The tradition at most wine judging competitions is that judges bring along “an interesting bottle” to share with the other judges at dinner on the final night of the show. More often than not, the bottle is something prestigious, old or rare, as diners try to impress the others. A wine that a winemaker judge may have made would only be brought along if it had received considerable acclaim. It’s not necessarily a matter of the oldest or most expensive, but usually something that isn’t being judged at the show, and as long as it has some personality.
The wines are arranged to be served in appropriate flights which may not be an easy task due to their diverse varieties, styles, origins and ages, and it takes some experience to put it all together, the job usually taken on by the chairman of judges. When served, despite the immense technical know-how of most of the diners, the wines are gauged primarily on their style and enjoyment. It’s an exercise in appreciating the wines for what they are, rather than trying to find fault and taking them apart. www.thespiegelaiiwc.co.nz
At this year’s Spiegelau International Wine Competition, the judges’ dinner was held again at Hotel d’Urville in Blenheim. The executive chef Maree Connolly presided over the kitchen and presented another superb menu. As could be expected, the service was efficient and faultless. I can say the food was brilliant, and apologise for the lack of words on it, as I concentrated on making notes on the wines. www.durville.com
The Menu and the Wines
On Arrival: Bluff oysters au natural
The current Cloudy Bay ‘Pelorus’ Marlborough Methode Traditionnelle Vintage 2007 was first up, served by the hotel. Broader and more open than the 2006, but still with plenty of autolysis complexity and richness to more than cope with the oysters. The wine show bosses put up two bottles of Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rose NV as their contribution to start the evening off in good fashion. Clear, washed salmon-pink colour, this was redolent of gentle red fruits, with lush and sweet notes from the dosage, providing a note of decadence, but cut with good acid. The bready elements quietly in the background. Delicious stuff!
Medjool dates, toasted pinenuts, goats curd
A bracket of ‘other whites’ was perfect as a lead-in to the night. The Pizzini King Valley Arneis 2002, an Australian version better than most of the authentic Italian bottlings I’ve tried, still very fresh with lovely intensity, cut and steel, and a guiding grip. Next was a Valdesil ‘Sobre Lias’ Godello Valdeoras 2011, up-front and aromatic, quite gentle, but growing surprisingly to give nothing away to the wines around it. I wasn’t as enthused about the Marc Bredif ‘Classic’ Vouvray 2011 as more esteemed diners around me. They appreciated the completeness of this wine, whereas I saw correctness, with lanolin and reduction tied together. However, we all agreed about the strength and power of the J-L Chave L’Hermitage Blanc 2010. Distinctly more golden in colour with layers of barrel-ferment and new oak infusing rich, weighty ripe stonefruit flavours. This could almost be Chardonnay, and whether it was typical could be asked, but the striking power was its feature. A startling wine indeed.
A trio of Rieslings accompanied this course too. The Grosset Watervale Clare Valley Riesling 2003 was an intense and firm, dry wine with great depth and linearity. A tad hard and still acidic, but with classical lime and toast secondary development. This will live for another decade, but its strident nature is somewhat unforgiving. At the other end of the enjoyment spectrum was the Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 1998, softer and considerably more harmonious with its interwoven nature of toastiness and honey. The sweetness, kero and fine textures made for a perfect finish. A wine to drink now and with great relish. Putting these two in context was a Domaine Wachau ‘Kellerberg’ Riesling Smaragd 2008. Much more subtle fruit flavours with the taste of the earth – is this terroir? However, I was surprised by its softness and savoury talc aromas and flavours. Very shy and matty, quite unexpectedly so, whereas most Austrian Rieslings have appeared to me as pure and driven with a strong, steely core.
Marlborough seafood sauce bouillabaisse, garlic wafer
A flight of four exceptionally tasty Chardonnays, arguably the best grouping of wines of the night. First up was the local wine, a Te Whare Ra Marlborough Chardonnay 2007, a little pongy on pouring, but opening up to show rich tropical fruits, butterscotch, nuts and layers of interest on a lush and creamy textured palate. Then two Australian numbers, the Shaw + Smith ‘M3’ Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2009, a big softie, if not a bit of a bruiser, with bold and rounded, fat flavours and textures of tropical fruits and butter with coconutty oak. Quite a decadent style and near overwhelming. Pairing this was the Oakridge ‘864’ Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2009. A most contemporary style with piercing matchstick and flinty reduction on bouquet, but a wonderfully refined and seamlessly textured palate with everything in balance and harmony. Layers of flint and stonefruits with complex nuts and oak all providing detail. Putting these in their place was the Patrick Javillier ‘Cuvee Tete de Murger’ Meursault 2007, sweetly nutty and gently broad with a fine oiliness, but in essence with a restraining mouthfeel, underlying linearity, tending to dryness on the finish. This was textbook Meursault and possibly better than its village appellation.
Pork cheeks, celeriac puree, mustard mostrada
A pair of non-Burgundy Pinot Noirs, firstly a Franz Haas Alto Adige Pinot Nero 2007, disturbingly washed out and rather weak, more a rosé than red, the acidity prominent, redeemed by a trace of sweetness. In another world was the Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2003, still youthful and powerful with concentration and richness. A wine with serious flavour interest and detail and good years ahead of it. This would have fitted in with the genuine Burgundy articles that followed.
The Robert Chevillon Nuits-St Georges 1er ‘Les Bousselots’ 2006 was a rich, dark and fruit-packed red. Not quite the detail and nuance, but possessing a hearty line and palate. The sweet fruit turned to dryness, but remained soft on finish. True to form was the best of the Pinot Noir brackets, the Armand Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2006, beautifully fragrant with dark florals intermixed with creamy notes and sweet, lifted oak. Utterly accessible and charming, with incredible subtlety and nuance, but more than sufficiently structured line underneath. Isn’t this what Burgundy is all about? Then an Antonin Guyon Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru 2006, savoury with herbal, whole bunch and probably bretty, quite old-fashioned and robustly structured, this became firm and drying. A wine that will continue to age and hopefully mellow – otherwise drink with big game!
Continuing down the floral and aromatic spectrum, into Syrah. The J-L Chave ‘L’Hermitage Rouge 2010 was a twin to the Blanc served earlier. Dark and densely concentrated with spicy, savoury black fruits, reductive-like elements, game and pepper. This complexity carried through to palate, rich and layered with ‘puissance’ and the finest tannin profile and a lingering liquorice finish. The Antipodean match was a Wendouree ‘Pressings’ Clare Valley 1989, black as black, piquant savoury nose and a packed black-fruited core, unfolding black earth, game and minerals from its tannin core. This must have been a bit of a monster at birth.
Angus fillet of beef, cognac and peppercorn, artichokes
From Australia, two Bordeaux-styled reds to lead on to bigger things. The Petaluma Coonawarra 1997 is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot from a cold vintage. Amazingly fresh with high acid and still firm. Age has given this finesse and typical Bordeaux charm now, when it must have been shrill. I liked it more than the Grosset ‘Gaia’ Clare Valley 1996, a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. Now well into its secondary phase if not tertiary. Softened, mellow, gamey, bretty too, the complexity giving way to drying mouthfeel.
Better things were expected next. A brace of genuine claret, led by a Ch. Rauzan-Segla Margaux 2007. Very dark, but plush and sweet with ripe dark raspberry and blackberry fruits freshly expressed and backed by charry, toasty oak, revealing considerable brett. Fine grained tannins and soft in mouthfeel, this is a modern-world wine that could have come from any one of several places. This was contrasted by a typical ‘Ye Olde World’ style, savoury, grunty, dry and structured Ch. Calon-Segur St Estephe 2005. Tough and dense and a touch of the massive here, a slab of rough-cut meat seared on the barbecue would be ideal. The wine of the night for myself and many others was the Penfolds ‘Kalimna Block 42’ Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. Still black, this unfolded seamless waves of ripe, sweet, blackcurrant and blackberry fruits with flashes of plums, liquorice, spices and a line of eucalypt, plus lashings of oak. Not only is this essence of Cabernet, but also of South Australia. Its sweetness and richness hides the massive tannin structure. It is all so big and nearly over the top, yet it retains an incredible sense of finesse, style and decorum. This will live for decades.
A trio of ‘other dry reds’ followed. Led by a Palacios ‘Las Lamas’ Bierzo 2009, made from the re-emerging Spanish red Mencia variety, said to be akin to Cabernet Franc in style, and it was, with a dense red fragrance and a soft, lush core, this was a seamless and smooth flowing number, supported by fine-grained tannins and classy extraction profile. Two Italian reds next, firstly an Il Pino di Biserno Toscana 2007, the second wine of Tenuta Biserno, a blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Quite leafy and very Cabernet Sauvignon, with lovely cassis liqueur and essence aromas and flavours, flowing on a slippery textured palate with fine grip and bright, racy acidity. This was very different to the Brancaia ‘Il Blu’ Toscana 2007 served in magnum. 50% Sangiovese, 45% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, sweet and savoury red fruits and game flavours had its plushness underlined by tough tannins. The battle on the palate was won by the juiciness of the fruit which emerged on the finish.
Walnut and caramel tart, quince mousse, brittle
Two sweet whites were matched here. Much lighter was the Dr Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese 2007, elegantly petrolly, with intense cutting toastiness, but featuring the finest acidity. Crispness allied to slipperiness, the subtle richness of limes, slate and honeysuckle enlivened by the lacy, cutting zestiness. I was a little perturbed by its development, but it is, now, afterall, 6 years old. More venerable was the Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes 1995. Distinctly golden, full and broad, with depth and density, this oozed caramel, barley sugar and butterscotch. A little lift and nuttiness, brown sugar and just beginning to dry a little now.
Time Out for a Wine Options
One of the chair of judges wine was served at this point, before the cheese course, as an ‘options wine’, to test the diners’ palates. It was a case of ‘last man standing’ as a series of questions with two choices were asked, those getting it wrong sitting down. It didn’t take long – just nine questions – to whittle the 30 or so people down to one winner – senior judge Jane Boyle. The wine was Ch. Latour Pauillac 1994, just starting to lighten in colour, and showing definite secondary aromas and flavours of dark brown earth and dark berry fruits intermixed with spices and game. Not a blockbuster or overly concentrated, this still had a good heart. The tannins had not yet resolved, and some residual acidity still a feature in the mouthfeel. This is a Ch. Latour from an elegant vintage and higher in Merlot than usual, around 27%. It’s always a treat to see a first growth Bordeaux. Thank you Mike de Garis!
Mike de Garis – Spiegelau iwc Chairman of Judges
Revealing the Ch. Latour 1994 the next morning
Mike de Garis – Spiegelau iwc Chairman of Judges
Revealing the Ch. Latour 1994 the next morning
Tastes of blue cheese, fig and almond bread
Two fortified wines to accompany cheese. A rarely seen Besombes Singla ‘Cuvee Amedee’ Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel 1945, quite fine and indeed taut, nectar and nuts, grapey and racio, all undercut by refined phenolic grip to provide some dryness to counter the sweetness. This is a complex number, but thankfully not overly cloying. I’m sure the 18.5% alcohol helps cut through the sweetness. And then a Bullers Rutherglen Liqueur Frontignac, probably from the 1960s, and sitting at 17.8% alc. Darker, with more age and unctuous textures. More fruity than the Rivesaltes, with raisins and definably muscat in origin. Not quite the complexity of flavour, missing the rancio, but nevertheless with a sense of elegance for what can be a syrupy style, the alcohol, fruitiness and sugar lingering for ages.