Monday, August 31, 2009

The sheer volume of new wine releases dictates that opportunities to go back and re-visit wines, once tasted and reviewed, are few and far between. Vertical tastings, however, can show you not only how individual wines have aged, but also how a winemaker’s style has developed, how an individual wine or winery reflects vintage variation, etc. They also give you a chance to check your original impressions against the notes from the vertical.

I had the chance to do that over the weekend, as Mike Neuffer of Nicholas Cole Cellars poured a complete vertical of Camille, his right bank Bordeaux blend. The first wine, from the winery’s inaugural 2001 vintage, was called Claret, and we tasted it from magnum. Vintages 2002 thru 2007 were all Camille, most were 50 to 60% merlot, the rest of the blends varied, with cabernet sauvignon, dominant in the early years, disappearing completely by 2007.

The 2006 Camille is due out shortly; the 2007 was a barrel sample – final blend, not yet bottled. Here are my original notes and scores, along with my recent impressions.

2001 Claret. Cabernet sauvignon and cab franc from Klipsun and Champoux. Beautifully fragrant, drinking very well and beginning to show secondary fruits, also nice vanilla, clove, some high toned fruit and still good balance. Original score was 91; from magnum the wine was gorgeous, rounded out, aromatic, complex and long. I bumped it up to 93.

2002 Camille. Merlot from Champoux, Klipsun and Seven Hills; cab sauv from 7 HIlls and Klipsun, cab franc from Champoux. Riper than the ’01, a mix of interesting soy, peaty, silage flavors; heat, prune/plum, slightly chalky tannins. Good winemaking and balance. I originally docked it for the youthful alcoholic heat (89), but found it had moved into dusty, smoky, Bordeaux-like aromatics, still a little alcoholic, but also broadly complex. Bumped it up to 92.

2003 Camille. 47%CS/38%M/15%CF. Tight, tart, racy and stylish; tart, primary fruit, substantial and tannic, beginning to unwrap now. Chalky, black tea tannins; but good boysenberry/blueberry/black cherry fruit. Original score was 91; bumped it up to 92 after tasting it over a 24-hour period. Drinking well, more primary than the older bottles, rich and loaded with berries.

2004 Camille. Soft aromas with a mix of plum, berry, melon and smooth mocha. Shows a little bit of green tea in the tannins. It’s structured well, with a forward, lush, roundness from the merlot, backed with more assertive tannins and some moist earth flavors from the cab franc. Just a hint of coffee comes through at the end. Original score was 92; re-taste I found it still a bit roughly tannic, with burn from the alcohol. Knocked it down to 89. Wine Advocate says “should drink well through 2040.” Hmmmm.... not so sure about that. Another 30 years?

2005 Camille. 45%M/28%CF/26%CS/1%PV. This vintage was all estate grown except the merlot, which came from Canoe Ridge. Dense, liquorous, smoky, loaded with chocolatey goodness, like a buttery and exotic truffle. Flavors are dense and detailed, the wine is a truffle in a bottle. Flavors recall the most exotic bottlings from Spain – dense and liquorous, with concentrated raspberry/black cherry fruit, lots of chocolate, smoke and spice. Original score was 91. Re-taste it remained tight, compact, with lovely floral highlights from the splash of petit verdot. I bumped it up to 93.

The 2006 Camille, due out this fall, has not yet been reviewed. In some respects it was my favorite of the flight, again with floral highlights, a rich vein of blackberry fruit, a full palate presence with interesting notes of earth, bark, coffee and mocha.

The 2007 really changed the blend – no cabernet sauvignon at all, 56% merlot, 36% cab franc, 8% petit verdot. Consistent style, different texture, lots of sweet blackberry fruit, tough tannins. Too soon to score.

Conclusions: wines change rather dramatically with even a few years in the bottle, and my scores – some higher, some lower – reflect that. Tasting brand new wines, often recently bottled, is a guessing game to some degree. Wines that are made to be big, ripe, and showing plenty of barrel flavors, definitely the Camille style, may not be at their best when first released. Extended decanting is a good idea if you can’t cellar them a few years. But these wines are all definitely cellar candidates.

Mike Neuffer writes that these library wines are available for purchase “on a very limited basis.” But he plans to offer a vertical six-pack (2001 – 2006) during the coming holiday season. Check in with him at the Walla Walla tasting room, or via the winery website, for details.

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