Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Wine Journey: 1990 Gruaud-Larose

The 1990 Gruaud-Larose was the most recent conquest in my quest to "run the table" on Master Sommelier Andrew McNamara's Wines of the Decade.

Chateau Gruaud-Larose, a Medoc second growth (1855 classification), can trace its roots back to its creation in 1725 by the knight Joseph Stanislas Gruaud.  The estate, initially called Forbedeau, passed to his only heir, Jean-Sebastian Larose, upon the founder's death.  The chateau was purchased by Bordeaux merchants Balguerie, Sargent and Co., whereupon the name Gruaud-Larose was assigned.  The estate was split between two families shortly after the sale with two Gruaud-Larose wines (Sarget and Bethman) being produced and sold as a result.  The original estate was reconstituted when Desire Cordier, an east France wine merchant, bought the Sarget estate in 1917 and the Bethman estate in 1935.

The current-day Gruaud-Larose occupies 150 hectares in the St. Julien appellation, positioned directly between fellow Medoc properties Branaire-Ducru and Lagrange.  Of the 150 hectares, 82 hectares are planted to vines which are, on average, 45 years old.  The distribution of varietals on the estate is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec.  The soil under the vineyard is deep Quaternary gravel.

The Gruaud-Larose winemaking process requires that fruit be hand-picked after which it is sorted and cold-soaked.  Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled wooden and concrete vats with the juice pumped over the must twice per day.  Upon completion of fermentation, one-third of the vintage is subjected to malolactic fermentation in oak barrels.  The entire vintage is aged in up to 50% new oak for 18 months after which it is fined and filtered and then bottled as Gruaud-Larose (25,000 cases) or Sarget de Gruaud-Larose (16,000 cases).

The Wine Quest Premier Dining Experience, an event benefiting a local charity, was being held at the JW Marriott on Saturday evening, The event schedule called for a 7:00 pm champagne reception followed by dinner at 8:00.  In order to have an even fuller evening, four of us decided to take some wine and hang out in the hotel lobby from about 5:30 pm and to then join the Wine Dinner when it began. I took a bottle of the 1990 Gruaud-Larose and a 1990 d'Yquem (for use with our dessert course) and Adam took a 2004 Chaves Hermitage Blanc

We started with the Chaves which had a pale gold color and was thick and weighty in the glass.  This wine needed decanting.  It was powerful, unctuous, weighty on the palate and with a long finish.  It actually needs more time in bottle so that it can resolve its issues.

We next turned to the Gruaud-Larose.  We did not have a wine key so we asked our server to open the bottle for us.  We were engaged in conversation but she did appear to be taking a long time to begin pouring.  we understood why when she asked us if we could help with getting the cork out.  The cork may have had some issues but the server had succeeded in punching a hole deep into the cork and expelling most of the material on which the corkscrew would grab.  We took the bottle and attempted to penetrate at the interface between the cork and the glass but to no avail.  There was not enough material.  We dispatched her to get a decanter and a sieve in the event that we had to punch the cork down but I panicked when she returned with the decanter and a flavor-stripping coffee filter (I never use those for filtering wine after I had the experience of a 1991 Dominus being brought to its knees after being poured into a decanter through one of those filters.).  By this time the anticipation had waned and it was now a rescue operation.  I took the bottle to the bar and had one of the bartenders work on it for well nigh 20 minutes before he was able to successfully extract the cork with no residue migrating through to the wine.

We decanted the wine and then poured it into the glasses.  Garnet color with bricking at the edges.  Good viscosity.  Vegetality on the nose.  Good acidity. On the palate leather and a mintiness.  Did not have a full, round mouthfeel and the finish less-than-long.  I was disappointed in this wine but I will have to retaste it.  The cork might have been an indication of prior battery to the wine and the circumstances under which it was tasted were not exactly  memorable in a positive way.  The company was great though.

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