Category Archives: French Wine

Five Vintages of Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage

Tasting a Historic Wine Label Across the 80’s and 90’s

A small group of wine collectors of which I was fortunate to be included sat down to taste one man’s contribution to a very special event. This group is passionate about wine and we all manage to contribute in a way that makes each meeting a special event. This month, one of our members Jay Bileti offered to share these special wines and the story behind them. I was the one who brought the Reynvaan from Milton-Freedman (“The Rocks”) AVA. I had the temerity to include this wine in our tasting. I am a huge fan of classic Northern Rhone French wines and was curious how one of the more well-known Northern Rhone style Syrah growing regions in the U.S. (home of Cayuse) would compare side-by-side.

The Wines

  • 1986 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 2012 Reynvaan “In the Rocks” Walla Walla AVA

A History

Hermitage is a wine growing region that has been viewed as special for literally centuries. So long in fact, that it was actually mentioned in the writings of Roman author/philosopher Pliny the Elder in the 1st Century AD. The 1961 vintage of La Chapelle is one of the most famous wines of the last 60 years, often compared with the greatest wines ever produced in France. The label is steeped in French fine wine history and the winemaker Gerard Jaboulet was one of the best-loved and most famous characters of his time. Unfortunately, he abruptly passed away in 1995. Some conjecture circumstances in the last few years may have affected the vintages in the years before this death. Critics noted a marked fall-off in quality from the early 90’s until after the acquisition of the winery and vineyards by Jean-Jacques Frey in 2005 and we had the perfect selection of wine to test those scores and confirm/deny the idea for ourselves. See Jancis Robinson’s article on the topic at:

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/hermitage-la-chapelle-the-rise-and-fall-of-a-great-wine

“Northern Rhone Style” Wine

What defines this style of wine and what makes it special? Northern Rhone is a cool climate region as opposed to, say the famous Chateauneuf du Pape warm climate region. Both regions grow Syrah, but the cooler climate, sunny days and steep hillside vineyards in the Northern Rhone cause the fruit to draw something different from the vines. These wines tend to have more finesse, than brute force. Delicate in their sensibility, but with tremendous acid and tannic structure. Age-worthy wines that develop a silky and complex profile, with flavors that are equally savory and fruity with time in the bottle. Without referencing a specific Northern Rhone wine, but more keeping a wine type in mind, I can write a generic tasting note like this:

A nose of forest floor, sometimes bacon fat, or cured meat, with herbs like sage, or tarragon in the background. An intense palate of dark, brooding blackberry fruit (occasionally blueberry too), with earth, mushroom and herbs and a silky, sometimes oily mouthfeel. The cool climate produces grapes high in acid and the extracted style produces high tannins. Often the mid-palate presents dark chocolate, that lasts with the fruit and the tannin, through to a very long finish. These wines are always made dry, age forever, are great with food, or as cocktail wines, have a beautiful aromatic nose and show tremendous balance and finesse.

TASTING NOTES

The different vintages were amazingly consistent in profile regarding flavors. So, I will not repeat the same descriptors with each wine. The primary differences were in balance, structure, complexity, intensity and mouth-feel. The first note below provides the additional detail that more broadly applies to most of these wines. All of the wines were decanted for several hours.

1986 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 98/100 

This is not everyone’s kind of wine. In fact, I was the only one of the group that put this wine at the top of my list. The nose had a slightly musty, moldy odor that helped you to visualize an old wine cave in France. The complexity is what drew you in. There was blackberry, sweet browned butter, forest floor and black pepper on the nose. The palate was still fruit forward, but was equally matched by the savory flavors from the nose. The black pepper did not show through to the palate. There was a mid-palate of dark chocolate and a long finish. The structure was perfectly balanced. With medium tannin still present and medium plus acidity. The mouth-feel was soft on the attack, becoming fine grained tannin and then finished with a good grip. An amazing wine that showed everything in a world class wine. The rest of the group couldn’t get past the musty nose. For me, it added character. If this is a problem for your palate, knock off a couple of points and you will get a more representative score.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 96/100

This wine was almost everyone’s favorite in the group. Not as intense as the 1986, with more fruit on the nose and palate. Even softer, with medium minus tannin and medium acidity. This wine was missing the bigger mouth-feel of the previous wine and did not have enough tannin left to provide a good sense of structure. Not quite as balanced and the finish was a bit shorter. Don’t get me wrong, this was a fabulous wine too and I would drink it every day if I had an unlimited supply, but in a world class sense, just a step under the 1986.

1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 92/100

Alcohol was the most prominent characteristic on the nose. The nose was weaker and less complex. More fruit-forward than the others, with some black pepper on the palate at the finish. Much less balance and finesse. with medium tannin and medium acidity. This vintage was definitely not of the same caliber as the 80’s vintage wines previously tasted.

1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 91/100

This wine was enjoyed the least by the group. Everything from the 1994 with even a weaker nose. Showed more fruit than the ’94 and more black pepper on the finish. The structure was up a notch to medium plus acidity and tannin. This wine was a touch disjointed and was missing the elegance of the previous wines completely.

1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     96/100

This wine was second on my list. Very fruity nose with noticeable alcohol. The flavors/aromas were more intense, as if moving back towards the 80’s vintages. This was the first wine with a touch of menthol on the palate. Nice dark chocolate component with a very long finish. The structure showed high tannins and high acidity, but had enough fruit to balance this approach to a bigger style wine. This wasn’t the same kind of wine as the 80’s vintages, but excellent in its own right. This is balanced enough to actually improve with more bottle age. Perhaps a drinking window of 2016 – 2026, with the best years to enjoy in the early 2020’s.

2012 Reynvaan “In the Rocks”     Score: 93/100

So, here is the “sleeper”. I enjoyed this wine too, but this was less of a food wine than the La Chapelle vintages. Blackberry, mushroom and forest floor on the nose with sort of a grape hard candy component. The fruit on the palate became blackberry and grape jelly with a really interesting savory black/green olive tapenade that persisted, moving to dark chocolate on the mid-palate and finish. Good, rich intensity, but less tannin than I would prefer. The medium plus acidity added structure. This was most definitely made with a Northern Rhone profile in mind… tending towards a New World approach that brings more fruit and a softer feel. If structure is your thing (like me), this wine was reaching the end of its drinking window. I would say 2015 – 2020. Not enough tannin, or acidity to be more than a (better) fruity cocktail wine after 10 years. Keep in mind, a value comparison is in order too. This wine is a third of the price (or less) compared to recent vintages of the La Chapelle.

I wrote a previous tasting note on this wine in 2015 here: https://bit.ly/2l28hnW. I thought it was slightly better when younger.

Why Was the Reynvaan Bottling Added to the Tasting?

“The Rocks” is an up and coming Syrah region in the U.S. Established as recently as 2015. Winemakers/vineyard managers are early in maximizing its potential. Give the winemakers and the vines another 10 – 20 years and we may have another Hermitage, or Cote-Rotie type region on our hands. The AVA gets its name from the intensely rocky soil. These soil conditions tend to produce intensity and add savory aspects to the wine, most likely because the vines are so stressed. See pic below to get an idea:

Progression of Quality with La Chapelle

I would agree with Jancis Robinson and many other critics that assert the mid-90’s wines fell off in quality… but I would disagree that it was not until after 2005 that the quality began to improve. That 1998 La Chapelle was a much better wine than the 1995, albeit a wine with less finesse. Oh, and by the way… ALL of these wines were fabulous. This article was an attempt to share a well-considered evaluation of wines at the pinnacle of quality in the industry.

This tasting has convinced me I need to find a later vintage of La Chapelle to compare these to. I am curious where the new owner took this historied wine label.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, French Wine, Northern Rhone, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Another Pretty Margaux: 2000 Chateau Rauzan-Segla

2000 Chateau Rauzan-Segla

Margaux AOC, France

Tasting Note:

Soft decant and drank over three hours with a friend after dinner. The typical pretty, elegant Margaux character is very evident. What started out with a beautiful silky texture, thinned a bit after two hours. The very funky strong forest floor aroma lasted about the same time frame, before it blew off to reveal an interesting highly complex nose that was definitely not fruit forward. The nose was full of earth, leather, tobacco and graphite with a little blackberry. The palate is simpler leading with earth and graphite, followed by blackberry and plum, mid-palate of dark chocolate following through with a short finish. Still a highly structured wine, even after its age, having medium-high acidity and tannins and noticeable alcohol (not overwhelming). All in all a very nice, somewhat typical Margaux with most of what you would expect. Drinking window: 2012-2020.

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Filed under Bordeaux, French Wine, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Cabernet Sauvignon Blend Comparison

See a follow-up to this post at:  https://coolclimatewine.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/follow-up-to-cabernet-sauvignon-blend-comparison/

Tasted Friday, December 26, 2014

INTRODUCTION

I selected one each Bordeaux, Napa and Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon blend to pair with dinner for this get-together. We invited friends over for a meal of braised beef short ribs, home-made mac & cheese with gruyere & cheddar sauce and succotash. All the wines paired extremely well with the meal served.

The Le Petit Haut Lafitte was the standout of the night. This was extremely well-balanced, with good structure and had a very pretty, refined character that spoke of a well-made wine. A mix between Old and New World with a fruit-forward palate.

The surprise of the night was the ’93 Beringer. Wow, what a great aged Napa Cab. Just an excellent bottle-aged wine. This wine was made to age well and actually has a few years left in it, if anyone has this in their cellar… it isn’t dead yet!

FLIGHT 1 – CABERNET SAUVIGNON BLENDS (4 NOTES)

All great choices and enjoyed by all!

USA, California, Napa Valley

After one hour decant. This was the most surprising wine of the night. At 21 years old this bottle was singing! The nose showed plum, blackberry, black cherry, graphite and earth. The freshness of fruit on the palate was nothing short of amazing for a ’93. The palate followed the nose with beautiful fruit. The structure was spectacular for an aged wine, with medium-high tannins, good acidity and well-integrated alcohol. Nice mid-palate of tobacco that added complexity, but the mouth-feel is what got me. The balance was good and the tannins had a great velvety texture that filled the mouth. It needed more layering of flavors and a stronger finish to move in to the exceptional category though. This wine actually has a few more years under its belt! This is my first Napa cab sauv that has stood-up well to 20 years of bottle aging.

France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan

After one hour decant. This was the most spectacular wine of the evening. It was extremely well-balanced, with a refined, classically old world character… while still being fruit forward. The wine showed great QPR and is a substantial effort for a second label. Plum, blackberry, creme brulee, tobacco and earth were on the nose. The palate follows the nose. The wine is very accessible for only five years in the bottle. I would suggest your prime drinking window to be 2016-2018. I don’t believe this wine will age successfully beyond that. Everyone at the dinner agreed this was the best wine of the evening. With medium-high tannins and strong acidity the structure was spot-on. The alcohol was noticeable, but did not dominate. This contributed to a superb pairing with braised short ribs. This is the best value I have tasted from Bordeaux in a long time.

USA, California, Napa Valley

After 30 min. decant. Popped this half bottle looking to see how close this wine is to its drinking window. This needs another few more years. The nose is full of plum and rich red tomato. The palate is fruit forward with plum and blackberry moving to a hint of tomato. Nice spicy character leaning towards cinnamon and clove. The wine had medium-high tannins with very high acidity. It was slightly hot and not integrated enough yet to be well-balanced. This was definitely starting to move towards a soft mouth-feel. I enjoyed this now, but believe it will be much better when I pop the next bottle in a couple of years.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

After 60 min. decant. This improved with more time in the glass. Fruit on the nose was of cherry and plum with vanilla and herbal mint. The nose was too hot to really enjoy. The palate followed the nose. Medium-high tannins and high acidity for good structure, but not well-balanced. The alcohol was very noticeable. The other characteristics were a little out of kilter. I will save the next bottle for a couple of years, hoping it will come together.

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Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Italian Wine, Napa Valley, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 Domaine de Causes La Lande Cavagnac

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Domaine de Causes La Lande Cavagnac

France, Cahors

Wine Tasting Note:

Second opportunity to taste a French Malbec from its place of origin.  The best Argentine Malbecs are bigger and rounder than this, but I enjoyed the more classic approach as a counterpoint to the Argentine version… more acidity and tannins, less fruit and a lighter texture.  I would recommend this as a representative example of a different style of Malbec.

30 minute decant.  Deep violet tinted purple color. The nose is weak, mostly a menthol and alcohol character.  Fresh blackberry on the attack disappearing quickly and moving to black currant and tar on the mid-palate with a medium length bitter finish.  I enjoyed the mouth-filling tannins and medium-high acidity.  The texture started silky then quickly becomes watery.  The structure was good, but the balance was off.  Nevertheless, a good selection to pair with red meat and rich red sauce pastas.

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Filed under Cahors, French Wine, Malbec, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

1969 Chateau Potensac

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Chateau Potensac

France, Bordeaux, Medoc

Wine Tasting Note:

This was just a bit of fun… bought this at auction a while back. Wasn’t expecting much, but it was an opportunity to see what 45 years would do to a decent wine. Opened this at a party last night. As expected, the cork was a challenge. The first pour had a nose of barnyard and must and the initial taste was thin, a bit oxidized and closed… but, if you can believe it, this ol’ gal still had enough structure to require time to open up. After an hour, a nose of sour red cherry began peeking out. The tannins were still very present and it had good acidity. Several of our guests tasted the wine and were not particularly impressed, but some had a background with French wine and understood it well enough to appreciate what it was. We added a cheese plate to the tasting and it handled the cheese well. So, now it’s the next day. I let the bottle sit on the kitchen counter and amazingly – it is still holding up! It is too watery, the fruit is almost gone and it is a touch oxidized, but all-in-all… a surprisingly decent wine after 45 years.

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Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2007 Château Gigognan Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vigne du Régent

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Château Gigognan Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vigne du Régent

France, Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Wine Tasting Note:

Much improvement since the previous bottle popped last year. The additional time in the cellar has helped to bring it together. The alcohol has subsided and the overwhelming black pepper has moved to the background. In addition, the Grenache has started to peak out and add sweet strawberry flavors to the mid-palate. The nose has aromas of prunes and plums with some residual alcohol. The palate begins with plums and black currant and moves to a sweet strawberry mid-palate with a mildly bitter, long dark chocolate finish. The black pepper notes have evolved into a nondescript spiciness that is quite enjoyable. The wine has a light, softer texture, with medium tannins and high acidity. My palate would suggest a few more years would help to bring this together a bit more, but is approaching its prime drinking window now. A nice aged Southern Rhone blend at a reasonable price.

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Filed under French Wine, GSM Blend, Southern Rhone, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Wine Industry Lost in the Weeds?

Read the recent Robert Parker rant yet? Jancis Robinson tackles the same topic in a little more even handed approach here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/31c989da-8829-11e3-8afa-00144feab7de.html#axzz2tNJZqg3D.

Does Knowing the Wine Grape Varietal Impact Your Enjoyment?

These recent commentaries are receiving much play in the wine media. Frankly, I wish someone could help me to understand this topic’s relevance? These pieces highlight the concern that the novelty of obscure varietals is trumping interest in wines from the traditional noble grape family. The first thing that comes to mind is the egos involved. Do they think THEY drive the market? So what, if mediocre wine from traditional grape varietals has lost much of its luster? Yes, there is a reason why three of the top five varietals are of French origin – because the French were the first to truly understand fine wine production and marketing! Do you care if the wine you are currently enjoying in your glass is made from Anglianico, or Blaufränkisch vs. Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot varietals?

fiddler-on-the-roof-1994

TRADITION!

I am rather sure Mr. Parker and Ms. Robinson had nothing to do with the guy playing a fiddle on the roof… but the analogy is  very apropos… Tradition – is for the stodgy industry professionals, or collectors who are trying to keep the value of their French wine investment intact.

indiana-jones-and-the-fate-of-atlantis-cover

ADVENTURE!

OK, continuing with the movie theme… adventure, romance, that is what most people are looking for in a luxury purchase! My goodness – professional wine critics, get a grip! Let’s go find unusual wines from strange places and lesser known varietals… THAT TASTE GREAT and pique our interest! YES, we must respect the knowledge and talent that provides the foundation for the industry, but it need not dominate the entire industry’s approach to the consumer –

 “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

There’s your message! …………… 🙂

Obligatory Small Print: Fiddler on the Roof and Indiana Jones are copyrighted and trademarked materials and were only used to make a point, not to make a buck. Which by the way, I do not. This is purely a non-profit endeavor, as the lack of income would evidence, like 95% of the other bloggers out there.

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Filed under French Wine, Sommelier, Wine by Varietal, Wine Critics, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

2009 Chateau Pindefleurs

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Chateau Pindefleurs

France, Bordeaux, Saint Emilion

Wine Tasting Note:

Right after pop, disjointed nose and palate of strong alcohol. Takes 30-60 mins. to blow-off. After a couple hours open, fruit forward nose of plum and black currants, with a bit of mint and the alcohol is still prominent for 13.5%. High tannins – typical of a young Bordeaux, but not as refined as the better wines from St. Emilion. Medium high acidity and a light texture. Very little fruit on the palate, mostly bitter chocolate from beginning to end. There is a bit of underlying minerality. This wine does not have a particularly balanced approach and very little complexity. It is crying for a steak to accompany it, but will not add to the flavor, just clear your palate between bites. Not unpleasant, but not enjoyable either.

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Filed under Bordeaux, French Wine, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can You Justify Spending on Premium Wines?

Okay, I know there aren’t many wine drinkers out there that maintain a diverse cellar of bottle-aged wines, but for those of you who do, and invest in the spendy, premium wines… how do YOU justify it?

Which Wines Are in Your Cellar?

2/3 of my cellar is made up of moderately priced red and white wines of good value.  The other 1/3 is reserved for more expensive, special red wines.  So, just what constitutes a “special” wine worthy of a premium price? It has taken me 20 years of collecting wine and an evolving palate to finally arrive at a couple of answers.  My justifications for spending $75+ on a bottle of wine are:

1. Wines that have structure, balance, texture, be complex, BUT ALSO be accessible in no more than 5 years, and be able to age (AND improve) for 10 years or more from the vintage date (yes, even Barolo).

That doesn’t mean the wine will be in its prime drinking window then, just that I can enjoy it and then look forward to another beautiful experience down the road.  Enjoying wines this way, requires a purchase of several bottles of a wine, per vintage.  I will rarely do this until a producer has proven a good match for my palate and been consistent with quality vintages, year over year.  Although, sometimes you just know from drinking a wine… and I say “drink”, not taste.  This has happened too many times… Tasting Room Attendant hits you with attitude, goes on and on about the wine and presses you to purchase his/her amazing $100 (speaking of Napa here) bottle.  Then, you are hit with a 1 oz. pour!  Who needs a direct relationship with a winery, when you are treated like that!  With a good experience, enjoyable wine and the right value, I will become a year-over-year customer and they can start thinking of me as a revenue source for years to come…

2. Wines that my family and friends enjoy.

An example in this category for me is expensive champagne.  Not what I personally would spend big dollars on, but I really enjoy sharing good bubbly with friends who appreciate it!

Overview

IMHO, the holy grail of wine is the 1st category.  Examples for me would be vintages of Barolo, Southern & Northern Rhone (also CA “Rhone Style”) and mountain fruit Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (Veeder, Spring, Diamond & Howell).  Yeah, I know… no classified growth Bordeaux & cru Burgundy included.  I have not tasted Bordeaux meeting that criteria under $75/btl. AND other regions bring the same level of enjoyment for $50.  ENTRY LEVEL Burgundy STARTS at $50/btl and I just don’t enjoy pinot noir enough to explore that varietal for that kind of money.  My Oregon Pinot is just fine thank you.  I have Bordeaux and Burgundy in my cellar, but just to provide a representative collection, and it skews my average bottle price more than I would like.  I know many of you DO spend that $150+/btl for Bordeaux and Burgundy.  I wonder, how do you justify devoting the disproportionate percentage of your wine budget?

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Filed under Barolo, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone, Spring Mountain, Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting