Notes from a blind tasting dinner arranged by yours truly. The theme for this one was ‘Big Reds’, subtitle anything meaty, beaty, big and bouncy that you never seem to find the occasion to uncork.
As per our normal routine, I supplied a starter wine, a finishing wine, and one bottle of the theme wine.
2011 Van Westen Viognier – this small idiosyncratic BC producer is making perhaps the best Viognier in BC (although the number of producers here is not great anyway). Interesting nose with orange peel, and lychee notes, and a fat round juicy feel on palate, but with lots of acidity and a nice hit of green apple and ginger at the end. Served with green pea, spinach, shallot and curry cold soup.
1985 Porta dos Cavaleiros Dao – a local find – a fully mature Dao fro around $30 (current vintages are very inexpensive). Slightly ripe nose, lots of sweet oak, decent concentration and length. Suited the theme.
1999 Ch. St. Jean Cinq Cepages – dark, another ripe and this time dusty nose with some veggie present. Heavier handed than usual, reasonable length. A bit underwhelming compared to other more balanced examples of Cinq Cepages, but decent.
2001 Dom. Langlois-Chateau Saumur – not often we get to taste Loire reds (he said, sancerrelly….) Sadly, this example was corked and it had clearly killed the fruit.
2007 Meyer Family Cellar Syrah (Yorkville Highlands Mendocino) – interesting nose with cocoa, spice, meat and cherry, balanced by good clean acidity, moderate length, good body, with anise notes appearing after airing.
2001 Biale Monte Rosso Zinfandel (Sonoma) – I’d hoped that some would opt to bring zins. Warm nose (15.5%) with chalky fruit, sweet and mellow in the mouth, drinking well now. All a zin should be, without too much of anything (e.g. RS or alcohol).
2006 San Vicente Tempranillo (Rioja) – this was one of the best wines of the night for me. Black fruit and soy notes and some anise with time. In the mouth, it was mellow, smooth and almost elegant, with an abundance of fruit – blackberry black currant – and a nice long balanced end. No rush here – should last for years.
2006 La Spinetta Ca’ di Pain Barbera d’Asti – Now I like Barbera – the traditional kind that gets pale edges early, has a ton of acidity and lasts seemingly forever, and mates well with food. This was nothing like that, this was as if Turley, or maybe a good Amarone producer had done Barbera. The last time I tasted an Italian wine and had that ‘Holy cripes!’ response was a La Piaggia Carmignano that I’m still waiting to mature. This one was still dark, and showed a warm nose of blueberry and anise. In the mouth, the fruit was more dark cherry and vanilla, and it had big thick legs down the glass and tons of body. Well structured and with good length. Good wine – I wonder what a traditional Italian winemaker would think of this? It’s like someone grabbed a California winemaker and said go Parkerize this wimpy thin acidic wine, please. I liked it, but I felt a bit of a traitor to the real thing.
At this point I served out dinner, the menu selected to suit these sorts of wines. I butterflied a leg of lamb, coated it with a rub of garlic, rosemary, toasted fennel seeds and anchovy, and then grilled it, sliced it up and served it with a vinaigrette of tomato, fennel seeds and nicoise olives with fresh basil. On the side were boiled potatoes with pebre sauce (a Chilean version of the Argentine chimichurri, but a bit hotter with abundant jalapeno and using all cilantro and no parsley) and braised fennel.
2007 Ridge Santa Cruz Cabernet – Ridge gets most attention for it’s zins, but I’ve always felt the Santa Cruz cab was a sleeper. Dark wine with a Bordeaux pencil shaving and sort of nose with accents of blueberry and cocoa, fairly firm tannins at this point but drinking very well and showing excellent balance and fruit. I should think this has a long life ahead of it.
2002 Mitolo GAM Shiraz (McLaren Vale) – for those who don’t know, this isn’t some GSM variant, the initials are for the owners kids, Gemma, Alex and Marco. Straight shiraz, aged in French oak, and made in fairly small amounts (c. 400 cases a year). I should say that I have pretty much stopped buying Australian wine, except for some from Western Australia. Starting around this vintage or a bit after, many producers seemed to be running in the sweet fruit sweepstakes, vying to see who could top the others, and in my experience, the result has largely been wines that are too sweet to enjoy when young, and that don’t age – they are like some zinfandels and collapse into indifference once the blush of fruit abates with age – there is often poor underlying structure and/or lack of any remaining flavour interest. I opened this and the following wine, wanting to try them around 10 years of age together and see which I preferred and when I decanted them about 3 hours ahead, they had a dismayingly familiar overly sweet profile. I crossed my fingers and opted to serve them with the lamb and with cheese afterward.
By the time we got into the wine, it had aired for a total of about 5 hours and they had changed (for the better) considerably. Ripe leather blackberry nose, full bodied but less cloying than when first tasted, and with pretty decent balance and long fnish. Went very well with the spicy lamb.
2000 Ch. du Tertre – this was a back up for a dud earlier on. It will tell you something if I say that just under half the people present are big time Bordeaux fans and members or ex-members of the Commanderie de Bordeaux, and that not one of us guessed that this was a claret. WTF? Overly sweet and ripe, with an almost but not quite raisiny nose, and continued sweetness on palate. The only clues we might have picked up on in retrospect were the hints of pencil shavings and granite
2002 Mitolo Savitar – also McLaren Vale shiraz but this time in a heavy Burgundy shape bottle. Warm ripe nose, dark with thick legs and blue fruit, tons of body, but well structured and very long and adding some interesting eucalyptus notes. I preferred this wine to the GAM as being a bit more complex and interesting.
As we sat there reflecting, someone opined that we hadn’t had a big non-Australian syrah. I snuck down to the cellar, where I just happened to have some bottles of exactly that, standing up because of the ludicrously fat bottle shape, so ready to decant.
2005 Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Boushey Mcpherson Vineyards (Yakima) – sweet spice, cocoa and some black pepper left one in no doubt about grape and made you think it would be French – until you tasted it. All the sweetness had been saved for the taste. Long and ripe and with some coffee notes eventually coming out. An interesting rival to the Oz shiraz, but with a better nose, for me, at least.
Usually I clean up all the glasses and associated detritus from a tasting before going to bed. On this occasion, I deferred the chore until morning. These wines had a lot of collective alcohol in them! Voted best were the San Vicente and Biale, with some votes for the Savitar and Ridge.