My annual tasting dinner – Riesling & Pinot Noir

This key point in my personal wine-tasting year is a bit of an institution now. It is an opportunity for me to raid my cellar for a selection of fine wines and enjoy them during dinner with a bunch of wine-loving fiends. Somehow I overlooked publishing the notes until now, so bear in mind that the tasting happened five months ago. For the third year running, September in Scotland produced a lovely evening, so in the garden we enjoyed Dopff au Moulin’s Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg 1993, and/or Nyetimber’s Classic Blend Brut English sparkling wine, also from the 1993 vintage.

The tasting itself was of 12 wines, which were served blind. The stated theme was Riesling and Pinot Noir (probably most wine buffs’ favourite red and white grapes if pushed), but I also included a couple of “ringers” in two special old wines, the 96 Parker-pointed La Mission-Haut-Brion 1978, and the beautiful old Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva from the 1964 vintage.

At the end of the tasting guests were asked to give a single vote for most enjoyable wine. Thier verdict was for La Mission-Haut-Brion, but it was close, with many other wines just a shade behind.

White Wines

Hiedler (Austria) Riesling Steinhaus 2000
Notes of clean, crisp sherbetty apple fruit, floral nuances, and a shimmering streak of minerality. The palate is youthful and taut, with crisp lemon and more mineral qualities, little hints of more luscious pear and melon, and searing acidity. There are nuances of a wax, but this is all about focused minerality. Very good indeed.

Dry River (New Zealand) Amaranth Riesling 1998
Much sought-after and expensive, the aromatic whites of Dry River are reckoned by many to be amongst New Zealand’s absolute elite. Big, overripe, petrolly nose with wax, flowery blossom notes and again a deal of minerality at the core. There is some distinct lime fruit. Full-bodied and very dry on the palate, there is a lovely weight of rich, limy, waxy fruit with little notes of orange and grapefruit. Good acidity and again lovely balance into a long finish. Very good indeed/excellent.

Domain Weinbach (Alsace) Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 1996
Fantastic, complex nose of mineral, blossom, toffeee and butter. Great concentration. Palate has a lovely weight of orange and peachy fruit, with a definite grapefruity acidity streaking through the centre. There is also a taut minerality, and nuances of subtle tropical fruit. Beautiful stuff that is beginning to drink well, but needs time. Excellent.

Red Wines

Joseph Swan (California) Russian River Pinot Noir 1995
Beautifully ripe fruit on the nose; flooded with deep, spicy berry fruits, strawberry and a hint of toffee. The palate is firm and fruity, with punchy tannins and a deep, liquorice edge to rich cherry and summer berry fruit. Gorgeous ripeness and acidity, and fine length. Very good indeed. Parker hates this estate’s Pinots, but I fail to see why.

Sandford (California) Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 1996
Nose of caramel and mint-humbuggy new oak. Lots of clove spiciness, and sweet, ripe, red cherry fruit. There is also a lovely background of truffle and dank undergrowth. Lovely Pinot quality. The palate is dominated by big powerful tannins at first, with grip and presence as well as lots of chocolaty depth from supporting vanillin oak. Fine weight, fine concentration and good length. This will improve and is excellent.

Emmanuel Rouget (Burgundy) Vosne-Romanée 1996
Stinky nose. Beautifully fragrant with briar-wood, game, farmyard and little glimpses of rose-hip and violet. Palate is again youthful and firm, with good balance and good acidity, though this is pretty tight and ungiving at present. Should blossom over the next five to eight years. Very good, will improve

Jadot (Burgundy) Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St-Jacques 1989
Gorgeous nose. Notes of brown sugar, fudge, sweet cherries, briar-wood and roses. The palate is spicy, suffused with coffee-bean charry oak, and filled with sweet fruit. Nice cedary component too, and a deliciously balanced wine with an elegant finish. Very good indeed.

Domaine Matrot (Burgundy) Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru 1989
A wonderfully smoky, earthy, forest berry nose with nuances of undergrowth and dank woodland. No obvious oak, just a little cedary undercurrent. On the palate it is very harmonious with plenty of sweet, ripe fruit and a silky texture. There are notes of soft, dense, earthiness and a long, long finish.

Bruno Clair (Burgundy) Chambertin Grand Cru Clos de Bèze 1991
Really quite vegetal with lots of undergrowthy quality, truffle and firmm cherry fruit. There’s a little coffee and smoke too. The palate is firm, slowly revealing red cherry and raspberry fruit, with a little brown sugar sweetness, but this is rather lean in style. decenet length, but a little disappointing.

Château La Mission-Haut-Brion (Bordeaux) Graves 1978
Wonderfully sweet, seamless nose merging ripe fruit and spice into cedar and a little hint of musky, floral, tea-leaf quality. Fine palate too, with just hints of drying-up in a slightly tannic finish, but plenty of medium-bodied, berry fruited depth and a warm, expansive core of fruit that is just holding sway at present. Balanced and fine, though as I say, this bottle was showing signs of age. Very good indeed.

Viña Real (Spain) Rioja Gran Reserva 1964
Wonderfully inviting, lush, velvetty nose of deep, fruite compote and plums, highlighted with floral notes and raspberry, as well as tobacco, leather and truffle. The palate is filled with ripe, mellow fruit and a smoky, sweet background of oak and ripe, soft old tannins. Medium-bodied and well-balanced by generous background acidity, this is drinking beautifully and is a real treat. Very good indeed/excellent.

A terrific evening, and there was some delightful Château Guiraud 1986 Sauternes on the go with pudding, but by that time taking notes seemed too much like hard work!