Thursday, May 29, 2008

The greatest wine experience of my life

I am only recently come down from the clouds - Friday night (5/23/08) I held the most perfect tasting of my life (thus far). A lineup of eight wines - some more ordinary than others, but each in its way a delight - each enjoyed by everyone in a delightful company of friends, and with a nice assortment of very good cheeses. A situation where the whole was infinitely more than the sum of its parts - I can hardly imagine a more perfect evening of wine tasting. This may very well be the standard by which I judge all other tastings for the rest of my life - not simply the wines, but the experience. And the featured wine of the evening - from my grandmother's birthyear, a wine I know, beyond a doubt, will stand among the very most memorable of my life.

The evening consisted of three 'mini-tastings,' which, although apparently only loosely connected, providing a perfect progression.

Sauvignon Blanc: one wine from each of my three favorite regions for the grape, providing an excellent illustration of the differences between them.

Delaille, Domaine du Salvard, Cheverny 2007
Grapefruit, ripe peach, kiwi, and gooseberry, with touches of mineral and vegetal notes. Exactly what I look for in Loire Sauvignon: focused, elegant, and light-on-its-feet, yet with depth. Under $15, and a good value. Excellent (87 - 90).

Nobilo, Sauvignon Blanc, Regional Collection, Marlborough 2007 (New Zealand)
Nice nose of high-quality fruit cocktail. Grapefruit, fresh peach, tropical fruits, and gooseberry, with bell pepper. Generous acidity. Archtypical Marlborough, with oodles of fresh, ripe, exuberant fruit. Completely consistent with previous tasting. Around $10, and a great value. Excellent (87 - 90).

Cono Sur, Sauvignon Blanc, 20 Barrels Limited Edition, Casablanca Valley 2006 (Chile)
Sea air, pear, green melon, citrus, and black pepper. Subtle and complex. Somewhat atypical for Chilean Sauvignon, but in a most interesting way. Excellent / Exceptional (89 - 91)

White Bordeaux: first a nice dry example, with 50% Sauvignon providing a nice transition from the previous flight, while at the same time setting up for the the remarkable pair of Sauternes to follow.

Chateau Bonnet, Entre-Deux-Mers 2006
Citrus, apple, honey, and fig. Nice acidity, and with enough depth to avoid being 'just another white.' Bonnet's whites seem to be quite reliable. Around $10, and a very good value. 50% Sauvignon, 40% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88).

Chateau Coutet, Barsac 1928
Labeled 'Haut-Barsac.' Mid-shoulder fill. Distinguished, warm, dark bronze / mahogany color. Top 1/3 of the cork blackened with age. On first try, only 2/3 of the cork came out. Then using a metal skewer and piercing through the bottom of the cork, a slight hiss of air rushing into a vacuum - after 80 years, the seal was still perfect! Served moderately chilled. In the glass, perhaps the most remarkable nose I have ever encountered: intense, rich, warm nose of fruitcake, apricot, and red raspberry. On the palate, more layers of complexity than one can fully describe in words. Pruney apricot, hints of still fresh pear and even tropical fruits, with red raspberry, and orange. Warm, richly honeyed and still luscious, with loads of intense (but not unpleasant) botrytis nutmeg/mace/brown spice on the finish. Open and wonderful from the first sip, but got even better as it warmed and opened further. Some qualities similar to a fine sherry, but much more fresh - after 80 years, still proudly and unmistakably a Sauternes. Still showing everything I love in Sauternes, but with previously unimagined layers of depth and complexity added (the only other wine I've had with this level of complexity is the Krug NV). Far exceeding expectations, not just a privilege but a once-in-a-lifetime pleasure to drink, with no allowances for age necessary, and making every other wine I've had seem ordinary. With still intense structure but remarkable balance, this is a wine that should make its centennial with pleasures to spare. I wouldn't push it beyond that, but even now it's longevity is far, far beyond complaint. It saddens me greatly that I am not likely ever to encounter this wine again. It will forever command an exalted place in my memory. Exceptional / Extraordinary (92 - 94) for the wine itself, with no allowance for age necessary; for the experience, Perfection (99 - 100)

Chateau Coutet, Barsac 1997
Perfect fill. Lightly-bronzed gold in color. Surprisingly similar to the 1928 (tasted just before) in character. Apricots, pear/tropicals, orange, and even a touch of red raspberry, with minerals notes as well. Honeyed and with nice botrytis spice (but neither nearly as much as in the 1928). But make no mistakes, this is an exceptionally good wine, in some respects even exceeding the 1928, but in others nowhere near it. Still a bit too young, needing at least 5 more years, and I expect it to last another 10 - 20 years total. Exceptional (90 - 93), almost Extraordinary (93 - 95) and will improve.

Port: a hugely surprising white Port providing a perfect transition from the Sauternes before it, before finish the night with an outstanding single-quinta.

Ramos Pinto, Lagrima, Porto NV
Lemon, honey, apricots, and even a touch of pear, with a distinct note of brandy. Fresh and very sweet. Remarkably similar in profile to the 1997 Coutet tasted before it. The biggest surprise of evening, and laughing heartily in the face of the mostly disparaging opinion of white Port that seems to prevail. And given that it can be found for under $15, and absolutely no more than $20, the most amazing value I have ever encountered. Best while young and fresh, I suspect. Extraordinary (93 - 95)

Ramos Pinto, Quita de Ervamoira, Porto 2004
Openned for breathing 14 hours before serving, and decanted 5 hours before serving. Consistent with my previous tasting, with dark, rich chocolate, loads of dark berries and prunes, and on this tasting, even showing some touches of red fruit. Powerful yet perfectly balanced. Surprisingly, especially given the amount of time it had to breath, not as open or opulent as previously. All the same, will benefit tremendously from 10 more years, and should last 10 - 20 years after that. Still outstanding, and may yet merit my original, highly enthusiastic rating with time. Outstanding (95 - 97), but may very well be Incredible (97 - 99) with time.

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