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Rhone vs New World Rhone styles

April 14, 2009

I just managed to stagger home after this massive theme dinner at Asia Grand, 13th April, part of the official Bacchus dinners that started back in May 2006. I’m still drunk as I write.

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Kieron contributed a 2003 Dom. Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Ruchottes” to start the evening’s proceedings: straw-yellow, light minerally nose, lean at beginning,  light medium on palate, taking on a caramel note as it sat in the glass. Persistent finish. Went well especially with the giant prawn.

Next we had the 1998 Penfolds RWT that Fatty insisted on bringing, claiming that his original proferring of a 1998 Grange was way too young. The latter may be quite true, but the RWT was a poor substitute: from the impenetrable red arose a typically huge Barossian shiraz with notes of plum , sweet ripe fruit, surprisingly soft tannins, and a persistent medicinal/herbal finish. Entirely consistent with the Penfolds house style.

The 1998 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle (courtesy Fatty) that followed was quite the opposite: brownish-red evolved color with marked lightening at the rim, barely imperceptible nose of raspberry/cherries; soft, light-medium bodied, harmonious. Moderate length. Might have easily mistaken it for a Burgundy if blinded. Lots of sediment. Surprisingly evolved for a 10-year old Rhone from what was, supposedly, an excellent vintage. I had expected more. Perhaps the provenenace was suspect?

Next came the 1998 M Chapoutier Ermitage “Le Pavillon” (courtesy Vic). Nice red color with some lightening at the rim, a luxurious deep nose of red fruits, beautifully balanced sweet, ripe fruits with a vanillin coating. Sophisticated tannins. Long. Harmonious. Quite superb.

The 1989 Paul Jaboulet Gigondas that followed (courtesy Hiok) revealed an interesting nose of aniseed (what I’d call an Indian note) and hint of spice arising from a color that seemed fully evolved. The wine was open, medium-bodied, with sweet berries and a rather short finish. On its last legs, although still good at the moment. Reminded me of how the 1975 Ch Figeac carried itself when tasted last year.

Some confusion subsequently ensued as the waitresses plastered more than one color on the remaining decanters, but it was later resolved that the wine that followed was the 1990 Beaucastel (courtesy Li Fern): evolved color, medium-bodied, sweet cherries/raspberries, harmonious, still well-structured, moderate finish. Fleshed out further in the glass. Excellent stuff.

Then came the highly-anticipated 1994 Henschke Hill of Grace (courtesy Kieron). This contained a reddish core with some lightening at the rim. Nose of sweet, ripe, balanced fruit, medium-full bodied, harmonious, ending on a lifted note of ripe plums. Lengthy finish. Excellent. Many in the group felt Hill of Grace is preferable to Penfolds Grange anytime, which I concur. It must be something to do with the expression of Eden Valley fruit (elevated some 500 ft above sea-level) rather than the multi-district blend characteristic of Grange.

My personal offering, the 1993 E. Guigal La Landonne, was next: a fully evolved color with an open, complex yet delicate and balanced nose; the palate reveals pure expression of Syrah fruit that was absolutely harmonious with a hint of spice and mint. Long. Superb. Voted by most as Wine of the Night. This single vineyard is so different, and preferable, from what an Aussie single vineyard has to offer. I think only the Rockford Basket Press, or Torbreck Run Rig, come close with bottle age. Superb.

The 1992 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle (Hiok) rounded off the evening: deep red, with a restrained, yet luxuriant nose of sweet aromatic fruit amidst some trace of alcoholic heat. Finishes on a lifted note. Long. Excellent. Still surprisingly youthful, considering it has already spent so much time in bottle. Needs more time.

Altogether, an excellent evening of food and wine truly worthy of a Bacchus event. Goes to show that Aussie Rhone styles can never quite replicate the real McCoy. We should accord them their own distinctive attributes and enjoy the privilege of having tasted them amidst good food and company.

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