October 24th, 2013
Reported by Alexandre Desbarats
On a chilly autumn night, an eager group of Guild members joined Guild Director Larry Woods for a tasting of 15 wines featured in the October 26, 2013 Vintages Release. The wines were served in four flights and, as usual, they were tasted blind.
The group got down to business with a flight of two very distinct whites. The first was the Elk Grove Pinot Gris 2012 from the Willamette Valley. According to my notes, it was a very pale yellow with intense grapefruit, mineral and hay on the nose. The Vintages catalogue, on the other hand, describes the wine as having a scent of apple blossoms. It had a pleasing, fresh acidity and I agree with the catalogue in that respect. This was definitely a Pinot Gris more in the Italian than Alsatian style. Harvey Steiman (Wine Spectator) gave it a 90; Wine and Spirits a 92. The second white brought happy smiles of recognition to many in the group. If its soft golden hue didn’t give it away, then its typical varietal flavours of lychee and rosewater removed all doubt. The wine was full-bodied, maybe a bit off-dry but nicely balanced. Of course, this could only be the Joseph Cattin Hatschbourg Gewurztraminer 2010 from Alsace. Roger Voss (Wine Enthusiast) rated it a 90. The group was evenly split as to preference between these two wines, but both were deemed excellent.
The second flight consisted of an eclectic suite of three reds. Leading off was the Evening Land Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011. A medium- pale ruby, it showed a strong nose of strawberry, pomegranate and barnyard, good varietal character, in other words. It was light bodied, with supple tannins, balanced acidity and a longish finish. I thought it was quite a decent Pinot Noir but the group voted it as least favourite of the flight. The second wine was a pale mahogany in colour with plenty of sediment. It had enigmatic flavours of dark fruit, tea, cedar and vanilla. It was medium-light bodied, very dry, with firm tannins and a long finish. Despite its unprepossessing over-the-hill appearance, it was narrowly voted favourite of the flight. I certainly liked it. As to the wine’s identity, most of the group was stumped. I was embarrassingly off-target. However, one Guild member nailed the varietal as Nebbiolo. The tea was the clue. In fact this wine was a Travaglini Gattinara 2000 from our host’s private collection. Thank you, Larry, for sharing! The 2007 vintage of the same wine was featured in the October 26, 2013 Vintages Release. The third and most seductive wine of the flight was a dark ruby with intense sweet fruit, vanilla and oak spice on the nose replayed on the palate. It was dry, full-bodied, and almost jammy but with well-defined tannins and a long finish. A close second favourite, this wine was the Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2005. John Szabo (Winealign.com) gave it a 91. At $20.95, it certainly represents good value and I picked up a bottle on the day of the release.
The pièce de résistance of the evening was the third flight consisting of no less than five reds in the Bordeaux style. First up was the Château La Couronne 2010, a Saint-émilion Grand Cru. The Vintages catalogue describes it as offering a richly intense and complex nose with a wealth of black fruit, cherry, cedar, vanilla, leather, toffee and violet notes. On that basis, I had circled it as a pick for release day. Unfortunately, I think it is fair to say that it did not live up to expectations, being the favourite of only one member of the group. Understated or closed would be more diplomatic descriptors, perhaps, because the wine needed more aeration. The second wine, on the other hand, was the “sleeper of flight” and the favourite of the group by a considerable margin. At $19.95 it also represented excellent value. It was the Merlot-based Montagne Saint-émilion Château Maison Neuve 2010. An opaque ruby- garnet, it was a rich full-bodied wine with an intense nose of plum, coffee, cedar, vanilla and oak; almost new-world in style. I scored two bottles at the release! The third wine of the flight was a dark garnet, showing sweet dark fruit, cocoa, vanilla and oak spice. It was dry, full-bodied, with supple tannins and a bit of heat. I guessed correctly (for once) that it was a new-world merlot, the Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills Merlot 2010 to be precise. Although the favourite of only four members of the group, it was an excellent wine nonetheless. Number four in the flight was the Château La Vieille Forge Lalande de Pomerol 2010. The Vintages catalogue describes its intense aromas and flavours of ripe blueberry, cedar, spice and vanilla. I noted its elegant old-world style but otherwise I found it rather dull. Others disagreed however, and it was the second favourite of the flight with 5 votes. Bringing up the rear was the Saint-émilion Grand Cru La Fleur Chazal 2010. This was a very decent wine in an old-world style emphasizing structure and balance, but it failed to sway the group, being the favourite of only one member. Most likely it just needs time.
The four wines of the last flight were also Bordeaux blends. The Château Castaing Côtes de Bourg 2010 is described in the Vintages catalogue as showing “rich notes of cassis, red fruit and spice with leather and herbal tones adding depth and complexity”. I searched my glass in vain for these characteristics although the wine possessed an undeniable elegance. James Molesworth of the Wine Spectator (as quoted in the catalogue) notes the greater structure in tannins and acidity of the 2010 Bordeaux compared to the 2009s and he suggests that such wines are well- suited for long-term cellaring. I believe that several wines of the evening reflected such traits. The second wine of the flight offered more in terms of instant gratification. This was the Château Lacombe Noaillac Médoc 2010. Full-bodied and smooth, this wine was a lovely dark garnet with an intense nose of sweet dark fruit, coffee and vanilla. It received a special commendation at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards and among the group it was a co-favourite of the flight. The next wine was something of a mystery. It was dark purple with an intense nose of spiced plum compote and unusual, but not unpleasant grapey notes. It turned out to be the Château Smith Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Not a bad wine in itself but short on varietal character in my opinion. The last wine of the flight, and co- favourite of the group, was the Château Larose-Trintaudon Haut- Médoc 2010. It was a dark purple full-bodied wine with sweet tannins and an intense nose of blackberry jam, vanilla and notes of oak spice. Parker gave it an 89. Although I must admit to enjoying this wine, it does give some credence to French mutterings about the “Parkerization” of Bordeaux.
The tasting concluded with the Château Fontaine Sauternes 2010. It was a lovely deep yellow with luscious flavours of golden delicious apples, apricots and ginger balanced by fresh acidity. This wine represents extremely good value for Sauternes, and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all. On that sweet final note, the group thanked our server Jamie and our host Larry Woods for leading us on a wonderful and instructive tour of old- and new- world Bordeaux blends.
- Elk Grove Vineyards Pinot Gris, 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, #955906, $24.95
- Joseph Cattin Hatschbourg Gewûrztraminer, 2010, Alsace Grand Cru, #259770, $19.95
- Evening Land Pinot Noir, 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon, #333252, $33.95
- Travaglini Gattinara, 2007, Gattinara, Italy, #713354, $29.95
- Coto de Imaz Reserva, 2005, Rioja, Spain, #023762, $20.95
- Château La Couronne, 2010, Saint-émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, #606640, $24.95
- Château de Maison Neuve, 2010, Montagne Saint-émilion, Bordeaux, #351965, $19.95
- Columbia Crest, H3 Merlot, 2010, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State, #209874, $21.95
- Château La Vieille Forge, 2010, Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux, #348664, $23.95
- La Fleur Chazal, 2010, Saint- émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, #348573, $28.95
- Château Castaing, 2010, Côtes de Bourg, Bordeaux, #206631, $17.95
- Château Lacombe Noaillac, 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, #199091, $18.95
- Château Smith Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State, #280107, $24.95
- Château Larose-Trintaudon, 2010, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, #297945, $26.95
- Château Fontaine, 2010, Sauternes, Bordeaux, #199158, $16.95 (375 mL)