• Richard Peck

The Magnificent Seven

Ah, the Magnificent Seven! No, this post is not about the 1960s film, which ended in a typically sixties angst-filled way. Instead, this magnificent assemblage was a vertical tasting on May 22, 2010, of seven vintages from Clos du Val dating back to 1975. Friends extended an invitation to nine friends to enjoy some "dusty bottles" from their cellar, and what a treat this evening was! In fact, as good as a Heitz vertical was that we tasted three years ago , "The Magnificent Seven" actually exceeded the previous tasting. Here are our tasting notes:

  • 1975: Elegant, refined, gorgeous. Garnet color, medium concentration, with rim variation fading to burnt sienna. Nose still full of fruit: red currant, cherry, red plum, dried fennel, and dry peat, with a dusting of cocoa. Silky tannins. A lingering finish. 12.5% alcohol. All agreed that the overall description of this wine was a wine with "good breeding."

  • 1994: This was the minimalist wine of the night. Medium-minus color concentration, with the rim fading to light amber, but with bright fruit, mostly red. Intense nose initially, falling-off somewhat in the glass as we compared other vintages. Higher acidity than the other vintages. This was the least congruent of the seven-wine series. 13% alcohol.

  • 1996: "Big velvet," was the consensus description. Much life left in this wine. Demonstrated unity, complexity, and intensity. Great balance of fruit and earth. Cab-typical red and black fruits, but with much more happening: some tasters picked up traces of black pepper, along with leather and dark chocolate on the palate and in the finish. Incredible texture and mouthfeel was noticed by several tasters. One described it as "beyond velvet, but just short of highly-textured brocade." 13.5% alcohol.

  • 1998: This wine was the sleeper of the night! From a vintage which suggested to several of us not to expect much, it emerged as the dark-horse favorite. The 1998 was the most clearly Old World vintage. The nose included mushroom, compost, barnyard, and even traces of clean, hot linen. "Elegant" and "earthy" were the most frequent descriptors. We later discovered that tasting this wine with a well made St. Nectaire cheese was a pairing epiphany! 13.5% alcohol, well integrated and balanced with the overall complexity of the wine.

  • 2000: In contrast to the 1998, the 2000 vintage was a more New World wine: even now, ten years after release, a substantial amount of blue and black fruit predominated. The tasters were surprised (for a year that received abysmal ratings, generally) at what a solid wine this was! It demonstrated that a great winemaker can make good wine, even in a difficult year. 13.5% alcohol.

  • 2002: The 2002 was mostly fruit and tannins (still immense tannins, though not unpleasant), with medium-plus to high concentration of color, while the earth/sense of place are, for the present, very much in the background. In addition to Cab-specific fruit, tasters noted marzipan, roasted nuts, and toasted cashews. Substantial backbone/structure. Significant intensity. This was a highly concentrated beauty. 13.5% alcohol.

  • 2004: This vintage is still a "baby," waiting to show what it will become in adulthood. Concentrated; full of fruit. One of our hosts likened it to an Old Masters canvas, the beauty of which will emerge when the years peel away the current overpainting of fruit and tannins, and allow sight of the mature wine. If you own this vintage, hold it. There seems no point in opening it for another 8-10 years. Some tasters cited Lindt dark chocolate bars with 85% chocolate solids; depth and an almost bitterness. 13.5% alcohol.

One reason this tasting was a pleasure is because the winemakers, Bernard Portet and John Clews, did not succumb to the ultra-ripe, highly oaked, alcoholic style that has become prevalent today. Despite numerous mentions of fruit, concentration, and even "New World," in the notes above, these wines all exhibited superb balance and breeding. This allowed the primary variables, terroir, age, and the vintages themselves, to show clearly. A technical note, for anyone attempting to replicate our experience. All of the wines were decanted roughly two hours in advance. I was concerned for the 1975, having had Napa cabs as little as ten years old, which were gone within a few minutes of opening the bottle. That was not the case here! Comments from particpants:

  • "This was like meeting seven different good friends. They had enough enough similarities to be interesting and intriguing; to provide a common thread, but they were completely individual!" (Susan)

  • "Most post-1994 wines were like looking at a child 6-8 years old, or in some cases perhaps 12-14, who is going to grow up into an incredible adult." (Donna)

  • "Buy 2004 now, and hold it 10 years!" (Steve)

  • "Time, place, and . . . us. What could be better?" (Scott)

  • "Wine is meant to be shared. This would not have been the same, drinking these by ourselves!" (Marci)

#ClosduVal #Vintagewine #NapaValley

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