Before I get to a really good tea, the 2000 Apple green 7542, let's have a look at a set of five cakes from Xiaguan, made in 2003. WDJG is Wu Da Jin Gan and it is supposed to be a reproduction of famous "marks". I do not think that the attempt is too succesful, given what I heard of the famous 50/60s cakes, but I think that one finds various "marks" these days, it would be naive to expect them to be an exact reproduction of the past stuff. The exact pricing is difficult to tell (one would have to ask Alan), but I guess it could be somewhere between $80 and $100.
As the teas look more or less the same, I took only a single set of pictures. Here they go:
The leaves are rather dark, given the lightness of the liquor - they are noticeably blacker than similar cakes of this age.
The liquor is, in general, quite light for a 2003 tea; the storage must have been dry, but not unreasonably so.
As you can see, the degree of brokenness is similar to that of mountain climber's bones after a fall from K2.
All the five "marks" share certain features that I'll describe below, then I'll get to details and differences of them.
Aroma of rinsed leaves contains some wood and smoke (wood/dry leaves, not tobacco). To that, the teas add various sorts of fruitiness/spice. Most teas of the set smells good.
In taste, the teas generally are not as good as their aroma, though some of them are quite drinkable. They do taste decent, but the wood and smoke tend to be strong, therefore the "xiaguan element" tends to obscure the original nature of the leaves. Sweetness and thickness are, in general, nothing much, medium at best.
The fact that the taste of the set does not interest me too much may be just that I'm not into "northern" tea. However, the relative lack of mouth activity (which is not compensated by exceptional thickness and sweetness, as is in some other teas) and complete silence in qi are a problem that could be more general.
Now, to the very teas:
Hong Yin (Red Mark)
I think I enjoyed this one the least. It is arguably most "Xiaguanish", quite woody, with some smoke and some red fruit, which has a tendency to go sour, I believe that partly due to dry storage. While the tea was drinkable, I did not find anything positive about it, outside not being bad.
Yi Ji Lan Yin (Grade B Blue Mark)
So sorry, I lost the notes to that one. As far as I remember it, I enjoyed it more than the Hong Yin, having nice tones of longan.
Jia Ji Lan Yin (Grade A Blue Mark)
This one is one of two WDJG teas that I rather enjoyed. Already the aroma promises good things. It is sweet, with powidl and positive animality. As steepings go, it gets more woody-smoky, which makes it less interesting, but at the beginning, it smells quite good.
Sadly, the taste is not nearly as full and sweet as the aroma, again, it is mostly dry wood and smoke. There is a part of good fruitiness (longan, plums) and animality (Baoshan sort). It is one of few WDJGs that have some activity in mouth, but it's nothing to write home about.
I feel that given its Xiaguan origin, the taste profile of this Grade A Blue Mark is interesting, but compared to other makers, it is still far behind.
2003 Mei Shu Zi Lu Yin (Green Mark, artistic font)
In aroma, there is some oriental spice added to wood. Not much smoke is present.
The taste reminded me of bland, sweet wood, with below-average amount of smoke and some camphor. Not too interesting, in my opinion.
2003 Lu Yin (Green Mark)
This is the second tea from the set that I found enjoyable. In the aroma, there is a very pleasant mixture of overripe garden fruit and dark, thick sweetness, "mystical". Other features are light animality and powidl, the usual Xiaguan hardness being light and only in the background.
Even though the usual unpleasant Xiaguan features are present, the taste contains a lot of goodness too - heavy overripe garden, a bit of longan, some spice. It is decent, though not much more than that (there are teas like that without the annoying hardness).
Astringency is a bit higher than in other WDJGs; there is light activity in mouth.
The WDJG set consists mostly of lower-grade material and the reasonably dry, good storage does not hide that. No tea (possibly except the artistic font green mark) sucks, but none of them shine either. It sort of reminds me of the Gu Puer set from YS, where the teas were also often "it has some good features, but...".
Among the many Xiaguan teas I tasted over the years, these teas tend to be better than most (though it by no means means that I consider them to be too good). The pricing is also decent. At comparable prices and age, one can get baoyans or tuos here in CR and with all respect (not much) to these, most WDJGs are better and cheaper than these.
For Xiaguan lovers, this is a definite "go for it" set. For the rest of us, meh...