Tasting Pomerol and Saint Emilion again.

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For the second time we tasted some of the best from Saint Emilion and Pomerol with Munich Wine Club. We chose to check on some great vintages and classics as well as on some good, sort of under the radar, vintages.
In seven, vintage-specific flights we compared a total of 15 wines from the different appellations in a blind tasting setting.

1998 was, after 1990, probably the best vintage in the 90´s with wines of boldness, power as well as structure.
Chateau Le Gay
appeared dark and deep with aromas of blackberry, vanilla sweetness, some minty freshness and earthy characters. Beautiful and juicy on the palate with fine, yet present tannins and a long finish.
Ripeness, opulence and substance in a classic Pomerol. 1998 Chateau Gazin showed less substance and depth than the Chateau Le Gay with red fruits of raspberry and red currant, some plums, tobacco, present green notes and licorice spiciness. Still tight and a little edgy, while lacking density and juice. Honestly, I´m not sure what the future will bring for this wine.

Chateau L’ Evangile and Chateau La Conseillante represented the distinct styles of their Chateau´s perfectly with a dark, concentrated and rather robust 1994 Chateau L‘ Evangile on the one side and a fine, almost feminine and harmonious 1994 Chateau La Conseillante on the other. Both wines characterize the ripeness of the 1994 vintage that was challenged by rains before and during harvest. With aromas of dark, black fruits, florals (violets), dried herbs, leather and forest floor 1994 L´Evangile showed vital and robust on the nose, while it remained harmonious, present and a little dirty on the palate. Dark fruit, earthy layers and spiciness- especially on the long finish- create a delicious and exciting package. In this condition, the wine holds for 5+ years easily. 1994 Chateau La Conseillante has a bouquet of fine, red and dark fruits, perfume, florals, delicate green layers and some lactic notes. While the wine is very elegant on the nose, it´s immensely present and young on the palate. With brittle tannins, fine acidity and depth it has everything necessary to evolve for another decade. Beautiful, long finish with tons of dark fruits and peppery spiciness.

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1990 Chateau Lafleur presented itself elegant, almost quiet, but immensely complex with aromas of cherry, dried herbs, plum, green tea, tobacco, ethereal layers, hints of Port and fine sweetness. Pure power and substance in perfect balance on the palate. Very fruit-driven, even mineral and sweet with fine, but dense tannins and filigree acidity. Endless finish. Monumental and hedonistic while sophisticated and young. Is this one expression of a perfect wine? Absolutely.
1990 Chateau Certan de May took the hard challenge to compete with this legend. And, while being lengths behind, it still surprised us! A very complete wine showing all the ripeness and structure you would expect from a beautiful 1990 Pomerol. Expressive aromas of dark fruit, herbal spiciness, little oak and delicious sweetness. Harmonious and full of substance on the palate with dark fruit and more herbal spiciness. Delicious, compact and at its best now!

1988 Chateau La Fleur-Petrus was opulent, concentrated and a little rustic with black fruits, tobacco, leather and herbal spiciness. Great smoothness, even charm, and depth on the palate. Cool with character and a dark, punchy finish with drive. 1988 Chateau Certan Giraud was on a par with the La Fleur-Petrus and similar to the bottle we had last year with aromas of blackcurrant, tobacco, fresh, green herbs and distinct notes of iron. A little tighter and leaner than the La Fleur-Petrus, but of good balance, harmony and precision. Good stuff!

After having many outstanding 1985s over the last months, we had great expectations regarding tonight´s 1985 flight, but the wines couldn´t fully meet our expectations. 1985 Chateau Beausejour came with sweet fruit, hints of tobacco, dried fruits, fresh herbs and notes pastry. Unfortunately the palate was dominated by present acidity and lacking substance. Obviously past its prime, but still nice to drink with red fruits and herbal notes. Drink now!
1985 Chateau Troplong Mondot lost most of its charm and showed only very little sweetness, but lots of caramel, mushrooms, coffee ground and some herbal freshness. Lacking harmony and balance, it´s very dark, oxidative and bumpy on the palate with very little sweetness of remaining fruit. Certainly a weak bottle.

1979 is a Right Bank vintage I like very much. There are still many fine, smoothly textured wines with vibrant acidity around- recent examples were an amazingly fascinating 1979 Chateau Magdelaine and a stunning 1979 Chateau L`Evangile. Today´s bottle of 1979 Chateau Magdelaine didn´t perform and slightly oxidative notes gave proof that this was not a perfect bottle. Very dark on the nose with little black fruit, olives, ground coffee, dark chocolate and raisins. Light-weight and fine on the palate with nice acidity and length. Lacking substance. Good thing we had three bottles in this flight- and the other two were really shining bright! 1979 Vieux Chateau Certan came in strong with fine, but fresh aromas of dark fruits (blackberry and cherries), mixed herbs, vegetable layers, hay and peppery spiciness. Precise, elegant and fresh on the palate. Great depth and drive! 1979 Clos Fourtet appears with tons of fresh fruit as well. Aromas of red and black currant, little citrus, delicate spiciness, earthy characteristics, little leather, iron and herbaceous notes. Balanced, focused and elegant on the palate where vibrant acidity gives live. Nice finish of red fruits, freshness and iron. Textbook 1979 Right Bank.

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As expected, or at least hoped, was the 1971 Chateau Cheval Blanc another highlight of the tasting.
From this vintage of richness and opulence with good acidity many of the top wines are still shining today- and so did the Cheval Blanc with ethereal freshness, fine, sweet red-berry fruit, delicate spiciness, tobacco, iron and little truffle. Very fine, elegant and intriguing! Cool and elegant with finest sweetness on the palate. Finished very long with a cool and spicy punch. Fantastic wine!
1971 Canon la Gaffeliere came in second in this flight, but showed great as well with dark sweetness, herbaceous notes, licorice, earth, pencil lead, caramel, little honey and traces of smoke. Very round and balanced on the palate with fully integrated tannins and fine sweetness. Decent length.

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Riesling from Germany, Austria and Alsace

In a comprehensive tasting with Munich Wine Club last Saturday we tasted many of the best wines made from the Riesling grape back to 1976.

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Dönnhoff´s 2015 Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese, from heavy, loamy soils and primary rock right on the banks of the Nahe river on the opposite side of the winery, showed very fruit-driven, ripe and open with tons of yellow fruits (stone fruit, citrus, mango and pineapple) and little herbal fresh- and spiciness. I´m curious to see these wines in 10+ years time.
The weathered slate soils with rocky parts, embedded iron and clay created a distinct Scharzhofberger Riesling in 2001. Even though this wasn´t a perfect bottle, Egon Müller´s 2001 Scharzhofberger Spätlese showed the typical fresh and intensive herbal characters and citrus notes with present, vibrant and salty minerality.
A clean, concentrated and structured wine.

Knoll´s Schütt is always among my personal favorites from the Wachau, because it´s more focused and pure and not as ripe and bold as many other vineyards. Good to see the 2012 shining strong with citrus (zest), concentrated yellow fruit, herbal freshness, notes of ginger and minerality. Bold and ripe on the palate with present alcohol and sufficient substance and fruit. Powerful and long with focus.
The fourth wine of the evening was already a serious highlight of the night!
Wittmann´s ‘La Borne’ comes from heavy limestone soils with chalk, which always create wines of elegance, coolness and fresh fruit. 2011 La Borne perfectly fits this profile. Elegant and almost reluctant aromas of little yellow fruit, fresh herbs, perfume and white florals, but powerful, dense and full of drive on the palate with substance, great depth, focus and length. Fantastic vibrant and salty minerality. Keep this wine 10+ years.

Wittmann 2007 Brunnenhäuschen is powerful and ripe with aromas of stone fruit, yellow apples, caramel, exotic spices and smoky minerality. Deep, dark and vibrant on the palate. Immense potential!
F.X. Pichler 2006 Unendlich. I remember tasting exceptional examples of this wine – like the magnificient 2002 or the deep, exciting and vibrant 2005, but the 2006 was a bit over the top for me. As in 2005 from 100% Loibenberg fruit, the 2006 is incredibly bold and driven by present alcohol. Still, great structure, depth and complex aromatics. Keep.

Schäfer-Fröhlich´s 2005 Felsenberg directly showed the distinct Schäfer-Fröhlich fingerprint of smoky minerality and notes of spontaneous fermentation (!). The volcanic soils created a wild, still young and vibrant wine of drive and focus.
Especially compared to the Schäfer-Fröhlich, Ökonomierat Rebholz 2005 Kastanienbusch is quiet, feminine and well-behaved with fine, yellow fruits, a lot of perfume and florals. Drinking nicely, but lacking character and depth.

Heymann-Löwenstein 2004 Uhlen Blaufüßer Lay comes with stone fruit, lemon, dried grass and herbal spiciness. Very clean, yet powerful and long. A fresh, fruit-driven and harmonious wine of density and drinking pleasure.
But Keller´s 2003 Morstein appeared to be on a level above with ripe stone fruit, orange zest, oriental spices, fresh herbs, pepper and dark minerality. Deep and dark on the palate with decent length. Maybe lacking some acidity and drive to be exceptional, but fascinating and still young.

In Bürklin-Wolf´s 2002 Hohenmorgen high ripeness and fine acidity combine.
A strong wine of ripe stone fruit, dried herbs, some orange zest, little honey and lactic notes. All in all more bold than elegant, but in perfect harmony.
Prager 1998 Ried Klaus Smaragd was among the stars of the night with precision, purity and perfection. Fresh aromas of citrus, mix of green herbs, traces of petrol, little moss and delicate minerality.
Fine and alive on the palate with great length and laser-like focus.
A masterpiece!

While Trimbach´s 1993 Frederic Emile was oxidized, its big brother was singing: Trimbach 1991 Clos Ste Hune showed citrus, petrol, fresh herbs, traces of honey and wild minerality. Present, vibrant and complex on the palate with a solid structure of acidity and extract, yet an elegant Clos Ste Hune of sophistication.

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J.J. Prüm 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese wasn´t able to hide its origin. Which meant showing, on the one hand, the distinct dark and earthy nuances of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, but, on the other hand, also the characteristics of an exceptionally hot 2003 vintage. Thereby, the wine was very ripe, expressive and lacked finesse and vitality. Still super-youthful, I´m curious to see the development over the next decades.

Von Schubert 1998 Abtsberg Auslese Nr.215 on the contrary was amazingly good!
Fresh, precise and complex with aromas of citrus and exotic fruits, fresh herbs, fir trees, traces of petrol and delicate, salty minerality. In perfect harmony, this wine drinks deliciously and is pure sophistication at the same time. So pure and clean.

Gillot 1976 Oppenheimer Sackträger TBA finished our tasting with ripe, stone fruit, coffee, caramel, honey and dark spiciness. A young power package of ripeness, sweetness and substance. Still endless potential.

Tasting the Cult: Napa Valley 1994- 98

It was one of the very few chances to taste and compare some of the most legendary wines from Napa Valley from 1994- 98 together with other critics and lovers of Californian wine.
The idea was to taste the wines of five wineries – Harlan Estate, Abreu Vineyards, Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin and Dalla Valle – side by side and vintage by vintage. Additionally a reference wine from Bordeaux from the same vintage was served blind to get an impression about the benchmark from the region that has always been the role model for great Napa Valley wines.
All wines were double-decanted and served from the original bottle.

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1998, the El Nino vintage, with abnormally cold temperatures and modest ripeness the vintners were forced to reduce their yields and to select fruit strictly:
As David Abreu declassified his 1998 Madrona Ranch, because it didn´t meet his personal standards, we consequently tasted the 1999 Madrona Ranch instead. It comes with dark and powerful aromas of black fruit, glyceric notes, some road tar and leather. While smooth and dense on the palate with ripe fruit and drive, it finishes long with cool, black fruit and peppery spiciness. Still young.

Surprisingly little fruit showed Araujo´s 1998 Eisele Vineyard, which had to step in for a flawed 1998 Bryant Family Vineyard.
The wine is still youthful and even a little edgy, but full of herbs, pencil lead, traces of walnut and little earth. Robust, yet approachable, harmonious and already glorious!
1998 Herb Lamb Vineyard by Colgin was the first vintage made by Mark Aubert and comes from a tiny total production of only 300 cases.
It is a fine, fresh and beautiful wine with aromas of delicious fruit (mostly blackcurrant), perfume and ethereal notes of fresh herbs and menthol. Cool, black fruits on the palate. Great depth, complexity and length.

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Rather controversial is Dalla Valle`s 1998 Maya. With, as always, about 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Cabernet Franc in the blend, 1998 is driven by lovage and a mix of herbs and vegetables, smoke and traces of raisins. Yet, the wine is fresh and alive.
Smooth and soft, but present on the palate. Dark herbs dominate the taste and make it a
distinct and special wine marching to a different drummer.
Right from the start the 1998 Harlan showed what is possible – even in a complicated vintage. Strictly low yields resulted in a tiny production of only 1100 cases in that vintage, but created a wine of darkness, coolness and elegance.
Concentrated aromas of black fruit, leather, forest floor, lovage and cool minerality. Tight, yet approachable on the palate with more black fruits and herbal notes. It might be lacking some juice, but finishes long and focused with licorice spiciness.
1998 Chateau Haut Brion delivered the benchmark from Bordeaux in this first flight. Ripe, dark fruit, earth, dried herbs, some licorice and little pepper on the nose. Furthermore, rustic and tightly structured on the palate, very fruit-driven and long. Youthful, robust tannins and fine acidity. Even though pleasurable to drink, it´s still way to young. Keep this tight power package from Graves for 10+ years.

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After an early budbreak the 1997 growing season provided generally moderate temperatures, with the exception of one hot week in August, and light rains in September and resulted in a huge crop of exceptional quality. Many of the great 1997s are already legends today. Consequently, our expectations were high.

The mixed soils of red, weathered volcanic rock, white tufa and dark clay of Abreu´s Madrona Ranch created an exceptional wine of sweet, ripe fruit, cool freshness and perfect structure. Aromas of red fruits, licorice, smoky notes, cassis, little barnyard and vanilla.
Lush and present on the palate with substance and young, yet approachable tannins. Elegant, harmonious and sophisticated!
Bryant Family Vineyard`s 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon welcomes you with open arms and gives you a never-ending, comforting hug with bold, ripe fruits (mostly cherries), fine sweetness, baking spices and florals. Fruit-driven, lush and juicy, the wine is dense and present on the palate. A perfect wine without any flaws.
Here are the fresh herbs and the lightness again. Yes, that´s the Colgin 1997 Herb Lamb Vineyard. It shows a lot of ripe, red fruits, fresh herbs (mint!), some coffee, vegetal notes and finest minerality. A deep, cool, elegant and present wine of great precision and fascination!
Dalla Valle`s 1997 Maya doesn´t hide its origin either. Lovage, kitchen vegetables, fruit in rum and cassis represent the distinct, always special style of Maya.
Juicy and of great midpalate density the wine is shining brightly on the palate as well. Dark fruits, caramel and a mix of herbs are packed in fine acidity and delicate, dusty tannins. Delicious and full of character!
1997 Harlan is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. With a production of about 2500 cases in 1997 there were more than twice as much bottles produced than in 1998. Lots of concentrated, ripe and sweet fruits of cassis, black cherry and plum push the wine forward. It shows very dark with leather, road tar, graphite and delicate smoky notes. Very pure, powerful and focused on the palate, where the dark fruit dominates as well. Perfect and good for decades to come.
The 1997 Chateau Mouton Rothschild couldn´t win this battle – it was just outnumbered by legends. Still, nice with red fruits, animalistic notes, earth, leather, florals and leafy hints. Very elegant with good balance and harmony. Drink soon.

 

1996 produced rather rustic wines of lower acidity in Napa Valley. Yields very reduced due to rain during flowering and at the early stage of the growing season. After that, the season was warm with occasional heat spices and, by that, delivered ripe, tannic wines of great potential.
Abreu´s 1996 Madrona Ranch shows cool, even a little green and straight forward with red fruits, fresh herbs, wet forest, espresso and animalistic notes. A powerful, young and solid structured wine.
Polished, ripe and surprisingly open showed the 1996 Bryant Family Vineyard. As always, fruit-driven, sweet and ripe, but still very fine and elegant with, furthermore, traces of perfume, licorice and little smoke. Smooth and delicious now!
Colgin´s 1996 Herb Lamb Vineyard really shows the characteristics of the vintage with black fruits, violets, fresh herbs, pepper and earth. Dense, concentrated and focused on the palate. Dark fruits, graphite, mineral notes, spiciness and bitter (metallic) notes characterize the palate.
Maybe not a perfect bottle, but still a bulky and scraggy wine with lots of grip and character.
A fresh monster that´ll live forever.
1996 Maya is dark, dense and approachable. Lovage, of course, exotic spices, tobacco as well as black fruits and pruns show character and excitement. Though, the wine is on the point right now. It´s dense, but juicy and smooth.
1996 Harlan is a real monument of ripe and concentrated fruit, sweetness, character and structure. It´s fine and ripe, but also dense and almost austere. Nevertheless, layers of forest floor, graphite, burnt toast, clove and green pepper show its flavor complexity.
Young and massive after 20 years.
1996 Chateau Lafite joined the game and showed a rather rustic than elegant face.
Concentrated and cool aromas of little black fruit, earth, mushrooms and barnyard. Edgy, dense and a little leafy on the palate with hardly any (black) fruit, dark minerality, barnyard and bitter notes. This wine doesn´t allow to be consumed now. I´m curious, yet skeptical, to see what this wine will turn into.

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1995 was a relatively cool year with a long growing season creating elegant and rich wines of firm tannins and present acidity. Results were generally heterogeneous.

Little dark fruit, earth, truffle, herbal notes (thyme!) and traces of barnyard represent the nose of Abreu´s 1995 Madrona Ranch. A wine in perfect balance that is open and ripe now. Yet, not a perfectly clean bottle, but still fascinating to drink.
Flawless and fruit-driven shows the 1995 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet…once again. Aromas of sweet, ripe fruit, cedar and vanilla describe the classic style, while some traces of leather and burnt rubber add character and facets. Juicy and full of substance on the palate, where minerality and herbal spiciness join the play of red and black fruits.
Elegant and a pure joy to drink.
Colgin´s 1995 Herb Lamb Vineyard explodes with fruit, freshness and character!
With aromas of dark fruit, dried and fresh herbs, tons of lovage and mint, some cinnamon, smoke and decent oak it´s fine, ultimately complex and fascinating.
Very alive, dense and focused on the palate very ripe, sweet fruit, minty freshness and fine minerality. Perfectly structured with a core of ripe, approachable tannins and integrated, delicate acidity and an endless finish. Among the best wines of the night!
1995 is a typical Maya and a wine that divides the opinions. However, I really like the herbal, distinct style of lovage, vegetables and dark fruit. 1995 comes with peppery spiciness, licorice and malty notes and shows robust on the palate, while not lacking sweetness and balance. A challenging and special wine.
With aromas of black cassis, tobacco, exotic spices, earth and licorice the 1995 Harlan is stylistically not that far away from the Medoc. Black, deep, but ripe and sweet on the palate. An elegant, silky and open wine. Out of the five vintages tasted, this is probably the candidate to drink soonest.
A true competitor was the 1995 Chateau Margaux. Brightly shining with aromas of red and black fruits, violets, tobacco, iron and minerality. All packed in an elegant, feminine and multi-layered ensemble. While approachable, the wine is still young, dense and very long.
Distinct Margaux and, by far, the best from Bordeaux this night.

After some rains in mid May, 1994 provided a warm, yet long and great Napa Valley growing season with good yields and ripeness.

Abreu´s 1994 Madrona Ranch opened the flight with delicate, yet ripe and dark fruit, pencil lead, dried herbs and animalistic notes. Youthful, concentrated and present, yet elegant and sophisticated on the palate with fine, sweet fruit, opulence and dusty tannins.
Pure perfection in a deep, complex and very long wine!
The 1994 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon jumps with massive fruit and sweetness out of the glass. Aromas of chocolate, autumn leaves and coffee play in the background. Very fruit-driven wine of juicy ripeness, immense concentration, density and drive with all pieces in perfect harmony.
Concentrated, red fruits and freshness of green herbs and lovage describe the nose of Colgin´s 1994 Herb Lamb Vineyard. With cool, almost ethereal layers of menthol and herbs, the distinct fingerprint of the rocky hillside vineyard shines through.
It`s still youthful on the palate combining concentration with finesse, freshness and simply delicious fruit, which now starts to show a little sweetness. Stunning!
Dalla Valle´s 1994 Maya comes with black currant, tons of lovage, herbal spiciness and balmy notes. Fascinating and intriguing! On the palate the wine shows ripe and dense with lots of substance, little fruit and some leather and cigar.
Round and juicy wine of good length.
1994 Harlan is elegant, pure and full of character with cassis, black cherries, little leather, espresso, minerality and some vanilla sweetness. Concentrated, rich and deep, but elegant and of cool freshness. Powdery, approachable tannins, delicate acidity and alcohol in perfect harmony. Endless finish.
Hard to imagine that this wine gets any better, but it´ll certainly last forever.
1994 Chateau Latour took the brave challenge to compete with these wines.
Aromas of black fruits, some raspberry, traces of barnyard, graphite and leather. Open and smooth in the mouth with mostly fruit, good complexity and medium density.
Refined, but open and good to be consumed now.

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A memorable tasting proving, once again, the greatness of many of the so-called “Cult Wines” from Napa Valley, where concentration and ripeness meet elegance, freshness and sophistication like in no other wine region on the planet.

None of the wines showed fat, jammy or tired. Instead, almost all wines just start to open and promise a very long future.
Furthermore, with characteristics of site and vintage shining through, the consistency in quality and character is simply remarkable. Even in supposedly weaker vintages, as 1998, the quality level is extremely high.

It was fascinating to see the different styles of wineries and vineyards and to follow the consistency of these styles through the vintages.
My personal favorites:
Harlan Estate for its consistency in style, quality and simple greatness and Colgin´s Herb Lamb Vineyard for combining concentration of fruit and extract with freshness and focus like no other.

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Dunn Vineyards Vertical 2009- 1985

 

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When people talk about old school Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, there´s certainly no way around Randy Dunn and his son Mike, who create their understanding of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from 29 acres (12ha) of mostly volcanic as well as red clay soils from their Howell Mountain vineyards.
Next to the flagship wine, the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which is always made of 100% Howell Mountain fruit, they also produce a second wine simply called Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. In the past, in addition to the grapes from the Mountain vineyards,
about 15 to 20% Napa Valley (floor) fruit went into this wine as well.
Then, in 2009, 10 and 11, the wine was made just like the the Howell Mountain Cabernet from 100% Howell Mountain fruit, but in 2012 Randy and Mike decided to put fruit from the valley into the Napa Valley Cabernet again. From then on all the purchased fruit comes from the Coombsville AVA and makes up for about 60% of the blend in Dunn´s Napa Valley Cabernet.
However, only a few things changed over the years at Dunn; especially in the winemaking. There´s still no sorting table or fancy equipment at the winery. Everything is pretty much basic and hands-on. Well, after using 50% used and 50% new barrels from only one cooper over the years, Dunn now works with 100% new oak and the wines stay a little longer in barrel (H.M. Cabernet for 30 months). Less sulphur is used; less micro oxidation tolerated – but the overall goal to create an elegant wine of moderate alcohol that expresses the Howell Mountain terroir remained the same.

After tasting many vintages of the Howell Mountain as well as the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon over the years, it was about time to dive deep and taste the wines side by side in a comprehensive tasting:

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We started into this exciting night with the 2009 Howell Mountain.
The wine is already surprisingly open and ripe with tons of dark fruits, cassis, dark chocolate, sweetness and minty freshness. Dark and dense, yet approachable and nicely balanced on the palate. Perfectly integrated oak, present tannins and fine acidity guarantee a long life. Keep.
The 2005 Howell Mountain is a little more robust and not as round as the 2009. It´s a dark, deep and robust wine that is fruit-driven still, but shows a lot of fresh herbs, ethereal notes and herbal spiciness. However, it´s well-balanced and smooth on the palate, but sturdy with strong tannins and fine, solid acidity. Finishes long with dark fruit, licorice, mineral notes and peppery spiciness. A great wine of substance, drive and potential.

Our next flight gave the opportunity to compare the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon directly with the Napa Valley Cabernet. Thereby, the 2001 Howell Mountain showed tight, dense and focused with aromas of black fruit, barnyard, ash, little leather and iodine. Structured for eternity with substance and a dense core of solid tannins and present acidity in good balance and harmony. Great length with darkness and spiciness. Softer and more approachable than the 2001 Howell Mountain, the 2001 Napa Valley presents itself dense and ripe with dark fruits, sage, some animalistic notes and minty and eucalypt freshness. More fruit-driven and fresh and juicy on the palate and, due to that, very drinkable, but, compared to the Howell Mountain, lacking drive and precision.

1999 Howell Mountain is a focused wine of barnyard, mushrooms, chocolate, coolness of herbs, little iodine and with dark fruit more in the background. Finely-grained tannins with nice juice and fine acidity make the wine fresh and very drinkable. Fresh herbs and some green notes support the overall fresh and almost ethereal appearance of this wine. Finishes long with dark fruit, mint and herbal spiciness. A very fresh and special Howell Mountain. 1997 Howell Mountain is a blockbuster with aromas of dark fruit, herbs (parsley, lovage), some animalistic notes and barnyard, orange zest, pencil lead, leather, smoke and oaky notes. Great concentration and depth with tannins that are starting to dry out. But the wine has still enough substance and juice to deliver greatest drinking pleasure. Finishes very long with beautiful fruit, anise and herbal spiciness. Keep or drink. 1993 Howell Mountain: Tight and focused wine of dark berry fruit, little barnyard, eucalypt freshness, florals and salty minerality. Appears softer on the palate as you would expect after smelling the fresh and focused aromatics. Nicely integrated, juicy and perfectly balanced with black fruit, little earth, graphite and peppery spiciness. Dusty tannins and vital acidity show the long road ahead. Very nice and one of my favorites as well as surprises of the night!

The 1991 Napa Valley gave us a hard time. Aromatically totally animalistic (“pure barnyard”) with nothing else on the nose, which is a real pity especially when you consider how great the wine shows on the palate. It´s tight and robustly structured for eternity with blackberries, earth, leather and herbal notes. Perfect length and concentration. Within this flight we served an Araujo 1991 Eisele Vineyard blind to compete with the 1991 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was shining bright with fine and sweet fruit, cedar, earth, hints of oak, mint and petrol. Perfectly balanced, harmonious and, while still young, the wine has obviously reached a great plateau now. Smooth and juicy on the palate with black and red fruits, chocolate, tobacco, peppery and herbal spiciness.
Beautiful and of great length.
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1990 Howell Mountain shines with velvet and focused aromas of paprika, iodine, saltiness, some dark fruit and goji berries. A little edgy and tight on the palate – and in this way in line with a recently tasted 1990 Napa Valley Cabernet – with black fruits, gooseberry, some green notes, spices and a mix of herbs. Medium-long finish. Still, a beautiful wine of character, complexity and focus. Drink soon.
1989 Howell Mountain showed smooth and elegant with dark, red fruits, salty minerality, herbal freshness, and traces of barnyard and chocolate. A little austere and lacking some substance on the palate, but with fine fruit, raspberry (!) a mix of herbs and gravelly minerality. Fresh, forward and dynamic wine. If this is how wines from an alleged off-vintage taste like, that´s alright with me.

1987 Howell Mountain measured up to our high expectations and really sang with intense dark fruits and fine sweetness, plums, some vanilla, little lovage, cigar ash, leather and cedar. Fine, deep and perfectly balanced on the palate with vital acidity and dusty tannins. Finishes very long with freshness of beautiful fruit and peppery spiciness. An exceptional wine where power and presence meet finesse and complexity!
Only a small step behind was the 1985 Howell Mountain. Fine, but little fruit of plum and cassis, some barnyard, vanilla, herbal spiciness, salty notes and freshness on the nose. Dense, yet juicy on the palate with black fruit, tobacco, road tar, smoky minerality, herbal spiciness and saltiness. Still young, complex and fascinating wine of youth, density and perfect length.

To wrap up this memorable tasting we also took a look at Mike Dunn´s project Retro Cellars and tasted the 2007 Petite Sirah from old vines (planted in the 1950´s) in the Park Muscatine Vineyard. A wine showing what Petite Sirah is able to do: Cool, deep and concentrated wine without being overripe or broad. It´s driven by black currant, black cherry, herbal and peppery spiciness and sage. Focused and young on the palate with great concentration, present backbone of acidity and youthful tannins. Finishes medium-long. Keep 5+ years to really see what this wine capable of.

Even if the wines from the early 2000s until today became fresher and more fruit-driven and, thereby, a little bit more approachable in their youth, the distinct style of Dunn Vineyards, and especially the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, stayed the same from the beginning until now. Massive dark fruit, graphite and minerality in a powerful, yet elegant wine packed with structure, depth and character made for a very long life.

A very special wine that is intriguingly different from the many alcohol-driven, overripe Napa Valley Cabernets that lack fascination and expression of place.

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Tasting Australia

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Tyrrell`s 2009 VAT 1
Fresh, racy lemon and citrus aromatics. Decent herbal spiciness and freshly cut grass join in. Thanks to the vintage, the wine is softer than usual, but still vibrant, fresh and structured for long term cellaring. A great Hunter Valley classic! Keep.

Clarendon Hills 1997 Norton Summit
Far developed, past its prime with oxidative aromatics, orange zest, dried herbs and oaky sweetness. Rather thin, yet alive and harmonious on the palate. Drink up.

Kalleske 2013 Fordson
Yes, this is a Zinfandel from Barossa Valley and it´s a beautiful one! Quite a powerhouse with great concentration of fruit and freshness. Dark aromatics of berry fruit, spices, fruit jam, minerals and earth. Inky and rich on the palate, but of cool depth and freshness. Distinct Kalleske. From a vineyard planted in 2007 this is a promising early-drinking wine.

Torbreck 1998 The Steading
Intriguing aromatics of black cherry, plums, cigar box, road tar, oriental spices and violets. Beautifully integrated tannins and delicate acidity in a smooth, but fresh and super-elegant wine. Great stuff, which is probably still at its peak. Drink soon.

 

Balnaves 2008 The Tally
From an excellent Coonawarra vintage comes this dense and rather robust Cabernet Sauvignon with a splash of Petit Verdot (4%). Cassis, plum, green pepper, tobacco, earth and oak describe the nose, while the palate is youthful and dark with black fruits and spices. Still looking for balance while compact tannins keep the wine tight. This is nice, but not there yet. Keep 5+ years.

Leeuwin Estate 2007 Art Series
This was the only wine from the gravelly loam soils of Western Australia´s Margaret River region. Compared to Balnaves` Tally, this wine showed rather elegant and light-weight with beautiful aromatics of cassis, stewed fruit, peppery spiciness and present oak. Rather bumpy on the palate with present acidity, while lacking density and length. Still 13% Malbec provide a dark core. Maybe caught in a bad time…

Henschke 1995 Cyril Henschke
One of two wines of the night that could have been taken for Old World if tasted blind. Even though the wine is little past its prime now, the 1995 Cyril shows very elegant, harmonious and complex. Fascinating aromas of cassis, earth, leather, little barnyard, forest floor, smoke and pepper- anise spiciness arrive vital and perfectly integrated on the palate. The tannins have softened and only little acidity shows and provides drive. Good length with dark layers and peppery spiciness. Excellent! Drink soon.

Wynns 1994 John Riddoch
Dark aromatics of blackberries and some fruit in rum, leather, tobacco, earth and violets. Sweet vanilla and present oak. Dense and dark on the palate with flavors of blackberries, cedar, dried herbs, anise and black olive. Youthful with firm tannins, while not lacking juicyness. Very good length with more black fruits and peppery spiciness. It seems that the wine is just opening up. Keep 5+ years.

Briar Ridge 2010 Dairy Hill
From Terra Rossa clays and sandy clay soils comes this Hunter Valley Shiraz. Aromas of blackberry, plums, spices, olives, road tar and fresh herbs. Arrives with cool elegance and smoothness on the palate. Finishes medium-long. Well made, but lacking fascination, yet delicious and very drinkable.

Rockford 2009 Basket Press
Ripe and sweet aromas of red and black berries, plums, cooked fruit, little herbal spiciness and present oak. Ripe, juicy and of present alcohol on the palate. Fairly broad, while lacking structure and focus. A rather disappointing classic.

Henschke 2008 Mount Edelstone
Rich, fruit-driven and spicy wine from a legendary vineyard planted in 1912 by Ronald Angas. 16ha of deep sandy loam over gravelly medium-red clay, overlying laminated siltstone create a special wine, which is always more expressive than its famous big brother Hill of Grace. The 2008 is still in its early fruity stage, but still delicious and fascinating to drink with aromatics of blackberries, plums, oriental spices, dried and fresh herbs, sage and some road tar. It´s perfectly structured dense, deep and concentrated, while fresh and long. Velvety tannins and fine acidity guarantee a long future. Fantastic!

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Penfolds 2004 Grange
From a great vintage comes this elegant, fresh and complex Grange full of finesse with fascinating aromas of red and black berries, spices, delicate sweetness, some chocolate and minerality(!). Multi-layered, fine, but solid structured and of perfect balance on the palate with dark fruit, herbal freshness, little oak and mocha. Finishes very long. A beauty in its youth.

D` Arenberg 2001 Dead Arm
The Dead Arm brought us back to reality after two exceptional wines. Nevertheless, a very good wine, but by far not as special as Mount Edelstone or Grange. Still youthful, it´s opening with aromas of ripe, dark berries, lilac, chocolate and a mix of spices. Balanced and delicious, but lacking excitement and fascination. Yet, a beautiful, distinct McLaren Vale Shiraz. Drink now or keep.

Wendouree 2000 Shiraz Mataro
Does the best always come at the end? In our case, absolutely yes! From the tiny 11,3ha of AP Birks Wendouree Cellars came the winner of the night. Starting off quite funky and taking its time to open up, the wine presented itself different than I remembered it from out last encounter. Back in June 2012 the wine was wide open, rich, deep and dark. But this time it was even better: Fresh, red fruits, a lot of cherries, ethereal freshness of herbs and pinewood, eucalypt, some licorice and wet earth. Pure perfection on the palate with density, freshness and elegance. Mostly driven by dark fruit, fresh herbs and spices, the wine is still youthful and structured for a long future. Finishes long and focused with dark berries, some spiciness as well as sweetness. An exceptional wine at an early stage of its life with finesse, depth and complexity!

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Spätburgunder vs. Pinot Noir

pinotvsspaetÄ                                                                                                                                                                                                               Approach: We compared 12 Pinot Noirs in a blind tasting to evaluate quality, find differences and see whether we were able to distinguish between Spätburgunder (Germany) and Pinot Noir (Burgundy). Therefore, we poured flights of two and compared, by that, always one with the other:

Kesseler – Spätburgunder Höllenberg 1993
From the slate, quartzite soils of one of Germany´s oldest sites for reds comes this Spätburgunder. It approaches you with distinct aromatics of decent oak and light fruit of cherries and some strawberries. Elegant and smooth on the tongue. Nothing exciting, but harmonious, elegant and still of little freshness. Very drinkable, but lacking depth and complexity. Good length though (89 pts.).

Louis Trapet – Gevrey-Chambertin 2001
It was a wet, cool and cloudy year in Burgundy. This Gevrey-Chambertin started off quite funky with wine gum and burned rubber, but settled after a while with fine, light-red fruit, coolness and freshness of herbs and earthy notes. Darker on the palate, but of grippy tannins and little, austere greenness. After a recently tasted amazing 2006, this was certainly not a perfect bottle (90pts.)

 

Fürst – Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg 2003 Elegant, but relatively ripe wine with dark fruits, mixed herbs, toasty oak and citrus freshness. Lactic notes. Nevertheless, vibrant on the palate with dark drive. A little diluted esp. when considering the 2003 vintage characteristics (90pts.)

Bouchard Pere et Fils – Gevrey-Chambertin Les Cazetiers 1999
Deep, dark red in the glass and full of fresh, dark-red fruit (black cherries), prunes, earth, black tea and herbs. Approachable and medium complex, yet robust wine of concentration drive and extract (92pts.)

 

Huber – Spätburgunder Reserve 2001
The rocky shell-limestone soils of the Bienenberg vineyard created fresh, quite youthful and complex wine of sour cherry, red berries, tobacco sweetness, leather and little peppery spiciness. Present acidity and little green tannins.
Showing real potential, yet already drinking beautifully (92pts.)

Domaine de L’Arlot – Nuit St. Georges 1er Cru les Forets 2003
Concentrated and muscular, but balanced wine of ripe black fruits, creamy sweetness, prune, little tobacco, autumn forest and some florals. Smoothly textured, even juicy with present alcohol, integrated tannins and fine acidity. Quite a powerhouse lacking refinement (90pts.)

 

Knipser – Spätburgunder Kirschgarten 2003
grows on soils of loam and chalk. The wine is dense, deep and complex full of ripe black cherries and blackberries, dried herbs, some road tar and oak. Smooth, but present on the palate with fine acidity and integrated tannins. Textbook 2003, elegant and relatively ripe, yet a real surprise (94pts.)!

Confuron-Cotetidot – Vosne Romanée 1er Cru, Les Suchots 2003
Nice fruit forward, burned rupper, licorice on the nose. Expressive, even wild aromatics. Weakly structured and bumpy on the palate. Something went wrong with this one. The weakest wine of the night (84pts.)

 

Rebholz  – Spätburgunder Im Sonnenschein R 2000
2000 was a very wet and difficult vintage and you were able to find the typical vintage characteristics in this wine: Mild as a dove with aromatics of ripe, dark fruit, violets, almonds, present oak and warm spices. Broad without substance and past its prime (86pts.).

Nicolas Potel  – Latricieres Chambertin Grand Cru 2004
Aromatics of dark berries and black cherries, earthy notes, mushrooms and herbal freshness in a precise, youthful and complex wine from infertile soils south of Chambertin. Youthfully structured with only very little ladybug greenness.
Great length and freshness. Maybe lacking some flesh (94pts.)

 

Keller  – Spätburgunder Bürgel 2002
The 2002 vintage provided high ripeness levels and fine acidity. Klaus-Peter Keller´s Bürgel shows clean with beautiful fruit of dark berries and black cherries with little sweetness, intriguing minerality and herbal spiciness and curry aromas. Among the best wines of the night with density, complexity and perfect balance (95pts.)      

Jean Jacques Confuron – Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 1996
J.J. Confuron owns 0,52 ha in the Clos de Vougeot vineyard in the area considered best (close to the Chateau).The 96 shines of red fruits, raspberry and even gooseberry, figs, forest floor and minerality. It´s beautifully precise and vibrant with present acidity, few remaining tannins and freshness on the palate. Finishes long and focused with darkest fruit, leather and anise spiciness. Still a little tight, but elegant, complex and fascinating wine. Wine of the night (96pts.)

 

Results: It is (often) very easy to pick out the German Spätburgunder due to its distinct aromatics of light, red fruit, present oak and less substance. Nevertheless, the overall quality in Germany is very good. Especially when considering that the making of serious Pinot Noir of finesse is a relatively new trend in many regions of Germany.
Even though some Spätburgunder were able to wine their duels, all tasters agreed that the Burgundian wines delivered more fascination, depth, excitement and character.
And don´t forget that the wines tasted from Germany represent the pinnacle of Spätburgunder at the moment while the wines from Burgundy in this tasting were about average.

It´s still comparing apples and oranges, but the uplift in quality of German Pinot Noir over the last years is promising. Wines of recent vintages underline this development. Therefore, I can only recommend keeping an open eye for these light reds from Germany.

Photo by @weinfurore

2015 – A Year in Wine

2015 has been an exciting, delicious and intense year.
Let´s have a brief look back with some of our most memorable tasting experiences:

IMG_2609The wine year 2015 started fantastic as we had the pleasure to taste
1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild in early January.
Indeed, the wine was pure perfection and met our highest expectations: First very dark and even grim with aromatics of leather, earth, barnyard and autumn leaves with only little baking powder sweetness, but opening up with time and air. Dark berries and cherry fruit, herbs of all kind, pencil lead, tobacco, florals and coffee packed in a healthy, yet smooth and silky textured, finely structured wine with all components in place. Perfect harmony without any edges, great enjoyment, length and complexity. While I can´t imagine this wine getting any better, there are no doubts about its magnificient future potential.

IMG_1968It´s no secret that we´re huge fans of Dunn Vineyards.
Over the last year we tasted, as always, many bottles of Randy and Mike´s wine. Among the many beautiful bottles, the 1987 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon stuck in our minds and is my wine of the year! Shining velvety colored. Fine red fruit of cherries, berries and little strawberry on the nose with filigree, multi-layered aromatics, beyond fruit, with beautiful sweet vanilla, cloves, dark chocolate, leather, almond paste, cinnamon, lovage and the coolness of freshly-cut herbs. Velvet, smooth and intense on the palate with dark berries, leather, little earth, hints of coffee and fresh spiciness of fennel. Finest tannins and acidity round up the perfectly structured, harmonious and elegant package of presence, density, length and finesse. Intense, yet delicate, ultimately complex and sophisticated wine that was best during its first two hours in the decanter. A timeless classic!

IMG_3006Another winery that went with us through the year was Chateau Magdelaine. We tasted many vintages and have never been disappointed. Especially the wines from the period between 1964 and 1982 showed exceptionally.
Here´s a note from a legendary evening when tasting 1982 and 1970 side by side:
This bottle of 1982 was more youthful and even tight compared to the bottle we had a few months ago. Full of dark and ripe fruits, tobacco, leather, florals (violets) and fine sweetness. Present, harmonious and of great flavor-depth, delicate acidity, dusty tannins and lots of juice. Finishes long with dark fruit and spicy minerality. Great wine of complexity, charm and pure joy. 1970 needed some time to open up beautifully. Fresh aromatics of red fruits, florals, spices, autumn leaf and tobacco. Relatively lightweight on the palate, but vital, complex and intriguing. Still fruit-driven with some herbs, earth and truffles. Good finish with peppery spiciness, cedar and fresh fruit. Perfectly balanced, fresh and multi-layered wine of sophistication.

IMG_3753ÄAmong the many great Burgundies we tasted,
Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier 1998 Musigny certainly stood out.
A rare and special wine starting with the whole spectrum of red fruits – mostly red cherry and strawberry. Fine perfume, earthy notes, fresh herbs, licorice spiciness and chalky minerality join the party. Later with notes of sweetness and cookies. Intriguing while constantly evolving and best after 2+ hours in the decanter. Light-weight and elegant, but very present on the palate with pure fruit, little herbal spiciness, earthy notes, autumn leaves and minerality. Fine acidity and delicate, yet present tannins prove youth and potential. An ultimately complex and fine wine where elegance and drive meet like in no other terroir. Showing the greatness of Musigny with purity, finesse and fascination.

IMG_9169Tasting with Bruno Rolland at Chateau Leoville Las Cases (09/2015).

Definitely among my highlights of the year is our extensive visit at Chateau Leoville Las Cases in Saint Julien and tasting many back vintages as well as 2014 from barrel with winemaker Bruno Rolland.
On other occasions we also tasted 1982, 86, 88, 89 and 1990, but the best Leoville Las Cases in 2015 to me was the 1975, which we tasted multiple times as well. This was the best bottle:

Dark velvet, dense and brilliant colored with fine and sophisticated aromatics of berries, sweet cherries and little plum. Shows light and fresh with pinewood, mint and dried herbs, iron and dark nuances of earth, tobacco and leather. Inviting sweetnees of pastries. Medium-bodied, silky and very alive on the palate. Finishes long with licorice and herbal spiciness, precise and of gentle power. An elegant, vital and complex wine that is excellent now, but good for many years, due to solid, yet approachable, tannins and present acidity. A perfect bottle and, by the way, the best (out of three) we had from this wine over the last year. One of the stars from a vintage that favored Pauillac and Saint Julien.

IMG_3060I´m looking forward to 2016 with WineCellarTV as well as to many exciting tasting experiences with the MunichWineClub.

Enjoy the holidays, be safe and see you next year!

Cheers,
Thomas

WineCellarTV