Lauber 2009 Grand Annual Tasting

This past Monday I squeezed a couple of hours of wine tasting into my busy schedule.  The Lauber tasting is a HUGE tasting with what I would guess is somewhere in the range of 1000 wines on hand.  The wines come from all over the world, and some producers even bring a “library” wine – a wine from an older vintage that is generally for sale.  Tasting an older wine is always a treat, but it also allows the potential wine buyer a glimpse into how the wine might age given how the library wine is showing.

Although I did not have a lot of time, I did still decide to begin by tasting exclusively white wines, and then later changing my focus to reds.  I managed to taste about 45 whites and then about 25 reds.  I tasted US wines (from California, NY, Washington & Oregon) as well as wines from around the world.  The only common theme between the wines were that they are all distributed by Lauber. This made making any comparison difficult, especially since I like to write about standout wines – those that while similar to the others seem to really stand out.

A last factor I want to mention before getting to my standout wines is the tasting book provided by Lauber.  The tasting book is something provided at all of these tastings so that the attendees can both find their way around the tasting and take notes on the wines tasted.  The book went in table order and made navigating the tasting very straight forward.  Physically, the book is a manageable size and that made taking notes while tasting a simpler task.  Lauber also provides the wholesale price of the wine in the book.  This is helpful for buyers, as the focus can then be on wines that fit what the buyer may be looking for.  Unfortunately it biases writers (such as myself) as I found in my limited time seeking out the most expensive wines hoping to try the “best”.  And while some of these expensive wines were quite special, there were a few that were seemingly lost on me.

I began my tasting at the table of Chablis producer Jean-Marc Brocard.  Chablis is made from Chardonnay, a varietal I have tired of lately.  Too many are still being made in the outdated heavy cream & big oak California style of the 1990’s and early this decade.  The word “tired” is applicable as these flabby wines (wines whose acid is low in relation to its other elements) can really tire a palate.  That said the cheapest Chablis (should retail for under $20) from J-M Brocard, the 2007 Chablis A.C., was crisp & lively and its citrus grapefruit characteristics reminded me of a nice refreshing Sauvignon Blanc.  It also had a surprisingly long finish.

Speaking of California Chardonnay, I tried and enjoyed the Bouchaine Vineyard Estate Chardonnay.  It was buttery but it comes from the cool Carneros region and had a very pleasant crisp acidity that made it a lovely wine.

The wines of Dr. Konstantin Frank from NY’s Finger Lakes region are great ambassadors for the Finger Lakes.  Lively acidity and bursting aromatics make the whites of Dr. K-F interesting, refreshing, terrific food pairings and simply quite tasty.  A varietal I have never heard of before, the 2006 Rkatsiteli (I was told it is a 2000 year old varietal of Russian/Georgian origin) was a bit bready, and had citrus and tropical notes.  Tropical fruit flavors led to a clean & crisp finish.  And while they are known for their Rieslings, I found the 2006 Gewurtztraminer to be quite interesting with its bubble gum & cotton candy nose (yes, it has 1.5 grams of residual sugar), its sweet pick grapefruit flavors and subtle yet creeping acidity.

I tried the 2007 Sancerre from Guy Saget & enjoyed the grassy & gooseberry characteristics along with its long finish.  The 2007 Domaine Du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-Pape BLANC is a blend of 3 white grapes that was toasty, spicy and had good vanilla flavor.  The 2007 Bordeux Blanc from Chateau Tour De Mirambeau had a nice minerality to go along with its lemon and mandarin orange aromas and flavors.

Oxidation seemed to be prevalent with many wines.  Some of it seemingly intentionally oxidized, this style is interesting and while I wouldn’t choose any of the intentionally oxidized bottles for my own pleasure drinking, I am beginning to grasp their unique charm.  The 1985 Chateau Gilette Sauternes was a treat to try, but the hint of oxidation was a disappointing.

From Nicolas Joly came two white blends, primarily Chenin Blanc, that also possessed that axidation.  Again, not my first choice, but certainly interesting.  The 2004 Coulee de Serrant had an almost medicinal quality to it that was interesting.  While the 2005 Clos de la Bergerie was less oxidized, had some subtle tropical fruit notes and was also quite interesting.

I tasted a pair of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and found it interesting to learn that the warmer climate prevalent in Martinborough led Palliser’s 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to have a softer acidity and more grassy characteristics with its lively acidity.

Finally, returning to Chardonnay, I tasted 2 wines deom the Famed California Chardonnay producer Hanzell Vineyards.  The Hanzell 2006 Chardonnay was subtle & elegant, with rich apple, melon & pineapple flavors pairing beautifully with its subtle oakiness and crisp finish.  Hanzell also brought along some Chardonnay from the 1996 vintage, but the bottle I tried had been open a while and had begun to deteriorate & oxidize.  Though it did still clearly possess ripe fruit and had a long fruity finish.

Moving on to the reds it is worth noting that I tasted subtle Burgundy wines interspersed with big, fruit forward California Cabs as well as Italian and other reds.  Really no order to the wines I tasted and much had to have been lost considering the tricks I was playing on my palate.

The 2003 Poggio Antico Brunello was full of cola, earth & spicy black cherry flavors, packaged in a still very young and tannic wine.

The 2005 Villa Russiz Merlot Graf de la Tour was round, rich, spicy and earthy with a complex and very long finish.

I tried two very expensive wines (including the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon with a wholesale price of about $100/bottle) from Roy Estate in Napa Valley and found them to be quite odd, both showing the usual Napa Cab characteristics, but also possessing strange pickle flavors.

The 2005 G3 from Goose Ridge in Washington state’s Columbia Valley was a blend of Syrah, merlot & malbec and was powerful, interesting and a very good value (should retail from about $15).

Another nice value from Washington was the Alder Ridge 2005 Cabernet (retail at about $35-40).  A blend of all 5 Bordeaux varietals, this wine had spicy black fruit aromas and a palate that was soft, velvety and silky smooth, all with a nice long finish.

Leaving the value arena I tried two Italian wines that I thought were great.  The 2004 “Siepi”, from producer Fonterutoli, is a 50-50 blend of Sangiovese & Merlot.  It reminded me a lot of some of the better Italian reds that I enjoy.  Earthy and foresty with some cola, maybe even cherry cola aromas and flavors this wine was rich and had a long finish.  While the 2005 Tenuta from Belguardo, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc was a nicely balanced Cab with typical black fruit but without the over the top alcohol (and subsequent heat) and oak.

Although I could have tasted for many more hours and still barely put a dent in all the offerings I ended my day on a high note with the wines of Jean Luc Colombo.  The 2005 Cornas La Louvee was rich, with black fruit and tar characteristics to go along with its mouth coating & silky tannins and long finish.  While the 2006 Cornas Les Ruchets was also round & balanced with ripe fruit, a soft mouth feel and a very long finish.

In all the tasting was a treat.  It was great to meet producers and speak with the various reps.  I came away with lots of suggestions for people in the NY bar/restaurant world, and have better familiarized myself with some wines I will certainly be looking to follow for my various wine related activities.

Happy massive portfolio Wine Tasting!

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