Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
The Washington International Wine Festival breezed through the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building in early March for its third annual visit. Judging by the crowds that swarmed around the three rooms filled with tables, there is indeed a tremendous market for wine in our nation's capital - enough to justify more such events.
As in the first two years, however, there was a depressing lack of French wineries represented, with the notable exception of Alain Jungenet's fine line of Chateauneuf-du-Papes (more on those below). Perhaps as the event grows we'll get more principals here, and an even-greater selection of wines.
But enough preaching, and on to the reviews. As you might expect from such a large-scale event, it is impossible to rate wines objectively with hundreds of people pushing their way around you to the bottles and the dump buckets. Therefore, these are merely flash impressions. The festival was held on Saturday and Sunday, with an hour for the trade before the general public were admitted. I took advantage of both trade hours and stayed until I could fight the crowds no more. Once the women started looking better than the wines, I figured it was time to go home.
So on with my cursory ratings.
The wine of the tasting, as far as I'm concerned (with the caveat that I tasted only a small fraction of the wines available) was from Mallorca, of all places. Not exactly burning up the pages in your world wine atlas, I'm sure. But look for the Son Bordils 1999 Negré, brought into this country by Frontier Wine Imports of New Jersey. The wine is 50 percent Merlot, 35 percent Manto Negro (whatever the heck that is ... ), and 5 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. This wine is lush and plummy, with chocolate, raspberry, cinnamon and nutmeg flavors. At a retail price of $15, it whups much of the market. For goodness sake, the conversation value of a Mallorca wine is worth that price!
Strangely enough for wine geeks, the other two wines that especially impressed me for "QPR" - or "quality-price-ratio," which is geek-speak for "bang for the buck" - were both Merlots. The first was Barone Fini 1998, from Trentino in northern Italy, where some very interesting Merlots come from. I encountered this in a seminar called "Gems of Italy," where it stood out from the crowd because of its modest price ($11). I have since had the opportunity to taste it again (courtesy of the winery), and can definitely recommend it. It benefits from an hour or two of airing; upon opening, the flavors are rather commingled. With time they become more distinct, and therefore more appealing. The wine is lush for the price, with cherry fruit and a hint of "lead pencil," followed by a long finish. Tremendous value. Gioia Bonmartini, the winemaker's daughter who presented the wine at the tasting, spoke of a "food-oriented balance" - something Italy excels at in general, as does this wine in particular.
The other Merlot of interest was from Chile - Santa Ema Reserve 1999, from T.G.I.C. Importers, also $11. It is sooooo different from the Barone Fini; in fact, it is different enough from other Merlots that many people probably will not like it. It was extremely chocolatey; white and bittersweet chocolate, heavy on the vanillin. While the oak (French allier) was perhaps a trifle heavy, this wine might make coverts out of those who say no wine goes with chocolate.
Herewith some thumbnail reviews, with snap-judgment ratings up to three stars and then "Wow!"
Alain Jungenet 2000 Chateauneuf-du-Papes, waving the tricolor for la belle France. A tremendous vintage, for the most part approachable early, though in CdP terms, Strom Thurmond is still in his youth. Prices were not available, as most of these will be hitting the market this Spring.
Chateau Fortia - ***, fruity in style, 60 percent Grenache, 10 percent Mourvedre, 30 percent Syrah.
Domaine Pierre Usseglio - ***, more earthy.
Bosquet des Papes - ***, tannic, dense, earthy.
Domaine de la Cote d'Ange - ***, raspberry, tannic, stones.
Cuvée du Vatican - **, fruity, a bit pruney, port-like, long finish.
Domaine Moulin-Tacussel - *, light, a bit thin, but hints of something held back.
Mas de Boislauzon - *, raisiny, prunes, light finish.
Domaines des Relagnes - **, 80 percent Grenache, never a bad sign in my book.
Cuvée de mon Aïeul - ***, from Dom. Usseglio; deep, intense, mineral/stone, soft tannins, probably needs five years or more to show its real stuff. Well heck, most of these do.
Bosquet des Papes, Cuvée Grenache - ***, 98 percent Grenache, 2 percent a mélange of everything else. Not "fruity," though not lacking in fruit; swathed in a robe of chocolate and soft tannins.
Cuvée du Vatican, Reserve Sixtine - ***, "going on seventeen ... "
Domaine Pontifical - Wow! Deep, tannic, long and beautiful. Best of the lot.
From Spain, Palacio de Bornos 2001 Sauvignon Blanc, **, intense grapefruit, passion fruit, some of that elusive "gooseberry" we all write about when we can't fully identify a flavor. From Kysela Père et Fils, a good value at $10.
From New Zealand, Te Kairange Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2001, ***, redolent with ruby red grapefruit and passion fruit flavors and a long finish, good value at $18. They also offer a Pinot Noir 2000, ***, intense cherry, berry, quite deliciously spicy; at $22, a better value than the $35 Reserve **, which is more restrained.
From the "Gems of Italy" tasting: (The Italian Trade Commission is wiser than their French counterparts - they invested heavily in this wine expo ... ) These all rate quite highly on any scale.
La Caraia Fobiano 1999 Umbria, 70 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. $38. Closed nose, with coaxing it offers cedar, rubber, clove, cinnamon, berry. Tight and tannic, yet quite complex, this wine needs 2-3 years (at least) to open. Lush mouthfeel, quite lavishly oaked.
Cascina Val del Prete 1999 Barbera d'Alba Superiore, $30. Nose: sharp, berry/spice and OAK! (22 months in new barrels, high alcohol at 14.5 percent) Delicious, lush, berry flavors tinged with spice; long, fruity finish with soft tannins.
Arnaldo Caprai "Sagrantino di Montefalco" 1998, $45. "New style," instead of sweet sacramental wines traditionally made from this grape in the "passito" style. Still, this might remind one of Amarone - slightly raisiny nose, plum, clove, nutmeg. Thick, hard tannins try valiantly but don't quite succeed in covering up cherry fruit. This one really needs time, but promises nicely.
As you can tell, I stuck mainly to the Spain and Italy room during the tastings. It may have had something to do with the table of Spanish cheeses, but then ... it might have been the wines!
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