Sunday, December 21, 2014

Best wines tasted in 2014

At the end of the day it is all about the wine. And a lot of wine was about during the course of the year. I revisit the best of those wines in this post. Chronology is responsible for the ordering of the presentation. Most of these wines were tasted in a group comprised of Ron, Bev, my wife, and me or a larger group of which we were a part.

At our January Solaia vertical tasting, the  1982 Solaia stood head and shoulders above its flight partners. Coffee bean, mint, vanilla, and Georges de Latour on the nose and palate. Long, sweet finish. The wine of the night.

We were excited when the Hyatt Grand Regency Orlando opted to reprise its classic La Coquina Brunch and snapped up a few tickets. So were a lot of other local folks as we ran into a lot of friends, including the folks from These kind folks bought a bottle of 1988 DRC La Tache from the restaurant and invited me over to try it. I did not hesitate. The wine appeared rather delicate in the glass but the fragrance was powerful. Strawberries and muted red fruits. Firm on the palate but elegant nonetheless. Still youthful. Balanced. Slight drying tannins. Elevated what had already been a glorious day.

We made a number of trips to Berns during the course of the year, the first being a celebration of Ron's birthday. At this initial trip we did a 2000 DRC horizontal. While we waited for Brad (our Somm) to set up the DRCs, we continued our demolition of the 1975 Dom that Ron had brought along to ease the tedium of the chauffeured-drive from Orlando to Tampa. The Dom exhibited notes of lemon custard, creme brûlée, coffee, nuts, and a slight oxidation. On the palate still lively, with butterscotch, lemon peel, burnt orange, and a hint of tannin. Ron got lemon butter, creme brûlée, toffee, and roasted hazelnuts and expressed a particular liking for the "slight sherry oxidative notes" that can be found in older Champagnes. He also noted an "amazing acidity and ... nice, fine bubbles."

The 2000 Richebourg was much darker at the core than the Grand Ech that we had consumed and had a floral nose with tar and petrol at the back end. My first thought was that someone had messed up and put a Barolo in a DRC bottle. As the wine evolved, notes of strawberry, watermelon, cigar box and cedar box became apparent. On the palate, spice, great acidity, and a very long finish. This was an extremely high quality wine.

The 2000 La Tâche was even darker at the core than was the Richebourg. Talcum powder and chalkiness on the nose. Over time the talcum powder evolved into soy. Rose petals, tea, coffee, burnt tobacco, smoke, coffee grounds, nutmeg, and menthol. Power and weight on the palate along with bright acidity, non-aggressive tannins, and a long, drying finish.

By this time my steak had arrived and Brad suggested a 1949 Canon in mag to accompany. This wine was replete with dried figs, tamarind, and mahogany. Wild red cherries, freshly turned earth, sweet tobacco, and a musty old closet. A little Brett. A herbaceousness which Brad characterized as a hallmark of aging Cab Francs. A Burgundy lover's Bordeaux. Tamarind on the palate. Its acidity supported a long, sour finish.

Prior to leaving Paris for Burgundy at the end of April, we had dinner at Le Taillevent and there encountered a 2003 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. On the nose the wine presented smoked oak, vanillin, and strawberry. On the palate a spiciness, copious amounts of red berries, road tar, cigar box, and savoriness. Lengthy finish.

At our DRC visit, Bernard Noblet, the DRC Cellar Master, decided to play Stump the Chumps with our group (which included Raj Parr, a Burgundy expert in his own right) and opened a number of bottles for us to taste blind. As he was pouring the first wine, Bernard mentioned that it was from a great vintage where both the quantity and quality of the harvested grapes were high. The wine showed some stemminess along with floral notes and spice. Great complexity and a lengthy finish. Youthful. This wine was revealed to be a 1999 Grand Échézeaux. The second bottle, according to Bernard, was from an exceptional vintage. It had a reductive nose which soon gave way to a savory complexity. Ron noted ripe fruit, elegance, and power. This wine had some age on it. Revealed to be a 1990 Grand Échézeaux. The third bottle had apple-pear notes, a rich oiliness, honey, brown butter, hazelnut, almonds, caramel and a stemminess. I thought the acid level was low. This wine turned out to be a "ringer." It was a 2007 Bâtard-Montrachet, a wine of which the estate only produces 300 bottles for family consumption. Ron felt that it was the best Bâtard that he had ever had. Bernard was having such a great time that he brought a fourth bottle to the table. While pouring, he described the wine as the product of a difficult vintage. It had a watery-gold color with a broad, pale rim. On the nose, molasses, brown sugar, caramel, a nuttiness, dates, figs, and mushrooms. Ron thought it had, additionally, tangerine and orange-rind notes. Balanced on the palate. This was a unique wine for both Ron and me. Raj thought that it was a 1977 Montrachet and provided the reasons for his conclusions. It was a 1977 Montrachet. I was doubly impressed: first by the wine and then by Raj's recall.

Bernard Noblet, DRC Cellar Master

The second Berns trip was notable for, among other things, a restaurant-wide power outage mid-meal. Our wine fare for this evening was also DRC-heavy. Our first bottle was the Bouchard Père et Fils 1978 La Romanée. This wine was a study in evolution during the course of its residence in the glass. It started out with sweet red fruits (cherry, strawberries) with a molasses undertone along with blood, raw meat, and a hint of dried cork. It was youthful and fully engaging on the palate, with a slight alcohol burn on the chest. Tannins were still aplenty. At the second visit, coffee and mocha began to show along with a perception of increased acidity. On a third visit, herbs became dominant with rosemary and thyme implicated. On the palate the wine was now smooth, elegant, and refined. The wine continued to evolve with a highly perfumed phase (vintage-Barolo-like) followed by a cinnamon and baking-spices phase. A definite hint of tamarind on the palate in these latter phases. This was an absolutely awesome wine.

The second wine poured was the 2000 DRC Grand Échézeaux. This wine was much more rustic in comparison to the La Romanée. It exhibited cinnamon and baking spices along with turpentine, pimento, mocha, coffee, road tar, and animal skin. Over time the mocha and coffee gave way to mushrooms and dried herbs. On the palate, elegant, fine grained, with drying tannins. Layered complexity with a long, elegant finish.

The third wine opened was the 2000 DRC Richebourg. Floral with coriander and cumin on the nose and baking spices layered on top. Coconut oil and orange rind. Sprightly and elfin on the palate though bolstered with an earthiness. Paired with a rich, thick lobster bisque.

With lights once again abundant, we turned to the fourth bottle from the Grand Cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée/Flagey-Échézeaux, the 2000 DRC La Tâche. This wine was dusky, ephemeral, and muted, with a loose tea leaf note. Expressive on the palate, much more so than on the nose. Bright red fruit. Rich but elegant. Appropriate acidity. Stony minerality with a drying character. Balanced with a tea finish.

We closed with a 1934 Leoville-Poyferre. This wine had a tar, black olive, and dill nose. Rich and oily. Mint, dried sweet red fruits, tobacco, and an earthiness. Bright with a long finish.

I have always been intrigued by the story of the Vosne-Romanee lieu-dit Cros Parantoux largely based on the repute of its most famous winemaker, Henri Jayer. I took a bottle of the 2006 Meo-Camuzet Cros Parantoux to our Victoria and Albert's  dinner even though I knew it needed time. The initial impression upon bringing the glass to the nose was a florality. Fresh-cut violets, said Ron. Potpourri, said Andrew. Accompanying this florality were notes of cinnamon and lifted red fruits. This wine was obviously young but wore its youth like a Toga rather than with uncouth brashness. On the palate a concentration which belied its color in the glass. Balanced. Palate-pleasing acidity and weight. Drying finish. With one mighty leap this wine had ascended to the top levels of wines that I have drunk.

On both sides of the Meo-Camuzet, we partook of a number of phenomenal wines. We actually began with a white Burgundy flight comprised of a 2007 Remoissenet Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatierres and a 1997 Remoissenet Montrachet. They both were gold in color with the Montrachet being just a little darker. The Montrachet exhibited a waxiness on the nose, a slight hint of tropical fruits, and tangerine. Andrew identified a creme brulée character. On the palate a dried-tangerine character with the waxiness on the nose manifesting as an oily texture. Long finish. The Puligny-Montrachet had notes of lime, sage, pepper, and a trace of phenolics. Lean and sharp on the palate with a long, balanced finish. The Montrachet was clearly the class of this pair.

The 1966 Leroy Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru was paired with a wine which made itshine even brighter in comparison. The Leroy exhibited aromas of a musty closet, earth, and ripe red fruit. Great acidity on the palate along with a spiciness and a long dried-herb finish. Balanced.

1966 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion  Thanks to Ron's never-ending supply of '66 La Mish, we have drunk this wine on many an occasion and we are never disappointed. This wine generally presents dill, smoke, tar, black olives, and perfect balance.

Vega-Sicilia is arguably the greatest wine from Spain while Masseto is one of the great Super Tuscans, the best Italian Merlot, and one of the finest Merlots in the world. They were flighted together because of a perception of an underlying "Pomerolian" nature to both. The 1970 Vega-Sicilia Unico exhibited dried red fruits, licorice, graphite, earth, and spice box. Very focused with polished tannins. Elegant and silky. Balanced. First-growth-like. The 2005 Ornellaia Masseto was very rich and very young with plentiful chocolate on the nose and palate. Pomerol-like. Excellent length on the finish. Needs another ten years to fully realize its potential. Drinking now but patience will produce even greater rewards.

Our recently concluded Penfolds Grange vertical provided a number of wines to my "best-of" list. The Grange 1980  exhibited aromas of coconut oil, violets, earth, game, and mint. Balanced, with the acidity and 12.9% alcohol fitting perfectly into the matrix of the wine. Long, balanced finish with rich, oily aftertaste. Rhonesque. The 2004 vintage experienced an even, moderate growing season which resulted in (according to DLynn) a complete wine. 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. On nose coconut, dill, savoryness, richness. Round and rich on the palate. Excellent texture. Long finish. The 1990 Grange showed toffee, praline, pencil lead, blackpepper, and ripe black fruit on the nose. Rich, ripe fruit on the palate. Concentrated, with a long finish. Very Graves. The 1968 presented aromas of espresso, vanilla, mocha, cocoa, leather, blackpepper, gunoil, coconut. A sweet La Mish on the palate. Mushroom, savory, complex. I called it a 1985 Heitz Martha's Vineyard. Steve called it an '85 BV Georges de la Tour. I loved it. We all did, as a matter of fact. The 1976 Grange was 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and exhibited herbs, fennel, gunflint, chocolate, and coffee on the nose. Someone yelled "Haut-Brion." It was very Bordeaux-like and we got into a heated discussion when trying to determine the wine of the flight because it came down to this Bordeaux style versus what I will call the "When-Napa-was-Napa" style exhibited in the 1968.

The 1997 Grange was not included in the tasting but was drunk the week following. On the nose toffee, cocoa, vanilla, fudge, ripe fruit, dried herbs, and a rich elegance. The dried herbs carried through on the palate along with a thick, rich, creamy texture and silky tannins. This wine is perfectly balanced with enough acidity to perform palate-cleansing duties when it accompanies food. Long, rich finish with a creamy aftertaste. Ron said that it reminded him of a high-quality Pomerol and that if it had been included in the tasting it would have given the 1990 (the WOTF) a run for its money. This is truly a thoroughbred.

In a recent visit to Ticino, Switzerland, I tasted a number of wines of which two deserve special mention. The 2013 Brivio Contrado is a white Merlot which is barrel-fermented and aged for 10 months in oak. The wine was cold-filtered to remove any color and, according to the owner, fermentation flavors were also removed during this process. Aromas include chocolate, coffee, banana, and lychee. It had great weight on the palate. This was the standout white Merlot for me.

The 2011 Agriloro Chardonnay was one of the few varietally labeled wines that I encountered on this visit. Both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation were conducted in barriques and the wine was then aged for 9 months in 25% new barriques. This was an excellent representation of Chardonnay. Apple-pear on the nose and palate with white fruits, oak, biscuit, and spice. Margaret-River-Chardonnay-like on the palate. Elegant, with perfect balance. Apple on the aftertaste. Phenomenal alone. No give when paired with a Braised Hare with Pomegranate Seeds and a Cortona Apple Puree.

Hope 2015 is as memorable as was 2014.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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