I am not so sure what it proved, other than that California cult wines are as good, or better, than the best of Bordeaux in a given vintage. But it’s fascinating to see how, in a blind tasting, the top wines from the two different regions can be very, very hard to differentiate from one another – especially when the Bordeaux come from a hot and ultra-ripe vintage such as 2003. I remember how many Bordelais themselves called 2003 a “California vintage.” I assume that was a little derogatory on their part, but I am still convinced 2003 is a great year for the region!
Moreover, as one of my neighboring tasters said at the dinner/tasting in Bordeaux this spring that I am going to tell you about, “Bordeaux has become so modern that it is not that easy to see the difference between it and California.”
The tasting was held in late March during the start of barrel tasting Bordeaux’s newest vintage, 2007. Silvo Denz, the hip owner of St. Emilion’s Château Faugères, organized the event with a dinner for about two dozen people. I have been to a number of Denz’s tastings, and he is a curious and thoughtful host, with a passion for California cults as well as Bordeaux and Tuscan reds. He has a great cellar. And I think he also is making excellent wine at Faugères.
Anyway, most of the tasters were wine trade members from Switzerland, including wine critic Rene Gabriel, whom I respect immensely as a taster. There were also wine merchants Thomas Bohrer from Hong Kong and Andy Lench from Seattle/London, among others. We knew what wines were going to be in the tasting. There were awesome bottles – first growths, Ausone, Pétrus, Pavie, Colgin, Harlan, and Screaming Eagle. You get the idea. But we didn’t know the order. There was even one of Spain’s top reds, Pingus, thrown in for good measure.
We tasted the wines in flights of five or six. All were served blind. They were, for the most part, all so juicy and yummy with wonderful ripe fruit and soft velvety tannins. Some need more time to soften some of their youthful rough edges, but many were already a joy to drink.
My favorite wine of the night was the Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Herb Lamb Vineyard. I scored it 99 points, unofficially. And five tasters gave it 100 points, including Gabriel. It was easily the most popular wine of the tasting. Most people thought it was Bordeaux, including myself. I loved the complexity of the wine on the nose with dried flowers, truffles and fruit. And the palate was rich yet reserved, with refined tannins and a long finish. It needed bottle age to really show it true potential.
My second wine of the tasting was the Latour, but it only came in seventh with the group. It has such gorgeous coffee bean, and ripe fruit aromas that turned to a full-bodied, silky and refined palate. I scored it 98 points, unofficially. The group voted for the Harlan Estate Napa Valley as second. It was my third favorite.
I love the violet, truffle and berry character of the Harlan, and although it was full bodied and rich, it showed an impressive amount of finesse and grace. I scored it 97 points, unofficially. Give it anther six or seven years of bottle age, if you are patient enough and lucky enough to have a bottle..
The group chose the Robert Foley Claret Napa Valley as its third favorite. In fact, the first Bordeaux to get a top vote of the group was the Pavie, which came fourth. The lowest scorer was the Pétrus.
Of course, it was splitting hairs when you consider the highest aggregate score was 98.21 for the Colgin, and 93.07 for the Pétrus. “Everything was excellent,” as Denz said after the tasting.
During dinner, everyone excitedly discussed the results of the tasting. Like I said at the beginning this post, few thought that the results were earth-shattering or proved a whole lot, other than both regions make super wines at the top level. But I must say that most of the people at the table were rooting for the Bordeaux, so they must have been a little surprised when the group voted California in the top three positions for the tasting.
Here are my tasting notes for the wines. The wines were served blind, in the order that they're listed below.
Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 2003: Blackberry and chocolate aromas with hints of plums. Full bodied, with velvety tannins and a long toasted oak, coffee and jammy finish. Needs time to come together still. Best after 2012. 93 points, unofficially.
Dominus Estate Napa Valley 2003: Wonderful aromas of flowers, blackberries and jam with just a hint of mint follow through to a full body, with very jammy flavors and a medium finish. Doesn't hold together that well now, but give it some time. Best after 2010. 91 points, unofficially.
Château Cheval-Blanc St.-Emilion 2003: Complex aromas of prunes, plums and tobacco with hints of cigar box follow through to a full body, with fine tannins and a fruity, and refined finish. Love the nose in this. Best after 2010. 93 points, unofficially.
Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 2003: Fabulous aromas of blackberry, grilled meat, raspberries and plums. Full bodied, with a solid core of ripe fruit and velvety tannins and a long, long finish. Very young, but soft and seductive. Better than I remember. Best after 2012. 96 points, unofficially.
Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select 2003: Impressive nose of crushed blackberries, minerals, mint and violets with tangerine and citrus fruit undertones. Full-bodied, full-throttle with loads of wild fruit. Exotic and seductive. A little loose but love it just the same. 94 points, unofficially.
Sloan Rutherford 2003: Fabulous aromas of crushed berries, cherries, lightly toasted oak and pie crust follow through to a full body, with silky tannins and a long, ripe, rich finish. Big and jammy. Best after 2012. 95 points, unofficially.
La Mondotte St.-Emilion 2003: Intense aromas of flowers, strawberries, blackberries. Full-bodied, with a solid core of ripe, silky tannins. Fabulous texture. Caresses your palate. So layered and beautiful. Holding back a lot. Best after 2013. 97 points, unofficially.
Blankiet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Paradise Hills Vineyard 2003: Black color. Aromas of dried rose petals, licorice and tar. Full-bodied, chewy, with lots of tar. Tight and not giving much. A little one-dimensional and disjointed now. Best after 2012. 90 points, unofficially.
Château Pétrus Pomerol 2003: Pretty coffee, tobacco and toasted oak character on the nose. Full-bodied, with silky, polished and refined tannins. Solid core of fruit, yet reserved and very attractive. Best after 2011. 93 points, unofficially.
Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero 2003: Aromas of Christmas pudding, dried fruit and nuts follow through to a full body, with lots of Port-like fruit and a long fruity finish. Excellent tannins as well. Full-throttle red. Why wait on it? 94 points, unofficially.
Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2003: Big and ripe California wine with lots of jammy, pruney and raisiny fruit character on the nose and palate. Full and juicy. Porty. Slightly ponderous, but I like it a lot. Drink now. 91 points, unofficially.
Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 2003: Gorgeous aromas of blackberries, toasted oak, coffee and cigar box. Fab nose. Full bodied, with super silky tannins and a long caressing texture. A wine all in texture and complexity for the vintage. Best after 2012. 95 points, unofficially.
Château Bellevue-Mondotte St.-Emilion 2003: Full throttle yet not too much in your face. Full bodied, with lots of juicy fruit and raisiny spicy character long and rich. Soft and juicy. Best after 2012. 92 points, unofficially.
Harlan Estate Napa Valley 2003: Violet, berry and light toasted oak with hints of truffles. Full-bodied, yet reserved and silky with a solid core of fruit and a long caressing finish. Super fine and structured. Best after 2014. 97 points, unofficially.
Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2003: Loads of plum, currant, coffee bean and cedar aromas follow through to a full body, with fine tannins and a long caressing finish. Silky texture and pretty for the vintage. Finesse for the year. Best after 2012. 93 points, unofficially.
Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Madrona Ranch 2003: Aromas of prunes, dried flowers, and ripe strawberries follow through to a full body, with lots of chocolate and ripe fruit on the palate. A bit one-dimensional and very ripe, but impressive. Best after 2010. 90 points, unofficially.
Château Péby-Faugères 2003: Dark chocolate, blackberry and licorice on the nose with hints of coffee. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long caressing finish. Super well-integrated with beautiful tannins and fruit. One of the big surprises of the tasting, and an excellent value! Best after 2014. 96 points, unofficially.
Château Latour Pauillac 2003: Gorgeous coffee bean, ripe fruit and cedar with a sweet tobacco undertone in the nose. Full bodied, yet refined and silky with fine tannins and a long complex finish. Ripe but very Bordeaux. Best after 2015. 98 points, unofficially.
Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003: Full-throttle with loads of ripe fruit from prunes to blackberries as well as loads of vanilla cream. Full-bodied, with soft and silky tannins and a long, long rich finish. Thick and raisiny. Porty. Slightly one-dimensional. Best after 2010. 91 points, unofficially.
Château Margaux Margaux 2003: Cedar, berry, sweet tobacco and subtle coffee aromas. Full-bodied, with fine tannins and a long finish. A bit tight and reserved but fine and structured. Chewy. Almost austere. Not a good bottle? Best after 2010. 90 points, unofficially.
Château Ausone St.-Emilion 2003: Blackberry, prunes and asphalt on the nose. Some dried flowers as well. Full-bodied, with super-fine tannins and a solid core of fruit. Layered and classy. Long and focused. Muscular and beautiful. Give this time. Best after 2016. 95 points, unofficially.
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2003: Exotic fruit aromas with light toasted oak, cigar box with plums and prunes as well. Full-bodied, and very Porty with loads of ripe fruit and a long finish. Ripe tannins but full-throttle fruit. Best after 2010. 93 points, unofficially.
Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Herb Lamb Vineyard 2003: Very, very complex with dried flowers, truffles, blackberries, and violets on the nose. Full bodied, with ultra-fine tannins and a long, long finish. Milk chocolate, fruit and berries. Almost nutty. Love it. Best after 2014 but who can wait? Seductive. 99 points, unofficially.
Robert Foley Claret Napa Valley 2003: Aromas of very ripe fruit as well as toasted oak with vanilla under tones. Super pure fruit. Not overdone. Full bodied, juicy and very rich with a velvety texture and a long finish. A little disjointed at the moment but will come together. Best after 2010. 92 points, unofficially.
Château Pavie St.-Emilion 2003: Floral and ripe fruit on the nose with light vanilla as well. Full-bodied, with fine tannins and very pretty fruit though it's still in reserve, and a long finish. Give it some time. Best after 2012. 93 points, unofficially.