Sunday, May 8, 2011

Champagne Salon, Leflaive White Burgundy, Tokaji and more at the WD portfolio tasting 2011

Wilson Daniels is one of the top importers in the United States, representing such venerable labels as Salon, Leflaive, and Domaine de la Romanee Conti (aka DRC). If you don't know what those are, then you've surely been living under a proverbial rock. But for the rest of the readers who started salivating just by reading those names, I will say that this year's Wilson Daniels trade tasting did not disappoint, other than alas, no DRC was served. I hear few mere mortals get in on that tasting - maybe two journalists a year. (Ok ok, so if Iron Chevsky is one, who is the second one? :)) A classy affair conducted at the University Club of San Francisco, a block away from Fairmont Hotel. You had to ring the bell to get in. Suits and ties. I was the second worst dressed attendee. Luckily there was a dude in shorts and t-shirt.

The stars of Wilson Daniels portfolio shone as bright as ever.

Situated in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in Côte des Blancs, Champagne Salon produces only one wine: the Cuvée S, a vintage Blanc de Blancs made exclusively from Chardonnay. This Champagne comes from a two-and-a-half-acre vineyard owned by Salon named "Le Jardin de Salon," or “Salon’s Garden," and from 19 smaller parcels representing 22.5 acres of vineyards in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, all chosen by founder Eugène-Aimé Salon early in the 20th century. The 1996 vintage in Champagne was legendary, and I've had the '96 Salon at a restaurant once before (for over $600/btl, thank goodness I wasn't paying!). The current release is 1997.

Champagne Delamotte owned by the same house as Salon (calling it Salon's little sister polarizes folks - some think it's diminishing, some think it's great promotion). The 1999 vintage Delamotte ($95/btl) was excellent. Next to it, the 1997 Salon (almost $350/btl) was more focused, more acidic (it doesn't undergo malolactic), and more austere at this stage - I would certainly not touch it any time soon. That said, I didn't hesitate to consume some with the delicious appetizers abundant at the tasting.

Domaine Leflaive's 2008 white burgundies - Meursault 1er Cru "Sous le Dos d'Ane", Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clavoillon" (above $100/btl) and "Les Pucelles" (close to $200/btl) - were spectacular, even better than 2007's - perfectly balanced flesh and acidity. The 2009's were quite good, but lower acid than either 2007 or 2008. At Leflaive, they did well to pick 3 weeks earlier (at the beginning of September) in 2009 than in 2008 (end of September), in order to preserve freshness and acidity. But in general, I would be careful with 2009 white Burgundies. I do think that red Burgundies will shine in that vintage.

Ceretto doesn't get talked about in the American wine circles with nearly the same admiration as many Piedmontese classics. But their Barolos are excellent. Even the entry level 2006 Barolo Zonchera for around $35-40 was quite good. And the flagship 2004 Bricco Rocche "Bricco Rocche" was classical, and certainly not cheap (~$200/btl). Another interesting wine in their portofio is a tasty fizzy white wine made from Arneis grape - the 2010 Blangé. It's been produced since the 80's, and they say that Blangé is one of every 5 bottles of Arneis produced. Excellent, refreshing drink, with fruit, minerality, acidity, and a small amount of residual sugar - good before, during, and after a meal.

Tardieu-Laurent's 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Speciale (~$80/btl) was the best from the line-up for about 10 different Southern Rhones from that producer, from across 2007, 2008, and 2009. Once again confirming my assertion that 2008 is an excellent vintage in CdP (much more delicious and transparent than the highly acclaimed 2007 and 2009) despite critics' low scores. The 2008 CdP was the winemaker's Bastien Tardieu's (on the photo below) favorite as well. He attributed it to the whole-cluster fermentation used specifically on that cuvee (they make two other CdP's) which gave the wine more freshness and expression. Gorgeous white pepper too.

Iron Chevsky and Bastien Tardieu holding a bottle of his favorite 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape cuvee speciale

But the wines that blew me away were the 3 single vineyard Royal Tokaji's sweeties from Hungary. I had had their basic "red label" (5 puttonyos - signifying level of sugar, that goes for about $25 at Costco), but the single-vineyards of grand cru classification in Hungary - 2000 Betsek, 2000 Szt. Tamas, and 1999 Mezes Maly (~$150 for 500ml, all 6 puttonyos - comparable to Riesling's Beerenauslese) had escaped me until now. They are released after more aging, and their deep botrytized flavor, wrapped with sweetness and awesome acidity just takes one's breath away. Incredible!

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