Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Tasting Group tastes Northern Rhones

I thought of another reason to join a tasting group: tasting wines you seldom drink. I rarely drink northern Rhone wines, whites in particular, and it so happens that the Northern Rhone was the theme of our tasting last night. You don't have to like all the major wine regions to know wine. In fact, you may only choose to drink Burgundy, for example. But to know wine, to really know wine, you better at least be familiar with the major regions and their reference points. Most serious wine drinkers, wine writers, wholesalers, and retailers, which is to say most people in the world of wine, do not know wine. Yeah, I said it. Most people who purport to know wine don't know wine. They are lazy, or they can afford to cater to their expensive, 1er and Grand Cru Burg palates without ever checking in on wines from elsewhere, or they just choose to dismiss entire swaths of fine wine producing regions. Though I may hate on regions or grape varieties, that dislike is justified by at least a requisite amount of recent experience. Participating in tasting groups have become a regular part of my wine consumption routine, and I believe that I am better off for it.

To express how I feel about the northern Rhone in a turn of phrase that I love, I ain't mad at ya', northern Rhone. Your reds can have a wonderful balance of bursting blue-red fruit, spice, and even acidity, especially if it's from Cornas or Hermitage. As for the whites, I cannot get into them quite as much, as I simply value acidity too much in my whites to show more than merely occasional respect for Roussane and Marsanne. Anyway, let's review the two flights from last night's PMW Tasting Group.


2008 Qupe Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley

I like Bob Lindquist's wines. Like this one, an 81% marsanne, 19% roussane blend which is 12.5% abv, they typically show some restraint, and are fun to drink. There was a very fresh and mineral quality to the nose, here, which combined with the texture and acid had me initially thinking Saar Riesling QBA. Not enough sweetness or acid, though. Plenty of sulphur, however, which is probably why I first thought German riesling. Confusing sulphur on the nose with minerality? Yep, guilty as charged. I knew that the sulphur content was high, but also seemed to catch a minerality to the aromas which had me thinking old world. This was my favorite wine of the flight, narrowly edging out the wine below.

2007 Dard & Ribot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc

What?! Somehow this was my number two wine. A wine which nearly everyone loves (it finished our group first) and cannot get enough of. Allow me to explain. As much as I enjoyed the wine, it needs to be decanted. There is some real funk on the nose, and a pungency on the palate which improves with air. Mainly roussane with some marsanne. No sulphur added. It tastes that way. I am not certain but I suspect that there is a bit (maybe a day or two) of extended skin contact with the juice. It also tastes that way. While I really enjoyed this wine, it did not taste as pure, pristine and focused as it did two years ago when I drank it at Le Verre Volé. It is evolving in a way I find to be interesting, if not as much to my liking as in its pre-evolved state.

2006 Pierre Gonon St Joseph Blanc "Les Oliviers"

Awful. To me, nearly undrinkable. Apparently this is from a south facing slope. In a warm vintage, with a high alcohol grape that tends towards blowsiness, on a south facing slope is not where you want to be. Some bitter honey and nutty notes dominated this wine. Maybe this is what Honeynut Cheerios would taste like if they were made with spelt, without any added sodium and a bare minimum of sugar or HFC added, and vodka replaced milk in the cereal bowl?

2008 August Clape St Peray

Meh. As non-descript and innocuous as the wine books say it is. Yes, often times the wine books are actually right.


2005 Pierre Gonon St Joseph

What a delicious bottle of syrah! As I thought, given the purity and approachable quality of the fruit, this indeed turned out to be a St Jo. Dark cherry, macerated plums, some of that black olive character on the nose. A hint of cardamom. Juicy and supple on the palate, this is wine to drink, not contemplate for hours on end. Tannins crept up a bit on the finish, if only for the relative lightness and lack of density on the mid palate. Delicious wine, and my second favorite of the flight.

2005 Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage

Whoa! This sucked. Highly offensive aromas of Baltimore Harbor, Potomac River, and 101 N on a day where you smell the Bay. The palate lacked any sort of elegance, acidity, or reason to want to drink this now. Others really liked the wine, noting the bay/fishiness or however you wanted to describe the aromatic profile, but also a hidden depth of flavor and complexity (most hidden to me). Some folks thought it was shut down and will be terrific in 5 years or more - I strongly disagree. Time will tell.

2005 Emmanuel Darnaud Crozes "Les Trois Chenes" Crozes-Hermitage

Given the theme and the fact that we had Dard & Ribot in the earlier flight, and the fact that this tasted so natural and delicious, I thought it was a Dard & Ribot Crozes Hermitage. There was the interplay of ripe fruit and savory mesquite like smokiness, as well as a texture that to me reminded me of their wines. No D&H, but rather this producer whose wines I have not yet tried but am now curious to learn more about. Apparently, he has vineyard land on the flats (like most growers in Crozes-Hermitage, instead of on the steeper, granite laced sites), and cultivates his vines well. The wines are fermented with native yeasts, and aged primarily in barriques (some new) as opposed to foudres. This is because Emmanuel has no help in the winery: barriques are more easily moved than larger foudres. The oakiness did not seem over the top to me. There was plenty of fruit and acidity to balance out the oak.

2005 Les Vins de Vienne "Les Palignons" Crozes-Hermitage

A "super group" of winemakers composed of Yves Cuilleron, Francois Villard and Pierre Gaillard. Slightly smoky ripe dark fruit aromas led to a chewy palate of cherry and some prune flavors. Ripe but not overly so, with some cardamom bite on the finish. More stylized in a deliberate and modern way, but not at all bad.

2001 Emmanuel Darnaud "Les Trois Chenes Crozes-Hermitage

This was a bonus bottle poured to see who could guess which older version of a wine in the flight this was. I guess incorrectly, thinking that it was a late 90's version of the Les Vins de Vienne. Anyway, the wine was holding up well, definitely in secondary flavor country though a fellow taster called it "primary" - so it often goes with comparative brown bag tastings. The acidity was still hanging in there, adding dimension to what seemed like a very coffee bean and dark chocolate tasting palate with some dark fruit in the background.

I should note that the current releases of these reds (07's, I believe) retail somewhere in the $25-30 range. Pretty good values, as someone mentioned when we had finished the flight. Northern Rhone syrah...in the words of MTV news corresondent, music critic and author Kurt Loder, "Do try to catch it."