Master Class for a Group of Baltimore Surgeons

  • Robert M. Parker, Jr.

  • 26 Sep 2010 | Events

This was a tutored wine tasting I conducted for a group of renowned surgeons from Baltimore’s top hospitals, primarily Johns Hopkins. I provided all the wines from my cellar. The theme of the tasting was to compare Old World wines to those from the New World, with the provision that most New World wines tend to be 1-2 percent higher in alcohol, more exuberant, and less restrained than their European counterparts. The only exceptions to this rule were Flight 1 and Flight 3, which were meant to cover a variety of styles.

There could not be two more different Champagnes than Dom Pérignon’s 2000 and Bollinger’s 1990 RD. The Bollinger, which was aged a long time in barrel and bottle before being released, reveals an oxidative, roasted nut, caramelized character along with full body and a powerful (no doubt from the Pinot Noir in the blend) style. It is a much bigger, fuller effort than Dom Pérignon’s classic 2000. The latter offering is much more citrusy and fresh. My personal tastes lean toward the Dom Pérignon, but it is easy to admire Bollinger’s style, and for a 20-year old Champagne, it had surprising power and effervescence.

Niellon’s 1996 Chassagne Montrachet Champs Gain has been a paradox, to say the least. Probably 50% of the bottles I have served have been totally oxidized. However, at this tasting, it was as crisp, clean, and pristine as a Colorado mountain stream. Still young, vibrant, medium-bodied, with lots of acidity, this beauty was loaded with white currant, quince, crushed rock, and a hint of white flower notes. At 8 years of age, the 2002 Peter Michael Indigène is holding up very gracefully, unusual for a California Chardonnay. Neither ponderous nor heavily oaked, it exhibits lots of yeasty brioche notes intermixed with notions of honeyed marmalade and nectarines offered in a medium to full-bodied style. While more powerful than the Niellon, it still possesses excellent freshness and delineation.

Flight 3 was meant to showcase one great Nebbiolo-based wine as well as a Priorato wine based on Grenache. Approaching full maturity, the 1997 Pira Barolo Marenca revealed classic Nebbiolo aromas of licorice, tobacco leaf, spice box, and black cherries, full body, refreshing acidity, a lusty, heady mouthfeel, and no hard edges. The 1998 Clos Erasmus from Priorato is just heading into adolescence. Darker ruby/purple-colored than the Barolo, it exhibited abundant notes of sweet black raspberry and blackberry fruit notes interwoven with hints of graphite, licorice, and wet rocks. It is an impressive effort from this estate owned by American importer Eric Solomon and his Swiss wife, Daphne Glorian.

Flight 4 was intended to showcase French Burgundy versus California Pinot Noir. A wine I bought on Pierre-Antoine Rovani’s recommendation was Louis Jadot’s 2002 Chapelle Chambertin. It was very disappointing - light ruby-hued with an absence of texture and fruit, tasting desicated and excessively austere. The 1999 Marcassin Pinot Noir was the least impressive bottle I have had of that wine, which has revealed considerable bottle variation over past tastings. This vintage has matured quickly for Marcassin, which is an anomaly. The 2002 Kistler Pinot Noir is a far more dynamic Pinot, displaying lots of blue fruits, raspberries, kirsch, minerals, earth, and spice overtones. The Marcassin offers more plum, meat, and forest floor characteristics in its evolved personality. Based on this bottle, it needs to be drunk over the near term. Surprisingly, half of the group of 24 surgeons preferred the Marcassin and the other half the Kistler Pinot Noir. As I recall, the Jadot Chapelle Chambertin received one vote.

Flight 5 was dedicated to displaying the glories of Grenache. The 2001 Domaine du Pégaüwas surprisingly evolved and open with a relatively moderate color for a Cuvée Réservée, with some pink and amber at the edge. This medium to full-bodied wine showed lots of sandy, balsam wood notes intermixed with lavender, garrigue, and kirsch. While this 2001 was outstanding, it didn’t ring as many bells for me as most Pégaü Cuvée Réservées tend to do. The Alban 2000 Pandora was a revelation. John and Lorraine Alban’s Grenache-dominated cuvée was a brilliant wine, although it did come out of a magnum, which was a definite advantage for it. Its dense ruby/purple color was accompanied by a beautiful, sweet nose of black fruits, licorice, forest floor, and earth. Full-bodied, unctuously textured, and rich with a ravishing flavor profile, this wine can easily evolve for another decade or more.

We then moved into three completely different styles of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. The superb, fully mature 1990 Léoville Poyferré shows no signs of decline. Aromas of cedar wood, black currant, spice box, and earth jump from the glass of this dark plum/ruby/purple-colored wine. Sweet, expansive, and savory, with extremely low acidity, lots of glycerin, and a heady richness, this is as seductive as a St.-Julien can be. It should drink beautifully for another decade. Also a beauty, the 1999 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon reminded me of Lafite Rothschild, perhaps because of its lead pencil/graphite notes. It exhibited a more saturated color than the Léoville Poyferré along with sweet tannins, medium to full body, an elegant mouthfeel, and lots of rich fruit (primarily black currants) and earthy notes. Dunn’s 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain was brilliant. Randy Dunn has made himself a somewhat controversial figure by attacking some of the higher octane styles of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I find to be silly since there has never been an issue with the longevity or the quality of his wines. Moreover, isn’t there room for everybody? So, why fight it? This 1992 is still a youngster at 18 years of age, revealing beautiful black currant fruit intermingled with earth, mineral, and spice box characteristics. It is a classic high elevation Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that should last another 10-20 years.

Along with the Jadot 2002 Chapelle Chambertin, the other disappointing wine opened was the1998 Old Bastard Shiraz, which was meant to showcase the glories of Barossa. I gave this a so-so note in my retrospective of older Australian wines, and I hoped this bottle would redeem that earlier commentary. However, it showed way too much oak, and seems to have lost all the baby fat and richness it had in its youth. Perhaps it is just going through an awkward stage, but it appears to be drying out. Its disappointment was easily compensated for by two extraordinary Syrahs, one from the North Coast (the Pax 2003 Syrah Cuvée Keltie) and one from the Central Coast (Sine Qua Non’s 2003 Papa). Both wines performed at all-time high levels. The Pax Cuvée Keltie, like most of the Pax 2003s, is brilliant. Aromas of meat, tapenade, blackberries, cassis, and tar jump from the glass of this full-bodied, unctuously textured, yet still vibrant, young wine. It is a brilliant example of California Syrah that has a long future ahead of it. The finest bottle I have yet had of the 2003 Sine Qua Non Papa Syrah blew me away. At the reception following the tasting, the bottles of the Papa Syrah and the magnum of 1990 Léoville Poyferré were the first to be emptied by the participants. The 2003 Papa boasts a brilliant black/ruby color as well as abundant nuanced, complex, earth, blackberry, and floral notes. The wine hits the palate with plenty of authority, never tastes heavy or ponderous, and shows an unctuosity along with plenty of nuances and vibrancy. This beauty has hit a magical zone where it should remain for another 6-10+ years.

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