What Makes Great Wines Great

We attended one of Bill’s informal tastings last Friday, this one themed, “What Makes Great Wines Great”. The idea was to taste a range of the more expensive, and highly rated wines, and see if we could tease out a common thread between the dozen of otherwise highly different wines.

NV Delamotte Brut Rose Champagne France $75
(80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay)

We kicked off the evening with a bottle of champagne. It’s not quite a rose in color, but more pinkish gold – gorgeous hue, with complementary notes of burnt orange and cognac. Not sweet, but with a nose of baking bread and cheese. Small, elegant bubbles.

Domaine Carneros Brut Blanc de Blancs “Le Reve” Carneros California $90
(100% Chardonnay)

Contrasted that champagne with a bottle of sparkling from Carneros. Now this wine had the more familiar champagne notes of green apple skin. Very different in style, but also delicious.

2011 Domaine Serene Chardonnay “Evenstad Reserve” Dundee Hills Oregon $60
2011 was a cool vintage for Oregon wines, but this turned out lovely. Just the teeniest hint of butter, soft, with faint green apple notes and lemon. Someone remarked that it was like “a wonderful lemon meringue pie without a lot of sugar”. Apt! Loooong finish.

2011 Hanzell Chardonnay Estate Sonoma California $80
Compared to the Oregon Chardonnay, this was definitely more buttery, had more green apple notes, as well as aromas of wet stone and chalk. Crisp, and very clean.

2007 Beronia Gran Reserva Rioja Spain $30
(90% tempranillo, 5% mazuelo, 5% granciano)

Beronias are most excellent value for money. And riojas, more generally. As usual, we loved this wine – chewy, thick, velvety, spicy, long persistence of flavor.

2004 Cellars Capafons-Osso Mas de Masos Priorat Spain $80
Oof what a nose! Like a nice ruby port! We couldn’t get past the nose, and then the thick, omnipresent tannins that positively coated our mouths at the end. Bill loved this though, comparing its taste profile to a hammock, with a “feeling of lift”.

2010 Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin Bourgogne France $50
Lovely soft rose color. Great nose, with some mint and earth. The finish felt somewhat short though.

2011 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir “Aurora Vineyard” Willamette Valley Oregon $100
Bill led another “What Makes Great Wines Great” the night before and broke out the same bottle of wine, but he said that bottle was oddly nowhere as good as the one we tasted. Same vintage and everything… but we all loved this. The wine just jumped out at us, and we couldn’t help but keep going back to it again and again, if only to puzzle it out (in the end, we all agreed that this characteristic was in part what makes a great wine great).

2009 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon “Cask 23” Napa $210
The group the prior evening had this wine too, and funnily enough, they went nuts over this while our group as a whole remained quite unimpressed. Not to say that the wine wasn’t good – it was – but somehow it didn’t seem as exciting as to merit the price tag.

1986 Chateau Lynch-Bages St-Julien $200-$290
(roughly 75% cabernet sauvignon, the rest merlot and cabernet franc, dollop of petite verdot)

Our most expensive line up of the evening. 17 years of age but still sporting a beautiful dark red hue. Nose of graphite, minerals, charcoal. Tannins were considerably softer and more approachable than say, the Stag’s Leap. This was definitely an intellectual wine though, one for sipping and contemplating on to be properly enjoyed.

2007 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Toscana Italy $50
Now this wine just leapt out of the glass! If the Lynch-Bages was like an old, wise learned professor, this Brunello seemed like a teenager in his prime of life. Everyone loved this. It was exciting, clean, and juicy. Beautiful nose of cherries and mint.

2008 Damilano Barolo Cannubi Piemonte $75
We ended the evening with this lovely expression of Nebbiolo (which is more than I can say for the really odd tea-colored Paso Robles one we had at the tasting at work, just hours before).


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