March 20, 2005
Following the Rhone Rangers mega-tasting in San Francisco, we staged a morning-after blind tasting of non-US wines made from Rhone grape varieties to complete our study of Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre. After evaluating the wines, we took a break with some palate-soothing Fatted Calf charcuterie along with a couple golden oldy wines, then a cake sampler from Crixa.
While I havent been successful in hooking up with Fatted Calf yet, fortunately, Spencer has a steady supply to share with me. This time he brought the pork rillettes and some duck liver mousse. As usual for Fatted Calf, both were outstanding and disappeared much too soon. Hed warmed up the rillettes slightly, just enough to soften the pork fat and melt it a bit around the rim of the dish, and that really brought out the aromas and deeper flavors. I loved the coarse and uneven texture of the shreds of pork.
Nick made brunch, including some delicious sausage patties also from Fatted Calf, as well as his own blend of turkey apple. With his tender, moist scones, we tasted a range of preserves too. My brain was too fried from the blind tasting of wines to remember what we had. But I loved his scones and was loathe to push them away when the surprise of a cake tasting was announced.
We tried five kinds of Crixa cakes that had been candidates for wedding day glory: amaretto cream, Jamaican rum, Meyer lemon, dark chocolate, and tiramisu. The genoise base for each of them was lovely. But I found the fillings too restrained, bland even. Only the tiramisu invited a second bite and was more than two-dimensional. While I dont like super sweet desserts, I found myself wishing these had more sugar in them to pop out more flavor. Really, I liked the scones better.
Here are some notes on the wines, in the order tasted.
1993 Pibarnon Bandol (North Berkeley Imports), 85+% Mourvedre fading to brick around the rim, some leathery character to the spicy fruit, smoked meat flavors, well-integrated, firm tannins, very long and persistent. VERY GOOD plus
1996 A. Clape Cornas (Kermit Lynch), 100% Syrah broader mid-palate than the first wine, also old by the color and palate integration, fleshy black fruit with green peppercorn and asparagus of less ripe vintage, tart acidity and chalky tannins still unresolved. VERY GOOD minus
2003 Castaño Monastrell Yecla (K&L), 100% Mourvedre, carbonic maceration and traditional fermentation saturated red-black color of young wine, bold youthful nose with candied berry fruit and spice box, medium-plus alcohol of warmer growing region, medium tannin, moderate acidity, some sediment, good length, somewhat simple. VERY GOOD minus
2003 Alain Jaume Reserve Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone (K&L, also Bottle Barn), 70% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre/Syrah/Cinsault, destemmed, temperature-controlled fermentation with 10-12 days maceration minerally nose of old world origins, medium tannins and higher than usual for CdR, round mid-palate and elevated alcohol, ripe strawberry fruit with white pepper, pretty yet rather simple. VERY GOOD
2003 Sang de Cailloux Vacqueyras (Kermit Lynch), 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault, mostly organic vineyards, nonfiltre some fizzy CO2 of secondary fermentation in the bottle, idiosyncrastic nose with wild game, cinnamon red hots, black pepper and sweaty saddles, medium-tannin, heavy extraction, medium alcohol, moderate acidity, fat finish. VERY GOOD, better bottle might warrant higher rating
2003 Ch. La Roque Pic St. Loup (Kermit Lynch), 51% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, fermented in stainless steel with 20-30 days maceration, maturation in foudre, demi-muid sweet ripe core of clean fresh fruit, some oak shadings with cedary notes, tight now and not fully expressed, medium-plus tannins, very long finish. VERY GOOD plus
2001 Terrebrune Bandol (Kermit Lynch), 80% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 5% Cinsault, 18-month maturation in wood, mostly foudres and some barriques riper and more assertive personality, roasted meat and dark fruits with walnut-y accents, layers of flavor and complexity, harmonious balance of medium acidity to medium-bodied extract with firm yet polished tannins, finishes long and deep. Will benefit from one to five years in the cellar. Excellent value at $19.95 retail and a near universal favorite of the tasting. EXCELLENT plus
2003 Artazuri Navarra Garnacha (K&L), 100% Grenache, 75 year old vines, fermentation in stainless steel and older wood tanks Light oak shadings, chalky minerality and orange zest notes highlight ripe red and black fruits, medium tannins with medium-high acidity and moderate alcohol, focused and tight expression, moderate finish. VERY GOOD
2003 Hewitson Miss Harry Barossa (K&L) 47% Grenache, 40% Shiraz, 13% Mourvedre, dry farmed 80+ year-old bush vines, matured in older French barriques saturated opaque color, fruit forward dense nose, ripe but not overripe fruit with toasty wood notes, soft polished tannins and high alcohol balance with high extract for a smooth and rounded palate impression, medium-long finish. VERY GOOD plus
2002 Hewitson Old Garden Barossa Mourvedre (PlumpJack), 100% Mourvedre, 150+ year old vines, maturation in 50% new French barriques deeply saturated color, herbal tones of mint and eucalyptus mingle with floral violet notes and butterscotch toasty oak in complex nose, fat body with high alcohol and broad mid-palate, more red-fruited on the palate with some medicinal notes, stays solid through bold warm finish. EXCELLENT
After that tasting work-out, we tried three more wines open-label (not blinded) with our snacks. For kicks and in keeping with our syrah motif, Nick popped open the NV Fox Creek McLaren Vale Vixen Sparkling Shiraz (PlumpJack, $20) for an Aussie twist on Champagne brunch. Its a big, juicy wine with ripe grapey flavors accented with toasty oak and is near dry in sweetness.
We had an interesting shoot-out between the E. Guigal Gigondas from my cellar and the Chapoutier Hermitage Sizeranne contributed by jaweino. Both wines were from the 1990 vintage, an outstanding year in both the Southern and Northern Rhone regions. Gigondas rouge wines are principally Grenache from a middle tier appellation, whereas Hermitage red wines are all Syrah from a top quality appellation.
This was the last of four bottles of the Guigal Gigondas that Ive cellared for ten years. I must confess to having very low expectations for its showing and just wanting to get it out of the way to make room in the cellar. The previous three sampled at intervals during that time were all excessively tough and tannic, even when tasted three years ago, and many felt that this wine would never amount to anything. Well, we should have waited until they were 15 years old. In this trial, the tannins were finally resolved and providing a firm underpinning for the candied red fruit. Layers of rose petal, hot stones, sweet spices, blood sausage, and dried berries carried through to a rounded warming finish with a leathery aftertaste. Fully expressive on the nose and broad across the palate, this bottle was as good as an old Grenache can hope to be.
The Sizeranne Hermitage was no slouch either. Fully developed with clearing at the rim and medium garnet hue and signature wet ash and peppery aromas, the restrained fruit had hit that sweetness of multi-dimensional maturity that expanded across the middle and finished very long with a chalky mineral-laden flourish. While it had turned the corner and started to fade, it still showed the breed and power of Hermitage with a steely cut of prickly tannin. Whereas the Gigondas appeal still rested largely on its fruit expression, this wine was all about the tertiary character and personality of its noble terroir. The Chapoutier Sizeranne was a good, but not great Hermitage. Both were a pleasure to experience and surprisingly well-matched tasting them side-by-side in this accidental duel.
Regarding the photo below, I wish I could remember the particular village where I snapped it. It shows a typical flatland Cotes du Rhone vineyard in early spring with stony top soil and close-to-the-ground older Grenache vines pruned in goblet style.