Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chateau Palmer & Wines of the Week

For those of us who seldom wave a paddle for naughty pleasures or haughty treasures, attending Wednesday evening's preview tasting and master class for Chateau Palmer at Christie's in New York City was a little like attending a wedding rehearsal dinner - a lot more fun than the main event and no expensive commitments.

Chateau Palmer has always been a favorite of Bordeaux lovers, and many who can afford both prefer it to Chateau Margaux, at least in certain vintages, so the turnout was large and enthusiastic. And, surprisingly, a good mix of young and old. The attendees were at overflow capacity in the Haunch of Venison gallery when festivities got underway at 6:15 and enjoyed a backdrop serenade throughout the evening by the city's fleet of emergency vehicles below on Sixth Avenue and the responding Middle Eastern chorus of honking cab drivers.

Cutting to the chase, as we should in such a gamely named venue, the wines we tasted were Alter Ego - Palmer's not-second-label alternate wine - from the 2006 and 2003 vintages, and the chateau wines from 2005, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1989, 1983, 1978, and 1971. It is not just being polite to the hosts to say that all the wines were superb, although there was lively discussion about whether this or that wine was yet at its peak, in its dumb stage, or declining.

By own favorites were the 1971 - marvelously alive with fresh fruitness - and the 2005, Thomas Duroux's marvelous creation that was a game changer, I think, at Palmer to a more-modern style wine than we normally see at major Left Bank properities. My second favorites were the 1983 and the 1989, neither as perfect as the '71 and '05, but both flashing the charm that less-than-perfect wines and people often have.

Almost as interesting as the wines were the presenters at the master class, which ran concurrently with the tasting. Ferdinand Mahler-Besse, whose family is part owner of Palmer and whose negociant cellars provided most of the wines, helped provide context. Export manager and Palmer insider Bernard de Laage gave fascinating information about the wines and about Medoc winemaking in general, and Christie's wine expert, Charles Curtis, acted as M.C. and chief inquisitor.

For more about the evening and de Laage's insightful commentary, stay tuned for my article in the December issue of the online publication, Sommelier News.

Appropriately for the dawn of another holiday season, this week's top wines tasted (other than the Palmers) are a top sparkling wine and an affordable Port.

Wines of the Week

NV J Russian River Valley Brut Rose' ($35). I like what George Bursick is doing with the sparkling wines at J, and this one is a great example - copper-colored, light and creamy with delightful wild strawberry flavors, a huge mousse, and a minerally finish. Sip on!

Noval Black ($22). A good basic Port is a little like a good basic fruitcake - lots of candied fruits, dark earthy flavors, a pronounced nuttiness, a nice shot of alochol (but not too hot), and a dollop of chocolate flavors. Noval has over-hyped the wine and the packaging - it is hardly revolutionary - but it is a very nice buy directed at young people not ready to deal with all the Port nomenclature and who want a delectable, ready-to-drink Port at a good price. It is all that, and it is a good basic Port for us older folks, as well.

Wines of Interest

2008 Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly ($17). Roger's First Rule of Diminishing Bottles is that some of the wines that taste fantastic on the first sip tend to grow off you and make you longing for a divorce by the time you're nearing the bottom of the bottle, a case of too much too soon. Chaize has always been a favorite Beaujolais (yes, I also liked the old bottle and packaging much better), and this one is the opposite of the prior cited rule. Even though it is "just a Beaujolais," it gets better as the bottom is plumbed, opening up from its lean, lightly gamy fruitness to a fuller taste. (Of course, there are wags who say that any wine tastes better the more you consume, citing the parallel but opposing Roger's Third Rule of Last Calls, which states that everything looks more appealing as time elapses and alcohol increases.)

2009 Wither Hill Wairau Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($11). Good herbal notes, yet not as lean and grassy as most Marbs. It's also fuller and rounder, yet well-balanced for food. Well worth trying.

2007 Li Veli "Pezzo Morgana" Salice Salentino ($20). Complex and brooding, but drinking well now. Lively ruby fruit above and darker, preserved fruit below. Lots of acidity, and 100% Negromaro grapes.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

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