Well, yes, we already are, but today we went into the stratosphere – a super premium wine tasting. Wines from France, Washington State, California and a Super Tuscan from Italy. This is the last tasting, and definitely, saving the best for last. Some wonderful wines here.
We dithered back and forth about this for several days. Neither of us felt as though we had a palate that was refined enough to appreciate the quality that would be showing up here, but eventually we figured – these wines are so far out of our range, that this is probably the only chance we’ll ever get to taste stuff this good. So may as well try it out and figure out just what we’re really supposed to be looking for when we look for a good quality wine at whatever price point. And given what we experienced, it was so worth the time and feeling outclassed!
Later: For this tasting only, I did some pricing research and we’re looking at wines that range from $53.00 a bottle for the Chardonnay up to $180.00 for the Super Tuscan. Not something we’re going to buy often, if ever!
There were only 14 of us, and of that number, 5 of us were women. Interesting. In earlier tastings while the men had an edge on numbers, women were almost equally represented. But not here.
The focus here was wonderful – there was conversation at the beginning, before M. Cecilia began talking, but once the tasting got underway, it was all serious, and once we were just tasting and comparing, the conversations I overheard had to do with the wines, not with anything else – very nice change from some of the other tasting, where the point seemed to be as much to drink wine and socialize as to actually learn anything. It worried the Cellar Master. I know the feeling – you’re not sure if your audience is absorbed and intent, or bored to tears. In this case, it was very focused and listening and learning. I was also pleased to overhear some of the more experienced tasters say that she was the most knowledgeable of the people they’d ever listened to. Certainly, she loves wine and loves to teach about it. That’s come through in every single conversation we’ve had with her, and in every one of the tastings.
Start with the single white we had. As I’m learning about wines, I’m learning to really enjoy the whites, almost as much as I like the fullbodied reds. And today, my learning paid off – we had a 2011 Louis Jadot Puligny Montrachet from France. It’s from the Burgundy area, which means that it’s a chardonnay grape (with a very few exceptions, all white wines from Burgundy are Chardonnay, and all reds are Pinot Noir. And I’ll tell you what the exceptions are when I remember them (didn’t write it down) or when I get home and can look them up.) As soon as I tasted it, I recognized it as a Chardonnay – which is the very first time I’ve had that happen with *any* wine. So yay for me! I’m learning!
Anyway – it’s a lovely pale yellow, almost clear on the edges. Very delicate on the nose – I got (and M. Cecilia confirmed) toast, then honey, and finally a mineral scent. That followed with the flavours on the tongue as well – along with a very creamy texture due to the lactic (bacterial) fermentation which gives rise to the malic acid in the wine that follows the regular fermentation. It’s aged in oak for 12 months, and is a very delicate wine. Really nice, and the buttery, creamy texture was a delight.
So, a little bit about label and quality assignments in Burgundy. And again, M. Ceclia’s teaching shone through – it made sense! (I’ve read about and listened to explanations of the French labelling rules several times, but with her explanation, it’s finally starting to come together and be understandable.) Louis Jadot is a trader of wine. A Negotianse (that’s my guess at the spelling). Because of the way in which land is passed down in a family and because of the amount of grapes needed for wine, the traders buy from different vineyards, and then blend the grapes. Jadot is one of the best names in France.
The Puligny is the village where most of the wines come from, which is in the Burgandy region. Montrachet is the name of one of the most famous vineyards in the world, which is located near the village. Were the grapes from this vineyard used in this wine? I’m going out on a limb and say, yes, probably. But not necessarily all of them, because of the fact that Louis Jadot is a trader. The Montrachet name means this is a Grand Cru wine – top of the line in France. In any other country in the world, this would be labelled a Chardonnay, since that’s the grape used in the wine.
Next up was a 2011 Reynvaan Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington State. Now I like Syrahs and Shiraz’s almost as much as I do Cabernet Sauv.s, but after this one, I think I may just abandon the Cabs entirely (okay, except for Bordeaux).
It was a medium to dark ruby in the middle, paler at the edges and is a wine that can stand aging in the bottle (says the Cellar Master). Because it comes from a cooler climate, the notes are spicier than a lot of Syrah grapes (I’m repeating what was said here – I wouldn’t yet know). But that was apparent in the nose and the tastes – intense spicy odours of pepper – Cecilia said white pepper, coriander aniseed and other dark spices. The better the grapes and the riper they are at picking, the less bell pepper and green notes it should have – and this didn’t have any bell pepper notes to it. The middle of the taste is very dark flavours, and it’s got a medium body. The tannins were finely balanced and strong, but not overpowering. What was interesting about it was how the nose changed over the period of about half to ¾ of an hour. At the middle of the tasting, the nose had moved over to thyme and oregano notes and then later, after the tasting, when we were talking to M. Cecilia, it had a strong “comino” scent. I think I tasted cumin, but don’t know if that’s the same word as her Argentinian name. Definitely something exotic and East Indian. (Later: comino is cumin, so my nose didn’t play me wrong – that’s what I thought it was, but couldn’t be sure if her word “comino” was the same spice.)
Oh, avoid having this wine with stinky-foot cheeses. Those are the soft Brie and Camembert type cheeses that have odd odours to them – my nose insists on relating them to stinky damp feet, so that’s what I call them. Anyway – they don’t work together at all!
Third was a 2008 Heitz Traildside Cabernet Savuignon from Calfornia. Edge of the Napa Valley, touching another area that neither Al nor I remember. It’s both fermented in oak and aged for 3.5 years in oak. It’s a medium ruby in the middle, garnet on the edges and is one that can also be aged in the bottle. Beautifully balanced odours, a medium body, peppery but soft and subtle tannins – present but unobtrusive. Fruit forward – dark berry fruits – I got blackberry but didn’t taste the other fruits she mentioned. It’s a very limited run – only 9,947 bottles in this vintage and they are all numbered (our bottle was somewhere in the 3,000s).
I very much enjoyed it until after we tasted the last wine – and then, between the Syrah and the Super Tuscan, the Cab became very thin and vinegary. Odd.
Now, I’ve heard of Super Tuscans, and if I hadn’t tasted it, and had just listened to Madame Cecilia, I’d have thought “it’s amazing what marketing can do!”
If you know anything at all about the way wines are labelled in Europe – France and Italy, then skip this (or laugh at how I get it wrong, and yes, please let me know and we can laugh together at it over a glass of something nice). See, Super Tuscans came about because of the way in which Italy controls the quality and types of wines. Tuscany is in the Chianti area (I’m itching to find a map, which I don’t have here in the stateroom), and the wines from that area that get the highest designation – DOC & DOCG have to be 100% Sangovesie grapes. Anything else ends up as the lowest (table) or second lowest (IGT) quality designation.
Well, the Antinori family, (if you remember the Premium wine tasting and the Col Solare, a member of this family has paired with a Washington State winery, so experimentation and open mindedness seem to run in this family, which means both their wineries and our palates benefit!)who’ve been in the wine business since the 11th century, had an area of vineyards in Tuscany that held French grape varietals (varieties?) for experimental purposes. For family consumption, they’d cultivated a Cabernet Sauvignon that was amazing. One of the members of the family decided to release it to the general public, but because of the way in which Italy assigns quality, it had to take the IGT designation – the second lowest quality designation in Italian wines. (Later addition: according to my wine atlas, the original designation of this wine was even lower than that – the humble table wine designation! When it proved to be a massive hit, the Italian wine authorities moved it up. And it’s also loosened up and allowed some other varietals into the Chianti Classico – something unheard of until the Super Tuscans.) There were a couple of other families doing this as well (related to the Antinori family), and thus were born the super Tuscans. Like I said, if I hadn’t tasted the wine, I’d have thought – so you can market this well enough that a low quality wine can bring over $300.00 a bottle – nice going! Yeah, well. Read on and laugh with me.
Super Tuscans, I gather, are not pure grape varietals – they’re blended, like the Bordeaux wines. But according to the Cellar Master, each varietal is fermented and aged on its own, then they’re tasted and are blended depending on the results – so some years, the wine will have more Cabernet Sauvignon, other years, the Sangovesie or the Cabernet Franc will dominate. Whichever is the best quality in that year. The wines are aged 18 months in oak, but I’m not sure if that’s 18 months separately, then blended and aged again, or if the 18 months is split between the separate and the blended.
We had a 2009 Antinori Solaia that was 75% CS, 20% Sangovesie and 5% Cabernet Franc. It’s a dark, almost black wine, with a garnet edge and can stay in the bottle for 15 or more years. It’s got intense odours – fruit forward, followed by oaken notes, and the odours are jammy and marmaladey – rich and thick. I also got some liquoricey notes further down in the scents. It’s full bodied, velvety on the tongue, with a sunny, hot flavour/feel to it. There are strong spicy notes, strong, strong tannins, but a smooth, long finish. Really, really nice. It goes well with a Brie/Camembert type of cheese (I didn’t catch exactly which type) that almost made me enjoy the stinky-foot stuff. It also went well with the other, old whatever it was – cow’s milk, but I have no idea what. Not cheddar – but I don’t know what (Nice, though. I want more of it).
This was a wonderful way to end the series of wine tastings we’ve been at. Even though we probably won’t ever actually buy any of these (especially the Super Tuscan!) it was nice to see what really high quality wines taste like, and to look for less expensive ones that come close to this quality.
The time for the cruise to end is drawing near – we have one more port of call, and the day after that, we arrive in Fort Lauderdale. Bittersweet – I’ve loved the time out of time, when my entire life has been removed and nothing but the moment exists, but I’m also missing connections with my family and friends, the neighbourhood, church especially, and the usual, normal routine.
So the next stop is Half Moon Cay, which is leased from the government of the Bahamas by the Holland America line’s parent company, and is kept for the benefit of their cruise guests. Not sure how I’m feeling about it right now – part of me would rather just have another day at sea, but part is curious about just what a private island looks and feels like.
Then it’s into Florida and home!