Monday, November 19, 2007

Oddities Night...or Freakshow?

Our tasting group took the challenge of finding an oddity to heart, raiding their cellars and using incredible creativity to find odd - even freakish - wines. This grouping, probably gathering dust at the back of your local wine shop, was tremendously entertaining and a great learning experience, as our intrepid group of seven dove into the darkest corners of the wine world:

1998 Chateau Musar (Lebanon)
2001 Wunderlich Viktoria Cuvee (Hungary)
2002 Cava Amethystos (Greece)
2002 Grover Vineyards La Reserve (India)
2003 Marques de Grinon Petit Verdot (Spain)

There was no doubt that the legendary Chateau Musar was the crowd favourite. Located in the Bekaa Valley, Chateau Musar is probably Lebanon's most famous estate, weathering years of war to produce arguably the finest, most ageworthy, wines from the Middle East. Every year the winery uses a different blend of Cabernet, Cinsault, and Carignan. Visually, Cam's 1998 Chateau Musar was the lightest-coloured wine of the bunch, a pale ruby red in the glass, but it was anything but a lightweight. At first the nose smelled of very toasted oak, which dissipated over the evening to reveal notes of green pepper, liquorice, truffles, roses and a pleasing earthiness. Crisp raspberry fruit with oaky tannins, it softened beautifully over the evening. Despite its age, it still had finish that should allow this to go for a few more years.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20, five first place rankings
Price: C$51 (SAQ)

Second place was my Spanish Petit Verdot. Like 2GrandCru, this was an impulse - Spanish? Petit Verdot? The 2003 Marques de Grinon Petit Verdot comes from the Dominio de Valdepusa appellation of Spain, and is 100% Petit Verdot. Most of you recognize this as a grape frequently used in Bordeaux-styled blends, but almost always at very low percentages. Insanely dark purple, it was impossible to see through this glass, all light, space and time vanishing into its blackness. (note - do NOT serve with white linens) Grapey and sweet at first, it had a funky rubbery smell that turned some off the wine, but later revealed nice leathery and minty aromas. On the palate was a big shag carpet of tannins that not only coated the back of the tongue, but puckered up the roof of your mouth as well. Medium-bodied, juicy, with a nice loooong finish and dry cherry fruit, it opened up over the evening and was beautiful drinking for those of us who got over the smell. Despite a whopping 15% alcohol it was not particularly 'hot'. I have one more bottle - it will be interesting to see if time will tame this beast.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20, two first place (and one last as well)
Price: C$40 (SAQ)

Third place was a very competent wine that Chris brought from India, the 2002 Grover Vineyards "La Reserve". A blend of Cabernet and Shiraz grown on the hills near Bangalore, and if an Indian wine is not "odd" enough, Michel Rolland is the consulting winemaker! This wine was quite musty at first, but that gave way to leafy, cooked fruit, smoke and vanilla aromas. Pleasant, but thin and short, a good effort.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: ~US$30

Fourth was Pramod's Greek wine, the 2002 Cava Amethystos, a Vin de Pays de Drama (I just learned an appellation!) by Domaine Costa Lazaridi. A blend Cabernet Sauvignon and some Merlot and Limnio. Not very complex on the nose - flint, cherry, and cinnamon - but velvety tannins, nice balance and a medium finish. I liked it more than the rest of the group.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$48 (SAQ)

Lloyd's Hungarian wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, was dead last. The 2001 Wunderlich Viktoria Cuvee was all Banana smoothie, with some leafy and floral notes, juicy with no length or structure, really never had anything like this. Could the bottle be off? Odd, indeed. Nobody finished their glass.
Score: 12/20
Price: ~US$30

So, the Indian hated the Indian, the Greek hated the Greek, and everyone hated the Hungarian (Lloyd promises never, ever, to bring such a terrible wine to a tasting).

It is interesting to note that we were truly blind - no one had tasted the wine that they brought prior to this tasting.

Overall, the quality level rapidly deteriorated after the first two or three wines, and even the top wines were not really up to the level of wines we typically crack open, but it was a terrific "learning" tasting, and as my readers know I am always on the hunt for something unusual.



Marcus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcus said...

Nice ... freakshow!

Good to point out that truly blind means first-ever tasting. I learned that at our gig last month.

Have any idea on the price of the Indian and Hungarian relative to the others?

Edward said...


Sounds like an interesting night. I must hunt down a bottle of Musar. I keep hearing conflicting reports - ie great vs Brett affected. Should take the plunge and try.

Am reading "The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb - it's all about the power of the odd / improbable in shaking our previously held convictions. Sounds like your tasting was a Black Swan tasting. . .

2GrandCru said...

I had the 1997 Musar a couple of years ago. Lovely wine though I thought it a bit too ripe on the finish. I'm no patriot as I must admit that despite that slight fault I found it better than most Israeli premium wines.

Got a bottle of the 1998 waiting for the end of the decade.

Joe said...

Marcus - I have added the prices. Just to be clear, most of our wines at our tastings have never been tasted, but this was the first where every single one was never tasted by any in the crowd.

Edward - I have always wanted to try it, just to resolve the controversy, but I don't recall Brett. I recommend taking the plunge. Definitely a Black Swan...

2GCru - The 1998 was not 'too ripe', but certainly seemed ripe a few hours after opening IMO. Never had a premium Israeli wine - any suggested labels? You can definitely keep that 1998.


Anonymous said...

Interesting taste off! I am a Musar fan as well. One thing to note is that, despite its age, Ch Musar needs decanting for at least 1 hr to open up and get rid of the sediments (not filtered). Another premium Lebanese wine that, in my opinion, dethrones Musar, is the Ch. Kefraya Comte De M (50% Shiraz/50% Cab Sauv), also from the Bekaa valley (1000 m elevation). It's a totally different style than Musar! My experience with the 1996 -2000 vintages of Comte De M has been excellent. Currently SAQ carries the 2001 at 48.5$, which I am planning to try over the holidays. Cheers

Joe said...

Hi Fadi - almost all good wine has sediment so I decant virtually everything. That Musar was decanted probably 30min before we started, but sat in the decanter for a few hours over the evening. I have been hearing a lot about that Kefraya Comte de M - I may have to do a Musar vs. Comte de M blinded showdown. Cheers!

2GrandCru said...

I prefer to rest the wine standing up and pour caefully.

As for Israeli premium wines, I probably posted about the ones I liked over the past year which means they're the ones I still like. Offhand, I'd recommend Golan Heights Wine from the Yarden Series and up, Recanati Special Reserve, the 720m from the Barkan Attitude series (3 wines Cabs, each from a vineyard from a different height) and finally, one of the few I wish I'd bought more of, Dalton had a special limited edition single vineyard Cab in 2004, Manara vineyard if my memory serves, which was really about fruit and not about oak (a lot of local wineries claim that but few pull it off as nicely as this). I used to buy Flam, might return to it, I'd recommend it all the same. That's about it.

Joe said...

The only one I can find is the Petit syrah/zinfandel Recanati Reserve galilée 2004, $25.60, that sound like the Recanati you recommend?

2GrandCru said...

No, I skipped over it before but I'd try it if I were you.

Joe said...

thanks 2GrandCru, will try to get out to that shop.

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