My wife and I were happy to accept an invitation to dinner at another couple’s home a little while back. We decided to do some flights of Lopez de Heredia and Clos Erasmus with dinner, and then to top things off by checking in on some Torbreck wines from his cellar. It was a bit of an unusual combination, but who cares!
1999 Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Cuvée Palmes d'Or. On the nose, this wine is rather vivacious, tangy and bright-toned with its aromas of grannysmith apples, lemons, light toast, pasty chalk, river rocks and green herbs. In the mouth, it comes across as young and taut, with a tight mineral spritz to the medium-weighted apple and lemon fruit flavors. It’s toned and a bit more linear than a bottle from a few months earlier. Still, it seems like it’s entering its early drinking window in fine fighting shape.
1995 Pommery Champagne Brut Grand Cru. Boy, this wine is showing much more depth, richness and complexity of aroma—with baked apricots, Delicious apple and gunsmoke aromas displaying seriously vinous qualities that are rather appealing. It’s also a heavier, denser wine on the palate, but is still showing great grip and verve to go with the expansive and big-bottomed flavors of browned apple, white peach, dark citrus and smoke. The finish is definitely sappy, almost waxy in texture, leaving very lasting flavor impressions that are starting to turn a bit darker and more mature.
1987 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia. The appearance here is a deep yellow, almost golden-toned color. And the nose is really intriguing—putting forth aromas of mango, peach cup, lime, caramel butter, copper pot and dried herbs that are gently oxidized but exotic at the same time. In the mouth, it displays a fine spine of acidity to support the full flavors of caramel, mango, almond butter, mineral and herb. It is truly a wine of individual character that we seem to be drinking at an optimal time, in my opinion.
1991 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia. Our first red wine of the evening is an absolute delight, beginning with the wonderful bouquet of dried rose petals, sour cherries, strawberry licorice rope, road tar, light caramel, classy chocolate powder and little background slivers of dill and sandalwood. In the mouth, it is soft and smooth on the attack, turning sappier on the sour cherry-fruited mid-palate. Rounded tannins settle in with time, but generally seem to want to stay in the background. The same can be said about the acidic spine of the wine—it provides a nice lift to the sweet red fruit and gentle balsamic flavors but largely stays well-integrated throughout. The wine finishes gentle and almost light, with a very pretty red floral component that I like a lot. It evolves throughout the night to show different facets of itself, but it always stays classy, refined and inviting.
1993 Clos Erasmus Priorat. I really like the nose of this wine. It displays languid beauty in its core aromas of sweet cherry paste, raspberry compote and red licorice, but always present around the edges are old-fashioned earth tones of tobacco, pan drippings, dried blood and baked earth that just really bring it all together. In the mouth, it is warm and engaging, with a lot of youthful energy and still a fair dose of obvious tannin at the back end. The dark red fruit blends beautifully with bits of black pepper, tobacco, earth and dried herbs to provide a refined and smooth, yet earthy and wild flavor profile that comes across as genuine and compelling. All in all, it is a delightful wine to drink now or to hold for a while yet.
2001 Clos Erasmus Priorat. In some ways, it is unfair to compare the 2001 to the 1993 Clos Erasmus. The vines were more mature by 2001, the blend of grapes changed a fair bit, and the winemaking team had more vintages under their belt. But for all that, when drinking these two wines side by side, it seems clear that this is the logical younger sibling of the 1993. The big difference here is that the 2001 is less earthy and just more obviously polished and buffed all around. The nose is a little sweeter and more smoothly refined—with red currant, strawberry licorice rope and cherry roll-up candy aromas exhibiting a seamless quality in which every single hair seems perfectly in place. It just washes over the palate without any creases or rough angles whatsoever. It is certainly more fruit-forward than the 1993, but with a very silky texture and a similar purity of cassis and red cherry fruit that is just wonderfully delicious. It’s a full-bodied beauty that is just so effortless and smooth that I could drink it all night long.
2002 Torbreck Grenache Les Amis Barossa Valley. Admittedly, we knew going in that it was probably not a great idea to try and honestly evaluate these Torbreck wines coming on the heels of those Spanish beauties. And indeed, it took a while to adjust the palate to them. Of the three, this one has the most appealing bouquet—showing off seductive aromas of wild herbs, sweet berry compote, soft oak and gentle background funk. In the mouth, it is super-smooth in texture and seems the closest to being open for business of this trio. Creamy wild berry, scrub herb and sweet chalk flavors make for a rather fruity and almost slutty flavor profile that isn’t normally my cup of tea, but is done pretty well here without quite going over the top.
2001 Torbreck Shiraz The Factor Barossa Valley. Aromatically, this is full of sweet blue and purple fruit aromas that also show notes of cocoa, rubber band and powdered sugar that are kind of jumbled up at present. In the mouth, it is very robust and very mouth-filling. It is loaded with glycerin and comes across as slippery and slinky despite the huge volume of sweet blueberry and plum fruit. It actually has a pretty refined texture for such a big and boisterous wine, and the wood seems to be surprisingly well-integrated at this point. It still seems pretty monolithic, though, and I would suggest waiting on this another 5 years or so to see if some secondary characteristics develop.
2002 Torbreck Run Rig Barossa Valley. Of the three wines, this is the one that seems like it needs the most additional cellar time before truly being ready to drink. It features a youthfully robust aromatic profile of black Necco wafer candy, black raspberry, wild cherry and scorched earth. In the mouth, it is the richest of the wines, with a blueberry and boysenberry fruit core accented by chocolate and barrel spice nuances. It is dense, thick and tannic, and displays the most strident structure of the three. It does feature impressive length and staying power on the finish, but this needs a good long while in the cellar for my tastes.
N.V. Bodegas Hidalgo Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Palo Cortado Matador Scully. From a bottle purchased in 2006, this wine has a distinctly unfiltered orange haze to it, but it really hits you hard with its intense aromas of hazelnuts, iced tea, yellow raisins, toasted caramel, steeped lemons and gentle rancio sherried tones. It is less sweet on the palate than the nose would lead one to expect, with a dry, nutty core of praline, sea brine, dark wood, copper minerality and sherry spirit flavors that are carried by intensely bright and cleansing acidity. The alcohol ocassionally comes a bit too far forward for my tastes, but in general I find this to be fun and tasty.
N.V. Chambers Rosewood Special Tokay Rutherglen. This bottle was purchased in 2002. It features a very nice nose of honeysuckle and roses riding airily atop darker tones of raisins, nuts, figs and frangelico spirits. It is rich and raisined on the unctuous palate, with a sweet, pliant core of very deep fig paste, raisin and nut flavors. It coats the palate with long-lasting flavors and a sort of motor oil texture that doesn’t easily abate. I like it a lot better than the bottle of Tokay Rare we had a few months earlier, and I’d add that it seems to be drinking great right now.