“Vintage Pairs” Blind Tasting

In this blind tasting session, we select five wines, serve them blind and, as a group, work deductively through the tasting process to uncover the wine. The trick here is we actually serve ten wines – two wines with something in common, served in pairs.

 1st Pair: 1985 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou (Ex Chateau) & Chateau Leoville Las Cases 

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is considered to be one of Bordeaux’s Super Seconds. It’s located in the south-eastern part of the commune of St. Julien on Bordeaux’s Left Bank and the vineyard is distinctive because of the large stones that make up the soil. The word ‘Beaucaillou’ translates to beautiful stones. This estate is owned by the Borie family and is made up of 50 hectares of vineyards planted with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. For ageing the wine sees 75-90% new oak and is aged for 18 to 20 months.

Chateau Léoville Las Cases dates back to the 17th century, it has been one of the oldest and largest estates in Medoc and was owned by some of the wealthiest and influential noble French families prior its acquisition by the Las Cases family. “Léoville” means Lion Town (on the arch at the main entrance, featured on the wine label), and Las Cases were the heirs to the property until 1900 when the Delon family acquired the estate and it has been in that family ever since.

The main vineyard block (about 60 hectares) for making “The Grand-Vin” is called “Grand Clos” located north of St Julien, adjoining Latour and overlooking the Gironde. It is one of the finest in the Medoc, composed of Quaternary gravel over sand and clay subsoils. The slopes and tiny streams provide perfect drainage. There were major replantings in the 1950’s, the average age of the vines is 30 years. The annual production is 30,000 cases. The grapes are harvested by hand, fermentation occurs in wooden, cement and stainless steel vats. The wine is aged in French oak barriques, around 80% is new oak (exact percentage varies depending on vintage) for an average of 18 months before bottling. The wine is classified a second growth in the Grand Cru classification of 1855. But to a lot of Bordeaux lovers, the quality reflected by this wine is comparable to any first growths. If there was a reclassification, many argue that it should be integrated into 1er Cru Classés.

Far too often, these great 1985s get overshadowed by the other outstanding vintages of 1982, 1989 and 1990. However, I believe we will all be impressed and reminded not to overlook 1985 after tasting these wines.

 2nd Pair: 2008 Maison M. Chapoutier Ermitage 'Le Pavillon' & Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillots 

Chapoutier has been producing wines in the Rhône for the last two hundred years. This single vineyard, ‘Le Pavillon’, is approximately 4 hectares planted in granite subsoil with rocks, stones and clay. In 1990, Michel Chapoutier, took the reins from his father, and he’s very much propelled this winery forward. Two of the primary changes Michel made was converting the farming practices of the vineyards to follow biodynamic principles and total destemming of the grapes.

Le Pavillon comes from the Bessards section of the Hermitage hill and is located in the middle of the slope. The wine is made from 100% Syrah, and the vines are 90-100 years old. Grapes for this wine are totally destemmed and fermented in concrete tanks. The wine is aged in French oak casks for 18-20 months with 30% of the oak being new.

I am a great admirer of Cornas wines. For a long time it was an open secret that the wines were amongst the front ranks of all Northern Rhône Syrahs, yet the price was always guilt-inducingly low. Not so anymore, deservedly. Thierry Allemand is the reference when it comes to Cornas. 5ha composed of the best location in the area, 100% Syrah is planted here. The man behind this fabulous wine makes most of the work by himself, from the vineyard to bottling.

Most of producers in this appelation blend the lieux-dits into one cuvee, but he has a Burgundian approach, he bottles his lieux-dits separately. Very high % of whole clusters give a floral and delicate flavours. His wines spend 2 years in barrel and received limited amount of SO2, no filtration, no fining.

He learnt his knowledge from legends in the region: Noel Verset and Joseph Michel. Allemand had to adapt a lot to climate change.

Wines from this region has changed a lot since the 90's, they had much harder tannins due to lack of ripeness, now the issue is extreme heat that might give heaviness. Talented producers like Thierry Allemand found the perfect balance.

3rd Pair: 2014 & 2015 Caballus Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

For this pair, we are tasting head to head of the same wine 2 vintages in a row, so we can really taste the influence of a vintage. First, a bit of history here: Caballus Pinot Noir is a tiny production Pinot Noir made by two friends, Véronique Drouhin and Isabelle Dutartre, who met at a riding club in Beaune thirty years ago. Caballus is made in the Willamette Valley in Oregon with grapes from two of its best AVAs – Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills. In the winemaking, they use wild yeast for fermentation and then age the wine in French oak barrels approximately one third of which are new.

The 2014 vintage in Oregon was known for being a hot vintage and a large crop. One of those rare vintages when everyone is excited—writers and winemakers love the quality, grape growers had no handwringing to do and yields pleased bankers, which also means relatively reasonable prices! Wine quality is excellent, based on full ripeness, probably the cleanest fruit one have seen in decades, and restrained extractions in fermentation to compensate for the warmest growing season on record assure balance. Driven by many very hot summer days and warmer thermal lows, good crop load balance and harvest timing gave reasonable alcohols. The 2015 vintage was slightly different in early growing season timing from 2014, but the final effect was the same, with big heat, big crop and big expectations. The acids are down, the alcohols are slightly over 14% on average so to minimize over-extraction is the key. Experience winemakers can archive in more elegant wines than a hot vintage deserves.

 4th Pair: 1989 Chateau Coutet 'Cuvee Madame' (100% Semillion) & Chateau Suduiraut Creme de Tete  

For this pair, we will be tasting two special crème-de-tête cuvée from Barsac and Sauternes appellations of Bordeaux. The term special crème-de-tête is a French designation for particularly noble wines. The 1988 winter was sunny, dry and cold. These conditions were favorable to ensure the good dormancy of the vine. April was cold and rainy but May brought temperatures well over 30°C, between the 17th and 25th of the month. This resulted in early flowering, amongst the earliest of the century. July, June and August were hot and sunny with, fortunately, some precipitations in the form of thunderstorms that ensured a good water supply. September was comparable to the three previous months. The number of sunny days during the summer was only slightly lower than the record year of 1961.

Cuvée Madame is created in 1922, in the honour of Madame Rolland-Guy, the previous owner of Château Couet. On the final day of harvest, the workers picked the grapes without pay and that day's wine was kept apart and named in her honour. This cuvee is only produce in the very best year when conditions allow for such a day of concentrated musts: just 17 out of the last 70 vintages. Sometimes consisting of no more than two barrels (600 bottles) and never more than six (1800 bottles).

The grapes originates from the property’s two oldest parcels of Sémillon, with average age of 55 years old. The selection process is painstaking as each grape is picked one-by-one by hand. And a second sorting take place before the wine press as damaged grapes are eliminated immediately. A single, light pressing (at less than 180 kg/cm2) produces a clear, limpid juice. Alcohol fermentation takes place in new French oak barrels. The large amount of natural sugar forces the yeast to work slowly and develop secondary aromas that will contribute to the wine’s complexity. The wine is aged in barrels for three years before bottling.

Leonard Suduiraut gave his name to this Chateau based in Preignac in 1580. Since 1992 AXA group took over the estate and keep making great Sauternes out of the 92 hectares. This 1989 Creme de tete is the last vintage ever produced of this cuvee. It is a sweeter version of Sauterne, more concentrated rounder. This wine is often compare to Yquem, it was made to life forever. If can be compared to a TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese) from Mosel in Germany. Both bottles are now very difficult to track down.

5th Pair: 1988 & 2002 Piper Heidsieck Rare 

The origin of Rare Champagne is confirmed in 1885 for the celebration of the presentation of the first Cuvée de Prestige by Piper-Heidsieck to Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1785. For this exceptional centenary, the famous jeweler Pierre-Karl Fabergé, Jeweler of The Czar Alexandre III, was commissioned to create a more than precious bottle in gold, diamonds and lapis-lazuli. In a way, this was the first RARE Millésime.  Hundred years later, Van Cleef & Arpels created an extraordinary high-jewellery bottle to protect RARE Millésime 1976, the first commercial vintage born from the uncommon heatwave in France. Since then, RARE Millésime is only produced in the very best years in Champagne. Since the inaugural 1976 vintage, only 11 vintages have been released.

RARE Millésime is mostly a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The unique Chardonnay grapes from la Montagne de Reims, famous region for Pinot noir, give the incredible endless freshness and its timeless youth while the Pinot Noir grapes bring sheer intensity and structure.

RARE Millésime is recognizable by its notes of tropical, fresh fruits and smooth spices — sometimes candied — its smoky accents, expressing the minerality of the Chardonnay grapes rooted in limestone and enhanced by exotic harmonies. The 1988 is an opulent vintage with weeks of record heat vied with very cool temperatures. Meanwhile the benevolent sunny weather in 2002 gave a generous crops, resulted in a deep, sumptuous vintage.