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Tim York

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WTN: Harlan Estate 1995 served to a group of Belgian wine-lovers

by Tim York » Wed Jun 14, 2006 1:39 pm

After a tasting of some excellent French whites from 2004 (separate thread), conversation turned to Bordeaux vintages, some of which were described as "Californian".

This impelled our host to disappear and return with a bottle of the famous "cult" wine, Harlan Estate 1995. He stimulated us further by reading Parker's laudatory review giving 99 points and reporting a cost then of $110 (surely several times more by now?).

It is a pity that the wine was not served blind because most members of this largely francophile group were visibly and audibly screwing themselves up to dislike the wine. And as soon as the wine was sniffed and tasted prejudices were confirmed with remarks such as "body-built", "oinment-like", "jammy", "over-oaked" and even "short" flowing round the table. The consensus was very damning.

My own note follows -

C: Opaque dark red almost black.
N: Full rich aroma of black-currant mixed with oak
P: Impressive attack of concentrated back-currant and dark chocalate-like structure. Very mouthfilling ("fortissimo" in musical terms) at entry into mid-palate but tailing off ("diminuendo") towards the finish leaving a far from celestial after-taste of quite searing acidity mingled with malty oak.

My own conclusion: A block-buster with impressive primary fruit, concentration and structure but lacking in harmony, subtlety of aroma and seductive mouth-feel. However, IMHO, nothing like so bad as to justify the dislike and even derision emanating from most of the others. But equally not one of the great wines of the world justifying adulation and a multi-hundred price tag. At EUR 30, this would be an acceptable experimental buy but i doubt if I would drink it often.

Happily I have experienced that California can produce wines, IMHO, much finer than that. For example a Mondavi Reserve 1991 drunk a few months ago was richly elegant and beautifully balanced and some Ridge Montebello is great.
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Randy Buckner

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Re: WTN: Harlan Estate 1995 served to a group of Belgian wine-lovers

by Randy Buckner » Wed Jun 14, 2006 2:42 pm

Here are my notes on a vertical tasting I did of Harlan wines:

A generous and gracious wine friend, Sid Graham, invited a bunch of us wine geeks up for beef, a winefest and cigars yesterday. Now if we can only get him to stop chasing these CA cults...

The theme was Hierarchy of Harlan, a vertical of Harlan Estate wines from 1990-2000, sans the 1998. Wines were tasted blind in two flights of six, with a ringer in each flight. These wines generated very high ratings from a certain wine critic, including two 100-point ratings.

I won't go into the specifics of each wine because the notes are pretty much the same -- oak, oak, black fruit, dill, herbs, chocolate, moderate tannins and sharp acids. I was surprised at how fast the fruit is dropping out of the wines with age.

The 1997 Harlan was the most atypical. While not corked, the wine was not good, and hardly a 100 pointer. There were strange aromas and flavors, with a piney note. I would have recalled this wine.

Three thoughts came to mind rather quickly: 1) If I had any, sell them on Winebid.com immediately, 2) Barring that, I would drink these wines earlier than later, and 3) Boy howdy would I feel bad if I had paid $200+ for these bottles.

I expect more, a LOT more than these bottles delivered. For the price, I could have four bottles of Pichon Baron or Pichon Lalande and be much happier with what is in my glass.

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