Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rhode Island Wine Weekend, Part II

We drank Bordeaux on the first night, and it was a first growth kind of evening. This is because the guys we were hanging out with have been collecting wine for a long while, and they are generous people who derive pleasure from sharing cellar gems with friends.

The lineup:

1994 Château Laville Haut-Brion.
1966 Château Haut-Brion.
1970 Château Haut-Brion.
1975 Château Mouton Rothschild.
1980 Château Margaux.

Are you kidding me? Fugedaboudit.

I have so little experience with wines like these - with every sniff and sip I am experiencing new thoughts. And on this night, we also drank a great California wine. A bit younger than the Bordeaux wines, but a great wine nonetheless. The 1991 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. If California used such a system, this surely would be a first growth wine. We drank it last, and it was fascinating to compare it with the other wines.

First, there was this utterly stunning white wine. White Bordeaux is not something that I come across very often. This is as good as White Bordeaux gets, according to the Bordeaux cognoscenti. I've had Laville Haut-Brion one time before, the 1993 vintage, and it thrilled me. This one, the 1994, equally so. It really takes a while to open up and get going though. We saved a third of the bottle and 2 hours or so later on went back to it, and the wine was so much more energetic, pungent in its aromas, and vibrant on the palate. The particular combination of smells and tastes are unfamiliar to me - things like honeycomb and orange oil and lemon sherbert, all atop a subtle backbone of stone. Semillon is a strange grape. And this expression of Sauvignon Blanc, this is not something that you'll find elsewhere. The wine was fantastic, and a rare and true joy to drink.

We drank 1980 Château Margaux. It was ridiculously good. One of our party was absolutely smitten with this wine, and he smiled and said to everyone who walked by, including waitstaff and other random patrons of the restaurant, "Hey - want to taste the best wine in the world?" It was sweet, because when they inevitably said "well, that does indeed sound good," he would pour them a taste.

This wine was 33 years old, give or take, and it was fresh as a daisy. The fruit is still vibrant and sweet. The wine was knit together perfectly, with a rich bouquet of fruit and flowers, and although it felt exuberant, it was also entirely focused and perfectly harmonious in its balance.

We drank the 1970 Château Haut-Brion. The 1966 was flawed. Not corked, but green and weird and entirely unappealing. But let's focus on the good news though, shall we? The 1970 was as great a Bordeaux wine as any I've ever tasted (not that that's saying all that much). There was less fruit, which makes sense - the wine is 11 years older. But somehow the wine felt more complete to me, even more perfect, if possible. The nose was just a grand thing, pointless to try and describe it. Full of energy, great depth and complexity, and a minerality that was so intense it practically shimmered. I know why our pal at the table was calling the Margaux "the best wine in the world." And I cannot say that one was better than the other because I do not possess the experience necessary to make such a statement. But I did agree with one friend at the table who said "I might have an affair with the Margaux, but I would marry the Haut-Brion."

1975 Château Mouton Rothschild was a very fine wine, but it suffered for its company. Next to phenomenal wines like the Margaux and Haut-Brion, to me it simply was outclassed. Not that Mouton wasn't good, it's just that those other two were ridiculously great. I would be curious to drink it again on its own (or next to some less illustrious wines), as in this company it seemed to have less breadth, less overall impact.

By the way, the chef prepared Beef Wellington for us to enjoy with our fine old clarets. I'm still not sure how this happened, but I now speak with a British accent. Could you tell from reading this that I have an accent now?

And then, we drank 1991 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. It was my first taste, as far as I can recall, of Dunn. Everyone at the table - everyone, spoke very highly of the producer, saying that the wine maker Randy Dunn does everything the right way, and that this is one of the great wines of California. And the wine was great, it really was. And I loved it. Again, I cannot say anything worth listening to about relative quality, that Dunn was better or worse than Haut-Brion, for example. But I can tell you what I learned by drinking them together.

Haut-Brion's beauty, to me, comes from its complete and perfect harmony. The component parts are gorgeous - the fruit is pure and delicious, and musky in its age. The minerals shimmer, the finish has a life of its own. And the overall effect is of great intensity, showcasing all of the component parts, and also somehow this quiet sort of harmony. Dunn, and we are talking about a wine that is twenty-one (21) years younger here, does not feel to me as though it will ever have a quiet aspect to it, the way Haut-Brion, or even the more seductive and charismatic Margaux, are quiet.

Dunn's fruit was darker, more brambly, and the acidity was younger, more intense. The thing that stuck out for me, however, was the structure - Dunn was structured differently from the Bordeaux wines. It has bigger bones, literally. The wine is built on a larger frame and then the fruit that goes on that frame is bigger. It's like comparing an offensive lineman with a tight-end. They play the same game, and at times perform similar functions. They can both be great football players. But in the end, they are best at doing different things, and maybe this fascination with declaring one as better than the other is misguided. We are luckly to have both. Especially on a gorgeous summer night in Rhode Island, with friends.


Winey The Elder said...

You are very lucky man with very generous friends. I enjoy your unpretentious style. Thanks for offering a glimpse of wines that i will likely never experience.


Do Bianchi said...

wow dude... and here I thought I was all cool and shit tasting a 2005 Laville Haut Brion! ;) very cool post... happy end of summer!