A tasting to compare Côte Rôtie and Hermitage showed the perils of tasting. With wide variations of style, from wines in full blown modern international style to wines in restrained, if not austere, tradition, Côte Rôtie and Hermitage make a perfect illustration of the point.
Twice during the tasting a wine in a more restrained style followed a wine in a more powerful style. Both times, the second wine was, to say the least, under appreciated.
Guigal’s La Mouline 1998 showed pretty well. The primary black fruits and new oak are still pretty evident on the palate, but in very good balance, and it’s all beginning to integrate beautifully. But it’s still a few years off reaching the point at which it will complement a meal instead of providing its own assertive focus of attention.
The following wine, Clusel Roch’s Les Grandes Places, was subtle and understated in the usual style of the house. A sweet aromatic impression to the nose is almost perfumed, leading into a lively, elegant fresh palate. But as one of the lightest wines in the tasting, it elicited comments such as “water” or “dilute”. But I would bet that the comments would have been completely different if these two bottles had been tasted over a leisurely dinner instead of being sipped briefly in the context of the tasting.
At the end of the tasting a comparisons between two Guigal’s was equally informative. Even though it’s lightened up quite a bit, the Brune et Blonde from 1983 was surprisingly fuller and superficially richer than La Landonne. Most tasters preferred it, although La Landonne, probably now at its peak, showed ethereal layers of developing red fruit that were a lot less obvious (incidentally a striking demonstration of the ability of Northern Rhones to mature along a path similar to Bordeaux).
This all confirmed my belief in the need for a reality check: consume a bottle with dinner. The test is whether at the end you are tired of it or (in principle if not in practice) would like to have another bottle. That’s a much better test than a sip or gulp at a tasting.