Zoltan Szabo and Malcolm Jolley attend a special tasting.
On a gloomy, early December afternoon, six Toronto wine writers assembled at David Minucci’s L’Unità restaurant,and gathered around a table set up with two wine glasses at each setting. On the nearby bar were two bottles, each wrapped in tinfoil so the six tasters didn’t know what was in each bottle. Sommelier Rob Codispoti poured the wines into each pair of glasses and the swirling, sniffing and tasting began.
I was one of those lucky enough to attend the tasting, along with Lesley Provost, Tim Alppelt, Julian Hitner, Zoltan and, most crucially Alan McGuinty. We were tasting Alan’s wines, and he’d extended the invitation. What we were tasting were two 12 year old bottles of red wine, made thousands of miles apart, but connected in an important way. From the Saint-Julien region in Bordeaux, Château Gruaud Larose 2004, and from the Okanagan Valley, Osoyoos Larose 2004. The connection between the wines is found in their names: Osoyoos Larose was developed as a winery with the direct involvement of Château Gruaud in 2001. The winemaking at both properties would, in the early 2000’s, have been coming from a shared philosophy and modus operandi. Alan wanted to see how the wines tasted after being put down for more than a decade, and how they compared to each other. The rest of us were lucky enough to go along for the ride. Alan explained that he liked to taste rarities from his cellar in the presence of other wine writers. While his friends certainly enjoyed interesting wines, when he presented them at dinner, they weren’t necessarily interested in talking about them beyond “this is good”. Knowing looks were given across the table with laughter.
And what happened? Not a lot of spitting, that’s for sure. The two wines showed well. Among the sharper palates at the table, by which I mean everyone but me, there was unanimous recognition of the Bordeaux and, I suppose by default, the Okanagan. Then, it got interesting, as Alan asked for a poll on which wine people preferred. The result was a dead heat: Lesley, Tim and Zoltan tipped towards the West Coast, while Alan, Julian and I opted for the Left Bank. Alan said these results mirrored another tasting he organized between the 2009 vintage last year.
The event would have been more than a successful tasting if it had ended right there, bu there was more. Alan had a bonus wine a 2001 Osoyoos. Would a wine made from young vines in the first vintage year hold up to 15 years of ageing? Most of us were cautiously optimistic, but Lesley and Zoltan bravely (we thought) speculated that it would be magnificent, arguing that first vintage wines have a special energy. They were right. If the 2001 had been in the mix during the blind tasting, it would have easily won.
And how did the wines taste? Here’s what the one and only Zoltan Szabo scribbled onto his napkin.
ZOLTAN’S NOTES: 2004 Ch. Gruaud Larose, 2004 Osoyoos Larose, 2001 Osoyoos Larose
I really enjoyed this tasting, must say, and I have always liked Alan, a really nice guy and good colleague.
The ’04 Bordeaux was easily guessable, as you know I have immediately picked it, not to brag…those cassis and coffee notes, a slight “green” tone, and its linear structure, delicate / lightness and very good integration gave it away, although I believe it did not even show its best on the day of the tasting, a really good wine, indeed.
The ’04 Osoyoos was fuller compared to it, showing more maturely, yet maintaining a plush fruit core, good acidity and dusty tannins, with a good length, spicy / savoury notes lingering on, I liked it equally well as I liked the Bordeaux, they were different, yet with some similarities, structurally speaking.
The ’01 Osoyoos was the highlight for me, I could not believe, and still can’t, how lively it was, developed, but not over its peak, with fresh fruit, still, a floral reflex, uncompromising acidity and round (and not dried out) tannins…some underlying gamey / musky / diesel / scorched earth / pipe tobacco nuances gave it an intriguing edge.
Follow Zoltan’s adventures in food and wine on Twitter at @zoltanszabo.