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FAILLA CAN'T FAIL YA (February
22, 2003) Ehren Jordan has already made quite a name for himself
with the wines he makes for Larry Turley and Neyers. Now he's got
his own label, Failla, and these wines are phenomenal too.
Served blind to a table of Burgundy
lovers, **+2000 Failla Chardonnay Keefer Ranch wows us all.
(I'm being conservative on the rating until I try it again in the
company of other first-rank Chards.) Flavors of fig, mineral and
cumquat swarm all over your senses. Was expecting some oak in a
Chard this young, but it's already all been soaked up. Very
distinctive stuff. You'd never mistake this for a Neyers Chard.
Wonder what the clones are?
RIB REDS (February 22, 2003)
Everyone brought their own idea of what might go well with barbecued
short ribs. Can't complain about any of them, but strangely, the
best match may have been a Pinot:
first WS wine I've tasted that was made after the controversial
buyout. If you're still on the mailing list, I'd say you have
nothing to worry about. With flavors of allspice, raspberry and
sour cherry, the wine gets really tangy on the palate, beautifully
complementing the rib sauce.
**+1999 Williams-Selyem Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
*++1995 Zenato Della Valpolicella Amarone is served blind and
stumps us all. What really throws us off is the chili pepper notes
on the finish. We guess Cab, Merlot, even possibly Zin. The plummy,
ultra-ripe notes and alcohol might have tipped us off, but Italy
never occurs to us.
***+1995 Turley Wine Cellars Petite Syrah "Aida" may
not match up to ribs as well, but oooooh, what a wine! Nearly black,
almost syrupy, it's developed a fabulous bouquet of roses. Gushers
of blueberry and blackberry take over on the palate. Easily one of
the best Petite Sirahs I've ever tasted.
JURASSIC WINES (February 15, 2003) If you
pride yourself on an adventurous palate, have I got an acid test for
White wines of the Jura have been
celebrated as extreme expressions of terroir -- and whatever you
think of that claim, you must admit they're, well, different. We
recently tasted a bunch of them, and while I'm not wildly searching
for more, boredom was never an issue:
*+Domaine Berthet-Bondet Cremant de Jura NV. The most
popular Jura wine of the tasting, it's also the most conventional,
reminding me some of Carneros sparkling wine. Strawberry scents
are joined by shades of pineapple on the palate, with enough
acidity to make it very refreshing. Don't know the cepage but
would guess it's a blend of Chardonnay and Savignin -- the latter
grape a mainstay of this region.
Never in 100 tastings would I have guessed *-1989 Domaine de
is 100% Chardonnay. With aromas of Marsala and Calvados, it
tastes of hard apple cider and steel. Kind of tasty when you get
used to it.
*1997 Château Bethanie
Arbois Savagnin is my favorite still white wine tonight. Hits
you at first with an overpowering fragrance of hyacinth petals,
then yields up Winesap apple and mineral flavors. Probably not the
biggest wine on the table, and maybe that's why I prefer it. A
little Jura kinkiness goes a long way.
Others prefer the Jean-Pierre Salvadori "Macvin de Jura"
NV. Smells to me like low-alcohol Armagnac. Tastes a little
like pear liqueur. Finishes fairly long, which pleases those who
like the flavor. Can't say I cozied up to it, but I'm willing to
give it another try...sometime.
*--1995 Domaine Berthet-Bondet Château-Chalon
might row your boat if you're partial to Fino Sherry. Nutty
flavors with some apple-pear fruit underneath.
The Jura is famous for its Vin de Paille -- made
with grapes that have been dried on straw mats, in a manner akin
to Vin Santo. *1998 Château
des Jacobins Vin de Paille tastes a little like Cointreau. Not
what I expected. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)
*-1998 Morel-Thibaut Vin de Paille is more
like a PX Sherry, with raisin and nougat flavors, finishing well.
Lest you think we suffered tonight, not
so. Our generous host rewarded our work with a flight of more
conventional reds, all served blind.
**+1990 Hudelot Noellat Nuits St. George "Les Murgers"
is all about finesse. First it's
cinnamon toast and strawberry jam, then you get to the beautiful
core of ripe cherries. Reminds me a little of older Williams-Selyem
Pinot Noir at its best. Drink now.
*-1990 Leroy Vosne-Romanée
"Les Genevriéres is
dark and extracted, but notably tannic and acidic compared to the
other reds. As the evening wears on, blackberry flavors recede and
veer to cranberry. Too young or just plain unbalanced? I would guess
A mouthful of wild strawberries, **+1997 Denis Mortet
Gevrey-Chambertin "Au Vellé"
is already stunning, and promises to reveal even more with further
And this has to be the best outing yet for **1996 Beaux FrPres
Pinot Noir (Oregon). Dismissed by some at release as an
off-vintage disappointment, it's taken on weight and considerable
complexity. Black raspberry flavors do a nice dance and finish with
lots of finesse.
ALONE (February 3, 2003) Rhône
is a watchword for red wine values these days, but don't let it
dissuade you from splurging. For the money, the ultra-premium sector
has long offered sensational quality -- and continues to do so, as
evidenced by this recent meal:
***1999 Château Beaucastel
WOW! Rich fig and honey flavors with a sensuous, slippery texture
that can't fail to please. Drink now or in 7 years, but probably
not in between. Tastes so good now, however, why wait?
***-2000 Château Beaucastel
Same story, a little less voluptuous, but maybe that's just the
colder serving temperature. Same comments on drinking window.
*-1997 Grippat Hermitage (Blanc). Blown
away by the Beaucastel, but nice enough. Fairly closed, it opens after
60 minutes and shows pleasant almond flavors.
**+1995 Ogier (Regular Cuvée).
Ready to rip right now, offering violets, raspberries,
blackberries and bacon. A hint of barnyard, but just enough to add
to the appeal. Some actually preferred this wine to the next, but
I cannot agree...
***+1995 Ogier Belle Hélene.
Whew, is this big stuff! Aged in 100% new oak and you'd never guess -- all soaked up. Similar profile to the above, but twice as long
and penetrating. Give it another 5 years at least if you want to
enjoy it fully.
**++1998 Château Rayas.
Blackberries and sweet red cherries please the palate mightily,
despite lingering tannins. Just a little rougher, a tad less
alcoholic and a shade short of...
***+1990 Chateau Rayas. Port-like, says one taster -- true of
the texture and intensity, but there's no heat on the finish.
Lingering blackberries and red raspberries. Amazing purity, pleasure
***+1995 Les Cailloux Cuvée
Centenaire. Lawdy, could anything get better than
this? Meatballs, blueberries, strawberries and a hint of rhubarb
pie. Bigger even than the Rayas, but suddenly dwarfed by the
***+1990 Les Cailloux Cuvée
Centenaire! I don't think I've ever tasted this when it hasn't
swept all other reds off the table. Riper and plummier than the '95
and measurably broader, deeper. Someday I'd love to sneak this blind
into a tasting of great Bordeaux and watch it steal the show.
(January 25, 2003) You might guess ahead of time that the best match
to Beef Burgundy would be something red from the Côte
D'Or. And sure enough, tonight it turns out to be...
aromas of rose petals -- so pronounced, I'm reminded of Alsace Gewürztraminer.
On the palate, you sense more of the same, plus raspberries,
autumn leaves and Darjeeling. The most impressive Pommard I've
tasted in years.
***+1990 Mussy Pommard "Epenots".
The other wines tonight aren't a hardship, but don't quite serve
up the same sex appeal:
is served blind and fakes me out.
It's so ripe and plummy, I guess California Pinot Noir, maybe from
1994. Deep ruby to garnet, this wine sure pumps out the pleasure,
and I guess I can taste the tell-tale spice now that I know the
source...but if blinded again, I still might guess New World.
**1991 Jayer-Gil Echezaux
**+1992 Joseph Phelps Insignia is also served blind, but this
one's easy to nail. The black cherry, herb and mint could be nothing
but Napa Valley Cab, and a super one. I might have expected this
wine to be a little more backward than it's showing. Yes, you can
sense lingering tannins, but the texture's pretty lush.
**1993 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon surprises me in the
other direction. By Philip's own account, this is his lightest wine
of the '90s, yet tonight we get a big, black brooding giant. It's
really taken on weight! With decanting and lots of swirling, the
herbal notes gradually turn to floral, but I think I'll wait another
few years before opening my next.
Finally, **+1995 Ambroise Nuits St. Georges "Les
charms the socks off me. Deep ruby, with ripe red cherry aromas,
it's plush and velvety even now, although I'd expect another 5 years
might help the flavors fan out.
KEEFER'S KEWL (January
25, 2003) Out in the Russian River Valley, Keefer Ranch is growing
some serious fruit and selling it to producers who know their stuff.
Both Ehren Jordan's **+2000 Failla-Jordan 2000 Keefer Ranch Pinot
Noir and the **+2000 Flowers Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir
deliver loads of intense fruit, shaded by notes of black tea. I was
fascinated by the way they both bring out the same distinctive black
cherry flavors. Call it terroir, clonal character or what you will,
it's delicious. The Failla-Jordan is a little earthier, but both are
irresistible drinking right now. NOTE TO EHREN: I'm so happy
you ditched the wax capsules for 2001!
HAPPY NEW YEAR (January 1, 2003) and
apologies for the Christmas hiatus. I've been hard at work
researching the Perfect Holiday Tasting, and here's one that came
pretty darned close to the ideal:
FLIGHT ONE (with hors d'oeuvres):
***-1990 Egly Ourier Millesime. I've reviewed this several
times before and it hasn't lost a step. Remains like Grand Cru
Burg with bubbles.
***-1990 Champagne L'Harbonville "Premier Crus En Fft
De ChLne." A
mere babe, compared to the **1988 and
***1989, tasted previously.
Right now it walks a wire between its predecessors -- racier
than the unctuous '89 and fatter than the greyhound '88. Give it a
year or so more in the cellar and it may outdistance both.
FLIGHT TWO (with salad):
Does any wine taste better with salad? Maybe not, but
Didier Dagenau's awesome ***+1996 Silex makes this
thankless match-up look so easy, some think it wine of the
evening. Amazingly tasty harmony of gunflint, gooseberry, cumquat
and lilies. Slippery on the palate with a long, mineral-laden
**--2000 Araujo Sauvignon Blanc also works well with the
course, even if it can't best the stupendous Silex. A friendly
arrangement of flowers and fruit, it's probably best consumed
young. Mouth-coating flavors of grapefruit and honeydew melon
would also make it a fine aperitif.
FLIGHT THREE (with lobster):
***1997 Marcassin Chardonnay "Gauer Ranch Upper Barn"
is mostly about primary flavors right now, but even the overture's
quite a rouser. Papaya, bread dough, honeysuckle and vanilla,
followed by a thundering finish. Give it another few years at
least if you want to see the full show.
**+1999 Chave White Hermitage is also still too young to
reveal all its tricks, but promises much. Aromas of toasted almonds
and wet stones. Long, intense finish.
***+1991 Ramonet Batard-Montrachet has come of age and rules.
Fabulous nose of matchstick, mineral and crLme
caramel. Each sip soaks the senses for more than a minute.
FLIGHT FOUR (with hot foie gras):
**+1997 Martini di Cigala "Percarlo" is not the
best of matches, but excites admiration all the same. Sangiovese
doesn't get much more intense and concentrated. Dried cherries
dominate from crisp attack to lingering coda.
**+1990 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer "Heimbourg" (Vendanges
Tardive) has lost its youthful sugar. Marries well to the goose
liver, but I wish I had caught it younger.
***-1988 Raymond Lafon (Sauternes) is pretty near prime time.
Fantastic floral scent, sweet but not syrupy palate and cozies up to
the foie gras like it's found true love at last.
But nothing tonight can challenge the juggernaut ***+1990
François Pinon Vouvray "Goutte
D'Or." Favors of super-ripe pears that absolutely blast the
palate. Easily the most impressive Vouvray I've ever tasted and WHITE
WINE OF THE EVENING.
FLIGHT FIVE (horizontal of 1997
California Pinot Noir, with quail):
In any other context, **++1997 Kistler Pinot Noir
"Sonoma Coast" would have tongues wagging, with its
generous raspberry flavors and plush texture. Of all the Pinot
Noirs, this one actually seems close to its peak drinking window.
But the competition couldn't be more formidable...
***+1997 Marcassin Pinot Noir "Marcassin Vineyard" is
incredibly concentrated, yet beautifully balanced. Still a mere
pup, it offers enormous pleasure even now. Cherries at just the
right level of ripeness, with minerals on the finish.
***+1997 Kistler Pinot Noir "Kistler Vineyard Cuvée
Catherine" is a fascinating wine to compare to the
Marcassin. Equally big, but more flamboyant, with super-ripe
raspberry flavors. Right now the Kistler is offering more, but the
Marcassin seems to have more in reserve. How nice it would be to
taste these two wines side-by-side in a couple of years. (Dream
FLIGHT SIX (a vertical of Araujo
Cab, with venison):
***+1994 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon "Eisele Vineyard"
is the most backward Cab of this flight, yet still bests all but
one of its powerful brothers. Baby fat has fallen away, and the
wine is all muscle right now. The characteristic chocolate-covered
cherries show most on the 45-second finish.
Will ***+1995 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon "Eisele
Vineyard" ever shut down? Maybe not! It's still as
lush as it was on release, yet also presents the densest core. The
only time I ever was less than thrilled with this legend, the bottle
was corked. Easily the RED WINE OF THE EVENING.
***1997 Araujo is running in fast company, but showing
extremely well. Velvety texture that's not quite as sensuous as the
'95 -- great finish that's not quite as long as the '94 -- but it's
still got to be one of the best wines of this outstanding Napa
***-1998 Araujo has the most tempting aromas of the flight,
and delivers generously on the palate. Probably also holds the least
in reserve for the future, but that's a relative thing. This is
still probably a 15-year wine. Enjoy now or whenever you feel like
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