Mature Burgundies and Bordeaux at Gravity Wine Bar; Upcoming Donato Enoteca Italian Winetasting

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MATURE BURGUNDIES AND BORDEAUX AT GRAVITY WINE BAR – Gravity Wine Bar, Palo Alto, California (9/6/2011)

Palo Alto and its environs are blessed with many excellent wine-oriented dining spots. One of the newest is Gravity Wine Bar. It was launched by the team that owns Scratch, Palo Alto Creamery and Reposado. Reposado is another excellent spot to do wine dinners, which is unusual as one doesn’t normally think of Mexican food pairing all that well with fine wine. Since they know wine there, however, they go out of their way to find combinations that work. The food at Gravity, however, is even more calibrated to work with a variety of fine wines. For starters, the menu includes a large selection of charcuterie, a couple of patés, and several tasty appetizers, including boudin blanc sausage, moules frites with Pernod, and burrata. The entrees include braised beef short ribs, duck confit and a $12 bistro burger.

So is there a better way to spend a Tuesday evening than sharing Burgundy and Bordeaux from great years with old buddies? I don’t think so. In honor of one of peripatetic, legendary wine offline host Jonathan Dinh’s rare visits our way these days, since he moved to Singapore a couple years ago, we gathered at Gravity for good food and some stellar wines from specific years. The Burgs hailed from the great Burgundy vintages of 1978, 1985, 1990, 1993 and 1996 (okay, so a ’91 crept in there too). The Bordeaux were products of the incredible years 1982 and 1989. And our lone Super Tuscan, which turned out to be my WOTN, was a 1993 Tignanello. Yeah, a memorable Tuesday alright.

The vintages represented at this reunion tasting were extraordinary years from Burgundy and Bordeaux, and we enjoyed many great wines as a result. Nonetheless, my wine of the night was the sexy, complex and delicious 1993 Super Tuscan Tignanello from Antinori. For more details on the wines, and my tasting notes, see below.

A fun and highly educational tasting of Italian wines is coming up at Redwood City’s Donato Enoteca this coming Saturday. From 1 pm to 4 pm, you can taste 100 current release Italian wines, or more. I’ve attended this event for the past couple years, and plan to be there this coming Saturday. To save $10 on tickets for the event, bringing the price down on a fun event, which includes great food and live music, from $55 to $45, use the event code “rjonwine” here. My report on last year’s Donato 100 tasting can be found here.

For a great discussion of the 100-point scale that has come to dominate analysis and recommendation of wines, see’s panel, including Richard Jennings, which went up on the site tonight.

White Burg Starter

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This was a great start to a lovely evening. Les Caillerets is a large vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet, at 10.68 hectares, and the name indicates a stony soil with very little earth. The vineyard is entirely planted to Chardonnay, to which it gives a minerally, complex, ageworthy expression. 1993 was a terrific vintage for both white and red Burgundy, and this is a particularly ageworthy and complex example. It went beautifully with our chicken salad starter.

Older Red Burgs

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This was an enjoyable older flight of red Burgundies, beginning with the very fine 1978 vintage, and continuing with a few examples of the ripe and generous 1985 vintage. The wine of this flight for me was the Bouchard Hospices de Beaune bottling Monthélie Cuvee Lebelin. The Hospices de Beaune is a charity for the poor and needy that was established in the 1400s in Burgundy. Over the years, vineyards and parcels of vineyards have been willed to this charity, and great producers and winemakers make wines from these vineyards for sale at the annual November auctions held to raise money for this charity. Gravity’s steak tartare is a delicious appetizer that went surprisingly well with this flight.

  • 1978 Lionel J. Bruck Gevrey-Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin
    Bricked medium cherry red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, mature, tart cherry, dried cherry, soy sauce, baked strawberry, light lavender nose; mature, lovely, tart cherry, tart strawberry palate with leanness and good acidity; goes downhill though after 20 minutes in the glass; medium-plus finish 91+ points
  • 1985 Bouchard Père et Fils Monthélie Cuvee Lebelin Hospices de Beaune – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Monthélie
    Bricked medium red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, lifted, baked raspberry, baked strawberry, strawberry preserves, rose petal and light herbs nose; tasty, mature, baked cherry, tart cherry, tart strawberry preserves palate with balance; medium-plus finish 93+ points
  • 1985 Louis Latour Clos Vougeot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
    Bricked medium red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; troublesome, maderized, tart red apples nose; better on palate, mature, light strawberry, tart cherry applesauce palate with near medium acicity; medium finish 88 points
  • 1985 Domaine Philippe Naddef Mazis-Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
    Bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; white chocolate, tart cherry, cranberry, baked sardine nose; nice tart cherry, black cherry, mineral palate that pulls back on the finish; medium-plus finish 91+ points

Younger Red Burgs

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1993 and 1996 are both great vintages for red Burgundy, although 1996 was a particularly tannic year that has taken some time to come around. That’s why I was particularly impressed by the 1996 Chevillon Les Roncières in this flight. Chevillon is my favorite producer in Nuits St. Georges, and Roncières is a smallish premier cru vineyard, at not quite one hectare, on a steep slope that usually has a sense of garrigue, or local herbs. I thought the 1996 Chevillon Les Roncières was outstanding, and that it will also age for 15 to 20 more years, with ease. The Jadot Clos St. Jacques from the same vintage is also a very youthful wine with good complexity that needs a few more years of bottle age to show what it’s fully capable of. The mushroom risotto went particularly well with this flight.

  • 1993 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Aux Malconsorts – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
    Bricking medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; light TCA, baked cherry nose; tart cherry, tart red fruit palate with good texture, medium acidity and a touch of cork; medium finish (NR/flawed)
  • 1996 Domaine Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Roncières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru
    Slightly bricking dark cherry red color; rich, baked cherry, baking spice, black cherry nose; voluptuous, rich, youthful yet, silky textured, tart black cherry, cranberry, mineral palate; will go 20-plus years; medium-plus finish 94 points
  • 1996 Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru
    Dark cherry red color; nice, lightly woodsy, black cherry nose with subtle sweet green herb; youthful and a little tight yet, velvety textured, tart cherry, tart black cherry, black raspberry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 more years; medium-plus finish 92+ points

More Red Burgs

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This was an interesting juxtaposition of an overhyped Burgundy vintage (1990) with an underappreciated one (1991). Intriguingingly, both were quite youthful and showing well. Boillot is an excellent producer, and their Jarollières Pommard is a delicious Pommard. The name Jarollières derives from an old word for “maurading spirits,” possibly werewolves, who allegedly frequented this area. Bernard Maume owns .67 hectares of the 9.10 hectare Mazis-Chambertin grand cru vineyard, with characteristic firm structure and power.

  • 1990 J.M. Boillot Pommard 1er Cru Les Jarollieres – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pommard 1er Cru
    Bricking, opaque red violet color; nice, roses, mineral, black raspberry nose; rich, youthful, black raspberry, black cherry, mineral palate with good acidity; will go 20+ years; medium-plus finish 93 points
  • 1991 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
    Slightly bricking dark cherry red color; tart red fruit, mineral, deep beef jus nose; tasty, structured, beef jus, mineral palate with firm tannins; will go 25 years; medium-plus finish 93 points

Bordeaux Flight

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1982 is the great, very ripe vintage on which Robert Parker made his reputation, and our 1982 Bordeaux were very good, especially the very youthful Ducru-Beaucaillou. Our Figeac, also from a ripe vintage, 1989, was similarly quite delicious and youthful.

  • 1982 Château de Pez – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
    Bricking dark red violet color; earthy, tobacco, beef jus, pencil lead nose; tasty, mature, tobacco, lamb jus, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 92 points
  • 1982 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
    Very dark red violet color; reticent, herb, green tobacco nose; tasty, youthful, silky textured, tart plum, currant, cedar palate, showing good breeding but restrained; medium-plus finish (decanted for 90 minutes) 93 points
  • 1989 Château Figeac – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
    Intriguing, tart currant, tobacco, mineral nose; youthful, tart currant, tobacco, mineral, herbs, sweet black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points


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Sometime after 1900–when Piero Antinori, head of the great Antinori winemaking family that has been producing wine for 600 years, purchased several vineyards in Chianti Classico, including 47 hectares at Tignanello–he planted some Bordeaux varieties in Tignanello. Piero’s son Niccolo scandalized the region in 1924 by making a “Chianti” containing these Bordeaux varieties. A couple of decades later, in the mid-1940s, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, founder of Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, started producing a wine called Sassicaia (“stony field” in Italian) using Cabernet Sauvignon vines sourced from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. This wine, made only for family consumption for many years, was aged in French barriques instead of the large Slovenian casks that otherwise dominated winemaking in the region. Starting in 1968, renowned consultants Emile Peynaud and Giacomo Tachis were engaged to improve the quality of this wine. The resulting Sassicaia was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but it was not released commercially until the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, in 1968, Azienda Agricola San Felice produced the first commercially available wine of the type that would subsequently be called Super Tuscan, by eliminating the white grapes (Malvasia and/or Trebbiano) that were then required in Chianti, and making the wine instead entirely out of Sangiovese. They named it Vigorello. In 1971, the grandson of the Piero Antinori who purchased the Tignanello vineyard, whose name was also Piero, was inspired by trying his cousin’s Sassicaia to produce a Sangiovese-based wine that included Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for greater richness. The wine thus created he named Tignanello, after the vineyard that was the source of the grapes. From 1975, white grapes were also eliminated from this wine and it included 20% Bordeaux varieties. Since 1982, this wine has been made with 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

After Tignanello and Sassicaia became critical and commercial successes, the Chianti Classico DOCG rules were changed to accommodate wines without white grapes, and to include up to 20% of red grapes other than Sangiovese.

Until 1994, these wines that didn’t comply with any of the existing DOC(G) rules had to be labeled as “vino da tavola,” i.e., table wine–the European Union’s lowest classification for wine. In 1994, an IGT category was added to cover these wines. In 1995, the DOC rules were further changed to allow Chianti to be made from 100% Sangiovese. Despite these changes, Tignanello and many other Super Tuscans that could now use the Chianti DOC continue to be labelled as Toscana IGT wines.

Our 1993 was youthful and complex, with many years yet to go, and a delicious mix of black fruits, spice box and dried berries with sweet tannins on the palate. It was definitely my wine of the night (WOTN).

  • 1993 Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT – Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
    Very dark red violet color; sexy, black fruit, baked berry, dried berry, tobacco nose; youthful, tart berry, tart black fruit, spice box, dried berry palate with sweet tannins; needs 3 years yet; long finish (my WOTN) 96 points

Sweet Finish

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To finish the evening, we had one of California’s greatest sweet wines ever–one that I bought a half case of after I first tried it–a rare late harvest Chardonnay from a new producer, Baton, made by Jeff Pisoni, wnemaker for Pisoni, Fort Ross and Baton. The 2006 vintage in Sonoma was one of those rare ones–it happens every 15 to 20 years–where a rainy spring and two weeks of cool and cloudy weather in September permitted botrytis cinerea to develop on some of the grape clusters. Baton’s owner asked vineyard owner Charles Heintz to let those clusters continue to hang after the rest of the Chardonnay was picked. In November, they finally picked these botrytised grapes at 36.4 brix. The results, in the hands of Pisoni winemaker Jeff Pisoni, were, I think, pretty spectacular. The wine had good acidity, with a pH of 3.58, and reached 15.2% residual sugar. As usual, this wine was showing rich lime cream and lemon meringue flavors, with good balancing acidity.

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