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Opinion 4

A nice tasting  2 (28-06-2003)

A few weeks ago I attended another nice tasting (see opinion 2). We never taste large series, between 10 and 20 wines is just fine to be able to taste the wines with full attention and discuss our impressions, often putting our findings in a broader perspective. Effects of wine making, vintage, market situation, prices, reputation and the opinions and scores of the internationally acclaimed wine critics.

This time we tasted a very varied bunch.

* A highly heralded white Midi wine, imported by a very renown importer, probably the bottle was not o.k. or it was in a difficult stage to asses, but the wine did not have a hint of the qualities that were promised,  just a rich, dull wine for too much money.

* A quite nice Chenin Blanc from South Africa (Simonsig 2002, W.O. Stellenbosch) was very pleasant to drink, however a bit on the sweet side, with lots of ripe white fruit and raisins, creamy vanilla and some spices. Obviously made of very ripe fruit. There was just a hint of uncleanness, maybe some rot grapes had gone into the wine. A bit too rich to drink many glasses off, but a well made wine.

* Another Chenin Blanc (from the Loire) followed. This Saumur ('99) was lacking some concentration and did not live up to its reputation. Again the bottle or the stage of development in this wine could have caused it. Retasting this (quite expensive) wine after some time is the only fair thing to do.

* Verget's Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Sous le Puits 1991 (produced by the nowadays legendary Jean Marie Guffens) was something very different. Directly after pouring it in the glass the age of the wine was obvious: too old, there were a lot of nutty and other old aroma's emerging from the glass, but there was also a nice minerally freshness and some creamy notes in the background. Oddly enough after a few minutes the wine appeared to become younger and less old. The minerals and creamy impressions stood out more prominently, the wine had gained depth and complexity. Still a bit too old for me, but interesting enough to taste. A real, very good white Burgundy, too mature, but showing its high quality and provenance.

The story Guffens:
I had bought this Verget wine to see how it would age. I tasted this wine in a series with nearly all the 1991 white Burgundies produced by Jean Marie Guffens. Guffens was present at the tasting and presented the wines himself.  At this time he was not yet well known, 1991 was I believe his first independent vintage for his firm: "Verget". This tasting was quite an impressive event for two reasons: the unconventional behaviour of Guffens, but above all the impressive coherence of both quality and style of Guffens' wines. Never had I tasted such a series of white Burgundies in a style that can be described as fresh, concentrated, complex, clear and clean. No bad or flabby wines were presented, all wines shared the nearly magical mountain air freshness with delicious minerally fruit and vibrant yeasty tones.  Also richness was present in most of the wines, as well as discreet wood in some, but all these positive characteristics were so well balanced, no one stood out, all played as a team, for me a winning team. The use of wood was so well done: you could hardly notice where the creamy notes of the Chardonnay stopped and where the creamy notes of the well chosen wood started.  Of course there were good wines and stars, but the range was really impressive. Immediately it became clear Mr. Guffens was not a sleek salesman of his wines. He proved he can be rude but is always straight, he dislikes people and "experts" who know a lot about the reputation and theory, but do not put their taste impressions first. On this issue I fully agree with Guffens, but I always try to be a bit more diplomatic. The problem for some producers or people in the wine business is that he says what he thinks, there is absolute no filtration or cold stabilization in his approach, I prefer that to being nice and kind and telling half the truth. Guffens was very honest and explained the tasters how he had made the wines, he also admitted some difficulties in making the wines. For instance I asked him about a slight contradiction in a Meursault: I found it both a bit heavy (over ripeness) as well as a touch unripe. His explanation was that he had ran into problems harvesting because he was short of people, the grapes in one part of a Meursault vineyard were harvested just a bit too late (the grapes were a bit too ripe) and he tried to compensate this by harvesting it together with a neighbouring vineyard that was a tiny fraction unripe. He blended the wines of  the two parts of the vineyard. Indeed you could taste this little contradiction in the wine.
This honest and frank approach of Guffens is very rare, he has not made everybody his friend with this way of acting, but personally I have great respect for his attitude. The wine that impressed me most (quality / price ratio) in the tasting was the 1991 Saint-Romain. A little great wine.

When I visited Guffens in  april 1994 in his winery (Verget) in Sologny (Macon) he already was becoming quite famous, but his behaviour was still the same. I tasted nearly all his wines (vintage '93) and was again impressed by the consistency of high quality of the Verget wines.  Like the '91 the Saint-Romain '93 was the relative star of the tasting. Guffens is brilliant with Chardonnay, he again proved it.  He was still able to offend you on things that you would not expect, but on the other hand he also showed respect for the taster and gave me one lesson: never think you know it, especially not with Burgundy: understanding Burgundy is not understanding. You always have to be alert and expect the unexpected. That I already knew, but I could not agree more, as Burgundy is a very difficult region to find your way and understand.  Burgundy has many analogies with Piedmonte, Guffens also lectured, and I think he is right. Piedmonte is a bit less difficult for me to approach though.

I have not tasted many wines from Guffens since the 1993's because of the exploding prices and a huge international demand for his wines, especially after Robert Parker published on Guffens and his wines (very high scores indeed). The few times I did I found the wines more oaked, less elegant and more impressive (richer), missing the initial "mountain breeze" freshness. Still very good wines, but maybe a bit more internationally styled to put it mildly. I have not tasted the fruits of his labour in the Lubéron where he is said to produce red wines. He told me during my visit that he was best with Chardonnay and did not bother too much with red grapes "that is a whole different world". Maybe he has learned to cope with black grapes as well, he is an excellent autodidact, he has proven it with Chardonnay, but if he will attain the same heights with black grapes, I doubt it. Apart from the grapes the Lubéron terroir is less sophisticated or at least different.

Back to the tasting:

* The first red wine of the tasting was the Saladini Pilastri Monteprandone 2000, D.O. Rosso Piceno. The wine making was in one word perfect, If I used the 100 points scores I would merit the perfection of wine making the full 100 points. You very seldom taste a wine that is so well made, the balance is struck so right it just is amazing to taste such a wine. The terroir is also good, but you notice it is the limiting factor in this wine. A really impressive achievement. A few weeks later I discovered by chance the (consulting) wine maker responsible for this splendid wine was Roberto Cipresso. I was not amazed, this man can excel in wine making in Italy. He manages to produces wines with an enormous depth of complex fruit, with a balanced acidity and concentration of minerals, ripe and piquant tannins, etc. freshness, ripeness, fruit and concentration, all knitted together in a very drinkable and intriguing way. The Fratelli Barba "Colle Morino" 2000 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was such a wine. Later vintages I tasted until now did not reached the same level.

* Back to Bordeaux: Clos Chaumont 2000, A.C. 1ère Côtes de Bordeaux. Really nice wine, rich, soft, concentrated, beautiful fruit, nice and well dosed sexy wood, very good balance, excellent drinking wine. A far cry from the classical restrained tough and concentrated Bordeaux with high acidity. A modern wine and a joy to drink. Not the potential to grow into a multi layered refined and classic, high class cedary Bordeaux. Clos Chaumont 2000 shows the right attitude or "use" of the terroir of the Premières Côtes.

* Château Calon 2000, A.C. Saint-Georges Saint-Emilion. This is the old fashioned style Saint-Emilion I have been looking for so long. Clearly not a great wine and a bit rustic and dry at the end of the taste, but aroma wise this is as original as you can get a Saint-Emilion. There was a succulent jammy ripe type of red and black fruits, together with the fresher type of black and red fruit.  Also the typical Merlot herbal, spicy and earthy nuances were there in full supply. The nose was very harmonious, the taste was also very Saint-Emilion like: rich and round, meaty, but soft, with ample freshness to make it even more delicious and digestible. This freshness (both in aroma's and taste) I find often lacking in modern red Bordeaux. The added elegance by this acidity and freshness makes the wines much more complex and refined. A good acidity also assists a harmonious ageing as you can read further down. The difficult part is to match this freshness with enough ripeness, concentration and ripe tannins. If a wine maker succeeds in this you have something unbeatable. Maybe not the immensely impressive, but ultimately gratifying. Very well done, not top class, but very nice indeed.

* Château Deltour 2000, A.C. Pomerol. This was again a very good wine, smooth, compact, elegant and with a good concentration of fruit, good definition of fruit and terroir, restrained use of appropriate oak, soft power, and an impeccable harmony. A really charming wine. Will turn into velvet and will develop an interesting fruit oriented bouquet with the years. 2000 was obviously a very good vintage for Bordeaux. Many ripe and approachable wines, many of them with flattering ripe fruit, warmth and soft, ripe tannins. Is 2000 a great year for Bordeaux? Judging from the red Bordeaux I have tasted up till now I do not think so. I believe many wines are lacking freshness to mature perfectly. Time will tell. My strong impression is that at least for the right bank (St-Emilion, etc.) 1998 is superior.

* Château Deltour 1998, A.C. Pomerol. This wine could prove my point. Unfortunately the first bottle was closed and muted, the second showed better: more expression. Still a bit closed-up, but with beautiful fruit, peppery terroir nuances, some vanillin of the wood, some spices and herbs and last but not least an underlying acidity that gave the wine both elegance and definition. It carried the wine along from start to aftertaste. The structure of the wine was still a bit square because of the tannins, but these were melting away nicely already. This wine was coming out of the shell it had been in for about half a year, the type of fruit was very different from the 2000 version, more earthy, more tertiary nuances, more emerging complexity. Compared with the 2000 this wine was more difficult to approach, less roundness, more tannins, not so flattering, more serious earthy nuances, less warm ripe succulent fruit. Comparing two wines in two very different stages of development is very difficult. After 4 - 5 years we could judge them better. The 1998 however is already showing a bit more elegance in the structure because of the attractive acidity. The 2000 is easier to drink.

* Château Chasse Spleen 2000, A.C. Moulis was a very good and quite impressive wine. Again in the modern, ripe and upfront style, with relatively ripe and soft tannins, a load of spicy fruit and obvious, sexy oak. Rich and concentrated well balanced, powerful and warm. This wine has really a lot to offer except freshness and elegance. Elegance may come with time, but without the freshness I doubt if there will be a lot of it. We will see.

* Château Gloria 1984, A.C. Saint-Julien. Who would buy such a wine from an not too good (Cabernet Sauvignon) vintage? Who would buy such a wine to lay in the cellar to mature for a few years? Who would dare to present on a tasting such a wine at an age of nearly twenty years? I would, and in fact I did. Don't bother about reputations, do taste the wine, analyse it and then decide what to do. I must admit not all '84's I tasted around 1987 impressed me, some were hollow and others had unripe tannins, but there were some wines that showed next to the power they possessed also fruit, concentration and a proper amount of the right type of acidity. Wines with depth, maybe a bit unyielding and closed up, but wines with guts and balance. Not easy pleasers, but characters with potential. Let me admit: this bottle of the wine was not glorious. That would have been nice, but other bottles I tasted reasonable recently showed what a classic Bordeaux as this can provide. Never soft as velvet, but complex, fine, elegant, powerful and with a myriad of nuances of damp earth, mushrooms, raisins, cedar and fruit. A perfect wine to partner well prepared food. This bottle was a bit too old to charm everybody, but there was a general astonishment about the fact that such a wine was still alive and enjoyable. A bit too much caramel and nuts were creeping into the nose and taste, the wine was drying out a bit already. Just a bit too much oxidation, but still alive and offering pleasure. For me it was too old, I had had better bottles recently. I doubt we will have these classical Bordeaux wines for tastings in two or three decades. Maybe there will be some around, but the price tag attached to them will be prohibitive for our nice tastings.

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