Slurp consultant Robin Haddock and our mutual friend Andrew joined me for a late afternoon match-up between an aristocratic Paulliac and one of Barossa Valley’s most famous exports.
This little taste off (conducted blind as far as my guests were concerned) was a good deal more exciting than the West Indies’ lame attempts to bowl England out in the fourth and final test match, which provided the backdrop for our late afternoon entertainment.
As usual, we kicked off with a ‘warm up’ wine designed to get our tasting radar tuned in. The problem was that despite scanning the wine several times my radar was unable to detect any personality at all in the Chateau Magdelaine 1999. This was a shame because the Chateau Magdelaine 2000, which we had tried last year, was a really pure and delightful expression of Merlot dominated Right Bank wine. Even the Chateau Magdelaine 2004, which we sampled just two weeks ago, was a lot more fruit-driven and was a decent forward-drinking wine. Not so the 1999. A four square and dull nose preceded a flat mid palate and a finish that (well) finished quickly. We hastily moved on.
Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste 1996 was next up. This nose was pure Paulliac class, without being overpowering. I noted the tell-tale pencil sharpening and cedar wood notes, backed with some smoky black fruits. The mid palate was solid without being overly weighty. After two hours in the decanter there was not a huge amount going on, although after four or five there were some hints of secondary characteristics just starting to develop. What was really surprising about the wine was its racy acidity, especially at the finish. This gave it a very refreshing and easy drinking quality. But I was left a little unsure about the true potential of this one. I am not convinced it has a great deal left to give, but it was nevertheless classically put together and will give a lot of pleasure for many years to come – 92 points.
We then turned to the first airing from my collection (if one case constitutes a ‘collection’) of Torbreck’s The Factor 2002. David Powell’s beast of a wine was instantly recognisable as an Australian Shiraz. In the glass it was amazingly dense and weighty. This wine probably had the most impactful nose of any I have ever tried – certainly in terms of pure power. Both my guests exclaimed ‘cohh’! (or something like that) instinctively upon sticking their nose into my oversized Bordeaux glasses. But it wasn’t pure alcohol we were smelling. It was actually a rather delightful cocktail of mint, eucalyptus, liquorice and cherries. In fact, although certainly alcoholic, at 14.5° it isn’t over the top for this type of wine. (I have a case of Greenock Creek’s ‘Alice’s Shiraz’ 2003 which tips the scales at 16.5°, so the Factor is almost abstemious by comparison!). Once the wine had gabbed our lapels, which it did with both hands, it didn’t let go. The palate was unctuous and concentrated, and the viscosity of the wine was very pronounced. The mid palate was powerful with deliciously ripe and luxuriant red and black fruits. ‘Finish’ was really the wrong word for the end of this wine, because rather than gracefully fading away it just stayed lodged in the cheek pouches seemingly indefinitely. I felt like a squirrel with a couple of glacier cherries tucked away for the winter (95 points).
But was it better than the GPL? On balanced all three of us thought that it was. We were sure that not everyone would agree with us, but the Torbreck just had so much presence and power, and that finish just seemed to last forever. As Donald Rumsfeld has perhaps learned, pure power isn’t everything. But the key for me is that if I was only allowed to re-taste one of these wines in ten years, I am certain that I would plum for the Barossa.