Friday, May 23, 2008

The Group gets fancy; A flight of Gruve and '96 Echezeaux horizontal

Jerry outdid himself, or at least any other previous tasting group event I have attended. There was a selection of cheeses, duck that Jerry himself hunted (smoked and then a delicious duck leg confit with polenta and mushrooms), a flight of mostly 2006 gruner veltliner (by nearly all accounts a terrific vintage in Austria), and the piece de resistance, a line-up of 1996 Echezeaux. I'd say it's safe to assume that the majority of our group, myself included, has had precious little tasting experience of grand cru burgundy, let alone aged grand cru burgundy from a great, if controversial, vintage. So it was both a treat and a great tasting lesson. For anyone out there who is not already in a tasting group, but wants to learn about wine, get yourself in one. There is no better or more enjoyable way to learn about wine than to pool together financial and knowledge resources with a group of friends and colleagues.

Flight the first was humbling. The wines were all very generous and full of fruit, with a good dose of minerality in one of the wines, probably two in fact. The others seemed so fruity and simple, that I was thinking that the flight was a riesling around the world type flight. My favorite wine was a trocken riesling from the Rheingau, and the others were surely rieslings from elsewhere. Well, I was wrong. All old world wines, all gruner veltliner. Here are the wines, ranked in reverse order of group preference:

2006 Jager Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, Wachau
This was full of apples and a talcum type of minerality. I have 'good california riesling' in my notes; maybe I was thinking Montelena or Stony Hill or something.

2006 Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner, Kremstal

Yellow stone fruits. My least favorite wine; it came across as one-dimensional.

2006 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Senftinberger Piri

Here was a wine with more minerality, higher toned acidity, an much precision. "Focused and laser-like" were some other descriptors mentioned (before the wine was revealed). These are words that are often used to describe Martin Nigl's wines.

2005 Salomon Undhoff Gruner Veltliner
There was a very creamy, leesy aspect to this wine, coupled with very high acidity and what I perceived at the time to be a slate type of minerality. What impressed me about this wine was how different it showed from the others. Surely it must have had at least 3-4 more years of bottle age. Interestingly, I have noticed once before that Salomon's gruner veltliners are good short to mid-term agers. They do seem to age fairly quickly though - maybe both instances have been cases of poor storage in the wine shop?

If the white wine flight was humbling, than the red flight was both humbling and baffling. Chalk it up to our collective inexperience with Echezeaux, or Vosne-Romanee from 1996. Only one person guessed that we were tasting Burgundy, here. Such was the intriguing combination of ripe, juicy, supple fruit, high acidity and more than partial integration of tannins. I found two of the wines to be soft and succulent, one wine to be a bid more advanced and less delicious than the others, and another to be simple, superficial and short. Once again, the wines from last to first:

1996 Domaine Robert Arnoux Echezeaux

I thought that this was supposed to be a solid producer. This wine had some mixed red/dark fruits on the nose, with a bit of horseradish and cooked black cherry. There was not the liveliness on the palate experienced in my two favorites of the night. Either the wine is in a dumb phase or it was poorly stored.

1996 Mongeard-Mugneret Echezeaux

Third with the group, but a clear second for me. Cherry liqueur, red fruits and a bit of orange peel on the nose led to a palate full of cherry, brighter than what the nose would suggest. Still very primary in its development.

1996 Domaine de Perdrix Echezeaux

Second with the group, an easy 4th placer for me. This wine was just too slick. Dark and concentrated nose, with some oak spice. But not much else. Soft, juicy and simple blackberry fruits on the palate. Tannins are fully resolved. Short finish. Here is a great example of how a grand cru burgundy, even from a good vintage, ain't a guarantee of quality. Far from it.

1996 Mongeard-Mugneret Grands Echezeaux

This was the clear favorite, and for good reason. While it's still very primary, the fruit is of such an intense, elegant, and long lasting quality. Delicious wine that absolutely provides the tough to describe grand cru burgundy tasting experience. True to reputation, this was by far superior to MM's very solid Echezeaux.

Wine tasting is a funny thing. While experience and context are very important, the wine, as Terry Theise (importer of our two top finishing gruner veltliners) likes to say, 'will have the last word.' Profound, I know.