March 1st. Wine dinner
Cafe Matisse, Rutherford, New Jersey
featuring 22 recent Australian releases
Northern New Jersey- Last evening, thirteen experienced tasters descended upon Cafe Matisse in Rutherford, New Jersey to sample some twenty-two bottles of mostly luxury Australian wine. Special thanks goes to Gary Vaynerchuk of the Wine Library of Springfield, New Jersey who once again generously contributed all of the wines. Honorable mention also goes to Rich "the terminator" Byrne, who (only days before) made the tasting following a bout with surgery and a brief visit in intensive care. And last but not least, Steve Manzi who coordinated the event.
What was different and maybe a little "scary" about this tasting was the fact that not only did I have the pleasure of be seated next to Gary Vaynerchuk of the Wine Library, but I actually ended up agreeing with him on most of the wines. This is especially significant because I simply do not purchase *ANY* wine on the recommendation of *ANY* retailer unless I first taste and thoroughly enjoy the experience. I should add that I do not have any financial interest in any of these wines nor do I have any financial interest in the "Wine Library".
Although most of the causalities of the evening were if fact Shiraz
based, there were a number of other wines that were not.
The wines were opened at the Wine Library some three to four hours in advance of the tasting. All the wines were poured in a random, non-specific order over a four hour period. Except for the opening bottle of the '97 Irvine Grand Merlot which was served unblind, all the other wines were bagged concealing there labels and identities. At the conclusion of the tasting, the bages were removed revealing the labels and identities of the wines. I should add that most of the participants took comprehensive wine notes. This included "showboat" Steve Levy who heretofore has consumed "thousands" of bottles of wine in the past but has never taken a single, solitary note. And lastly, Steve Manzi, who actually had more than the words "good wine" or "it sucks" next to each wine. Sorry Steve, I just couldn't resist. To my notes:
1997 James Irvine "Grand Merlot"- What more can I say about this wine that I haven't said already. I've had the distinct pleasure of tasting the Grand Merlot on five separate occasions. Last night, I also had the opportunity to go back and retaste the wine at the conclusion of the tasting. It is an awesome bottle of wine that has blown me away after each and every tasting. This bottle was one of the few that was not opened in advance. Consequently, it took a couple hours to unwind. When it did so some two hours later, it was stunning! My fifth tasting note, score it "98"
1999 Scarpantoni Block 3 Shiraz- This wine was one of many that showed significantly better this time around versus my initial experience with it just two week ago. Nose opens with fragrances of both red and black fruits, spice and light to moderate toast. Palate comes across as a bit more intense than the nose does. Medium fullish on the palate with good balance and dark cherry like fruit flavors and a moderate finish. My second tasting note, score it "91/92".
1998 or 1999 Neagles Rock Cabernet Sauvignon- Deep brooding "exotic" nose of mint, earth, black truffle and prune. Medium full, earthy palate suggesting dark chocolate and very ripe almost over-the-top dark fruit and black plum like flavors. Moderate to long finish. My first tasting note, score it "92/93".
1998 Limelight Syrah- Except for the James Irvine "Grand Merlot", this was probably my favorite red of the evening. It showed much better last evening than my first experience with it just last month. I theorized that the wine we tasted last evening benefited from extended breathing. Nose comes across as intense but at the same time is both tightly wound and primary. What it did show were primary core fruit fragrances suggesting currants, dark cherry fruit and spice. On the palate, the wine shows massive concentration, grip and also conjures up huge reserves of highly extracted foreground and background fruit and flavor. The '98 Limelight Syrah is just oozing with a hedonistic richness and a purity of fruit and flavor that is quite remarkable. Add to that superb balance and a stunning 40 second finish. My second tasting note, score it "96/97". Impressive!
1999 Langmeil Shiraz- This was one of only a handful of wines that really rocked me. I found myself elevating my score on the Langmeil Shiraz after each and every whiff and sip. This was yet just another wine that showed significantly better the second time I tasted it. While I've previously sampled the '98 Langmeil "Freedom" Shiraz on a number of occasions, this was only my second opportunity to taste the regular cuvee. Huge chocolate, coffee and mint scented nose followed by an incredible rush of spicy red fruit that explodes from the glass. Aromatically, this is a very different style than all of the others. But, what's not to like? Palate mirrored the nose and is just bursting with succulent core fruit, spice and jam. I mentioned that the experience was like biting into a "York's" Peppermint Patty. The '99 Langmeil Shiraz offers up a medium to full-bodied texture and personality with excellent balance, stunning extract and a wonderful "super sexy" mouth-feel. It's also probably the best $20.00 bottle I've sampled in a while. My second tasting note, score it "94/95".
1998 Scarpantoni Reserve Shiraz- Opens with a restrained nose suggesting road tar, crushed blackberry like fruit, Licorice, moderate toast and spice. In the mouth, the wine is very concentrated and full with layers of extremely rich, ripe Syrah fruit and a good dose of medium coarse foreground and background tannins. Finishes with a 25 second residual sensation. My second tasting note, score it "92+".
1998 Oddfellows Shiraz- Intense nose of oak and spice intermingled with crushed blackberry like fruit and hot tar. Would have benefited from additional airtime. Very "Primary", but has ALL the components to be spectacular! In the mouth, the '98 Oddfellows Shiraz shows plenty of power, extract and grip to go along with a good dose of medium fullish "coarse" tannins. The wine did not show the up-front fruit, richness or intensity of the bottle we sampled just two weeks ago, but still has a lot going on underneath. I liked this much more than some of the other guests. My second tasting note, score it "93/94".
1998 St. Mary's Shiraz- This had to be an off bottle. Judgment reserved.
1999 Eden Springs Shiraz- Opens with a red fruit and mint scented nose. Comes across as a bit austere and certainly not as accessible as I would have anticipated. Palate shows a medium fullish concentration with impeccable balance and dark cherry and raspberry like flavors. Solid wine but needs time. My first tasting note, score it "91/92+".
1999 Killibinbin Shiraz- Opaque black/purple color followed by a huge rush of crushed blackberry/raspberry and sweet licorice scented fruit. The '99 Killibinbin also showed an incredible prune and port like nose and palate. Has all the components to make one an instant fan. Gorgeous palate of sweet Raspberry/Blackberry fruit and pepper. Medium full concentrated "seamless" flavors and superb balance make this one of my three favorites of the evening. The wine may take a couple more years to integrate as the tannins are medium fullish. My first tasting note, score it "94".
1999 Longwood Shiraz- This is another wine that I liked much more that some of the other guests. No doubt the others were turned off due in large part to the searing tannins that dominate the attack. Like the Oddfellows Shiraz, the '99 Longwood Shiraz has all the components to be spectacular! What was so special about the wine was the intensity, balance and huge reserves of "highly" extracted background fruit and a moderate to long finish. It should begin to come around in another two to three years. My first tasting note, score it "93+".
1999 Mengler Views- Nose of plum, earth and spice. Palate opens with soft earthy flavors and medium weight. Good, but a tad undistinguished and overwhelmed by the others. My first tasting note, score it "89/90".
1998 Charles Cimicky Reserve Shiraz-
This was another outstanding bottle. Huge dark fruit, vanilla bean, chocolate
and prune scented nose. In the mouth, the '98 Charles Cimicky Reserve Shiraz
offers up a medium to full-bodied texture and personality with excellent
balance, grip, stunning extract and a wonderful mouth-feel. Finishes with
a 30 to 35 second
residual sensation. My third tasting note and one of my favorites of the evening, score it "94/95".
1999 Berry Bridge Shiraz- Nose opens with a full throttle bouquet suggesting chocolate, prune, licorice and a good dollop of new oak. Palate mirrored the nose and is just bursting with succulent core fruit (almost overripe) flavors suggesting licorice, tar, moderate to heavy toast and vanilla bean. Still a bit tight and ungenerous but has huge potential. Would have also benefited from additional breathing. The wine also finishes very well and should drink effortlessly over the next ten years or so. My third tasting note, score it "93/94+".
1998 Paxton Shiraz- Having had the Paxton Shiraz on five separate occasions, I continue to be perplexed by this wine. As one retailer said "it's a very controversial wine". This example did not show the concentration, aromatic intensity or exceptional mouth feel of the two previous "pristine" examples that I've' tasted. I can only assume that it was an off bottle. My fifth tasting note, judgment reserved.
1998 Reilly's Shiraz- Deep, wet earth and slight "barnyard" bouquet. Palate comes across as a bit tart at first, then smoothes out with additional air. Medium fullish on the palate with fine extract and very good "core" fruit flavors and a long finish. The wine did not show the up-front fruit or richness of some of the other offerings, but still has a lot going for it. Solid wine but needs a year or two to knit together. My first tasting note, score it "92+"
1998 Reynella Shiraz- Nose opens with a fragrant mix suggesting black plum, spice, licorice, vanilla and dark cherry like fragrances. Palate comes across with a medium fullish concentration and an exquisite "super sexy" mouthfeel. Fragrant and flavorful with good core fruit flavors, fine extract and a moderate finish. Falls just a tad short on the mid palate and finish. Otherwise a fine effort. My first tasting note, score it "92/93".
1997 Passing Clouds Shiraz- This is yet another wine that I liked much more that some of the other guests. It was however slightly overwhelmed by some of the fruit driven '98's. Nose of mint, dark cherry and pepper. In the mouth, the wine is rich and spicy, showing dark cherry fruit with light oak and a moderate finish. My first tasting note, score it "91/92".
1998 or 1999 Epolus Ridge Shiraz (sp)- Nose of plum, earth and spice. Palate opens with soft earthy flavors and medium weight. Undistinguished and overwhelmed by the others. My first tasting note, score it "86".
1998 Reilly's Cabernet Sauvignon- This is yet another wine that I liked much more that some of the other guests. At this point of the tasting, I think palate fatigue was playing a major role with some of the tasters. Aromatically, the wine is somewhat tight with light oak and plum like fragrances detectable. In the mouth, the Reilly's Cab shows great promise and also conjures up a good dose of moderately coarse tannins. Like the Reilly's Shiraz, the Cab. needs a year or two to knit together. My first tasting note, score it "93".
1998 Penny's Hill "Fortified" Shiraz-
While I'm certainly not a fan of fortified wines, this example rocked me!
Jet black in
color leading to a stunning bouquet of blackberry compote, spice and tar. In the mouth, the level of candied sweetness and luscious, creamy richness is breathtaking. Quite simply, the sensation must be experienced to be believed! Thick
and delicious as well as remarkable and decadent! My second tasting note, score it "96/97".
1997 Bonnezaux late harvest Chennin Blanc (sp)- Probably the wine of the evening and the only French entry. Unbelievable intensity, richness and hedonistic mouthfeel. After the first sip, I overheard Steve Levy place his order for a case of this wine. I guess that I'll just have to help him drink some of it. My first tasting note, score it 98/99.