Friends invited us to a Bordeaux First Growth wine dinner in May, but as my wife had been coughing ever since we returned from Hangzhou in April, I had to decline with a great deal of regret.
Surprisingly enough, she started to recover just as my friends finished their dinner! To make up for the "loss", I thought perhaps we could do our own tasting, doubling as a celebration of her recovery. This would however have to be stretched over weeks, as this was integrated into our daily wine tasting rourtine.
We ended up tasting 20 different bottles in 4 categories over 8 weeks: 8 Bordeaux, 4 Bordeaux-style Super-Tuscans, 4 Brunellos and 4 Barolo/Barbarescos. I used to keep tasting notes and personal scores, and my wife was always the pure drinker, constantly getting confused over the names of myriads of varietals and appellations. For a change and for fun, I let her be the Master Scorer this time.
And the 4 winners are:
I don't know if she follows my taste or I follow hers (more likely than not I am the follower), for most of her scores reflect my preferences closely. Very embarassingly for us, our top scorer in all categories except Bordeaux turned out to be the same top Robert Parker scorer! A pure coincidence, I have to stress.
1999 Chateau Margaux
In the Bordeaux category, the 1999 Margaux was the easy winner followed closely by the 1999 Latour. Margaux had the benefit of being more approachable than Latour now. The other 6 were, in the order tasted:
1982 Las Cases (probably faulty, as the wine was untypically over-oaked)
1989 L'Eglise Clinet (little or no life left)
1988 Ausone (greatest surprise for me, as this is still so youthful, and has such noble purity that is more typical of a Pauillac/St Julien than St-Emilion!)
2000 Castello dei Rampolla, d'Alceo
2001 Sassicaia (perhaps the most Italian of the four, with the most pronounced aromas and over-ripeness that remind you of the Mediterranean)
2001 Solaia (like a Bordeaux clone, a close second to the d'Alceo)
2004 Le Macchiole Paleo (too young now, but a very promising vintage)
1990 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Case Basse
The Brunellos all have lovely fruit, but for me the 1990 Soldera Case Basse was the clear winner (I wrote about this in an earlier blog: A Week in Wine: from Red Mountain to Case Basse ). The other 3 were:
2001 Siro Pacenti (velvet-like super fine tannins, very approachable now)
2001 Salvioni (brawny, a Pauillac)
1997 Poggio di Sotto (supple, a Pomerol?)
1996 Gaja Sori Tildin
1997 Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia (ethereal, but rather high acidity)
1997 Giovanni Corino Barolo Vigna Giachini (a La Morra that reminds you of a St-Emilion)
1989 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio (a close second to the Gaja; fully mature now, or in terminal decline if you judge by the label)
This tasting series is for us a good chance to wrap up over 5 years of daily tasting of red wine, and to toast to our best loved styles.
I started the “habit” as a way to reduce my very high cholesterol level. To make this daily medicine more palatable, I tried to read up everything I could lay my hands on.
The reading was the easy part, because you can read 10 books and 100 web pages a day, but with wine you have to taste every one you read about before you can decide which one is “your glass of wine”. But for health reasons, we can do only half a bottle a day. The learning process was painfully slow, and we had to confine ourselves to mainly Italian, French and Australian.
Luckily, 2000 days later, we ended up making this one of the most enjoyable activities, and on a daily basis. At least we know which medicine is the most enjoyable (and affordable)!
If I have to say one thing about the most enjoyable part of our adventure in wine, I would put unpredictability: there is always an element of surprise in the next bottle you are going to open.
Wine is unpredictable because the winemaker is just a midwife who brings a child into life when he/she bottles it, after battling in the vineyard and in the winery. Then the hundreds of chemicals in a bottle of wine start to interact in thousands upon thousands of known and unknown ways up to the moment you open the bottle. There comes the moment of truth (and frustration).
Yes, like human life.
Perhaps nobody puts it better than Lettie Teague* when she wrote “Greatness is about risk, not reliability” in trying to find out if Barolo is still Italy ’s great wine.
* Lettie Teague wrote in Food and Wine Magazine, which was reprinted in erobertparker.com: http://dat.erobertparker.com/members/lettie/lt70.asp