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1994: Moss Wood & Ch Leoville-Las-Cases

November 11, 2009

The occasion was a casual dinner at Kome, with the missus and Monster. But as I don’t really visit Kome as regularly as some of my friends, and furthermore this is one of the few occasions where the missus tags along, I decided to drink a wine from our anniversary year of 1994. Coincidentally, K happened to be dining there that same evening, and so we turned it into a mini tasting, happily swapping wines.

A Lawrence Chia specialtyI started off with a 2007 Moss Wood chardonnay, dull, light-golden in color. This was quite a full-bodied white, with good levels of citrus and minerals without going over-the-top, showing excellent balance, with a trace of vanilla beneath. The fruit quality was excellent, ripe and peachy, with enough acidity to avoid heaviness, maintaining a delicate, lively balance with a fair level of complexity. It quickly took on a huge caramel and buttery note, eventually with notes of persimmon emerging as well – all very desirable, of course. However, it began to fade after about 2 hours, and I seemed to remember this happening the previous time I had it back in June (at Ming Kee), whereas a Leeuwin Estate chardonnay would hang on to its unfolding layers of complexity, and simply become better and better. I’ll probably refrain from opening my other 2 bottles till, perhaps, couple of years later.

I had the opportunity to taste, side-by-side, a 2006 Domaines Leflaive Macon Verze (courtesy K), a luminous gold, which was immediately much more complex on the nose, with lifted aromas of limestone, minerals and chalk – more of these rather than outright citrus flavours – along with some honey, pear and nectar. However, this complexity didn’t carry immediately onto the palate, the first entry being soft, smooth and even, ending on a grassy note. The intensity arrived later, matching much of the flavours on the bouquet. Eventually this wine was preferable than the Moss Wood, although it lacks the depth and stunning complexity of a Puligny-Montrachet.

It has been 4 years since I last tasted the 1994 Ch Leoville-Las-Cases, now 15 years old, which is timely for a reassessment. Clear dark but evolving red, giving off a highly complex and deep bouquet of sweet plums, dried herbs, saddle and leather – in short, the classic nose of aged Bordeaux, but this is quite aristocratic and cerebral, yet mellow and transparent. There’s always something special about the nose of an aged Bordeaux that defies description, an element of sensousness, beauty and attraction that would seem vulgar if words can be found to describe these senses. You won’t be able to tell that this came from an “off” vintage on the nose alone, although it was apparent on the palate that the wine lacked the opulence and bottomless depth of the great vintages, even though it still exhibited a very good level of richness and concentration and integration, avoiding any astringency, with excellent handling of oak which has largely faded. Went very well with the delicate Japanese cuisine. Compared to my previous experience where the wine had seemed a bit uneven and hollow in places, this is at its peak drinking period now, and will probably hold for a while. Very good stuff.

Compared to this, the 1994 Moss Wood cabernet sauvignon (courtesy K) was unashamedly New World through and through – a very deep impenetrable red, with a powerful intense bouquet of liquorice and herbs, rather thick textures, still quite monolithic even after 15 years, yet to develop tertiary flavours (will it ever??), ending with a trace of alcoholic heat. This is very different from examples of this wine from more recent vintages, for instance 2000 onward. It’s as if the estate was still on a learning curve back then. Certainly, based on this tasting alone, one wouldn’t have hailed this as the quintessential cabernet of Australia. It’s a very undifferentiated cabernet that doesn’t say where it’s from. In this aspect, the Coonawarra cabernets are far superior, showing real terroir characteristics. As I have alluded to in other posts, one shouldn’t even try to compare this against the Bordeaux. It’s like apples against oranges. At any rate, though, I’d expect an Australian cabernet to reveal its own unique character, but I don’t think this sample we had was the ideal cabernet Moss Wood had in mind.

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