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Opinion 2

A nice tasting (19-03-2003)

Last week I had a tasting with a group of friends. A few times a year we come together tasting and talking. We all brought a number of wines from our cellar. A unique event with both analytical and social aspects. During these tastings we are introduced to an attractive chaotic mix of highly reputed and scarce, sometimes endemic wines. Nothing can be more revealing than such a tasting. These are the tastings I like most. The fine company of co-tasters, I must admit certainly helps.

Among the whites we tasted two top wines from Daniel Barraud (Pouilly-Fuissé) and a Txakoli of Zudugarai (Spanish Basque wine). The Txakoli vintage 2001 is made of 80% Hondarrabi Zuri and 20% Hondarrabi Beltza. Both as the names suggest endemic grape varieties of the region. This is the kind of stuff I like: strong own character, no fuss, no frills, just to quench the thirst and accompany some food. Very fresh and lively, quite tart, in both smell and taste impressions of green apples, a light sparkle of carbon dioxide, some mineral impressions, quite lean, a bit green and a very tiny little touch of sweetness to make it just pleasing enough to drink. Not refined, a bit rustic and rough, but honest and true. A simple wine to respect. Not fit for export but very good for my favourite tastings.
The Barrouds were quite different stuff. The both vieilles vignes wines were quite impressive. The “Les Crays”(2000) was great. A stunningly fresh wine with a perfect balance of citrus, honey, minerals and vanillin of the refined and discrete wood. There was richness as well as intense freshness, mountain air, crystal-clear nuances. Length and intensity, but with elegance. A rare Burgundy, the opposite of the heavy chaptalised and over oaked types for sale everywhere.
The other bottle (“En Buland” 2000) was not showing well. The start (nose) was exciting, and impressive: offering two styles in one: impressive freshness and a superb refined richness. This wine offered more depth and immediate sweet ripeness than the Les Crays, even some over ripeness or botrytis, rich and fine, creamy, but restraint oak nuances, very deep, with impressions of fresh cake. A truly great wine. The taste was ok for the first 10 seconds, but collapsed into something muted and harsh. This must be a bottle problem, because when I approached the wine for the first time there was a very little hint of mustiness, a whiff of mouldy cork, but the positive impressions were so overwhelming I soon forgot about it until I tasted the wine. There it was, the biggest fear of a wine maker and a wine seller: a bottle with no obvious cork, but with a real problem. Fortunately the friend who was kind enough to bring the bottle remarked that another bottle of the same wine consumed a few days before was much and much better than this, especially in the taste. He still has some, so the pain was soon forgotten. These wines are truly top wines, a rare combination of freshness, richness, depth, length and refinement.

Among the red wines were Antinori’s Ornellaia 1988, Cos d’Estournel 1982 and finally La Tour Saint-Bonnet 1981. This proved an interesting series which was quite revealing: not just power, but balance in a wine is the keyword for ageing successfully. The Ornellaia was in the great classic style. Rich, but a bit sturdy, both mushrooms (truffles) and chocolate, mature fruit, but also some phenolic oak, a bit sombre in style, with an incredible strong and compact core in the taste. Length and concentration. Beautiful acidity in combination with power and richness, still young and very much alive with still a lot of live to be expected. Not very refined or elegant, but deep and powerful.
The Cos was more pleasing, offering just more refinement and subtlety of the great terroir in the nose. Softer and sweeter, milder and rounder, more cooked fruit, some earthy nuances, nice integrated wood. The taste followed the same lines, supple and round, just a touch of dusty and chocolatey nuances, a bit warm and perhaps too easy. Not the powerful core, nor the compactness of the Ornellaia, not the acidity, a bit boring, not as deep as the other wine. More delicious, hedonistic some would say. A very good wine, but not perfect in a technical sense. Lacking just a bit of elegance, not living up to the expectations of a second Grand Cru class from Saint-Estephe from one of the ten vintages of the (twentieth) century.

The last dry red we tasted was Château La Tour Saint-Bonnet from Saint-Christoly de Médoc. Just a humble Cru Bourgeois. Some 20 years ago I bought half a dozen of this wine for ca. 5 euro’s. I liked the wine very much because its power, restrained fruit, and strong and fresh core in the taste. The tannins were quite firm, but of the ripe type. The wine was not impressively full-bodied. Just very much straight, young Bordeaux in style
This wine had amazingly survived the years in bottle, in fact it had improved very much. Admitted, there were some scrapy tannins, suggesting the process of drying out had begun, but all the other aspects of the wine were impressive. The nose exhibited a beautiful classic Médoc earthy and mushroomy fruitiness, some herbs, caramel, vanillin, phenolic nuances, minerals and much more. Elegance as well as ripeness, softness and a sweet old age were all presented nicely in this wine. It lacked the depth and refinement of the terroir of Cos, it lacked the power and scale of the Ornellaia, but it had everything an old wine from this terroir could have: balanced and deliciously softened. Old school wine, honest, true, no make up, no over extraction, no over ripeness, no sexy or obvious wood to please the taster/buyer in its infancy. Just how a wine should be from this vineyard. Meant to improve over the years into something that can not be made anywhere in the world except here. A beautiful expression of the terroir, making a valuable contribution to the wealthy pallet of tastes in wine.
Everybody was impressed what this wine achieved after the big shots in the tasting. The truth in wine tasting revealed. How great can a Cos be in an even better year if they did the same as St.Bonnet in 1981?

I wish everybody could taste this wine. It would make my stories a lot easier to understand. Writing is just writing. One needs to taste. But that is impossible in this case. I fear a huge percentage of the current wine lovers have no experience with these old fashioned and mature wines. If you have, afterwards everything shows in a different (and more true) perspective.

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