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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
A FEW MORE 1998 NORTHERN RHONE REDS AT THE MAGNUM SOCIETY, WELLINGTON


Some background to the 1998 vintage in the Northern Rhone Valley,  and the Magnum Society of Wellington,  was given in a similarly titled article,  10 April 2008.  All that needs to be said about this year's tasting in April with a different half-dozen wines,  is they were interesting,  but lacked the highs and lows of last year’s batch.  They made explicitly clear how far along the syrah road we have already travelled in New Zealand,  for the best local 1998 syrahs are certainly competitive with the nett achievement in this bracket.

Livingstone-Learmonth,  John,  2005:  The Wines of the Northern Rhone.  University of California Press,  704 p.    NB:  L-L ranks out of 6 stars





SYRAH / SHIRAZ:

1998  Clape Cornas
1998  Courbis Cornas La Sabarotte
1998  M. Sorrel Hermitage le Greal
  1998  Rostaing Cote Rotie la Landonne
1998  Tardieu-Laurent Cote Rotie
1998  Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage


1998  Courbis Cornas La Sabarotte   17 ½ +  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed;  aged c. 16 months in French oak up to 65% new,  balance 1-year;  so wine-making is 'modern';  Parker 2001:  91  The saturated black/purple-colored 1998 Cornas La Sabarotte offers aromas of pure creme de cassis, blackberries, and toasty smoky oak. With sweet tannin, superb texture, and impressive concentration and density, it should be drinkable in 2-3 years, and last for 18 years. Very impressive!;  L-L 2005:  ***  Bouquet mixes fruit with animal aspects. Has a masculine density. Probing black flavour, good depth, tannic support. Good length, some final heat. Gutsy, promising;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland. ]
Ruby,  the second to youngest colour.  Bouquet is clean,  varietal,  the only wine without some elements of rusticity about it,  which gets it off to a flying start relative to the field.  But even so,  it is not the inspiring side of syrah,  no floral beauty,  but there is fragrant cassis grading to dark plum,  and a hint of attractive plum tart just reminding it was a warm season,  but not implying the wine is cooked at all.  Palate is fresh,  crisp,  the tannins surprisingly youthful and all a little new-oaky,  the finish initially really hard and tannic – distressingly so for some,  but it softened with air.  This wine needs another five or so years to soften,  but is sufficiently pure to do so,  and then be a good representative of the district.  Well worth cellaring 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/09

1998  Clape Cornas   17 ½  ()
Cornas,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%,  much old-vine;  no de-stemming,  20 months or so in foudre only,  no small wood;  Cornas' most famous grower;  Parker 2001:  90  The big, classic 1998 Cornas reveals hard tannin, medium to full body, a dense ruby/purple color, and a muscular, backstrapping, husky style that requires 5-6 years of cellaring. It will last for 16-18 years, but it does not have much fat, glycerin or sweetness.;  L-L 2005:  **** Really big chocolate-style bouquet, damp earth, black fruit jam, some freshness. The palate is also led by confit, cooked black fruits. Although a little withdrawn, there is a good centre here. A touch of sweetness, quite low acidity, needs airing. 2013 – 17;  imported by Maison Vauron,  Auckland. ]
Fresh ruby and velvet,  clearly the ‘youngest’ wine in the tasting.  Bouquet is intriguing,  clearly syrah,  but slightly rustic alongside the Courbis.  There is a soft note in the berry hinting at pinot noir (Wellington wineman Nick Greenhill thought cru Corton),  but also a hint of stalk.  The whole bouquet is quite reserved.  Palate is firm,  just a thought of varnish around the oak,  but good berry which is cassisy once in mouth,  more explicitly syrah.  But this wine,  like the Courbis,  is hard on the tannins and some acid too,  and clearly needs time to soften.  It should achieve this gracefully,  the wine being brett-free in practical terms.  I wonder about the physiological maturity of the grapes.  1998 was not only a hot year,  but also a dry one,  and there was discussion at the time about some fruit not ripening fully through water stress.  This wine may be an example.  Still a good wine to have in cellar,  again 5 – 15 years.  GK 04/09

1998  M. Sorrel Hermitage le Greal   17 +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 95%,  Marsanne 5;  the 1998 50% de-stemmed,  18 – 22 months in older oak only;  Parker,  2001:  95  The 1998 Hermitage Le Greal is undoubtedly the finest Sorrel has made during his helmsmanship at this estate. With a natural alcohol level of 13.7%, this is no wimpish wine, but whoever said Hermitage was? It boasts an opaque black/purple color in addition to a superb bouquet of blackberries, cedar, liquid minerals, spice box, and earth. The concentration and multi-layered texture are both fabulous in this thick, viscous, tannic monster. It will unquestionably require patience. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2035. By the way, 50% of the grapes for this cuvee were destemmed, the first time Sorrel had implemented that practice;  imported by Scenic Cellars,  Taupo. ]
Ruby and garnet,  some velvet,  the second oldest in the set.  Bouquet is old-style Rhone,  traditional,  showing browning berry with thoughts of roasted chestnuts and brett,  but all quite fragrant.  The hot year shows more clearly on bouquet,  in this wine.  Palate is quite rich but very dry indeed,  clearly cassisy syrah with a browning edge,  savoury casseroled beef notes on the brett,  all long-flavoured.  In some ways this is a more harmonious wine than the first two,  much easier in mouth,  on riper and softer tannins.  There are no stalks here,  and as the wine lingers in mouth there is almost a suggestion of the wallflower florals which characterise great syrah – but preferably on bouquet as well.  Parker implies the wine is a masterpiece,  and one can see why.  Rather,  it is a flawed masterpiece,  the kind of wine where alternative bottles might score very differently.  Cellar another 5 – 10 years should be OK.  GK 04/09

1998  Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage   17 +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  100% Sy,  wine bought-in immediately post-fermentation,  18 – 24 months in new oak;  not filtered;   Parker.  1999:  91 – 93  The superb 1998 Hermitage reveals a saturated purple color in addition to classic, pure, cassis aromas intermixed with smoke and licorice. Full-bodied and pure, with nicely integrated acidity and tannin, this corpulent, super-concentrated Hermitage requires 3-7 years of cellaring, and will keep for 20-25 years.;  very little info on the individual wines of each appellation on website;  imported by Caro’s,  Auckland;  www.tardieu-laurent.com ]
Ruby and some garnet,  the oldest of the wines.  We had an extraordinary experience with this wine,  which it is worth setting out.  The first bottle had a very fragrant bouquet,  nearly floral cassis and berry augmented by brett,  but looking OK.  But as soon as the wine was in mouth,  oh my word,  horrid.  And once swallowed,  the tell-tale flavour of mouse urine and droppings asserted itself – indicating the brett-family spoilage yeast Pichia.  Discussion ensued as to the wisdom of opening another bottle.  I unwisely said it would be a systematic fermentation issue,  and (assuming a small-volume wine like this would be assembled) all bottles would be the same.  Fortunately,  better counsel prevailed,  and the second bottle was quite different.  The same cassisy berry was evident,  with some brett,  but on palate,  though the wine was very dry,  it was pure and cassisy and quite rich,  with only a ‘positive’ level of brett complexity.  And it remained so for several days.  The only reasonable explanation for such a surprising result is that even as late as the 1998 vintage,  smaller houses such as Tardieu-Laurent still sometimes bottled cask by cask,  without assembling the wine.  And by chance,  the New Zealand samples came from two casks.  What other explanation could there be ?  It has to be said experience with Tardieu-Laurent Northern Rhone wines over the last 10 years has revealed extraordinary inconsistency.  The best wines have been superlative examples of their kind,  but the ratio of corked bottles in the later '90s was far above average.  All proof yet-again of the wisdom of the late André Simon’s words,  now quite long ago:  there are no great wines,  only great bottles.  A gamble in cellar,  therefore.  GK 04/09

1998  Rostaing Cote Rotie la Landonne   16 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy 100%;  usually 75% de-stemmed;  18 – 24 months in two barrel sizes,  10% new;  not filtered;  Parker,  2001:  93  Sadly, there are only 7,700 bottles of the 1998 Cote Rotie La Landonne. This spectacular offering boasts a deep purple color in addition to a dense nose that the French would call a confiture of black fruits, particularly plums, blackberries, and black currants. Superb aromatics jump from the glass of this young, unevolved 1998. On the palate, it is deep and dense, with a multi-layered texture, and terrific purity and concentration. It possesses a sweet, concentrated mid-palate, well-integrated tannin, and a long finish. This wine needs a few years of cellaring, but it is thrilling to taste at present. It will drink well young, but will last for 15-20 years.  L-L 2005:  *** Pine / spice bouquet, violets. Mineral, dry-toned, assertive flavour, has a brittle black fruit side. Drinks younger than its age. Clear elegant wine – reflects the Burgundian finesse of its cask days. Fruit is plum / cherry style. Can soften more. 2010 – 14; imported by Glengarry,  Auckland. ]
Ruby and some velvet,  in the middle for colour.  This was ‘the Australian’ in the bunch,  the bouquet showing clear suggestions of baking and slight oxidation,  1960s style,  taking the florals and subtlety out of the wine.  Palate has firm plummy quite rich fruit,  but also some old oak flavours as well as threshold oxidation.  It is shorter and drier on the fruit than most Aussie shiraz,  but a step in that direction.  At a peak,  but no hurry.  GK 04/09

1998  Tardieu-Laurent Cote Rotie   16  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $ –    [ cork;  Sy,  some years a little Vi,  unknown;  wine bought-in immediately post-fermentation,  18 – 24 months in new oak;  not filtered;  R. Parker,  1999:  94 – 96  An amazing effort is the 1998 Cote Rotie, which comes from three hillside vineyards - La Landonne, Les Grandes Places, and Cote Rozier. The wine's dark purple color is followed by an explosive, exotic bouquet of bacon fat, cherry liqueur, black olives, roasted meats, and toasty wood. This expressive, voluptuously-textured, full-bodied, powerful, concentrated Cote Rotie reveals some tannin in the finish. Anticipated maturity: 2002-2020;  very little info on the individual wines of each appellation on website;  imported by Caro’s,  Auckland;  www.tardieu-laurent.com ]
Ruby and some garnet,  one of the older wines.  Bouquet has a lot to say,  including some mixed messages.  It is fragrant,  but what might be floral if pure also has thoughts of leafyness,  leather (usually meaning subliminal oxidation) and brett.  In mouth total acid is harsh,  the brett component becomes a bit obtrusive,  and a varnishy quality permeates the oak.  Most people would simply say the wine is tending rustic.  If it were purer,  one might hope it would mellow with further cellaring,  but it is not a safe bet on this showing.  Please note these comments are clinical,  because I too have this wine in cellar,  so one examines such wines very closely.  This bottle will still be enjoyable with food.  Short term cellar only,  if at all.  GK 04/09