Friday, June 3, 2011

An Epic Wine Tasting

A group of friends and I got together at Palena in Washington, DC, to celebrate Brett's 30th birthday, a friend and long-time wine drinking buddy. Bottles were opened, bliss ensued. Almost every wine was incredible. I would've been happy just sipping any one of these wines on a Sunday afternoon, but to taste them all together was truly a remarkable experience. This has to be one of the best tastings I've been to in a long time. I loved the blend of Old World and New World wines. This tasting also marks the beginning of what I hope will be a long love affair with Cameron wines. Happy birthday, Brett! Thanks so much for organizing this and providing these incredible wines.

The night started with some gorgeous Champagne, paired with "fritto misto," a blend of delicious fried fish, shrimp, cheese, onions, calamari and even fried lemons, which was a first for me.

1998 Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut - France, Champagne - the first wine of the night was one i had earlier this year and loved. i loved it even more this time. the aromatics are enchanting: almond shell, lemon zest, sea air. it's so fresh, but shows some of those more intriguing aromas of aged champagne. the acid on the palate is ripping, but it's balanced by superb yeastiness. bright lemons, granny smith apples, lemon-lime, and a bit of a nuttiness as well. the finish is gorgeous. (92 pts.)

N.V. Ruinart Champagne Brut Rosé - France, Champagne - gorgeous strawberry color in the glass with fine bubbles. strawberry, minerals and a bit of fall leaves on the nose. starts off rich on the palate with watermelon and wild strawberries, then there's a rush of acid. the finish is above average. this is a fine, easy drinking champagne. (89 pts.)

2004 Vilmart Champagne Brut Premier Cru Grand Cellier Rubis - France, Champagne - this rose champagne really amazed me. so unique, from the pour to the finish. light strawberry color. for the light color, the nose is full of cherry skins, raspberries and a distinct mushroom aroma. the palate is rich and gorgeous. melon fruit on the palate, but the most intriguing flavor is this kind of dark cherry extract. it reminds me of kasteel rouge, which is a beer blended with pure cherry juice. the purity of this dark fruit flavor is incredible. but the richness is equally matched with searing acid. the finish is incredibly long. one of the best rose champagnes i've had in....? (93 pts.)


Three gorgeous expressions of the chardonnay grape.

2001 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru - nose of almond shells, golden pear and nectarine. the palate is rich, but zesty as well. golden apples, mixed nuts, honey and pears. long finish laced with minerals and a hint of sherry. this is in a really great place right now. i think this could improve for another year or two, but it's definitely singing right now. (92 pts.)

2005 François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru - aromas of lemon spray, lamp oil and lanolin. just gorgeous on the nose. the palate is plump and starts off with flowers and lemons. that transitions into caramel, homenycomb and more lemons. it feels dense on the palate, heavy even. this is an intense wine, no doubt about it. this wine is great, but it has the potential to be even better. it needs time to come together and show its full power. i would've felt bad drinking it so young, but it was too delicious. (91 pts.)

2008 Cameron Chardonnay Blanc Clos Electrique - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills - this is truly an amazing chardonnay. it is complex, bold, sexy but also balanced. the nose is a massive burst of pineapple and lime juice. it kind of smells like someone poured a salty margarita on top of cotton candy. the sweet fruit is by no means overwhelming, indeed everyone at the table loved this wine, even those who are not fans of riper chardonnays. the palate is silky, creamy and alive. lime and honeydew flavors glide across the palate, highlighted by vanilla extract, pear butter and lemon drops. the focus and intensity of this wine is astounding. great acid lingers on the long finish. no oak here, but a richness that almost reminds me of a kind of neutral oak aging, although i'm not sure. this is the best chardonnay from oregon i've ever had, and it's way up there on the list of best chardonnays i've ever had. (96 pts.)

Old World Whites
Brett and I have always been kindred spirits when it comes to unique white wines from the Old World, especially the Loire. He truly wowed me with these three incredible selections. I was excited about the Spanish chenin blanc, as I've never had a really serious one before.

2000 Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée de Serrant - France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières-Coulée de Serrant - amazing golden color. a wonderfully executed attack of aromas: peach rings, honey, oil, orange rinds and white tea. so joly. just classic. on the palate this is rich, creamy and fat, but balanced with solid acid. it kind of tastes like someone melted butter with orange zest and some spices and poured it on an apricot. golden krisp cereal, chammomile and licorice. the finish is long and very complex. my fourth or fifth time with joly's clos de coulée de serrant. they're always unique, and this is no exception. the sweet apricot and melted sugar flavors lead me to believe this has a bit of botrytis. (93 pts.)

2006 Celler Escoda-Sanahuja Conca de Barberà Els Bassots - Spain, Catalunya, Tarragona, Conca de Barberà - if the 2000 joly coulee de serrant is the ramones, then this spanish chenin blanc is the sex pistols. i feel like this producer was inspired by joly and attempted to do what joly did. of course, it's not the same, and it's not as good, but it's still really intriguing. medium yellow color with a lot of cloudiness in the glass. the nose smells like someone tried to burn a bunch of walnut shells. there's definitely a bit of rubber tire here too, which is interesting considering this wine is made without sulfites. the palate tastes like smoked salmon. seriously. simultaneously odd and awesome. then take that smoked salmon and pour lemon juice and pears on it. what a freak of a wine. there's a very distinct dried mango and kosher salt flavor on the finish. this is some crazy stuff, but i like it a lot. (90 pts.)

1981 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja - this white rioja is almost orange in color at this point in its evolution. the nose shows honey nut cheerios, caramel apples and some sherry. the palate is rich and bold with honeyed pears, graham crackers, caramel apple. but i found the acid to be fresh and lively. only slightly oxidized, and i think it really increases the complexity of this wine. this wine seemed so young. i couldn't believe it was 30 years old. still going strong, this was indeed a memorable wine for a memorable event. (92 pts.)

Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique Vertical
This was my first time with Cameron pinots, and to be able to taste three vintages next to each other was great. It really showed the character of the vintages and gives some indication of how these wines age. This is such a great style of pinot. Brett's the Willamette Valley expert, and this is one of his favorite producers. These 2006 (and now the 2008) Clos Electrique blanc hooked me on Cameron, and these pinots have solidified this producer's spot at the top of my best of Oregon list.

2004 Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley - black cherry, red raspberry on the nose, along with an aroma that really reminds me of a great muffaletta sandwich. it's got that green olive and oil aroma, but there's also an aroma of cured meat. gliding, silky, sexy fruit on the palate. red licorice, cranberry, raspberry and sweet pipe tobacco. rich, but laced with minerals and a streak of red meat. a hint of bitter chocolate comes out on the finish, which is incredibly long. my favorite wine of the bunch. i love this for its mouthfeel, silkiness and the purity of the fruit flavors. great stuff that will surely improve with years. (94 pts.)

2005 Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley - what a difference from the 04! the nose on this shows bacon, black pepper, cranberries and pickles. the acid is higher. still rich with fruit, almost milky mouthfeel. i got a bit more grilled meat on thte 05, which i like. amazing wine. (93 pts.)

2006 Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley - i've heard it described as "cameron funk," but for me the aroma is more like smoked meat and charcoal, which is really evident on this nose. this wine is so rich and its youth shows. so ripe and rich, even for me. chewy, meaty tannins. i loved this pickle flavor that stuck around behind the plums and milk chocolate-covered cherries. long finish. this needs time, but it's absolutely gorgeous. (92 pts.)

Old World Reds
My palate still had some strength left, which was good because these Old World reds were great. It would've been better to taste these before the Camerons, but I'm no purist when it goes to arranging flights. I was happy to taste these oldies but goodies.

1981 Domaine Tempier Bandol - France, Provence, Bandol - this unfortunately didn't show too well. still interesting though. it's light brick color. pepperoni, beef heart and tomatoe paste on the nose. the palate is overhwelming with this spicy tomatoe paste flavor. some meat drippings, too. it really collapses on the finish though. (85 pts.)

1981 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja - this 30-year-old wine showed wonderfully. the nose is an interesting blend of cherry compote and tomatoe paste. the palate still maintains richness. the flavors are exquisite: garlic pickles, tobacco, rich cherries and mushrooms. the finish is long and those aged red fruit and earth flavors linger. i would've loved to have this wine alone over the course of a full day and see what happened to it. (91 pts.)

1999 Chateau Musar - Lebanon, Bekaa Valley - i believe this was my first experience with a red musar, and it was definitely a memorable one. nose of raspberry, cinnamon and braised pork. the palate is lush but powerful. the cherry skins and pomegranate flavors are backed up by white pepper, forest floor. long finish. showing very well and will continue to do so for a long time. i can't imagine what this was like upon release! (91 pts.)

Yes, Still Drinking
My note-taking abilities became... let's say a bit impaired by this point. I'm leaving off a wine or two that I don't think I got to taste.

2007 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah The Contender - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley - a stunner of a syrah. i would've been happy with just this wine all night, it's just so delicious. dark purple color. the nose shows toasted marshmallows, blackberries and blueberry pie. the palate is huge, but sexy. dark fruit gallore, hints of smoked meat, great tannic structure, impeccable balance, long finish. everything i love in a walla walla syrah and then some. (93 pts.)

2005 Linden Vidal Late Harvest - USA, Virginia, Northern Region - very aromatic, showing honeysuckle and white flowers. not as much acid as i'd like, but the rich apricot and honey flavors are great. (88 pts.)

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