Our friend Andy has been hosting a big backyard BBQ for us for many years now, and there are always tons and tons of wines brought by the gang to go along with the amazing food he cooks up. This year, he was joined by a few other grillmasters, so the bounty was even fuller than usual. It is an all day and all night affair, so the wine flows for many hours, giving ample opportunity to sample a wide range of the offerings on tap at a leisurely pace.
Sparkling wines and whites:
N.V. Alfred Gratien Champagne Brut. This is a very pretty style of Champagne. The aromas of baked apples, cream, ginger and light baking spices are airy and pleasing, while the balanced and harmonious palate is soft, creamy and easy-drinking with a juicy core of tree fruit. It really is a nice way to ease into things.
N.V. Eric Rodez Champagne Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Brut. The nose here is dark, smoky, flinty and schist-driven, with overtones of dark toasted bread, citrus peel and yellow apple. In the mouth, it is full and toasty in nature, with big, serious flavors of citrus, apple, pear and graphite supported by an almost chewy acidic spine. It is less welcoming than the Gratien, but perhaps more interesting and characterful.
N.V. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut. Served from a double magnum. I never got around to trying it.
2004 Mumm Napa DVX Rosé Napa Valley. The bouquet of this wine features aromas of smoke, mineral, strawberry and watermelon that lead to a softly-sweet but sufficiently juicy palate of cherry and strawberry fruit. Sure, it is a bit obvious at times, but I have no problem enjoying it.
1998 Pol Roger Champagne Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut. There’s a wonderfully deep pitch to the aromas of this wine—featuring serious and deep notes of graphite, apple, pear and herbs that demand your attention. In the mouth, it is vinous, round and luscious, yet effortlessly breezy at the same time. The core flavors of sour lemon, apple and spice have great grip to them, but there’s also a certain finery there, as well. On the whole, this is a thoughtful, well-made and highly enjoyable bottle of Champagne.
2011 Weingut Keller Riesling von der Fels Rheinhessen. This wine comes across as an easy summer quaffer, starting with sweet but simple aromas of peach, honeysuckle and apple blossoms. It is much the same on the palate, where it is light-bodied and presents a lattice of peach and flowery flavors atop a barely-there acidity. There’s really nothing wrong with it, but there are more interesting QPR bottlings out there for my tastes.
2003 Schoffit Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St.-Théobald. There’s a dark but very bright golden color to this wine and it shows a lot of rich glycerin character on the inside of the glass. Aromatically, it is loaded with interesting scents of lychee fruit, baked apricots, wax bottle candy and exotic brown spices. In the mouth, it is incredibly sappy in texture, with an unctuous, luscious quality to the draped flavors of lychee, peach juice, and intensely exotic spices. For all that, it is very solidly-structured and not at all overdone or overtly flashy. It is moderately sweet, but not from residual sugar, and there’s enough soft acidity in the background to keep this flowing beautifully despite the viscosity. For me, it is loaded with character and displays a depth of flavor that I find highly appealing.
2009 Les Vins de Vienne Condrieu. This is intensely floral on the nose, with aromas of orange blossom, honeysuckle, citrus and peach fuzz lifting up out of the glass. It is similarly floral in the mouth to go along with flavors of white peach and orange zest. For all that, it tastes a bit taut and tight still, with some sneaky structure inhibiting the full release of flavor and textural complexity, in my opinion. I think holding for another two years or so will help with that dimension.
2009 Domaine Rolet Arbois Naturé du Jura. This wine displays an impressively stony and chiseled sensibility on the nose—with scents of limestone, granite, lemon peel, white peach and blanched nuts providing a sense of cool reserve. In the mouth, it is grippy and sticky, with a squeaky sort of texture that fits very well with the elements of limestone, yellow apple, white peach, verbena tea and faintly oxidative nuttiness. It’s good stuff, with a serious edge to it that I find intriguing.
2009 Peay Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Sonoma Coast. This wine presents an overt bouquet that is loaded with aromas of wood smoke, grilled herbs, toasted wood and spiced pear—with the smokiness seeming to linger the longest. The smoky, toasty notes continue on the palate, where one encounters tart but mouth-filling flavors of pear, apple, chalk and herb. It seems a bit disjointed to me, though, and I think my advice might be to wait on it a short while.
2005 Faiveley Mercurey 1er Cru Clos des Myglands. Served from magnum. The nose is enjoyable, featuring fine aromas of cranberry and liquid cherry beneath white pepper and toasted herb accents. It is on the light side on the palate, not showing a whole lot of depth or grip, but instead a pleasing briskness to the dark red fruit and peppery flavors. It’s a bit tight, though, and some turgid tannins come out after a while. It may just be the magnum format, but I think a few more years will still be good for this.
2006 Méo-Camuzet Frère et Sœurs Bourgogne. There’s a shy, compact quality to the nose of this wine, although it does show glimpses of pretty cherry, raspberry and chalk dust aromas. On the palate, it has a bit of a compacted and attenuated finish, but is otherwise fleshy and a tad chewy through the cherry and red berry-flavored mid-palate.
2007 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes. This was quite popular, and was gone by the time I had a chance to turn my attention to it.
2009 Domaine de la Vougeraie Gevrey-Chambertin. Even though this has been open a good while before I try it, the nose is just overpoweringly dominated by sulfur aromas. There are some additional notes of smoke, gunpowder and skunk fern in there, but it is really impossible to find any fruit notes beneath that shadow of sulfur. In the mouth, it is again marred by those same characteristics, and it is just impossible to evaluate at this stage of the game. I wouldn’t go near it for a while.
2002 Radio-Coteau Pinot Noir Hellenthal Sonoma Coast. The nose here is fresh and briery, with aromas of blue fruits leading the way. In the mouth, it is very dark berry-driven, with a wild, zesty character. It’s still a bit tannic at times, but still showing plenty of life and freshness.
2001 Marqués de Riscal Rioja Baron de Chirel Reserva. I really enjoy the bouquet of this wine, which is all about sweet, sexy aromas of eucalyptus, sandalwood, cedar shavings, crème de cassis, berry cobbler and dark spices galore. In the mouth, it is soft and creamy in texture, but again very spicy. It is very earthy at its core, and in fact at times comes across as perhaps a bit dirty. Also, there’s a bitter smoke quality to the charred finish that I’m not so sure about, either. I’m not sure if it’s a variable bottle or just needs a bit more time to resolve itself.
1997 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino. Served from a 5L bottle. A bunch of us drank a 750 ml bottle of this about 2 years back, and at that time my feeling was that it had pretty much peaked. However, if you were to drink the wine from this 5 liter bottle, you’d say it isn’t even close to that. The nose here is smooth and lithe, with nice aromas of smoke, menthol, graphite, black cherry and lava rock. In the mouth, it is showing awfully young, with a lot of structure and tannin carrying along the flavors of black cherries, roasted herbs, black earth and bitter dark chocolate. I enjoy drinking it, for sure, but it can last a real long while in these big bottles.
1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac. This wine shows off wonderful aromas of suede leather, jalapeno pepper, dried cherries, red currants, dried flower petals, tobacco and chocolate powder that are layered and giving. In the mouth, it’s a bit darker-fruited, showing more of a black cherry and dark berry fruit profile. It is smooth and elegant through the fine mid-palate, with fine-grained tannins lending just the right amount of support. I find it to be extremely enjoyable from start to finish and would have to call it my favorite wine of the night.
1999 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley. Served from magnum. This was my third-favorite wine of the night. The nose is really deep, sweet and warm, pulling you in with its rich aromas of raspberry and cassis accented by fine wood spices and classy earth tones. On the palate, it is drinking fantastic right now, with great intensity of warm fruit and perfect balance. It has a certain class and finesse that allies nicely to the classic Cabernet fruit and just hits the spot for me.
2002 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. This wine presents a nice nose that is a bit coiled, but fresh and lifted with scents of red cherries, red licorice rope and red currants accented by leafy greens and toasted wood aromas. In the mouth, it is loaded with pasty cherry and raspberry fruit, showing great stuffing and fullness of flavor. The tannins are a tad dry and raspy, though, and do grow with time in the glass. There’s a lot to like here, but out of magnum it still seems a bit on the young side.
2001 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas. This was definitely one of the top wines of the day. There’s a whole lot going on aromatically for such a young Cornas and it just keeps drawing you back for more nuances and facets. My notes refer to a meaty, spicy and bloody bouquet that features a sweet, pure undercarriage of kirsch and red currant fruit. Secondary notes of cooled bacon fat, tree bark, hickory, charred steak, rust, limestone and rawhide leather all swirl around, as well. It is just outstanding. In the mouth, it is kind of thick and youthfully pasty in texture, showing the more serious side of its personality. Chalky tannins are certainly in play, but the black plum and blackberry fruit carry the play and are pulled along by cool, driving acidity. This is a wine standing at attention, perhaps needing a few more years to lengthen out a bit, but delicious and thought-provoking now. It was my runner-up for wine of the night.
2000 A. Rafanelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. This presents a somewhat mellow and restrained bouquet, giving off fine aromas of warm bricks, limestone, dried cherries, red flowers, cool earth, chocolate powder and random leafy notes. In the mouth, it is warmer and a bit more fully-blown—showing nice sweet berries riding along a smooth-textured and creamy frame. There’s good zip and life to it, but it keeps it all pretty refined, and I like the way it’s drinking right now.
1999 Ridge Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley. This is bigger and meatier on the nose than the Rafanelli, with smoke, creosote and grilled meat notes riding atop a blackberry-infused sweetness deep down. In the mouth, it still seems pretty young to me, with a good deal of serious tannin running up and down the palate journey. The texture, too, is real grippy and the backbone of the wine is still quite firm. For all that, the wine shows great girth and thickness as the tasty dark fruit fans out across the mid-palate and through to the impressively long finish. It’s a serious mouthful of wine and I see a long future ahead for it.
2007 Carlisle Zinfandel Papera Ranch Russian River Valley. There’s a bold, explosive bouquet to this wine--loaded with sweet briery berries that toe the line perfectly between candied and luscious. In the mouth, it is full of black and blue berry fruit, but also showing a good deal of tension and structure underneath. Indeed, this is a nicely-balanced and controlled wine for something so sweetly-fruited. It’s big and brash, but well-done.
1996 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume. Oddly enough, we actually had two people bring this same wine, one in half bottle and one in full. The nose is voluminous and delightful—showing off fine aromas of baked apricots, peaches, wax, wool and something a little bit akin to botrytis spices. In the mouth, it is thick and luscious, with more apricot and peach flavors to go with bits of caramel, lanolin, wax and spice accents. The half-bottle is actually drinking more robust and vibrant, but both feature a lovely mouthfeel and excellent length.