Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Revisiting Some 2001's

Usually the wines from the year immediately preceding a great vintage can offer good values for the careful consumer. For example, 2002 was considered to be a great year in Burgundy and in Oregon, and the wines tend to be priced accordingly. In both regions, 2001 was not as highly regarded, particularly difficult in Burgundy where hail and limited sunlight wrecked havoc in certain areas. Wines are generally priced accordingly - in other words - people like you and me might be able to afford wines that are out of range in 2002.

This is a good thing to capitalize on if you keep a cellar of any size, and if there are limits to what you can spend. This idea is applicable in all of the "great" wine regions. The thing is, though, this idea on it's own can actually be dangerous if it leads to wanton buying, to careless consumption. After all, it is a lesser vintage we're talking about, and there is a reason for this. You still have to know what to buy. Some Willamette Valley Oregon Pinots, for example, reflect the low concentration and thin flavor profiles that come with reduced sunlight and heat in August. Same thing in Burgundy. And $40 is still a lot to pay for so-so wine, even if the same wine costs double that in 2002. It's still $40 wasted on so-so wine.

So how should we choose wines from these value vintages, and feel secure about quality? For me, the answer is to stick with producers and vineyards that I typically enjoy, that I trust to make great wine regardless of the quality of the vintage.

Following are my recent experiences tasting two Pinots from 2001, both wines from producers I trust, and in one case, from a vineyard I trust.

Michel Lafarge is a big name in Volnay, and his wines exemplify the silky, seductive, complex essence that Volnay is known for. He makes excellent quality regional and village wines, and two pricey but highly regarded 1er Crus. Take a peek at these notes from Black Ink describing a visit to the Domaine in 2001. Reliable producer? Absolutely. BrooklynLady and I LOVED his village wine, the 2001 Volnay, back in June. So why shouldn't the 1er Cru be excellent, even better? Because it's Burgundy and who knows what the heck is going on over there. Apparently the Clos de Chateaux des Ducs vineyard was hit pretty hard with hail. I actually first tasted the same wine in December, and mentioned it here.

2001 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos du Chateaux des Ducs, (I paid $27 in an online auction, $85 retail, the 2004 costs $98, the 2003 is about $125).

Thin red color with some brick orange at the rim of the glass. Nice aromas of red fruit, some flowers, a little earthiness too. But these aromas dissipate quickly, leaving only an herbal edge on the nose. Candied red fruit flavors and herbs, pleasant for the first half hour or so, then falls off a bit. Not bad, but certainly not recommended. Had I paid retail, I would have been really annoyed. As it is, I could have purchased two bottles of Clos Roche Blanc, or Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine for this $25...My plan is to open my remaining two bottles soon, and in the company of at least 4 people - everyone gets a glass, drink it while it smells and tastes good.

Chehalem is an Oregon Winery known primarily for their outstanding Rieslings, dry and off dry. They also make pretty good Pinot. I first tasted Chehalem wines when BrooklynLady and I visited the Willamette Valley in January of 2005, and I was impressed. There are several cuvees, the one that touched me the most is Corral Creek, a wine made from estate vineyards. The 2001 was delicious back then. Now:

2001 Chehalem Pinot Noir Corral Creek Vineyard, $35.
A little disjointed upon opening. Clear ruby color. Smells of barnyard and some candied red fruit (starting to think that is typical of thin Pinot from difficult vintages), some mushroomy smells too. Flavors took a while to come together, and held up for a short while. But in that window, very nice red fruit balanced with earth and good acidity, some herbal notes on the finish.

Okay, so these didn't show all that well. Even reliable producers and vineyards can show poorly in a tough vintage. I still have faith in this buying strategy, and I plan on applying it to the 2004 vintage in Burgundy. I just got my property tax refund from the city, along with a check that I never expected I would see for work completed back in June. I'm gonna get me a couple of pricey 2004 Burgundies, at what I hope are value vintage prices. Let you know what I get once I'm done.

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