One of the traditions for any significant wine judging competition is the wine judges’ dinner, usually held at a good restaurant, where judges bring along an interesting and special bottle of wine to share with their peers. In the best scenario, there is a competitive element to be the one responsible for bringing the bottle that attracts the most attention and nods of approval. That person receives considerable kudos and usually varying positive expressions of gratitude. The wines brought along are usually quite different from what are being judged, and often can have considerable bottle-age. Though not necessarily expensive, a wine that is rare, collectible and significant on the secondary market has a head start on the others…
The Judges’ Dinner for the 2012 Spiegelau International Wine Competition (www.thespiegelauiwc.co.nz) was held at Hotel d’Urville, a boutique, luxury hotel and one of the leading dining establishments in Blenheim, Marlborough. Known for sourcing the best local produce, the restaurant is known for excellence with beef and lamb, executive chef Maree Connolly herself a New Zealand Beef and Lamb Ambassador. (www.durville.com) Chairman of Judges Mike de Garis always takes great pleasure at any judges’ dinner in arranging the order of service to have a diverse range of wines grouped in suitable flights to be served with the meal. Following is the menu and a list the wines served, with my impressions.
On Arrival – Bluff oysters au natural
It was proper to have arguably the best Marlborough sparkling wine to start the proceedings. The Cloudy Bay ‘Pelorus’ Marlborough Methode Traditionnelle 2006 surprisingly elegant, but with considerable depth of Pinot Noir and autolysis underneath, coming to the fore as it warmed up in glass and the interaction with the oysters dissipated.
Then on to a series of wines served at the table before the first course was served there. First up was a Framingham ‘Winery Selection’ Marlborough Riesling 1994, golden, honied, toasty and creamy custard-like typical of old Germanic Riesling, a touch of very forgivable oxidation. This was followed by a Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru ‘Kitterle’ Riesling 2005, still very tight with beautifully handled phenolics, a little oiliness, smooth and with great drive, very youthful. My pick of this group was the Fritz Haag Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 1995, showing stunning penetration and fine cut with lively, fresh acidity, yet subtle layers of honey and toasty secondary development. Perfectly poised.
Served on its own, the Marcel Deiss Alsace Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim 2007 was one of the highlights of the evening, golden and unctuous, hedonistic with Gewurztraminer dominating the field blend, and botrytis adding layers.
This was followed by a trio of Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon-based wines, led by a Moss Wood Margaret River Semillon 2007. This was distinctly grassy and herbaceous, crisp and acid with a hard edge, but still carrying weight and depth. Next was the Ch. Recougne ‘Cuvee Terra Recognita’ Bordeaux Blanc 2000, badly corked as well as oxidised, showing sharp acid raciness for those willing to put it into their mouths. Again, the third wine was the most preferable for me, a Cloudy Bay ‘Te Koko’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004, relatively pale, showing aged asparagus notes on bouquet, but more an integrated whole with fine soft textures and balanced acidity on palate. Quite a delight for those willing to go past in-built prejudices about such aged wines.
Cloudy Bay clam soup, citrus and fennel, garden chives, lime oil
To be served first and on its own was a Marc Bredif ‘Grande Annee’ Vouvray 1988, and this showed archetype honey, wax and lanolin fruit characters along with a decent whack of wet-wool showing that classic interaction of reduction with secondary Chenin Blanc expression. A little sweetness counterbalanced with the inevitable acidity, this could still see another decade.
Two northern Rhone Viogniers came next. A brilliant Yves Cuilleron ‘Les Chaillets’ Condrieu 2009, clearly youthful and primary fruited, packed with exotic orange marmalade aromas and flavours, rich in soft fruitiness, but with linearity and dry acid balance. Enjoyed by many of the attendees. In less good condition was the Francois Villard ‘Le Grand Vallon’ Condrieu 2006, showing a spirity nose reminiscent of grappa with not-quite-clean alcohol flavours overflowing to the palate imbuing it with a hint of grubbiness. Finely textured in the end, somewhat faded to simplicity, and difficult to compete against the previous fruit-packed expression.
The Chardonnay bracket possessed extremes of quality. One of the outstanding wines of the night, the Guy Roulot Meursault ‘Les Luchets’ 2008, pale and chalky initially with prominent acidity, building to reveal concentrated citrussy fruit with superbly balanced flinty complexities, combining the linearity of Puligny-Montrachet with the subtle roundness that is the signature of Meursault. Unfortunately the Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2003 had moved on. Golden, oxidised, some acidity, but dried out with grip.
Logically, Pinot Noir or rather, red burgundy to follow. Expecting somewhat better things, the A.F. Gros Chambolle-Musigny 2009 was lean and hard rather than elegant and floral, this showing savoury brettanomyces notes that grew in glass. And unexpectedly, the Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er ‘Combe aux Moines’ 2004 was deliciously fresh and vibrantly floral with good richness, showing slightly cooler, but well-ripened fruit with lovely sweetness, and expertly judged extract. For a 2004, this was a superb example. Then came the Daniel Bocquenet Echezeaux Grand Cru 2001, a most traditional, old-fashioned, old-world burgundy with great structure and extraction, and layers of complex savoury flavours, this set to continue to develop another 15+ years.
Ricotta and chestnut tortellini with sage and lemon and brown butter sauce, toasted pine nuts and petite salad
Leading this group of wines were two Spanish reds. The Bodegas y Vineclos ‘Godelia’ Bierzo Mencia 2009. Very ripe, dense, concentrated fleshy and modern, this is a classic ‘Robert Parker style’ wine with a certain appeal for those who want up-front and instantaneous drinking. Also in the modern camp was the Bodegas Lavia Bullas Murcia Monastrell 2005, tightly bound and sleek, very clean and with proper dark red fruits, everything in its place, a little soul-less perhaps?
Moving up a step into the Rhone category, first up was the Clonakilla Canberra Shiraz/Viognier 2002, this was a well-sized wine with considerable grip and weight, the florals moved on to earthy notes, with savoury dark fruits, quite secondary now. The serious nature of this wine quite evident, not quite refined anymore, but showing presence. A wine at the other end of the style spectrum was the Jamet Cote-Rotie 1995, very elegant and silky-textured, but with plenty of core, unfolding its perfumed fruits in an ethereal fashion, this had vitality and restrained, stylish liveliness. A wonderful wine that is continuing to evolve. Next, a Vidal-Fleury ‘La Chatillonne’ Cote Blonde 1995, initially rich, savoury, succulent and plush, quite open now, developing game notes, a little animal and becoming drier in glass, tertiary. The last wine in this bracket also showed superbly on opening, but faded a little with air. The Jaboulet ‘La Chapelle’ Hermitage 1983 combined perfumed darl-red fruits with complex layers of earth and undergrowth, revealing more all the time from its iron core. Still with refined tannin structure and excellent acidity, the flow of flavours blossom to a peacock’s tail on finish. With time in glass, the detail, clarity and vitality faded. Still, one of the top wines of the night for me.
Two Piedmont reds formed the next bracket, led by the Pio Cesare Barolo 2005, full, robust with dark fruits encased by fine, but firm tannins, still tightly bound, the extract dominating slightly, and a streak of acid detectable to keep it all youthful and alive. Much more definable was the Oddero Barbaresco 1982, a wine with stylish finesse and the tell-tale faded roses on nose and palate. Extremely fine tannins with a firm core still, and excellent acidity. Remarkably good and proper, though not ‘individual’ enough for some tasters. Up there with the best of the reds of the night for me, though.
Tamarillo tart, poached fruit, almond milk sorbet, tuille
Two Bordeaux varietal wines, firstly a L’Ecole No. 41 ‘Estate Perigee’ ‘Seven Hills Vineyard’ Walla Walla Valley 1998, corked magnificently and unfortunately not one to even try to see past the taint. No tasting the Cabernet or Merlot here. Next was the Penfolds ‘Bin 707′ South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, a superbly powerful and concentrated wine without being overblown, packed with a complex amalgam of blackcurrant and eucalypt, oozing sweet oak and savoury dark spices, cedar and earth, remarkably fresh and very, very long. Not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ with today’s search for elegance, but I loved its tough exterior, and my new world wine of the night!
Onto the Australian Shiraz bracket, considered by some to be a class of its own, to be separated from Syrah! A Jacob’s Creek ‘Johann’ South Barossa/Eden Valley Shiraz/Cabernet 2001 exuded ripeness with sweet eucalypt, mint and cedar, lush oaking, now becoming broad and open, soft textured and just sufficient tannin grip and acid to keep it going flabby. A caricature of the Aussie style for sure, but done with gravitas. A polar opposite was the Wendouree Clare Valley Shiraz/Mataro 2001, tightly bound with densely pack black fruits with hints of minerals, oak resin and nuts, European in personality, possessing great elegance and perfect acidity with tannin backbone for longevity. A favourite for classicists. Surprise of the night for me and for most of the others may have been the Orlando ‘Lawson’s’ Padthaway Shiraz 1992, amazingly smooth and silky, poised in sweetness with driven aromas and flavours of Dutch liquorice, plums, mint and an intriguing and pervasive lavender element. Last in this bracket was a Penfolds ‘Grange’ South Australia 1991. Impenetrable, dense, dark with layers of ripe black fruits and spices, iron and minerals, amazingly succulent and saturated, and with structure to burn. Yet this bottle rather ungainly and a little unhappy. I know this to be much better. A lesser bottle, or going through a phase maybe?
Neudorf cheeses, salted baked pears
Fortifying sweet wines to see off the night! The Domaine Laetitia Banyuls VDN 1950, amber coloured, could be very old white Grenache or faded black Grenache, probably the latter. Very sweet and raisiny-rancio, along with nuts and cedar, a touch of alcohol spirit, but all-in-all integrated and gentle. Finishing the marathon was a Quinta de la Rosa Vintage Port 2000, still black-red, quite shy and reserved, obviously tight, showing aromas and flavours of dark fruits, earth and spices. The firm, leaner structure and harshness of adolescence predominating over the fruit sweetness at present. This deserves another decade in the cellar.