1996 & 1999 VOSNE GRAND CRU DINNER - Holland Park (9/1/2016)
I am not sure how we ended up with this theme, but it could be because we exhausted most of the other vintages in our earlier tastings. It was very interesting though - an opportunity to see how two promising vintages are performing close to a couple of decades after their release. Wines were served half blind in their flights as usual. The study may have been a bit skewed though - we had a strange preponderance of Romanee St Vivants, especially for the 1996 vintage.
A brief note on the wines:
1996s reds were marked by good, sweet fruit, elegant structure and excellent acidity upon their releases. However, over the next decade or so, as the fruit went to sleep, the acidities came out more and more, resulting in wines that could be a bit angular, even tart at first . Thankfully, for many of the top wines, the fruit has started to come out again with the acidity starting to mellow in the mouth in varying degrees over the past 6-8 years to my reckoning, while still retaining some of the thrilling freshness that has marked the vintage from the beginning - all making for some very high quality wines. Strangely enough, the quartet of 1996 RSVs on show (which, on paper, should have been fabulous) came across as very good rather than great, showing less oomph than one would have liked. Only the Cathiard was truly top drawer, with its richer feel and heavier extraction seeming to be a good counterbalance for the higher acids and clarity of the vintage.
1999 was of course the miracle crop that married both huge harvest quantities with very healthy fruit. Early on, the wines were marked with a nice, sunny ripeness paired to relatively soft acidities and good tannins that made them both a joy to taste in their youth as well as promising great things for the future. This was also, however, another vintage that shut down significantly while still in primary stage, with the fruit going stubborn and the structure coming out in a rather pronounced fashion. Starting from the village level wines though, the sleepers started awakening over the past decade or so and, unlike the 1996s, where the top wines shone and the middling ones tended to disappoint, this has started to show as a vintage that is very good from top to bottom. The wines on the night reflected that as well - they ranged from the rustic to the elegant, but all showed as very complete wines, with lovely integration between well-weighted, ripe fruit and noble structure. The acidity is not the snappiest, especially when put next to the 1996s, but there was certainly enough to lend a nice balance to the proceedings. They all still need time though. I have always been a great fan of the 1999 vintage, and I think that the best Grand Crus will make for tremendous drinking experiences over the next 6-8 years and beyond.
Just a final note on the peripheral wines, a tremendous 1996 Dom Perignon and a great pair of Leflaives. It is becoming quite a pattern now, when the “aperitifs” are so good that they threaten to overshadow the main event, and it was certainly the case of the night!
1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon - France, Champagne
The 1996 Dom Perignon started its life as a really precocious vintage, promising great things for the future. It sure has taken some time to come around since then, but if this bottle was anything to go by, it may well be hitting prime time right about now. On the night, this had a lovely nose, just starting to smell nicely matured, with honey and toasty caramel notes floating around a core of ripe red apples, dried strawberries and a little thread of minerally aromas. A very rich and punchy bouquet. On the palate, there was still a really muscular inseam of juicy citrus acidity and serious minerality running through otherwise rich, powerful notes of the ripest apples and strawberries. This filled the mouth in very a full, generous fashion, with a fat creamy mousse and lots of power and super-impressive depth, but as always with the 1996, it was still that sinewy structure that struck me at first taste. This time round though, there was also a sense the wine was rounding out and starting to mellow and mature, with some honeyed, slightly oxidative notes just starting to float out from behind the layers of fruit and acid and mineral. If anything, the wine actually felt a little clunkier than usual, a little precise perhaps on the midpalate. That was my only complain though. It pulled together nicely again at the finish, where a hint of bittersweet lemon zest, spice and mineral then trailed away into the distance. All in all, a great champagne, starting to drink really nicely. (94 pts.)
1999 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet - France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Wow. This was something else entirely. In a night that was supposed to be dominated by red wines from Vosne, this came out early and blew everyone’s socks off. While not as giving and warmly generous as the 1996 Chevalier that came alongside, I thought this was superior in almost every other way. On the nose, it was slightly reductive and matchsticky at first, but this blew off quite quickly to show classic Leflaive notes of gunflint and mineral wafting around fleshy white fruited aromas, with hints of peach and white flowers, a dash of lemon zest and toasty spice, all mingling amidst a nice creamy, sweet mascarpone core. Lovely. It was on the palate where this really showed its mettle though. It is hard to describe exactly what made it special, except to say that this was how I would describe the archetypal Chevalier-Montrachet if asked. Powerful and noble, yet effortless; not quite feminine or elegant, but rather gracefully muscular – a Grand Cru with an almost insouciant carriage about it. On one hand, this was super fresh, especially for a 1999, with a spine of lemony acidity lending it a beautiful precision and focus. On the other, it was full, creamy and powerful, unfolding in the mouth with effortless layers of white fruit - apple flesh and white peach and melon – all wreathed with a light floral undertone. There was such a wonderfully creamy depth here, yet it somehow always retained a lithe, effortless feel. It was superbly integrated too, which probably added to that whole sense of effortless strength. The finish was then pierced by a super long, almost laser-like beam of flinty mineral that filled every crevice of the backpalate, quite refusing to quit until I forced myself to move on to drink the next wine. Amazing stuff. This stood out the last time I had it in the midst of a vertical of Leflaives’ Chevaliers. Tonight, it was perhaps even more impressive when sharing the stage with just one other white. What a great wine. Lovely now, but I think it will be even better in a few years if one can find a non premoxed bottle. Bravo. (96 pts.)
1996 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet - France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
Very good indeed, but with a more down-to-earth, (albeit stunningly attractive) girl-next-door charm rather than the supermodel-esque sophistication of the 1999 that we had side-by-side. There was surprisingly a more mature feel about this wine starting with the nose, which was very nice, if a bit over-ripe, showing deep aromas of yellow fruit and honey, caramel and a little toast, all edged with slightly oxidative shades of white meat and umami. Lovely deep accents, certainly not-premoxed, but it did smell like a wine that should be drank up soon-ish. This was pretty much confirmed on the palate. It was lovely, but also felt like it was at peak, or maybe even just starting to tail off into a long descent, with round, juicy gobs of apple and stone fruit drizzled with mature tones of sweet caramel and honey. There was a real sense of strength and effortless power to the wine. It may have lacked some of the focus and tension of the 1999, but it still had a lovely freshness, with tingly energy and a toasty mineral backbone giving it a nice shape all the way into a bright finish driven by tons of 1996’s lemon pip juiciness. Crazy delicious stuff. but time to drink up. (95 pts.)
1996 VOSNE GRAND CRU
1996 Domaine Robert Arnoux / Arnoux-Lachaux Romanée St. Vivant - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
Very good, but not one of the great Arnoux RSVs. It had a beautiful, fresh nose, with lively scents of red cherries and raspberries touched with fragrant notes flowers, earth and of woody herbs and spices. Lovely. The palate was nicely charming, though perhaps less polished than I have come to expect from Arnoux, with a little chew of drying, woody tannins and a slightly herby tones framing juicy flavours of cherries and red berries. These were wreathed with nice floral tones and more of those fragrant spice and some earthy, bacony notes at the finish. A bit of toast came up with time as well. Altogether a really pleasing and charming wine, but it was lacking a touch of silkiness and elegance. While yhere was a good rich depth to it, this was tempered by a gentle firmness that made itself felt throughout the palate. I think this should continue to improve over the next few years, but I am not sure this will ever be one of the greats. (93 pts.)
1996 Domaine de L’Arlot Romanée St. Vivant - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
The sleeper in the flight – but this was very good. Made in a more traditional style than most of the other wines on show, but it was far from rustic. The nose had a rather stemmy, slightly rubbery waft to it, amidst sweeter notes of blueberries and flowers and a little chalky minerality. If the flight was not served half-blind as it was, I would have had a problem picking it out as an RSV on that bouquet. I thought the palate was rather better than the nose promised though – fresh and lively, with lemony 1996 acidity running through juicy flavours of cherries and blueberries seasoned with gentle spice and a suggestion of orange peels, all this wrapped in a layer of powdery tannins. Neat finish too, with another flush of spice accompanied by a sweet floral flourish at the very end. Not quite elegant, but there was a nice easy-going grace to this, with a focus and balance that made it come across as an effortless and nicely complete wine. It has the bones to age for just about forever too – I would personally leave it in the bottle for at least another year or two. (93 pts.)
1996 Jean-Jacques Confuron Romanée St. Vivant - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
Slightly better than the last bottle I had last year. This was nevertheless consistent with my previous experiences with Confuron’s RSVs – always good, even very good, but somehow never quite hitting the heights of the very best wines this great vineyard can offer. This wine did have a very pretty nose though, with rich aromas of dark cherries and blackberries laced with earth and meat, spice and dried flowers. The palate was rather shyer, tighter, with fresh, chewy 1996 acidity and firm, powdery tannins forming a rather rustic frame for deep but still rather primary flavours of dark cherries layered over earthier, meatier tones. There was a nice strength and breadth to this though, which made it a pleasing mouthful. On the finish, some orange peel and then hints something flowery emerged. Altogether, a very nice wine, if just a bit more rustic than its peers, with the tannins standing out with time. It should continue to improve over the next few years though. (93 pts.)
1996 Sylvain Cathiard Romanée St. Vivant - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
My favourite of the RSV wines on the night. In true Cathiard style, this was a big wine – biggest of its flight by some distance. It had a very pretty nose, full of deep aromas of sweet cherries and dried raspberries laced with exotic woody spices and some rubbery stem notes, all this edged with just a touch of oak. Nobody had much trouble picking this out as the Cathiard in the flight just on the nose alone. The palate was a bit obvious, coming across rich, powerful and extracted, but there was also a beautiful depth and purity to it, with ringing flavours of cherries and red berries alongside more wood spice and bramble notes. In fact, for all its weight, the wine actually came across as very fresh and open, with almost linear lines as it opened up in a long finish, where sweet, almost cherry-cola fruit was met by citrusy notes of orange peel. Very good indeed - this was a full and very generous wine. Not supremely elegant, especially with a touch of slightly drying tannins on the side, but well-shaped enough and built to last. While starting to show decently well now, I think it had a good 5-6 years more before hitting peak.
1999 VOSNE GRAND CRU
1999 Domaine Robert Jayer-Gilles Echezeaux - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Echezeaux Grand Cru
An old school, masculine Echezeaux. It had a lovely nose in that fashion, with sauvage notes of meat and fur and earth draped over a dark core of black cherries and berries, with a little hint of toast coming along the back of the bouquet. The palate had a slightly rustic exterior as well, with fine but firm tannins adding a real sense of backbone to muscular notes of dark cherry and berry fruit. However, this was not without elegance, with a nice sense of focus and good clean fruit to it. On the midpalate, some earth and meat mingled with the fruit, before touches of spice and mineral brought the wine to a satisfying finish. A strong, muscular wine, but very good if you like a more masculine style. This still feels very youthful though, and may well need the better part of a decade before it hits its stride. (93 pts.)
1999 Domaine Robert Arnoux / Arnoux-Lachaux Echezeaux - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Echezeaux Grand Cru
An oddity. This was probably the poorest showing wine on the night, especially when placed next to a tremendous bottle of Arnoux’s 1999 Romanee St Vivant. The nose had a strange twang of green peas and soap powder along with more typically cherry notes. Odd. The palate was okay. Coming across as a more of a decently drinkable per Cru rather than a Grand Cru Burgundy from a top-notch maker. There was an elegant strength to it, with powdery tannins undergirding fresh flavours of cherries and berries lined with a little floral note. The finish seemed a little meaner, fading away with a little orange fizz and then more of that soap powder note picked up on the nose and a hint of something that reminded me of musty plastic. We did not think this was flawed, but it was certainly a strange wine. Pleasant at points, but certainly the weakest of the night. 91-92 (91 pts.)
1999 Domaine Robert Arnoux / Arnoux-Lachaux Romanée St. Vivant - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
Blue Arnoux 1999 Echezeaux. This superb bottle was a redemption after the rather middling 1999 Arnoux Echezeaux in the same flight. It had a lovely nose, with luxurious aromas of dark chocolate and dark cherries swirling around earthy herbs and dried flowers. A bit fuller and darker a bouquet than I would normally associate with an Arnoux RSV, but very nice indeed. It was marvelous on the palate – full, rich and powerful, yet effortlessly complex at the same time, with dark cherries and berries wed to deep floral notes and all sorts of interesting counterpoints on the midpalate and finish – violets and berries, chocolate and spice, I wrote – all nicely tied together with a great, fine-boned structure as well. Again, a bit richer and deeper than your standard issue Arnoux RSV, perhaps a touch less elegant and transparent, but this was a great wine. Delicious on the night, bit with its noble structure and a nagging sense that there are still little complexities that are a bit buried beneath all that generous fruit, I cannot help feeling that this will be even better in 4-5 years’ time. 93-95 (94 pts.)
1999 Domaine Francois Lamarche La Grande Rue - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, La Grande Rue Grand Cru
Lamarche’s La Grand Rues before the mid-2000s have an unenviable reputation as rustic underperformers, especially when put next to the storied wines produced by their neighbours. This bottle certainly belied that reputation though – it came across as a very complete, very satisfying bottle of Grand Cru Vosne, easily in the top bracket of wines we had on the night. I liked the nose here – a good middle-ground between the earthier Echezeaux and the more flowery RSVs, it showed an nicely integrated bouquet of dark cherries and powdered spices. The palate, while showing a good bit of Grand Cru strength and thickness in the mouth surprisingly came across as rather less rich and powerful, but slightly more elegant than the blockbuster of a 1999 Arnoux RSV that preceded it, with a nice clarity showing to its dark cherry notes leading into a strong finish of earth and spice. This was a nicely complete package, with an elegant balance and nicely textured structure. Nothing absolutely outstanding, but this was a very good wine that was showing very nicely on the night. Impressed. (93 pts.)
1999 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Cuvée Duvault-Blochet - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
Served blind, this stood out as the DRC from miles away with its stemmy character on the nose, with stalky aromas of wilting flowers, sour cherries and hints of rubber, toast and earth. For some reason, the bouquet here reminded me tremendously of Nicolas Potel RSV bottlings from the early 2000s, which are rumoured to have been sourced from declassified DRC barrels. The palate was very pleasant. Fresh and lively, with chewy acidity and tannins forming a nice backdrop to sweet red-fruited cherries and berries, and then a little floral hint at the finish. A bit on the thinner side compared to the other wines on its flight – clearly the 1er Cru amidst the Grand Crus – but this had a decent enough depth to it was well. Probably close to its peak drinking window, this was a pretty nice wine without quite knocking anyone’s socks off – not something I would run out to buy at its price I don’t think. (92 pts.)
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