This site has provided me with a wealth of new friends, but it has also connected me with old ones. Some, from my high school days, have found their way here after searching for my name. Others have jumped to this page from somewhere else, recognizing my face as they landed.
My friend Fred, whom I know from my days at BMUG, found his way here and dropped me a note to say hello. He, too, has been bitten by the food and wine bug, and he recently sent me an invitation to a tasting at his house. His friend would be pouring older and newer vintages of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and did I want to come? I jumped at the chance to taste these legendary wines, bottles from one of the most famous producers in one of the world's most famous wine regions.
Old wines, the good ones anyway, present a rare treat; you've probably heard "wine is a living thing" from wine lovers like me, but an old bottle drives the point home better than a thousand blog posts. The fruity aromas of youth fall off and become something new and extraordinary, something that you wouldn't have predicted: They're so different that wine geeks reserve the word "bouquet" for these scents. Of course they can also be a crap shoot. A 40-year-old wine has four decades of potential mishandling under its capsule. Maybe the wine wasn't stored well for some portion of its life. Maybe the cork allowed a little too much air into the bottle. Until you sip the wine, which no doubt cost you a pretty penny, you don't know what you'll get.
Here are my tasting notes for the evening. The whites were all Château de Beaucastel Roussane Vielle Vignes. The reds were the Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the same winery. Beaucastel uses more Mourvedre than other producers in the region, but other than that the grapes could be any of the 13 allowed in the appellation. However, It's a safe bet that there's some Grenache in there, as well as Syrah, and probably Cinsault. (Note: Beaucastel also flash heats the grapes to 176° Fahrenheit before pressing, which they claim extracts more flavor and color and allows them to press without sulfur.)
1988 - My goodness, I love white wines that age well. This well-balanced favorite of the evening was a charming mix of mature and young, like a bank executive with a giggle. The wine still had a thick, clear edge with a well of light gold in the center, but the nose had the heady wax aromas of bottle age. I teased out subtle tropical fruit aromas and a soft stoniness. "Wow!" say my notes of the ferocious acidity that hit my tongue, a refreshing quality I might have expected from a bottle just out of the winery's cellar. Flavors of wax and stone lingered for a nice long finish. But don't let this wine sit in a glass for too long, as its flavor fades fast.
1999 - This wine was more restrained than its older brother, offering subtle aromas of wax and smoke, and an almost watery body, with modest acidity. I didn't find it very exciting.
2004 - I liked this young wine, which had an aroma I often get from German wines and which I write down as Honey Nut Cheerios. I also noticed a slight cheese aroma. The light-bodied wine has a menthol quality on the midpalate, with a nice long finish that has just a hint of the waxy aroma that so dominated the '88.
1966 - My favorite red of the evening was an Energizer Bunny of a wine. Even after an hour in the glass, the wine's complex nose oozed salumi, offal, and paprika. There was a funky smell—I wrote "skunky, but in a nice way"—that defied easy description, as most complex wines do. The wine still had a good acidity, and not surprisingly the tannins had become feather-light over the last 40 years. The flavor was as complex as the nose, adding a mushroom finish as a final flourish.
1978 - "Burnt coffee" was a dominant comment from the tasters at my table, even from the one coffee hater in the group, me. As with the 1966, I got salumi aromas, which might come from Brettanomyces, or "brett" for short, a yeast that produces "barnyard" scents. These can add complexity in small amounts, but in large quantities are usually considered a fault. The finish for this wine had a bit of vanilla, but mostly a strong mineral element. Great acidity and solid tannins suggest that it still has room to mature.
1985 - Speaking of brett, this wine had plenty, though it never crossed into unpleasantness. In fact, I gave it a +, my "this is a good wine" mark—the 1966 got a *. Sweat, leather, and salumi all showed up in the aromas, alongside a warm earthiness. The wine still had nice fruit, tasting of baked cherry with subtle leather. Mild tannins and only a decent acidity make me wonder how much longer this wine will mature.
1990 - Add more brett to the mix as this wine opened. But the first sniff was all smoke and meat, with a leathery flavor. The tannins were still quite strong, though not in an unbalanced way, and the finish held both mushrooms and the heat of slightly unbalanced alcohol. Regardless, it warranted a +.
1995 - This relatively young wine had aromas of raisins and dust. I thought I noted a hint of volatile acidity, but I left it with a question mark, never able to recover the vinegar or ethyl acetate aromas I first noticed. Flavors of smoke and wintergreen faded to a meaty finish. Interesting enough on first sip, the wine lost all its character within an hour of being poured into the glass. A stark contrast to the 1966, which was still delicious.
2001 - Lots and lots of raisins and strawberry jam—"Don't you mean raspberry?" joked the young woman next to me—dominate the nose, though forest floor and pine contribute in subtle ways. On the other hand, flavors of dried cranberry and button mushrooms came through on the palate, ending in a raisiny, hot finish. There's good structure here, so maybe I'll tell you what it tastes like in 40 years.
Labels: Wine Tasting Note, Wine Wine Wine