April 1-19, 2005

April 19, 2005

A magnum of 1985 Domaine Trevallon was remarkable; every bit of it tasted like old and pure 1982 Bordeaux . Beautiful smoke and just the fleshiness of the Mourvedre in the blend to fool the taster into believing that it must have been a fleshy vintage like 1982.

The character of the wine is such that I knew what I was drinking, though it was a blind tasting. No great talent at work, folks, it was one of the few magnums of the tasting and I brought it. Still, everyone else thought it was 1982 Bordeaux and I think I would have done the same.

This bottle makes me think even more of Trevallon’s aging potential. Yet, it was slipping a few hours later and there is something about the grape Mourvedre or Cabernet and Mourvedre in this region that makes me think that the greatness of a wine such as this is a little bit of luck and the wine isn’t great for much of its drinkable life.

April 18

I return to another bottle of the Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas 2001 but my thinking remains unchanged; Beaucastel’s American venture remains interesting but overpriced. This is a blend of 38% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, 24% Grenache, and 4% Counoise and it may just be the age of the vines that makes this seem less than important. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but for the price I’d like some real intensity.

April 17

Macallan’s Replica 1876 is still fascinating, though I only get to taste it every year or so, at an event like WhiskyFest. Master Distiller Bob Dalgarno described it as having “summer fruits” while I also saw citrus, vanilla, spice and some peat and he saw some “fudge”. This has lots of apple, peach and apricot in the front and middle and the finish goes to dates and raisins. For Dalgarno, 1876 is truly a replica of what Scotch may have been like then, during what may have been not just the golden age of Scotch, but the origins of Scotch as a demonstrably aged product.

April 16

1980 Macallan was, according to Bob Dalgarno, distiller for The Macallan, “not the right character for the thirty old” – so it had not found its way into that blend. It was very caramel, toffee and butterscotch, “quite advanced”, as Bob described it. It had a menthol and heathery note at the end with a finish like chocolate-covered orange and apple slices though Bob found it had a “slightly burnt character.”

April 15

Stuart Thomas, the brand manager for Ardbeg told a story too pat to be believed, but it bears re-telling. The warehouse manager had a golden Labrador who liked whisky. There was a cask of the 1975 that was topped up and bunged and turned on its side. “But as they turned it,” he said, “the bung shot out and ran under the stove casks. It took us a half minute to find it. As the whisky shot out of the bung, the manager’s dog drank every drop as it flew through the air. By the time we put the bung back in the cask, the dog was flat on its back. Later on the manager told us, ‘I had to take it home in a wheel barrel.'”

April 14

But the Ardbeg 1975 is one of those bottles you find that you have to boast about drinking. The nose was nutty, almond-rich (Fino Sherry barrels) and toasted vanilla-laden. Buttered anise with coffee and cocoa. The acids were like apples and Manzanilla Sherry, but even they were remarkably complex with orange zest, melons, honeydew, lemons and every manner of apples. The finish is as smooth as a baby’s butt and I had the distinct impression five minutes later that someone had a little jar of fresh mace nearby.

April 13

Ardbeg 1998 was very darkly-colored and 120 in proof. I sipped it, imagining something like orange pie with chocolate shavings. Tons of baking spices and sweet marzipan.

Their Uigeadal bottling is named after Loch Uigeadal, the water supply for Ardbeg. This 108 proof bottling is very figgy and even shows some Brettanomyces leatheriness. This is dramatic stuff: figs, raisins, fruitcake, caramel, ash and whiplash acids. It’s long and smoky.

April 12

The Dalmore Stillman’s Dram is a blend of Scotches thirty years old and older. Because most of its barrels (ninety percent of them) are used Sherry barrels, the flavour is of figs, raisins, baked apples, chocolate and almonds.

The nose is a tiny bit funky (leather and brine) and the flavours are very long. But, like all great Scotches, it has a heart of tartness and structure, crisp apple, and lemon and orange rinds.

April 11

Cruzan’s Single Barrel Rum has ten to twelve years of aging in it. Because of the warmer temperatures of the Caribbean, versus those in, say, Scotland, rums age much more quickly than Scotch. Many will use the comparison that one year in a barrel in the Caribbean has much the same affect as three years in the barrel in Scotland.

So ten years in the Caribbean is the same as thirty years in Scotland. That’s the idea, anyway. In the tasting, I’d conclude something less dramatic.

It’s skilfully made and shows new American barrels in its nose and rich, seductive molasses throughout.

April 10

The 2004 version of WhiskyFest in Chicago was as good as any before. The problem is always one of time; I need more time to taste all this stuff.

I’ll start with Evan Williams 1994; the first really tasty vintage Bourbon since the initial release of 1991. The 1991 was spectacular, the 1992 and 1993 were lovely but lesser. The 1994 is closer to the majesty of the 1991, with a buttery, marzipan texture and finish.

It reminds me of the Old Forester Single Barrel.

April 9

But the newer Washington wine in our tasting, Northstar Merlot 2001 finds a balance point between oak and fruit, and between friendly fruit and age-worthy power. A few days later, the same bottle was all oak and pencil shavings. The fruit was pretty but seemed unequal to the challenge of the oak.

To argue against this style is in vain. It’s commercial successful because it tastes great upon release and with a few years aging. But ultimately, wines with the hard structure of the Quilceda Creek or the Leonetti taste better ten and twenty years after release.

Does that make them better? No.

April 8

Quilceda Creek’s 1990 shows bucket loads of French oak instead. It tastes more youthful than it ought to, and needs another five years or so to really strut. I’m very fond of Quilceda, but like Dominus, I find myself making excuses for its toughness and intensity.

I know from experience that they age gracefully, but it’s hard to prove that early on.

April 7

The Leonetti 1990 shows as brilliantly as it always has. The American oak is front and center in the nose and mouth; the alcohol too is pronounced. But it tastes more like Aussie Cabernet than Washington wine – it is richly fruited.

It has always been my experience than the lower pH’s of Washington wines give them the opportunity to age gracefully. Leonetti has confounded me for years; when young, I think them too aggressively oaked. But with time, they are delightful.

April 6

Rudi Pichler Riesling Terressen Smaragd 2001 – this lovely wine comes labelled in classically impenetrable Germanic text. In short, Smaragd means the wine is ripe, full-bodied and intense. It’s made from Riesling, but it’s not at all sweet.

Instead, the wine is apple-crisp, floral and citrus-tart, and it finished with a characteristically earthy note that is as waxy as it is earthy.

April 5

The newest version of the Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas, the 2001, is the best yet for this palate. A lot of pretty cherry and raspberry flavours, reflecting the Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre base of the wine, but with some iron and earth flavours at the end. Still the price you have to pay for this wine seems out of balance with the value of current Gigondas or Vacqueyras.

Much the same could be said of the newest King Estate Pinot Noir Domaine 2001. It’s clearly the best they’ve produced, with a bright and fruity nose despite the dramatic new oak elements throughout.

It finishes softly and shows a floral personality at every step of the way. But at least with this wine, as opposed to the Tablas Creek, the price isn’t so out of line with its competition.

April 4

Some newer wines to report as well. Big bruisers from Banfi (sic) such as Summus 2000 and Brunello di Montalcino 1999. Most people can’t imagine that Banfi is making wines at this level. The Brunello is as taut and hard as any I’ve ever tasted from Banfi and this from a fairly generous vintage.

There’s nothing wrong with the wine, mind you, it’s just big, powerful and tannic at present. I would love to taste this wine again in five or so years.

The Summus had more fleshy softness to it at the moment, despite the high intensity of toasted oak lathered on top of that cherry flesh.

April 3

Chateau Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1990 – this estate makes the most amazingly elegant Chateauneuf. Contrast this with Beaucastel or Rayas, and the silky complexity of Beaurenard doesn’t make it a better wine, but a wine that goes down with less thought and more pleasure.

At the same tasting, we had a 1990 Verset Cornas: stinky, leafy, stemmy, and those are all good things. It too was seductive, despite the gaminess. Verset doesn’t have a lot of Brett, mind you. It’s just that cool climate Syrah has a gaminess all its own; perhaps it’s due to the sulfur that cool climate producers generally utilize with a slightly heavier hand than warm climate producers.

Now I know someone is going to argue that Cornas is not cool climate. You’re right, it’s not. But it certainly has cooler nights than in the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale orNapa Valley. It creates a less opulent, earthier style and with age that character becomes more dramatic until it decays. This bottling makes me think that I should consider drinking up some of my 1980’s Verset.

April 2

Large scale tasting and lots of wines to report. Chateau Beausejour 1990 St. Emilion has to be the wine of the tasting though. A truly charming nose of baked cherries and baking spices with lots of right bank Bordeaux richness. My friend JK insists the wine is at its peak; I can hardly concur. With a wine showing this much balance and still a few ounces of grip, how can it fail to live another few years and perhaps even grow in that time?

April 1

Last night I dined at Acacia, a semi-precious but tasty Richmond restaurant. Every time I thought I was about to get attitude, the server, or bartender, or manager turned nice on me.

Interesting food, if I could nonetheless drop the “semi-precious” epithet upon it. Very nice sardine dish. Stingy beet salad (don’t people realize I want to eat my weight in beets this good?).

Moved on to Helen’s (you must go there) and had delightfully overcooked lamb chops. Yunno, real? Friendly chef. Lump crab cakes that were nothing at all like cakes. Zero binder, 100% crab. Yeaaaaah. All cool.

The world’s tiniest bathroom. I even drank white wine without anyone telling me not to. But with the lamb chops? Jim Barry’s McCrae Wood of course.