Tuesday, March 25, 2008

'96 Taluau - St-Nicolas-de-Bourgeil, Vieilles Vignes

In honor of Gary Vaynerchuk's request for WBW 44, I chose a cab franc from a region I have not tried before, at a higher price point than I'm used to, and with more age on it than any wine I've had before.

1996 Jöel Taluau St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil AOC, Vieilles Vignes, 12.5%, $35 at the Princeton Corkscrew.

This is an extraordinary wine.

When the longish cork was halfway out, I caught a whiff of vinegar and panicked. Fortunately there was no such smell after the cork was out. An unmistakeable green pyrazine tone wafted from the neck of the bottle, giving me pause. The green bell-pepper tone was not something I enjoyed in the two Cab Francs I've had before, and I was hoping that this wine would be pyrazine-free.

Anyhow, I went ahead with double-decanting, observing a nice ring of fine sediment around the bottom of the bottle. Some hints of Salvadorean tamales and stewed bell peppers emerged. Even with the greenness, it smelled delicious. Like a delicate stew broth. I was torn: On one hand, I didn't like the green tones. On the other - my mouth was watering!

First Tasting, 40 minutes after decanting:

The color is a lovely peachy-orange-purple, which shows textbook signs of age at the rim and in the body. Very much what I'd expect from Michael Broadbent's color charts.

(Aside: N1-N4 refer to four different ways of smelling ("nosing") the wine. N1 is gentle, extended sniff of the still wine surface. N2 is a deep inhalation above the still surface. N3 is a gentle sniff after a swirl. N4 is a deep inhalation after a swirl. )

N1 evokes mint, cut wood, bell-peppers, and hints of tobacco, all with an undertone of ripe fruit. N2 suggests olives and wood, with some fruit. N3 mostly reveals pyrazine, with some menthol tones. Although there are earthy tones in the nose, there is no "barnyard" - this is a clean wine.

This wine completely captivated my palate. Dry and medium-bodied with beautiful, refreshing acidity and a gripping tannin structure that suggests several more years of life. The midpalate has spicy suggestions of sweet jalapeno candy, which transitions into a somewhat bitter finish, all the while framed with flutterings of unmistakeably ripe fruit. A 91-point wine.

As I tasted again, the nose revealed cinnamon and herbal tones, with woody strawberries and raspberries.

Second Tasting, 80 minutes after decanting:

The aromas have bloomed into a bouquet of finely stewed bell peppers/candied jalapenos seamlessly interwoven with black raspberries (N1). Some volatile acidity is present, with hints of BBQ-sauce sweetness, and slight carmelization (N2). Such RIPENESS! Yet with none of the raisiny characteristics that bother me about over-ripened wines. It is ripened to such perfection that the pyrazines don't bother me. N3: I’m salivating. Lusciously gentle yet crystal clear, focused fruit blooms voluminously on the midpalate. Unique yet... strangely comforting. Reminds me of the first time I played an ivory-keyed piano - it seemed warmer to the touch, immediately set my fingertips at ease. The feel was so beautiful, novel yet instantly comfortable, like this wine. There are also hints of dusty earth, but still with cleanness and clarity! Grass, pomegranates, warm hillsides drenched in sunlight, clear tones of black raspberry, plum, warm rocks in the sun. I don't want to stop smelling this. N4: A little earth, some charred/tobacco tones.

Palate: SO MUCH FRUIT! Charming cassis acidity, rich green, brown wood tones, hints of malt on the midpalate (but still totally dry). The acidity has many shades to it – it’s not so much a razor (as Gary has described crisp whites in the past), as a multifaceted gem rolling around on the tongue! In context of the wine's flavor structure, the acidity is the bridge between initially warmer fruit tones (strawberries, black raspberries) and a brief but crytal-clear cassis tone in the midpalate. Suggestions of orange and spice, a little bitterness on the finish, but I LOVE it! It’s like bitter cinnamon tea, or bitter green tea – a rich bitterness. Perfectly elegant tannins. True finesse. Hard not to swallow this - like imbibing a deep-blue petaled flower of exquisite beauty and aroma. Mild tertiary scents of roasting chicken skins, basil, cloves. On the latter part of the midpalate - a soft but distinct spiciness.

This wine is focused and intense. After opening up for a bit, it has completely won me over. Extraordinary. 97-RA. Pairing: I feel it would be a crime to pair anything with this wine except some clean water and neutral bread. The wine is a complete experience in itself.

(Note: Props to Laurent Chapuis of the Corkscrew for getting this straight from the Chateau!)