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Tasting Notes by
George Heritier



Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula is a marvelous place to vacation, and it never hurts to have a friend to stay with, especially when that friend is Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan. Kim and I spent three days with Alan in late July, visiting wineries, swimming in Lake Ontario, eating great food and, of course, drinking some very fine wines. We’ll have more to say about the dramatic improvement we noted in the wines of the region since we last visited some five years ago, so stay tuned for subsequent reports. For now, let’s fast forward to the festivities that took place on our last night on the peninsula.

The party was at Marty and Robin’s (not to be confused with MartyMarty Robbins), and the stars of the evening were four early to mid-‘80s vintages of Château Cos d'Estournel Grand Cru classé de Saint Estèphe, and all were beauties. Marty Freitas (right) and Robin Caverhill have a well-appointed cellar and a knack for staging tastings such as this, just as was the case some years back with a survey of most of the vintages from the ‘80s of Chateau Gruaud-Larose Saint-Julien, and while this latest episode didn’t match the scope of that earlier event, it more than made up for it with an intimate ambience that was thoroughly delightful. We got things started with some whites, a bubbly and a couple of reds.

2007 St. Hallett Barossa Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, 11.5% alc., $17 Can.: Medium straw color, with a tinge of lime; the Semillon character really stands out in this, with bright (but not over-the-top) green apple and lime flavors and aromas, and some nice minerality underneath. Good weight and perfect balance make this a pleasure to drink; it’s one of Marty and Robin’s go-to whites. Find this wine

2006 Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay, 13.9% alc., $22 Can.: Medium straw color, with a shade of lemon-lime: clean, bright Chardonnay character, with apple and pear flavors and aromas accented with a kiss of spicy oak and a hint of honey. Medium full to full bodied, with excellent acids and balance, this pairs quite well with a delicious pickerel cheek salad, and reinforced the impression that Kim, Alan and I got during a visit to the winery two days previous that these folks are doing serious things on the Twenty Mile Bench. (And if you've never had pickerel cheeks, you don't know what you're missing!) Find this wine

2000 Marc Morey Chassagne - Montrachet Les Vergers2000 Marc Morey Chassagne - Montrachet Les Vergers, $39.99, 13.5% alc.: It’s been four years since we last tried this lime tinged medium straw, and it’s still going strong. It offers mineral, pear, pineapple and honey on the nose; in the mouth, the pineapple and honey take a backseat to the mineral and pear, which strike a nice balance between rich and restrained. Full bodied, perfectly balanced and drinking very well now, but a few more years won’t hurt it at all. Find this wine

Imported by Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, DC

Champagne Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs Brut:
Disgorged September, 2007, from three vintages aged a minimum of five years. Always a favorite with Adams, Heritier and Associates, this one didn’t disappoint in the least. Medium straw color, with big mousse and a fine active bead, it pumps out big, pungent green and red apple with a hint of cherry and a lot of mineral. Rich and powerful, it has “lots of f*ckin’ flavor to it,” according to Marty, and exhibits everything that I love about the Champagnes of Jean Laurent. Find this wine

Imported by Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, VA

2002 A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Zinfandel: This one almost looks like a glass of ink, and is quite simply quintessential Dry Creek Zinfandel, with big flavors and aromas of black raspberry, briar, bramble and old wood in the old school style. Full bodied and very well structured, this would seem to be coming into its prime drinking window, and pairs very well with grilled quail. Turley drinkers need not apply. Find this wine

2007 Chakana Mendoza Malbec Lujan de Coyo, 14% alc.: Deeply, darkly colored, with a typical Malbec personality of dog fur, black currant and blackberry (“more berry than currant,” in Alan’s judgment) shaded with hints of coffee, toast and a little chocolate. Well structured and balanced for drinking now and over the next three to five years, this also matched nicely with the grilled quail. Find this wine

“It’s a funny wine. It’s standing up and making jokes!” –Alan Kerr

The four Cos d'Estournels

Following those, we sat down to give some serious consideration to the main event, the four Cos d'Estournels. We tasted through them from youngest to oldest, comparing our various impressions of each. All four wine show a similar deep, dark color, with no rust or bricking as of yet; they also display a consistent house style that the producer’s website describes as “a… virile elegance in which power does not exclude either grace or mildness.” The three older wines came out of Marty’s cellar, while Alan provided the ’86. Kim and I were fortunate to taste the ’95 and ’96 from this great Chateau about a year and a half ago, and here were selections that were ten years older and more!

1986 Château Cos d'Estournel Saint Estèphe: Full bodied and muscular, this delivers rich, dense, dark black currant, cassis, old wood and hints of underbrush and some subtle chocolate. Kim remarked that “it smells like a poopy aquarium,” and Alan noted “beautiful spice, anise.” Robin commented on impressions of “cedar wood shavings.” This is still a relatively young wine, with big structure and a serious core of powerful fruit. 22 years old and it’s not close to its peak, and yet as little as half an hour of air makes it approachable; with extended air, it drinks quite well. If I had some, I’d probably try it again in three to five years to see where it’s at.  Find this wine

1985 Château Cos d'Estournel Saint Estèphe: This is another relatively young wine; it shows black currant with some herbaceousness on the nose, following through on the palate to reveal a rich core of fruit with big bones and a dense mouth feel. As it opens (and again, air really helps this, as with all four of these), it constantly evolves and improves, with emerging notes of tobacco, underbrush and dark chocolate. It seems to be just starting to hit its prime drinking window, and it elicited these comments and descriptors as the wine opened: Find this wine
“A little vegetal; more poop than pepper…” – Kim
“Nice mineral, lead pencil and iron. It’s a funny wine. It’s standing up and making jokes!” – Alan
“Burnt sugar and coffee…” – Kim
“Slightly under-ripe bell pepper…” – Alan

1983 Château Cos d'Estournel Saint Estèphe: There’s nothing secondary in nature to this one yet, but it does seem to be going into a mature phase, with old wood, saddle leather and black currant characteristics on a big bodied frame. There’s a lot going on here, as it constantly opens and evolves, and my initial impressions expanded to include notes of cedar, mahogany and tobacco. Like the following wine, this is in a prime drinking window, but perhaps not yet at peak.  Find this wine

1982 Château Cos d'Estournel Saint Estèphe: This is the richest of the four, but it also has funkier notes than the others. I noted a little funk over old wood, tobacco, and earthy black currant with a hint of leather; silky and beautiful with air, it’s another big wine, smooth in texture, with tannins that don’t intrude on the pleasure that this delivers right now. Still, at 26 years old, it’s in no danger of fading any time soon, but I wouldn’t presume to guess what kind of lifespan it has ahead of it. The funky quality never does “blow off,” and that’s fine with me, because I like it. Here’s what others had to say about this: Find this wine
“Burnt sugar…” – Kim, who named it as her favorite of the four after the first pass
“Incredibly ripe fruit…” – Alan
“The caramelized brown sugar has turned to Mochaccino, so smooth in the mouth…” – Kim
“A bonfire-like char…” – Group consensus

Here was a wonderful opportunity to taste these truly great wines. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to go with the ’82, if only because it’s the one that’s drinking the best right now, but in fact, all of these are loaded with multi-dimensional charms and attributes. Many thanks to Marty for staging the tasting and to him and Robin for their hospitality in opening their beautifully restored vintage home to us. It was a gas!

Reporting from Day-twah,

geo t.

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© George Heritier August, 2008