Top California Chardonnay Impress

August 19th, 2019

The opportunity last week to try some top Chardonnays from California at a dinner was nostalgic. Your scribe has followed them since their early days purchasing for only $6.50 per bottle Chateau Montelena 1973 that went on to win the Paris Tasting in 1976. In fact it was fun to do verticals even in those days at a hosted vertical of 8 Freeemark Abbey Chardonnays held in 1981 with 1973 & 1974 showing wonderful rich complexity. Remember those first vineyard selections from Dick Arrowood at Chateau St. Jean including Robert Young, McCrea, Wildwood, Belle Terre, Hunter and the 1978 Les Pierres showing hot 15.5 alcohol listed on the label. The Chardonnay selections some 40 years later are certainly more refined with less oak and are better balanced but much more expensive. Some brief comments on the Chardonnays:
First Flight:

1. Robert Mondavi Reserve 2013
2. Beringer Private Reserve 2014
3. Pahlmeyer Jayson 2014

All showing quite good developing colour in a full rich softer style. There is lots of texture and interest in this group. Mondavi typical in that solid yet elegant style bringing back fond memories of their outstanding 1981 Reserve enjoyed so much in the late eighties. Beringer very perfumed aromas. Pahlmeyer Jayson has the best open nose with lush forward drinking appeal. All three are big rich tad hot good examples that are a bit soft with a lower level of fresh acidity than from cooler regions.
Second Flight:

4. Wayfarer Fort Ross (Seaview, Sonoma County) 2015
5. Gary Farrell Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River 2015

Both matched the Ravioli course very well. Wayfarer (another Pahlmeyer special one) shone with lively fresh balanced elegance. Superb coastal Chardonnay combining tasty true citric flavours with lovely delicacy. Classy, alive & zesty! Try and get some of their 2016 as well. Farrell is more mature development and slightly four square. Both come in at 14.4 alcohol.
Third Flight:

6. Varner Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Block 2013
7. Aubert Ritchie Vineyard 2013
8. Aubert Ritchie Vineyard 2014

Excellent flight. Lighter oaked Varner brothers Home Block property from highest elevation of 800+ feet in the Santa Cruz Mountains was impressive. We liked the structure and lovely distinctive wild fennel bouquet improved by airing. More bottle age helped open it up. Both Aubert Ritchie Vineyard from Sonoma Coast are as expected delivering a powerful intense young statement with 15 alcohol showing a bit on the long finish. Older vines of 40+ years from the Wente clone are a big help in the rich textured complexity too. 2015 received 100 points. The 2013 Aubert had the more expressive nose as best part almost like a Grand Cru Burgundy but 2014 richer. Quality there. Better with more cellaring.
Three mystery wines added to the fun. Two fifty year old Chardonnay 1969 from historic Stony Hill in Napa & ringer Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses Remoissenet showed their aged maturity but so educational. Both renown for their acidity levels which helped them to hold on. Stony Hill chartreuse sherry-like but actually improved with airing and bottle remains served as an outstanding aperitif with amazing fruit for the next few days enjoyment. Les Preuses holding much better as expected and on a beautiful rich textured minerally plateau for enhanced pleasure with that Salmon course. The star of the evening was a choice magnum of the classic mountain vineyard of Bob Travers of 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon (with 8% Merlot) another bargain when released at $9.50 per bottle. Still drinking fresh and balanced at 45 years in this Grand Format. Power with fragrant herbal minty notes (somewhat Heitz Marthas-like) and such impressive concentrated vibrant fruit paired with the Short Rib course. No rush. A treasure for sure!

California has wine treasures from new & old vintages. Do you have some favourites?


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Ask Sid: When is the word “lychee” appropriately used in wine tasting?

August 14th, 2019
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Question: When could the word “lychee” be appropriately used in wine tasting?

Answer: Whenever you experience that small tropical fruit commonly found in China showing up in your wine. Lychee (or Litchi) has unique very aromatic special perfumes of spicy sweet roses mixed with a somewhat similar fruitiness of fresh Muscat grapes.  You often find it prominent in the aromas of a Gewurztraminer wine – so may be appropriately used when tasting that grape variety.


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Diner En Blanc

August 12th, 2019

The Diner en Blanc idea started in the late eighties from a dinner in the Bois de Boulogne Paris which now has spread to some 80 cities. A somewhat contoversial concept that requires diners to dress in white plus bring their own chairs, table, table cloth and food to set up in a secret public space location announced last minute as a “pop-up” has proved nonetheless to be very popular. The 8th edition of Vancouver’s largest outdoor “picnic” dinner party and fashion soiree was held on August 8 in George Wainborn Park along False Creek just off downtown Yaletown district on a beautiful warm Summer evening with more than 4000 in attendance. Other memorable locations have included Canada Place, Concord Plaza, David Lam Park, Jack Poole Plaza, and Van Dusen Botanical Gardens.There is the opportunity to obtain wine & also excellent food items from Hawksworth Catering on site. An interesting fun outdoors event especially with friends and in good weather but the cost is $53 to participate. The all white photo shoot is dramatic & spectacular indeed. Have you checked out the Diner en Blanc in your location?

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Ask Sid: What is the most well-known red grape in Hungary?

August 7th, 2019
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red wine grapes hungary

Question: What is the most well-known red grape in Hungary?

Answer: It is the grape variety Kadarka (Gamza in Bulgaria). It gives a rich full spicy quite tannic red wine and was the mainstay for many years in Egri Bikaver “Bull’s Blood” from Eger. Subsequently more earlier ripening Kekfrankos (or Blaufrankisch) has been used in it but Kadarka is coming back again now. Check it out.


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Fifth Growth Pauillacs Still Solid Relative Bargains

August 5th, 2019

These days you hear comments more often that wine should now show “a sense of place”. Your scribe often smiles and usually holds back on making a smug comment of “I told you so”. Having studied, tasted, and collected quality wine for over 50 years it is an important lesson so well learned. Vineyard place with unique terroir always is the key. That is why Chablis Les Clos, Meursault Perrieres, and Musigny stand above their nearby neighbours. Fond memories of discussing with the late Robert Mondavi that special site of To Kalon Vineyard that made his 1974 Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon so great. There are more and more of these special “places” around the world today now making distinctive wine. In Bordeaux it is hard to go wrong with a wine bearing that textbook Pauillac AOC label. Criticize myself in hindsight sometimes for not buying more First Growth Pauillac of Lafite, Latour and Mouton during the 80s & 90s which were quite cheap then but still more money than excellent lower classed Pauillacs being collected instead. Today the First Growths are out of sight price-wise but some 5th growth Pauillacs have raised their game substantially too yet remain relatively good value. Out of the 60 odd chateaux classified in 1855 there were 18 Fifth Growths 12 of them or 2/3 from Pauillac. Today Pontet-Canet leads this select group with Lynch-Bages & Grand-Puy-Lacoste close behind with several more trying hard to make the podium. They are all making first class Pauillac wine worth investing in throughout this century.

This all came vividly back to me last week at a dinner at the Cactus Club Coal Harbour where 3 decades of Chateau Lynch-Bages held sway with the rich remarkable fruit depth of 1982, more cedar, cigar-box styling of the 1970, and leaner more medicinal mineral long distance runner 1966. These all showed still good youngish colour and surprisingly elegant complexity with a wonderful matching Beef Duo including that Short Rib Classic of celebratory chef Rob Feenie. Cactus Club Group also sports one of the world’s best sommeliers in Sebastien Le Goff who as always served these old beauties to perfection. These old vintages were outstanding value on purchase yet provided rare interesting age ability with an amazing sense of place indeed.
Do you have a favourite Fifth Growth Pauillac or a wine that shows you a real sense of place?


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