Andy hosted one of our recent monthly poker tournaments, and Gerry supplied the wines after his hard-earned victory the month before. The food was great and the wine line-up was excellent. As always, the wines were served blind, except the after-hours bottles.
2006 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc Graves. Our first wine of the afternoon smells of crushed gravel, light honey, candle wax and candied lemon, with a refined feeling of graceful lines to everything. In the mouth, it’s rather pithy in texture, but with rounded flavors of lemon, honey, wax, spiced pear and herbs that are nice and giving through the middle before turning more tense and dry on the serious-feeling finish. It’s got solid acidity and generous flow to it and can be enjoyed now.
2004 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac. This is sporting an extremely attractive nose for such a young Bordeaux, showing impressive depth and richness to the aromas of black plums, purple berries, fruitcake spices and new leather that are plump, ripe and gently sweet-toned all around. It’s really lovely, and I know I wasn’t the only one really taken with the bouquet. In the mouth, though, it’s not nearly so luscious or friendly to my way of thinking. Instead, it’s kind of cool, dry, acidic and linear in its flavors of cranberry, black cherry, earth and iron ore that are certainly savory-tinged and kind of tough-skinned at this stage of the game. I think others enjoyed it on the palate more than I did, but I personally would like to see it flesh out some more in the mid-palate before trying it again in maybe 5 years.
2001 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron Pauillac. This wine smells great, too—delivering a fine combination of suede leather, toasty brown spice and dark earth aromas to go along with appealing scents of black cherry, melted chocolate, mace and graphite that work very nicely together. It has a solid core of cool black fruit on the palate, with fine spices and bright background acidity in support. The tannins don’t seem too intrusive and it’s showing promising signs of early resolution despite a somewhat taciturn finish. I’d still be inclined to wait another 2-5 years on it, but it delivers nice drinking pleasure today, too.
2003 Mas Doix Priorat Salanques. This wine is a bit reserved on the nose, but does pop with warm gummy aromas of candied cherry, red currant and white pepper if you really give it some aggressive swirling. In the mouth, it needs no coaxing, though, coming across as overt and giving right from the start. It features a creamy texture and plenty of plush cherry-raspberry fruit flavor. It’s not all that complicated and might lack that extra gear of excitement, but it certainly offers juicy, fun and flavorful drinking for current enjoyment.
1998 Fernando Remírez de Ganuza Rioja Reserva. I think a lot of folks (including me) were put off by the strong streak of VA inherent in the bouquet of this bottle, although hidden beneath that are some more pleasing scents of leather, menthol, cherry, mushroom and pine. In the mouth, the acidity feels a bit raw and jangly, but there’s also a solid dose of pasty red cherry and raspberry fruit that’s pretty tasty and seems to flesh out nicely with food. It definitely grows on me, and in the end I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more than some, though I think it was clear this was not a pristine bottle when all is said and done.
1990 Château Lagrange St. Julien. This wine is just excellent all around. To begin, it’s simply delightful to sniff, with deeply pleasing aromas of red currants, chocolate-covered cherries, mixed berries, spiced leather, cedar and earth rising up out of the glass in effortless fashion. It’s just lovely stuff, showing great life and popping beauty. In the mouth, it’s full of energy, but with a fine-tuned sensibility to the flavors of currants, cranberries and leather that I really appreciate and enjoy. It was my runner-up wine of the day.
1987 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Unfortunately, this was clearly an off-bottle, with pretty much everybody agreeing on that point. It smells of cooked fruit and vegetables and tastes sour, pruney and cooked on the palate. Too bad.
2004 Marcarini Barolo Brunate. Boy, this is pretty on the nose, showing elegant and feminine notes of lilac water, spiced berries, dried cherries, cedar wood, birch, cola nut and tar that are really evocative and engaging. In the mouth, it’s full of cherry, cranberry and darker berry fruit flavors underpinned by toasted spices and campfire smoke elements. The acidity is more juicy than austere and the tannins are shockingly reserved for such a young Marcarini. That doesn’t mean there’s no structure, for there certainly is, but I still couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the label and re-tasted the wine to find it still so approachable and fine-drinking right now.
2001 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova. This is a very dark, opaque-colored wine, throwing a good deal of sediment down toward the bottom of the bottle. The baked cherry aromas are somewhat high-toned and roasty, with some dark earth, clay and spice notes in reserve. On the palate, it’s plummy and sweetly fig-fruited, with lots of date and exotic spice overlays. The gritty sediment kind of mars the texture for me, but in general I’m not a huge fan of the slightly over-ripe tones anyway.
1997 Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve Napa Valley. Here one finds plush and velvety aromas of baked plums, sour cherries, raspberry candy and a bit of fireplace ash and toasted herb. It’s deeply-concentrated on the palate, with sweet, sticky red cherry and raspberry fruit leading the way. It’s thick and rich, with a pliant texture and a warm and rounded personality dominated by that red fruit. It could maybe use a bit more lift and energy, but it’s tasty-fruited and giving.
1996 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 30th Anniversary Reserve Napa Valley. This wine opens with very appealing aromas of black cherries, red currants, cedar wood, menthol leaf, tobacco, coffee beans and brown spices that do everything possible to draw the taster right in. In the mouth, it’s full of black currant, black raspberry, earth and toasted spice flavors that show excellent structure, a tensile backbone, tons of drive and fine-grained tannins that lead to a generously lengthy finish. Overall, I’d have to say that it’s drinking absolutely great. I had it as my #3 wine of the day.
1996 Opus One Napa Valley. This was a treat, starting with the heavenly aromatics featuring beautifully pure scents of leather, coffee, cassis, cherry paste and classy earth that have an almost aristocratic sensibility to them. It’s even more beautiful in the mouth, where it feels plush, smooth and lusciously-fruited from start to finish. The gorgeous flavors of cassis, cherry and spice flow along with a languid ease. This is right in the zone, with a totally holistic, effortless feel. I don’t recall whether others were as positive as I was, but I had this as my wine of the day, even though I think the Mondavi from the same vintage will be the longer-lived wine in the end.
1983 Château Coutet Barsac. This is a lightly golden-colored wine that features classy, restrained and refined aromas of toasted orange peel, nectarine, wild honey, lavender and copper minerality without a ton of flamboyance or showiness. In the mouth, it’s similarly classy, with quiet push and a sneaky concentration of nectarine, rock sugar and dried tropical fruit flavors showing a reserved sweetness level. I like the youthful acidity and pointed focus here—both of which have me thinking this is at least a decade younger than it actually is. Far from unctuous or blowsy, this is a refined and delineated Barsac that has beautiful, pointed flavors and a lot of life yet to give.
After hours (non-blind):
2011 Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch Carneros. This is young and big-scaled, with a ton of exuberant wild berry, grape stem, mushroom and sarsparilla aromas playing out above some black olive/tapenade notes. In the mouth, it’s definitely a young wine with plush berry fruit and a lot of brown stem and dried leaf character. It feels briery, zesty and tangy, with bold fruit but subtle tannin. It’s OK now but I’d prefer to wait several years myself personally.
2004 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard Oakville Napa Valley. This opens up with an unfortunate reductive, rubber band smell before unfolding to reveal dark and serious aromas of blackberries, black plums and burnt embers. With time and air, it gets mellower and increasingly enjoyable. It’s similarly serious, dark and youthfully intense on the palate, with lots of dark chocolate, blackberry, cassis and fudge flavors. It’s smooth-textured and well-balanced.