Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

Time to go to Auckland again,  in part for another of Ken Moon and Graeme Cavanagh's enchanting Library Tastings.  For this one,  it seemed as if they wanted to explore the Victorian concept of Lafite-HermitagĂ©e.  In the event,  even though the vintages for the most part were not immediately 'famous' ones,  the juxtaposition of straight syrah and (mostly) high-cabernet Bordeaux wines was both fascinating and a delight.

There were six classic Northern Rhone syrahs from Hermitage and Cornas,  and 6 classic Bordeaux,  mostly from the Medoc.  At the last moment a delightful St Estephe was added in,  which almost innocently added great focus to the tasting.  The key issue about the wines selected was that most examples were from lesser years.  This offered drinkers and enthusiasts,  as opposed to investors and wine-snobs,  the wonderful chance to evaluate whether good typicity could still be achieved in the more affordable years.

The wines were presented to the tasters in one set of two flights,  first the Bordeaux,  then the Northern Rhones.  The wines within each flight were blind.  One could debate the merits of alternative presentations or sequences,  for a very long time.  Though it was hard to put a finger on it,  the Bordeaux wines gave the impression of being a little more substantial than the Rhones,  yet the latter were by no means weak.  The role of new oak was important,  in this impression.  

Scores given are weighted to a New Zealand context of achievement,  since both Waiheke Island in the Auckland district and Hawkes Bay are so eminently suited to both winestyles.  Also,  and importantly,  finally we in New Zealand are backing off on excessive new oak in our reds,  so looking ahead,  comparability of achievement with the vintages tasted is reasonable to contemplate.  Even so,  the scores given would be tending a little generous by London standards,  where familiarity with benchmark vintages of these wines is greater.

Parker,  Robert M.,  2003:  Bordeaux.  Simon & Schuster,  1244 p.
www.erobertparker.com  =  Robert Parker alone for this tasting
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW alone for this tasting
www.drinkrhone.com  =  John Livingstone-Learmonth


#  The prices below are the current winesearcher indication for the vintage.

2003  Ch Calon-Segur
2004  Ch Cheval Blanc
2004  Ch Lafite-Rothschild
2003  Ch La Mission Haut-Brion
  2002  Ch La Mission Haut-Brion
2004  Ch Mouton-Rothschild
2004  Ch Pichon Longueville Lalande

2004  Ch Lafite-Rothschild   18 ½ +  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $1,171   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year CS 90.5%,  Me 9,  PV 0.5 according to J. Robinson;  16 – 20 months in oak,  usually 100% new;  R. Parker,  2007:  fabulous fruit, impressive richness, refreshing acidity, and sweet tannin,  95;  www.lafite.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  in the middle for depth,  one of the redder wines.  Bouquet has that extraordinary nearly aethereal quality which better bottles of Lafite show.  There is a nearly-floral quality to the bouquet,  but the roses and violets are so entwined with glorious cedar and hints of brown pipe-tobacco complexities,  you get lost trying to sort out what you are smelling.  Great wine !  Palate follows on perfectly,  much greater concentration than you would expect,  perfect velvety texture,  browning cassis adding to the complexities seen on bouquet,  and exquisite new oak subtly shaping the whole thing.  Wonderfully understated wine,  the polar opposite of the ostentatious Mouton.  Cellar 20 – 30 years.  GK 02/16

2003  Ch Calon-Segur   18 ½  ()
Saint-Estephe,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $160   [ cork 50mm;  cepage typically 65%,  Me 20,  CF 15,  cropped at  c.5.2 t/ha (2.1 t/ac);  18 months in barrel,  50% new;  R. Parker,  2014:  Ripe, medium to full-bodied, fresh and precise,  93;  www.calon-segur.fr ]
One of the deeper and more youthful wines.  Bouquet shows a poise,  complexity,  typicity and charm which makes nonsense of so many UK winewriters doubting the 2003 vintage in Bordeaux.  In Saint-Estephe,  2003 was stellar,  if one takes only the evidence of the wines themselves.  This Calon has arrived at a perfect point of first total integration and harmony,  primary floral and berry characters grading to secondary,  superb cassisy and black doris plum and berry mingled with cedary soft oak.  Palate is equally beautiful,  showing total harmony of all the flavour components,  not the biggest wine,  but a completeness,  balance and softness which is enchanting.  Classic modern claret,  to cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 02/16

2004  Ch Mouton-Rothschild   18 +  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $701   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year CS 73%,  Me 14,  CF 11,  PV 2 according to J. Robinson;  19 – 22 months in oak,  usually 100% new;  R. Parker,  2014:  delicious notes of cedarwood, Christmas fruitcake, blackcurrants and toast,  90;  www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com ]
The deepest colour of all 13 wines,  by far,  and one of the youngest.  But one sniff of the bouquet,  and there is this huge bombastic overstatement about new oak and depth of char of the oak ... which is both distracting and tiresome ... but when you go back and check,  there is pretty stunning fruit to back it up.  In mouth the richness is astonishing,  so to a degree you have to eat your words about the bouquet.  The quality of the cabernet-led cassisy berryfruit is sensational,  with perfect ripeness and great length.  And in contrast with the style of a typical Penfolds Bin 707,  which at first thought is the equivalent loud statement about cabernet from Australia,  the oak here is so much softer and more beguiling on the Mouton palate.  But even so,  it needs years for the oak to harmonise,  when tasted alongside the absolute beauty right now of the 2003 Calon-Segur.  All in all, a remarkable wine,  when one reflects this is a less-favoured year.  Cellar 30 – 50 years.  GK 02/16

2004  Ch Cheval Blanc   18  ()
Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $637   [ cork 55mm;  cepage this year CF 55%,  Me 45,  cropped at 5.9 t/ha (2.4 t/ac) according to J. Robinson;  18 months in oak,  usually 40 – 50% new;  R. Parker,  2007:  medium-bodied and elegant with plenty of sweet fruit,  90;  www.chateau-cheval-blanc.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  in the middle for depth.  This was the most different of the seven Bordeaux,  showing a freshness of nearly red-fruited berry which at first one could interpret as tending stalky.  But then when you thought about one of the wines (in the blind tasting) being known to be cabernet franc-dominant,  and thought about raspberries and red currants,  and then again tasted the concentration and depth of this differently-fruited and wonderfully fragrant wine,  you concluded it had to be the Cheval Blanc.  The closest comparison is with the Lafite,  for the neatness and tautness of the berry / oak interaction,  reflecting the not-quite-optimal year.  They taste almost of similar quality,  fabulous cedary oak in both,  and great length of berry flavours reflecting good concentration / conservative cropping rates.  But the Cheval is more red-fruited.  A real eye-opener,  and a model wine for New Zealand winemakers desiring to respect cabernet franc,  rather than crucifying it with oak,  as has been the norm in Hawkes Bay.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 02/16

2004  Ch Pichon Longueville Lalande   17 ½  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $192   [ cork 49mm;  cepage this year CS 53%,  Me 36,  CF & PV 11,  according to R. Parker;  18 – 20 months in barrel,  usually 50% new;  R. Parker,  2007:  Medium to full-bodied, opulent, and fleshy [ better than the 2005 ],  92;  www.pichon-lalande.com ]
There was quite a quality gap between the top four Bordeaux wines in the tasting,  and the other three.  The Pichon was the second-deepest of the Bordeaux,  and the youngest-looking,  but initially,  it presented itself as leathery and old-style,  like the 2004 Clape.  It gradually cleared to a still-smudged cassis and black plum bouquet, with reasonable richness and cedary oak.  Flavours followed appropriately,  quite rich and all clearly classed-growth claret,  but not the excitement and purity of the top wines.  There was a surprising degree of overlap with some of the Clape syrahs,  in fact.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 02/16

2002  Ch La Mission Haut-Brion   17 +  ()
Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $285   [ cork 50mm;  cepage typically CS 48%,  Me 45,  CF 7;  20 months in barrel,  often 100% new;  R. Parker,  2005:  Medium-bodied and austere,  89;  www.mission-haut-brion.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second-lightest of the Bordeaux,  older than some.  Bouquet is clean,  relatively youthful despite the older colour,  with a cassisy and firm-tannin quality to it suggesting imperfect ripeness of the cabernet sauvignon component.  Palate matched,  the tannins assertive,  a much more New Zealand quality and balance to this wine,  the new oak exacerbating the imperfect ripeness.  The oak is cedary and good,  though,  and the whole wine is clearly in style,  but like the '04 Pichon,  a little more straightforward.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 02/16

2003  Ch La Mission Haut-Brion   17  ()
Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $363   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year CS 52%,  Me 39,  CF 9,  according to J. Robinson;  20 months in barrel,  often 100% new;  R. Parker,  2012:  loosely structured, complex, seductive, fleshy and full,  93;  www.mission-haut-brion.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the lightest of the clarets,  and older than the '02.  This smelt quite the oldest and most leathery wine in the Bordeaux half of the tasting,  yet still clearly showing browning cassis and dark plums,  intertwined with fragrant oak.  Flavours show furry tannins,  good physical fruit,  clearly over-ripe characters contrasting with the 2002's tending under-ripe,  and thus forming an exemplary illustration (relative to the top wines) of desirable and less-desirable ripeness parameters in the cabernet / merlot winestyle.  This wine does show some of the hot-year,  overly forward characters that UK winewriters have wanted to attribute to the whole 2003 vintage.  Still attractive drinking in its burly way,  but early-developing.  GK 02/16


2002  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
2001  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
1999  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage
  2004  Domaine Clape Cornas
2001  Domaine Clape Cornas
1990  Domaine Clape Cornas

2001  Domaine Clape Cornas   18 ½ +  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $234   [ cork 50mm;  Sy  100%;  c. 20 months in older 600 – 1800-litre foudres,  not filtered;  J.L-L:  black fruit aroma … very classic Cornas:  *****;  no website found,  good information at the Europvin website,  and;  www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/auguste-clape ]
Ruby and velvet,  the deepest and youngest of the syrahs.  Quality of bouquet here is tremendous,  showing classic black-pepper / spicy and cassisy syrah of great complexity,  with clearcut suggestions of new oak.  Popular mythology has it that there is no new oak in the Clape cellar in that era,  but the style of the wine is incontrovertible,  in the glass.  Palate is sweet,  ripe,  rich,  an even more perfect expression of syrah the aromatic black grape than the 2001 Chave.  On palate it certainly shows less new oak influence than the Chave.  A glorious pair of wines,  the Clape to cellar to 20 years.  GK 02/16

2001  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   18 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $367   [ cork 50mm;  Sy  100%;  18 months in small oak,  10 – 20% new (in the era covered),  balance 1 – 5 years;  J.L-L:  Very attractive indeed, *****;  website not functional yet,  good information at the Europvin website;  www.domainejlchave.fr ]
Maturing ruby and some velvet,  in the middle of the Northern Rhones for depth of colour.  Bouquet is complex maturing syrah,  not exactly obviously floral or spicy any longer,  more a still-aromatic bouquet gathering harmony and complexity on browning cassisy berry and subtly integrated new oak.  The overlap between the 2001 Chave and the 2004 Lafite is intriguing,  both showing very finegrain cassisy berry melded with subtle and complex cedary oak,  but the Lafite stronger and more clearly cassisy in mouth.  Palate is taut and nervy,  real cassis here,  and richer than you first suppose,  black pepper building on the later palate and aftertaste.  Classical Northern Rhone syrah,  not as big as some vintages.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 02/16

1999  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   18  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $490   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%;  18 months in small oak,  10 – 20% new (in the era covered),  balance 1 – 5 years;  J.L-L:  Good, replete and stylish wine, *****;  website not functional yet,  good information at the Europvin website;  www.domainejlchave.fr ]
Ruby and garnet,  the second to lightest,  leaner and older than the 2001.  Bouquet however is fresh,  fragrant,  floral and blackpepper-spicy,  the florals clearly in the pinks / dianthus sector.  Palate is long,  sweet and harmonious,  not a big wine but much richer than the colour would suggest,  burgundian in a drying sense,  showing lovely maturity now.  Will hold for some years,  3 – 5 say.  GK 02/16

2002  Domaine J L Chave Hermitage   17 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $268   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%;  18 months in small oak,  10 – 20% new (in the era covered),  balance 1 – 5 years;  J.L-L:  clean, primary fruit … some late white pepper, ***+;  website not functional yet,  good information at the Europvin website;  www.domainejlchave.fr ]
Ruby and some velvet,  the second-deepest (of the syrahs),  redder than most.  This wine breathed up wonderfully,  showing classical cassisy berry like the 2001 but softer,  with white pepper as well as black.  Palate adds in subtlest new oak,  and a wonderfully pleasing nearly-juicy harmony.  Perhaps the wine lacks the tannin structure of the top years,  but it is a beautiful syrah right now,  with time in hand too.  It shows what can be achieved in a lesser (or even difficult) year,  with rigorous selection.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 02/16

1990  Domaine Clape Cornas   17 +  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.8%;  $487   [ cork 44mm;  Sy  100%;  c. 20 months in older 600 – 1800-litre foudres,  not filtered;  J.L-L:  Grand vin:  ******;  no website found,  good information at the Europvin website,  and;  www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/auguste-clape ]
The lightest and oldest of the syrahs,  but still a good garnet and ruby hue,  the six syrahs needing a second look to be sure which was the oldest wine.  Bouquet is much more evolved and tertiary than the other wines,  one taster mentioning roasted chestnuts – most apposite – but there is still browning and fading cassisy berry too,  and some autumnal decay including a little brett,  all positive.  Palate is a surprise,  therefore,  carrying more sweet fruit than you'd expect,  lovely harmony with the old oak,  a pleasing and balanced old wine,  showing good syrah typicity.  Will hold a few years yet.  GK 02/16

2004  Domaine Clape Cornas   17  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $133   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%;  c. 20 months in older 600 – 1800-litre foudres,  not filtered;  J.L-L:  Subtle, like the best 2004s at Cornas:  ****;  no website found,  good information at the Europvin website,  and;  www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/auguste-clape ]
Ruby and velvet,  the third-deepest wine.  This was the most difficult wine to rate on the night,  it opening rather bottle-stinky which plained-down the wine.  With air it progressively opened up,  gradually revealing a good concentration of tending-leathery and browning cassisy berry,  with sweet fruit and good length,  subtle oak.  Another bottle might be quite different.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 02/16