Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

2001 Cal. Cab v. Bordeaux

Posted by Richard Foxall, Oct 2, 2011.

Just a quick posting on a tasting we did last week.  We've been celebrating our tenth anniversary, and I stockpiled 2001s.  Good thing it was a strong vintage in so many places.  Of course, the 2001 Gran Reservas from Rioja are, in some cases, just hitting the market and are terrific values. We celebrated with a bottle we bought in the first couple years, a 2001 Montelena. 

Recently, K&L was touting Chateau Lanessan's 2001 from the Medoc, a wine that RP has touted as one for Bordeaux watchers to follow for its value. Prices in the US for this wine range from $20 at K&L to $30+, but it's not hard to find near the lower end of that.  I picked some up on the recommendation of both K&L and WineHouseSF a/k/a WineAccess. There are tall tales about how the winery didn't enter its wines in the 1855 classification.  I had earlier picked up a couple bottles of Bell Vineyards 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  We were having dinner at my folks, and it seemed a good opportunity to put the bottles in bags and bring them out for dinner when we'd have plenty of drinkers. The Lanessan is about 65% cab, the rest merlot and cab franc.   The Bell is 90% cab, 8% merlot and 2% syrah.  (Now that's old school Bordeaux making--they Bordelaise used to truck in Syrah from the Rhone to "improve" their wine.) Not a perfect head to head, but...

Everyone preferred the Bell.  And here's what's interesting: It wasn't huge or hot, but it had backbone and fruit.  The Lanessan was fine, but less vibrant, as if age had just kind of left it more empty.  Ten years on, so this isn't "drink now, fruit forward, but forget it in a year or three."  Granted, Anthony Bell is a bit of a classicist, formerly the manager at BV back in the 80s, and not a grubber of Parker points.  (I suspect he did something to anger Bob, because he doesn't even seem to submit his wines there anymore and hasn't gotten great ratings.)  But this wine was terrific and no way past its prime.  I've got some 2002 and some Clone 6 from 2001 that I am looking forward to.  Everyone also guessed which was the Cal cab.

There have been a lot of arguments that California Cabs are not being made to age.  We'll see, and it's certainly the case that Bell is not chasing the latest high alcohol fashion, so it's possibly not representative of a larger trend.  But before you dismiss Cal Cabs, I'd like to hear about your experiments.  As I said, not a perfect comparison, but interesting nonetheless.

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Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 3, 2011.

Do you know the provenance of the Lanessan bottle? Not that I've ever been its biggest fan (nor even of its neighbor, Beychevelle), anyway. Nor have I hated it, though. I've tended to view it as a bit of an oldskool claret, not sexy, but rather generally balanced and often solid. Did this have anything to do with the judgment of an audience with a more California palate, perhaps?

Personally I've had good bottles, but quite a few insipid ones in the past. Many (but not all) of the problematic ones I could quickly attribute to poor storage or poor vintages or both....

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Reply by JonDerry, Oct 3, 2011.

Sounds like a fun experiment Foxall, i'll have to try some Bell cabernet some time. Gotta love the 2% Syrah.

It's also entirely possible the Lanessan wasn't at it's peak yet.  If provenance isn't a factor, we can pretty much always assume Cali Cabs are ready to go off a pop and pour at ten years (unless a fruit bomb), though often Bordeaux needs longer bottle age to show its best. On the other hand, maybe the Bell is just better on what was a fair shake. Hopefully we can expand the experiment in the near future.

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Reply by Gayle D Davies, Oct 3, 2011.

Because Foxall described the Lanessan as "less vibrant" and "more empty", it's a pretty safe bet that the issue for that wine is not that it hasn't yet peaked. 

Huzzahs to Bell for understanding (I think I'm safely assuming) that, often when you "go back" to something, it comes off as something new.  Then when you get people's attention, there's something to teach.  That's the great value of having classicists!

 

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Reply by EMark, Oct 3, 2011.

Very interesting report, Foxall.  Over the years I have been a big fan of the 2001 cabs and still have several of them squirreled away.

Your comparative Bell/Lanessan tasting was with your dinner.  I am curious if your impressions of the wine changed as you progressed through the dinner.  That is often the case we have experienced when comparing disguised wines as we dine.

If the feeling is that the Lanessan was not, yet, ready, you can look forward to another comparison in a couple years.  I'll bet the Bell will still be viable.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 3, 2011.


There's a review of the Lanessan on K&L's website concurring with my comments.

I really like Bell's wines, and can't really understand why they aren't much more highly regarded. 

I'm pretty sure the Lanessan had peaked, and, as for provenance, K&L assures buyers that they brought it direct from the winery, where it was stored impeccably.  (WineHouseSF did the same, but priced it a couple bucks higher.) The blends are not a perfect match, but Bell is trying for a St. Julien, so the comparison is at least apt in that way, as Lanessan is close to St. Julien.

Not bad, we all enjoyed it, and one could say, well, that's just your California palate.  Obviously,  subjective, no right and wrong, but the unanimity of tastes here suggests from a group of people that universally don't drink sugary drinks or fruit juices or favor high alcohol fruit bombs suggests that the Bell was just more pleasurable. Subjective, of course. JD, a first growth might peak at more than 10 years, and others might hold on well past, but then we're talking wines that cost well into three digits, and sometimes into four.  There's a ton of Bordeaux at mid-level prices that are every bit as expensive as anything short of Colgin, Harlan, Screaming Eagle, that need to be tasted against everything from Ridge Monte Bello down to the Baby Bello.  Let's get working on that!
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Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 3, 2011.

wow, I'm looking at that last comment and it's pretty clear to me the editing function here has problems.

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Reply by JonDerry, Oct 3, 2011.

Going back to the Pontet-Canet 2003 I was telling you about (Maybe a 3rd or 4th growth at time of production), this thing needed 4 days after re-corking every night to start tasting good.  Was totally shut down for the first few days so that's why i'm a little skeptical. 

But to your point that the Bell is a better Cali Cab than the Lanessan is a French Bordeaux, or isn't built for aging as much as typical Bordeaux, I really have no idea.  Never heard of Lanessan honestly.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 3, 2011.

JD, you are officially invited to my younger daughter's 21st birthday party in 2024 if you will bring a bottle of the 2003 Pontet-Canet, which we will drink against a Dunn Howell Mountain from that year.  According to many, a great Bordeaux vintage, the 2nd "vintage of the decade," and not a great year for Napa, although 1) the mountains are more consistent and 2) it's looking better in retrospect. But let's plan to work on this project some more before that.  I've got a 2001 Dunn for my older daughter's 21st, and a bunch of others we can work on short term. 

Lanessan is kind of a strange chateau.  Their own website is an abominable use of flash, but there's lots of information on the Web.  The owners did not submit to the Classification of 1855 because they thought it was marketing nonsense.  (Okay, the most enduring marketing nonsense ever, as it turned out.) Nonetheless, a number of critics have lauded it, and David Peppercorn called it one of the best wines to forgo classification. Here is a little more about it from WineHouse.  Parker loved it, so it had to be big and fruity at some point, right?

I don't think it was shut down, but with that many people at table, opening it for a couple hours ahead of time was about all we could do--we liked it, so we did drink it when the Bell was gone. But that was still only a little while after we started it.

Both were consumed with and without the food, although the Bell was down to its last drops by the time we sat down at the table.  Then we switched to an Umbrian Merlot that was decent, but not in the class of either of these, IMO.

 

 

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Reply by ScottLauraH, Oct 3, 2011.

I'm loving this idea of getting bottles of special wine from your children's birth years to open with them on their 21st birthdays.  I also love the idea of getting wines from your anniversary year to open as a celebration.  Foxall, do you have other wines saved for your 20th anniversary?

I need to locate some good wines from 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005.  I think that's my new project.  Thanks for the idea.

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Reply by JonDerry, Oct 3, 2011.

Pencil me in Fox, hopefully i'm retired by then ; )

I guess I shouldn't be so surprised at the 2001 Bdx, not a very good vintage in Bordeaux. CA is so consistent, the vintage doesn't matter nearly as much.  Always enough sun to go around and ripen the grapes, though it's still helpful to follow the vintage conditions to know what to look for, etc.  Many microclimates in and around Napa, however.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 3, 2011.

Last year in Napa and Sonoma it was a huge challenge--cool, wet, then a week of scorching temps.  Lots of vineyards had trimmed back their canopies and now the grapes were getting sunburned and worse.  In some vineyards, they lost 90% of the crop.  Ouch.  The folks at Bell told me that the spin machine at Mondavi was trying to spin it as a "Bordeaux" like year with lots of "finesse."  They showed me some chardonnay juice that was ghastly--looked like dark, cloudy urine.  2006 was also a substandard year on the valley floor, but much better in the mountains. This year is looking okay, but it's no 2001, 2004 or 2007. Certainly not a 1990.  There are variations.  As of last week, the CS wasn't all in (I thought it was, but I was wrong) and today it's raining.  As it is, the crop is off 50% in much of Napa.  Weird.

2001 not a good year in Bordeaux?  Not everyone agrees.

HAUT MEDOC / MEDOC / MOULIS / LISTRAC

The wine from these less prestigious appellations provided very good quality and superb value. These predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon based wines showed good fruit aromatics and concentration displayng a surprising amount of finesse. Some were short to medium term candidates for drinking while several showed the capacity to age quite well. All in all a strong showing.

Top wines tasted: Potensac, Cambon La Pelouse, Brillette, Sociando Mallet, Camensac, Haut Condissas 'Prestige', La Tour Carnet, Les Grand Chenes 'Prestige', Rollan de By, Lanessan, Maucaillou, and Poujeaux

That's from a retailer in S. Carolina. Note that Lanessan was on their list when released. 

Here's a link to Berry Brothers and Rudd. Their analysis of the vintage: Very good.

And Jancis Robinson thought it was good, if patchy, and that this area--between St. Estephe and St. Julien--was quite good.

I guess that we can only compare Bdx to California when the former is having one of its "great" years. It's just unfair that California has better ripening conditions! ;-) Now, we may need to get a few folks not to pick overripe and then overoak so we can enjoy these wines longer, but my point is that maybe they do age as well as Bdx--that's why we do these experiments, limited though they are.  That, and to have an excuse to drink wine and talk about it.

SLH: Check the threads for birthday bottles, as there has been a lot of discussion and some of those years were covered.  I think any classic Napas from stronger vineyards will work for 2000 and 2001. Dunn, Togni were among the recommendations when I went looking.  2005 was a banner year in Bordeaux, as was 2000, if you believe the Bordeaux hype machine, but the prices reflected it for a while.  I am seeing some deals on the backstock of 2005, but Jon Rimerman at GaragistWines.com says it's drying up. A couple places to find older bottles with good provenance are BPWines and JJBuckley out here in California.  Get on Garagiste's mailing list, because he sometimes has older stuff at good prices. You should be able to find a good specialist in Washington DC, too. 

I resisted the birth year bottle thing for a while, but when I started getting bottles for this year's tenth I caved in. (We've got Brunellos, SuperTuscans, and Riojas, too--anything that is 10 years old we'll drink for the next few months.)  I don't think we'll get a 20 year bottle because our older child will be 21 the following year--she was born about 2 1/2 months after we were married, our "love child."  Check with the Barolo expert (Greg dal Piaz) and the Spanish expert (GregT, who may also recommend a chianti or brunello) and start a forum thread, because dmkcer, SH, JD and others will have lots of great ideas.  I'd also consider Cote Roties and Hermitages because you're going to spend some money and, while their entry level prices aren't cheap, the range isn't too far before you get some very age-worthy Syrahs. 

Five kids, five vintages. And lots of college tuition.  You're gonna want a drink when they turn 18, too.


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Reply by ScottLauraH, Oct 3, 2011.

I love reading the threads on Bordeaux.  I really learn a lot from them.  I would have to say that Bordeaux is probably my weakest area in terms of wine knowledge, and it seems sooooo vast that it's almost to initimidating to start trying to learn completely on my own.

Regarding birth year bottles, we have a 2001 Marquis de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva in the store.  I may snatch that up for one of my girls.  We have a 2005 Ciacci Piccolimi Brunello di Montalcino that I personally love, but I don't know a lot about the ageability of Brunellos.  It's not the only 2005 we have by far, but it's my personal favorite.  I am fairly certain that we don't have any 2000, 2002 or 1995 bottles in the store, so those are the three that I will have to hunt down.

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Reply by JonDerry, Oct 3, 2011.

SLH - Definitely snatch up the 01 Marques de Riscal.  It's a favorite Rioja of most of the board members, and of course a big favorite of GregT.  The wine will keep for decades. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Oct 3, 2011.

Fox - Always have to be careful of generalizations, especially in CA.  All the hype the 07 vintage received was ridiculous.  Great vintage for producers, they had high yields and the wine was generally pretty good, but not noticably better than an average year in CA, so it was a bad deal for the consumer.  I generally prefer 08', low yields and high quality in general...of course that wasn't so good for producers, they couldn't really raise prices either, have to take the good yielding years with the bad.  Definitely agree on 06', it produced some epic wines in the valley, in many cases, much better than the hyped 07!

Re: 2001 Bordeaux.  Haven't tasted enough, though the info you post is interesting.  The vintage is a big deal in Bordeaux every year i've followed it.  From average to kind of good in parts of the right bank in 08, and of course we know the story the last couple years.  It's safe to say 01 was about average for Bordeaux, but nothing like what you'd get in one of their top vintages.  I'm of the belief a good and well situated winery will make good-great wine in Napa pretty much every year, borrowing the unforseen.  In Bordeaux, they can only do it usually a few years out of 10, another few years about average, and the rest not so great. The weather's a much bigger deal over there.

Re: 2009/10/11 Napa-Sonoma vintages.  I've heard a lot of talk of sister vintages (2007 & 2009, and that 2008 & 2011 will be similar) Have generally heard good things about 2010.  it's all good in CA!  Check out the micro-climates and do a little research on what wineries to buy from year to year, but there's almost always excellent wine and value year after year.  The frost, or windows of poor conditions tend to be dramaticized IMO, but that's typical of CA's people.  Get any bit of weird weather and we can't handle it!

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Reply by ScottLauraH, Oct 4, 2011.

JonDerry, thanks.  I think I will snatch that Rioja up.  We also have the 2005 Reserva.  Maybe that over the Brunello?  How well does sparkling wine age?  We have some 2000 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut that is excellent. 

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 4, 2011.

Brunellos will age very well, though I haven't drunk the version you currently carry. It's worth a try, I would think, though, though you might also look at for some alternatives from Tuscany. Sparkling can also age well, but ditto my comment for your Argyle....

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Reply by JonDerry, Oct 4, 2011.

Finally signed up for Garagiste...and today went for a few bottles of the Brunello offer.

Also saw the essay on Bordeaux vintages. Very interesting and helpful to someone like me.  Now i've heard positive things about 00, 01, 03, 05, 06, 08, 09, 10.  With 00, 05, and 09 being the hyped, with 01, 03, 06 having cred. 08 not to be dismissed.

02, 04, and 07? 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 4, 2011.

JD--funny about the Marques de Riscal: In one of the essays about Lanessan, I read that the winemaker from Lanessan was the one that Riscal brought in to improve their wines--going back to GregT's post a while back about the main "improvement" that Bdx sent to Spain was the insight that topping the barrels to prevent oxidation.  Key improvement in making still table wines.

Speaking of Brunellos, for the older child's 10th b-day this week, we'll break open a 2000 Terralsole Brunello.  I've had this wine already this year and it's aging beautifully--got it from Garagiste.  I'm going to share it with the grandparents, cousins over 21, etc. Taking GregT's advice, I'm not going to wait--better, as he says, to drink it on the way up than on the way down.

And JD, I have 5 cases set for fall delivery from Garagiste, a mix of stuff.  Hadn't bit on anything for a while because I didn't want anymore wines held back.  But I signed up for 3 of those Brunellos. 

SLH, sparklers can age, but don't know about the Argyle.  Definitely better vintages of champagne.  We'll crack another 1999 PJ Belle Epoque this NYE, and I expect it will be terrific, as it was two years ago. I think to go 21 years you'd have to be even more selective than that, try to find a Salon or Krug. But those are out of my experience and price range.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 4, 2011.

JD, I'm not sure I agree about the over-dramaticization of the weather in Napa and Sonoma.  The rain at flowering this year was a disaster, and yields will be dramatically lower as a result.  The rain washed off pollen that was needed to fertilize the flowers and create fruit.  We're talking 1/2 as much fruit, shoots and even entire plants with no fruit.  This isn't like thinning, aka dropping fruit, that intensifies the flavors.  This is bare shoots, a very bad thing.  And harvest is late this year, and it's raining, which can mean lots of rot.  If warm weather followed, or even mild but windy weather, it would dry the grapes out enough that rot doesn't do as much damage, but it's looking really problematic from my office window in Oakland.  Most of the whites and merlot are in, but the CS is on the vine... I just checked.  It's no small thing. 

And last year's heat wave was a disaster, too.  No exaggeration there--I think it was outthere that said that some sites lost 90% of their fruit.  What I saw in October (besides a truck that had tipped over and spilled tons of grapes on the highway!) was pretty frightening, and I've been going up there for a long time.  The growers have to make decisions pretty early on about leaf canopies, yield reduction, and so on pretty early and can be caught completely off guard when something weird happens.  Which it does, quite a bit.  Bdx has more to worry about, with it's latitude and the like, but Napa and Sonoma are so dependent on wine now that the economy up there gets jolted if yields are even a little off, or quality drops.  Then people get even more likely to call Enologix or manipulate what they have.

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Reply by dmcker, Oct 4, 2011.

Yeah, would be interesting to hear from outthere on how producers are dealing with the fruit they were able to harvest last year...

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