This article is excerpted from a speech given by Raymond on January 24, 2013.
Some Background on the Importance of Vintage…
One of the key ideas I learned when I was training to be a sommelier was the importance of vintage. Indeed, when you order wine from a world class restaurant and the sommelier presents the wine at your table, the first words to leave his or her mouth will be the year — or the vintage — in which the wine was produced. “Ah, yes here is your 1982 Château Lafite… an excellent choice, Sir.”
The reason for this is very straightforward. At the most basic level, vintage is the year in which a wine was bottled. But a wine’s vintage also dictates its life expectancy. A truly great vintage combines the following elements: perfectly ripened fruit, excellent judgment on when to harvest the fruit, sensible and effective irrigation, careful fermentation and the right amount of aging. The grape grower, the winemaker and, most importantly, Mother Nature need to all conspire to create a truly great vintage. If any of these elements is not right, the wine’s life is shortened.
Of course, I am talking primarily about red wines in this context because they are more likely to be age-worthy. But vintage matters for white wines as well. The only difference — and this is particularly true of California white wines — is that California white wines are not especially known for their age worthiness (No one really knows why this is the case, and there are exceptions like Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, but you may want to drink any of the 2005 Chardonnays you have in your cellar.) French wines — particularly those from Bordeaux and Burgundy — are more likely to age well.
Furthermore, while vintage matters a great deal when it comes to red wines, it is massively important when choosing a wine from France. The comment I made about the ‘82 Château Lafite Rothschild was only partly in jest. Honestly, if you go to a wine auction today, a 1982 Château Lafite will sell for upwards of $3000. But wine from that same chateau, but of a different vintage — say the 1983 vintage — can be had for a mere $900 dollars!
Radical weather variation in the Bordeaux region is what explains this price difference. And because the weather does not fluctuate as dramatically in California the prices may vary from year to year, but not as much as in France.
What’s really special about the tasting tonight is that we’ve actually been able to secure four very special wines: two wines from France (one white and one red) and two wines from California (again, a white and a red), all of which are from great vintages. Feel free to taste them in any order you’d like, but my recommendation is to start with the lighter weight wines and move to the more full-bodied.
Four Special Wines
- We’ll begin with the wine closest to home: 2012 CADE Sauvignon Blanc. CADE, by the way, is part of the PlumpJack franchise of Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty fame. What I like about this Sauvignon Blanc is its balance: it isn’t ‘over the top’ in any way. Nice citrus and pineapple on the nose and light melon and peach on the mid-palate. It also has a nice, refreshing ‘crunch’ that any great Sav Blanc should have.
- For the second wine, we toggle over to France for: the 2009 Evening Land Auxey Duresses. Although Evening Land (the producer) is based in Oregon, they also make wine in France, and this wine comes from Burgundy. So it is made with Chardonnay grapes. Unlike a typical California Chardonnay, this is a super -vibrant and marvelously fresh wine with lots of high minerality and a rich Meursault-like mouth feel. The grapes were hand-picked and hand-sorted – only the best fruit made it into the press.
- For the first red wine we stay in France with: the 2009 Evening Land Pinot Noir Vosne-Romanée. This is a medium to full-bodied, age-worthy Pinot Noir. Check out the dark fruit (black cherry, black currant and violets) on the nose and palate, Asian spices and delicate tannins characteristic of the Vosne Romanée area in France. Some might even call this wine muscular.
- Finally we are proud to return to California to feature a wine from one of my favorite producers and from an excellent vintage. That is: the 2007 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big wine — 88% Cabernet Sauvignon — so hold onto your hats! Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate describes it in the following way, “Dense purple color as well as a big, sweet bouquet of blueberry and black current intertwined with licorice, bay leaf, cedar and fruitcake notes. Full-bodied and opulent, this precocious 2007 is drinkable now and should evolve for another 15 years. 92 points.”
It is often said that a great winemaker can create a good wine from a poor vintage, but a mediocre winemaker will only make an average wine even if he has a perfect harvest.
What we’ve tried to do this evening is highlight superior vintages from world class producers in regions that consistently make excellent wine.
In that spirit we celebrate with you the successful vintage of the past year, and raise a glass to the promise of the next year!