Tag Archives: wine tasting notes

2015 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Producer: Justin Vineyards

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Appelation: Paso Robles AVA, Sub-Appelation of Central Coast AVA, California

Vintage: 2015

Score: 92 pts. – 100 pt. Scale, 17 pts. – 20 pt. Scale

Provenance: Buyer Cellared Original Purchase

Tasting Note

This wine continues to improve with bottle age. Alcohol dominates the nose with blackberry and plum. The palate follows and adds black cherry. The fruit is very fresh and almost sweet, without residual sugar. Alcohol content is well integrated on the palate. There is high acidity and medium tannins. The finish is medium+ in length and very fruity. The fine-grained tannins provide a very soft mouth-feel after only six years in the bottle. This is a fairly balanced approach that could continue to improve in the next 3-4 years in the bottle. The last five Justin vintages (or so) have done a decent job of threading the needle between a New World taste, with an Old World sensibility. Still more fruit forward than I would prefer and the fruit over-powers any attempt at complexity.

Paso Climate

The climate on the West side of Paso offers very hot days and cool nights. This area is much warmer than most of Napa Valley. These conditions can produce very rich, over-ripe and flabby cab sauv, if the producer is not careful. That is the reason this AVA has traditionally been viewed as a Southern Italy and Southern Rhone style growing region and the majority of vineyards are planted in hot climate varietals, like zin, syrah, grenache & mourvedre. Justin is one of the few Paso producers that has been able to produce quality cabs. The purity of fruit on the palate IMO is one of their hallmarks and I would guess, they are sorting the fruit heavily to achieve the correct fruit profile. Some Zin producers in Paso and Lodi actually sort to find the dried, raisin-like berries. This generates a more jammy wine profile. I would bet Justin does the opposite and drops all the raisins, opting for a fresher fruit profile. I need to visit their winemaker and discuss their process. I hope to be able to post an interview in the next year.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Chasing Napa Cult Status

Producer: Vineyard 7 & 8

Release: “7” Label

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Appelation: Spring Mountain AVA, Sub-Appelation of Napa AVA, California

Vintage: 2007

Score: 91 pts. – 100 pt. Scale, 16 pts. – 20 pt. Scale

Provenance: Buyer Cellared Original Purchase

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

I am always conflicted when judging these premium Napa cabs made to chase after a “cult” profile. So many American wine enthusiasts enjoy this style of wine, that I feel as if I am not being fair in my evaluation. If you have tasted Caymus, or Silver Oak, you have been introduced to the lower price point for this New World style of wine that can run upwards of $1,000/btl (Harlan Estate for example). These super fruity, high alcohol, smooth drinking red wines often struggle to get past the downside of over-ripe harvesting and winemaker manipulation. At the higher price-points, sometimes the producer succeeds, but more often not. If you would like to taste the premium Old World opposite, you could try Sassicaia from Bolgheri, Italy ($200/btl), or Pontet Canet from Bordeaux, France ($150/btl). I am not a big fan of the Napa new oak (vs. neutral oak) dominated wines. The richness in the fruit and texture is often achieved at the expense of the freshness of the fruit. My favorite vintages of these labels are the cooler ones, like 2011. The cooler vintages tend to either tone down the over-the-top profile, or they are unpleasant (like 2011 Shafer cab). It is bewildering for me, why so many hold this style of wine in such high esteem. I much prefer a clean, fresh, light to medium weight, under-manipulated Bordeaux-style wine over these any day. These labels often taste like the wine equivalent of a fruity rum cocktail to me.

Tasting Note

Your impression of this wine will be very dependent on whether you have an Old World, or New World palate. The 7&8 estate vineyards are located at the highest point on Spring Mtn., but this wine doesn’t drink like a typical mountain fruit cab. The Pride Mountain vineyards are right next store, but proximity is where the similarity ends. If you enjoy this approach to winemaking, this bottle would probably merit a mid-90s score. The nose is full of alcohol, with little else. The fruit does not taste fresh and the new oak did not integrate well. This wine is still very fruit forward after 14 years aging in the bottle, with black currant, blackberry and black plum on the palate. The profile is fairly simple tho. Only a touch of dark chocolate on the mid-palate adds complexity. The wine has medium+ acidity and medium- tannin. The tannin has mostly resolved at this point and the wine is very smooth. The finish is medium length and tapers off leaving alcohol as the last impression. There is no noticeable residual sugar. This style of wine is off balance for me, with a texture and richness that approaches a stewed fruit profile. I can acknowledge that many wine enthusiasts will enjoy this wine, but in Napa, I much prefer aged Pride, or O’Shaughnessy mountain cabs instead. This has enough acidity to pair well with rich foods, but tended to overwhelm the steak my wife and I paired it with.

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2007 Giacomo Grimaldi Barolo

Producer: Giacomo Grimaldi

Varietal: Nebbiolo

Appelation: Barolo, Sub-Appelation of Piedmonte – Langhe, Italy

Vintage: 2007

Score: 92 pts. – 100 pt. Scale, 17 pts. – 20 pt. Scale

Provenance: Buyer Cellared Original Purchase

Tasting Note:

This is/was an Old World style Barolo. There are certain wine styles that are produced for extended bottle aging and Barolo leads this category. Don’t expect to purchase a classic Barolo and drink it in less than 10 yrs. I know for some this might sound bizarre, but nevertheless, it is the reality for this style of wine. This was not originally an overly expensive Barolo ($33/btl in 2011), so it was fun to see how this held-up. If you are thinking 14 years is a long time to wait for an experiment, I agree… but these are the kind of purchases that are the most satisfying… when they succeed. As a wine collector, I have developed my palate just for opportunities like this.

The drinking window for a traditional Barolo is usually 10-20 yrs from purchase. I popped this first bottle last night at 14 years and I enjoyed it very much, but for some, the tannin might still be too much. IMO, this wine is drinking really well right now, but another 3-5 years of bottle age and this Barolo will be positively singing. Decanted for an hour. Nose is very closed for a Barolo, just some alcohol, tar and red fruit. The palate is raspberry, black cherry and red plum, tar and a touch of wood. The fruit is really holding up nicely as the wine ages. Structure is superb: high acid with medium+ tannin. I enjoyed the mouthfeel. Tannin is integrated, but mouth-filling, rather than drying. It is missing the Barolo signature floral nose/palate and could use more complexity to add interest. The finish was lengthy with a touch of dark chocolate bitterness and tar to round it out. This is enjoyable to drink on its own, but especially with rich foods (red meats/red sauces), the high acidity will pair well.

Evaluation

This was a solid Classic Barolo and a real value (in retrospect). It was not in the top 3rd of Barolos I have tasted at any price, BUT it had truly classic Barolo flavors, was well made, held-up to bottle aging very well and is continuing to evolve. It could have had more complexity, but then again, it was not priced at the more typical $50-100/btl. I am impressed with what this producer achieved at this price.

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Filed under Barolo, Cool Climate Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmonte, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2013 Berringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley

Producer: Berringer

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Appelation: Knights Valley AVA, Sub-Appelation of Sonoma County AVA, California

Vintage: 2013

Score: 91 pts. – 100 pt. Scale, 16 pts. – 20 pt. Scale

Provenance: Buyer Cellared Original Purchase

Decanted for 30 mins. before serving. Nose is a bit muted. Touch of blackberry. Palate of fresh blackberry, black currant and black cherry. Missing a mid-palate – fairly simple profile. Moderate oak. Medium-plus finish of blackberry and a touch of dark chocolate, but nothing nuanced. Tannin is medium-minus, with medium acidity. Very soft mouthfeel, especially noticeable when drinking without food. Nicely aged lower cost NorCal Cab Sauv. Very enjoyable on its own, but with the bottle age, missing a little structure to stand up to the coffee rubbed prime rib we paired it with. This label is one of my favorite daily drinkers, but I would say – at 8 years in the bottle – a couple years too many. Won’t wow you, but solid value and very enjoyable.

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2010 Fanti Brunello di Montalcino

Producer: Tenuta Fanti (previously Fanti San Felippo)

Appelation: Brunello di Montalcino

Varietal: Brunello (clone of Sangiovese)

Vintage: 2010

Score: 94/100 – 100 pt scale, 18/20 – 20 pt scale

Tasting Note:

OK, we know Brunello IS Sangiovese, but wow, is it different. Not the flavors, but the texture, mouthfeel, tannin and finish.

Nose is full of alcohol, but you can make out the red/black cherry, leather and earth. Upon open, the alcohol is integrated and the palate is full of red and black cherry, this transitions to black plum as it continues to open. Mid-palate of leather and a bit of dark chocolate. A long finish that adds a herbal mint character. Tannins and acidity are high, even after 11 years in the bottle, but are somewhat muted and softening. Another 3-5 years and this wine will be exceptional. The tannin is finely textured and presenting a wonderful mouthfeel, not really silky… yet. The clarity and freshness of fruit is spectacular. This wine is clearly Old World Italian, a little lighter in weight and would be great either on its own, or accompanying a red sauce, or red meat entree. This Brunello is aging really well. I am looking forward to popping the next bottle in three years…

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Filed under Brunello, Italian Wine, Sangiovese, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Earth, Wine and Fire Wine Dinner Review

Background

If you don’t have a Fleming’s in your town, or have just not had dinner at this restaurant chain before, bear with me. I will try to provide some reference. Fleming’s is a high-end steakhouse, similar in style to Ruth’s Chris, but not quite as expensive. They have been running a four course wine dinner special (branded as the title of this review) paired with Wagner Family wines (Caymus label) and my wife and I decided to give it a try. There were two options: Earth – vegetarian and Fire – meat. We selected Fire. Our overall experience was one step down from true gourmet, but very enjoyable. This is the full detail.

Salad Course

Dish: BURRATA WITH NORTH ATLANTIC LOBSTER

Wine: 2018 SEA SUN, CHARDONNAY 90 pts. (100 pt. system) or 16 pts. (20 pt. system)

Wine Note: Sweet citrus nose with lemon-lime mousse on the palate. High acidity and a fair amount of oak. If you like stainless chardonnay, this is not your wine. My wife and I prefer Old World style oaked chardonnay, so the very fruit forward profile was a little out of character. Nice mouthfeel. I would guess, the winemaker allowed some extended lees contact. Enjoyable chard for our palates and the acidity paired very well with the burrata. Some aging potential, if you like to lay down your wines.

If you have never had burrata, it is a soft cheese a little like mozzarella in flavor, but creamy and richer. Love the stuff and the fresher, the better. This burrata was excellent, but it was the other components that were a little disappointing. The lobster did not seem really fresh (we ARE in land-locked AZ, I suppose) and needed to be poached in butter. Lobster flavor was a little off and weak. The parmesan cheese crisp flavor (on top) almost over-powered the more delicate burrata below. Still… pretty enjoyable and an excellent pairing with the acidic Chardonnay.

2nd Course

Dish: COCONUT-CRUSTED PORK BELLY

Wine: NV RED SCHOONER, MALBEC 89 pts. (100 pt. system) or 15.5 pts. (20 pt. system)

Wine Note: Fruity nose with a little burn from the alcohol. Palate is filled with red and black fruit – black plum, blackberry and boysenberry. Medium acidity and medium minus tannins. A touch of residual sugar. Lighter, smooth mouthfeel. Very easy drinking red with a bit of structure. Successful for the style of wine it was meant to be. Drink now, don’t hold.

The pork belly was very tasty and the grits were fabulous! Our restaurant added goat cheese, instead of cheddar (on the website) – fantastic idea. The vegetable medley included (not shown below) was seasoned with spicy chiles. I pushed my veggies aside, in order to really enjoy the grits. The fruity, sweet wine was needed to pair with the leftover spiciness from the veggies. Turned out to be a pretty fair wine pairing with the fat from the pork belly and spice.

3rd Course

Dish: FILET MIGNON & BONE MARROW

Wine: 2019 CAYMUS VINEYARDS, CABERNET SAUVIGNON – NAPA VALLEY 87 pts. (100 pt. system) or 15 pts. (20 pt. system)

Wine Note: OK, you Caymus fans out there, I get it. Easy drinking Cali cab, but I just can’t do it. There is so much oak, as the joke goes, I could set the dang wine on fire. Fruity nose, but lacking freshness due to the over-powering oak. Blackberry and black currant on the palate, with some dark chocolate in the middle. Medium minus tannin and medium acidity. Simple wine flavor profile. I am sorry, neither my wife, or I could finish this wine. Just not a good match for our palates.

The filet was seasoned well and perfectly prepared. I have had better bone marrow. It needed to have more of the fat rendered out. Altho I will say, the filet with a bit of bone marrow on top was a pretty tasty bite.

Dessert Course

Dish: ORANGE OLIVE OIL CAKE

Wine: NV EMMOLO, SPARKLING – CALIFORNIA 89 pts. (100 pt. system) or 15.5 pts. (20 pt. system)

Wine Note: Citrus fruit on the nose. Palate of primarily lemon with a touch of tropical fruit. This is a cuvee style sparkling with a small amount of residual sugar. High acidity. Nice mouthfeel with a medium length finish to round it out. This could be more interesting with some bottle age. Has enough of a backbone to enjoy in 3-5 years.

If you have not had olive oil cake – no, it does not taste like olive oil, but it IS very moist. I have had the orange version before and this was quite good. The tart lemon coulis drizzled on the plate was a nice addition. The citrus flavor in the cake paired very nicely with the sparkling wine.

Dining Experience and Rating

In general, this was a serious white tablecloth experience. Great service from our waiter, she was friendly and engaging. One of the managers stopped by twice to check in on us. I felt like there was a genuine interest in making sure the experience was enjoyable. I felt a bit rushed tho. This is the kind of meal that takes time to work your way through. I understand they want to turn tables, but for this kind of bill, you expect the time to have an experience. I would score the experience at a 92/100, or a 2 of 3 star equivalent. The meal was very good (especially the steak), but could have been better and the service was really excellent.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Fine Dining, Food Pairing, Malbec, Napa Valley, Restaurant Review, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Judging-Scoring Wines

Risky Business

At the risk of upsetting every wine critic/judge out there, I set out to create a wine scoring system that matched my view of fine wine. I will include this scoring template at the end of the article, for those that might be like-minded. Email me if you would like a self-calculating spreadsheet copy.

My Motivation

After pro Sommelier training (where scoring was discouraged), I was exposed to the WSET scoring method and wine judging courses. Both used a variation of the UC Davis 20 Point Scoring System. I was shocked how these systems were unable to separate amateur from premium wines effectively. In these classes, we scored fruit wines (cherry, blueberry, strawberry, etc.) and vitis labrusca wines (Concord, Chambourcin, Catawba, etc.). These wines were near undrinkable for me and were being given the same scores as mediocre Cali Cabernet. The methodology and scoring systems taught in these classes were intended to be appropriate for both amateur and fine wines. Although, away from class these same people would explain the intent of these systems was to score wines based on a comparison of LIKE wines. This is not how I understood the training and it is likely the public views this scoring similarly. This experience motivated me to build a scoring system that is weighted properly and could be used to provide comparatively accurate scores for amateur, professional AND fine wines, without a bias.

The Evaluation Criteria

First, it was necessary to determine what separates fine wine, from other wines. In that evaluation, I arrived at the following characteristics that are under-represented in the UC Davis System: Balance, Complexity, Finish and Aging Potential. All of these measures are intended to be scored in the UC Davis “Quality” category, but to make the scores more comparatively accurate, I decided these characteristics needed their own point categories. I then looked at what seemed to be weighted incorrectly in the UC Davis System and arrived at: Clarity, Color and Acidity. Four of twenty points for clarity and color is 20% of the score. This is weighted too heavily towards mediocre wines. Acidity was only 5% of the score – not weighted heavily enough. I realized, if I reduced the points for clarity and color, increased points for acidity and added balance, complexity, finish and aging potential categories… I might be able to devise a scoring system that could properly measure a Concord wine (for example) and build an appropriate score against say… an aged Bordeaux Gran Cru.

A Wine Scoring Template

Now I was ready to put my scoring template together. I realized that many media outlets still use the old Robert Parker 100 pt system and decided to add it to my template. I wanted to help both systems arrive at a roughly equivalent score. I realized this could only be done, if I started the 100 pt score at 50, instead of 0. You will see what I mean below. The closer the wine came to the premium category, the better my 100 pt method seemed to arrive at an accurate score. It was the opposite with my 20 pt method, albeit much closer to reality than the UC Davis 20 pt method.

After the long explanation, here is my effort to build a scoring system that can evaluate both a poor blueberry wine and a Gran Cru Bordeaux – with the same template – done accurately and with a logical systematic approach.

In the past, my Somm training won out and I tried not to add scores to my tasting notes. In retrospect, I think this was mostly due to being uncomfortable with the systems available. I intend to use my scoring template moving forward and hopefully develop consistency and comparative accuracy across my tasting notes.

Feedback

I would be very interested in other opinions regarding both the thinking that drove this creative process AND the relative accuracy using this scoring system. I am also open to modifying aspects, if the changes fit within the logic model used to build it. Please feel free to leave your comments on this page. Thanks!

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Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Marketing, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Wine Dinner Review

Restaurant Review

Tisha’s Fine Dining (BYO) – Cape May, NJ

Score: 94/100 – $$$$ (see rating guides below)

Meal: Arugula salad with Burrata cheese and red Beets, Pepper crusted Prime Filet medium rare with mash potatoes, green beans and fried onion strings. The shared desert was profiteroles layered with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce.

Wine Pairing: Stags’ Leap 2017 Petit Sirah Napa Valley – Score: 94/100. Wine paired well with Dish: Yes.

Stag’s Leap 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Score: 91/100. Wine paired well with Dish: Yes.

My wife grew up in Cape May on the Jersey Shore and her family has owned a beach house there for a couple of generations. She visits for a week, or two, in the Summer every year and I usually join her. We always make sure to arrange our reservation for Tisha’s and it is always the culinary highlight of the trip.

Restaurant Menu and Ambiance

The menu rotates every week with as much local in-season produce as possible. The choices are typically American style seafood and meats, with a few other items such as pasta dishes. My wife and I have been visiting Tisha’s for near 20 years now and have never had a mediocre dish. Although, I would suggest the seafood and meats, over the other dishes. The veggies are always in-season and fresh. There is good reason why Jersey is called the Garden State!

The ambiance includes indoor and patio dining with a small, upscale white tablecloth feel. Reservation availability is limited in the Summer. The servers are always friendly and attentive, but the premises can get very busy. Patience is needed for both the kitchen and servers in the Summer – to enjoy the experience. The restaurant staff requires your entire order upon arrival and paces the service for you. It seems a little odd for fine dining, but I have never had a bad experience.

The Food

The salad had great flavors and textures. The Arugula was peppery, the Burrata cheese was creamy and fresh and the beets were fresh and sweet… tasted almost like fruit. Nine times out of ten, the beef is out of this world and this was one of those nights. The Filet is on the menu with a bleu cheese flavored butter sauce, but my wife and I prefer the beef without it. The medium-rare steak was a touch towards the medium side, but the beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and very tasty. The sides were fresh and accompanied the beef well. The desert was very tasty, not too sweet and the pastry was light and airy, but not quite fresh enough to be perfect.

The Wine

My wife and I enjoy Stags’ Leap wines. Please note, this is NOT Stag’s Leap. If you weren’t aware, the two wineries settled a law suit years ago by agreeing to move the apostrophe. Christophe Paubert (Stags’ Leap winemaker) is French trained and produces wonderfully balanced wines. In contrast, the other Stag’s Leap produces the more typical Napa fruit-tannin bombs.

The Petit Sirah is not a typical U.S. product for this variety. This had a typical fruit driven profile, but was much lighter, structured and balanced. Red and blue fruits were on the nose and palate. The wine was dry with medium tannin, medium+ acidity and a nice long finish. The texture was a bit silky with fine-grained tannin. As a comparison, this was nothing like the very common Michael David Petit Sirah. The wine actually paired well with the Burrata cheese and beets in the salad.

The Cab had a huge fruit-bomb nose, but the palate was not quite as concentrated. Still more fruity than I would prefer, with plum and blackberry on the attack. A rather simple taste profile, but with good balance and excellent structure. The wine was dry with medium tannins, medium+ acidity and a long fruity finish. This cab had the signature Stags’ Leap fine grained tannin. It paired very well with the Filet we had for the main course.

Rating Charts Used in this Review

(Common industry comparative data used with detailed scoring templates)

Wine

97 – 100Exceptional
92 – 96Excellent
89 – 91Enjoyable
85 – 88Passable
80 – 84Barely Acceptable
74 – 79Choke it Down
50 – 73Flawed

Restaurant / Food

97 – 100Exceptional3 Star Equivalent
92 – 96Excellent2 Star Equivalent
88 – 91Enjoyable1 Star Equivalent
82 – 87PassableDiner Quality
77 – 81Barely AcceptablePoor Diner Quality
72 – 76DumpDive
50 – 71Should CloseNuf Said
Does not include fast food, or take-out restaurants. Sit down only.
$$20 and under
$$$20 to $30
$$$$30 – $50
$$$$$50 and over
The dollar signs represent cost of a two-course dinner/pp, taxes and a 15% tip (no drinks or dessert).

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Food Pairing, Napa Valley, Petit(e) Sirah, Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Stags Leap District, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Petit Manseng – An Obscure Wine Worth Finding

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2016 Callaghan Vineyards Greg’s – White Wine

Winery: Sonoita, AZ / Fruit: Willcox AVA, AZ

Wine Tasting Note:

Score: 92/100

My first impression: WOW! Second time tasting Petit Manseng and this knocked me off my feet. This Arizona origin wine was so much better than the first bottle I tasted from Virginia. Kent Callaghan did a great job of producing a seriously good wine from a virtually unknown grape. Rich, floral nose of white flowers, honeysuckle and citrus. The palate was honey, creme brulee, red apple and lemon curd. The wine had crazy high acidity and high alcohol. This could have stood up to being over-oaked. So glad that was not the case. The mouth-feel was rich and smooth and the finish was very long with a touch of clove at the end. This varietal presents like a cross between Chardonnay and Viognier. As I understand it, this grape is used in making a well-known sweet late-harvest wine from the Jurancon in the Southwest region of France. This wine was very fruity, but finishes dry. It is easy to see the potential for shifting the emphasis to a sweet wine. The Petit Manseng vines love the heat and are known for producing high acid fruit, even in very warm and sunny climates. The vines have naturally small berries with very thick skins and tend to ripen with very long hang times – without mold, or mildew. It is almost as if this variety was built with Arizona in mind. It is hard to believe the primary parent variety is Traminer. I like this stuff. If you are a fan of high acid white wines, this will be right up your alley. Enjoy!

 

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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 label, more in keeping a wine type in mind, I can write a generic tasting note to help you understand the character of these wines:

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 built a visual of an old wine cave in France. The complexity of the nose immediately drew me in. There were aromas of blackberry, sweet browned butter, forest floor and black pepper showing. 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 finishing 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 sensibilities, 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 showing, 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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