Our regular group went a bit bigger than usual this past month, pairing a number of small flights with some delicious grilled steaks and other culinary delights throughout the course of a long evening.
1997 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Alsace Hunawihr Clos Windsbuhl. Light gold in color, this wine has a nose chock full of minerals and wet rocks, but also lemon oil, honey, petrol and soft nuts. In the mouth, the wine displays a great mid-palate weight and presence, marrying rich bass-note fruit with racy acidity. Deep flavors of lime, green apples, nectarines and strong minerality are overlaid on this solid frame. It stays dry through the finish, while fanning out nicely and taking on a more creamy texture—an intriguing balancing act from start to finish. I spent a lot of time with this wine and really enjoyed it thoroughly. 94 points.
1999 Verget Meursault Tete de Cuvee. Light straw color, with a fresh, complex nose of pineapple, lemon, peach, chalk, honeysuckle, flower stems and graphite. However, it is a bit plumper and more loosely structured than one might expect given that fresh, focused nose. Still, there are nice flavors of pear, peach, soft spicy wood and a touch of vanilla caramel (especially on the finish). 88 points.
1985 Salon Brut Champagne Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil. This is considerably darker gold in appearance than the 1990 served alongside it. The first thing one notices is the plethora of tiniest of tiny bubbles that rise very very slowly in tight bunches of streams up through the wine. The nose is wonderful, with a deep nuttiness, but also elements of dark bread, dark ginger-ale, candied nougat, sherry and baking spices floating in and out. In the mouth, it has flavors of baked apples, caramel and dark honey that are intense and lushly textured throughout, turning brighter and again nutty on the very long finish. A wine to savor. 97 points.
1990 Salon Brut Champagne Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil. Again, one finds very small bubbles, but this shows a bit more effervescence. The nose is crisper and much younger-seeming than the 1985, with candied green apples, chalk and spices. In the mouth, it is beautifully taut and very intense, with great balance, featuring flavors of light toast, pears and apples. Coming back to this after about an hour, it takes on more of a nutty profile, still finishing clean and elegant. 96 points.
Group voting had every person giving the nod to the 1985, with one insisting on a tie between the two. Despite this clear “victory” for the ’85, the ’90 is a fantastic Champagne any of us would drink any time!
Chateau Meyney Flight: These bottles were opened but not decanted about 3 hours before tasting.
1985 Chateau Meyney St.-Estephe. Pale ruby color, with a clear rim. The nose sports very nice aromas of clean barnyard, cinnamon spice, licorice, cherry and cranberry, with tobacco notes gaining prominence with some time in the glass. In the mouth, there are round juicy flavors of currants, dark berries, bitter chocolate and spicebox, all carried along by fine acidity. It is medium-bodied with good vitality and impressive length through the mid-palate, finishing with a nice note of dark chocolate and cherries. 92 points.
1986 Chateau Meyney St.-Estephe. This is a bit more richly colored at the core than the 1985. I did not find the nose to be quite as compelling as the 1985, though it does exhibit nice aromas of tanned leather, cassis, dark cherry, tobacco leaf and a hint of cedar. In the mouth, there are flavors of dark caramel and a mix of red and black fruits, though the black fruits gain dominance after some time in the glass. It sports a bit higher viscosity, brighter acids and seemingly higher alcohol than the ’85, along with showing more tannins on the finish. 91 points.
1988 Chateau Meyney St.-Estephe. This is just a touch darker than the 1986 in color. The nose seems a bit darker, too, with licorice, currants, plums and turned earth. In the mouth, it shows mixed berry fruits, chocolate-mocha, and spices. It is fuller-bodied, and chewy in a good way. It has the longest finish of the flight, with plenty of spicy black fruits and toasty dark wood. 91 points.
2000 Chateau Meyney St.-Estephe. Full ruby color with no fading. The nose is rather dissimilar to the previous three wines from Meyney, which all shared a number of elements in common and seemed easily to share a sense of place. This bouquet is more about intensely sweet cherries and cassis, along with some incense. In the mouth, it is big and full-bodied, with burly tannins and a thick, chunky texture with lots of ripe red fruits. It does turn more structured with sharp acidity on the dry finish, which has abundant but ripe tannins. I think most of us expected very little from this wine (given some reviews), and it delivered above expectations. Still, I doubt 20 years from now it will deliver nearly as much pleasure as these mid-80’s wines do today. 88 points.
Overall, the group voted the 1986 as the Wine of the Flight by the narrowest of margins over the 1985 (29 points to 28 points), with the 1988 and 2000 nearly tied (17 and 16 points, respectively) underneath. The 1985 and 1986 each received 4 1st place votes. The 1988 was probably the most “controversial”, with 1 1st place vote, 2 2nd place votes, 1 3rd place vote and 5 4th place votes.
BV Georges de Latour Flight:
1985 Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Georges de Latour Private Reserve. Paling ruby color, with a nose that at first is reclusive, but opens up with time to show a soft, beguilingly feminine profile of easy-going sweet raspberries and dried flowers. On the palate, there are more sweet red berry fruits with balancing tangy red citrus acidity. The tannins are fully resolved, but the structure is still solid, making for a smooth drinking experience that finishes with fresh, tingly red berries and a bit of light caramel around the edges. An excellent showing. 92 points.
1997 Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Georges de Latour Private Reserve. Opaque, purple color. This has a huge, bold nose of eucalyptus, cedar, gobs of dark raspberries, plums, herbs, cocoa and road tar. A huge hit of mint comes on later, after about an hour in the glass. In the mouth, there are mixed red and dark berry fruits and cream, cocoa powder and distinct vanilla flavors. It is big-bodied with a very alluring velvety texture, but also abundant chalky tannins that could use a few more years to soften. The finish is long and juicy, with an abundance of dark fruits. Overall, it is so much more “obvious” than the 1985, and probably not what I would choose for dinner, but it is impossible to ignore its sheer presence. 94+ points.
The group went for the 1997, with 7 votes vs. 2 votes for the 1985. They were just so different, that this vote felt sort of meaningless, really. I would drink either again in a second, but dependent on occasion and food.
Dinner Interlude, with a Mystery Wine Served Double Blind:
Very dark, opaque color. A big, soaring nose of black licorice, sweet creosote and tar, sweet blackberry jam and cracked pepper, with subtler notes of aloe and iron. In the mouth, the profile is one of fun, zesty wild mixed berries and plums, along with very bright acidity, and pillowy tannins. It is very smooth-drinking, but with a good enough structure to stand up to the grilled steaks. Turns peppery on the finish. 92 points. Revealed as: 1998 Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra The Menzie’s.
1982 Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Lalande Pauillac. This is a beautiful light garnet in color, with a bricked edge. First off, one really notices the glycerin coating the glass. The nose speaks of soft raspberries, tobacco leaf, red currants, vanilla and unroasted coffee beans, with more of a mocha/coffee grounds profile later on. It is pure pleasure in the mouth, expanding to fill multiple senses with its warm red fruits, milk chocolate and soft spices. The texture feels voluptuous as it pumps through the very long mid-palate in multiple layers. There is just a hint of drying tannins on the finish. It is really just as I remember it from the last time I had it about 4 years ago. 97 points.
Chateau Lynch-Bages Flight:
1983 Chateau Lynch-Bages Pauillac. Pale ruby, with a bricked rim. There is a nice, complex nose of horse, shoe leather, lifted crème de cassis, and herbs and spices. Later on, something like currant tea folds in, as well. In the mouth, there are intense flavors and bright acidity up front. It unfolds to reveal light cocoa, spice and cassis on a medium-weight frame, but the acidity turns more angular. It is tangy, rather than rich, and a nice pairing with food. 91 points.
1985 Chateau Lynch-Bages Pauillac. Right off the bat, this seems a bit cooked or oxidized or both. There are distinctly sherry-like notes on the nose, with lots of plum and stewed prune character to the palate. Lots of drying tannins. Too bad. Not rated.
Chateau Sociando-Mallet Flight:
1986 Chateau Sociando-Mallet Haut-Medoc. Inky dark color with no sign of fading. Right off the bat, there is all kind of talk about poopy diapers and such, but for me, this fades very quickly and is much more akin to fresh turned earth and cow pasture, anyway. There are also nice aromas of framboise, hay and cedar. In the mouth, there is simply huge concentration, big structure and impressive size, with flavors of ripe blackberry. It chugs right along before hitting a wall of grainy drying tannins that come in and begin to dry out the finish. The overall impression is that this wine is a slowly waking giant, but that it may be entering an early period of mature drinking. I would re-visit in 5-7 years. 93 points.
1988 Chateau Sociando-Mallet Haut-Medoc. Dark plum-colored. On the nose… Corked. Crap! Not rated.
Dunn Howell Mountain Flight:
1982 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain. Double decanted about 6 hours prior to tasting, with the cork showing virtually no seepage at all beyond the bottom disc. I guess maybe all that wax sealing might have helped. The color of the wine is opaque purple at the core. The bouquet is full of dark berries, incense, coffee, port spirits and an interesting saw dust note. In the mouth, it is super-intense, filling every crevice of the mouth with its presence. There are powerful juicy dark fruits, chocolate and spices, with an abundance of very fine tannins, especially at the back of the palate. It is low-acid but feels well-balanced. Overall, it’s big and impressive and a joy to drink, but it is probably not even beginning its plateau yet. 95+ points.
1987 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain. This is even darker-colored than the 1982. The nose is much more earthy, with considerable undergrowth and mushroom aromas to go with deep black fruits. It is very full-bodied and rich in the mouth, but has a chewier and less appealing texture when compared to the 1982. Indeed, it seems almost fudgy in character. The finish is tight and long and bodes very well, with lots held in reserve. Excellent, but a long way from ready. 93+ points.
The group voting skewed toward the 1982, with 6 1st place votes. The 1987 received one 1st place vote, and 2 people had the two wines dead even in terms of preference. On the whole, these are impressive wines, and they won me over as a fan, for sure.
1987 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume. Dark golden-yellow in color. There were initial murmurs that the wine was mildly corked on the nose, but I could not sense this. It does open with a musky nose that eventually turns to clove honey, candle wax and crystallized sugar. In the mouth, the entry is a bit tinny, but it turns rich and creamy in the middle. However, the finish is a bit thin, and I begin to wonder if this is in fact a bit of an off bottle. The group was split fairly evenly between those swearing it was corked and those swearing it was just the vagaries/charms of aged Chenin Blanc, with me perhaps alone in the wishy-washy middle. Judgment deferred. Not rated.
1989 C. von Schubert Riesling Auslese (93) Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Maximin Grunhauser Herrenberg. Dark straw colored, with a complex nose of dried peaches, grapefruit, musk, petrol, pine needles and lemon rind. It is mid-weight in the mouth, with stones and melon flavors that are soft and shy at first, but slowly build. It never gets too sweet nor too acidic, but it seems like it might be playing it a bit too safe—never really reaching a level of great excitement. Notably, we took this one home, and opened about 4 days later out of the refrigerator, with much greater vibrancy and drive, bumping it up from an initial rating of 90 to a final rating of 91 points.
1994 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Alsace Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St.-Urbain Vendange Tardive. The color is a limpid gold/iced tea brown. The nose on this wine is just amazing, with honeysuckle, lime rind, soft roasted nuts, and crispy crème brulee topping. It is even better in the mouth, with flavors of dried apricots, poached pears, prunes, figs, yellow raisins and spices galore. It is beautifully balanced between sweet fruit and zingy juicy acids. The texture is oily, yet airy in the mouth, with great lift and heft. A long persistent finish keeps you coming back for more. 97 points.
1986 Chateau Climens Barsac. Straw colored, with a nose full of botrytis, creme brulee, and vanilla. This wine just sings in the mouth, with bright honey, lime pith and grapefruit flavors up front and laced sugar, roasted nuts and spices on the finish. It has great intensity and persistence, with great focus and balance. It is so rich, lush and sumptuous in texture and weight, but so bright and fresh at the same time. Just lovely. 95 points.
1995 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Nyulaszo. This wine shows a brownish-orange color. On the nose, it has notes of orange marmalade, molasses, lime pith and nuts. But in the mouth, it is really intense, opening with a bright attack of lime, caramel, apricot and exotic spices. It is not quite as focused in the mid-palate at this point in time, but it does come back strong with a long caramelized, lime-tinged finish. This is not super-unctuous in body or texture, but it does fan out nicely in the mouth with tons of yellow raisin, dried apricot, dried nectarine and tropical fruits and spices. 93 points.
The group was all over the place on preferences for the sweet wines, with the Climens coming out on top (15 points) of the Zind-Humbrecht (11 points). The Tokaji (7.5 points) and the Auslese (6 points) were next, with the Baumard rounding out the field (1 point). Overall, this was a simply fantastic array of sweet wines, encompassing a wide range of styles and profiles.
Favorite flights for me were the Salons, the Dunns and the sweet wines. Wines of the Night were '85 Salon, '82 Pichon Lalande and '94 Z-H VT. But other than the flawed wines, there were highlights up and down the line-up.