1998 Smackdown

1998 Smackdown

June 7, 2013

Another day, another embarrassment of riches.

Camille and I visited our Edmonton wine friends again this weekend for a two night food and wine feast.  The first night would be the 1998 Smackdown.  The Smackdown series of wine tastings started a few years ago and are horizontal tastings (all wines from the same year) in which each participant supplies a great wine from the vintage.  Here’s the line-up on this night.


Left to right (All 1998): Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Chateau Pavie, Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva, Ornellaia, Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco 

98GossetwithGlassses 1998Fonsalette

Left: Gosset Celebris  Right: Chateau Fonsalette

As you can see, wine porn at its finest.

We started the night with the Gosset Celebris, the luxury cuvee from this house.  Having tasted some other Gosset Champagnes in the past, this was my first experience tasting the Celebris.  Deep straw/gold colour with fine bubbles, this is a full-bodied, intense, high acid, lemon and green apple driven wine with a long finish.  There is little if any toast/brioche on the nose or palate, which is often expected in more prestigious luxury cuvees.  I’d compare it more to a Billiot or Chartogne-Taillet style, rather than Dom/Krug.  I enjoyed this and it paired amazingly well with pates and cheeses.  91 points non blind.

For the first course of BBQ’d quail, orzo salad and truffled mushrooms, we paired two wines, the Bruno Giacosa Santo Stefano Riserva Barbaresco and a Chateau de Fonsalette, served blind.

Giacosa is one of the true old-school Piedmontese wine makers, and I do not hide my love for his wines.  1998 was an excellent vintage in Piedmont, but was overshadowed by the 96s and 97s that preceded it.  However, it may actually be better (and the wines more ready to drink) than both 96 and 97.

Ruby to the rim with roses, cherry, tar and later soy sauce and tea notes, the nose was breathtaking.  The palate did not quite live up to the nose, being more straightforward with cherry, roses and massive acidity.  It paired great with the quail and truffled mushrooms.  91 points non-blind, but a 95+ point nose.

The Fonsalette is a Cotes du Rhone produced by Chateau Rayas, the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer.  Served blind, this was garnet with bricking at the rim.  The nose and palate were congruent with massive amounts of cinnamon, all spice and earth. Powerful cherry and wild raspberry fruits balanced the spice.  Integrated tannin and great acid. 93 points, blind.  I love the character of this wine, which screams Rhone valley all the way.  Try out some Vacquerays for similar flavours at a more reasonable price point.

With the main course of lamb chops, Moroccan lamb sausage and green bean casserole, we had the four Bordeaux blends, three of which were from Italy.

First up was the Sammarco, one of two wines produced by Castello dei Rampolla, the other being the amazing Vigna d’Alceo.  A blend of 85% Cab Sauv and 15% Sangiovese, the Sammarco is always a top notch wine.

Ruby red to the rim, cherry, cassis, tar, hint of cedar and spice, this still has tight, fine-grained tannin and a long life ahead.  A fantastic wine and one I’d highly recommend, this was unfortunately overshadowed by the extremely tough competition served alongside it.

The Sassicaia was deep garnet with cassis, green bell pepper, herb, tar and mint.  The palate was full with a rich mouth feel, fully integrated tannin, and great balance.  Always a hit or miss wine, this was a great showing of Sassicaia. One of the best bottles of 1998.  94 points, non-blind.

The final Super Tuscan was the Ornellaia, which has been the most consistent of the –aia’s in my experience.  That said, I find the Vigna d’Alceo to be more consistent than all of them.  Much like the Sassicaia, this was garnet to the rim with sweet crème de cassis, vanilla, pungent green pepper and pine needles.  Full bodied, rich, voluptuous, this was richer and more expressive than the Sassicaia.  Wine of the Year for a reason.  96 points, non-blind.  However, Camille found the bell pepper overpowering, and I can see exactly where she’s coming from.

The only Bordeaux of the night was a right banker from Chateau Pavie.  One of the consensus top tier right bank wines, this was made in a new world, flashy style.  Rich garnet with cassis, eucalyptus, wet forest floor, cinnamon, and mint, this was a slutty, hedonistic wine, and felt a bit Parker-ized.  I wasn’t expecting such a showy Bordeaux, and this would be loved by those who enjoy a big, sweet Napa Cab.  AKA Me.  It did have a bit of a rough edge on the mid-palate, but the tannin was supple and well integrated and there was still enough acid to balance the flashy attack.  94 points, non-blind.


For dessert we had the 1998 Muller-Catoir Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese.  Say that 3 times fast, or once for that matter.  A cross between the Silvaner and Riesling grapes, this orange coloured beauty was floral with honeyed sultana raisins and ample botrytis.  The extreme sugar was balanced by great acidity that picked up from the mid palate on, built through the finish and intensified over the next few minutes.  I agree with a friend’s assessment that this was a bit disjointed right now, and needs 20-30 years to integrate.  Infanticide for sure, but all the components are there: fruit, acid and great intensity.  92 points, non-blind.

As usual, we were spoiled with a great group of wines, none of which were flawed.  Everything showed well, the food and company were great and the Smackdown series continues to bring out the best of the best.

The only question now is, “when’s the next Smackdown”?



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