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Len Evans Tutorial tasting notes - part 1

14 Jan 2014 by Jancis Robinson and others

You may remember the week-long educational tasting extravaganza in the Hunter Valley we described in Read it and weep – Len Evans Tutorial 2013 in November. We thought you might like to read a few of the participants' impressions of these magnificent wines, presented in three parts. Sometimes some of the world's greats are served blind alongside much less well known wines of the same style, some from unsung regions. The observations are delightfully honest and impressively detailed considering how little time they had to consider each wine. Read what the Dux (Australians are nothing if not competitive) of the Tutorial, Lak Quach of CellarHand (pictured below left, photo by Chris Elfes), wrote to me recently about the week:

Lak_Quach'The Tutorial is, without hesitation, the most intense week of tasting one could ever imagine being involved with. It is not the number of wines tasted but the brevity of every wine to be tasted that weighs on you. The wines are all shown blind, approximately 90 each day with often little hint of their time or place. Every wine has the breeding of one of the great wines of the world and thus every single wine must be scrutinised, thoughts formed and then voiced when called upon by the tutors. The tutors hang on your every word, often pointing to a path that is ill advised and then lending rope that is appropriately tied. It can be a wonderfully vindicating or a very humbling moment. Having never done any wine judging or actually partaken in any formal wine studies, I found it quite nerve-racking to say the least.

'There are many past scholars present during the week. They "volunteer" to pour and help and as just reward obviously get to try the wines without the scrutiny. However, they also offer some sound advice and encouragement along with a vivid picture of what once was when Len Evans was still present. I believe you have met Len on a number of occasions and so I am sure I need not explain how he could drain every ounce of confidence from you with a single utterance. The past scholars of his era explained how they would try to procure a seat at dinner on the same side of the table as Len so as to avoid his direct gaze. The thinking being if he could not lay eyes on them, he could not dissect them, such was their fear.

'It is however the tutors, being Mr [Iain] Riggs, Mr [James] Halliday, Mr [Ian] McKenzie, Mr [Gary] Steele and Mr [Michael] Hill-Smith, that largely hold your thoughts, challenge prior perceptions and, often with subtle direction, illuminate qualities and their key indicators with great clarity. Fellow scholars are also without doubt a brains trust that I certainly took much from.

'Highlights for the week included the bracket of Averys burgundies that were so remarkably pristine, a 1945 Cos d'Estournel that was profound, an 1893 Ch Guiraud that still lingers and the 2005 DRC Romanée-Conti that was so unyielding for so long only to suddenly became the most wondrous of things.

'In part 3 are my notes on the Léoville Las Cases bracket and what I have of the Thursday dinner wines and DRC brackets. For the dinners and afternoon masterclass wines there is often little time to write notes. Dinner is especially the case as there were generally 30-odd wines to get through with a litany of option questions [from Len Evans' options game] to mull over in quick time. Thus notes can be quite short or non-existent!

'Many thanks for your kind interest in this remarkable school of wine that I certainly cannot speak more highly of. Of all things vinous, I struggle to think that I could possibly engage in such a profoundly rewarding week again, though I'll try.'


Nick Butler of Cogito Wines (pictured below right) writes:

MONDAY NIGHT DINNER WINESNick_Butler_TomfooleryWebsite

Dry whites

2008 Dom Ramonet Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru Puligny-Montrachet
A powerful wine – ripe lemons, lemon curd, vanilla – weighty palate – ripe stone fruits charmed into submission by crunchy red-apple acidity. What a start.

2008 Dom Bouchard Père et Fils Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte Grand Cru Puligny-Montrachet
I found this wine fine and layered, with a lemon-rind acid drive, fleshed out by green apple and judicious spicy oak. A very long wine that absolutely sang with the warm spanner crab and ocean trout roe dish we were served. Hedonistic.

2008 Dom JF Coche-Dury Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseignères Puligny-Montrachet
Wow. My first experience of this producer (and happily not the last at LET#13). A burst of sulphide-driven aromas… have never seen sulphides so bold and focused. Extremely attractive. Spent as much time swirling and sniffing as sipping. The palate is so alive – taut focus with citric thrust – fruit purity is prodigious. Just an amazing wine – all the fuss completely justified.

2008 Dom Blain Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru Chassagne-Montrachet
I was disappointed with this wine… in the company of the three wines above, it felt 'forced' – fruit and oak were both powerful and of great quality – they just weren’t talking very nicely to each other.

1978 The Rothbury Estate Wood Matured Semillon Hunter Valley
Initially I thought this was a 10- to 15-year-old Barossa Semillon. Oak was not overt but texturally the wine felt creamier than any Hunter Semillon I’ve tried before. The wine had faded into the world of mealy/wheatgermy/non-descript old white, though there was enough acidity to convince me that the Semillon had been picked early and that the winemaking effort was not purely for curio.

1984 McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon Hunter Valley
Classic honeyed, lanolin aromatics – toasty – I found this wine to be past its prime although a lovely example in the Lovedale mould. Almond; nougat and brioche. Certainly tertiary characters dominate. Citrus notes are clinging on for dear life. A great treat nonetheless.

Dry reds

1945 Averys Beaune Grèves Premier Cru Beaune
The oldest Burgundy I’ve tried. Definitely clutching for its last gasps of air, but still showing savoury, leaf-litter notes. A privilege, and an essential wine in showing the heredity of the Avery style.

1955 Averys Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru Gevrey-Chambertin
So much life left in this nearly 60 year old. Supple tannins – a subtle tease of mid-palate fruit – long – fine – and amazing with the rare roasted quail. Acidity up to the gamey dish – tannins fold into the slightly fatty skin of the quail. Can’t believe this is the first of four dinners…

1959 Averys Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru Gevrey-Chambertin
The pedigree of this fruit source is instantly affirmed. I love this wine. More structured and brighter than the 1955… more so than the four-year age gap would predict. Flesh still showing genuine red-fruitedness. Acid and tannin balanced. No rush on this beautiful drink.

1961 Averys Chambertin Grand Cru Gevrey-Chambertin
Hard to separate this from the 1959 in terms of my wine of the night. Again, the fountain of youth is at play – the core of fruit in this wine more coiled – time in the glass sees it lift its skirt, but it is so stable; balanced and comfortable in its skin. One of many moments during the week that shifted my wine compass forever.

TUESDAY JUDGING

(The second score is the judges')

2005 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri 
Stewed red berries – bold and primary aromatics – warmer influences – drying tannins (both grape and oak) – length is oak derived, overt. More arms and legs than showing genuine integration. 92/92

2005 Sacred Hill Helmsman Hawke's Bay
Cab Franc red fruits dominant on nose – brett evident and a whiff of VA – built for the ages. Clumsy in this company, lacking elegance in exchange for full turbo thrust. 92/88

2005 Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Yarra Valley
Nose lacks charm – semblance of alcohol heat / lack of fruit – briny character / charry oak – clunky sweet red fruits lacking elegance and structure. Seriously disappointed in this wine… as I have some in the cellar. 90/89

2006 Chateau Reynella Basket Press McLaren Vale
Cassis and red pastille – very ripe in this company – thought it was a Napa blockbuster… too much oak for me. The tutors appreciated its balance considering its scale. I went back and agreed it was likely to age with balanced grace… but preferred Margaret River options. 90/95

2007 Craggy Range The Quarry Gimblett Gravels
Stewed rhubarb / Cab Franc influence (?) – lithe and balanced, delicate and poised – crunchy red fruit acidity – fell short of a gold for me based on a lack of length. 93/90

2007 Woodlands Margaret Margaret River
Classic cassis and tobacco leaf profile – unyielding – tightly wound around spicy oak. Delicious Aussie example – terrific balance – ripe tannins – a delicious wine that ticks all boxes – my equal top wine of Cabernet judging. 97/93

2008 Giant Steps Harry’s Monster Yarra Valley
Ripe red and blue fruit aromas – elegant and poised – a structured wine (defying its name) – I questioned the capacity of its flesh to embrace its bones, but gave it the benefit of the doubt. 95/92

2008 Forman Napa Valley
Red jubes – ripe red cherries – some menthol. A mid palate return with a burst of red fruits – acid feels generously added – a 'built' wine – integration almost impossible. 92/93

2009 Brand’s Laira One Seven One Coonawarra
Brooding, closed nose. Ripe fruit emerges on the palate and is well framed by ripe tannins, which focus the wine to taper on the finish. Oak detracts and pinches. Wine may be in an awkward phase. 93/92

2009 Lindemans Pyrus Coonawarra
Crème de cassis, ripe purple-fruited nose. Confected mid palate – tannins lack the focus the fruit requires – finish is short – line and length deficient. I felt the Petit-Verdot percentage/influence may be too high. 92/93

2009 Cape Mentelle Margaret River
Instantly screamed Margaret River; aristocratic teases of blackcurrants and cedar – dusty, fine-grained tannins. Complex and well-constructed; elegant – acid/fruit/tannin in concert – everything in its right place. Seems I like Margaret River… equal top wine with Woodlands for me. 97/95

2010 Wendouree Clare Valley
Ripe, red fruited – confected / toffee-apple nose – alluring red fruit theme continues through the palate to a crunchy red apple acid line. Bright. A little simple in the company from my perspective. 92/94

2010 Houghton Gladstones Margaret River
Classic 'claret' aromatic poise – at first I questioned ripeness, but the drive of this wine and its undeniable length dispelled those fears – a fine and delicate example – comfortable in its 'less is more' skin. The Margaret River love affair continues. 95/95

2010 Redman Coonawarra
The colour of this wine stood out in the bracket – deep purple inkiness made the sweet burst of fruit unsurprising – raw oak – antithesis of 'seamless' – a wine of two distinct halves. 90/90

2010 Cullen Diana Madeline Margaret River
Bright and energetic lift – plenty of moving parts in this wine – I find some raisined characters… Certainly textural, very slippery. More bohemian than aristocratic. 90/92

2010 Shingleback Reserve Block D McLaren Vale
Thought this more 'right-bank' than left – violets and plums – aromatically overt – a wine that speaks very much of place – well balanced and built around a sturdy frame of tannin with ample flesh. Not 'classic' in terms of dipping its lid to Bordeaux, but charming and a wine I like to drink. 95/92

Wine writer Andrea Frost (main photograph, above left) writes:

WEDNESDAY

Chardonnay judging

2012 Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard Beechworth
Beautiful, complex and rather hedonistic nose. Palate is rich with lovely textural creaminess and enlivening acid. ‘The promise of happiness’ as someone said of beauty. 95/94

2011 Dom William Fèvre Les Clos Grand Cru Chablis
A lot of angular activity in the wine – structure, acid, citrus but I felt it was lacking generosity. (Swiftly reminded this is in fact, classic Chablis!) 90/93

2011 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay Bannockburn
Prominent and funky artefact, lots of zing and zip but lacking flesh – it felt as though they forgot the middle of the wine. 91/89.

2011 Seppelt Drumborg Vineyard Henty
Plump, complex and evocative nose – wafts of high class and well-integrated oak. Lovely additional citrus/acid zip to end. 95/96

2011 Oakridge 864 Drive Block Yarra Valley
Character and fruit, style and intrigue, texture and taste. Some people really do have it all. 95/93

2011 Bindi Composition Macedon
Subtle funk on the nose with a squeeze of citrus. I felt the palate lacked flesh – needs a hug. (NB: This wine was divisive in the group, from memory, for this reason.) 90/95

2010 Dom Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault Perrières 1er Cru Meursault
VA? Warm, plush, creamy with a waft of oak and a slight bitterness? 92/92

2010 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Margaret River
Beautiful complex nose with stone fruits and mealiness. Great richness and complexity. Palate also complex, perfectly poised and balanced. Seamless in every way. 95/97 (NB: Equal highest wine of the bracket)

2010 Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A Adelaide Hills
A long and cosy sunset. Warm generous tones of oak and creaminess, length, complexity, fuller style of wine. Makes me wish for roast chicken. Comforting certainly, perhaps lacking finesse. 95/95

2010 Yabby Lake Vineyard Block 6 Mornington Peninsula
Complex, expressive and rather hedonistic nose. Fruit and savoury notes, the palate is full-ish, complex with enlivening and refreshing acid. A meal in itself, fruit, savoury, citrus, and mealiness. 95/94

2010 Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Hawke's Bay
A bit warm. Lacks some of the more charming aspects of chardonnay. 91/93

2010 Bass Phillip Premium Gippsland
Cooked? Dessert. Tastes of preserved peaches. 89/88

2009 Dom Blain-Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru Chassagne-Montrachet
All the right things, just in the wrong quantities! 91/91

2009 Dom Bouchard Père et Fils Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte Grand Cru Puligny-Montrachet
An intriguing nose is followed by a kaleidoscope of flavour and complexity on the palate. Great texture, spice, citrus fruit, acid and wonderful length. 95/95

2009 Tyrrell’s Wines SFOV Chardonnay Hunter Valley
All there, just not enough of it. Like tasting a watercolour of chardonnay. (Group discussion was that it was Chardonnay made more like a Semillon). 89/92

2009 Dom Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
Again lots of angular activity, lacked generosity. (Again Chablis. My lesson learnt! [Although I love Andrea's notes in general, I don't quite understand this comment – JR]). 91/94

2008 Dom Vincent Dauvissat Séchet Premier Cru Chablis
Corked.

2008 Cullen Kevin John Margaret River
Oxidised. 89

2008 Dom Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Boudriotte PC
Intriguing nose – citrus and curd, clouds of texture, ample flesh, layers of complexity. 93/96

2008 Giaconda Estate Vineyard Beechworth
Beautiful, alluring and complex nose of struck match and citrus fruit with a subtle lick of vanilla. Although it was clearly a wine with an idea, I felt it lacked finesse and structure on the palate. 90/95 (NB: another divisive wine for the group. No penalties.)

2007 Dom Blain-Gagnard Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 
Restrained and tightly wound. Saline, citrus, refreshing palate. Like the concept of ‘white space’ in art, as much about what is not there that made it so attractive. 95/93

2007 Olivier Leflaive Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru
Lovely wine with plenty of acid, drive and zip! 94/95

2007 Dom William Fèvre Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis
All component pieces there, perhaps lacking a little finesse. 93/94

2006 Dom Blain-Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru
Tightly wound, lemon cheesecake with some funky intrigue. Appealing, though lacking a little intensity. 95/94

2006 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Kumeu
Stone fruit and lanolin on the nose, palate was seamless. Balance, complexity, length. 95/95

2006 Dom Laroche Les Fourchaumes Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru Chablis
Just a little plain. 90/90

2005 Coldstream Hills Reserve Yarra Valley
Evocative and beguiling nose. Lovely weight and melding of fruit, acid and winemaking on the nose, I felt the oak stuck out a little. (Though no one else did.) 96/93

2005 Dom JF Coche-Dury Meursault 
Hazelnuts, honey and almonds. Struck match, citrus, zip, race, and structure. Intrigue, character, complexity and presence. 96/97 (NB: Equal highest wine of the bracket)

2005 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River
Intense, powerful and complex though on the palate a little warm and the fruit felt slightly stretched. Lacking a little finesse yet still rather fine. 95/94

2004 Eileen Hardy Yarra Valley/Tasmania/Tumbarumba
Exquisite nose. Buttery, lemon, citrus notes. Textural palate, attractive creaminess, citrus and still so much life! 96/95

Tags:  Len Evans
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