Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Gem Tasting

One of the best parts about being a wine lover is having the opportunity to share your wine with close friends. That has been the idea behind my wine tasting group’s Gem Tastings. Once a year, we all get together and bring a bottle (or two) we consider to be a "gem." There is no objective criteria for what makes a bottle of wine a gem. It's not about price point, or how high Wine Spectator or Robert Parker scored the wine. It’s about personal preference, rarity, uniqueness, and the desire to share a special bottle with other people who would appreciate it.

After much planning, we finally got together this week at Palena in Washington D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. We’d organized the wines into flights beforehand and given that information to the restaurant, who in turn devised several courses to go along with the wines. The food was great, the wine and conversation even greater.

This tasting in particular was a good chance to taste a wide variety of special bottles, many from regions I haven’t focused on for a long time. Without further delay, here are my notes from what turned out to be an epic evening. Cheers!

A Muscadet to Start
1997 Domaine Pierre de la Grange (Luneau-Papin) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Le "L" d'Or - France, Loire Valley, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
While waiting at Weygandt Wines for everyone to arrive for the tasting, we popped this aged muscadet. My experience with aged muscadet has been very good, as I really enjoy the complexity of flavors these wines have to offer. I was really impressed with this bottle. Aromas of lemon peel, sea salt and mixed nuts. The combination of nervy acidity and mature, nutty fruit is spectacular. Still vibrant and solid, and I'd love the opportunity to drink this over the course of a few hours to see how it develops. (90 pts.)

1995 Pommery Champagne Brut - France, Champagne
Unfortunately, the first Champagne was corked. At first it smelled a lot of yeast, with a slight cork taint. But over time the cork taint became much more evident, and on the palate the wine really dropped off and left me with a gross moldy taste. (FLAWED)

1998 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru - France, Champagne
Since the 1995 Pommery was corked, I spent a lot of time with this Champagne. What a beauty. Aromas of lemon, almond, some musk. The aromas are powerful at first, yet the longer I smelled the wine the more subtle and complex it got. The palate is bright and bold, with tangy acid, bracing minerals and delicious fruit. Lots of golden apple and almond paste, and accentuated by sea salt, minerals and toast. Delicious, long finish. Thanks Tim! (92 pts.)

2008 Raveneau Chablis
François Raveneau just makes some of the best damn Chablis, period. And I love what he's done with the 2008 vintage. These two wines were so young, and what they showed at the tasting is only a fraction of what they will have to offer in the future. Still, they were great. Richer maybe than some 2008s I've had, but the balance, minerals and cut to these wines is just stellar.

2008 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre - France, Burgundy, Chablis
This flight was such a great addition to the evening. I always love Raveneau, and even though these wines were young, they showed tremendous potential. The Montée de Tonnerre is everything I love about young Chablis, and the 2008 vintage in particular. Intoxicating aromas of lemon peel, green appled, limestone and fresh cream butter. The richness, intensity and freshness of the palate combine to form a lovely, balanced young wine. Fresh pear, whipped butter and lemon zest flavors line up perfectly with the med+ acid and the complex minerality. A cream and almond flavor carry the finish. This shows the acidity and minerality of the 2008 vintage, but there's also a creaminess and a lushness that I find amazing. Having tasted a 2001 from this producer and vineyard, I would love to get a case of this and drink one every two years or so. Thanks, Tim, for representing chardonnay so well. (92 pts.)

2008 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux - France, Burgundy, Chablis
I know we were killing these 2008 Chablis far too soon, but they were both just so delicious. The 2008 Butteaux showed explosive aromas of green melon, lemon peel, sea shell and just a hint of seaweed. The hint of seaweed on the nose brought this wine a level just above the 2008 Montée de Tonnerre, at least for me. The aromas in this wine need many years to define themselves, but they can still sing now, even at this young age. The palate starts off with a plump, butterscotch flavor, with some green apple. Then the acid streaks in, along with racy minerals. A sea shell flavor combines with yellow apple and popcorn butter. The finish is laced with acid and minerals, but also some nutty, buttery flavors. It has the minerality and oceanic elements of the best Chablis with some of the richness of Cote de Beaune chardonnay. The complexity packed in this wine will take a decade+ to unwind, when it will emerge an even more glorious Chablis. Thanks, Tom. (93 pts.)


Aged Produttori del Barbaresco
Thanks to Bob and Ian, we were able to scrape together a mini Produttori del Barbaresco flight. Both wines were really unique and delicious, and it was interesting to taste two old Barbarescos back to back. I know a lot of people who have fallen head over heels for Barolo and Barbaresco, and it’s a love affair they never walk away from. Both of these wines are made from 100 percent nebbiolo grown in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. We started off with the aged wines because they would show more subtlety and restraint than the brawny young Barbarescos.

I'd hear good things about the 1967 vintage in Barbaresco, and they turned out to be correct. Since my experience with 1970s Barbaresco is next to nil, I asked some wine forum friends what they thought of the 1975 vintage. Based on their responses, and a search of tasting notes from 1975 Barbarescos, my impression was that these wines should've been consumed many moons ago. Wine drinking being an ever-surprising endeavor, I was luckily wrong about the 1975.

1967 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco - Italy, Piedmont, Barbaresco
I had no idea what to expect with a Barbaresco this old, and that was part of the fun of drinking it. The color is an auburn red. The first aromas out of the glass were blood and iron. Aromas developed into dried cranberry, violets and hints of balsamic. It wasn't vinegary, but it had that rich aroma of balsamic that I love. The tannins have softened, but they still provide structure, and the acid was high. The flavors were really interesting, starting off with corned beef and peppercorn, later some flavors of oregano, dried cranberry, meat drippings and iron. Acid lingers on the finishing, keeping the wine fresh. This is one of those wines that you can critique and analyze all you want, but in the end it's about the experience. And I absolutely loved the experience of this wine. (91 pts.) 

1975 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco - Italy, Piedmont, Barbaresco
The second Produttori Barbaresco of the evening was much darker in the glass. The nose showed a plethora of aromas. The fruit was more vibrant than the largely fruitless 1967, showing plum and ripe cranberry aromas, as well as smoked meat and roasted lamb. The palate is dense with fine tannins. My initial reaction was that this wine seemed much younger than it is. High acid. Flavors of plum pits, smoke, a little beef. While the 67 showed more stewed meat and drippings flavors, the 75 tended toward more rare red meat flavors. This wine was really complex, and I'm surprised by how well it showed considering its age and the vintage. (90 pts.)

Pinot Noir
Brett was kind enough to bring a Magnum of Cameron's "Clos Electrique" pinor noir. We've shared other vintages of this wine, and I am not exaggerating when I say I think it is one of the best domestic pinot noirs. It's always stunned my palate. Well, the cork gods were against us, apparently, because the wine was tainted. I felt bad because I was sure the wine would be thrilling. Fortunately, we had Tim's 2001 Bonnes-Mares to save the filght.

1998 Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
Damn it, the cork taint strikes again. This time, it was much more disappointing, because I've loved more recent vintages and was looking forward to trying one with more age on it. At first, the cork taint was mild, but as the wine aired out, it became much more dominant. Too bad. (FLAWED)

2001 Domaine Robert Groffier Bonnes Mares - France, Burgundy, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru
When Robert Groffier is on, he is on. This Bonnes Mares originally made an appearance at the previous Gem Tasting, which I missed, so I was thrilled to try it this time. And what a gorgeous wine it is. Vibrant purple color with brick red rims. The aromas alone made this the wine of the night. Sexy, smooth, pure aromas of cranberry, white pepper and potpouri, a hint of Indian spices. The palate starts off brisk, almost tart, but then a wave of fine-grained tannins and lush fruit pour in. Roses, ripe cherries, dark soil flavors, but acid sails through the whole time. The purity of flavor on the finish... it's just incredible. For my palate, this wine had that pefect balance of power and elegance. I would love to revisit this in another five years, as some of those mature flavors start to develop. This was my wine of the night, for sure. (95 pts.)

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco "Santo Stefano"
Faryan and his brother contributed two vintages of this superb Barbaresco, and both were incredible and different.

1997 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano - Italy, Piedmont, Barbaresco
Right out of the bottle, this wine was singing. I believe Faryan decanted it for some time, which helped it open up and show aromas of dried flower potpouri, fresh cherries, and hints of mushroom and meat. The palate is gorgeous, a combination of gritty tannins and lush fruit. The meaty, leathery aspect of this wine is just great, and it went so well with venison steak. The wine was still vibrantly young, with fresh fruit and strong tannins, not to mention superb acid. This wine is amazing right now, but I'd love to revisit this in five years. It has the stuffing to go for a very long time. (93 pts.)

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano - Italy, Piedmont, Barbaresco
It goes without saying that this wine is way too young. But that doesn't mean it isn't tasty. Gorgeous purple-red color. A burst of aromas: tar, plum, black cherry, and a medley of spices. Even after decanting, this wine just needed more air to show its full stuff. The palate is full of dense tannins, spicy acid, and gritty plum fruit. There's a hint of brine that is just delicious. It's a gritty wine that needs time to settle down, but it was delicious with the venison. As Tim put it, "Only twenty years too young." (92 pts.)

Aged Reds
This flight of aged reds was a lot of fun. The two New World wines in the tasting both showed really well. It was fun to revisit the López de Heredia Viña Bosconia, and to taste Chateau Musar for the first time.

1991 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia - Spain, Rioja
I tasted this wine in 2010, and I liked it even more this time. Aromas of sour cherry, but also some seaweed and cheese rind. The palate was soft and silky, with fresh cherry fruit. It still had this tomato paste and celery seed flavor, along with sour cherries and hemp. It's a funky wine, and it's really fun to have a glass of. But it is kind of abrasive, so share it with friends. Still, in my book, this gets serious crazy points. (89 pts.)

1995 Chateau Musar - Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
Brett brought this bottle, and it was a welcome addition to the tasting. The aromas were really unique: burned sugar, caramel, red apple and plum. Smooth palate, balanced tannins and acid. Even in a tasting with this many wines, this one stood out with its bizarre but delicious flavors: caramelized sugar, raspberry, sweet plums. This wine tasted really sweet to me, but it had enough funky earth flavors to keep it interesting. I would like more time with this wine, as I think it deserves attention. My first time tasting a Chateau Musar, and I'm definitely intrigued. (90 pts.)

1984 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
This wine was an interesting auburn-plum color in the glass. The aromas remind me of stewed plums, rhubarb and anise. The palate showed a complicated medley of medium tannins and sour cherry, plum, must and tobacco flavors. A hint of seaweed to keep you guessing. I thought this wine would be spent, but it's still got enough going on to keep me interested. Actually, over time it opened up to show some green pepper and sweet cherries. Surprisingly good, and it goes to show once again that I like older Napa cabernet much more than younger ones. (89 pts.)

1999 Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Terroir - USA, California, North Yuba
Jeremy brought this cabernet from a producer I'd never heard of, from a region I have little experience with. It showed remarkably well, however, and the whole crew seemed to enjoy it. The nose showed dark chocolate, black cherry juice, and some funky, earthy atomas. The palate is tangy with soft tannins. It's a really soft wine all over. Dark and plummy, but elegant. This wine was by far the most New World, but it maintained a juicy acid to keep it fresh. I really enjoyed this wine, and would love to try it again on its own. (90 pts.)

Rieslings to Top Off the Night
To end the night, we compiled three rieslings and a weisburgunder eiswein. I expected a bit more from J.J. Prüm, but the Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Vendange Tardive was phenomenal.

1994 Freiherr Langwerth von Simmern Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Rheingau
This riesling was a golden amber color in the glass. Fat, full aromas of oil, orange marmelade, and nougat. The palate is full of nougat, almond paste, oil and caramel. The acid is lower than I usually like, but I still really enjoyed this wine. Gorgeous finish with lovely diesel and marmelade. This has aged well, but I'm glad I popped this now because I'm not sure how much longer it can go with low acid. (91 pts.)

2001 Joh. Jos. Prüm Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
The nose on this riesling showed oil, lemons and nuts. The palate seemed a bit flatter than I was expecting. Lovely salty flavor to accent the oil, lemon and nutshell flavors. (88 pts.)

2001 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile Vendange Tardive - France, Alsace
Wow, this riesling really kicked some ass. Gorgeous golden color in the glass. Lush aromas of lemon oil, wax, petrol and guava. The palate is really plump and delicious, just oozing with marmelade, pear and peach fruit, combined with minerals and slate. This is still a really young wine, with layers of complexity. Orgasmic. (93 pts.)

2004 Eugen Müller Forster Weissburgunder Eiswein - Germany, Pfalz
Okay, so this wasn't a riesling, but what a way to end the evening. This was quite possibly my first weissburgunder eiswein, but it won't be my last. Golden orange colored and thick in the glass. The nose shows fresh peach, apricot and caramel. The palate is fresh, plush and silky. Deliciously nutty, with honey, almond and apricot. Endless finish. Very rich, but maintains balance and finesse. (93 pts.)


  1. Freddy Emile kicks some serious ass, no bones about it- sounds like an amazing tasting!

  2. Agreed. I think it's one of my favorite rieslings from Alsace.