I always like to take advantage of the Grand Tastings at the Wine Experience, sampling a range of wines I don’t normally get to try. Most of them are from regions I don’t review for Wine Spectator. Having 260 of them all under one roof is too good an opportunity to miss.
So, in between greeting old friends and making new ones over glasses of wine Thursday night, I stuck out my glass and tried some new wines, older vintages I don’t encounter as often as I might like, plus a few I know well for comparison purposes. Herewith, some observations.
Four very different Chardonnays from the Southern Hemisphere: Two South African whites beguiled me. Neil Ellis Chardonnay Elgin 2007 showed lovely fruit, reminiscent of pears and honeysuckle, on a silky frame, picking up a welcome chalky note on the finish. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2008 was much leaner and minerally, a taut, expressive wine that wants time in the bottle to soften. I compared them with Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate 2006, which starts off lean and minerally and turns creamy and apricotty in the mouth, and Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Margaret River Art Series 2005, with magnificent structure, texture and complexity. The South African wines impressed me with their distinctiveness.
A 10-year-old Barbera: Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba Vigneto Pozzo dell-Annunziata 1999 was still fresh and lively, with ripe cherry and licorice flavors and a touch of loamy earth as the finish coalesced nicely. You don’t usually think of Barbera getting better with age, but this one has become more graceful even as it might have lost some of its exuberance.
Two Barolos to cherish: I am a big Barolo fan, but sometimes you have to fight through several layers of tannins, hard acidity and tight structure to get to the pleasure. Not so with these two 2004s. Gaja Langhe Sperss (a Barolo in all but name) packed in plenty of fruit and earthy notes against polished tannins. Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto was simply the best, most elegant wine I tasted Thursday night, lithe, supple, hauntingly complex, playing out its classic flavors gracefully and with admirable transparency.
Contrasts in Cabernet: A lot of Cabernet collectors are gaga over the wines of Fred Schrader. To date, I have only had a chance to try two of them, and I was impressed. But the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard “Old Sparky” blew my socks off. It was a huge mouthful of ripe fruit and layers of complex overtones and yet it balanced elegantly without feeling the least bit overripe or overdone. It was mesmerizing. The next wine in my glass was Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve 2005 from Washington. It just seems to be getting better since I reviewed it earlier this year, with a welcome transparency to the rich red fruit and spice flavors.
Three older reds: A nice lineup in one corner of the room started with the aristocratic Château Gruaud-Larose 1999, a St.-Julien that had all the pieces in perfect harmony. Then came Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1995, with its firm texture and impeccable balance. And finally, Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1989, which winemaker Paul Draper pointed out was a much better vintage in his neighborhood than in Napa or Sonoma. The nose was the best thing about it, complex and inviting, hitting all kinds of fruit, spice and earthy notes. A touch of gaminess was evident in the flavor profile, but not enough to put me off.
Stewart Lancaster — beaver,pa — October 23, 2009 11:42am ET
Chris A Elerick — Orlando, FL — October 23, 2009 11:42am ET
Fred Brown — Maryland — October 24, 2009 12:30pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — October 24, 2009 12:51pm ET
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