I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an extraordinary quintet of 80s era Geyserville and Lytton Springs, and was particularly pleased to be tasting with my lovely missus, who contributed mightily to the quality and intensity of the experience. I’ll confess that I was rather swooned about the whole thing, and accordingly, if my notes below occasionally veer to the seemingly hyperbolic, I beg you to trust me, I was feeling it! It really was a wonderful tasting …
The Anatomy Of A Tasting
Rich, earthy nose, with forest floor and pine notes; beautifully old-world tiers of aroma, yet unexpectedly exotic: bamboo shoot, mushroom, and cedar right out of the gate, underlaid with brine, japanese radish and burdock, as well as pipe tobacco. Pull your nose back from the glass, and there is even a halo of aromatic menthol on offer. Tremendously fresh acidity, and a plush mouthfeel at point of entry that rolls back, then flattens out, then returns to tip-of-tongue with bright citricity. The mid-palate expresses concentratedly exotic richness, conjuring mixed-tone olive tapenade and chutney. A trace of charred wood nearing the finish, joined by back-of-tongue tannin comingling with acidity, makes for a finish that begs for higher fat content dishes that can match this wine spice for spice; meaning, not so much butter or oil-derived fats, but more meaty and succulent offerings. At nearly 30 years of age, secondary and tertiary maturation character is leading the way, as opposed to any dominant and lingering fruit sweetness, thus while this may not be a gentle sipper, it’s a wild and winsome offering for a richly laid table.
Stunningly omnipresent call-up of berry pie on the nose; carmelized sugar, vanilla, warm wheat, baked berries (mixed harvest: boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry) and an ever-so-slight juxtaposition of sweet and herbaceous conjuring strawberry-rhubarb … Interwoven amongst the fresh sunny fruits is a singularly muscular set of tones that evoke a blend of chili beans, hearty broth, and stewed root vegetables and tomatoes marinated in balsamic … or is it cumin and pepper? (Or is that just what I want to eat with this wine?) Pure velvet mouthfeel spreading all over the tongue, from point-of-entry to mid-palate, introducing a fine spread of autumnal nutmeg and winter clove that’s been mitigated by hot whiskey and a squeeze of fireside lemon (wood and citrus) … The lushness carries through to the close, and the youthful vibrancy lights up the finish with a final display of baked fruits, though at the end it’s more apple than berry … remarkably, the tannins and acidity are both present and accounted for, and very much in balance. At 20+ years, this is a fresh as one could hope for, and more …
Hints of the afore-referenced fruit pie on the nose, though the character is higher-tone red, and more fruit-centric with less reliance on the tangential ingredient list … the fruit here instead is counterbalanced by beautifully environmental components; most notably wet river stone, cherry blossom, and sweet meadow grass. Sweet earth here as well, but delicate, not cloying. A quick rush of Umami savoriness at point-of-entry, swelling into an even meatier mid-palate. The back-end, however, narrows again, as a river moving through a varying landscape; meaning the wine is narrow early on, but widens to wild rapids fairly quickly, expands to complacent width mid-palate, then funnels through the narrows at the close. Throughout, the forest presence remains constant, though it’s forest floor, and the attendant concentration, as opposed to a brighter herbaceousness, that limns the palate movement. The wine beguiles for the most part, though the kiss is more enticing than the prospect of a long relationship. Translated, it’s a brilliant sipping wine, a brilliant first-wine-of-the-night, but the skittishness of the finish means it’s less suited to the full committment of the table.
1987 Lytton Springs
The color of this wine! So deep, so dark, quite remarkable … Powerful pairing of woodiness and florality on the nose; succulently perfumed flower notes (violet and lavender) dancing on a floor of redwood and mahogany, partnering with faint strains of anise, menthol, and vanilla. Congruent to this is a strong herb character, led primarily by bay leaf … Lots of cherry and menthol point-of-entry, with a continuation of the bouquet into the palate experience; wood, flower, herbs … strong residual tannin presence, mostly front-palate, calling up black olive and tea leaf … the mouthfeel presence is more width than length, meaning the action is in the cheeks more so than the chest … a touch of fruit up front, then a strong and dark herb conclusion, with hints of pine and forest floor. Shorter all around, but worth it for the intensity of the approach, and the richness of the resin.
1989 Lytton Springs
Deeply menthol and eucalyptal-laden nose, with saturated cherry notes to boot, but not at all cloying, and even despite the sweet hint of vanilla, the nose is indisputably inviting, as opposed to saccharine; note the subtle strains of quiet campfire ember, and the evokement of a sun-warmed redwood deck, and the enticement becomes nearly impossibly fresh. Warmth is the overarching component to the front-palate, followed closely by a subtle and healthy decadence of concentrated fruit… Chewy through the first two-thirds, with sweet grain and dried fruit character leading the way, followed by fresh acidity and fresh fruit vibrancy next in line … What’s perhaps most singular is the brightness of the tropicality, most notably notes of banana and papaya, looming up in the finish. Given the briskness of the acidity at the close, this is a remarkably fresh and vibrant 20-year wine.