The weekend before last Matt and I drove down to Paso Robles to attend the 2005 Hospice du Rhône Grand Tasting. It was my first time at HdR, and I didn't decide to go to any of the other events, even though there were a ton of those. I only knew one other person who would be there, and if I had gone to the other events I would have met more people so I would know more people next year, but I was putting my toe in the pool, I guess. I often feel out of place at these things and don't think I have a lot in common with a lot of attendees (besides liking wine), so I skipped the socialization and dragged Matt with me for company.
It's hard to really say much interesting about wine tasting en masse, but I will try. It was hot down in Paso Robles (almost 90 degrees) and we got down early enough to grab a quick lunch and then go over to the tasting which I forgot started at 3 and not 2. So we went to check into our motel (lodgings are tough to come by, even when you book your hotel in Februrary for this, but at least we ended up nearby), and walked back over to where the tasting was. It was interesting watching people coming in with their wine and stuff to set up, and amusing that many of them seemed to be coming in at the last minute (something I also noticed when I worked the auction at Rhône Rangers... we actually had bottles of wine for the auction show up after the auction started). It also gave me a chance to look through the (very impressive) tasting book and decide on a rough plan of action. I always try to do this, and the plan almost always falls apart sometime during the tasting.
Eventually it seemed wise to join the cattle-call line and stand and wait. We got to the front, traded ticket for glass, and were off. First, I decided to hit Saxum and Cayuse. Saxum because everyone raves about them and I have had more than one person wax poetic to me on the wine and tell me to find some (which is hard to do). And Cayuse because I had a feeling I would like the style of wine, being that Christophe Baron has (as he said at the tasting) taught K Vintners' Charles Smith "everything he knows", and I like the terroir-driven style of wine Smith makes. I have been meaning to hunt down some Cayuse, but haven't yet, so this was the perfect opportunity. I also had a feeling those tables would both be mobbed and would run out of wine early on.
We hit Saxum first, and jostled into place at the already-crowded tasting table, to try the Broken Stones. I thought it was well done but too fruity, and was kind of cloying and sweetly spicy, reminiscent of some Zinfandel I have had. Ah well, not for me. On to the Rocket Block, which was the same thing in general. Very fruit-driven. At that point, the table was too crowded, so we passed on the third wine (the Bone Rock), which I sort of regret but I have a feeling that it would have been similar in flavor profile, so onward.
The Cayuse table was crazy, too, and not just because it was starting to get mobbed. Christophe Baron was pouring out huge pours (which was sad, since I was dumping and spitting for the most part), and being generally hilarious, telling people "if you do not like this wine, too bad for you!" and making fun of François Villard, who was setting up at the table with him (I guess he crashed the party late, since he wasn't listed). He was telling people "Do not expect much! His wine, it is just okay! Nothing great!" and generally teasing him. In any case, we tasted all three Cayuse offerings, and the wines were like night and day compared to the Saxum. They were not much about fruit, they were about dirt and rocks and leather and all kinds of strange funk, and were pretty interesting. I ended up liking the 2002 En Cerise a lot.
It did turn out that both Cayuse and Saxum ran out of wine before the end of the tasting. Cayuse poured out I think in an hour, which upset some folks (not bringing enough wine is considered rude, or dumb, or arrogant by some people). I can't say I am surprised he ran out, given the size of the pours (the obvious answer is bring more wine and/or don't pour so much, but honestly, I don't get the idea that Baron cares a whole lot about what other people think). Saxum ran out at a much more respectable time, not too long before the tasting was over.
Anyway, post-Cayuse I got overwhelmed and didn't know what to do. Finally, we just started walking around and hitting the places that either I remembered wanting to check out, or places that seemed interesting because of the label or anything else (not a good way to do things, but I wanted to hit a couple of random places too, places I knew nothing of). We ended up putting away the tasting book because it was pretty, but cumbersome (holding that, and a glass, and a spit cup, and a pen... well, that's pretty impossible). I used my recorder and tried to take notes on what I could (despite technical difficulty, like misfiring the button). We ended up only getting through about 50 wines, and I guess I can only do 20 or so an hour, tops. I should probably stand around less thinking about the wine and just go with a gut "good-bad-eh" reaction, and that would make things quicker, but I like remembering why I liked or disliked a wine.
Overall, everything I had was well-done, even if I didn't personally like it. The fact that I think a lot of Central Coast Syrah is too fruity/extracted became pretty evident during the tasting.
I think the best things I had were:
2002 Cayuse En Cerise
2002 Andrew Rich Syrah
2001 Paul Jaboulet Ainé Crozes-Hermitage Les Jalets
2001 Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras
2002 Spencer Roloson "Palaterra"
2003 Red Car "The Fight"
Willow Creek Olive Ranch olive oil, especially the orange (we liked this enough to go visit them the next day... they are very cool people making some good olive oil)
Anyway, here are my long and boring notes (the ones I have, at least).
2003 "Broken Stones" Syrah (some Mourvedre) Dark, too fruity, cloying sweet spice, like Zin
2003 "Rocket Block" Syrah (Grenache) Fruity, too
2002 "En Cerise" Leather, mineral dirt funk in finish, soft tannins, structure
2002 "Cailloux" Softer than En Cerise, sweeter with more spice, I liked En Cerise better
2002 "En Chamberlin" Wacky superfunk nose, lots of oak and smoke
'If you don't like the wine, too bad for you!'
Domaine François Villard
2000 "Reflet" Saint-Joseph Syrah Tannic, strong finish, drying, licorice in nose, nice but could use a few years
2003 "Le Mas"
2004 Château de Ségriès Tavel rosé slightly hot finish, nice otherwise okay
Miller Wine Works (very plain label with a slight twist)
2002 Syrah Napa Valley Brookside slightly hot nose, black fruit, smells like a Syrah, slight almost iodiney/bandaidey medicinal scent, nicely balanced overall (winemaker worked/works at Robert Biale)
2002 Lytton Estate Grenache a big spicy pillow of Grenache, soft tannins that dry but aren't harsh, a lot of spice/pepper
Renard (because I have Le Roman de Renard at home, and to play Compare The Grenache with the Ridge)
2003 Unti Vineyards Dry Creek Grenache much more simple and clean than Ridge, not as much spice and fullness, nice in mouth great acids on finish with a slight bitterness, clean, would be good with food
2001 Santa Rita Hills Syrah a solid Syrah, nothing stands out or is remarkable, but it was nicely balanced and tasty
2002 Peay Vineyards Sonoma Coast also solid, but has a fruitier finish, which I didn't like as much so I preferred the SR
Spencer Roloson (interesting label, and I have heard of it)
2003 Viognier Sueno Vineyard Lodi light floral nose, creme brulee finish, not my thing but pleasant
2002 "Palaterra" (Syrah, Carignane, Valdigue) pretty darn tasty, had all the things I liked in it-- some spice, some astringency, some wood, but balanced and easy to drink. Fun.
2003 "L'Avion" Roussanne/Viognier named because the vineyard is where the airport used to be
(No notes because I was pestering Peter Huncken about Holus Bolus, but it was tasty)
2003 Estate Syrah balanced, but maybe slightly fruity (just a little!) for me
2003? "Hilltop" Syrah cookie finish, and a soliloqu by me about central coast syrahs and why they have this Zinfandel-sweet-spice thing a lot
2002 "Cuvée Jeanne Marie" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah/Viognier/Mourvedre fruity, lots of black and red fruit and some fruit funk central coast, what happened?
Andrew Rich (all Columbia Valley)
2003 Roussanne lots of tart apple in mouth nice vanilla/white peppery spice in finish, clean
2002 "Coup d'État" Grenache/Mourvedre/Counoise/2002 Syrah similar to CdE with lots of prickly and not sweet spice in finish, blockbuster in mouth, finish smacks you around a little, not too sweet, which is nice (could maybe rest a few years)
2003 Syrah and Syrah Reserve super bombastic, spice at finish in Reserve is more subdued than Syrah and is not as pointy sparkly bright but is still tannic and has impact
2004 Viognier Estate clean floral nose, lots of peaches and nectarine in mouth and finish tastes like it has rs. 2nd mouthful revealed more spice and interest in finish, more acid
2004 Rosé (Cinsault) almost-beery nose, fermented smelling clean and acidic in finish, but odd nose
2003 "Hard Core" Barrel sample syrah cab
2003 "Blend 442" Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre softer than hardcore
Similar flavor profiles, both were ok but didn't blow me away
Stopped to talk with the Crushpad guys and taste some things people made there
Domaine de Montvac
2001 Gigondas nice light spice oak leather well balanced warming delicious, some serious tannins
2001 Vacqueyras More dusty attic on the nose thank above, some licorice in finish, soft tannins
2003 Grenache Blanc (Priorat) bitter finish
Casa de la Ermita
2004 Viognier lots of mineral and peach
(Both the above from *Langdon Shiverick Imports- can possibly find us Holus Bolus/Piedra Sassi)
2003 "The Fight" Syrah (great label) slight bitter finish that I liked-- should probably check out "All Night Radio" which they were sadly out of (finally a central coast Syrah I like, sigh, probably because of that nice finish)
Provisor Vineyards (nice graphic blackbird label; never heard of them)
2002 Syrah Dry Creek again, slightly bitter finish, but I thought it was all right! Matt not so sure.
2002 Santa Barbara County Grenache Syrah blend fruity with sweet spice finish, like the Pape Star t-shirt better, I think (the shirt was pretty awesome and hard to beat)
2004 Viognier pleasant, nice nose, B, not too fruity on the finish, yay!
2001 Napa Valley Syrah bramble red and black fruit on nose, nice after all the caveman Syrahs (even though I love caveman Syrahs) tasty, very drinkable
Paul Jaboulet Ainé
2001 Crozes-Hermitage "Les Jalets" dark
2001 Hermitage "La Chappelle" sweeter/fruitier than the above, both had a lot of funk to them and a lot of tannin.
2001 Cornas "Les Grands Terrasses" tannic, funky
2002 Paso Robles Syrah crazy finish that ended, but then kind of came back when you thought it was gone, very interesting
2002 Reserve Syrah not as interesting as the other, no crazy growing finish, but ok
2001 Domaine Saint Antonin "Tradition" very ashy and atticy on nose, not a lot of fruit but decent structure so probably good with food. Lives up to the name
Willow Creek Olive Oil
Orange and meyer lemon olive oils excellent CA blend and Pasolivo fine as well