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A mostly Williams Selyem affair

April 29, 2020

A couple of staunch advocates of New World pinot noir, along with several other like-minded individuals, put together a mostly Williams Selyem affair at Jade Palace, Singapore, on 25 July 2019. Founded by Burt Williams and Ed Selyem as what the French would describe as a garagiste operation in California in 1979, it wasn’t long before the self-taught duo established themselves as the benchmark for USA pinot noir in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley with the now-legendary debut bottling of 1988 Williams Selyem Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir. The winery was subsequently bought over by John and Kathe Dyson in 1998. While the uncompromising quality still continues, it is the ever-diminishing stock of pre-1998 wines that are highly sought after by collectors. As such, we were really fortunate that five of the seven bottles tasted that evening were pre-1998. Focusing mainly on single vineyard bottlings, it has, on occasion, been truly difficult to differentiate a Williams Selyem from a burgundy 1er or even grand cru in a blinded line-up. That’s how good Williams Selyem really can be but it needs plenty of bottle age, evident from the 1996s tasted that evening, much akin to Robert Ampeau. My humble thanks to LF, Jonathan and friends for the distinct privilege.

2007 Champagne Henriot Millesime Brut. Magnum. Good lift of delicate green fruits, melons, lime and citrus that filled out with broad expanse on the palate, structured with excellent concentration and intensity of fruit. Developed a complex highly perfumed glow over time along with more pronounced chalky undertones and gentle toasty detail amid overtones of cordite, superb in texture and transparency. Excellent

1993 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Allen Vineyard. Rusty brown. Marked reductive note of menthol on the nose whilst plummy tones dominate with tangerines on the palate amid traces of spice. Fairly plump but lacking in detail. Clearly past its prime.

1996 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Allen Vineyard. Evolved crimson. Lovely delicate bouquet of fragrant rosy hues and red cherries, glowing with great concentration and seductive sweetness that shone with lovely purity on the palate. Remarkably fresh and lively, showing tremendous verve and intensity amid spicy traces, evolving further earthy tones and ash. Utterly delicious and complex. A wonderful example of Williams Selyem at its best.

1994 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Vineyard. Distinctly evolved in colour, exuding a gentle perfumed fragrance of lightly tinted roses and red fruits, layered with very fine presence, finishing with good persistence. Delicious.

1996 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Vineyard. Beautifully evolved, this wine proffers traces of exotic Asian spices on the nose with camphor, dark plums and peaches that exerted good presence, depth and intensity. Very well integrated, structured with acidity that is still crisp and vibrant. Appreciably tighter than Allen Vineyard of the same vintage. Still relatively youthful. Excellent.

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1996 Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Rather savoury on the nose while haw flakes, dark roses and raspberries dominate with fleshy suppleness on the palate. Open with very fine intensity and cohesion. Highly elegant and vibrant, displaying excellent length and lift. Hard to believe that this is a village equivalent, in Burgundy terms. Superb.

1996 Calera Jensen Mt Harlan Pinot Noir. Evolved vermillion, brightly lit with glorious red cherries and tangerines on the open palate. Highly supple, layered with tremendous detail amid gentle earthy undertones, finishing with fine intensity. Still plenty of life ahead. Superb.

2012 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Eastside Road Neighbors. Opague purple. Generous bouquet of ripe wild berries and violets, richly imbued with intense black fruits and delicious dark currants. Still tightly coiled, not revealing much. Yet to develop though its potential is huge.

2012 Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast Coastlands Vineyard. Dark opaque purple. Ripe raspberries and blueberries dominate within a thin veil of paraffin, displaying very fine definition and focus as it traversed the palate with a lovely plummy streak, finishing on a sweet gentle note with good linearity. Excellent.

2005 Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir. Significantly evolved in colour, appearing more mature than it is. Beautiful arresting bouquet of tangerines, camphor, red fruits and cherries. Medium-full, exuding a lovely plumpness full of subtle detail on a sandy minerally floor, glowing with fleeting intensity towards the finish. Excellent.

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