Stelio’s in Billerica was the site of a recent off-line billed as “Beef in Billerica II” with a theme of gutsy Rhones to go with prime rib and steak. It was nice to meet some new faces at this off-line and to be able to add to the list of local BYO destinations. I thought the food was just OK and unfortunately some of the wines were off, but it was surely a pleasant evening nonetheless!
1996 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage. The bouquet here is fairly restrained, showing off an elegant character focused around notes of spiced cranberries, soft herbs and a bit of bacon fat. It is medium-bodied in the mouth, with a fine liveliness to the tangy red fruit and fine citrus-tinged acidity that define the flavor profile. The texture is smooth and the tannins are very light and clean. The structure seems driven by the acidity, which almost coats the teeth. Secondary flavors of loganberry, bacon fat, and lemon zest begin to emerge with time. There is an inner calm to the wine, but it has a lot of zesty character and lift to carry it along, too. This is not a big blockbuster Syrah by any stretch—it is actually pretty low-key and contemplative, though it should be noted that a small pour much later in the evening revealed a growing plumpness of fruit and body, while also ratcheting up the flavor intensity. It finishes really clean and refreshing—holding that theme of a quiet yet freshly balanced wine throughout the evening. My WOTN.
1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. This is the brightest, most ruby-colored wine in the flight. The nose shows off some soft cherry and raspberry fruit, along with some earthy notes. With some aggressive swirling, additional nuances such as soy, balsamic and green herb notes begin to slowly and quietly emerge to add a sense of growing complexity. In the mouth, this is far larger-boned and more full-bodied than the Chave, though again there is a bright streak of acidity running through the middle (though it is more aggressive and angular here). The tannins are fine, but do slowly sneak up on you, tending to coat the finish a bit. Still, it is not a huge wine, with that brightness shining through and the finish actually the heaviest part of the wine. It has perhaps more obvious presence than the Chave, but is not its equal for finesse or balance.
1995 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas La Louvee. At first, there is just a mild fleeting whiff of chlorine, but over a short period of time, the obvious corkiness of this bottle begins to grow and grow on the nose. Beneath that, though, one does get some very strong notes of bridle leather, sweaty horse and barnyard dust that suggest this might have been quite an interesting wine had it not been so corked. It is plump and dense in the mouth, with very dark fruit, smoke and sous bois sorts of flavors and gobs of sticky tannins. However, there is also an off-putting metallic, industrial note that clearly illustrates the flawed nature of this bottle. Too bad.
1995 Tardieu-Laurent Crozes-Hermitage Vieilles Vignes. Zach’s immediate comment when he put this wine up to his nose (and I have to agree wholeheartedly) was that it smells like the penguin pool at the New England Aquarium. If you have ever been there (and I am a member so I go a fair amount), that is exactly what this smells like at first. Beyond that funky, earthy, penguin water profile one also begins to get some wet dog hair and moldy cardboard sorts of notes, as well, and I am afraid this bottle is also corked (though much less obviously so than the Colombo). Still, too bad (redux).
1999 Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de mon Aieul. I expected to like this a lot more than I actually did. To begin, the nose takes a good long while to show anything besides a stark metallic edge, but after a lot of coaxing it begins to show a bit of raspberry and black cherry fruit, but that is about it. In the mouth, it is rather full-bodied with solid tannins, but also an odd green streak running through the wine. It does turn more smoky and meaty toward the back of the palate, which is the real appeal of the wine. But overall, this was not a favorite.
1990 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. I have had this wine three times before and on the one occasion I had it from double magnum, I would have to say it was one of the very best Chateauneufs I’ve ever tasted. On this night, though, I found the wine very good but not necessarily great. The nose is complex, with warring elements of earthiness, tangy red berries, violets and something like leafy celery. As time goes by, some bridle leather finds its way in, along with pencil shavings, green pepper and campfire smoke aromas. It really comes together in a pretty yet earthy kind of way. In the mouth, it starts out fresh and tangy, with a fleshy, easy texture and flow, but eventually the sharp acidity and leathery tannins lurking below rise up and actually become a bit overbearing for me on some sips. Still, this was a group favorite and I think it ended the evening tied with the ’96 Clape for group wine of the night.
1995 Château de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. Of the three Beaucastels, this one seems the most forward and fruit-driven on the nose—featuring aromas of bark and mushrooms, but also plenty of high-toned fruit in the form of robust, sweet black raspberries and black cherries. In the mouth, it shows a lot of dark, black fruit and black bean flavors framed by taut acidity and tons of fuzzy, grainy tannins that make the wine feel extremely structured and rather short on charm. This needs more time.
1998 Château de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. I’ve had some poor experiences with this vintage of Beaucastel in the past, but this bottle was the best I’ve experienced to date. It features an excellent bouquet of fresh strawberries, macerated cherries, orange peel, aged bridle leather, soy and balsamic notes that come together in a pretty sexy package that also hints at some fine barnyard funk. In the mouth, it is seamless and richly-fruited, with soft sweet raspberry and chocolate flavors surrounded by fruitcake spices and oak accents. The oak is a bit strong and the tannins are definitely present, but the wine is giving and richly characterful. It was my clear favorite of the second flight and my runner-up WOTN.