Sunday, May 10, 2009

Overachievers and Underachievers

Last week I had the opportunity to drink some pretty fancy wine. BrooklynLady and I had some out of town (out of country, actually) friends over for dinner and we opened a few nice bottles. And my pal Bruce had a bunch of people over for dinner and selected Burgundy as his wine theme, and he was quite generous with the bottles he opened.

I don't often drink wine of this caliber and I think it can be tricky to evaluate. High expectations can color things. If I'm tasting blind, I can give you my thoughts and there's nothing tricky because I have no idea whether or not I'm supposed to like the wine. But if I open a bottle of 1978 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche with you over dinner, evaluating the wine would be tricky. I hardly ever drink wine of that caliber and I would so very much want to like it. And yet I would have such high expectations, the wine might have to be perfect in order to live up to them. This is purely hypothetical by the way, because I possess no such bottle of '78 Dujac. But you get my point.

Since I am only an occasional drinker of fancy wine, I think it's easiest to evaluate by simply classifying it as an overachiever or an underachiever, or as a wine that performs exactly as it should. The simplicity of this helps me avoid some of the over-thinking and the hype. Here are the fancy bottles I'm talking about from this week, and by fancy I don't necessarily mean expensive, by the way. For me, fancy wine can also be a bottle by an iconic producer whose wines I simply do not often have the opportunity to drink.


1999 Domaine Leroy Meursault - Tough to get a handle on, but with time to re-taste and to think about the wine, it kind of blew me away. It's still a baby with a somewhat disjointed feel, and with almost too-intense acidity. But the fruit is so absolutely crystalline and pure, and the sense of mineral soil is so complete. The wine simply has incredible presence. This is Leroy and it's supposed to be among the very best wines of Burgundy. Is there a finer drinking villages Meursault right now? I don't know. But this one is fantastic, and it will get better. Would I feel the same way If I tasted it blind? I don't know. Not everyone at Bruce's house liked it. In fact, I liked it more than everyone else. I'd take a half case for the cellar and re-visit in 5 years. Provided that I find a thousand dollars on the street, that is.

1997 Champagne Salon
Brut Blanc de Blancs - I drank this at the recent Wilson Daniels tasting. Before I drank it I asked my friend Tista who directs the estate's exports if it is surprising that Salon would make a 1997. "Not at all," he said. "Many top producers in the Côtes des Blancs made vintage wine in 1997." Shows you what I know. Anyway, this is supposed to be great wine - it is Salon. And it really was great - just amazing, with astounding complexity, layers of mineral and fruit, and a truly regal and graceful presence. I'm not sure what could happen to Blanc de Blancs so that it would be better than this. Tista poured me first the wine from the bottom of a bottle that had been open for a few hours, and then sent me off to sit with a glass from a fresh bottle. That was a good morning.

Wines that performed exactly as they should:

1981 López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia - this noble white wine was served blind, as I served all of the wines blind for our out-of-town friends. I was the only one who knew what it was. This was incredibly fresh, utterly defying its 28 years of age. There was a complex interplay of fruit and secondary flavors, a slightly saline and nutty note, and a persistent finish that seemed to offer a replay of each sip in its entirety. Great wine, and it's wine that is supposed to be great. Worth every penny.

2002 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon - Bruce opened this wine alongside the Leroy, and it was more open and ready to drink. It was clean cut and lovely with ripe fruit and bracing acidity, and a strong mineral sense. It is an elegant wine with delicious fruit and bitter herb flavors, and a stony finish that really persists. Which is exactly what I would expect from such an exalted producer.

NV Jose Dhondt Brut Blanc de Blancs - Served blind at our dinner. Tista actually nailed it as being from Oger, which is a little scary. Chalk infused citrus fruit with a lovely sheer texture, great acidity too. Delicious wine, exactly as it should be.


1998 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc - Served blind at our dinner. From the iconic producer in Provence, this wine is a blend of about 47 different grapes. Okay, five grapes, maybe. Not a terribly expensive wine (although Simone has recently gone up in price), but not an easy find either. This was described by one guest as "a good wine, but not a great Simone," and that makes sense to me. I've only had one other Simone Blanc, and I was much more excited that time. This one was so fresh and youthful that it didn't really offer the nuance and complexity that one might want from a 10 year old white wine. It was perfectly good, but not exceptional, and it's supposed to be exceptional.

2002 Nicolas Potel Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots - Let me tell you firstly that everyone else at Bruce's house really liked this wine. And it was, in fact, delicious wine - the nose was quite shy, but the fruit was ripe and dark with lovely floral notes and there was good acidity and balance. What's not to like? Nothing - I liked it too. But to me it is an underachiever in the sense that it just wasn't very complex, and there was little about it that spoke of Vosne-Romanée. That doesn't make it bad wine - as I said, a crowd of people really liked it. But when I spend that kind of dough on a bottle of red Burgundy I'm looking for more of a terroir stamp. I know, I'm a wine curmudgeon.

NV Champagne Lallement Cuvée Réserve Brut Grand Cru - Served blind at our dinner. Perhaps the top producer in Verzenay, Lallement makes tiny quantities of superb wine, based mostly on Pinot Noir. Cuvée Réserve is made from the estate's older vines, 80% Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay, and is a blend of at least two vintages. Which vintages in this case I cannot tell you, as there is no indication on the bottle (honestly - I am SO DONE with producers that will not provide me with proper information on the bottle). I've had great bottles of this wine, and poor bottles, and this was a poor bottle. As Peter Liem, Champagne guru succinctly put it when it was unveiled, "this bottle did not show well at all."


Henri Vasnier said...

Well, the 2002 Vosne is just an infant.

Given that you've described the Lallement as "poor" (and not merely undeveloped, inaccessible, or another symptom of wanting some post-disgorgement aging), I'm going to guess it was corked. The nastiest corked bottles of all are the ones where the TCA is just barely below the threshold at which you can detect it as such - which is still way plenty of TCA to totally kill the fruit. Another possibility, depending on provenance, is that the wine simply wasn't handled appropriately after it left the producer's cellars.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Henri - you are right about the Vosne, although the wine was not shit down.

But the Lallement was most assuredly not corked. I drank it with Peter and Tista, among others, who both can detect even minute amounts of TCA in Champagne. It was just a poor bottle, and those happen, as you know.

borismaskow said...

it's true, don't underestimate the 1997 vintage, just because the big players did not succeed