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Burgundy, Vega-Sicilia, Musar, The Armagh

by Tom Cannavan, 01/00
A tasting that was full of interest for me. One of my runners-up for "Red Wine of the Year" 1999 was Vega-Sicilia's "Unico" 1970. This is one of Spain's flagship wines, a blend of mainly Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon that spends a minimum of 10 years in barrel before release. This tasting featured the 1981 vintage. There was also the latest release of Jim Barry's "The Armagh" an Australian super-shiraz that I've been following for the past 4 or 5 vintages (whilst its reputation - and price - have rocketed). Alongside it was one of the top Old World Syrahs from the same vintage, an Hermitage from Chapoutier. Also in the line-up were some decent Burgundies, ranging in age from 8 to 18 years old. There was also the sometimes controversial but often wonderful Château Musar from 1988 - at 12 years old just about reaching its peak according to some authorities. As well as these there were two Portuguese wines, one a Port from the house of Niepoort - who are one of the best and most dynamic forces in Port at present - and the other a premium red from Dão, a continuing part of my education in the table wines of Portugal.

The wines really were a nice bunch overall, and offered wonderful contrasts from the gamy, mature and old-fashioned flavours of the 1985 Santenay, to the modern, ripe and dazzling style of the Dão from Quinto dos Roques.

Remoissenet (Burgundy) Puligny-Montrachet 1992 - £30.99
Pale/medium golden yellow with distinct green tinge. Very delicate nose. Flowery, with subdued aromas of lime, pear and restrained creamy oak. Beautiful sweetness as it strikes the palate, the fruit is buttery-edged with greengage and citrus favours. Plenty of alcohol, plenty of lemon and lime acidity. Powerful, full and spicy on the finish. Very good though seems rather expensive for a village wine.

Remoissenet (Burgundy) Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 1982 - £32.99
Medium/deep gold with a burnished brassy edge. Nose is fresh, just a hint of oxidisation, but with buttery, pecan and walnut aromas and nuances of deeper fig and over-ripe pear fruit. On the palate there is still good lemony acidity, but the wine is soft, broad and quite luscious, finishing dry and quite mellow with good length through lively acidity. Good, fully-mature Burgundy.

Besancenot-Mathouillet (Burgundy) Beaune Cent Vignes 1er Cru 1990 - £20.99
Medium/deep ruby just fading towards brick. Lovely nose. Sweet, briary and perfumed with scents of soft strawberry fruit, dank vegetation and wild, spicy, earthy notes. On the palate it is smooth, sweet and juicy with a lot of fat, ripe fruit and little brown-sugar and menthol nuances. Warm and spicy, it is firmed-up by fine tannins and moderate acidity. An overall impression of strength and opulence, yet quite refined. Very good at the price.

Remoissenet (Burgundy) Santenay Clos de Tavannes 1er Cru 1985 - £28.99
Ruby core but broad rim of tawny brown. Powerful nose: animal bouquet of beef, blood and game. Lovely, with raspberry and strawberry highlights pushing through, and dank undergrowth notes. Very sweet on the palate. Lots of ripe strawberry and berry fruit and a mellow coffee and tobacco oakiness. Tannins are surprisingly grippy. Gorgeous nose, but I find this slightly cloying on the palate and prefer the previous wine overall.

Quinto dos Roques (Portugal, Dão) Touriga-Nacional 1997 - £14.99
Very dark, youthful crimson/purple. Aromatic and highly-perfumed with confected, jammy notes of blackcurrant, leafy mint aromas and distinct mint-humbug toffee nuances. Palate is lovely too with nicely sour acidity buttressing ripe, sweet fruit. It is cool and creamy with that top-note of minty blackcurrant again. Tannins are firm and fine, the finish is long and savoury. Very nice indeed.

Château Musar (Lebanon) 1988 (from magnum) - £42.99 (magnum)
Soft, warm, ruby red. The nose is very fresh with sweet raspberry and blackcurrant aromas, but also a nice contrast with sweeter, lifted, more aromatic notes and something stewed and vegetal beneath. On the palate it is silky and medium-bodied with a great core of ripe fruit. There is lovely support from cedary wood. There's a coffee note and fine mature tannins lead to a seamless finish. A very convincing Musar.

Chapoutier (France, Rhône) Hermitage "Sizeranne" 1996 - £27.99
Medium-deep, rich, dark purple/black. Very distinctive text-book syrah nose, redolent of blackberries, pepper, charcoal and burning embers. It is quite deep and dark with a farmyard edge to the fruit. The palate has a lovely fruitiness that is medium-bodied and classy with firm tannins coating the tongue and a tingle of acidity. There is good balance overall, with concentration and spice in the finish. Good length and should mature nicely in the medium term.

Jim Barry (Australia, Clare) "The Armagh" 1996 - £45.00
Typically dense, dark and opaque purple/black. Massive, thick concentration of fruit on the nose. Super-ripe aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry and eucalyptus, as well as chocolate amd mint. Juicy, ripe fruit on the palate but with a firmer cassis edge. A little one-dimensional at present for me - so jammy and dense - but there is plenty of support from creamy vanillin oak, ripe tannins and good acidity to keep it sharp. Another very fine Armagh that will please fans of this style. I liked it a lot.

Vega-Sicilia (Spain, Ribera del Duero) "Unico" 1981 - £99.99
Dark, fairly opaque ruby colour, lightening on rim. The nose is dominated by ripe raspberry fruit that is pure and substantial. There are notes of tobacco, smoke, earth and cedar-wood as well as a background of vanillin oak. On the palate it is quite silky with warm berry fruit up against grippy tannins and highish acidity, just a little hint of bitterness. Lots of coffee and cream too and good length. Savoury, complex and layered, this is fine though not as good as the 1970. I also doubt if it has the concentration of fruit or perfect balance to age as well as that wine. Hyper-critical analysis of a very fine wine, but £100/$160 is a lot of money!

Quinta do Passadouro (Portugal) LBV Port 1995 - £14.99
Dense and dark ruby colour. It has a fine, rich nose of red and black fruits, currants and raisins, cherry, tobacco, chocolate and some sweet confectionery and violet notes. Medium-bodied, smooth and with good length on the palate, it lacks a little complexity perhaps, but is a lovely Port for drinking now or ageing a few years.