Magnum Cum Louder: Winos do Mags--SQN OYT, JFTLOI, Rien, Body, 06 Lillian, 07 Saxum JBV, Araujos

“You can’t take me anywhere, I’ll strip down to my underwear, if you give me half a chance.
Hippy-freelove, outtasight, I’m gonna turn off every light and hold a private dance.
It started out one afternoon, hot sake in my living room, among some special friends.
Soon some others dropped around and we all started gaffing down.
Well, you know how these things end!”

OK, so Miss Freelove 69 was not on the Hoodoo’s (referred to on Wikipedia as “the iconic Australian band”) Magnum Cum Louder, but I had already used “Come Anytime” and since last night we had our annual magnum dinner with our spouses (affectionately dubbed “Mags & Nags”—trust me, honey, I completely do not consider you a “nag”, honest, I don’t; what are you doing with that golf club, dear? You’ve got to believe me), I had to use the term “Magnum” in the title (used Magnum Force last year for all of you Dirty Harry fans). Once again 13 couples were in the private dining room/kitchen at Chinois on Main. We said it so many times, but since the negative often drowns out the positive, it is worth repeating—Bella and the rest of the gang at Chinois do a superlative job with our wine dinners. Last night was no different. Stephen Gelber served as our host and he reigns supreme as a meticulous master of ceremonies, complete with a shuffle of seating half way through the dinner to better pollinate the social interaction.
Well, onto the flights (BTW, I know that the flight names are precious, in the most cloying sense of that word, but don’t blame me—the twisted mind of Gelber came up with them). Other than the dessert wines (which were in 750s), all wines were from magnum.

Champagne with passed appetizers - CRISTALMAS TIME IS HERE
2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne—nice but I guess that I prefer more funk in my sparklers. As someone remarked last night, “Did this really get 100 points?”
2002 Veuve Fourny Blanc des Blancs—again fine, but a step down from the Cristal

FIRST COURSE (a scallop crab tower) - WHITE WINE CHRISTMAS: you can pretty much disregard anything that I say here. First, although I happen to generally like Aubert chards a great deal, I am otherwise not a huge white wine fan (Germans and Alsatians and stickies excluded). Second, my wife is a huge white wine fan, so I try to save as much of my pours as possible for her. And third, since I was driving last night, this seemed like an easy course to cut back on the alcohol consumption (even though I am a pretty heavy spitter in most cases, there were a few wines that were going to follow which I knew that I would want to drink fully).
2001 Sine Qua Non Rien Ne Va Plus roussanne—I often find what I consider “sharp edges” in Rhone whites. I heard a couple of people remark that this may be on a downward slope. Well, in that case, give me SQN whites that are on downward slopes. I always find these wines very interesting (just not overly enjoyable), but there was a roundness to the finish on this one that I really liked. IMO, it still goes.
2007 Sine Qua Non Body and Soul roussanne/viognier—step up the intensity on the Rien, but without the roundness on the palate. Perhaps more complex than the Rien, but it is not yet in my wheelhouse.
2006 Aubert Lauren Chardonnay—now we’re talking. Complexity, loads of tropical fruit, generous mouthfeel and a smooth lengthy finish; almost hated giving half my glass to my wife.

2001 Vieux Donjon Chateuaneuf du Pape—prior to the food, I found this pretty nice, in a leaner type of CdP. I felt that the one of the duck sauces completely overshadowed both of these. In general, this was a solid, if not exciting, offering.
2004 Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape—have had this out of 750s and generally liked it a great deal (generally like all Charvins a great deal come to think of it); this bottle seemed much more angular and lean. I think with time (and upon developing secondary characteristics) this will be nice, but at this point, the bottle last night was a bit blah.

THIRD COURSE (steak with long life noodles) - ARAUJO-HO-HO: I own all three of these Araujos (not in mag though), but at least according to my inventory, I have never consumed one. The noodles were a problematic pairing, so my notes were based on tasting the wines prior to eating the food.
1999 Araujo cabernet sauvignon—lots of pencil lead on this one. It seemed to be an example of the Left Bank meets Highway 29. Frankly, I prefer more fruit in my CA cabs, but I can see how a Bordeaux lover would appreciate this one.
2001 Araujo cabernet sauvignon—hard to gauge this one; it seemed very shut down and didn’t show much on either the nose or the palate. Nothing objectionable, but at this point it was inscrutable, at least to me.
2003 Araujo cabernet sauvignon—OK, finally we get some forward fruit. This was nice, but compared to a delightful 2002 Araujo consumed a few months ago, it didn’t have the structure or complexity that I would ideally want.
2001 Shafer Sunspot cabernet sauvignon—my WOTF, a complete wine with the goods to go for a longer time. Probably a bit too young to show at its best, but it was very good right now. To be honest, however, I may have preferred a 750 of the 2001 Hillside Select a month ago.

FOURTH COURSE (lamb) - AULD LANG SINE QUA NON: two rare SQNs in mag; Christmas is coming early for the Winos (or in many cases, Hanukkah); plus the lamb pairing was near ideal for these wines.
2002 Sine Qua Non Just For The Love Of It syrah—the third or fourth time I have had this wine, although never from a big boy before. I think that this was probably the best yet. Magnificent balance with extremely ripe fruit. Easily would have been WOTN but for ……
2001 Sine Qua Non On Your Toes syrah—this was brought (by Stephen Gelber) to our first Winos dinner, in Feb 2006, when the concept of the group was just a glimmer in his eyes. In 2006, it was a supremely profound syrah. Four years and thousands of different wines later, I wondered if I would feel the same way about OYT. Take my comments about JFTLOI and amp them up a bit. I found it just a scintilla more integrated, more balanced than JFTLOI, but we are quibbling over sublime wines here.

2005 Finca Sandoval TNS syrah—I just don’t get modern Spanish wines, even though everything about my palate preferences says that I should. I find that many of these combine extreme oakiness with very ripe fruit. In the case of the Finca, the oakiness was there in spades—even my blunt instrument could pick excess oakiness on the nose—however, oddly enough the ripe, dense fruit wasn’t, so you are left with an oak bomb with a thin and somewhat hollow palate and curt finish.
2006 Lillian syrah—the Winos are Lillian ho’s, but even I wondered how a magnum delivered a week earlier would be. This one had been decanted for about a hour or 90 minutes at Chinois. As Bennett Traub remarked, the Lillian and the braised pork shoulder were a match made in heaven (the non-Kosher part). As much as I loved the 2005 when it was an infant, this may be even better. Already complex, it has rich, but not overripe fruit (even the Gelbs liked it), with a delightful medium density mouthfeel and a lengthy smooth finish. Being a good husband and not wanting my wife to have a headache this morning, I decided to drink most of her glass. If this is any indication, I cannot wait to hit my bottles. But for the OYT, this would have been my WOTN, being on par with JFTLOI.
2007 Saxum James Berry syrah—another Parker 100 pointer, but this one was fresh off the turnip truck. In fairness to this wine, Justin had admonished the contributor of this wine not to serve it. I found it overripe and a bit flabby and far from a perfect wine. In general, these issues are not ones that are ameliorated with bottle age. That said, I found that with a couple of the 2006s from Saxum they were flabby and overripe when first delivered and became more structured and delightful with a little bottle age. Based on this history, I am willing to view this one with caution but not with extreme anxiety and not touch one of mine until 4Q 2010.

DESSERT (chocolates) - BANYULETIDE GREETINGS: I am generally not a fan of red dessert wines, but since I brought the Pietri Geraud and own a few younger bottles of the Dr. Parce, I figured that I would give them the old college try. Granted, it was 11pm and after 4 hours we were anxious to get home, so I really didn’t spend time studying these to try to find something that I liked about them. But I need someone to explain these wines to me as I did not find pleasure in either one of them.
1982 Banyuls, Vielles Vignes, Domaine du Mas Blanc (Dr. Parce)
2003 Banyuls, Domaine Pietri Geraud, Cuvee Mediterreanee

In the end, it was a great evening and I think that everyone really enjoyed themselves. There is only one thing left to say:

“Do you think I’m kinky?”

Nicely done Walter and the rest of the X-pensive Winos.

Thanks for the notes. By the way, this line:

“It seemed to be an example of the Left Bank meets Highway 29.”

If you re-worded it a bit and sung it in a Dylanesque tone, you could really make that work for you…


Awesome notes, thanks so much. Sounds like a real blast.

Great notes Walter! But, a minor correction is needed. [oops.gif] …I have always really enjoyed the Lillian [tease.gif] , as a matter of fact, my allocation was delivered today. You were very surprised that Diana liked the Saxum! [training.gif]

Marshall [pillow-fight.gif]

The Gelbs are the Winos’ equivalent of Mikey.

What a bacchanalia! Women, lots of food, good wine, more food, music (Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album), a little more wine. And food. Good food.

  • Liked:
    '02 Cristal, but don’t get why someone wrote such lofty things about it. Never would have guessed a grand marque Champagne if tasted blind.

'01 Shafer Sunspot. Stood out from the Araujos, as one might suspect. Picture a lush '01 Shafer Hillside. Delicious. Wish I could afford to buy some. While the Araujos would have been fine on their own, I thought they were completely overshadowed by the Sunspot. Tasted Sunspot once before at the John Shafer Dinner, where I preferred '01 Hillside Select. But that was a long time ago. I would love to taste them together, again.

Araujos. '99 was not my favorite, having a green streak that I found off-putting. '03 seemed cough-syrupy compared to the same wine from .750. Unready? '01 was my favorite of the three, but ultimately couldn’t compete with Sunspot.

'02 JFTLOI and '01 OYT. At first I preferred the latter. Then the former. It was like a horserace between these two. I’ve never been as big a fan of JFTLOI as many, finding the wine to be just too much. Excellent on Wednesday, though. OYT, tasted only once before, was singing from the get go and lever lost its verve. My Kenny Smith Flight of the Night.

'06 Lillian. A baby and more together than I would have thought. Benefited from the food flight of the night. Pork Three Ways was a perfect match for any Syrah.

Not Sure:
'07 Saxum James Berry. Too new to rate. Judgment withheld.

Not So Much:
The CdPs. Either of them.

'05 Finca Sandoval TNS. I really wanted to like this, but didn’t. Harshly tannic compared to the other wines in the flight, which were just released and overtly fruity. Not sure I would like it on its own any better.

The Banyuls. Tasted like Vin Santo, which I don’t like either.

A heartfelt thanks to Winos and Wives for a very, very fun evening. I’m already thinking about my contribution to next year’s dinner, assuming Stephen gathers the energy to put it together again. Happy Festivus!

This was an amazing evening of wine, food and friendship and as such, it is hard to post critical notes. Yes, there were a few wines that were a bit disappointing (CdP and Finca Sandoval), but in general the wines were stellar. For my palate, and this should surprise no one…the cabernets were the flight of the evening. The Shafer stood out as different but my preferences were for the Araujos’. I actually (again no surprise) enjoyed the older vintages best. The '99, “homer” that I am, was my favorite followed closely by the '01 and '03. Personally, all three have miles to go, but the '99 was clearly the most drinkable. I, truthfully, have not even opened any of my 750’s from any of these vintages. As far as the Sine Qua Non flight, I consider myself very fortunate to have access to my fellow Winos cellars…however, as good as they are, I am not the biggest fan. I truly enjoy the opportunity to taste these wines on a regular basis but do not consider them among my very favorites. The style is usually a bit over the top for me and when it comes to syrah…I enjoy the student over the teacher. Yes, as usual, I was very impressed with the Lillian. I realize this is only the third vintage but I am very interested in their ageability as I see the balance to turn into something very special.

On a much more important note…it was a great evening as Chinois continues its’ track record of superb food, service and ambience. In addition, as a retired educator, it was great to see 100% attendance from all the Winos (and partners). It has been quite a year and I hope 2010 is better for all board members, their families, and society in general. grouphug

Marshall [cheers.gif]

Great notes Walter…like Marshall I like the '99 Araujo, in fact going to open one up this week…sometimes I prefer the cooler vintages in Napa. Wondering just how long it will be before the Saxum JB is ready…any recs on this?

Looking forward to having more Lillian…Happy New Year!

As Walter so accurately (and creatively) wrote, this was a terrific evening all around, with great food and service, expertly planned by Stephen Gelber and executed by Bella and the staff at Chinois. Chinois’ take on Chinese-style cooking hasn’t always been an easy match for wines in the Winos’ past experience there, but this time most of the dishes worked very well with the wines, and all were delicious on their own terms. As for the wines, I really liked virtually all of them. Of course, my take is somewhat different from Walter’s and some of the other Winos’s, but that’s part of what makes these dinners so much fun.

The whites in the flight to me are mostly wines that are better on their own rather than paired with food. My favorite was the SQN Rien Ne Va Plus, which proves that SQN wines can age and actually benefit from age. More complex and integrated than the Body & Soul, which tasted rather young, raw, and showing oak in excess (but I suspect time will reduce this considerably). As for Aubert, I’ve long considered Aubert to be America’s best “cocktail” chardonnay, and I really don’t mean that as a dig. It’s just that Aubert’s style is so rich and full of sweet fruit that I find that it actually becomes smaller and less interesting in the presence of food than it is on its own. In this flight, it was further reduced in stature by the SQN’s, both of which were bigger and more flamboyant wines. As a result, this was the first time I can ever remember an Aubert Chard tasting a bit thin and uninteresting. In another context, I’m sure it would have shown better, as it was certainly well-balanced and pure.

I understand the criticisms of the Chateuneuf du Pape flight, as both wines were closed up tight and not showing much, either aromatically or on the palate. I think both of these are excellent wines that are simply in their hibernation phase, needing another 3 to 5 years at least to show us what they’ve got. The Vieux Donjon, being 3 years older, was a bit more forthcoming than the Charvin, but on this night they simply weren’t budging.

My preferences on the Araujo/Shafer flight is almost exactly opposite of Walter’s. My favs were the 1999 and 2001 Araujo’s, with a very slight preference for the 2001 as I think it has a bit more depth and intensity with no loss of balance. The 1999 is beautiful right now and I would be drinking this wine if I owned it, as I don’t think it will get much better (although it should hold at this level for a few years yet). I thought the 2003 was too ripe, soft and top-heavy, with more chocolate-covered raisins than I prefer. And I was disappointed in the Shafer Sunspot, which I found even more overdone and heavy-handed, with no payback in terms of complexity. Good, certainly, but not great.

I don’t have much to add to Walter’s comments on the SQN flight and the Syrah flight, as I essentially agree completely with his comments and preferences. I hope he’s right about the Saxum, which seemed really muscle-bound and too soft/low acid to support the massive super-structure of fruit. At this point, the only way I could see this as a 100-point wine is if the sole criteria for awarding points is a wine’s density. But this is certainly a very young and raw wine right now, and I have enough love for Saxums past to give this one the benefit of the doubt for a while. Try again next year at this time.

Everyone seemed to jump up and run before really giving the Banyuls a chance. That’s too bad, because I thought they were really interesting and enjoyable. The 1982 Dr. Parce was fully mature and didn’t have much primary fruit left, so it wasn’t as good a match with the chocolate dessert as the 2003 Geraud was, but I liked them both. The ’82 was like a very old LBV Port, while the 2003 was full of rich fruit but also great acidity. The small glasses they were served in did mute the aromatics, unfortunately.

Thanks to all for a great evening. It’s always fun to have our partners with us, and I know Linda enjoyed the evening as much as I did. On to 2010!

Nice notes, Walter, and I expect more Aussie rock shoutouts in the future. May I suggest themes based on the Saints and the Tall Dwarves next? Or maybe Radio Birdman?

Having just received my Saxum and Lillian shipments last week, I guess I couldn’t imagine opening either one, but especially the Saxum. Every time I’ve opened one of Justin’s wines in the first three months after arrival I have regretted it, and yet each of those wines has come around later–with the outlier being those weird '04 Broken Stones…

I just have to wonder about the decision to play the Dylan Christmas record–I assume that was opened blind as well? [wink.gif]

Ken, as I indicated, I am cautiously optimistic about the Saxum–really no way to judge that. However, the Lillian was amazingly ready. And I agree with you about the 2004 BS, although I have had some issues recently with the 2004 Bone Rock also.

As far as Dylan Christmas, I wondered what was playing–I thought it was a soundtrack of chickens getting their necks broken. [basic-smile.gif]

I thought it was Tom Waits on a good day (whatever the hell that means). [shock.gif]

Best review I saw for the record said something to the effect that he makes “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sound like a threat.

“We’ve grown and times change.
When we meet now it feels so strange.”

Well, here we go into the fifth year of the X-Pensive Winos. I knew Walter and I would hit it off when we met and realized our mutual interest in weird little UK bands like The Undertones and the Hoodoo Gurus. (My reference above is from the lyric of my second favorite HG song, “Bittersweet.”) It has been a long strange trip, but loads of fun along the way.
This was the third annual holiday Mag-a-Thon which I organized (one year I did a Holiday Gunslingers event instead), and they always take me a while to recover. As noted above, the Mag-a-Thon is the one night a year a Wino may bring his Nag, and each couple must contribute a Mag. Obviously this requires some negotiating and flexible structuring in designing flights and menus, as we have very disparate tastes and cellars, and few of us have multiple mags from which to choose. This year I believe was our most consistent Mag-a-Thon yet, and certainly had the best wines.
I think I do better at organizing our events (serving as Executive Producer) these days than on writing up notes (and luckily they are not needed, having a group scribe as good as Walter), but now with some perspective I think I can add a few thoughts:

The Cristal mag was a beaut, but VERY young. And it did not get 100 points, but 96 from Galloni the last time he posted a note on it. The wine is very floral and elegant, and I was very fortunate to get us the bottle, but this was infanticide. It will gain weight and substance, and should not be taken for granted.

The same can be said for the SQN Body & Soul. I am a sucker for the Southern Rhone style whites - I particularly love the laser focus of the Beaucastel Vieille Vignes roussannes - so I spilled no tears when Manfred decided to drop the chardonnay out of his white wine program. The Rien Ne Va plus was still shining brightly as ever this night. But the Body and Soul is still a baby, does show some oak and baby fat, and of course the viognier gives it a bit of that oily, rounder quality than the steely 100% Roussanne. I am very curious to see where this is headed, look forward to opening some in the future, and thankful for the opportunity to have had it from a magnum, even at this early stage.
The Aubert was, as ever, as fantastic an expression of chardonnay as you will find in California. Over the last couple of years I have found that Aubert has eclipsed Marcassin as my favorite CA chard, and this bottle was particularly lovely.

The CdPs were very fine but also very tight. I was hoping for more from them out of magnums, but this was not to be their night.

The next flight was very good, all the way around. I preferred the '01 of the Araujos, followed by the '99, both of which are drinking really well right now. I thought the '03 was a bit over-the-top, but I’m sure it just hasn’t resolved yet. In the case of these three bottles, which I thought all tasted very fresh and lively, we enjoyed the benefits of drinking from magnum. The Shafer Sunspot was obviously the outlier in this flight, huge and inky, and to my tastes much bigger and black-fruitier than the Hillside Select from that vintage. A very different style of wine, and once again I felt privileged to drink such a rare treat.

The SQN flight was my favorite. I just adore Just For The Love Of It, and for me this bottle was as good as it gets. As I have said many times, syrah is my absolute favorite, and this wine is a perfect testament – explosive bouquet, lush mouthfeel, layers of rich black and blue fruits, undercurrents of spice and pepper and forest floor, loooong finish. Easily my Wine of the Night. The On Your Toes, also excellent, was not far behind, but for me it doesn’t pack the weight, density, or the power of the JFTLOI.

The next flight was tough, both because it had a tough act to follow, but also because the Lillian and the Saxum are so young. In fact, they had each arrived just a day or so earlier. As a fan of the regular Finca Sandoval, which is predominantly syrah, I had been anxious to try the TNS, which is only 34% syrah and the rest Touriga Nacional. Unfortunately to this taster, it was not a blend I particularly cared for.
The Lillian, in what has now become such a regular occurrence at X-Pensive Winos’ tastings that it is getting scary, was wonderful - juicy and delicious and sexy right out of the bottle. It seems it has become the group’s go-to wine.
Unfortunately, the Saxum got a raw deal. This was the outlier bottle in a flight of outliers, and was in difficult company with the other two, as the predominant varietal in the wine is grenache (with mourvedre and syrah). I flirted with the idea of putting it into the CdP flight, but thought it would stick out there like a sore thumb, so it landed here. In all fairness to the wine, this was another infanticide, and it should not be touched for quite some time, as I expect it will take that long for it to shed its oak and for its components to take structure, but it does show delicious fruit and elements. I have little doubt that it will reward those with patience, will be outstanding, and once again I look forward to trying one of mine in the not distant future, preferably by itself.
And the best part is that since all the Winos are such huge Saxum supporters, most of us got a healthy allocation of the wine, including more magnums, and hopefully we will be able to share them with one another for many years.

The Banyuls were both fine.

I thank the X-Pensive Winos for bringing out their good stuff; I raised the bar higher this year and they met the challenge. We had another outstanding year in 2009, gentlemen.

And I wish them, their families, and all of you, a very Happy Holiday and a healthy New Year.

PS - Bella and her crew at Chinois did another fabulous job for us. The food was perfect, but for perhaps the only nitpick being that there was simply too much of it, if there is such a thing.
And fwiw, I loved the longlife noodles. And so did everyone with me at my table.

That is oversimplifying. I have no idea to which point in time you were referring, but the Dylan Xmas album was but 30 minutes of a custom four-hour X-Pensive Winos Holiday mix that I created expressly for this party. It also could have been Neil Diamond’s new Xmas album that you heard at that moment, or Tom Waits, or the Pogues…

My photo gallery of the festivities now up for viewing:

X-Pensive Winos’ Third Annual Holiday Mag-A-Thon

Wow…that is a boatload of stems.

Nah, only 390. Just a typical evening for most of us.

[quote="walter page"][quote="Bill Tex Landreth"][quote="Stephen Gelber"]My photo gallery of the festivities now up for viewing:

[url=]X-Pensive Winos' Third Annual Holiday Mag-A-Thon[/url][/quote]

Wow....that is a boatload of stems.[/quote]

Nah, only 390.  Just a typical evening for most of us.[/quote]

468 by my count  neener