of recent cellar sleuthing....for B.E.'s comments on aging, see Cellar Notes
Caymus 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection, Napa Valley Opened with friends in Oxford MS over the holidays. Outstanding Cab--but not at its peak yet, as I suspect it will be in another five years or so, and likely something to swoon over from 2018-2020. Black currant fruit concentrated and intense, framed in oak and tannin just beginning to soften. Aromas took a while to really open but very rich and vibrant when they did. Alongside Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1995 SLV--also in need of further aging but not as complex as the Caymus. Both, however, solid treats with grilled beef tenderloin. Thanks, Duke and friends!
Raffaldini 2005 Montepulciano, Yadkin Valley, NC. Wow! give us more like this! I think this was Raffladini's first release of Montepulciano, and I'd been saving it to see how it would age. Verdict: beautifully! Dark, dense, with still-intensely flavored ripe-berry fruit, bursting with boysenberry, blueberry and blackberry flavors. Tannins have mellowed, but it still has a nice grip, fine balance and that tasty juice; a long appealing finish that lingers very agreeably. Recent vintages have not seemed quite as concentrated as the 2005--which was a knockout right out of the gate and has more than lived up to its promise. In Italy the montepulciano grape produces mostly lighter, easy-drinking reds (such as Montepulciano d'Abruzzo), so it is interesting to see how impressively the grape can perform in North Carolina. Let's hope more of this grape is planted in the mid-Atlantic.
Château Gruaud-Larose 1982, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux. June 2011. A fabulous treat, courtesy of fellow Virginia judge Andy Williams, who decanted this venerable bottle and brought it to share with judges at the recent Virginia State Fair wine competition (scroll down for some good VA wines).
The Gruaud-Larose '82 amazed us all with its still-vivid color, its generous well-matured fruit and aromas of smoke, blackberries, and sweet cherries fairly billowing out of the glass. Tilting the glass showed its bricky orange edges, but the wine was still lively, very smooth, some tannins extant, but with great complexity and fine length. Some thought it could go another decade, but I thought we caught it at an excellent time to really enjoy the brightness of the fruit melded with oak.
I originally tasted this wine in the mid-eighties when I still lived in New York and attended a tasting hosted by importer Chateau and Estates. Back then I found it very dense, opaque and closed, even a little heavy. What a lovely surprise to taste it some 16 years later and find it so delightful and charming.
Many thanks, Andy!!!
Uh, oh! Recent "sleuthing" turned up a forgotten case of assorted Zinfandels, aged ten years, some older. Normally, we don't age Zins, though years ago when I was on Ridge Vineyards tasting program, I regularly purchased new releases that piled up, some for years--which provided some amazing tasting experiences when I finally got around to uncorking them. Would any of these be as good! I invited some friends who love Zinfandel over to crack a few bottles and see.
Quivira 1997 and 1998, Dry Creek Valley. I decanted these wines to try together, expecting the 1997 (an excellent vintage in California) to be the superior of the two. It was musty and funky on the nose--no fruit. We set it aside--"don't judge it yet," I said. "After all, it's been confined in that bottle for thirteen years; let's give it some time to flex." The 1998 was a more pleasant surprise--plenty of fruit, tannins mellowed, still berryish, smooth and attractive. Half an hour into our meal, however, the 1997 had bloomed, showing lovely black raspberry fruit, slightly smoky, richly textured, very delicious with our pot roast. In fact, it got better and better, revealing more layers of flavor--and totally eclipsing the 1998, which had flattened somewhat and now had none of the complexity or wonderful length of the '97. Though both wines surprised and delighted me, the '97 really showed its breed. It had aged like a fine claret--likely because of its excellent balance (13.5% alcohol, unheard of for Zin today!).
Rancho Zabaco Reserve Zinfandel 2000, Dry Creek Valley. Dry Creek Valley is one of the stellar places for great Zinfandel, so I shouldn't have been surprised by this wine's outstanding character and flavor, even at 10+ years. Still dark and deep, due perhaps to the addition of petite sirah, still powerful (14.3%) in ripe berry fruit with a hint of black pepper. Not especially complex, but a handsome red, plushly drinkable.
Bodes well for the remaining wines of the case -- will keep you posted.
Tignanello 1994, Antinori Vineyards, Tuscany. Decanted 2/2011, for my wine class at Duke. Simply lovely! What a great moment to catch this wine--the color still firm, the fruit rich and beautifully evolved with complex flavors of black plum, ripe berries and a hint of currant and wood; smooth, silken texture. Made from 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, it was superbly balanced and wonderful to savor as it lingered elegantly in the glass to the very last drop. If you have it, enjoy it now (or soon).
Shafer 1983 Merlot, Napa Valley. Decanted. Stunning! Bet you wouldn't think a Merlot of any stripe could age 27 years--but this one has, and beautifully. Spicy cherry flavors, tannins fully mellowed but the fruit still has vigor-- it's simply delicious to drink now (and could quite possibly give Pétrus of comparable age a run). Interesting to note its alcohol of 12.7%. Will the 2001, which I had a few weeks earlier, age as well???
Shafer Merlot 2001, Napa Valley. Decanted. Quite vivid and appealing; certainly not your typical Merlot (but Shafer Merlots have never been "typical"!). Vivid color, good fruit concentration, nicely evolved with somewhat tamed tannins and rich texture. I wouldn't necessarily have thought it would age so nicely, since it's a powerful, full-bodied wine (14.9% alcohol), but the fruit was ripe enough--and not overripe or raisiny--not only to last but evolve into interesting flavors with complex aromas of black currants, smokiness and dried flowers.
Château Prieuré-Lichine 1982. Decanted. Well, it couldn't last forever. This '82 from Margaux in the Haut-Médoc is well past its peak. Alas. I'm wondering what to do with the ramainder of my of my case! Fall 2010
Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 1988, Napa Valley. Decanted. Terrific. Over Labor Day (2010) with friends on Bald Head Island. With grilled rib-eyes. Superbly evolved Cabernet, smooth but complex, with layered aromas and flavors of black currants, cedar, and an appealing smokiness. Fine balance, still vivid and lively.
Jordan Vineyards 1979, Alexander Valley. Decanted. I live for wines like this! Thirty-one years old, yet possessed of rich color; complex aromas of black fruits--currants, plums, berries mingled with a slight smokiness. Great balance and acidity, a bgeautifully evolved Cabernet, with smooth but still vivid texture and layers of lovely flavors. Kudos to Rob Davis (and his mentor and consultant Jordan, Andre Tchelistcheff). This is the kind of wine that makes an evening utterly memorable. [7/10]
Traveling west in North Carolina? On your way from the Triangle or Triad you'll be near the Yadkin Valley, home to the lion's share of NC vineyards -- so take a short segué and stop in for tasting. A complete listing--maps, phone numbers and websites--is here: www.ncwine.org/wineries
North Carolina is home to over 100 wineries. The state has long excelled with Muscadine grape varieties, native to the region...and still does. But in recent years wines from Vitis vinifera, the European grape varieties (syrah, chardonnay, riesling, the cabernets, merlot, and others) are doing the state proud with full-flavored, well-balanced wines that are a delight to drink.
Finally! Raffaldini Montepulciano 2010, an estate red from the montepulciano grape, won Best of Show at the recent North Carolina State Fair Wine Judging. Raffaldini has consistently produced this dark, rich, flavorful red since the experimental plantings early in the last decade. It has won Double Golds in each of the last few years and was a candidate for Best of Show last year. Congratulations to the Raffaldini family on winning the award this year.
RayLen Reds. Winemaker Steve Shepard, who has been making wine in North Carolina for some three decades, was at The Wine Merchant in Cary recently to showcase some RayLen current releases. Included were some very tasty and drinkable reds--Category 5 2011, $18**, named for the most potent hurricane force and first made in 2005, is a blend of 5 red varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and a bit of syrah). A lighter vintage but a good bet for roast or grilled chicken, pork chops, lamb shank. It went nicely with my grilled veal chop the other night.
RayLen Cabernet Sauvigon 2010, $18**+. Bigger in weight and concentration, but drinking very well right now, with enough structure to go a few years if you like. Good match for roast or grilled leg of lamb. If you're looking to show someone how good North Carolina wines can be--this would be a great choice.
RayLen 2010 Shiraz, $13.99 Juicy, fruity--I would cool this a bit because it's a light red, just right for burgers, pizzas, sausages.
RayLen 2011 Rosé of Cabernet Franc, $12.99** Dry and crisp, fresh and tasty, a versatile pink for a variety of casual foods.
The mountains have wineries, too: Biltmore in Asheville, Burnt Shirt in Hendersonville
Biltmore 2011 Chardonnay, North Carolina, $15** A very graceful and appealing Chardonnay from Biltmore's estate vineyard; fresh and well-balanced, with elegant flavor notes of citrus and pear.
Burnt Shirt Gruner Veltliner 2011, $16*** Excellent steely Gruner--a new variety for North Carolina but obviously does well here at NC's newest winery in the in the Appalachian foothills at Hendersonville. Nice intensity of flavor; won a Double Gold in a California wine competition. Not easy to find but worth a search!