Went to a wonderful Open That Bottle Night party at friends Mark and Julie Small’s house on Saturday night. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s an idea started by Wall Street Journal wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter several years back – they created a night for people to open that special bottle of wine they’d been saving for just the right occasion. Of course, the right occasion never comes up and most people hold onto the bottle forever; this idea gives people the excuse to open it up. Over the years, people have created parties around the theme.)
About 30 or so people brought wonderful bottles of wine (and great food to accompany them); Mark and Julie also were generous enough to raid their own cellar for some gems. I didn’t taste everything, but I got to most. My notes:
Cloudy Bay Sauv. Blanc, Marlborough New Zealand - I didn’t see the bottle on this one so not sure of the vintage, but it was quite fresh so I’d say ‘07, possibly ‘06. Cloudy Bay is always a consistently great NZ Sauv. Blanc, and this was right up to par. Richer than most, this had almost a hint of sweetness and a lush, slightly creamy mouthfeel, yet still with characteristic zingy acidity and vibrant gooseberry / passionfruit flavors.
Williams-Selyem 1996 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: Sonoma Coast is a large appellation, but Hirsch is in what’s called the “true” Sonoma Coast – literally in sight of the ocean, in a climate so cool that even Pinot struggles to fully ripen in some years. As such, the wines are elegant with If I had to critique it, I’d say the acidity was slightly out of whack with the fruit – the fruit has faded slightly while the acidity has come to the fore. Still, this is a wine I’d happily enjoy; it’d be even better with food.
Gagliole 1999 “Pecchia”, Toscana IGT: Absolutely wonderful. Rich and lush, yet unmistakeably Tuscan Sangiovese. Dark cherry and plum, woodsmoke, smooth spicy oak, full mouthfeel, dusty scorched earth, balanced acidity, exquisitely long finish.
Isole e Olena 2001 “Cepparello”, Toscana IGT: I should have had this before the Gagliole. Though both are Sangiovese (Cepparellos is 100%), the Gagliole is a much more muscular style, while the Cepparello is more elegant and restrained. I love this wine, but it suffered after the Gagliole, coming across as leaner than it really is. Still, wonderful notes of dark cherry, minerality, dustiness, smooth tannins. Acidity was pronounced and the fruit was still tight, so I think this will really shine in 3-4 years.
Lynch Bages 1998 Pauillac: Another winner – 1998 was a solid but not spectacular vintage (rain at harvest marred an otherwise promising year), but those are the vintages that are ready to drink sooner. At 10+ years, this is drinking beautifully; open black currant, tobacco, cigar box, and licorice flavors balanced with smooth tannins, a hint of earthiness, and vibrant acidity. Medium-bodied and elegant; quite a change from some of the CA Cabs that followed.
Chateau Talbot 1995 St. Julien: A leaker – the wine was badly oxidized
Chateau Talbot 1996 St. Julien: Also defective, but with brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast that depending on the strain imparts flavors and aromas akin to bandaid / pool-toy plastic (4-etholphenol strain) or barnyard / sweaty saddle (4-ethylguaiacol strain). This wine had strong bandaid / plastic diaper / hair permanent chemical flavors. Some people don’t mind brett; I’m very sensitive to it and didn’t enjoy this at all.
Ridge Vineyards 1997 Lytton Springs Zinfandel: One of the surprises of the night for me – I’m not a big Zin lover in general (though Ridge is among my favorites for the varietal), and also thought that at 12 years this would be showing its age. Not so – it was delightfully vibrant, with a tanginess on the palate that balanced the brambly blackberry / raspberry fruit very well. Some oak, but seamless. Overall, very nice.
Spring Mountain 1997 “Miravelle / La Perla / Chevalier” Red Wine: Badly, and I mean badly, corked. No one at the party knew about the saran wrap trick, so I did a demonstration. For whatever chemical reason, saran wrap absorbs TCA; if you wad up a ball and put it in the glass or a decanter for a few minutes with the wine, it will dramatically reduce the TCA. In a wine this badly corked, the TCA was still strong, but the fruit came through a lot more after the saran wrap. In a wine only lightly corked, the saran wrap will make it actually pleasant to drink.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2006 “Artemis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: Very nice – Stag’s Leap has always gone for elegance instead of power, and this wine was nicely balanced at 13.8% alcohol. Still young and tight, but showed good fruit and structure. A pleasure now, but will be better in about 5 years.
St. Supery 1994 Dollarhide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: Drinking well; very refined, just a hint of brett but not enough to mar the wine. Very well integrated after 15 years, with smooth tannins, dark fruit, cassis, cigar box; good structure.
Far Niente 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: A beautiful nose of blueberry, spice, mushrooms and licorice; slightly lean on the palate, with oak dominating. Pleasant, but I think it would have been better a couple of years ago; the wood lasted longer than the fruit.
Beringer 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley (Sonoma): Really, really nice – a pleasant surprise. I often prefer moderately priced California Cabs over more expensive ones because the expensive wine are made to taste expensive – very extracted, ripe fruit; high alcohol; lots of expensive new French oak – and are too over-the-top and not balanced enough for my taste. This wine was a great example- not hideously expensive, but balanced and elegant – good acidity, black currant fruit, tobacco, licorice, a little bit of oak, but not too much, all integrated with the passage of time. This wine is drinking beautifully right now.
Pride Mountain Vineyards 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa / Sonoma: The opposite of the Beringer. At least 15% alcohol, and you could taste it. Concentrated, rich fruit, lots of oak. Still a baby – all the elements are there, but the fruit, wood, and alcohol need time to integrate. Well-made for the style, but too rich for me to drink much of.
Wolf Blass 1998 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley: Australian producers use a fair amount of American oak, which is less nuanced then French oak – it gives more vanilla / dill / coconut flavors as opposed to the spiciness of French oak. This wine had a lavish helping – lots of vanilla and coconut, some mintiness, cassis, very creamy mouthfeel. Probably a year or two past its ideal drinking time, but still lush.
Cesari 1998 “Brosan” Amarone della Valpolicella: Amarone is made from grapes that have been dried, so you get a high-alcohol wine redolent of dried fruits. The Brosan was rich, smooth, and velvety; clean and well-made, with a long finish. It was much juicier than most Amarones, but was missing the herbal quality and pleasant bitterness that I get out of many. Not as complex as it could be, but very pleasant.
Chateau de l’Echarderie 1985 Quarts de Chaume: Sweet Chenin Blanc is among the world’s most underrated dessert wines – honeysuckle, nuttiness, lanolin, beeswax, truffles, and great acidity. Quarts de Chaume in the Loire Valley is the top region for it; the wines are hard to find, but they’re worth it. This wine was oxidized a bit, so it was about 80% of what it ideally could be – some aldehydic bruised apple flavors marred the wine, but even at 80%, it was delicious.
Fonseca 1934 Setubal: My favorite wine of the night, and a great way to end. Setubal is a fortified wine from Portugal made primarily or entirely from Moscatel (Muscat); after fortification, the wine is left in contact with the skins for six months or so, which gives the wine intense aromatics and good phenolic character. It’s usually aged in casks for 5-6 years, but good examples such as this spend up to twenty years. The wine tasted very similar to a Malmsey Madeira but with lower acid – loads of hazelnuts, toffee, and caramel, sweet but not cloying, and still very fresh. Rich mouthfeel, very long finish. You don’t see much Setubal around, and definitely not one this old, so it was a real treat.
Overall, a wonderful evening – thanks again Julie & Mark!