Last year I was invited to what transpired to be one of the most memorable of tastings. Over my years in the industry I have had the good fortune to attend a staggering number of very special wine tastings, but this one piqued my interest more than most.
Over an extended Saturday luncheon at Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory a small group of Sommeliers and Wine Writers were to taste an array of arguably the best wines in the world alongside the best of iconic Barossa producer Peter Lehmann.
I have to say here that I really love my job. Seriously, how often does one have the opportunity to enjoy a line-up like this in the context of “a very casual, relaxed seven hour lunch with old and new friends” as Matt Lane, VP of Peter Lehmann for the Americas, so succinctly phrased it?
NV André Clouet Cuvée 1911 Champagne France
2001 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile Alsace France
1999 Chapoutier Ermitage de l’Orée Blanc Rhone France
1999 Haut Brion Bordeaux France
1978 Latour Bordeaux France
1999 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Rhone France
19?? Harlan Syrah California
2007 Penfolds Grange Australia
2007 Guigal La Landonne Rhone France
1905 D’Oliveiras Madeira Verdelho Madeira Portugal
1959 Monimpex Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Hungary
Peter Lehmann Wines
2006 Peter Lehmann Wines Wigan Riesling Eden Valley Australia
2006 Peter Lehmann Wines Margaret Semillon Barossa Valley Australia
2009 Peter Lehmann Wines Futures Shiraz-Muscadelle Barossa Valley Australia
2009 Peter Lehmann Wines 1885 Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia
2009 Peter Lehmann Wines Mentor Cabernet Barossa Valley Australia
2009 Peter Lehmann Wines Stonewell Barossa Valley Australia
2008 Peter Lehmann Wines Stonewell Barossa Valley Australia
1999 Peter Lehmann Wines Stonewell Barossa Valley Australia
1989 Peter Lehmann Wines Stonewell Barossa Valley Australia
2010 Peter Lehmann Wines Botrytis Semillon Barossa Valley Australia
After attempting (and failing) to convince the crowd that the ’99 Chave was corked and that he was going to have to take it home with him, Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner had the following to say:
“Many of these wines today were life changing… the most life changing for me was the was the (Jean-Louis Chave) Hermitage… it touches your soul… actually, thinking about it, it feels like it touches more than that… it feels like it touches you inappropriately”
Bruce went on to speak of his love of the 1989 Peter Lehmann Stonewell, admiring the way it had aged gracefully in bottle, holding its head up high amongst such heavy hitters.
Sommelier Andrea Vescovi of Vancouver’s Blue Water Café and Raw Bar had flown into Toronto especially for the tasting and shared his thoughts with the group:
“Obviously I just adored the La Tour, the Haut Brion, the Chave, the Lalonde… but the wine kept going back to was the 1999 Stonewell… it just had so many layers… yes, that 1999 Peter Lehmann Stonewell just sings to me”
Even this early on in the afternoon’s vinous discussions it was fascinating to see that the Lehmann wines were already winning the hearts and minds of some of the most impassioned and experienced of tasters.
“We obviously had an embarrassment of riches today and so it was hard to tackle the question of which were my favourites… I guess the thing you look for in a lineup like this is total wow factor, what were the eye opening moments?
And one of the reasons that you have a tasting like this is to have people thinking about both the Barossa and Peter Lehmann in a different way… seeing Lehmann for what they have always been… recently we have seen lots of Barossa producers moving back towards this style of winemaking and so we are beginning to see more of the elegance factor… you can be big and bold like an NFL quarterback and still be elegant…
For me the 2009 Peter Lehmann Shiraz-Muscadelle Futures ticks all the boxes and then some: it has a great story, a great price, great accessibilty, and is in all ways atypical… that for me was the big wow factor”
Veteran Sommelier Extraordinaire Peter Boyd had the following commentary:
“It really is a fool’s errand trying to make sense of all of these brilliant wines here today… I have to say that the two 2006 Lehmann whites ( The Wigan Riesling and the Margaret Semillon) were truly outstanding and they are really my kind of wines.
But I have to say that a real favourite was the 2009 Shiraz-Muscadelle Futures because of it’s extreme value ($24.95)
Looking over my tasting notes I keep going back to the 2009 Peter Lehmann 1885 Shiraz. There was a complexity there that was seriously sneaky… You know George Harrison sang Savoy Truffle?… ginger slings? there’s certainly a ginger note in there, and then on the finish turkish delight and mint tea… it was certainly the richest of all of my tasting notes… just a fun wine… Futures undoubtedly wows on price, but this was the most complex”
Personally I think that the rest of the group missed out as they were being too polite and were not attacking the seafood tower and accompanying that with the 2006 Margaret Semillon. It reminded me of my trip to Australia that Wine Australia set me up on a few years back… I still have vivid memories of drinking literally bottles of the stuff with seafood in Adelaide’s Chinatown… It’s possibly my favourite Semillon ever and has to be one of the most undervalued wines in the world.
Looking at the Rieslings… I like vibrancy in my wines and I didn’t feel that the Trimbach was showing all that well that afternoon, both bottles being a bit lacklustre. To be perfectly honest I feel that the 2006 Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling walked all over it.
I think that if I had to pick a favourite it would have been the 1999 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage. Words really do fail me when it comes to detailing the complexities of that wine, and there was no way that Bruce Wallner MS was going to try and tell me that it was corked! Chancing blighter that he is…
I think that all assembled gave the Californian Syrah (Harlan) that snuck in to the lineup too hard of a ride, and not in a good way… it was well crafted, sure, but not for $600 a bottle. There obviously is a market for that kind of wine, so it is what it is. For me it was just a bit too much of a beast… and the Lehmann Shiraz seriously wiped the floor with it.
Allison Vidug, Sommelier at Toronto’s Shore Club was a huge fan of the Lehmann wines previously, but was even more impressed tasting the older library wines on exhibit that afternoon:
“I have to agree with Andre here, for me it was all about the 1999 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz… it really does speak to the potential of the other Stonewells like a crystal ball… it has so much of that aged Barossa Shiraz romance that we all love so much”
And she was right, hitting the nail square on the head. The 1999 Stonewell is the kind of wine that I would have loved to have purchased at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and sold by the glass. It would certainly have been a more expensive glass of wine that is for sure, but I am sure it would have sold extremely well. It’s just such a beautiful, well-put-together wine that is the perfect antidote to so many of the clumsy Shiraz we have seen from Australia over my past two decades working with wines.
Naturally Sommelier-at-large Zoltan Szabo decided to throw his hat into the ring:
“I had planned to speak a bit less than usual today, but I did put some notes together so as not to put my foot in my mouth. I have to inform you that the Peter Lehmann wines were not my top wines today. Saying that what I admire about this affair today is that the people of Peter Lehmann had the nerve and the guts to put them against what are perhaps the finest wines of the world. That is something that I truly admire.
When talking about my favourite wines, all of the wines were fabulous, truly amazing. Many of the wines had so much character, personality… and soul as my friend Bruce Wallner would say. Some of them stood out a little bit more than the others. I learned from Peter Boyd that the 1999 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage was a SERIOUS old school wine… and from Jamie Drummond that one has to look at California Syrah from a different perspective… and that somehow the one we tasted today does have its merits.
And what nobody has mentioned yet, the 1959 Monimpex Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Tokaji… I have to tell you that it brought along an honestly orgasmic pairing with the creme brulée You know what? I think that we should have these kind of events more often!”
Enoteca Ascari‘s always-entertaining Sommelier Jasmine Black had a slightly different take:
“It was such a pleasure to be able to taste these older vintages of the Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz. They really do develop wonderfully over time.
But like Jamie, for me I think my preferred wine was that 2006 Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon… I just really appreciate that Lehmann style with no oak and early harvested fruit from older vines. I’d love to see that in another 10 years as that has some serious ageability.
I love Madeira and so I was so excited when I saw the bottle right off. I can imagine still telling people about that wine months later.. Hmmm… maybe that was my real star of the day?”
As the enjoyably extended afternoon session wound its way to its natural conclusion it was up to Peter Lehmann’s Matthew Lane to have the last word:
“I don’t really have anything else to add, as I am sure that you would agree that my take on this is somewhat biased.
Regardless, the champagne was what did it for me, as I have always been a dedicated champagne lover.
It would be in some way wrong for me to speak about what my favourite wines were as there was a reason for this lunch, and that was to invite old and new friends to come and enjoy some great wines, great food, and great company.
On that note, thank you so much for giving up your Saturday afternoon to break bread with us at Peter Lehmann today, and thanks to Anya Spethman for setting all of this up here in Toronto”
And so my favourite tasting of 2013 drew to a close. Many, many thanks to all those at Peter Lehmann for having the cajones and the confidence to pull off such a splendid event. Here’s to more like it!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he really does think that we should do these more often… obviously.