Assistant Lab Rat reporting as promised!
After getting his bonus second bottle with his Golden Ticket, cmaldoon invited me to join in dissecting tonight's bottle of 2004 Hawley Merlot. As you can tell, I liked it enough to be annoyed at not getting first sucker
I want this to be as helpful to as many people as possible, so I'll start out with my own preferences. First off, my tastes vary widely and I enjoy wines from most of the spectrum so long as they are well made. In my cellar you will find Corison, Wellington, Ty Caton, and Twisted Oak as the dominant names, along with a good bit of Scott Harvey. I mainly look for two things in wine: enough acid to balance out anything else and give the flavours a whole lot of life, and a level of complexity that warrants the asking price for a given bottle. To make that a little more concrete, my favourite woot-related wines have been: Corison, Twisted Oak Parcel 17 and PS, Wellington Victory, Scott Harvey 1869 Zin and Reserve Barbera, Buttonwood Cab Franc, Iron Horse Chard and Pinot, Keating Malbec, and VJB Barbera. Two non-woots that I also think are excellent and relevant: Woodside Vineyards King's Mountain Cabernet and Ridge Monte Bello. Hope that helps.
Now on to the wine! I arrived in time for dinner, but not for the pop and pour - my first taste of the wine was around 7:45pm after it had been open for approximately 2 hours. My only real warning for what to expect was that on pop/pour it was a tannin monster. I gave it a quick swirl and a sniff and I immediately know this is the sort of wine I am going to enjoy. Notes from the first round of deliberate evaluation:
Colour: blue-ish purple throughout, crystal clear (the decanting did a great job of trapping sediment), and bled to red and then colourless at the edge.
Swirling revealed a viscous wine, with legs taking almost 10 seconds to develop at all.
Nose: Initially subtle, the first aromas I got were of earth and spice all wrapped up in an unidentifiable robe of sweetish fruit. I immediately know it's a wine with such depth that I would happily sniff it all night. Further investigation and thought and lots of sniffing later (who knew sniffing all that glue would come in handy?) I was able to pick out cherry and vanilla - almost like cherry vanilla sauce for duck or yogurt. Then I thought, maybe, just maybe, the sweet robe of fruit was very ripe blueberry tending to maybe even overripe. Also got the notion that the sweet smell might be caramel, and therefore a byproduct of the oaking. A little more swirling and sniffing and I finally get one of the other components - mint! Normally I get eucalyptus in a wine long before I get mint, but this is one of the rare ones where I just thought it was mint - pleasantly so.
First taste: Finally! On to the tasting part of the tasting! By now it's probably 2h15 since decanting. My first impression on entry was a bit of fruit and a lot of earthy, leathery goodness. Then the tannins started to coat my tongue and for a 2+ hour decant I was shocked at their power and graininess. My notes actually say they "coated my tongue in a no-nonsense sort of way". The finish evolved from a general herbaceous sense to herbs and then to spice. And it did this over the span of at least 30 seconds. Surprisingly, for a wine of this depth and tannin level it was quite light in body.
First set of tastes with food, around 8:20pm, 2h35 post decant. Dinner was Greek salad and pasta with a cream sauce, pancetta, sweet potato, sundried tomatoes, and basil. Without thinking about flavour combinations I just ate some food and then tried the wine. Initially all I get is the acid. I wonder why, so I go about this a little more purposefully. The Greek salad seems to bring out more green bell pepper sorts of flavours to me while the pasta tends to leave this wine more chameleon-like, although it did reveal some plum to me at this point. The sweet potato seemed to mute most of the fruit flavours, leaving only the acid and not terribly pleasant.
I was wishing for a steak around then, but who'd have guessed for a 7 year old Merlot that it would still stand up to something like that? I was expecting a wine at/near the brink of exhaustion. A wine that would come with a warning to drink within 6 months or you'd just be disappointed. Not so! I think this wine has 5 years left in it, easy. Maybe even more.
Another set of notes from 9:10pm, nearly 3.5 hours post-decant. At this point I find the fruit is fading somewhat, but nowhere near as fast as the tannins are polymerizing and getting smoother. I think the wine just keeps on getting better - or certainly not getting any worse. The herb characters are front and centre at this point, and at some point I recall mentioning rosemary as a flavour component.
Overall, I was delighted to have the chance to taste this, and I thank cmaldoon for sharing his Golden Ticket with me and WD/Ali/PowersThatBe for sending this particular bottle his way. Without having tasted it, I would almost certainly not have gone in. I was second sucker this time
The other strange thing about this wine was that if it had been presented to me blind, I probably would have first guessed it was a classically-styled Rutherford Cab, say from the Kronos Vineyard and it's environs. The dusty/earthy flavour in this wine made me think of 14 year old Burgess or Heitz Cab or the bottle of 1989 Corison I opened for my birthday this year. Not so similar that I'd think it was one of those, but similar enough to make me do a double take. Certainly not your average Dry Creek Merlot/Bdx blend.
Interesting side note: cmaldoon also opened a bottle of Rosemount Balmoral Syrah, also from 2004. The wines could not have been more different. Where the Hawley was subtle and full of flavours and aromas to decipher, the Rosemount was big and in your face with fruit and oak. The comment that won was that the wines are polar opposites. So if you're a big fan of the fruit/oak-bomb or mega-fruit style (Kyle, I'm looking at you here) this may not be for you. If you are a fan of the more restrained, complex, beverage that will go with food (almost demands it) then this is your wine.
I saw HitAnyKey42 on wine.woot! and clicked "I want one!"