Tasting wine in peer groups always feels clinically informative, digging around for distinguishing nuances against identical backgrounds of grape variety, vintage, or appellation. It trains my palate and sharpens a vocabulary of descriptors. Tasting a potpourri of unrelated wines from completely different vintages, continents, countries, and varieties can be as discerning in different ways. I was reminded of this when six of us lent a critical eye to California’s 2005 Red Car Shake Rattle Roll, St. Emilion’s 1997 Troplong Mondot, and Italy’s 2005 Renato Ratti Barolo Conca from the Barolo subzone of Marcenasco.
Was there a point to this messy,uneven, chock-a-block evening of wine tasting?
You can jump to the concluding paragraph if you immediately need to know the unanimous favorite. But the interesting thing in this kind of tasting, not occurring over a meal, one bottle at a time, and not tasted in side-by-side glasses is the chance to explore “broad style” preference. A tasting of twelve 1997 St. Emilions, side by side, is a lesson in fine tuning. Tasting an incongruent line up of Barolo, St. Emilion, and California Syrah becomes an act of gross sorting.
A good analogy is picking a favorite Monet “Water Lilies” vs. a preference for Cezanne, Monet, or Degas
** 2005 Red Car Shake Rattle Roll $50 California
I bought a couple bottles after tasting it several years ago at Las Vegas’ Aureole replica. It was a massive wine with earthy tones, rich luscious black fruit, and spicy character but totally unfit to drink with a meal as delicately prepared as the one it accompanied that evening. So I bought the wine to lay away and now, three or four years later, the wine has not shed any weight, is shut down and represents itself more one dimensionally than right after bottling. It is a big fat thing, with soft tannins, rich extraction,and disappointingly limited nuance at this stage of its life. Who knows if that will ever change with more cellaring? I will hold my second bottle for another five years without anything to lose.
*** 1997 Troplong Mondot $70, Bordeaux, France
Troplong Mondot is a perennial favorite producer but 1997 was not a year I purchased Bordeaux for the cellar. I thought, back then, they were over priced for what seemed like simple, early drinking wines with less classic aging potential. I enjoyed them young and ordered them in restaurants, but none to lay away. Tasting this wine makes me feel better about that decision. At age 14 it is still lovely and nice to drink, with wood bark on the nose along with muted licorice, spice, dried fruits, and clove which are all nice and fun enough for me. But the sweet fruit that was there on release has not advanced to any interesting secondary stage and has started to disappear, making for a more dried out and simple drinking experience. I think with the right dish of mildly spiced meats, the wine can show nicely and feel like a treat. While it’s just not a blockbuster or sexy eye catcher, the 97 Troplong still offers enough finesse not to be dismissed.
**** 2005 Renato Ratti Barolo Conca $75, Barolo, Italy
A pretty wine that packs power and elegance. Sweet black cherry fruit, flowers, field herbs, and a sexy hit of mint on the nose. On the palate the sweetness of the fruit is overwhelmingly compelling, accompanied by cinnamon and anise flavor. The flavors coat and linger in the mouth with a long finish that highlights some stiff tannins that will hopefully smooth out with time. The Renato Ratti triggered my imagination and transported me to the hills of Barolo, constantly unveiling nuance and characteristics that could only come from the soil, vines, and climate that comprise its birthplace. The wine was alive and so very expressive.
In a tasting like this, pretty, authentic, and expressive wins me over. The power of the Red Car was helpless in the absence of any interesting complexity. The Troplong Mondot’s simple finesse was begging for food as a stage to highlight its restrained prowess. And the Renato Ratti Barolo, everyone’s favorite of the evening, was simply too sexy, multi dimensional, and pretty for anyone not to notice. The Barolo stood in a class by itself. It was a great experiment; three totally different wines with one unanimous outcome. Given the choice to drink any of these wines again, the Renato Ratti would easily float to the top of my list. It is worth the splurge.