"Define botrytis," I asked a wine buddy while we drank a half-bottle of Suduiraut 1997. Because I can recognize it but I can't verbalize what I'm sensing and I thought, time to learn a little.
He thought a minute and said "rust". I'd heard rust used to describe young Barolos and this same friend used it several times to describe red wines. I know what he meant, though, and I can generalize it for the kind of wines my friends and I love. It's in the way certain wines don't need to be smooth and prefect. In fact, they seem to resist it. They have an X-factor to complicate things. Why do you think great wines have long, lingering finishes? Because they're dainty and polite?
Then my friend brought forth his own question to the table: "name the five greatest wines you've ever had". "You know, I don't really have have a large catalog of Great Wines That I Have Tasted. My answer would probably be somewhat naive." "Never mind, I just want to hear your answer".
So here's my answer. Pretty good wines, if I do say so myself, though the reason I chose them was because they were each a revelation at the time of imbibing.
Chateau de Beaucastel, Rouge, 1989
The minute I stuck my nose in the glass, I knew this was male-bonding wine, the reason we lay down wines to share with our sons. The brett is like drops of sweat on war steeds. It has the rust I was talking about but it caresses you on the palate like Otis Redding singing "Dock Of The Bay". Am I getting carried away? Of course I am. Wouldn't you?
Louis Jadot, Chambertin Clos de Beze, 2001
Louis Jadot, Corton-Charlemagne, 2000
Burgundy hit me bad. These were tasted at a Louis Jadot tasting. I had never tasted red Burgundies before and I couldn't believe the combination of power and silky texture. It's customary among Old World lovers to deride Jadot and I don't know if I'd feel the same way about them today but I owe these wines a debt (judging by the hole Burgundy ripped into my wallet, I'm sure my wife thinks I've paid it back already). I was only a carrier of the Burgundy germ for a while but a year later the disease erupted after I drank a bottle of one of Ghislaine Barthod's Premier Crus.
Chateau Rieussec, 2001
I couldn't write down a decent note for it three years ago and I'll be damned if I can re-create one now, from memory. I just know I want to go back and to that magical cloud again one day.
Domecq, Palo Cortado, Capucino, n.v.
It's labeled VORS but Domecq claims the juice is actually even older, over 60 years old. If Jerez had a Grand Cru system, this would be their Montrachet. I knew it was supposed to be quite good but I couldn't believe just how good it was. This wine actually deserves a grocery-list tasting note because there's just so many things going on in it, so many flavors. You can almost feel all the years it spent in the solera, all of that history; and I'm so glad I had it after drinking enough sherries previously to appreciate all its nuances.