1988 – 1999
I don’t do the formal group-tasting thing very often these days. When I look at those tuxedo-clad affairs so lavishly covered by the glossy dead-tree magazines, I get the shudders. But this was too much to resist- a chance to do a deep tasting on my favorite wine, with a bunch of people I like AND accompanied by Stephane Ogier, flown in from France for the occasion. And I didn’t have to wear a tuxedo, either. So, off to Ann Arbor, home of the Rhône Cabal and the infamous annual MoCOOL festivities. The guy in the Cabal wearing the large horned cap is Joe Moorehouse, one of the best Rhône palates anywhere. MoCOOL’s Imam is Joel Goldberg, a relentlessly genial dynamo. Thanks to both these guys, for very different reasons. Most of the bottles came out of my cellar, and were pretty newly arrived from Ampuis. Rave Associates did us a great favor to get all that wine to the tasting legally.
Anyway, on to the wines. We had these in some fancy Riedel glassware specifically designed (so they say) for another grape. I don’t think that handicapped us too much; they seemed to be just fine for this tasting. Nothing was blind, wines were poured an hour or so in advance. I was pretty hung over.
1999 Côte-Rôtie: Stephane Ogier’s efforts to move the house style a bit in the direction of more muscularity coincided with a vintage that favored ultra-intense wines. This is pretty darn big, muscular, dark, and brooding Côte-Rôtie. Very primary (duh!), it’s showing signs of future extravagance. Super wine, probably one of the 3 or 4 best ever from this estate.
1998 Côte-Rôtie: It’s firm, it’s closing up, but under the masses of iron-bound structure, the ’98 is teasing us with spices and gaminess. Not in a flattering stage, it’s the greatness of this wine which allows it to be savored and appreciated even now. Lose this one in the cellar for a couple of decades. Un vrai vin de garde.
1998 Côte-Rôtie “La Belle Helene”: A notch more syrupy in texture than the “normale”, two notches more licorice flavors. Old vines and Côte Rozier terroir will do that for you. The new wood that it showed a year ago is already being soaked up. Baby, baby. Lose this one for a while, too.
1997 Côte-Rôtie: Though the nose is a bit hooded and green at this stage, the palate gives it all away; there’s balance, structure, and depth of fruit. It’s just being a bashful girl right now, not unusual for a 4-year-old serious red wine. More time will be kind.
1996 Côte-Rôtie: Developing faster than I originally thought it would. The texture is noticeably lighter than the ’97-’99, and I detect a hint of grapefruit that I haven’t seen in this wine in either earlier or later vintages. But the red fruit is there, the bacon is there, it’s a terrific Côte-Rôtie, and it will be in prime drinking form in just a couple more years.
1995 Côte-Rôtie: Really nice combination of acidity and fruit intensity. Absolutely vibratory with tension, and a long way from maturity.
1995 Côte-Rôtie “La Belle Helene”: More body, more spice, the trademark licorice flavors of the Côte Rozier vineyard, crackling acidity. An infant.
1994 Côte-Rôtie: Closed up. Just absolutely mute.
1993 Côte-Rôtie: From a disastrous year, Michel Ogier pulled off a miracle. It doesn’t have the intensity, concentration, or depth of his wine from a good vintage, and certainly not the finish, but it’s well-scented with bacon and raspberry and drinks easily.
1992 Côte-Rôtie: Another lightish wine, having more soft fruit than the’93 and a decided greenish streak. Trademark Ogier perfume rules it. Drink very soon, it’s hanging on by its fingertips.
1991 Côte-Rôtie: This wine never seems to have a bad showing. It’s never been in a closed-up phase, the fruit has always been ultraplush, and it’s always been an exemplar of balance and elegance. Everyone always thinks it’s ready to drink, but it keeps on going, youthful and vibrant. Great wine, one of the finest I’ve ever tasted, and (looking around at other tables), it seems to win a lot of Thunderbird Awards (first bottle drained).
1990 Côte-Rôtie: Not a good bottle at all, somewhat cooked and oxidized. I had a bottle from the same carton a couple of days later, and it was a thoroughly different creature, with herb-cured porky aromas dominating.
1989 Côte-Rôtie: The ’89 has taken forever to come around, but it’s finally starting to drink well. Medium-bodied, still a bit tannic, but with a pointed intensity and sense of place.
1988 Côte-Rôtie: Another wine that has seemed mature forever, but is showing no signs of anything but continued greatness. The regional character is so stark and clear here, devoid of any extraneous accents of new wood or brettanomyces, smoky bacon, gamy meaats, raspberry, and hints of licorice. The quintessential Côte-Rôtie at its peak of maturity, but with many years of life. As a side note, it’s thrown a hellacious deposit, totally blackening the inside of the bottles.