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Harlan Estate: 2006, 2002, 1996, 1995

March 26, 2017

I had the good fortune of being invited to lunch with Don Weaver, Director of Harlan Estate, on 25 March 2017 at Tunglok Signatures, Orchard Parade Hotel Singapore. Don was en route to Hong Kong and had kindly agreed to stage a mini-vertical at the invitation of M Philippe Capdouze, FICOFI Chairman and Founder. Looking absolutely casual and relaxed, Don related that the land that William Harlan had initially purchased in Napa back in 1984 was actually a forest. Later on, the decision was made to convert part of the land into vines and the rest is history. Due to an outbreak of phylloxera, most of the vines had to be replanted, which accounts for their relatively youthful average age of about 26 years. The selection process is severe. About 50% of the crop is declassified each year such that only 20,000 bottles of the grand vin are produced. Part of the declassified crop goes into its second wine The Maiden, of which 10,000 bottles are produced. The remainder is sold off unmarked. The renowned oenologist Michel Rolland has been consulting at this venerated estate for many years, although Don was quick to point out that Bob Levy and his winemaking team do not necessarily take up the Frenchman’s counsel.

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Philippe & Don

Unlike Bordeaux where hail and frost and excessive rain may wreak havoc each year, Napa consistently enjoys good sunshine and predictable Mediterranean-like climate as the winds from the Pacific Ocean reaches the hilly slopes at Harlan. Over the years, the team at Harlan has come to understand the exact full potential of its grapes. As Don says, they have an exact idea how the Harlan grand vin should be: wines of opulence, fullness and integrity with great linearity throughout without any dropouts. These qualities are readily apparent from the tasting where each vintage is consistently rich with silky supple textures, beautifully proportioned and integrated with subtle tannins without any jarring acidity nor the slightest alcoholic trace even though they weigh in at 14.5% abv.

For this lunch, Don has brought generous supplies of the 2006, 2002 and 1996 vintages of the Harlan grand vin. On our part, the great Dr Ngoi, a long-time friend of Don, has contributed a magnum of 1995 Harlan Estate while Philippe has pushed the boat out with the stunning whites. The ever-reliable sommelier Kok Hong was on hand to ensure that the Harlan reds have been properly double decanted for at least 3 hours prior while the Cantonese cuisine of Tunglok, as usual, lived up to our high expectations. The wines are described in the order served.

2004 S de Salon. Absolutely inviting on the nose with an abundance of citrus, lime, pomelo and bitter lemon that led to great presence and concentration on the palate, layered with fine acidity, gentle bubbles, crème and chalky characters, generous in delicate minerals. Highly sophisticated and complete, already hinting at great future complexity. Absolutely gorgeous.

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2011 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche Grand Cru, poured from double magnum. From the largest owner of this sacred plot veering towards Puligny, this wine displayed a deep lifted bouquet of complex  tropical fruit with a hint of caramel, raw nutmeg and gentle earthy tones, richly layered with lovely proportions, structured with subtle intensity and lingering acidity, teasing the palate with some early complexity, turning just slightly stern at the finish with ferrous elements. Truly glorious.

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2006 Harlan Estate. Very dark. Rich ripe fruit with a great abundance of cassis,  blackcurrants and dark plums though surprisingly subtle in concentration and intensity, tight but opening up, not at all jammy nor hedonistic, quite seamless with superb balance, structured with sweet supple velvety tannins, finishing with a mild medicinal trace. Still very youthful, but the potential is superb.

1996 Harlan Estate. Deep impenetrable dark purple. Ten years older than the preceding 2006, the bouquet here is discernibly more evolved as dark currants, black fruits and minerally elements dominate in equal measure, medium-full, displaying excellent concentration, opening up with notes of graphite, earthy minerals, dried leaves and herbs, structured with subtle velvety tannins that tapered to a lengthy finish. Still youthful after 20 years. For many around the table, this was the wine of the entire flight.

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1995 Harlan Estate (courtesy of Dr Ngoi), poured from magnum. Remarkably gentle on the nose, featuring dark seamless tones of toffee, mocha and dried tobacco that went very well with high-toned ferrous minerals on a palate that is still tight, linear and focused, rich in dark currants with some bright spots, saturating the palate with wonderful grip but yet to open, again finishing with sweet understated tannins amidst subtle intensity. This stunning 1995 is, perhaps, the most elegant of the afternoon’s line-up. Hardly past its adolescence, this wine will be super long-lived. Outstanding.

2002 Harlan Estate, poured from magnum. This wine exudes an unique powerful bouquet of savoury characters along with an abundance of warm black fruits and dark currants, full-bodied, richly layered with the lovely intensity of tropical fruits coupled with seamless tannins that guaranteed fabulous mouthfeel, turning a tad dry and minty at the finish.

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2005 Ch D’Yquem. Luscious, rich in apricot and nectarine, medium-bodied, surprisingly open and deft in spite of the lovely concentration and quiet intensity, displaying good definition with further notes of seared caramel and ember, drinking so well but still youthful. The 2005 is seemingly the de facto Sauternes of FICOFI, but always a pleasure to return to on each occasion.

Thank you, Don, for your time and generosity; my sincere gratitude too to Dr Ngoi and to FICOFI for the opportunity.

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Dr Ngoi, Ric and Don

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