Yes, Napa reds can age very well (and more tales with Washington D.C. winos)

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

8 August 2015

Back in Washington D.C. I flew in to see my mother who is going to have to undergo surgery. At 85 years of age, a delicate matter. It was great to be able to meet great friends from the Washington D.C. tasting group I have known now for over 10 years. The theme was Napa Valley reds – including some older ones – and white Burgundy, with a few other regions including, of course, Champagne to start. We were Ben Giliberti, former Washington Post wine writer and currently working for Calvert Woodley Importers and fellow D.C. -based winos and wine aficionados Ken Barr, Howard Cooper, Paul Marquardt, Ken Brown, Chris Bublitz, Randy McFarlane and myself.

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Randy getting ready for some bubbles!

This tasting proved yet again how quality wine producers from the Napa Valley make wine that is built to age – as well as seductive early drinking wine. The white Burgundies we enjoyed were all delicious. Three clearly flawed bottles including a 2004 J-M Pillot Chassagne “Clos St Marc” that Paul brought, tainted by TCA. Ben brought a 1987 Burgundy that was also corked. Randy’s 1995 Spottswoode could not shake an excess of what seemed to be volatile acidity. But most of the bottles brought were great. Many thanks to dear wine friends for bringing in some of their drinkable treasures, which we drank with much pleasure! Always good to start with bubbles. Two NVs and one 2008, that shows the promise of that vintage!

Wines in bold I liked in particular, when red and bold even more and when underlined, a sort of nirvana

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  • NV Roses de Jeanne / Cédric Bouchard Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut – France, Champagne, Côte des Bars (Aube), Champagne
    This is a lovely Blanc de Noirs. There is a confected fruit aspect while the wine remains dry and pure. I would have liked it just a bit more if it had perhaps slightly less residual sugar. At least my radar for perception of sweetness was perturbed just slightly. But overall, more than just a crowd pleasing bubbly. Complexity and nuance, fine bubbles for a smooth texture and a medium finish. (91 pts.)

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  • 2008 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier d’Or – France, Champagne
    Very focused bubbly. Taut and needs time to open up in glass. Precise and pure, with burgeoning flavors indicating future complexity, including ripe pear, wet stone, red apple and citrus aspects. Bubbles are fine and smooth leading to a medium plus finish. A good sign for the 2008 vintage in Champagne, somewhat problematic in initial and middle phases (uneven flowering, due to oscillating temperatures; cloudy and cool summer weather that may have prevented full maturity of grapes), but turning out great due to an excellent Indian Summer that concentrated the sugars to match natural high acidities at harvest-time in mid to late September. Thanks to Randy McFarlane for bringing this bottle. (92 pts.)

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  • NV Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
    A delicious rich and dry bubbly. A certain elegance coming from the Chardonnay exclusive basis, with toasty brioche notes. Perhaps not as complex as the previous two we enjoyed but smooth and pleasing indeed with a medium finish. Thanks to Chris Bublitz for this! (90 pts.)

A pair of lovely white Burgundies from 2007 and 2006

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  • 2006 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
    Enjoyed side by side with the Mestre-Michelot Meursault Genevrieres. A lighter tone of color and more steely. An excellent wine in the context of the vintage, which is not considered to be too great in Burgundy in general for whites. This has surprising verve and poise. Just burgeoning aspects of white stone fruit, ripe green apple, hints of lemon. While not as expressive or as rich as the Meursault, it has loads of aging potential. Full bodied and smooth and long. (93 pts.)

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  • 2007 Mestre-Michelot Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Text book Meursault from a fine white Burgundy vintage: rich and savory, I felt like having lobster with butter when tasting this. The texture was smooth and the the palate full bodied but with that wet stone, saline aspect one expects from a fine white Burgundy. Long finish. Thanks to Howard Cooper for this fine bottle. (93 pts.)

As two of our party were running late, we opened this 1982 Bordeaux as an interlude

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  • 1982 Château de la Grave Figeac – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
    This was a popular bottle that makes point scoring somewhat meaningless. A lesser known Saint Emilion, just on the Pomerol border, the estate is located somewhere between La Conseillante and Cheval Blanc. Tobacco like, hints of grassy notes but the succulence of the vintage is there. Ben Giliberti, who brought the bottle, said it was better “ten years ago” but I noticed the wine being passed around quite often. Certainly enjoyable! An intermezzo as we waited for Ken Brown and Paul Marquardt to arrive later for the dinner. (89 pts.)
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Howard Cooper pours some wine as Paul Marquardt decants his 1970 Napa Valley Cab

A lovely Napa flight from 1970s and a 1982

  • 1976 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
    When you get a wine that is this old, so the saying goes: there are no good wines, only good bottles. Many thanks to Ken Barr for sharing this legendary vintage of a legendary Napa wine. Full body, with richness, but it was hard to get past what fellow taster Ken Brown noted as “swampy” aspects. Perhaps slightly oxidized? It was not singing as one would expect, but I have no experience with this vintage of this wine. All I know is that it is celebrated as coming from a drought year that was hot (as in Bordeaux) yielding concentrated and long lasting wine. It did get better in glass, but it still seemed a bit flawed to me so I would rather say “flawed” than give a subpar score. NR (flawed)
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A hot, drought year the 1976 with a whopping (for that era) 13.5% alcohol.

  • 1982 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
    This was delicious from the start. 1982 is not known to be a great vintage in California, so it is said. But when Chris Bublitz decanted his bottle at the restaurant, I could not help but smell its gorgeous tertiary aromas. Perfumed. A bit of dry fruit. Floral. The medium bodied palate was savory and plump. While not very long on the finish, it was a pleasure to drink! (92 pts.)
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Interesting to compare

  • 1970 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
    Very aromatic, with expected eucalyptus notes. But not monolithic in that sense. There was more going on aromatically. The palate was smooth and even rather silky in texture. And for a wine of nearly 45 years of age, flavorful and with structure. Medium plus body and medium plus finish. Goes to show that quality Napa Valley Cabernet ages gracefully. Thanks to Paul Marquardt for bringing this lovely wine. (93 pts.)

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Perhaps the weakest Napa flight. The wines were delicious but not as nuanced or with as much character as the flights preceding and after

  • 2003 Dominus Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Loads of body and dark fruit ripeness. Medium plus body and medium finish. I brought this wine and was happy with it, but it did not reach the nuance or complexity of some of the other Napa wines we enjoyed – and was outclassed by the closer in age Ridge that we enjoyed later. (91 pts.)
  • 1994 Dominus Estate Napanook Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley
    This came across as more Bordeaux like: touches of leather, leafy wet earth, but fresh and flavorful. Red and black fruit. Tasty, medium bodied with medium plus finish. Thanks to Howard Cooper for bringing the bottle.(92 pts.)

While one will please full throttle bigness, the other will please seekers of elegance (I am in the latter camp)

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  • 2001 Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    Certainly impressive, this wine shows much body – very full bodied indeed – with a rich and dark fruit driven aspect. But being an Old World drinker of balance that includes lower alcohols, this clocked in at nearly 15% and I could feel it. There is a monolithic aspect that kind of bugged me, but I could see how many people would just love this. Thanks to Randy for bringing the wine. (90 pts.)
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The Ridge rocked

  • 2006 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    My overall favorite of the Napa Valley reds. Smooth and opulent. Smoky and cedar like with red and black fruit. The palate is full bodied yet nuanced, its 13.5% alcohol well integrated and leading to a long and lifting finish, with promise for aging but you can easily drink now with great pleasure. Thanks to Ken Brown for bringing this bottle. (94 pts.)

I like white Burgundy with cheese …

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  • 2007 J.M. Boillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Macherelles – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru
    Ken Brown brought this and because he came late for dinner, we saved it for the cheeses. It was delicious! Not quite as opulent and fleshy as the Meursault that Howard brought, of the same vintage, but this Chassagne Montrachet conveyed a steely and even pristine elegance – more akin to the Chablis Grand Cru 2006 that I brought and that we had enjoyed earlier in the dinner. I think it has excellent aging potential. Medium body, medium plus finish. (92 pts.)

An excellent German ice wine from 1988

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  • 1988 Dr. Hubert Gänz Guldentaler Sonnenberg Riesling Eiswein – Germany, Nahe
    Ken Barr brought this lovely ice wine (produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine) from the Nahe region of Germany by Dr. Hubert Gänz. The 1988 vintage of this fine Guldentaler Sonnenberg is high in acidity, and so we all enjoyed the balance of its bright fruit and concentrated richness and a pleasingly zingy aspect (9.5% alcohol) to balance the loads of residual sugar no doubt. Bravo! (93 pts.)

Another great evening at Ripple. The food, top notch. I really liked the duck for the main course. And the cheese board at the end. It is hard to find a better wine friendly location in Washington D.C. When I posted about this briefly on Facebook, I was reminded of how internationally known this restaurant has become for wine pros, when Melanie Pfister of the eponymous domaine in Alsace asked me to say hello to restaurant manager Danny Fisher. “You know Danny?” I asked. Her reply: “Yes, Ripple is an obligatory stop with our importer in D.C.”

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