Saturday, August 25, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Stuff we found in the cellar while the boss was away, Part 2

Wine Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
From Australia
Alcohol Content 14.1%
Color is getting a little brickish. Nice, singular, tannic nose leads you to expect that big fruit's a-comin', but no go: fruit has largely dried out---most of this wine is in the nose, now. (It also turns out to be terrible with any food we throw at it; maybe as a chaser for shot-glasses of olive oil..?) Robert Parker gave this one a lifetime of 10-12 years, but that doesn't seem even close; this is likely about 4-5 years past its due-date. Mind you, the international style is simply not designed to age gracefully---a genuinely age-worthy wine will always have a few years at the beginning of its life when it simply doesn't make sense to drink it. And that's a thought that terrifies most new-world winemakers: They're going after a big (and fickle) market, and the big market never waits to drink. So, their wines have to be drinkable the day they're released, which means sacrificing any middle age the wine might otherwise expect to have. (Actually, it's fascinating to contrast this wine with the Estancia Cabernet a couple of posts back: same price-range; same grape; lighter and more one-dimensional in its ambitions; but it does that middle-age thing beautifully, trading potency for grace. The winemaker cared about that: There's probably a lesson there for all of us.)

Wine Chateau du Pavillion Haut Gros Bonnet 1998
From Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux, France
Price $21.95 (LCBO, Ontario; current release)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Brooding opening on nose and palate. (A small guy can brood, too.) Fascinating: ten years old, and yet it tastes like it could have been made yesterday; fruit seems to have receded a bit, but in no way does it taste dried out. But it also shows no signs of having ever being big to start with: It's more the quiet, older tough guy who sits in the corner of the bar and doesn't say much. You go over and you sit down, and you have to listen hard to hear his tale---you really have to work at it---yet you have a hard time pulling yourself away. This is a tough, wiry wine---sort of a Charles Bronson Bordeaux... civil, experienced; power held under wraps. You think, “how could this have survived ten years in a bottle?” and then it gives you that knowing, nodding, Charles Bronson smile. The Vasse Felix above, you struggle to get through a glass of; this stuff, you finish up the bottle out of pure curiosity. An inscrutable and engrossing $20 philosopher.

Wine Chateau les Cabannes 1998
From St. Emillion, Bordeaux, France
Price $23.95 (LCBO, Ontario; current release)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Sweet, tannic, tobacco-leaf nose with hints of game. Low-acid, mature, middle-aged fruit. No huge complexity, but a lovely finish. Lush, reclining, very flexible backbone (one emboldened taster: “I'd stick in some Cabernet”.) Pleasant, one-dimensional, nothing inspiring, although the nose comes close.
Postscript: an hour later, some hangers-on finished the bottle, which by then had opened up wonderfully, and was fuller, richer and more complex: like the Miss Havisham played by Charlotte Rampling in the 1999 Great Expectations---wiry, but unexpectedly seductive. This transformation gave the thoughtful among the group pause to think about typical tasting conditions, where a bottle like this is opened, immediately passed around and the point of it largely missed. With truly age-worthy wines, most tastings are either myopic, on not much more than voodoo forecasting. No wonder fruit-bombs rule.

Wine Chateau Carbieres 1998
From Chateauneuf-de-Pape, France
Alcohol Content 14%
Very brickish colour. On the nose, soil and potatoes baked over a campfire. Lush, rich, balanced (though still not completely open) on the palate. Long finish. Posh stuff, this! Bottle was put aside for the meal to come. 40 minutes later things had opened up considerably: notes of cherries and candy on the nose; alcohol perhaps a bit hot; fruit has possibly dried out a little (was this fabulous enough to keep ten years? Maybe not.) But with lamb it was subtly brilliant: a candy-like attack and finish and a nose that keeps yours in the glass. Rock, paper, scissors competitions for what remained in the bottle. Last glass was thick, unctuous and sweet with a likewise-sweet and gamy nose. Lovely.

Wine Chateau Fourcas Hosten 1996
From Listrac-Medoc, Bordeaux, France
Price $31.95 (LCBO, Ontario, current release)
Alcohol Content 12.5
Nice, rich Bordeaux nose when the bottle's opened; fruit's there, although still pretty Clark Kent-ish---smooth and clean-cut but it hasn't hit the phone booth yet. From there on, everything slips away under our very noses: By the second sip, the tannin is out of balance with what remains of the fruit; by mealtime a little later, everything's dropped out of it. Somebody consults a dog-eared copy of Robert Parker and finds that he rated this particular bottle somewhere between dishwater and turpentine for its potential cellar-life , which leads to much grumbling around the table: “The boss should have given this to us sooner.”

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