Year end reflections – highlights of 2011

Looking back at what 2011 meant for me, from a wine related perspective, I can only be grateful and cherish all those special moments I lived visiting exciting places, attending interesting wine tastings and meeting amazing people in Romania and abroad.

I visited 15 wineries in 4 wine regions from 2 different countries – France and Italy, plus the 7-8 visits to Romanian wineries(Lacerta’s new winery is the most exciting of all with its modern design). I am looking forward to visit Avincis in 2012, as they also built a state of the art winery.

The wine trips started in April with a visit and a dinner at Masi in Veneto, then immediately followed by a weekend spent in Champagne where I could only visit Moet Chandon’s cellars, but also the small Grand and Premier Cru producing villages; in June I managed to visit 9 prestigious producers in Bordeaux – with emphasize on Petrus and the stunning lunch at Cheval Blanc, the others were: Ducru Beaucaillou, Figeac, Leoville Poyferre, Gloria, St-Pierre, Pontet Canet and Cos d’Estournel; in September I was impressed by the gorgeous landscape of Barolo while visiting Luciano Sandrone, Cavallotto and G.D. Vajra, and Braida in Asti area.

I attended two International wine fairs: Vinitaly in Italy in April and Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June that completely changed my perspective of what a wine fair experience should be and, sadly, also made me realize how far away we are from having a similar situation in Romania at this moment.

I visited the impressive cellars of two negociants: one in Bordeaux with over 4 Million bottles that is just like a Bank dealing with a different currency, sometimes more valuable, and one in Belgium that works strictly with rare and old vintages of both Burgundy and Bordeaux. It is always exciting for a wine geek to see piles of cases of the most sought after wines – Petrus, Romanee Conti or 100+ years old Yquem in one single place.

I attended several Wine-dinners in Bucharest with older vintages of Bordeaux and Spanish wines and, in December, I actually organized such an event myself. Always nice to meet new people having the same passion and I am certainly looking forward to repeat this experience in 2012 as often as possible.

I had a few articles published in the Romanian wine magazine about my wine trips (here and here) and the investment in wine, the monthly wine recommendations, and also an interview structured as the portrait of a wine collector published by the Good Food magazine.

The number of wine events organized in Bucharest increased exponentially compared to 2010, ranging from launching of new local and imported wines, new wineries and verticals of several years organized by the very few producers that can do that. However, the most distinguished of all was the event organized by Le Manoir, where major International wineries had representatives showcasing their wines during dedicated seminars. It was a first to see La Spinetta, Ch Canon and Rauzan Segla, all Joseph Drouhin’s range of wines, Michel Rolland collection presented by his son in law, Michel Redde, Ch Laubade and some similar producers present in one single room in Bucharest. A similar event was organized later by the importer of Banfi wines, but at a much smaller scale.

While writing this article, I made an attempt to establish a top of the wines I had during this year, but it was impossible to do it. There were so many outstanding wines that it would take too much time to even try to make it. I started to enjoy more and more older vintages and I made a new year resolution to drink wines that are at least 4-5 years old. Ideally, starting from their 6-8th year from the vintage.

There is however one wine that I particularly enjoyed while having lunch at Cheval Blanc: the 1996 Chateau d’Yquem that, so far, is the best sweet wine I had. I am just glad that this year I had wines from 1966, 1969, 1970, 1975, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990 and a few more recent vintages. I can just hope that next year brings at least similar experiences.

To finish on the same note as the beginning of this article, I am grateful for all these experiences shared with special people and all those amazing wines I had.

Happy New Year and all the best to you dear Reader !

1999 Chateau Musar rouge

Just had the 2003 Chateau Musar rouge a couple of weeks ago, so the memory of that wine is still fresh in my mind and I am able to compare the two vintages. Both wines maintain the same style, but what this 1999 brings to the table is a more pronounced old sock – brett like aroma that just gives more complexity to this extremely charming and easy to drink wine. Also, the 1999 seems more youthful, while the 2003 appears to be more evolved and probably will hit its maturity plateau sooner.

1999 Chateau Musar rouge Bekaa Valley Lebanon

Ruby red with garnet hues and really youthful.  Well developed and intense nose, there are aromas of cinnamon, earth, sweet red cherry and strawberry, anise and Brett. Overall, a very sweet and spicy nose. Medium to full bodied, really silky, with a great mouth feel, lively and rich on the palate, extremely drinkable, with sweet  and ripe tannins. There are beautiful pure sweet red cherry and warm forest floor flavors, mixed with exotic spices in the mouth. Medium to long finish, with lingering sweet red fruits and spices in the aftertaste. What seduces me at this wine are the similarities it shares with an old Pinot Noir and the absolute purity of the sweet red fruit. Loved it.  I can drink this all day. (92/100)

2004 Enrique Foster Malbec Limited Edition

This is the oldest Argentinian Malbec I had so far and it was a big curiosity for me to see how a New World wine evolves with age. The wine is dominated by primary aromas an there is no sign of evolution. My knowledge so far with these type of New World wines is that they cease any particular evolution after their 4th or 5th year from the vintage and what happens is that eventually, the wine dries out, losing the sweet, fruity aromas that usually dominate them, leaving very little that can excite the palate. Naturally, the exceptions can be interesting to sample.

2004 Enrique Foster Malbec Limited Edition

Dark red purple color and really thick legs on the glass. A very complex nose, complex, well developed and oaky, peppery, a mix of black fruits, coffee and floral. Full bodied, heady and super concentrated, with depth on the palate and rich flavors of black fruits jam, ripe blackberry, cranberry and gooseberry, with touches of coffee and pepper; very ripe and velvety tannins, but also a good grip just to give enough freshness and stop it from being a massive fruit bomb. Sumptuous palate. There is good balance and real complexity in this wine. A long finish with rich flavors of black fruits and spice with assertive tannins. (91/100)

2006 Davino Domaine Ceptura Rouge

Received this bottle from Mr Dan Balaban while visiting the winery in December and had it with some friends on the second day of Christmas at their home. Popped and poured in the glasses where the wine rested for 15-20 minutes before sipping. The 2006 is virtually out of stock at Davino and now can be the last chance for anyone interested to grab some bottles to act. A predominantly Feteasca Neagra blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, aged for up to 10 month in new Romanian oak.

2006 Davino Domaine Ceptura Rouge

Red garnet color. The nose is developed, youthful and has a medium intensity, with plenty of small red berries, spices: cinnamon, cloves and a touch of dried herbs; still very primary. Full bodied, with assertive tannins and pleasant flavors on the palate, with a medium minty finish. The wine does not have a particular high complexity, but it delivers. (87/100)

My favorite still remains the 2004 Domaine Ceptura Rouge that I had the chance to sample during a vertical tasting of six vintages organized in December by Mr Dan Balaban and Vinexpert.

2006 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese

Wehlener Sonnenuhr is without doubt regarded as one of the best white vineyards in the world. And although many other well-known producers own land here as well, this site is intrinsically linked to the name Joh. Jos. Prum. This wine-grower dynasty can be traced back to the twelfth century.

2006 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese

Although an Auslese is recommended to be approached only after 8-10 years after the vintage, I just could not wait to check out how the wine is. Yellow lemon with green reflections, a very youthful color. There is incredible richness on the nose, with very strong aromas of petrol, warm rubber, pineapple, quince, yellow tropical fruits and Asian spices. Unctuous on the palate, with an oil like viscosity, with rich layers of flavors on the palate, delicate fruit and an outstanding balance between beguiling sweetness and intoxicating, mouth-watering acidity. The finish is long and goes on forever with lingering flavors of lemon confit and honey. With just feather-light alcohol- 8%, there is nothing else that one may claim from such an excellent white wine. Concentrated juice. (93-94/100)

This is a wine that can equally pair foie gras and very sweet desserts. It went extremely well with Christmas cake and other sweet home made cookies, being the highlight of a Christmas meal with family.

1998 Chateau Grand Mayne St-Emilion

1998 was a successful vintage on the Right Bank and some wines started to drink very well already.

1998 Chateau Grand Mayne Saint Emilion

Red garnet color, very youthful. A well developed nose with a pinch of old cellar and a mix between primary and secondary aromas, with nice aromas of dry plums, roasted coffee, dried herbs, cassis and tobacco. A supple wine, well structured, but still retained on the palate with mouth-watering acidity and a medium plus finish that breathes mocha, red fruits and tobacco. It has a great drink-ability and can easily go very well on its own. (89/100)

1970 Chateau Soutard St-Emilion

The cork went out fairly smooth, but was stubborn and did not want to come in one piece. Luckily no piece of the cork fell in the bottle. After uncorking I just left it to breath for 30 minutes in the bottle.

1970 Chateau Soutard Saint Emilion Bordeaux

Clear ruby red with an orange rim. Mature nose, there are light red currant and sour cherries, with plenty of tertiary aromas: saddle leather, green coffee bean, tobacco, mint and earth, but savoury overall. Fully mature wine with completely dissolved and integrated tannins, but very well balanced, with good flavors on the palate and a medium plus finish with plenty of espresso like flavors. Elegant, but on a descending slope; however it can hold on this plateau for a few good years more and still offer great drinking pleasure. Silky and charming mouth-feel. (88-89/100)

Not a wine for fruit-forward wine lovers, but recommended for people that love a wine that whispers rather than shouts. 1970 was a great vintage, more successful on the Right Bank than the Left Bank. Still impressive,fragrant wine.

2009 Meursault Joseph Drouhin

Yellow lemon color.

Developed and intense nose, really oaky and still in need of some years to rest, with distinctive aromas of butter on a fresh toast, sprinkled with lemon confit and discreet quince.

Full bodied, fat and almost unctuous on the palate, oaky, with bright acidity and a medium plus finish with honey, vanilla, hot rocks and lemon like flavors in the aftertaste. Very good match for foie gras as we had it tonight. (90-91/100)

2007 La Porte du Ciel Chateau de la Negly

I got this wine during my trip to Bordeaux in June 2011. During that trip, I was able to schedule a meeting with one of the key figures in the International wine business: Mr Jeffrey Davies. Together with the winemaker of Chateau de la Negly (La Porte du Ciel is Negly’s top wine) – Claude Gross, Mr Davies makes a special cuvee called: Clos de Truffieres from extremely low yields of Syrah. Both La Porte du Ciel and Clos des Truffieres are 100% Syrah cuvee’s, but coming from totally different micro-climates.

Mr Davies is a complete encyclopedia about wines, new rising star wineries and more important he is actively looking to discover and develop new ventures in the most interesting wine regions in France. Together with Claude Gross, they are behind the new rising star of Languedoc in Terrasses du Larzac: La Peira.

I met Mr Davies at his residence in Bordeaux in June. I have to confess that even for a wine geek like myself it is difficult to grasp all the flux of information about what’s the scoop in Bordeaux that this gentleman kindly provided. After leaving his place I was somehow feeling that I read a whole book on wine in just a short period of time.

Coming back to the wine I had yesterday, the wine comes from yields of 10 to 12 hl/ha, under-goes a long 60 days maceration and it is aged for 24 months in new French oak barrels. The wine is bottled unfiltered.

2007 was an amazing vintage in the Southern part of France, producing wines with very ripe tannins and really approachable while still young, but also high alcohol levels. The 2007 La Porte du Ciel sports 15% alcohol.

2007 La Porte du Ciel Chateau de la Negly La Clape Languedoc

Opaque, purple, almost black color. The nose is well developed, with very intense aromas and springs an incredible depth. You can easily feel the aromas invading the room without even approaching the glass. There are strong aromas of smoked plum, bacon, meat, blackberry liquor and creme de cassis, cocoa, truffles and balsamic notes, while the nose continues to open up and develop more complexities. This full bodied wine starts with a sweet initial attack in the mouth, and has ripe and healthy tannins, just as we like them, a velvety mouth-feel, with very thick layers on the palate. The wine seems slightly off-balanced initially, with the alcohol marking its presence in the mouth on the first sip, but with aeration this sensation fades away and leaves space for the complex flavors to show off on the palate. As much as the wine is rich and super concentrated, it manages to stay well balanced after enough aeration. The finish is very long and surprisingly fresh, with assertive tannins and tones of roasted coffee,cocoa and balsamic reduction that simply linger in the mouth good seconds after you swallow the wine. (93/100)

This wine needs bottle aging and compared to the 2002 La Porte du Ciel I had one year ago, I have to say that I prefer the 2002 more at this stage. The flavors seems better integrated and more balanced in the 2002.