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Spiegelau International Wine Competition 2014 – Judges’ Dinner

By July 16, 2014No Comments

Belinda Jackson – Director, Spiegelau International Wine Competition
with a Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’ 2002
One of the more formal and glamour events for the judges of a wine show is the ‘Judges’ Dinner’ where all the judges contribute an interesting bottle of wine to be shared with all the other members of the team over a fine dinner. Most judges bring something that is very different to what might normally be judged at the wine competition, and usually it is a wine of good provenance or one that is of critical acclaim or prestige. It’s not necessarily a matter of out-doing each other, but most of the diners want to know who brought the best bottles.

At the Spiegelau International Wine Competition, the duty and pleasure of organising the diverse collection of wines into an order of cohesiveness to match the structure of the meal falls upon Mike de Garis, the Chairman of Judges. His aim is to have the wines bracketed so that meaningful comparisons can be made among the wines when served. It’s not easy to do, due to the wildly different origins and styles. The diners, although they have considerable technical expertise, will be consuming the wines hedonistically, so the desire is to have the wines following an order of increasing strength and complexity that is natural with the menu. 25-plus wines may seem like a lot to the uninitiated, but the amount of each served is approx. 25 ml, all served with food, over a period of over three hours. The real mission for the diners is to keep up a steady pace of giving the wines their due respect and attention, as they are served in fairly rapid succession.  www.spiegelauiwc.co.nz

An Evening of Cork Taint Spoilage
The 2014 Spiegelau IWC Judges’ Dinner was held at MVH, Rapaura Road, Marlborough. At each dinner, some theme or over-arching perspective comes to the fore. This year, it was the effect of cork taint. Nearly 20% of the wines brought to dinner suffered from obvious spoilage, making them virtually undrinkable. Such occurrences highlight the topic of wine bottle closures, and the diners this night no doubt left the event even more wary of the possibility of taint and variability of cork-sealed wines. Despite this, the dinner was a success in that everyone enjoyed themselves, and the camaraderie of the judging team was enhanced. Here, I offer my notes on the wines tasted, with the food courses. They are brief and personal, as they can only be in such circumstances

On Arrival: Salmon tartare and Rare beef and Romesco
Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’ Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2002 (19.0+/20) – There couldn’t be a better opening gambit, the classical blanc de blancs, all finesse, the softest touch, with delicate complexities of florals, toast and yeast, seamless and beautifully sleek and slippery, the subtle richness cut by acid poise. There’s a long way to go with this too. Then a little more bubbles as a top up and carry over, some Lanson ‘Black Label’ Champagne Brut NV (18.0-/20), fulsome and sturdy in a soft sort of way, not quite the autolytic complexities of recent releases, but fresher for it. Still quite delicious.

On sitting at our places, there were two white wines waiting for us. A Bimbadgen Hunter Valley Semillon 2009 (18.0+/20), quite up-front, modern Semillon expression with bold, green and waxy characters, suggesting fatness and richness. A far cry from the lighter, classical and traditional Hunter Semillons of yore that needed years of bottle age. This was paired with a Cloudy Bay ‘Te Koko’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (18.5+/20), even bolder again, even more up-front and quite a complete volume on nose and mouthfilling weight on palate. Integrated and melded spiced nectarines, with creamy oak and lees. Who says New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can’t age? Mind you, it isn’t Sauvignon as most people know it…

Seared, spiced Nelson scallops, orange and cardamom glaze
Firstly a natural and orange wine Dario Princic ‘Jakot’ Tocai Fruliano 2010 (N/S), quite orange and corked. The skin contact phenolics showed upon tasting, quite dry and with no harshness or hardness, but I didn’t linger. This was atoned for by the Marc Bredif Vouvray 1988 (18.5/20), soft, fat, dense and weighty with soft lanolin and waxiness, unveiling honey and toast. All guided by a fine textural thread, as the acidity was well absorbed by the fruit richness and development.

Two Australian whites followed, led by a Grosset Watervale Riesling 2001 (19.0+/20), showing lovely finesse and intensity, with a harmonious core of limes and toast. The palate particularly impressive for its finesse, fine, firm line, tightness and length. The 2002 is the famous wine, but this 2001 can also be regarded as an outstanding one to match. The Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2007 (19.0+/20) followed. Initially tight, but opening up to reveal glorious citrus-orange peel and yellow stonefruits on a seamlessly smooth, creamy palate with considerable power underneath. Great length caps of a great wine.

Finishing with two white burgundies, ostensibly to lead into the next food course of duck. Leading was the Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru ‘Blanchot’ 2009 (19.0-/20), very pale, and beautifully pure, pristine and poised, with piquant minerals to rainwater freshness, the finest acid cut and textural line guiding the wine. Then a DomaineLeflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2010 (17.5+/20), showing a touch more colour, and very delicate, quite shy. Fine acidity and freshness and smooth textures, soft, and suggestion lusciousness, and any inputs very subtle in expression. This is typical Leflaive stylishness, but tonight just not opening up. Could it have been affected by cork issues? Others who left it in glass saw it blossom.

Smoked duck breast with braised bok choy, star anise carrot puree, beetroot jus
The WillaKenzie Willamette Valley Pinot Meunier 2010 (17.5/20) was pale in colour with a beautiful fragrance of strawberries and florals, quite lifted, unfolding some confectionary notes. Very elegant, a smaller wine for sure, smooth-flowing, a little lollyish, and a pretty wine in the final analysis. At the other end of the spectrum a William Cole ‘Colombine Special Reserve’ Colchagua Valley Carmenere 2011 (18.0/20), a black-red wine with true varietal aroma and flavour of brackish vegetation and herbs, but the fruit with ripeness and sweetness, and relatively refined for its robustness. A softness of mouthfeel and sweet fruit prevailed. Avery smart example.

Two Syrah/Shiraz offerings next, led by the Yves Cuilleron ‘Les Prieres Leches’ St Joseph 2005 (17.5+/20), still dark coloured with soft game and farmyard intermixed with herbs. Lovely savoury black fruits with hints of spices and pepper, the palate densely packed with a core of tannin. A big softie that will keep. Then a Plantagenet Mt Barker Shiraz 1998 (18.5+/20), still impenetrable in colour, now with considerable secondary and tertiary development of savoury earth, dark brown spices and game, but remarkably sweet and lush, with a firm line of tannin carrying it all. The wine is a powerful and complex expression that will continue to evolve.

The highlight flight for most diners was the trio of Barolo. The first was the Massolino ‘Margheria’ Barolo 2009 (17.5+/20), a pale coloured wine marked by rose florals and aromatic fragrances. Beautifully elegant and modern for sure with fine tannins and sweet fruited mouthfeel, all expressed with finesse. One end of the Nebbiolo-Barolo spectrum, I’d liked to have seen more complexity and layers. Or was it overshadowed by bigger expressions around it? Next was what I see as archetype and a perfect model, the Vietti ‘Castiglione’ Barolo 2004 (19.5-/20), dark coloured with a deeply concentrated nose and palate with layers of interwoven earth, tar, black fruits, dried herbs and crushed florals. Great density, but with a refining lift and very fine, powdery tannin extraction. Everything you’d want is there, and this will go another decade plus. The third was the Azelia di Luigi Scavino ‘Bricco Fiasco’ Barolo 1996 (18.0/20), more garnet red, still dark in colour, dense, leathery, earthy and fully-structured, masses of tannin, with tarry and game. The fulsome nature nearly fearsome, and now just beginning to dry. This will last ages. A very traditional wine, at the opposite end to the Massolino.

Oven-baked Canterbury lamb loin with spinach, parsnip puree, potato gratin
With this lamb course, moving into classical reds, with the Barolo handover from the previous flight. The Sassicaia 2007 (N/S) another victim of cork taint, sadly not even worth tasting. The Ch. Kirwan Margaux 2006 (15.5+/20) very ordinary, but looking for positives, elegant and supple, just beginning to show secondary complexities, if being critical, then dull and flat. Not unpleasant, but not really pleasing. More interesting was the Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2009 (18.0+/20), rich, plush ripe and bold in sweet, dark fruits. A little black plum jam with hints of raisins, the alcohol sweetness merging with the fruit richness. Rounded juiciness and balanced tannin extraction lending a New World opulence.

A flight of Alsace wines to bridge the gap between lamb and dessert. Leading was the Albert Boxler Alsace Grand Cru ‘Sommerberg’ Riesling 2006 (N/S). This didn’t make the rounds due to cork taint. Next a Weinbach ‘Cuvee Ste Catherine’ Alsace Pinot Gris 2007 (18.0-/20), with richness and weight allied to unctuous mouthfeel, some fat and alcohol drive. Seeming mature and becoming broader, but also no urgency here. My impression on this was it seemed a tad flat. My wine of the night was the Bott-Geyl Alsce Grand Cru ‘Sonnenglanz’ Gewurztraminer 2007 (19.5/20), a wine of great clarity of rose-petal and root ginger expression, the florals winning out, and enhanced by sweetness and aromatic precision. Lovely cut, line, power and drive, all the while retaining freshness and finesse. A wine of great beauty, and subtle hedonism.

Crème caramel with poached pear
First of the dessert wines was a Lucien Albrecht Alsace Riesling Vendages Tardives 2002 (16.0/20), golden-yellow, broad and dense and distinctly oxidised. Still some Riesling fruit, with marmalade, honey and nutty elements, the wine evolved, becoming somewhat sour. Then a Ch. Suduiraut Sauternes 2003 (18.0+/20), a full, rounded and decadently ripe wine, still with waxy Semillon, and more restrained botrytis. Oak and VA lift all part of the equation. On palate decidedly restrained and not quite the acid cut and liveliness. There’s an attractive softness and opulence and great unctuousness, but this will mature more quickly from now.

Selection of Neudorf cheeses with walnut bread, Marlborough quince paste
Back to the reds for matching with cheese, these being big reds. The Penfolds ‘Bin 707’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (18.0-/20) was as expected, deep, dark and very dense. Great power, robustness and extract, with savoury olive, cassis and undergrowth infused blackcurrants, all underlined by firm tannin extraction and grip, with acid adding to the firmness. The mouthfeel is still very vibrant, and there’s plenty left to unfold. Just somewhat ungainly at this stage, and gawky. Will it come together with more style? I have a suspicion it may remain a bit ungraceful. Next wine, a Wynns ‘John Riddoch’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 en magnum (N/S), criminally corked. What a waste.

Then onto two other wines to match the cheese. The Besombes Singla ‘Cuvee Amedee’ Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel 1979 (18.0+/20), light golden yellow, with classical ripe stonefruits, nuts and raisins, revealing caramel and a touch of sherryish oxidation. Lovely gentle power and still with sweetness and restrained richness. Not rancio’d, so not the glorious complexity as in older examples, but a fresher revelation. The final wine, the Dow’s ‘Quinta do Bomfin’ Vintage Port 1996 (N/S), another victim of cork taint. I gave it a go anyway. Still youthfully dark and black, but tightly constrained and constricted, stripped significantly to end up minerally and austere. Not quite the enjoyment it promised. Regardless of this and the other corked wines, a fascinating and truly fun line-up.


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