Part II - 24 top-rated 2005 grand cru hyphenated Montrachets (plus one Meursault) @ Valentino February 20, 2013

On Wednesday February 20, 2013 thirteen of us gathered at Valentino Restaurant in Santa MonicaCalifornia for the second of my three annual white burgundy vintage assessment and oxidation check dinners. On this occasion we tasted 24 grand cru wines from Bienvenues Batard Montrachet, Criots Batard Montrachet, Batard Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet – and one Meursault Genevrieres which was a “retest” of a bottle which was oxidized at the first dinner.

This was the first wine event I’ve ever hosted or attended at Valentino, a Los Angeles area bastion of Italian haute cuisine which is well known for its 70,000 bottle Wine Spectator Grand Award winning wine cellar. (Valentino also now has branches in Las Vegas and Houston.) Owner and restaurant icon Piero Selvaggio greeted everyone on arrival. The dinner was held in Valentino’s “Gold Room” which provided the best physical set up we’ve ever had for these dinners. The large rectangular table meant each taster had ample working space to keep all of their stems throughout the evening and the seating arrangement and nice acoustics permitted us to easily see and speak with everyone else.

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The Gold Room at Valentino Where the Dinner Was Held
This photo and the ones below were taken by Andrew Gavin, one of the attendees. Andy has several more photographs of the event on his own blog site, All Things Andy Gavin: http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/2013/02/22/valentino-2005-white-burg-part-2/

I really put Special Events Director Giuseppe Mollica and the chef Nicola Chessa through their paces as we tried to plan this dinner and then ultra fine tune the menu to the flights of hyphenated Montrachets. They showed admirable patience and managed it all flawlessly. Valentino Wine Director Julian Zaragoza, who had the huge job of labeling, pouring and serving 350 glasses of wine along with coordinating the service of a five course meal, made it seemed well-practiced and effortless, though I’m sure it was not.
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The huge wall of stems and some of the bottles for this dinner

The food was excellent (especially the Lobster and Shrimp Risotto which was served with the third course) and the food and wine service was extraordinary. Alan Weinberg was so impressed with the Lobster and Shrimp Risotto that he jokingly begged for more and, to everyone’s delight, they immediately brought out the pot and served us all a little more. It was so good that it was exceedingly difficult for me to lay down my fork and taste the wines.

Appetizer Course
STUZZICHINI: Crudo Of Tuna, Shrimp On A Skeewer, Panelle, Frico
external image CrudoofTunaAppetizer_zpsb288a9bd.jpgThe Tuna Crudo with pineapple was delicious

1985 Alain Robert Les Mesnil Blanc de Blanc Reserve Champagne (en magnum)
Between medium and full gold color; beautiful aromas of sweet citrus, pain grille and brioche; this champagne had great acidity which framed some citrus, brioche and mineral flavors; the best feature was the exceedingly long citrus and minerals finish that’s the hallmark of a great Les Mesnil. Another really nice champagne to start us off. 95

Flight One-Bienvenues and Criots Batard Montrachet (and one Meursault Genevrieres)
external image Salmon-course1_zps740997ff.jpgCitrus Citrus And Wild Fennel Marinated Salmon With Osetra Caviar and Chives Sour Cream

#1 [2005 Hubert Lamy Criots Batard Montrachet]
Light gold color; lightly floral and green apple aromas; round, medium bodied pear flavors with very modest acidity with a somewhat elegant finish. Not a lot of complexity here. Reminds me more of a premier cru Chassagne than a grand cru. Tied for 18th, 0 pts 92

#2 [2005 Pernot Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; some SO2 (reduction) aromas with a little citrus – the wine continued to open up the longer it sat with some floral elements emerging; on the palate this is very bright, with slightly sweet citrus, a touch of vanilla (oak) and some minerals; nice citrus and minerals finish. Most of us, including me, think this is the Meursault Genevrieres Group Rank: 5th, 15 pts (1/1/1/1/1) 93

#3 [2005 Mikulski Meursault Genevrieres]
Medium gold color; very light apple blossom notes with a very odd light top note of acetone; some sweet green apple flavors, low acidity; okay, but not great. After being open about a half hour I thought this exhibited distinct but light sherry notes in the aromas – i.e., partially oxidized. The group consensus on this wine is that it is notably advanced. My judgment is that it is partially oxidized though still drinkable. Can you learn to sing. [N.B. This bottle was a replacement bottle for the one which was badly oxidized at the February 5 dinner. It came from Fine Vines in Chicago, who now imports and distributes Mikulski. In the 2005 vintage, Veritas Imports actually imported the wines in question. My thanks to Fine Vines for going to the trouble of replacing the oxidized bottle, but except for the fact that you could actually drink this bottle, it failed miserably again.] Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts 90 Advanced/Partially Oxidized

#4 [2005 Henri Boillot Criots Batard Montrachet]
A couple of ticks past medium gold color; sweet white flowers aromas, but they aren’t honeysuckle; rich, sweet medium bodied green apple pastry flavors; notably rich and fat and slightly alcoholic on the finish. The group consensus on this one is that it is somewhat advanced. Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts 92-Advanced

#5 [2005 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Light yellow color which doesn’t quite reach gold; sweet white flowers with just a touch of honeysuckle; a mix of green apple and pear flavors with just enough acidity for balance; and incredibly long slightly sweet fruit and minerals finish is its best attribute. Group Rank: 12th, 5 pts (0/0/1/1/0) 94

#6 [2005 Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Light yellow gold color; aromas of gooseberry and honeysuckle; nicely concentrated, medium bodied pear and green apple fruit; adequate but not prominent acidity; very nice balance and quite elegant in texture; a very long fruity finish with just a touch of minerality. My fifth-ranked wine of the night. Group Rank: 10th, 8 pts (0/0/1/2/1) 95

Missing Wines: 2005 Carillon Bienvenues and Sauzet Bienvenues. We never got to taste what is almost invariably my favorite Bienvenues from Louis (now Jacques) Carillon. On the morning of the tasting, I received a call from Neil Napoleon, who was supposed to bring the Carillon and Sauzet Bienvenues Batards. He told me that me that he would not be attending the dinner because he could not stand to be in the same room with one of the other attendees (who I subsequently found out was his former boss). Although he was well aware of my “Seven Day Cancellation Rule” for these dinners, Mr. Napoleon refused to deliver the Carillon and Sauzet Bienvenues that he had committed to bring. Despite spending hours trying to find replacements for these wines in Los Angeles for before the dinner, I was not able to do so. Obviously, Mr. Napoleon will never receive another invitation to any event I’m associated with.

Flight Two – Batard Montrachet
external image SearedScallopswith2dflightofwines_zps639e4b33.jpgPan Seared Scallops With Mushrooms And Mustard Dressing

#007 [2005 Sauzet Batard Montrachet]
Medium yellow gold color; soft white flowers aromas; a very soft, elegant mouth feel on this wine where so many others are heavy or dripping with sweetness; medium weight pear fruit with a light sense of layering; this has a soft and elegant mouth feel whereas so many of the others come across as big, rich, sweet wines; a long fruity finish. Great balance here. I changed my mind twice about whether this wine was my fifth or sixth place wine of the night. Group Rank: Tied for 13th, 4 pts (0/1/0/0/0) 95

#7 [2005 Henri Boillot Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; some light floral scents and lemon-lime citrus; this wine has very modest fruit compared to the others, but a distinctly stony character. There is just enough acidity to kind of hold this together. There is not a lot of depth here either. Quite nice for drinking right now but I would not hold onto to this wine. Tied for 13th, 4 pts (0/1/0/0/0) 92

#8 [2005 Le Moine Batard Montrachet]
Nearly full blown gold color; clearly oxidized sherry and toast aromas; on the palate it isn’t quite as bad, but it is clearly oxidized and also has some notable vanilla (oak). We unanimously agreed that this was badly oxidized. Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts DQ-oxidized

#9 [2005 Ramonet Batard Montrachet]
Medium plus gold color; rich, coconut and pineapple aromas atypical for burgundy; rich, fat and mature mid palate and a pralines and cream finish. A very odd wine for burgundy. The group consensus here is clearly advanced. Group Rank: Group Rank 16th, 2 pts (0/0/0/1/0) 91-advanced

#10 [2005 Pernot Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; some very appealing citrus and white flowers aromas; there is some sweet grapefruit citrus fruit, good acidity and real tension in this wine; long finish of light fruit and minerals. This is one of the few wines in the two nights of tasting where there is a sense that this wine may further improve with additional bottle age. My number 3 wine of the night. Group Rank: 4th, 20 pts (1/2/2/0/1) 95+

#11 [2005 Colin-Morey Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; some slightly reductive aromas which faded with time into white flowers and lemon-lime citrus; the reduction also seemed to close down the palate at first; with time this exhibited light pear-citrus fruit and some citrus zest flavors; this is tight with good acidity and the finish is a combination of fruit and minerals plus some phenols you can detect. This and number 10 are very different from all of the other wines so far. I think this has some upward development potential too. Group Rank: 3rd, 21 pts (1/2/2/1/0) 94+

#12 [2005 Leflaive Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color; rich peach aromas and a somewhat exotic character; rich apple pastry flavors and yet adequate acidity, but the acidity doesn’t quite balance out the richness of this wine. I think this is a wine to drink now. Many of the group liked this more than I did, although it is quite good. Group Rank: 2nd, 25 pts (2/2/0/3/1) 94

Flight Three – Chevalier Montrachet
external image LobsterandShrimpRisotto_zps8a847373.jpg
Lobster and Shrimp Risotto

#13 [2005 Philippe Colin Chevalier Montrachet]
Almost medium gold color; some white flowers and citrus aromas; but notably advanced on the palate with thick butterscotch and smoky flavors that will soon be full-blown oxidized. Group consensus is advanced. Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts 88-Advanced

#14 [2005 Deux Montilles Chevalier Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold; amazing lemon-lemon lime citrus and some hints of smoke; very tight, this bottle has unusually good acidity; meyer lemon and minerals on the mid-palate and continuing through a fairly long finish. Very impressive for a 2005. My fourth favorite wine of the night. Group Rank: Tied for 8th, 12 pts (0/0/2/2/2) 95

#15 [2005 Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; concentrated lemon-lime aromas and even some minerality in the aromas (I think others thought what I was calling minerality was hints of oxidation) – highly unusual for 2005; on the palate a nice mix of slightly sweet lemon-lime fruit and a touch of minerality. The group consensus was that this bottle was advanced and a couple of tasters thought this was oxidized. I acknowledge the color is deeper than the others in this flight but I did not smell or taste anything I thought was evidence of oxidation and I have a reasonably low threshold. Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts 93-Advanced

#16 [2005 Henri Boillot Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium plus gold color; this has advanced fully mature toasty elements and a rich butterscotch element with some sherry overtones; on the palate this was has fat and had ultrarich butterscotchy flavors again hints of sherry to me. I think this is partially oxidized; the group consensus was that it was advanced. Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts 90?-Advanced/Partially Oxidized

#17 [2005 Colin-Deleger Chevalier Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; light reductive aromas, then faint floral and mineral scents; the palate is quite different – concentrated, full and ripe pear and lime citrus fruit, adequate supporting acidity (for the moment) and a rich minerally finish. A very nice wine but this is totally atypical for Chevalier; more like Batard on Montrachet than Chevalier. Group Rank: Tied for 6th, 13 pts (2/0/1/0/0) 93

#18 [2005 Colin-Morey Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium yellow color – not quite gold; light pear and hints of key lime in the aromas; this is really a nice wine – it is scaled down compared to the others and it’s not an ultra-ripe wine; some citrus and minerals with everything in balance; the finish isn’t quite as good as expected, but still excellent. Group Rank: Tied for 8th, 12 pts (1/1/0/0/3) 94


Flight Four – Chevalier Montrachet
external image VealScallopswithLemonandCapers_zps267fcbc6.jpg
Veal Scaloppine With Lemon And Capers

#19 [2005 Jean-Marc Pillot Chevalier Montrachet]
Relatively light gold color; this bottle had light white flowers and lemon citrus aromas; on the palate this is a more classical Chevalier palate, like #18 in the last flight—citrus and light minerals; really nice balance of fruit and acid, but this is way lighter than almost everything else tonight and I’m forced to really pay attention after all of these heavyweight wines; classic lemon citrus and dry minerally finish that a Chevalier should have. Group Rank: Tied for 18th, 0 pts 94

#20 [2005 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; gooseberry and an exotic hard to place character in the aroma; pear and lemon-lime flavors in beautiful balance with the wine’s acidity; this wine has depth without a sense of being ultra-ripe; really exquisite minerals and crystallized lemon candy finish. A WOW wine for me and my clear wine of the night. Group Rank: 1st, 29 pts (4/1/1/0/2) 97

#21 [2005 Ramonet Chevalier Montrachet]
Light yellow color – just short of gold; this is tight compared to the others – very restrained lime citrus and white flowers aromas; another lighter styled wine compared to those that have come before it – lemony citrus flavors, very good acidity (acidified maybe?) and good minerality on the back half of the mid-palate; easy to identify as Chevalier; this has a truly awesome long minerally finish. Drink any time over the next five years. My number two wine of the night. Group Rank: Tied for 6th, 13 pts (1/1/0/2/0) 96

#22 [2005 Girardin Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; slightly advanced overripe fruit aromas; on the palate there is very bracing, almost jolting lemony acidity with some underlying minerality that is completely inconsistent with the color and aromas; this comes across as a bit disjointed; I suspect that this was made from overripe fruit that was acidified trying to correct it. The group consensus was that this wine is advanced. Group Rank: Tied for 13th, 4 pts (0/0/0/0/1) 90?-Advanced.

#23 [2005 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; lemon citrus and some lightly toasty elements – almost advanced; nice pear fruit and some minerality; similar minerally finish. [N.B. After the last bottle I had a few years ago I expected this would be oxidized and undrinkable – surprise!] Group Rank: Tied for 16th, 2 pts (0/0/0/0/2) 94

#24 [2005 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Demoiselles]
Light gold color but clearly advanced aromas; key lime pie and some minerality on the mid-palate. I really like the minerality but the fruit seems pretty developed and there are some toasty elements on the finish. The group consensus is again advanced. Group Rank 11th, 6 pts, (0/0/2/0/0) 92-Advanced

Dessert Course
external image Dessert_zps5ae85dba.jpg
Apple Strudel With Vanilla Gelato

1990 Chateau D’Yquem
This was a really impressive dessert wine (but it almost seemed a waste after the impression of sweetness from the burgundies. Burnished orange color; aromas of botrytis and tropical fruit, coconut and apricot; very viscous, rich and dense Y’quem. Very hard to judge in the context of these wines, but it is clearly awesome sauternes. 97

Postscript statistics and comments:

Oxidation--1/25 4%
Corked -- 0/25 0%
Advanced-8/25 32.0%
Oxidized or advanced =9/25 36.0%

Cumulative Statistics--Nights one and two
Oxidation--2/51 4%
Corked -- 1/52 2% [one corked bottle of Raveneau Chablis MDT replaced with backup]
Advanced-11/51 22%
Oxidized or advanced =13/51 25%

I think we set a new record for the number of combined advanced or oxidized wines on a single night with 9 of 25 wines or 36%. At this point the cumulative statistics for the two nights are 13 of 51 bottles were either advanced or oxidized, so 25%. If that number holds through night three (Feb 27), 2005 will be the new “worst” vintage ever from a premature aging perspective. I doubt that this will be welcome news in Burgundy.

My hat’s off to salute Pierre-Yves Colin. All five of his bottles in the first two night’s dinners finished in the top eight wines of each night and there were no oxidized or advanced wines from Colin-Morey. Kudos also to Paul Pernot for his best showing ever. Leflaive, as always, was a crowd favorite.

After two nights of tasting the top-rated 2005 Cote de Beaunes, the one overwhelming impression about them is the very high level of ripeness and their sweetness, with the latter referred to by French winemakers as “sucrosite.” If you do not enjoy this character in white burgundy, and some people do not, then you’re really going to dislike the 2005 vintage because it is nearly impossible to avoid in this vintage.

My other key impression, again a repeat from night one, is that 2005 vintage is the most forward/ready to drink vintage we’ve tasted in the last eight premox series. 2005 is a fruit driven vintage and the acidity seems to range from slightly low to adequate with only a small handful of wines exhibiting the level of acidity you would expect at this stage. The acidity that is there seems quite soft on the palate – perhaps buffered by all of the sucrosite -- and in many instances the impression that you get is that the acidity is sitting beside the fruit rather than being fully integrated. I know that Allen Meadows said back in 2008 that many of the wines had relatively low ph levels and that he thought this vintage would “make old bones,” but after tasting the wines at 7.5 years after the vintage date, that’s not what I taste. In almost every case the fruit tastes completely mature and in way too many cases on night two the wines were notably past their prime. Only two of the wines we tasted on night two conveyed a sense of potential for further improvement with additional aging and only a couple more suggested that they might still be equal what we tasted if left another five years in the cellar. I will be pulling a lot of corks on my 2005s in the next year.

The Batard flight was the most popular flight with the group. I liked the Chevaliers better than some of the attendees and had three Chevaliers in my top five. I suspect that the bigger, richer and sweeter than normal style of the 2005s contributed to some palate fatigue with 24 wines – especially on the last flight. I thought the Leflaive and Ramonet Chevaliers were pretty special, but yes they are more forward and developed than I would normally expect at this point on the aging curve. I definitely encourage you to pull some corks and judge the 2005 whites for yourself.