May 01, 2005

Manning Magnum Madness Mad-riffic

The exile has ended. Élevage is back after a long though unrelated diversion in the aftermath of Manning March Magnum Madness.

So how was the best wine house party in Portland? Terrific as usual, with lots good folks and good food, and a vast amount of undeniably good wine. The only downside, beside the unusually hard rain that fell all day and night, is not being able to try everything. And I didn’t get to say hello to some people that I wanted to see. Such is life. The highlights listed here implicate the amount of wine consumption, and consider that I tried to hold back and spit a reasonable amount to keep my head straight. Which didn’t exactly happen. At least I was riding the bus. On to the event.

Before my first taste, I cut up my Seigle de Thiézac and Pane Francese, both of which turned out pretty well. The siegle was especially tasty with Eddie Robinson's homemade paté. I ended up hanging out around the food taste much of the night as I tasted through the line up of wines.

I started at the white wine table in the Manning dining room. This table was perhaps the star of the event with a terrific array of quality sparkling and still wines. I loved the NV Ariston Champagne Aspasie Brut Prestige, a big Champagne I’ve never heard of with rich, barrel-aged aromas and flavors with good acidity. The NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Rosé was nice as well, with a pale color and delicate red fruit flavors. For comparison, I tried the 1994 Argyle Brut, a Willamette Valley sparkling wine that tasted good as usual but simple with citrus and yeast flavors. I like Argyle wines, but they never show much complexity. The 2001 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet Champ-Canet was a big change of pace, with nice slightly maturing white burgundy flavors of apples, toast, and cream. The 2003 Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese showed the ripeness of the ’03 vintage across Europe, with sweet Auslese-like richness and lots of broad flavors that taste great now. The 2002 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese showed lots of petrol for a young wine, but was otherwise fairly tight and young. Drink the Donnhoff and hold this one. Finally, a curiosity, the 1989 Maresh Vineyard Riesling Red Barn, from Oregon’s own Dundee Hills. Thanks to my buddy Jim Maresh for sharing another nice example of his family’s wine from the ‘80s. Youthful color, diesel and lemon aroma, nicely flavorful with maybe Spatlese-level sweetness. Not German in complexity or soil flavors, but tasty stuff and Oregon at the core.

In the living room, I found the first table of reds, this one featuring mostly wines from pinot noir and gamay. I brought the ’03 Lapierre Morgon and found a ’99 from the same producer to compare. The maturing ’99 was a favorite on the night, with nice peppery earthy Burgundy-like complexity and elegance. The ’03 was more primary and large, maybe even a little alcoholic, again showing the heat of the vintage. Still a good drink though. Another favorite of mine was the 2002 Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique, which only reinforced my feeling that Cameron is one of the top 5 producers of Oregon wine. This wine shows the depth and richness of the ’02 vintage here in the Willamette Valley, but the alcohol remains in check, flavors are complex, and there’s not a lot of noticeable oakiness. This is a classic in the making. John and Kay Eliasson of Oregon’s La Bete winery were here, and John brought a 1985 Pinot noir he made as an amateur from grapes grown near Estacada, OR, far from the heart of wine country today in the Cascade foothills. And wouldn’t you know it, this mature, delicate wine was delicious with nice earthy flavors and some hints of fruit, more than alive though starting downhill. I’d happily drink this with dinner. More Oregon pinot noir, this time it’s the 1996 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir. This bottle seemed a bit old, not dried out but soft and simple with easy cherry flavors. The 1999 Amity Pinot Noir Schouten Vineyard shows again how underrated this and other pioneer producers are today. Nice, polished but honest pinot noir from a long, late vintage known for great balance and complex flavors. This wine, like many tonight, was opened way too soon. Same with the 1998 Chehalem Pinot Noir Rion Reserve, a bigger wine from a sunnier vintage but still young, fresh, and delicious. Breaking the Oregon pinot streak, the 1993 Podere Il Palazzino Chianti Classico Riserva Grosso Sanese seemed young and rich for this lighter year in Chianti. Without seeing the full label I thought it was a super Tuscan with some cabernet in the mix, but indeed this is all sangiovese as once vociferous taster pointed out. Nice stuff with a long life ahead.

I had arrived a little late and missed some early favorites like the 1985 Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve Brut. Now after lingering at the first table of reds, I saw I had already missed some of the best things from the second red table. First and most painful, the 2000 Produttori di Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja. Nevertheless, I ventured downstairs to the "bigger" red table and found some more things to sample. First up was the ’00 Les Pailleres Gigondas, which I also tasted at last year’s event. What was a grapey monolithic but nice Gigondas has opened some to reveal more red fruit, pepper, and stone flavors. This is a terrific wine with at least 10 years ahead of it. The 1996 Prunotto Barolo Bussia was predictably tannic and hard but showed lots of promise. I don’t have much experience with this producer, but, although I’ve heard lots of grumbling from others about how the house style is new wave, this bottle showed nice Barolo character. Just let it rest for 5 or 10 more years, especially in magnum. Next were a couple of California cabernets. First the 1999 Heitz Bella Oaks Vineyard, which tasted nice if predictably young and wound up. It took a back seat to the 1991 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, which is a terrific example of this long, cool vintage. Oaky as the house style goes, but with enough stuffing, as they say, to balance it out. Cassis, herb, and graphite flavors that echo Bordeaux but with the ripeness of Napa.

I turned out not to be too interested in the other "big" wines, so I made my way back upstairs to find a dessert wine frenzy all over the house. Big bottles, little bottles, already empty bottles…again my slow pace cost me tastes of some precious wines. But at this point, even with my moderate pace, I was winding things down. Still, I managed a few more tastes. The 1971 Quinta do Noval Colheita, a vintage tawny port, was gorgeous with nice sweetness and length. The 1996 Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moelleux 1er Trie was less intense than I expected for this bottling, but that’s picking nits. No white wine for me ages more slowly than chenin blanc, and this wine is typically a classic example. Open again in 20 years. There were two different bottlings of the ’80 Mas Amiel Maury, an early bottled vintage-port-style wine and a later-bottled example that saw two decades of cask ageing. Both were delicious, and nicely savory for all their sweetness. Usually I find Maury too sweet compared to its sister wine Banyuls, but these bottlings were superb. And finally my other contribution, the NV Broadbent Madeira Terrantez Old Reserve that is at least 50 years old and perhaps 70. Wow, this was terrific. I had tasted a little of this one in the afternoon as I decanted it, and found it to be moderately sweet with lots of hard to describe complexity and the typical bright acid of Madeira. Tasted even better to me later on and it showed a wonderful unique fragrance. Wish I had bought more of this when I found it on close out for $24. Even the full retail of $48 is a relative deal here, for a wine that will last in an opened bottle almost indefinitely. And to think that the Madeira experts I know say this is good stuff but not great. I need to taste more.

So that was that. I said final goodbyes, munched a little more food and trundled down to the bus stop in the rain. Thanks again to Marshall and Carolyn for hosting and to all for bringing such fantastic wines. I look forward to next year, if the Mannings are willing.

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