Nothing is as humbling, as clearly façade crushing and as egalitarian as that old weapon in the wine geeks' quiver, the feared blind tasting! Sitting down with an array of wines in front you sitting in their smug brown paper wrappers, or in this case their snazzy unlabeled bottles marked A-H (we are after all professionals at this) can be an unnerving experience, if you are prone to that sort of behavior. For me it is exercise!
I get to work my mind and my jaw as I pontificate with varying (absolute) degrees of certainty regarding the origins of the wines presented to me. I may be joking a bit here but I do love blind tasting. It allows you to judge a wine simply for what it is at the moment you are tasting it. Such acetic simplicity works for me. Of course there are drawbacks.
Many wines show poorly at a particular point in their evolution, some are supposed to be funky or are intentionally, either through practice or benign neglect, laced with complexity enhancing defects but there is always time to make adjustments (excuses) to one’s impressions once the labels are revealed.
Another factor that is impossible to discount is that we are naturally impacted by the price of the bottle, fame of the producer, associations we have from drinking other vintages of the Domains’ wine. In short we are easily swayed. Not being able to see the label is an easy fix!
On this particular evening we were tasting single blind as opposed to double blind. Double blind is truly tasting in the dark, you have no idea what wines you are sampling. With our single blind array this evening we knew before hand what the wines were, mostly 2005 Northern Rhones, but did not know which bottle was which. As usual there were some serious surprises in store for us at the unveil! But now lets go to the notes.
2006 Dom du Tunnel St. Joseph about $35
2005 JL Chave Crozes hermitage Silene about $24
2005 Jaboulet “Thalabert” Crozes Hermitage about $45
2006 A Graillot Crozes Hermitage about $30
2005 A Clape Cornas Cuvee Renaissance about $55
2005 Dom du Tunnel Cornas about $50
2005 J Champet Cote Rotie La Vialliere about $40
2005 B Levet Cote Rotie Les Journaires about $65
The scores indicate my placement/the groups placement/totally points allocated by the group.
Wine A - My third/groups fifth/ 43 points
This is sappy and fresh on the nose with a touch of lift from some alcohol and maybe a smidge of VA. The aromatics really gain in intensity but stay within a moderate register of mineral and rosemary inflected wild red berries. In the mouth this starts out with some distinctly hard acids that make the balanced tannins seem a bit soft. There seems to be a bit of hollowness at first on the palate and the alcohol is a bit obvious but the palate fills in well with red fruit and gentle spice notes. This has excellent focus and is aggressively structured yet wonderfully well balanced with excellent purity and great length if a touch simple. A very pretty wine that is so well made this must be the Chave. And it is! 91pts
Wine B - My second/Groups tied for third/ 42 points
Shallow and floral at first with stemmy tones and a slight woodiness. Real herbaceous quality with a peppery edge, here almost smells like a bit of Cab franc made it’s way into the blend. This is lightish in the mouth with stemmy tannins and soft intensity but layers of leather, clay, savory meatiness and ripe fruits offer a gentle complexity. This has classic old school structure but seems as though it has yet to fully come together, a wine that strikes me as having great potential but not for todays consumption. It seems to have the qualities of Levets Cote Rotie. I am only half right, it’s the Champet! 88pts
Wine C - My eight/groups seventh/54 points
Just bursting with intense fruitiness and a touch of oaken spice this is simple and modern on the nose. A touch soft in the mouth and even loose this seems both over-cropped and over-extracted with a very industrial feel that combines a hollow midpalate with somewhat austere tannins. With time this gains a bit of elegance but really only because it lacks stuffing though what fruit there is nice, ripe and sweet. Simple and ordinary this must be the Jaboulet Thalabert. Zut alors! It is in fact the Clape Cornas. From one of Cornas greatest winemakers! I am ashamed, wait a minute, I didn’t make this! In that case I am just wrong. 86pts
Wine D - My seventh/groups eigth/59 points.
Wow this smells like crap, sulphur and petrol dominate but there seems to be very aromatic, gamey, feral fruit laying in wait underneath. Tough in the mouth and very structured and lean. Seems intended for the long haul with the sulphur and structure this will need a decade to come around. I am stumped. The feel and weight are definitely Cote Rotie so I guess the Champet. Half right and I do accept partial credit! It’s the Levet 87pts
Wine E - My fourth/Groups second/40 points
Very fine on the nose with superb purity to the syrah fruit with blackberry, floral/herbal nuance, granitic minerality and a touch of wood. Very well balanced in the mouth with bright red fruits given good thrust by the bright, juicy acids, finishes a bit short and tight at this point with lovely cranberry fruit in a lean, sinewy package. There is good stuffing here but it is tightly wound. This strikes me as very well managed Cornas, the Dom Du Tunnel. Foiled again but the perennial over-achiever Alain Graillot!! 92pts
Wine F - My first/groups first/ 33 points
Restrained at first gentle unfolding to reveal a core of sweet fruit combining excellent intensity and complexity a complete nose, this is made a touch more appealing by the subtly sweet wood spice tones. Rich and integrated in the mouth, nicely balanced, precise minerality. Very fine medium bodied balance with great power and depth, perfect density though turning a bit chunky with air. This is a very attractive Syrah for now and over the medium term. This is so good and with a sense of elegance it must be the Champet Cote Rotie. I am so wrong, one of my Rhone wines ever, it’s the Jaboulet Thalabert!!!! 92pts
Wine - G My sixth/group sixth/47 points
Reticent at first with a growing core of meaty fruit then significant woodpsice and smoky tones and finally top notes of flowers, sweet fruit and savory meats. This is round and fleshy in the mouth with a touch of mushroomy earthiness. Extracted and powerful yet balanced. This really only speaks on the finish with it’s very fine, lean, mineral core of Cornas fruit. This needs several years but has such a solid, balanced core of fruit I’m sure it will blossom into something very attractive. This must be the Clape Cornas. Partial credit it’s the Domaine du Tunnel! 88pts
Wine -H My fifth/Groups tied for third/42 points
Modern and simple on the nose but with nice purity to the smoky mulberry fruit, layered sweaty saddle notes and touch of toast. In the mouth this is round and fleshy with soft tannins and good acids offering lively balance. Not much follow through at first though the acid does drive some fruit tones for a moderate length finish. The tannins here are a touch drying but amply buffered by the flesh fruit. This has the classic St. Joseph profile that marries some of the fruit of Cornas to a softer, rounder structure. Obviously the Domaine du Tunnel St. Joseph. I’ll take that as a win! 88pts
So that was it. The groups’ favorite wines were the less expensive examples. The heavy hitters under-performed. Of course these wines are a great example of the shortcoming of blind tasting. The heavy hitters are, after all, made by design, in a style that should reward ageing and thus would not be expected to show at their best at such a young age. I’ve had enough 20-year-old bottles of Thalabet and Graillot to say Bull to that. These vintages may not have the same staying power as those great vintages of the eighties but I am confident that these wines will improve for the next 5-10 years and will continue put in impressive showings. Will they continue to outshine the Clapes and Levets, perhaps not but I the only way to say for sure is to reschedule this tasting for 2013 and 2018!
AS far as my performance goes I nailed two of the wines and was correct as far as appellation went with another two, not at all disappointing. Blind tasting may be fun but it’s really tricky judging young wines in particular. Like I said it can be a humbling experience!
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