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WWS ‘12: Trinity of Tantalizing Tastings

Posted: Thursday, 22 November 2012 10:39

WWS ‘12: Trinity of Tantalizing Tastings

November 22: One of the unique features of the World Wine Symposium held recently at Villa d’Este in Italy was the premium vertical tastings of iconic wines-this year being Masseto (’09,’08,’07,’06,’02,’01,’98 and ‘95), Chateau d’Yquem (‘05, ‘01, ‘90, ‘88,’82,’70,’67 and ‘59) and DRC-Richebourg and Grands Echezeaux duo (2009, 1999, 1979 and 1976), writes Subhash Arora who was privileged to taste the Trio and was spellbound as everyone else.

Masseto Experience

Click For Large ViewIf there were an iconic Hall of Fame for wines that would honour legendry wines of quality and ageing ability with a track record of at least 20 years, Masseto would be the latest entrant. The top level wine from Frescobaldi’s Ornellaia in Bolgheri has set a benchmark for wines with international grapes in such a short time after the first vintage came out in 1987. It is named after the 7 hA single vineyard growing on the small Masseto hill- once marshland on the Tuscan west coast and was ‘discovered’ by mistake. Ornellaia discovered that Merlot based wines from this vineyard with clay soil produced unique wines. With Cabernet Franc added to the blend - think St. Emilion and Pomerol but with the terroir of Bolgheri! The vineyard on the small hill with clay soil- called Masseto is ideal for growing Merlot and was planted in 1984, explained Giovanni Geddes, CEO of Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia since 1999, as the first premium tasting section of the World Wine Symposium was inaugurated to a full house of 50 wine aficionados gathered to taste a vertical of 8 vintages (’09,’08,’07,’06,’02,’01,’98 and ‘95).

The benchmark Masseto is a part of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and yet is marketed by an independent team, just as the production is handled independently, explained Geddes. To put things in proper perspective, Ornellaia, a Bordeaux blend sells for an average price of US $207 for its 2001 vintage while the comparable Masseto is available only at US $1134 in The tasting was conducted by Axel Heinz, the winemaker in the perfect settings of the Veranda Room of Hotel Villa d’Este with Lake Como visible beyond the dais and the beautiful lawns on the left with towering old trees looking even more majestic with a couple of sexy looking Maserati sports cars perched on the lawns and soaking the flood-lights.

Each vintage of Masseto is considered a chapter of a book and as expected, had several tasters defending a vintage of their choice as the best one, at the end of a perfectly quiet tasting; Francois Mauss, the organiser of WWS is a stickler for perfect serving temperature and pin-drop silence during tasting.

The Sweet Sublime Yquem

Click For Large ViewThe legendry tasting from the Sauternes Top Growth where I had first its CEO Pierre Lurton for the first time, several years ago had everyone full of energy and excitement as Pierre talked of the estate before tasting the vintages from ‘05, ‘01, ‘90, ‘88,’82,’70,’67 and ’59.

Click For Large ViewThey say wine is like human beings and evolves with time. A man is considered in his prime at 25 and a woman at 35. But at 53, the 1959 was still youthful, fresh and exciting as if it were immortal. My one word expression for the dream tasting was simply ‘sexy’. Later, while summarizing the tasting and comparison of vintages and reacting to the tasters’ comments in non-translated French, the youthful Pierre made those who understood the language, chuckle; he had said if I thought the wines were sexy, the Yquem 1888 was orgasmic. Even 1861 was still drinking well, he said as an enthralled audience tasted some of the finest vintages of wines of distinction.

DRC -Richebourg and Grand Echezeaux Symphony

Click For Large ViewAfter last year’s vertical tasting of La Tâche with Aubert de Villain, the grower, and co-owner of the famed DRC, the expectations are always very high. And one would never be disappointed whether it were the tasting of La Tâche or Richebourg and Grand Echezeaux (reportedly a personal favourite of the late Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi who traversed the roads of Burgundy in her younger days to visit her favourite wine villages).

While the third of the premium tasting of the WWS, from the Burgundy Supreme Domaine Romanée Conti, that was to be the crescendo of a symphony, it brought to my mind the lyrics of a song, ‘I hear a symphony’  belted out by Diana Ross and the Supremes for Motown a year before the oldest vintage 1966 was harvested. Other vintages tasted from the two of their iconic vineyards were the young 2009, 1999, and even 1979:

Then suddenly, I hear a symphony
Ooh, your lips are touching mine
A feeling so divine
Till I leave the past behind
I’m lost in a world
Made for you and me

Click For Large ViewFor the next hour, I could hear a symphony each time my lips slowly touched the sensuous wine and the feeling was truly divine. One focused only on each sip of the 8 wines- never mind the difference between the Richebourg and Grand Echezeaux that was left to the analyst types. I was lost in a world of superlative wines- an ethereal experience with each sip. This was a tasting where spittoons were superfluous, where every sip was a spiritual experience for the palate, where the oldest wine-1966 was only just about ready to drink, according to Aubert.  To comment about such wines would perhaps not be easy nor do justice to the wine, the pedigree or the maturity and the elegance and finesse. In a tasting where some tasters felt Richebourg was masculine and Grand Echezeaux was feminine while the others felt exactly the opposite, where people were debating whether 1979 was better evolved than 1999 or vice versa, it was like a religion- each to his or her belief and faith. The only universal credo was ‘taste and let taste’, ‘drink and let drink’.

For sure, one could leave the past behind and be lost in a different world as Parag Tripathi did during the experience. He felt like he had been in some meditation. ‘It was a tasting of a life-time’ is all he could come mutter after numbed by the experience with such an iconic wine. With his willingness to attend all the three premium tastings and a plan to attend all the premium ones next year, you could bet your Chateau d’Yquem 1881 that he had not been numbed by the €900 he had paid along with the other 49 tasters for the divine encounter.

Click For Large ViewNo matter what the feeling or the impression of the trinity of tantalizing tastings left on the tasters - most of them would be talking about it to their children or  bragging to their friends. Some would be writing about it too and comparing their tasting notes with others’ or their own from earlier occasions. But for Axel Heinz, the winemaker at Masseto, Pierre Lurton of Chateau d’Yquem and Aubert de Villaine it was yet another day’s work and they would already be planning to attend the next such tasting at some part of the world where there would surely be another set of fans eagerly waiting for the experience.

Subhash Arora


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