The Judgment in Sauternes: The Best of Napa and Bordeaux Vintage 1995 That was the question posed by President-Fondateur, Francois Mauss to a special session of the Grand Jury Europeen held at Ch. Guiraud in Sauternes on September 28th. On the surface it would not seem all that difficult; but what if you took 20 of the greatest wines from Napa (actually 18 as Arrowood is from Sonoma and Ridge from the Santa Cruz Mountains) and 20 of Bordeaux finest wines along with 1 ringer, and tasted them blind from a great vintage like 1995 in both regions? The Jury, consisting of 30 or more people and was a mix of Trade Professionals, Journalist (like Anthony Hansen and Neil Becket from the UK and Joel Payne from Germany), Sommelier (like Andreas Larsson from Sweden) as well as talented amateurs (like Jim Dove from Mo. and Kevin Shin from DC.); 15-22 from continental Europe and 16 from outside Europe. The tasting would try and determine the overall quality of each wine by writing a tasting note, giving the wine a score from 0/100 and then determine if the wine was from Napa or Bordeaux. Seemingly and easy task, but in reality it was not that easy. When I finished it was quite a relief and as I wandered out into the garden for the unveiling of the wines, the facial expressions from my fellow tasters seemed to mirror a much tougher than anticipated but exciting and great tasting experience. It was a busy week for me. I left on Monday, arrived Tuesday late afternoon at Ch. Lascombes in Margaux, wandered aimlessly thru the vineyards, chewing on the grapes and noticing the striking irregularity in the grapes and the bunches. There was a lot of shatter from grapes that were close to ripeness but had absorbed too much moisture from recent heavy rains and bunches that had been sunburned to beyond raisins from the cutting of leaves that had been done on one side of the vine, as well as signs of Botrytis. 2006 will clearly be a vintage of sever selection at every stage of the winemaking process. Certainly some very good wine will be made in 2006 as the Merlot grapes that rolled off the final sorting belt at Lascombes, and into the mystical looking tank of white fog, a result of the dry ice spray on the grapes as they headed to their cold soak pre maceration, looked almost perfect! Wednesday was a nice visit and tasting at the impeccably run estate of Ch. Preuillac in northern St-Estephe, followed by lunch, nap and dinner. Thursday morning was a visit and tasting at Ch. Brown located in Pessac, another estate owned as is Ch. Preuillac by Jean-Christophe Mau. A light, but delicious lunch at Claude Darroze in Langon, and then it was off to the Grand tasting at exactly 4pm. By the time you are reading this, all the wines and the full scientific results from numerous angles will all be finished and posted world wide at www.grandjuryeuropeen.com. I ended up tasting 37 wines, not counting the ringer and identifying 28 correctly, here are few of my exact notes that I think you will find interesting. At an event like this you do not have to order desert as it comes to you automatically in the form of humble pie! Listed below are my exact tasting notes, just as I wrote them down, nothing else, my guesses and results of the wines. For the tasting a total of four bottles of each wine was needed, and professional sommelier checked every one. Unfortunately there were some off bottles of three wines, and random tasters were given a taste of the good bottles. To keep everyone off balance, Cheval Blanc was in the tasting twice. The total wines I tasted were 37 and one of those was a ringer, which turned out to be wine #16. We had exactly 2 hours to complete the tasting and then it was outside in the garden for the unveiling of the wines. #1 Very minty, lively and fragrant, the sweet middle fruit, lacks some soul in the middle and is a little short, pleasant wine, maybe Araujo? I guessed CALIFORNIA and 87/100…it was SCREAMING EAGLE #2 Fine, high toned nose of Cassis and dark cherry, these flavors continue on the palate and hit all the right spots, long complex and sweet finishing, great Pomerol? I guessed BORDEAUX and 90/100…it was HARLAN ESTATE #3 High toned herbal nose, medicinal smelling, lean in the middle, the finish stops, don’t care for this. I guessed BORDEAUX and 81/100 it was HAUT BRION #4 Spicy Cabernet nose, fresh and classic, just enough sweetness, fine and elegant. Superbly balanced, just a touch short and woody on the finish. I guessed BORDEAUX 93/100 it was LAFITE ROTHSCHILD #5 Sweet smack of fresh raspberry and red currant fruits, well balanced and not overdone in any way, very fine Ca. wine. I guessed CALIFORNIA 92/100 it was MONTELENA ESTATE #6 Ripe, sweet herbal nose, sweet candied toned fruit on palate, hint of whiskey barrel on the finish. I guessed CALIFORNIA 88/100 it was ARAUJO #7 Leafy nose with dried fruit aromas, dry middle fruit, high acid and quick drying finish. I guessed BORDEAUX 86/100 it was ARROWOOD RESERVE SPECIALE #8 Restrained nose of spice and earth, the wine tightens very quickly and is short finishing. I guessed BORDEAUX 84/100 it was PETRUS #9 Fresh and spicy nose of Cabernet with hints of maritime/ocean freshness, very strong and elegant at the same time. I guessed BORDEAUX 93/100 it was LATOUR #10 Big, soft and ripe! Round and silky smooth, no hard edges, fine richness as well as balance. I guessed CALIFORNIA 94/100 it was LA JOTA ANNIVERSARY RESERVE #11 Huge fruitball, BUT attractive and tasty as well as balanced, very low acid. For the waffles or pancakes? I guessed CALIFORNIA 90/100 it was SHAFER HILLSIDE #12 Lovely pure/restrained fruit, strong wine with fine elegance, long life ahead. I guessed BORDEAUX 93/100 it was CH. PALMER #13 Slight hints of mint, eucalyptus and wild herbs, tasty middle fruit and finely balanced. I guessed BORDEAUX 91/100 it was CH. TROTANOY #14 Round, sweet nose with oak, deep jammy fruit, low acid, could be fresher but very nice wine. I guessed CALIFORNIA 90/100 it was MONDAVI RESERVE #15 Big sweetness and high alcohol hit on the nose, disjointed and very dry with hints of decay. I guessed CALIFORNIA 84/100 it was HAUT-CONDISSAS #16 Over the top nose, baskets of strawberries and boysenberries, dries out super-quick, not my style, Valendraud? Colgin? Perplexing…I guessed CALIFORNIA 85/100 it was PINGUS FROM SPAIN #17 Perfect ripeness, sweetness and balance, lovely texture in the mouth, Wow is this Cheval Blanc? I guessed BORDEAUX and 94/100…it was ABREU # 18 NOT TASTED—it was Ch. Margaux #19 Very ripe, almost portlike hints, soft texture, well balanced and tasty. Low acid. I guessed CALIFORNIA 90/100 it was CH. VALANDRAUD #20 Dried herbs with medicinal aromas? Flat out weird and short, bad sample? I guessed BORDEAUX 79/100 it was LA MISSION HAUT BRION #21 Lively nose of Frambois, very fresh and fragrant. Very nice balance, elegant and tasty, tough call. I guessed CALIFORNIA 93/100 it was SPOTTSWOOD #22 Very nice sweet fruit and dried herbs on the nose, dry, elegant and fresh on the palate, superbly balanced. I guessed BORDEAUX 92/100 it was SPRING MOUNTAIN #23 Sweet candied fruit, Merlot? Straightforward, earthy and warm, a bit woody on the finish. I guessed BORDEAUX 89/100 it was CH. CHEVAL BLANC #24 Maritime freshness jump out at you, very attractive, strong, elegant and nice and compact, fine claret! I guessed BORDEAUX 89/100 it was CH. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD #25 NOT TASTED—it was Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill #26 Sweet fruit of wild herbs and spice, a little chunky, tasty, sweet finish. I guessed CALIFORNIA 89/100 it was BERINGER PRIVATE RESERVE #27 Sweet fruit with hints of anise/licorice, earth and wild herbs. Rich, sweet, with good fatness in the middle of the wine, but not overdone! I guessed CALIFORNIA 90/100 it was RIDGE MONTEBELLO #28 Sweet, blackberry jam fruit on the nose, lush and sweet on the palate with low acidity, although it keeps its balance, very nice. I guessed CALIFORNIA 91/100 it was STAGLIN FAMILY #29 Very herbal and quick drying wine, rather simple and short finishing. I guessed BORDEAUX 78/100 it was CH. LE BON PASTEUR #30 Cedar box nose, very herbal and lean on the palate and the finish. Not exciting. I guessed BORDEAUX 88/100 it was DOMINUS #31 Mint and eucalyptus aromas as well as medicinal notes, short finish. I guessed CALIFORNIA 88/100 it was PAHLMEYER #32 Big dumb nose with broad masculine fruit, a powerful wack of drying tannins on the finish. I guessed CALIFORNIA 89/100 it was PHELPS INSIGNIA #33 Sweet herbal nose, with smoky hints, bright, fresh and elegant, good life ahead, very well balanced with a spicy long finish. I guessed BORDEAUX 93/100 it was Ch. AUSONE #34 Wow, big fruit bowl aromas of guava, passion fruit, pomegranate, not my style, but on the palate it is silky, very tasty and that great taste carry’s thru the long finish. I guessed CALIFORNIA 94/100 it was COLGIN #35 Hints of coffee and caramel, slight development, but not on the palate! Rich middle of earthy/old vine fruit, will develop for a very long time; serious Bordeaux! I guessed BORDEAUX 94/100 it was (again) CH. CHEVAL BLANC #36 Super sweet nose of ripe cherries, wow, very complex on the palate, round and opulent, dense and intense at the same time and it all stays in balance! I guessed CALIFORNIA 95/100 it was PRIDE RESERVE #37 Sweet mulberry fruit and decay on nose, extracted dry tannins, flabby and out of balance. I guessed BORDEAUX 80/100 it was CH. CRIOX DE LABRIE #38 NOT TASTED- it was Le Tertre Roteboeuf #39 Gorgeous and fragrant aromas of spicy Cabernet, finely tuned wine, strong and long, this is fantastic, long aging, classic Bordeaux! I guessed BORDEAUX 96/100 (the highest score I gave) it was CH. LEOVILLE LAS CASES #40 Pure, intense, deep rich fruit (of sweet Merlot?) with the baby fat still around, good structure in the middle. Will be long lived, fine. I guessed BORDEAUX 95/100 it was CH. ROLLAND DE BY (by far the biggest surprise of the tasting to me, but that’s why you taste them blind) ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A few afterthoughts… In my opinion both sides of the world showed fantastically; clearly showing that the perception of the top wines in the world are in fact just that, top shelf! I finished the tasting with just a few minutes to spare, I had marked a couple of wines to go back and taste again, but I decided to stay put and go on the first impression and not start doubting myself. That being said and being the competitor that I am, even at 50 years of age, I must tell you that I’m still a bit pissed off that I missed a couple of these wines, because if you read my notes on #2 it screams California and conversely the “portlike hints” on wine #19 I should have identified as the “great garage wine of Valandraud”. I do not use the term “great garage wine” lightly or in jest as we have tasted hundreds of these type wines in the past and most of them smell like they will have tremendous amounts of attractive sweet fruit; until you put the wine in your mouth and your almost knocked to the ground by wood and super extracted tannins and a wine void of natural fruit and good taste. Valandraud consistently bucks that trend. In preparation for this tasting of which I was a late invitee, (someone got very ill and I was offered the spot) I did not drink a Bordeaux wine for 2 weeks, a record for me, but I did taste a 1995 California wine every other night. I would like to thank Francios Mauss, Bruno Finance and the GJE for the unique opportunity of judging this event; as well as the support from the ownership of K&L Wine Merchants, Paul Draper from Ridge vineyards, my good friend and customer Lee Brokaw and the well wishes from so many clients. Please feel free to contact me with questions or advice on the wines of Bordeaux at ext#2723 or Ralph@klwines.com Cheers and Go Niners! --Ralph Sands
Fourteen years ago, as a college student ‘studying’ abroad in Rome, my classmates and I would frequently joke about our evening plans. “What should we have for dinner tonight?” one of us would ask. And the answer, inevitably, “How about Italian?” In 1992 it was possible to sniff out an outpost of some exotic repast. After seven months living there, for instance, I uncovered an Indian place in Trastevere and heard tell of a tapas joint, though it never materialized in the flesh. But the City was still remarkably homogeneous in its citizenry, and the food followed suit. Not that we could complain. We all ate extremely well. At neighborhood trattorie, cross town restauranti, and dozens of pizzerie, we gorged ourselves on the best food we had ever collectively had. And so it was doubly confounding to find, after countless bowls of pasta in limitless preparations, endless plates of marinated eggplant and zucchini, the obligatory whole fish alla griglia and portions of porchetta, pancetta and of course prosciutto, that we hungered for something, anything other than Italian. Preparing for a visit to Rome in Septmeber of 2006, I heard tell of Rome’s new ‘international’ style. Friends returning from there spoke of Irish pub food, French bistros, Cantonese, Ethiopian, and most alarmingly of all—fusion. This panoply of multi-ethnic foods is all well and good in a place like San Francisco, but Rome! I hated to think of my City, The Eternal City, home to not only the Pantheon, but also to Papandrou’s Greek Palace, to Campo dei Fiori as well as Chokichi Sushi. In the face of this new and ‘improved” Rome, how could I possibly relive my Italian debauches? I needn’t have worried. Yes, Rome is slightly more modernized, but there is still PLENTY of amazingly good, traditional Italian and/or Roman food. What follows is a short list of the standouts. If you go to Rome in the future, do seek these places out. Hosteria del Pesce Via di Monserrato, 32 39 06 6865617 Just down the street from the Piazza Farnese, this place is easy to miss. The non-descript, unmarked door is just about blocked by a few plastic ice buckets full of tiny clams, live langoustines and bracingly fresh fish. Inside the place is very lively, casual and loud. If you haven’t guessed it from the name, this is a fish place. And that’s all they have. Cold seafood platters, pasta tossed with seafood, and then more seafood. Everything is insanely fresh. We even ate entire raw shrimp, heads and all! The wine list is all Italian, naturally, almost completely white, and very well priced. The staff are great and quite patient (there isn’t really a menu. Just tell them to bring whatever they suggest; it will be wonderful!). Reserve in advance. La Sora Lella Via Ponte Quattro Capi, 16 39 06 6861601 Located on the Isola Tiburina, in the middle of the Tiber river, this place is old world, though elegant, and serves a slightly updated take on Roman food, which means salt cod (or baccala) and slow roasted meats, as well as some of the best pasta dishes we tried in Italy. The wine list is impressive, too. Romantic tiny dining room. One of my dishes, ravioli filled with cheese and tossed with a sauce of pureed black truffles, was among the top five things I have ever eaten in my life! Reserve in advance. Trattoria St. Teodoro Via dei Fienili, 49-50-51 39 06 6780933 A quick walk from the Forum, this is just the place to carb load after a grueling morning of ancient roman sightseeing. Very local, which is surprising given its proximity to several big tourist destinations. Most the people eating here for lunch seemed to be Italian government officials, all men, and all dressed impeccably, of course! The food is refined classic Italian, with an emphasis on fish, and the pastas are all superb. The wine list is long and impressive in all regions of Italy. There is even a water list for various mineral waters, still and sparkling! Not cheap, but serious food. Roscioli Via dei Giubbonari, 21-22 39 06 6875287 This wine bar is easily reachable from Campo dei Fiori, right in the center of historic Rome. There is an amazing selection of cheeses (you can order a European cheese plate, an Italian plate, or a regional plate, with cheeses from only Lazio, say, or Umbria), sliced cured meats and, of course, wines. Just the place to check out for a ‘smaller’ size meal. And the hipster staff includes a young woman from Canada, which makes ordering something from the wine list a whole lot easier. Enjoy! --Elisabeth Schriber
The holidays are back again? It just seemed like yesterday that we were celebrating New Years and now Thanksgiving is around the corner. It seems life moves at a quick pace the older you get. Remember the days when one could sleep 12 hours with no problem. Those days are over for me. Relaxing is a little tougher these days. Yoga sure helps as does a nice glass of wine… or two. I hope these wines can help you relax during this hectic holiday period. 2004 Eric K James “Bernache Block” Carneros Chardonnay ($14.99) I don’t often write about Chardonnay but this is something special. The wine was prevented from undergoing malolactic fermentation to preserve fruit and crispness and was aged for 11 months sur lie in neutral oak. This shows crispness that highlights its beautiful fruit. Only 89 cases made. 2005 A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir ($16.99) Another great vintage from this Oregon negociant. Sourced fruit from all the great Oregon producers and put it together to showcase the great pinot produce up north. Clear and vibrant, this wine has a beautiful dark color and aromas of mixed berries, earth, smoke, violets, Asian spices and minerals. 2003 Forth “All Boys” Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99) All Boys is the happy outcome of the blending of Cabernet grown in the vineyards of the Forths’ two sons, four grandsons and that of a beautiful neighboring vineyard owned by five brothers. Bright, bountiful berries and cherries, toasty oak and supple tannins combine to create a delightfully accessible Cabernet. See you in the City... —Michael Jordan
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