Polaner tasting standouts

Got back from the West Coast this morning and I hope to write up about day 1 of my wine country trip tomorrow. But now, my long overdue summary of the wines I was able to try at the Polaner tasting. As I previously mentioned, the annual event has an amazing array of top notch wines from all over the world, but in my opinion, there are simply too many wines. Maybe given my “neophyte” status, I try to taste as many wines as possible and miss the point. Maybe I should lower my expectations and simply focus on one variety or one region. This could help to make events of this size more manageable. I don’t know. Either way, while it was overwhelming, I tasted some very fine wines and met some very personable and charming winemakers (or winery proprietors).

Of the 75 tables and several hundred wines I managed to taste 117 wines. I began with whites, and got through about 50 of them (I tasted 53 whites in all but went a bit out of order). I then moved on to red of which I tasted 63 in total. And there was 1 rose’ that I tried. I started with whites as white wine does not have (much if any) tannin and is milder and easier on the palate. It is also easier to taste one color at a time when trying to asses wine.

Of the whites, there were certainly several standouts. I began in a French table area and tried some Sancerres (made from Sauvignon Blanc), some white Burgundys (made from Chardonnay) and some white blends. The Sancerre’s of Gerard Boulay were generally very nice. I found a bit of rubbery-ness (possibly from sulfites) in the Clos de Beajeu, but the other 3 were all very nice, showing nice floral notes, some grapefruit and a lovely crispness. The standout of the bunch was the Boulay Sancerre La Comtesse 2006, which has a subtle perfumi-ness, some nice minerality, and a fabulous mouth feel. Beautifully round with a very long finish, this was a great wine.

The Soufrandiere Pouilly-Vinzelles 2006 from La Soufandiere/ Bret Brothers is one of the cheaper wines they presented at the tasting and it was noted that this wine was made from (relatively) younger vines (closer to 30 years old rather than 80+). But I found this wine to be my favorite with a melon, cream, custard nose and a very soft & round mouth feel.

Hubery Lamy of Burgundy presented 3 wines. He wants his wines to show a nice purity of fruit (Chardonnay) and as such uses large 600 liter (mostly neutral) barrels. He does allow 100% malolactic (a secondary fermentation which gives Chardonnay a creamy/buttery flavor) which gave all 3 wines a nice creaminess, that combined very nicely with the acidity and fruit.

Moving to the Rhone valley in France I tried some wines from Eric Texier. The whole Texier family seemed to be in attendance (husband, wife & kids) and I enjoyed the wines but communication was not great as their English could have used some help. On the white side I tried a sweet white, the Texier Opale 2007 which was quite sweet but was very well balanced with a crisp acidity.

Next to Texier was Domaine Franck Peillot from the Bugey region of France (a place I had never previously heard of). Speaking of unknown, Peillot uses varietals I was not previously familiar with either. But his 2006 Peillot ALTESSE (the name of the grape) de Montagnieu was very nice (as was his 2007). The ’06 had a nice lemon zesty & floral
nose with a clean and crisp mouth feel. A wine I will definitely keep an eye out for in the future.

A wine I really loved and found quite unique was the 2005 Domaine de Roally Vire’-Clesse’ from the Macconnais, France. Made from Chardonnay, this wine had an exploding bouquet. Very complex I found honey dew, white peach, perfume and something I can only describe as banana cream. the wine felt like flowers dancing on my palate with subtle oak influences. A great wine.

An under appreciated grape here in the Western world is Chenin Blanc. Domaine Francois Pinon from the Loire Valley makes some demi-sec (semi sweet) wines from Chenin blanc. I tasted 4 of them; a 2005 from grapes with botrytis (a desirable mold that when properly managed leads to long lived sweet wines), and 3 Vouvray. My favorite was the 2007 Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir which had a crisp nose with ripe tropical fruit and great fruit & acidity on the palate.

Domaine de la Janasse has several wines I was hoping to try but having skipped this table early on I was only able to taste the 2007 Janasse Cotes du Rhone Blanc. This white Rhone had a nice flinty-ness to it with some pear and some other real distinct aroma’s that made it a standout wine for me.

Making my way past the French wines I landed in the California section. I tasted some nice Chardonnays by Foxglove/ Varner Wines, L’Angevin, DuMol and Neiman cellars. I had a Bordeaux Blanc made by Arietta called the “Arietta White Wine on White Keys 2006″ that was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon and had an interesting breadiness with some melon & pineapple aromas. It also had a balancing acidity and a nice finish.

I stumbled upon a 1971 (yes that is older than me) Moulin Touchais Coteaux de Layon made in the Loire Valley of France. This winery produces sweet whites that are apparently held in the winery for at least 10 years before release. This 37 year old wine showed a gold color and what I felt was a lot of oxidation. That said it was unique and not bad.

Finally, I ran into a friend who steered me in the direction of the Lopez de Heredia table. This winery may sound familiar as I tasted some of their wines with my tasting group. When I arrived at the table I told them I would pass on the whites as I had been drinking reds and was concerned my palate was not up to it. A gentleman standing next to me suggested that I try a white wine that is intentionally oxidized (in a controlled manner). I took his recommendation and found wine that I simply did not “get”. I got to try the Lopez de Heredia Gravonia Rioja Blanco Crianza 1998, Tondonia Rioja Blanco Reserva 1989 & Tondonia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva 1981. I don’t have too many notes on the wines as I simply found them all to be oxidized, old tasting, and even a bit pukey. BUT, others at the table were ooing & ahhhing at the wines so maybe one day I will gain an appreciation for such wines.

OK, that was a pretty thorough writeup of my experience with the whites. Onto the reds…

The first table of red wines I visited was while I was still in the French section, the table of Domaine Lignier-Michelot from the Morey-St. Denis section of Burgundy. I tasted 6 wines at this table, all made from Pinot Noir. There were some nice fresh wines with steely notes that had received no oak treatment (no barrel aging) and other more serious wines that did see oak. The 2006 Morey-St. Denis Clos de la Roche Grand Cru was my favorite of the bunch displaying subtle fruit, nice minerality and earth and a silky smooth mouth feel.

Eric Texier of The Rhone had some reds in addition to the whites I mentioned earlier. There was a very pricey 2006 Texier Cote Rotie VV that I just did not get. Both the nose and on the palate this wine was tight & even closed. Upon inquiry into bottling date I was told that it was just bottled and therefore I suspect that this wine was in some sort of bottle shock and will show better in the future. They make a Chateauneuf-du-Pape which I thought was just OK. Interestingly enough, they make a 100% grenache wine called the (2005) St. Gervais Cadinieres VV Cote du Rhone Villages that is the cheapest of their reds…and was my favorite. Nice subtle red fruit, good earthiness and minerality. Slightly tannic but a wine I suspect is a great food wine.

It took great restraint to pass the reds my first round through and taste only whites. But the lure of the reds grabbed me and it was the California reds and people I either knew or recognized who convinced me that white time was up. Drew Neiman of Neiman Cellars is someone I had not met before, but whom I engaged in conversation as I noticed a wine I was familiar with on his table. He is collaborating with a winemaker I used to work with in Napa and poured that wine for me in addition to his own wine. His 2004 Neiman Cellars Napa Valley Red is a blend of 1/3 Cab Sauvignon, 1/3 Merlot, & 1/3 Cab Franc. This red blend is a pretty expensive wine and it was quite big. The type of wine I can understand people saying would overpower all but the most austere foods (think big grilled steak). The nose on this wine started a bit closed, but opened to show some nice black fruit in addition to a healthy dose of oak. On the palate it showed big ripe fruit, strong gripping tannins and a touch of heat (a sensation one gets from alcohol). I’d be very interested to follow the progress of such a big wine to see if it mellows with age.

Neiman’s colleague whom I worked with is Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr wines. Sadly Pam was not there, but her 2005 Cab Franc & 2004 Cab Sauv were. I enjoyed both wines, which is progress as many of you know I do not typically favor Cab Franc and its green bell pepper aromas and flavors. The 2005 Crocker & Starr Cab Franc Napa Valley had a subtle nose, one that I thought was actually a bit closed. It did show the bell pepper but it was subtle and melded well with other ripe fruit aromas. What I liked most about this wine was its mouthfeel, very soft & round with delicate tannins. The 2004 C & S “Stone Place” Cabernet Sauvignon also had a very nice round & velvety mouth feel. It showed nice mocha & tabacco on the nose, had soft tannins, and a very nice finish.

Maybach winery from the Napa Valley had one wine at the tasting. Their 2005 Maybach Materium Cab. This is a very expensive wine carrying a wholesale price of almost $100/bottle. And while such a price tag is difficult to swallow, the wine was not. Another big Napa wine showing big, rich black fruit. Anise, black currant, tabbaco & chocolate were all (not so) subtly evident in this big fruit forward wine. A wine that will go great with fresh berries or better yet a rare steak, this pricey gem will certainly overpower your more subtle dishes.

The most expensive wine I tried was another from Napa – The Gemstone Cab. At a wholesale price of about $150/bottle the 2005 Gemstone Cabernet (blended with 6% Petit Verdot) was another BIG NAPA CAB. Very big tannins made this a grilled meat kind of wine, but aromas of mocha, pencil shavings, and ripe black fruit brought together a very big fruit forward wine that was in nice balance considering its big rich body. I’m not sure about the wine at its price, but this is another wine that would be interesting to follow and see how it does with some age.

Merus, yet another Napa winery represented at the tasting, showed 2 Cabernets. Both the 2005 Altus Cab & 2005 Merus Cab were complex wines. The 2005 Altus Napa Cab was blended with 5% Malbec, Petit Verdot & Merlot (3 of the Bordeaux varietals) and was aged in 80% new medium toasted oak (a high percentage). I found there to be a lot going on with this wine. Olive aromas together with black licorice and cigar box…all combining with nice ripe black fruit to produce a very complex bouquet. On the palate its a soft wine with gripping tannins & a nice finish. Also from Merus was their ’05 Merus Cab blended with 5% Petit Verdot & Malbec. Aged in 100% new heavy toasted oak (a HUGE percentage) this wine too showed nice complexity. Chocolate, charcoal & tobacco were all apparent on the nose to go along with its big body and ripe tannins. A big but somehow balanced wine.

Arnot-Roberts is a winery I learned about at the Polaner event in 2007. They make their own French oak barrels, something I (and others) found of unique interest. In addition to barrels they make some very fine wines. 4 Syrahs & 2 Cab’s were tried at the tasting. The least cost prohibitive wine of the bunch was the 2006 Arnot-Roberts Syrah Clary Ranch and the one I found most interesting. It had a very unique nose that had me pondering the wine quite a bit. Earthiness and hints of smoked meat are what I concluded led to the interesting bouquet. This wine may have been of most interest to me as it could have been most approachable given the oak treatment (least amount of new oak). I also very much enjoyed the 2005 A-R Cab “Bugay” from Sonoma which was treated with 100% new A-R oak and had a nice complex nose showing mocha and black fruit. Blended with 7% Petit Verdot & 7% Cab Franc, this wine was silky smooth and had blue & black fruit on the palate. A very fine wine.

A winery whose wines surprised me & whose winemaker, Mike Officer, I enjoyed speaking with was Carlisle Winery from Sonoma. 3 Zinfandels and 1 Syrah. I found all of these well priced and very different Zinfandels to be very nicely balanced, so much so that I was SHOCKED when Mike told me the alcohol levels of the wines. All hovering around 16% ABV (alcohol by volume) the wines had a very soft and round moth feel – not what i would have expected from big zins. Although I enjoyed them all, of particular interest was the Montafi Russian River Valley ’06 Zin that had the highest ABV (16.3%) yet was not overly jammy, had nice minerality together with red & black fruit. Well integrated tannins and the aforementioned balance made this my favorite Zin of the tasting.

The tasting began to wrap up and I made a mad dash to taste as many more wines as I could. Beginning with a super Tuscan from Stella di Campalto, the 2005 SdC Rosso di Montalcino had a very nice nose with aromas of figs, chocolate, tobacco and mocha. A big ripe wine with gripping tannins and a luscious mouth feel. This ripe wine had a nice long finish and seems a good value relative to some other wines tasted (at a wholesale price of about $30/bottle).

The Roagna winery from Piedmont, Italy had a few Barolos and Barbarescos. Given the time I only managed to taste their 1999 Paje Barbaresco. The wine had a brick orange color to it but gripping ripe tannins and big intense fruit. Given its lite color I really expected an earthier more minerally wine, but what I got was a full bodied ripe wine that is showing impressively for the stage it is at in its life.

I tried wines from 4 wineries in Argentina, all of which were very nice. Anabelle Sielecki of Mendel winery in Mendoza, Argentina was quite charming and informed me that her 2005 Mendel Unus Mendoza is made with 65% malbec & 35% cab coming from their 80 year old vineyards that are now producing very low yields and highly concentrated fruit. This well priced wine is not the fruit bomb I expected from this region showing nice fruit and stone characteristics with gripping tannins and a nice lite fruity palate. The 2004 Mendoza Malbec from Mapema winery was interesting in that it possessed a nice mineral & cola nose. But it was the 2005 Virtuoso Late Harvest Malbec (a first for me) from the Susana Balbo winery that I was most impressed with out of Argentina. A deep & rich nutty, almond chocolate nose translated to the palate to show a luscious dark and sweet (but not at all cloying) wine that would rival a port in the red dessert arena.

Finally I want to revisit Lopez de Heredia. In addition to the 3 whites and 1 rose I tried, I also tried 6 reds, ranging from as young as 2002 to as old as 1976. LdH wines are very well regarded coming out of Rioja, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to try a 2002, 2000, 1999, 1987, 1981 & 1976 Rioja. Following the aging process of these wines was really interesting. The 2002 Cubillo Crianza & 2000 Bosconia Reserva had a nice ruby color & good minerality, earth and fruit. The 1999 Tondonia Reserva had a color that was beginning to fade to brick & showed some slight oxidation. The 1987 Tondonia Gran Reserva seemed (to me) to be fully oxidized and had a light orange color. The 1981 Bosconia Gran Reserva also had a lite orange color and was oxidized but I found it interesting in that it still possessed tannins and had an almost sherry like smell. And finally the 1976 Bosconia Gran Reserva which had a very lite orange/brown color and very oxidized smell. I must admit that I was intrigued, but it is not (yet) my thing.

I hope you enjoyed reading my take on this GRAN Tasting as much as I enjoyed re-living it while writing it. Definitely let me know if this leads you to try some of these wines and if you agree/disagree with any of my assessments/thoughts. In the future I will try to limit the size and scope of my reviews to only include the real standouts of the bunch.

Until then, happy CRAZY LARGE wine tasting!!!


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