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Yquem, Grange, La Chapelle and more

by Tom Cannavan, 11/97

This was a superbly put together tasting. The big guns were, of course, the Yquem and Grange, but the full range of wines was well chosen. One thing that struck me really forcefully was how the 2 big names could be so good, but in such entirely different ways. Of course, one is sweet and white and the other dry and red, but the Yquem is great because of its subtlety and the chameleon-like nature of its complexity, whereas the Grange is just brilliantly focussed on one theme: luxurious, enveloping fruit (in a lesser wine this could read "one-dimensional", but nothing could be further from the truth here). The new-world/old-world comparison of Grange and La Chapelle (both top quality syrah based wines) was startlingly true-to-stereotype: the Grange is fruit driven, immediate and flamboyant, the La Chapelle complex, structured and shy.

Hugel, Riesling "Jubilée" 1993 - £14.99
Pale to medium straw gold colour. Very intense, fruit driven nose with tropical fruits, lychees, hints of minerals/slate. Full bodied, without being oily, on the palate with more intense, honeyed fruit following through. Good length with a peppery warmth in the finish, but staying pure and balanced with quite zippy acidity. Straightforward at this stage, but may develop.

Balland-Chapuis, Sancerre "Cuvée Pierre" 1995 - £19.99
Pale yellow. Obvious sauvignon grassiness on nose, but suffused with honey and almond blossom notes. Light to medium body. A rush of almost sugary sweetness from the front of the tongue is met by a really bitter, orange pith and grapefruit acidity spreading from the back, that blunts the sweetness and dominates the finish. There is good length and it is a personality packed wine, but I didn't find it altogether pleasant drinking. An oddity.

Château Belair, St-Emilion, Grand Cru 1990 - £28.99
I tasted this a year ago and found it giving very little. Vibrant purple colour. Little sign of age. Lovely plummy, sweetness to the nose with flowers and parma violets. Not so open and inviting on the palate. Big, mouth-coating tannins and a slight greenness about the fruit. Powerful and spicy, lacking some fruit and some finesse at this stage. Might be better in 5 years.

Yarra Yering, No 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 - £19.99
Dense, deep, dark purple colour. Big, but quite sophisticated nose, with excellent cabernet fruit: masses of unctuous berries, warm vanilla and intense, dusty blueberries. Very luscious textured, silky mouthfeel. Fruit on the palate is quite big and jammy, but loaded with blackberries and blueberries. Nice, rounded oak and subdued but supportive tannins. Great length that is driven along by the fruit. Maybe lacking a little acidity, but a glorious monster of a drink now.

Corteforte, Amarone della Valpolicella 1993 - £19.99
Black colour. Sweet, dark nose. Burnt brown sugar, molasses, stewed figs. On the palate a raw alcoholic edge, with plenty of sour cherry fruit and acidity keeping the overall impression very savoury. Develops a nice peppery richness in the finish and some tart lemon acidity pushing through. Not my taste exactly - too wild! Full of interest.

J. Lohr, Syrah Paso Robles 1994 - £8.99
An interlude before the big syrahs. Intense purple black. Touch of parmesan cheese on the nose, that has quite high, confected blueberry fruit. Big, juicy and supple on the palate. Quite simple, with black pepper and black fruit components and a hint of jammy raspberries. A cloak of soft tannins too. Velvety texture. A very pleasant mouthful.

Paul Jaboulet Aine, Hermitage "La Chapelle" 1991 - £24.99
Crimson red colour tinged with brown. Little whiff of sulphur before big, meaty, vegetal nose. Wet nappies and brussels sprouts too. Distinctive nose gives way to a closed palate. Quite hard work. Obvious structure, but peppery/cedary components to the fore and coming across as a little lean. Tannins are very fine indeed but they are swamping the fruit at this stage. Hope it would improve with 3-5 years cellaring.

Penfolds, Grange 1992 - £70+? (only available at auction)
What makes this wine so wonderful is its singleness of purpose - it's like a shaft of laser light being shone down a long, dark tunnel. The colour is black and dense. Immensely smooth, concentrated aromas of crunchy black fruits, hints of clove, nutmeg and cedar. Piercingly direct, authoritative black fruit flavours on the palate. Minty and creamy, highly toasted oak evident. Dense, smoky, enveloping purity of fruit. Thick and unctuous texture. Finish stays in pin-sharp focus with balance and authority. The wine is so focused down one path of integrated, pure fruit essence, but not at all one-dimensional. Quite something.

Château d'Yquem, Sauternes, Premier Cru Supérieur 1989 - £140.00
Tasted 4 times now with very consistent notes. Beautiful honey gold colour. Rich botrytis nose of honey, nuts, candied fruits, orange marmalade and amaretti biscuits. Little bit of vanilla custardy new oak. Amazing complexity on nose and palate. Tropical fruits - dried pineapple, banana, guava, mango. Texture is rich, luscious, almost syrupy. Acidity is round and expansive and maintains the finish which is long, pure and fills the senses. Wonderful now but hinting at quite a future.