Notes are in chronological order, with the latest at the top.
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CAB CONTEST. (February 22, 1999) I
went through a quartet of Cabernet-based wines in the past week and the good news is that
the cheapest ones won. Marvelous to say, one of them is even still on the market:
*1995 CHATEAU TAYAC CUVEE PRESTIGE (CÔTES DE BOURG). This was a last minute stand-in for a corked bottle, so we started it at cellar temp. The tannins may have been unduly emphasized as a result. I noticed a rougher edge to the wine than the last time I tried it, but it continues to be a ripe, juicy treat, with plenty of Bordeaux character. Still in stock at my local Pennsylvania state store, at the uncharacteristically (for PA) reasonable price of $17.99. Buy it and try it!
*1992 PER SEMPRE CABERNET SAUVIGNON. A big, structured wine that needs time in the glass to unwind and we couldn't give it the time it needed. For this reason, perhaps, it didn't blow me away as it has in previous tastings. I'm not writing it off, but I can't say I felt we got our money's worth on this one. By Johnson's Law, it wouldn't even get a star.
1995 JOGUET CLOS DE LA DIOTERIE VIELLES VIGNES. A fruity, friendly wine that delighted me at first. But there's not a whole lot of interest after the first gush and I can't even say it tasted much like Cabernet Franc. Made me wonder what kind of yeast they used to ferment it. Not as much to my liking as the excellent CF from Alliet that I tasted a few weeks ago.
And the winner for the week is...
*+1991 RIDGE SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Just delightful! What did I pay for this wine back in 1993 maybe $10 to $15? You get varietally perfect Cabernet Sauvignon flavors, plus a big dollop of California berries, plus a goodly finish. This wine seems to me to be at peak, but shows no sign of fading any time soon. Has anyone tried the current release of Ridge SCM? If it's anything close to this beaut, I'd consider laying in a case.
DOG BITES MAN, TWICE! (February 18, 1999) Human
nature, I guess. Wine-geeks love to brag about their disagreements with Robert Parker's
reviews. It's a shocker! Man bites dog.
*1995 CLARENDON HILLS SHIRAZ. Black, thick and peppery, and
surprisingly plush for all its youth. Has a hint of bacon too but mostly it's fruit,
fruit, fruit. Has structure to match the substance, but not too much to enjoy right now.
BOLSHEVIKS. (February 12, 1999) Tonight we compared a familiar Russian River Valley Red with a newcomer:
**1995 DEHLINGER GOLDRIDGE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR. Our old friend showing as beautifully as before, with loads of Russian-River-style red fruit, reassuring depth and a good finish. Will it ever taste better? Maybe so, maybe not, but why take chances when now is so nice?
**1996 LYNMAR QUAIL HILL VINEYARD PINOT NOIR "RESERVE". My first taste of the reserve and well...if their regular bottling was good for the money, this is downright delicious! Shows well against Dehlinger's benchmark, very similar in style with a tad more structure. Bright cherry fruit that begs for another sip...and another. I mark the evening a draw.
$18 WELL SPENT. (February 8, 1999) Monday-night wine
is a balancing act. You're feeling poor after the weekend, so you don't want to open a
budget-buster. But it's such a depressing time of the week, you do want a smile at
2 CHEERS FOR THE WHITE, GREY & PINK. (February 7, 1999)
opened a few "Non-C" bottles to accompany some grilled octopus and
other Greek-style goodies:
*EGLY-OURIET NV gets a cheer. Goes well with just
about anything and it sucked up to the sucker-fish with usual aplomb. The wine opens
zingy, then mellows down to some winey flavors, then starts tasting like a fine still
Burgundy, except with bubbles.
**1995 BOILLOT PULIGNY-MONTRACHET. A stunning 1995 that announces
itself like a fencer -- stab, stab, take that! Fairly pale with flavors including a trace
of honey and moderate oak to begin with, but the wine then opens to pure, minerally
Chardonnay fruit. Can't imagine any Burgundy fan not liking this wine and even Phylis, the
California fan, lapped it up happily.
My tender and succulent braised lamb chop then arrived, and the battle of the reds commenced:
**1978 CHATEAU PICHON-LALANDE is still a stern wine but seemingly
mature, tannins and all. It required some swirling and a bite or two of lamb before
revealing the sexy side of P-L, but at last, there it was. Memories of the 1989 P-L
consumed the evening before come forth -- and, well, I think I slightly prefer the '89. It
has an added suppleness. However, this is a terrific wine, prime Bordeaux. Probably could
have bested an '87 Dominus or even an '85, but not...
BORDEAUX BEDLAM. (February 5, 1999) Stuff
eight thirsty wine-geeks into Bryn Mawr's tiny restaurant Saranac, add two more at
the last minute...open bottles from Pauillac, St. Estephe, Pomerol, St. Julian, St.
Emilion, Pessac Leognan, pour and serve...and what do you get?
**1996 MICHEL NEILLON CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET "CLOS ST. JEAN". Neillon's wines characteristically seem to have a nice big drinking window. This one is pungeunt and tight at first, but ultimately proves to be drinking extremely well. Appropriate oak and excellent length. Certainly among the wines of the evening.
*1992 COUHINS-LURTON (PESSAC LEOGNAN). A nutty, creamy white
Bordeaux that proves very popular. Phylis insists it has coffee aromas, a comment which
raises some eyebrows at first. Then others say, yup, coffee. No idea about the cepage, but
presume it to be mostly Semillon. Tell me if you know.
All this time, corks were coming out of the
reds and of course some of us couldn't wait. Perhaps we should have tasted the
oldest wines first, but most of us simply started with the nearest bottle. Here's the
order in which I tasted:
**1989 PICHON-LALANDE. Just a little too tannic at first. Given I'm
fairly tannin-tolerant, others may have found it shut. In about an hour, however, it is
simply swoon-inspiring. The chocolately Merlot flavors peel off and leave you with essence
of Paulliac berries, cream and toast. You would expect this to be the youngest tasting
wine on the table and it is, but for me, also the most irresistible. Bear in mind
Pichon-Lalande is my favorite Bordeaux and that I brought this bottle. Still, I give
it...WINE OF THE EVENING.
DOES ZIN GET BETTER...(February 3, 1999) Than this? With big, thick, juicy grilled strip steaks, you pour everyone a Riedel full of *1996 TURLEY AIDA ZINFANDEL. It's a big, thick, juicy wine with shades of chocolate and toffee lightly surrounding the berry core. Ahh. All's well until an hour into dinner when some major tannins pop out and threaten to hold your tongue hostage. Wassis? Anyone else had this experience? Biggest tannins I've encountered in a 1996 Turley. Think I may wait another year before opening the other.
SWEET MYSTERY OF WINE. (January 31, 1999) For wine-geeks who think
they know a thing or two, blind tastings can be, well, bittersweet.
WINE 1. Aromas of rose, lychee and lots of alcohol. Dry and peppery
on the palate. Tastes a lot like Alsace. Really lovely nose! But the palate is a little
thin and alcohol continues to shine through. I guess an Alsace Gewurztraminer or possibly
a Pinot Gris.
WINE 3. Deep gold. Peach, vanilla, tangerine aromas. Nice thick
texture. Spicy? First I scrawl down Older Burg. Some folks guess a Rhone, but no,
the finish is too fruity for that. As the wine expands, so do the tangerine flavors, until
they seem to dominate the wine. I like it a lot! Reminds me of Cloudy Bay Chardonnay. And
Phylis loves it! Okay, that means it's got to be Chard. I guess Chardonnay, probably from
Australia or New Zealand.
FLIGHT 2. (REDS)
WINE 4. Deep red and fizzy. Ton of Ameriucan oak on the nose and in
the wine. I don't like it. Uh, actually, I hate it. Gack. Has to be Australian and
sparkling Shiraz is not a tough guess. One taster even guesses it's Hardy's, but it turns
out to be...
WINE 5. Funky nose at first. Light ruby with a touch of amber at
the rim. Not much here. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Peppery, tea-like aromas, then some berries.
Still not much here. Palate reveals tannin, more pepper and oxidised flavors. Probably an
older Burgundy from the eighties. Could be Central Coast Pinot, but really too tannic for
that. Some tasters who are more devoted to Burgundy than I say they love it. I don't.
WINE 6. Superdark. Black. I like the nose. But what is it?
Cassis and toast. Lots of cassis. Rich and thick on the palate, like a big young
Zinfandel, but it doesn't taste like Zin. Syrah? Doesn't have the shadings of a Syrah. But
what's left for it to be? Okay, I'll guess a New World Syrah, maybe from the California
central coast. Kind of reminds me of the Qupe or Ojai style. Another taster says
"Italy, because I don't know what this is and I don't know much about Italian
WINE 7. Poured from decanter. Is this a clue? Kind of mute compared
to 6, but then it opens. Quite charming. Herbal, floral notes on the nose. Cabernet
Sauvignon? Cab Franc? Hey, I like this! Yummy. Fruity. Okay now, what is it? I'll say Cab
or Cab Franc. Kind of reminds me of Dalle Valle or Viader. I'll say Napa Valley. Well, I'm
one-third right, but it's actually...
FLIGHT 3. (MORE REDS)
WINE 8. Dark to medium ruby. Tar and pepper aromas. Nope, make that
oxidation, tar and pepper. Swirling only magnifies the smell of death. Dare I
taste? Spent. Gone. A deceased parrot. I guess it's an over-the-hill wine of some Bordeaux
variety. But no...
FLIGHT 4. (GRAB BAG)
WINE 11. Corked. And a mystery it remains even now. I didn't see what it was before the bottle was wisked away.
WINE 12. Deep red going light at the rim. Delicious strawberry
aromas. So fragrant that it could be an older, big Pinot Noir, but there's a metallic tang
toward the end that argues for Grenache or maybe even Mourvedre. I guess the South of
France, Grenache or Mourvedre. A really nice wine, whatever it turns out to be and
it is revealed to be...
WINE 13. Amber and seemingly very sticky. Sweeeet stuff! Lovely
apricot aftertaste. But the question is -- Muscat or Riesling. One taster remarks on a
petrol smell and yes, there it is. So Riesling. I have no opinion on the country of origin
but others guess Navarro and...
WINE 14. An older white desert wine with botrytis aromas and this
one has got to be Riesling. Nice stuff, but shown up by the other two stickies.
WINE 15. Light gold and sweet. Not nearly as sweet as wine 13 or 14
-- but I like this one even better. Wonderfully balanced stuff that you could drink all
through dinner and dessert. Delicate, elegant poached pear flavors, with custard on the
finish. Strangely, it has a crisp, refreshing quality that I practically never taste in a
dessert wine. What the heck could it be? I won't even guess.
BURGS BASHED. (January 27, 1999). Just the facts, ma'am. Some nights Burgundy just doesn't behave like it's supposed to -- and there are other wines in the world.
Before you start looking for rocks to throw at me, Burgundy-lovers, stand advised:
1. The decision last night about the wine of the evening was unanimous.
2. Nearly all of us (except, perhaps, me) were predisposed to favor Burgundy.
3. A couple of the real Burgs were quite good.
4. The fabulous winner, a ringer, was served blind.
We were dining at the new Philly restaurant, Lena, in the up-and-coming Old Town area. Decor was lovely, food pretty good and the prices pretty decent. (NOTE: They have a liquor license but allow BYO for a corkage fee. Here's hoping that more local restaurants adopt this enlightened policy.)
The first hint that this night would be unusual came as we introduced ourselves to other tasters. I discovered I had known one of the women when I was seven years old.
Then the whites were served and the
upside-down events began in earnest.
1995 DROUHIN CHABLIS PREMIER CRU. Good and drinkable, but
kind of unexciting. Sharp, apple-scented attack, with flint on the palate and a simple,
Reds got poured. Things got weirder.
1993 ECARD SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE LES JARRON started out
fruity, deep and slightly sauvage. Then it got more than slightly. Then the bret
took over completely. Yuck. Where's the bucket. My bottle -- and the first I've had that's
acted this way. Hope the last one is better.
And what is it? 1994 BEAUX FRERES! Bow you heads, ye naysayers. It hasn't fallen apart or out of balance nope, not at all, it's coming together. Probably needs another 3 years before it hits its prime, but I can assure you this was the first bottle drained.
TR RIDES AGAIN. (January 18, 1999) You buy an eight buck bottle of Cab and wonder how long it will last. In the case of *1991 TERRA ROSA, things just get better! I opened a bottle tonight and was impressed with the deep, black colors. The berry aromas are still fresh and it's very satisfying on the palate -- even better than I remember, with some added gamy, lead-pencil complexity. Great year for one of the best values in California Cabernet Sauvignon. Not quite as good as the 1996 Quintana, but comparable.
THE PAWS THAT REFRESHES. (January 16, 1999) Nearly a year has passed since I tasted **1996 TURLEY BLACK-SEARS VINEYARD ZINFANDEL from barrel. And what do you know -- it's even better. The Howell Mountain tannins have subsided enough for you to taste the rich, ripe, chocolatey fruit and savor the smooth, thick texture. Alcohol is noticeable when the wine is first poured but any heat vanishes with a half hour in the glass.
Tip for Turleyites. Use Reidel Bordeaux glasses. The aromas are complex enough to warrant it, and the added oxygen contact helps to open these big wines.
Trivia question for extra credit. Anyone want to guess what the paw print on the label is all about? (Write to me for the answer.)
THE CHRISTOPH OFFLINE. (January 15, 1999) Pardon my haste, but it's late and I wanted to post the first note on the first offline dinner for Mark Squires' new Bulletin Board . I'm not quite sure, but I think the excuse for dinner tonight was a general curiosity over who this Justin Christoph guy (another local wine wonk and frequent contributor to Mark's Bulletin Board) really is.
Icy roads once again threatened the area as we drove out to dinner at Overtures in Philadelphia, and we heard repeated advice on the radio that Chester County residents should "stay off the roads." Phylis and I conferred briefly and decided it was best that we keep the car on the roads. I'm happy to report that the strategy worked.
Dinner was loud, long and good. The wine theme was Cabernet Sauvignon, assuring that the wine would be decent -- and, in fact, it was excellent. We also answered the question of which wine goes best with chocolate. (Port, what else?) And, of course, Justin charmed the socks off everyone, notwithstanding the fact that he's under drinking age. (Note to the shocked: hey, I'm just kidding!)
The lineup included:
**1990 BOUZEREAU MEURSAULT 1ER CRU LES GENEVRIÈRES. This was one of Michel's and, as usual, the label was so moldy as to challenge even a paleographer. Do not ask me if the vineyard was dessus or dessous. Do not ask me the first name of the producer -- my notes say Philippe, but I never heard of such a man before. One thing I do know, however, and that is the wine was delightful. Decayed aromas yielding to nuts, with plenty of mineral and vanilla on the palate. So pleasing that it was all but gone when Phylis and I sat down -- 5 minutes late.
**1995 PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY Another super showing for this fat, rich, thick, in-your-face California Chardonnay. Way, way different from the Bouzereau and I relished the difference. Some might -- give me the Burg. I say, if you can't enjoy this wine as much as the Burg, you really don't like the Chardonnay grape.
1995 BABCOCK ELEVEN OAKS SAUVIGNON BLANC. Well balanced between melon, grass and cat pee. Yes, that's praise. Perfect with my Caesar salad.
*1990 CHATEAU DE LA RAME "RESERVE DU CHATEAU" ST. CROIX DU MONT. I have said recently that wine-food matching is overrated. Here's the exception. I'm a sucker for fois gras and Sauternes, and this stuff, although from a satellite, is super all by itself. Add it to the gooseliver and you have a mouthful of bliss. (No Monica jokes please.)
Then we opened a few reds:
*1986 CAIN FIVE Deep, fruity and supple -- a delicious mature California Cab -- but perhaps the simplest of the older Cabs. Hasn't developed the complexity of the others.
**1986 LAUREL GLEN Very complex and still holding some of its flavors in reserve. Has the lead pencil note of a Paulliac with the broad cassis of Sonoma, plus a shade of leather. Not quite as extracted as the Cain Five, but I mark it higher for its interest and elegance.
**+1995 PAHLMEYER RED WINE Still has a hint of unintegrated oak, but let's not quibble. This is super! Lots of different flavors at work here including some that may offend purists, but I love it! Has a decadent pleasure to it that reminds me a little of Le Tertre Roteboeuf. My only criticism is that I expected it to be a little less forward -- this is supposed to be a backward vintage, yes? Wonder how it will age. Still, a smashing performance for this wine. The best Pahlmeyer red I've ever tasted and WINE OF THE EVENING.
*+1990 LES ORMES SORBET We all thought we heard Michel say "Les Ormes de Pez." So we expected to like it. And I sure did! But it's not Les Ormes de Pez -- another surprise from our master of obscure delights, Michel. In the context of tonight's wine, this one made a fine case for Bordeaux -- light on its feet but delivering plenty of flavor. Fantastically sexy aroma of coffee ice cream. I'd like some more, please.
**1987 DOMINUS Probably the deepest, most structured, most serious wine tonight -- and the pronounced leather flavors married to perfection with my venison. But tonight it was upstaged by the Pahlmeyer and the Laurel Glen. And I have to say, the Bordeaux out-danced it. If it had been decanted and aired, we might have had a different story, but, but, but.
Finally, with my triple-layer chocolate whatever...
*+1984 SMITH-WOODHOUSE LBV PORT. Tasted outstanding by itself, but came on even stronger with the chocolate -- the sweet layer peeled off and the red depths were revealed. Can any evening be bad when it ends with a lovely Port?
WHAT GOES WITH STEAK? (January 14, 1999) Sheesh, what a day. You turn on the Weather Channel and there's the state of Pennsylvania all colored pink. Ice storms. They call it "wintry mix" as if it were a new flavor of cat food.
How awful. How depressing. What can we do tonight to cheer up?
Steak? That'll do for me. Too icy tonight to fire up the grill, but there's always the grill pan.
And now, WHAT GOES WITH STEAK? Ah, what a wonderful problem...
Let's try the remains of the *1994 HAVENS BOURRIQUOT. Tasted great last night. Supple, sweet, elegant, with lots of deftly tweaked cassis. And tonight...still good! Yum. Wish I had more. But I don't. So now let's try...
And...they still do! This one's actually pretty good for a Loire red -- there's some fruit mixed in with the asparagus -- and the price is only about eight bucks. But I'll tell you what. Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger is even cheaper, just as acidic and almost as herbal.
So what goes with steak? Name it. Just about anything. The only catch is -- it has to be good.
FLAUNTING THE FLOWERS. (January 11, 1999) When you got it...well, you know the rest.
Saturday we made like lunatics and traveled all the way out to the twisting country roads north of Yellow Springs, braving the full chorus line of winter weather -- snow, sleet, freezing rain, plain old rain and a final hard freeze, creating sheets of black ice on the roads.
We converged on the Village Café, where the rest-rooms are in the Post Office next door, but the food rewards the brave. Why? For Pinot Noir, of course. How better for wine-geeks to torture themselves?
Happily, the bottles were north of sensational. First, some Chardonnays:
Then to the reds. Earlier, I have written in praise of the Chardonnay from Flowers -- the new winery on the Sonoma Coast. Are the Pinot Noirs as good? We found out and the answer is...
MONTELENA MINI-VERTICAL. (January 3, 1999) Something was said about wanting to start the New Year with a guaranteed good night of wines.
Sound like a job for Chateau Montelena? It did to us.
There they sat. Black, black and black. All terrific. Pick your preference.
As the evening drew on, we began wondering aloud about the '95. Now I wish I had bought some. How bad can it be? With over 20 years of amazingly ageworthy wines to its credit, you just can't find a better-pedigreed California Cab.
ONE MORE FOR CIACCI. (January 2, 1999) Lately I've been reading a lot of press raves about '95 Tuscans, but nary a mention of *+1995 ATEO the Super-Tuscan bargain from Brunello producer Ciacci Piccolomini. I opened my first bottle of this stuff in the week after Christmas, and have kept it open for about 4 nights now. It was massively enjoyable the first night and refuses to fade. Bright cherry fruit that's almost Burgundian in its spicy complexity, with a toasty blackcurrant undernote that rounds out the body and makes everything more interesting. Zingy natural acidity makes it a great match with any meat, pink to purple. This is what I love in Tuscan VDTs -- it ain't Chianti, it ain't Bordeaux, it is what it is and that's Super.
BURG WITH A BANG. (January 1, 1999) Start the New Year with a young, long and strong wine, right? So for dinner today, we sacrificed **1996 DOMAINE BERTRAND AMBROISE CORTON CLOS DE ROGNET. Good golly, this wine is dark and intense! Took a taste an hour before dinner and ran for the decanter. Opened a hair more and that was enough. Aromas of black and red raspberries, palate-staining flavors of same, acidity to match -- and yes, there's a good measure of new oak, but you can't simply over-oak this wine. I'm in love. Just wish I had a couple more to cellar for about five years.
TARLANT & SEVRUGA. (December 31st 1998-January 1, 1999) Both of us were sniffling with colds last night, but **TARLANT CUVÉE LOUIS could wake up even the numbest noses. Sipped between mouthfuls of caviar, this Champagne leaves little to be desired -- attacking the palate with sharp apple fruit, then caressing with a broad array of flavors that remind me of Grand Cru Chablis. Full, long and bubbles too! No vintage on the bottle, but word is that it's pure 1990.
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