Graciously, George Wright (weekend George) and his lovely wife Chris invited a few friends and colleagues (including me) to their house for an informal dinner and an interesting blind tasting last Thursday evening. The directions: Bring some Rhone! George had an appetite to open some older Rhone wines and wanted to get some other serious wines into the mix, so he asked us to choose a bottle or three, hide them in paper bags, and show up around dinner time. Here’s what unfolded…..
First of all, let me start by mentioning that this was one of our worst evenings for wine guessing! We all knew that the category was limited to Rhone and wines from outside of France made from Rhone varieties, but our guessing couldn’t have been more seemingly haphazard. What smelled like Syrah turned out to be Grenache, and what tasted like California turned out to be French. Quite humbling.
George offered up an ’07 Cotes du Rhone from La Garrigue to start, which was charming, simple and brilliant for palate adjustment. Far more interesting was a ’95 Coudelet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone Rouge, a wine of surprising definition and freshness that had us all guessing Chateauneuf du Pape. But it was George’s actual Chateauneuf…..a 2000 Le Vieux Donjon…..that had us thinking smaller, like Vacqueyras or Gigondas, with its macerated, fading fruit, its pronounced underbrush components and overall lack of intensity.
The surprise of the night (and I love it when this happens) was that the same wine, in 2 different vintages, were in a blind tasting of only 10 wines! Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage ’96 and ’06 stumped us all. Both were beautiful, but incompletely different ways. ’96 was maturing nicely, with a geeky bouquet of menthol, grilled meat juices and wet stone, while ’06 was primary, showing ferocious ripe aromas but no complexity yet. Only one of us called these as Syrah.
The other players included an attendee’s homemade wine crafted from Syrah sourced from Mendocino, which had mixed reviews due to its super-ripe style and upfront vanillin notes; A young, feisty and superbly-balanced Domaine Pontifical Chateauneuf-du-Pape; An over-the-hill 2000 Monastrell from Yecla called Casa Mira (one of my entries); A flamboyant ’03 Antiqus Syrah, sourced from Hudson Vineyard in Carneros which, albeit stylistically forced, was a fun and obvious Syrah with tons of complexity and weight; And finally, everyone’s wine of the night…..a wine that everyone swore up and down was made of Grenache…..a wine which turned out to be the majestic and completely unique ’98 Dehlinger Syrah from Russian River Valley. The only way to describe this maturing Dehlinger is Gigondas meets Toro meets Coteaux du Languedoc.
Thanks go out to George, Chris and the attendees for the sick wines, the delightful fare, and the good humor. Until the next one…..