Thu 11 Nov 2010
Well, I’m way behind on this one. Time is a river blah blah. The world is too much with us late and soon blah blah.
I instituted this series at the end of March to present reviews of a red wine and a white wine that I tasted within a three-month period that I didn’t get to write about but that are clearly superior in quality. So, this pair comes from July, August and September, and I should have posted this five or six weeks ago.
These wines were samples for review.
I don’t often drink or taste or sample the rich, sweet golden wines of Sauternes; who does, except for British wine writers? Understandably, when this bottle of Chateau Suduiraut 1999 arrived I was mightily pleased and filled with anticipation that was not proved errant. At 11 years old, the wine is splendid and has a long life of development and maturity ahead. For a complete (and well-written) history and assessment of the estate, see the account by The Wine Doctor; I could not better his research and experience. Suffice to say that Suduiraut is one of the oldest estates in Sauternes, going back to 1580; that its slightly fortified chateau, rebuilt in the late 17th Century, is a prime example of the architecture of the period; that the wine was granted Premier Cru status in the 1855 Classification, though writers with long memories or access to old books testify to many inconsistent vintages; that it underwent many changes of ownership in the 19th and 20th centuries until AXA Millésimes (the wine arm of the giant AXA insurance group) acquired the property in 1992 and wrought essential improvements; for example no wine was bottled in 1991, ’92 or ’93. The vineyard is planted with 80 percent semillon, 20 percent sauvignon blanc (though contrary Parker says it’s 90/10). The estate typically produces about 10,000 cases a year.
Like all great wines that issue from Sauternes, Chateau Suduiraut 1999 combines a directness of appeal with layers of complexity that feel almost unfathomable. The color is pure brilliant medium yellow-gold; there’s not a tinge of amber. The bouquet immediately announces the presence of botrytis cinerea — the “noble rot” — in its luscious, earthy scents of over-ripe, spiced and macerated peaches and apricots drenched in honey and butter and roasted until they dissolve in their own delirious juices; add notes of smoke, honeysuckle and jasmine and sun-warmed rocks, and you have an absolutely classic Sauternes nose. In the mouth, the wine is dense but silken; you might be sipping apple tart and creme brulee through which run threads of quince and crystallized ginger, orange rind and tangerine and just a touch of semillon’s tell-tale leafy quality. Suduiraut ’99 is quite sweet on entry, almost dangerously and decadently so, one’s instinct says, but the sweetness is tightly reined by assiduously deft acidity, so it is balanced, and then checked, and the wine finishes dry and stony and with a bare swipe at something toffee-like. It’s simultaneously exquisite and luxurious, like drinking the gold that Zeus rained upon Danaë. Now through 2019 to 2024 or ’25, properly cellared. Perhaps this lacks the grand paradox of transcendent refinement and incomparable tautness that the very best Sauternes display, i.e. Yquem, but it’s still pretty damned stunning. Exceptional. About $60.
The Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, is one of the purest expressions of the syrah grape I have tasted from California. Dan Lee had made wines for Durney Vineyards and Jekel Vineyards but decided to concentrate on his own label in the early 1980s. While producing chardonay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from several appellations — Alexander Valley, Carneros, Monterey — he concentrated more as the years passed on a few vineyards in Monterey County. Double L, acquired in 1996, is Morgan’s home vineyard. Situated at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, the 65-acre property slopes gently to the east; the vines are oriented north-south for maximum exposure. Forty-eight-and-a-half acres are planted: 28.5 for pinot noir, 18 for chardonnay and one each for syrah and riesling. Double L has been certified organic since 2002.
Both brooding and exuberant, the bouquet of the Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007 twines scents of smoked plums, smoked bacon, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries with old leather, a clean, earthy mossy element and the authentic touch of wet dog for a tinge of funkiness. (The color: “as through a glass darkly.”) A few minutes bring up pungent notes of lavender, sandalwood, white pepper. In the mouth, this syrah is ripe and intense and concentrated, almost ferociously spicy and fruity yet packed with dusty, fine-grained tannins that slowly emerge (or are slowly unleashed), an oak influence — 14 months in French barrels, 25 percent new — that feels deep and iron-bound, and, speaking of iron, a scintillating geological quality in the damp granite and slate range. The wine is dry, foresty, a little autumnal, like the smoke and ash from burning leaves, and ultimately austere enough to require another year or two in the bottle, though it’s awe-inspiring with a medium-rare steak. Altogether a wine of immense character, depth and dimension. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
Image of Double L Vineyard from morganwinery.com.