As is becoming an annual event, the Denver crew got together for a blind tasting of a mix of old-world and new-world Rhone varietals – this year, Grenache. As is common with Grenache, most were blends of some sort, and one, the 2007 Saxum James Berry, had only 41% Grenache, yet it is still the primary component of the wine. I also wanted to compare two wines from Sine Qua Non from the same vintage, one ‘regular,’ one ‘Estate.’ (Manfred Krankl has been distancing himself from the designation ‘Extended Barrel Aged,’ as he has expressed that he wouldn’t hesitate to decrease the barrel aging on any future wine, if he thought it would be appropriate for that, given wine.)
The wines received anywhere from 2 hours decanting to 5+, depending on the wine, and I wanted them to still be opening (i.e., ‘on the way up’) during the tasting. I think I was pretty close on all but the 2004 Montsant Espectacle. Each wine got its own glass, allowing the tasters to move with absolute freedom between the wines. They were tasted single-blind to me; to everyone else, they began knowing only that they were all Grenache-based; then everyone learned the wines included, but not which glass; then we did the complete reveal.
Wine #1: Clearly an ‘old-school’ nose, full of earth and wool. Lightest color by far – rather transparent, in fact. Palate is wonderfully plush and well-rounded with ample blackberry and raspberry fruits, also just a hint of briariness, but the feature here is a sexy spiciness, creating an overall impression that is simultaneously delicate and voluptuous, like a ballerina with curves. Also a true chameleon with the food. Definitely outstanding, perhaps border-line classic. Guys with old-world palates (like Sandy Fitzgerald and pilot360) liked it even more than I. I think we all figured this one out: 1998 Clos des Papes CdP
Wine #2: I got lots of clay on the nose, which made me think it was the Montsant. The palate was fairly soft, but oddly a bit hollow in the mid-palate. Overall a very good wine that simply didn’t get much attention, due to the company on the table; maybe border-line outstanding. I guessed wrong, but RonBurgundy got it right: 2004 Torbreck Les Amis
Wine #3: Started out tight, but opened up to a nice balance of new- and old-world characteristics. Fairly dense black fruits and an exceedingly long, saturating finish. The nose was not nearly as explosive or as impressive as the palate, but this wine seems to be at the beginning of a very promising future. I loved it; classic IMO. In the end, it was clear that this had more in common with #1 than anything else on the table. I think Jeb Dunnuck called it first, and we all came to agree before revealing the wine: 2003 Pégaü, CdP Cuvée Réservée
Wine #4: From the outset, this seemed to be the star of the evening to me. A gorgeous nose of raspberry cobbler, kirsch, anise, and subtle herbs lead to a palate that is smooth and harmonious, reflecting the nose and adding a notion of grilled meat and pepper. Clearly new-world, but remarkably agile on the palate for the volume of the fruit. Even old-world lovers like Sandy Fitzgerald seemed to be won over by this. A complete package that is ready to drink now, but should age effortlessly at least for the mid-term. Way classic, IMHO, and it seemed to be a consensus WOTN, though some mentioned it wasn’t as good with the food; I thought it was great with my flank steak. I guessed correctly, but some others were thrown off by the statistics (despite spending 32 months in oak, this wine shows very little evidence of it): 2006 Sine Qua Non Grenache In the Crosshairs
Wine #5: This wine seemed enigmatic in every way to me. Very-tightly wound, but not overly tannic. Nose was completely reticent. All I can say is let it sit a long time, and see. I was afraid this might be a shut-down Saxum or a dead Les Amis, since I was convinced #2 was the Spanish wine; either way, I was wrong: 2004 Montsant Espectacle
Wine #6: Gorgeous, open nose with lifted dark fruits, reflected as well on the palate. Fairly complex with a nice balance of berry, grilled meat, and subtle pepper on the palate that show nice delineation, yet the overall impression is well harmonized. Easily classic IMHO. I had tasted this wine six months ago, and I was certain: 2006 Sine Qua Non Grenache The Raven
Wine #7: To my nose and palate, this was the biggest, densest wine of the evening, with powerful blackberry, anise, pepper, and hints of smoke and chocolate. Remarkably, the wine avoids feeling heavy on the palate. Not quite as well delineated as #6, but there’s no doubt that there’s more ‘stuffing’ here. Way classic, IMHO. This welcomed lots of swirling, and it evolved positively the whole evening. Undoubtedly promising for the long haul, yet it’s so delicious now: 2007 Saxum James Berry Vineyard
We started the evening with the 2007 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Mount Carmel, which I think shows the best aspects of the new wave of less-oaked CA Chards: great, dense fruit, but ample mineral with a hint of funk - outstanding. We followed up the tasting with Chambers’ NV Rare Muscadelle. Despite the love these get from critics, I can’t help feeling that they’re dramatically under-appreciated by most wine lovers. Fantastic coffee, fig, maple and vanilla flavors accompany chocolate like no other dessert wine I know – even better than tawny port! Even davec, who professes not to like dessert wines, thought it was pretty good! This bottle wasn’t quite as dense or complex as a bottle I had four years ago, but it was still classic IMO!
Thanks to all who attended. I simply must say it again: I feel fortunate and blessed to have such a fantastic group of wine lovers with whom to enjoy this past-time! Egos and attitudes are never a problem, which allows the joy in this pursuit to be unfettered. Thank you, gentlemen.