medium acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 1998 Emmanuel Rouget Vosne-Romanée – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée
    Rosehips, floral, tart red fruit nose; solid, tart red fruit, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 1999 Dominique Laurent Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
    Dark cherry red color; beefy, savory, bacon fat nose; tight, beefy, mineral palate with firm tannins, still needs a few years; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2002 Domaine Méo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Brulees – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
    Medium dark cherry red color; mushroom, roses, loamy soil nose; tasty, elegant, roses, tart cherry, cinnamon, rosehips palate with depth and structure; medium-plus finish (94 pts.)
  • 1997 Louis Jadot Grands-Echezeaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru
    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; cedar, redwood, chlorine, mushroom nose; mature, fading, tart red fruit, mushroom palate with firm tannins; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2001 Domaine Philippe Charlopin-Parizot Echezeaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Echezeaux Grand Cru
    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; VA, bean dip, raspberry, menthol, forest floor nose; tart red fruit, mushroom palate, probably heat damaged; medium finish (86 pts.)

Here’s Allen, after the seminar, answering my question as to what was the single most surprising thing he learned in doing his exhaustive research for the book: