8 Buyers, 1 Store, 8000 Wines

Monday, December 29, 2008

On 5:58 PM by The Bloggers @ 67 Wine   No comments
I was a guest at Ben's Christmas Day tasting, and a very merry guest I was. Ben and Eve were terrific hosts, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

My wife, Chris, and I were the first to arrive, but the other guests arrived in short order. Very quickly, we (actually Ben) started pulling corks.

First up was a wine we purchased a lot of for the store and sold for about a year, the Vincent Girardin Corton-Renardes Grand Cru 1998. I bought about four bottles, and I brought this one to Ben's. Corton is the only red Grand Cru in the Cotes de Beaune, and is divided into several parcels, of which Renardes is one. I like this wine, but other people liked it more than I did. To me, it is an excellent Pinot Noir, but it isn't what I think of when I hear Grand Cru. This level of fruit and complexity is what I expect from a top village wine or a lesser 1er Cru. It showed some sour cherry, a little black cherry, some cola, some mushroom and a touch of green herb. Definitely a + wine. I'm glad I still have a couple left. I just wish it had a bit more intensity.

The Smith Haut Lafitte (my second bottle) was the least of the day's wines. As is typical of SHL, the wine was tight on opening. It had lots of grip - tannin aplenty. The black fruit seemed muted, and showed few bottle flavors. We decided to decant the rest and come back to it later.

The third wine was, for me, the wine of the night. Ben's 1996 Mouton-Rothschild opened strong and improved with time. The black fruit (cassis, blackberry) was crystal clear and penetrated the palate. A rich note of old leather came through as the fruit passed, and with it came a little bit of smokiness. The finish was long and strong. The ripe tannin was still clearly apparant, but added a slightly bitter note (roasted coffee?) without a mouthpuckering dryness. Each layer built upon the other. None of the flavors was subtle; each was strong in its own right. It was an awesome display of power.

The fourth wine was the consensus favorite. The 1989 Lafite-Rothschild Ben selected was everything you would hope it to be. It was more complex that the Mouton that came before it. The leather was more pronounced. It had a strong earthy undercurrent, sort of a roasted herb scent. It had layer on top of layer of flavor. Why did I prefer the Mouton? The fruit. The Lafite didn't have that clean fruit flavor; it had plenty of fruit left, but it was softer, and blended in more with the background notes. If I hadn't had the Mouton first, I would have been awed. As it was, I was merely astounded and delighted.

After the first round of tasting, we settled in for the eating. I brought a Carbonade - a Belgian Beef Stew with Onions and Beer. Chris made a noodle kugel from my mother's recipe, full of cinnamon. Eve made latkes - a typical Jewish Christmas. Rebecca brought some hors d'ouerves/side dishes - one was some puff pastry with prosciutto and ricotta that was delicious. Sean brought green food - salad and brussel sprouts, and a cheese plate. Ben made a great homemade rosemary focaccia.

With the food of course, we drank wine. The three that showed well in the pre-dinner tasting were all excellent with the food. My favorite remained the Mouton.

After the others were gone, we went back to the Smith Haut Lafitte. It had opened greatly since earlier, but was still the least of the day's wine. The fruit was more pronounced than earlier, but the tannic grip was still its overwhelming feature. While it was now fairly tasty, it was rather one dimensional compared to the others. This one could have used much more time in the cellar; it definitely could have used more time in the decanter. Alas, it was my only bottle, so I'll never know if it could have turned out better had I shown more patience.

The Champagne served as a welcome palate cleanser. The 1999 Philiponnat Clos des Goisses was full of red berry flavors with a very slightly yeasty finnish. As good as this was (and it was excellent) it also could have benefitted from some additional age.

With some of Ben and Eve's great cookies, we had two different desert wines. The first was a Michele Chiarlo Moscato di Asti. Lightly sweet, with a slight fizz, it had lovely peach and pear flavors. We were also treated to an Icewine, which was thick and honeyed. I was driving, so besides limiting my intake all evening, I skipped the Port.

It was a great night, filled with some of the best wines I have ever tasted.


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