It's not the wine itself, but the notion of Bordeaux that sandbags the drinking experience with an obligation to make it count, to make it definitive. The thought that all wine strives for Bordeaux's brand recognition and--generally speaking--sensory impact spins the head. The pressure is felt in all four corners of the tongue, and discipline in tasting is uprooted. Eventually the inner ear stops making promises. Sick!
This understood, I was happy to confront six veiled bottles of BDX on a hazy t-shirt Sunday near the end of the summer. Blind tasting. I've described my aspirations and frustrations spinning the wheel in this spooky art, but doing it with Bordeaux has a distinctly game-seven feel. What would prove mastery of craft better than arranging each piece of La Conseillante 2000's sensory 411 into the checkmate of identification?
I brought a Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2003, motivated by Decanter's piece on the Cathiards' run of accomplished vintages this decade. After wrapping the bottle in shimmering polyethylene, I sliced the capsule to reveal a cork luxuriant with pale blue mold. God damn it. No equivocating about a corked bottle's educational benefits could cast this as anything other than a heartbreaking waste. The first glasses of a deep purple sludge were already circulating, so I muttered a warning that there was a dud in the chamber and started nosing.
1. Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards "Right Bank" (Napa), 2005
2. Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac), 1998
3. Chateau Gloria (G-L-O-R-I-A, err... St. Julien), 2005
4. Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Leognan) 2003
In the pourer's hand I saw the foully familiar blue capsule poking out from the bag and prepared to dance with the wet dog. But on the nose, something was amiss, namely the vile mildew odor of the cork. It smelled like...great red Bordeaux. It tasted like... sweet, generous, vanilla-saturated fruit that lacquers the midpalate and lights up the back. It was a non-disaster on par with Y2K. I'm especially grateful for this lesson that a dirty cork is meaningless, since without it I may have dumped out an unforgettable 1999 Maison Leroy Bourgogne Rouge that had the same superficial grossness.
5. Clos de L'Oratoire (St.-Emilion), 2001
6. Miles Mossop Wines "Max" (South Africa), 2004
At this point you could have given me Wild Irish Rose and told me it was Gerard Perse's latest 97-pointer. If I remember correctly, the blind-taster consensus was either "I don't know" or "blahghaghaghah". Perhaps the end of the line was the best time to encounter a spy from Stellenbosch, a Cabernet-dominated wine rounded out by 22% each Merlot and Petit Verdot (that's a lot of Petit Verdot!) After much gnashing of teeth, I suggested that it did not smell or taste like a Bordeaux. The aroma was particularly floral (the PV, methinks), and the cab giveaways in the flavor profile were underscored by gamey and chocolatey things that made Max stick out like modesty in a Jay McInerney essay.
Sorry to arrive at such a tired old saw, but a Bordeaux blend from another hemisphere is going to taste worlds different from the stuff that got President Jefferson drunk. Mr. Mossop, is, of course, aiming to make his own unique wine, and succeeding admirably. But Max and all other wines that blend Cabernets, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, etc. will always ferment under the long shadow of "Bordeaux"--an increasingly meaningful and meaningless word that may refer to a port city, a vine-infested suburb, a blending recipe, or an unrealistic ideal. Which one, I reckon, depends on how blind you are.
- A. Clape Cornas 2001 - Purple color, with a very floral and blackberry-scented nose. Indisputably delicious, but is holding something back right now. Wish I could afford to lay some down.
- M. Chapoutier Cotes-du-Rhone "Belleruche" 2006 - Full-bodied and exploding with fruit, this is a boffo value for under $10. Firm tannins guarantee success with any hearty meat or vegetable preparations.
- Yalumba Viognier 2007 - Well, I don't expect much throwing the dice on budget viognier. Chateau-Grillet it ain't, but if you like simple, less-oaked whites made from inherently rich grapes, give it a go. Smells kind of like the inside of an apple pie before it's cooked, and has substantial acid. I'd probably prefer similarly-priced Chardonnay.
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2007 - Eh. I struggle with the idea of "everyday" Riesling. This is nicely off-dry with the required acidity, but the lime/apple fruit makes its point too quickly, and there are no indications that this has the potential to develop petroleum-flavored perfection over time.