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1970 BORDEAUX. (March 19, 2000) When a
friend calls, you gotta pitch in and do your duty.
In this case, my duty was to taste a baker's
dozen of 1970 Bordeaux. All were acquired by the same guy -- on release --
and very well stored.
The vintage has received a lot of hype. But up
until today, to be frank, I had very little opinion about it. I own none
and have only tasted a little more than that. The few Iíve tasted in
recent years havenít been awfully profound, but they werenít the heavy
hitters of the vintage, and they may not have been stored all that well.
Today was different. The storage was
unimpeachable, big names were included and a splendid time was guaranteed
for all. Wines were served blind and three different ringers were
Here are my notes:
WINE #1. Like smelling a pencil sharpener. Strong aromas of cedar and
lead pencil, with berries creeping in after a bit. Medium body, perky
acidity and a very nice finish. Pulls ahead in the next fifteen minutes.
Itís my favorite of the flight and the group ranks it #2. Eyebrows are
raised as the foil comes off. Who would have guessed such a classy old
wine could be **1970 Chateau Beycheville!
WINE #2. Seesaw wine. At first the aromas are fairly herbal -- then
the currants come on. Then you taste it and you practically feel it
fading in your mouth. Flavors of decay creep in. But lo and behold, it
revives! Turns out to be a very nice wine, thought not as interesting as
the Beycheville. Itís my second of the flight and the groupís #1. *+1970
WINE #3. Very toasty. Sexy vanilla, chocolate and currant flavors.
Excellent body -- best, in fact, of the flight. Like the Ducru, it
fades, comes back. Then it fades again. And comes back. Very mercurial!
Someone guesses it must be Merlot, but itís too sharp-tasting for
that. Almost like it wasnít picked ripe enough, which isnít likely
if this were Merlot. I name it my third favorite of the flight and the
group agrees. Turns out to be *+1970 Leoville Las Cases. Iíve
tasted Las Cases from this vintage that was a good deal worse. Chalk up
one more for good storage.
WINE 4#. Decayed aromas greet your nose. You taste ashes, plus some
residual fruit. Short finish too. Iím afraid this oneís seen better
days. Itís last in the flight by all accounts. 1970 Talbot.
WINE #5. Everyone else says wow! I say -- what? Thereís a strong
scent of dill here that stops me cold. Tastes like some of the old
California Ď74s that I had last year. Dill and some burnt aromas. The
palate is a much easier story. Lots and lots of fruit. But what is this?
Loud argumentation ensues. Itís voted #1 in the flight, but I canít
agree. As wine, I like it fine. As Ď70 Bordeaux, somethingís wrong.
I demote it to my #2 in the flight. And what do you know, itís **+1970
BV Georges de Latour Reserve. It must have been the American oak
that I didnít like. In a flight of California wines, I might have
thought it spectacular, but here it sticks out like a sore thumb.
WINE #6. Sharp herbs and some currant on the nose. Much more what Iíd
expect. Not a bad wine, but last in the flight by my count and the groupís.
Itís *+1970 Cos DíEstournel.
WINE #7. This has ample fruit, approaching wine #5, without the burnt
flavors and dill. Lots of Bordeaux-style tobacco. I choose it #1 in the
flight, but only one other taster agrees. Itís an impeccable **1970
La Mission Haut Brion
WINE #8. A weird one. Brownish amber. Clearly the oldest-looking wine
of the day. Ashy aromas. Dead? But taste it and no! Actually, thereís
a lot of fruit hidden here. Wonder what it is? Fun! Gotta be a ringer,
but what? Itís *+1968 Inglenook. Not the reserve cask, just the
regular Cab. What a producer this must have been before Hublein bought
WINE #9. Toasty aromas. Lots of cassis on the palate. This is
beautiful, classic, straight-down the middle Bordeaux. Not as big a wine
as the next, but I prefer its focus, purity and grace. My #1 of the
flight, and several other tasters agree. Itís **+1970 Margaux.
WINE #10. Big, big wine. Aromas of cereal, herb and caramel.
Fantastic toffee flavors. And in terms of texture and finish, itís the
most massive Bordeaux tasted all day. But thereís a note of dill here
as well that makes me prefer wine #9. My second-favorite of the flight.
Enough others love it without reservation to vote it the groupís #1.
And how can I fault them for liking ***1970 Petrus?
WINE #11. Smells like tar. Big whiff of it. Burnt molasses when you
taste it. Big-time tannins still. Astringent finish. Is there some
volatile acidity here? Not a bad wine, but lacking some balance and may
be cracking up. Itís *1970 Trotanoy.
WINE #12. Beautiful color -- deep ruby. Bright and cassis-laden when
you taste it. Seems more acidic than other wines in the flight. Wonder
if it was acidified, but I like it a lot all the same. Gets two votes
for best in the flight, but I think it ranks third and thatís the
general consensus. Turns out to be a ringer! *+1970 Mondavi.
WINE #13. Wow-wow-wow-wow-wow! Now this is great Bordeaux.
Very dark, although garnet at the rim. Perfect mix of currants, tobacco
and earth. Powerful primary fruit underneath, but itís showing
gorgeous, nutty, tertiary flavors too. Sweet and intensely long. I canít
help commenting that this wine has everything -- itís powerful,
elegant and seductive all at once. And thereís absolutely nothing
wrong with it. Iím shocked that it isnít voted best wine of the
flight, but itís clearly my favorite Bordeaux of the whole day. Not
surprised at all when it turns out to be ***+1970 Latour. Wotta
WINE. #14. A little lighter than the previous wine and nuttier. Some
cigar aromas. Most elegant wine of the flight, but lacks the substance
of the Latour. Terrific wine, though! What a great showing for the ***1970
WINE #15. Lovely nose of violets and, uh, well, shall we call it
dung? But not dog-poop. Just a suggestion of horse-poop. Seems like it
may have a touch of brettanomyces. Tastes wonderful. Tremendous weight
on the palate. Long, meaty finish. Sexy, sexy wine. Best nose of any
wine tasted today. The group votes it #1, but I canít say it quite
measures up to #13. It turns out to be ***1970 Pichon-Lalande.
WINE #16. Hmm. This is a come-down. Mare caramelized than the others
in the flight. Sugary oak? With airing it darts and flits about. Decent
wine, but a notch down from the others. No votes for best in the flight.
I rank it last. Itís *+1970 Mouton.
We wind things up with three sweet wines, including *+1976 Chateau
DíYquem, but it's the ***+1970 Fonseca Port that clearly
kicks tail. Itís at a peak of perfection, oozing cherries and
strawberries, and not showing any heat or harshness at all. Wine of the
day? I disqualify sweet wines from the running these days, but otherwise
-- yeah, could be!
SEXY SPANIARDS. (February 26, 2000) Seeking
refuge from overpriced California Cabs, we opened a few slightly less
overpriced wines from Spainís new sweet spots:
. Deep, black,
chewy stuff that still needs a couple of years to lose its tannins. One
taster thought the wood too obtrusive tonight -- I didnít. This is
rich, meaty stuff that any California Cab lover ought to go for. Doesnít
approach the amazing heights of the 1994 Pesquera Janus, but very, very
nice in its own right.
*+1994 Pesquera Ribera del Duero Riserva Especial
**1994 Teofilo Reyes Tinto Consecho. I think this wine is
made by the former winemaker for Pesquera. In any case, itís beaut.
Deep, dark and even more concentrated than the Ď94 Pesquera Riserva.
Take everything I said about the above and add an exclamation point. WINE
OF THE EVENING.
We also opened a 1996 J. M. Fuentes Bellmunt de Priorat "Gran
Clos" -- a wine that might have surpassed even the Reyes had it
not been CORKED. Iíve had rotten luck in the last couple of weeks with
the TCA demon.
ITALY AGAIN? (February 17, 2000) Iím feeling
like a scratched LP. Once again we line up Big New World Reds against a
graceful Italian. And once again, well, hereís how the evening goes:
. Iím a large
fan of Philip Togni. Not too long ago, we opened a Ď91 Togni alongside
a Ď90 Dominus and other delicacies, and most proclaimed Philip the
winner. Reminded us of Latour. (When I told Mr. Togni, he scolded me,
said the wine was too young and that I should have been drinking the Ď93,
but thatís another note.)
**1992 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Anyhow, Iíve previously loved this vintage of
Togni and thought it his finest of the decade. Tonight itís
purple-black, bold as all get out and so rich you could eat it with a
spoon. Somehow, though, it isnít quite perfect with the chicken
breasts weíre eating. A big bell pepper note emerges and refuses to go
away. Oh, we polish off the bottle, but it isnít quite wine of the
*+1995 Guillam Spring Mountain District. If youíve never heard of
this producer before, join the club. I think my friends must have
purchased the wine at cellar door. Itís a lovely wine in its own right,
though overshadowed by the Togni. A smaller-scaled wine, with a slightly
And the winner of the flight is...**+1990 San Felice Brunello di
Montalcino "Campgiovanni." A lighter, more elegant wine than
either of the Spring Mountain cabs, but you know Ė
when you drink it with
a bite of the chicken, it wins! Aromas of cherry and cigarette. Some
tannins to shed, but the fruit rolls right over it. Complex and
irresistible. Seems like the better 1990 Brunellos, like the Bordeaux, are
starting to shine. DRY RED OF THE EVENING.
So thatís that, but wait, weíre not done. THE WHITES include:
right, 1990! I personally lack the courage to cellar Mt. Edens this
long, but a friend did and he made his point. This wine is positively
singing, laden with truffles and minerals, tasting for all the world
like a fine mature Meursault.
**1990 Mt. Eden Estate Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains
**1997 Marc Colin St. Aubin "En Remilly." Okay, the
Burgundians can still do it Ė even in St. Aubin. Brought out toward the
end of the evening for the benefit of "I drink only white"
Phylis, this one charms the socks off everyone. Steely fruit with a
just-right dollop of oak and a pretty darned good finish.
And the out-and-out winner? I have a new rule
that sweet wines canít take the crown Ė
too easy Ė but the wine we canít
stop talking about is:
Warning: youíve got to be in the mood for it. This wine, made from the
Black Hamburg grape, is so flowery, so rose-scented, so golderned exotic
that it can really shock you Ė or send you to heaven. Tonight itís
the latter. Seems to taste a little less sweet than it did on release,
but I think this actually helps. You just get into the flavors, and are
they ever amazing. I understand that many of the vines that produced
this wine have been ripped up because of Pierceís disease. I do hope
that the Tognis are replanting.
**+1992 Philip Togni "Ca Togni" Sweet Red Wine
TOUGH OLD BIRD BEATS THE BIG STUFF. (February 12,
2000) If youíre holding 1982 Barolo, lucky you.
. This tough old bird
has become as tender as the juicy braised lamb shank I matched it to.
Tarry and tannic right out of the bottle, but rapidly expands and shows
a lot of charm. Cherries, flowers and cinnamon. Elegant and sexy as
heck. Wows us all, even after tasting the giants listed below.
**+1982 Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Riserva
*+1992 Rosemount Syrah Balmoral Estate. Once this also was a
brooding hulk. Now itís drinking beautifully. Still dark, thick and
extracted, but showing a lot of blackberry fruit and some hints of
**1995 Turley Zinfandel Duarte Vineyard. Chocolatey essence that
probably matched with dessert better than with my entree.
Beautiful stuff in a slightly overripe style that some might view as over
the top. Me? Love the one youíre with.
**+1994 Turley Zinfandel Moore "Earthquake" Vineyard.
Hey, itís coming around! Once this wine was showing some tannin, which
led some to condemn it as unbalanced. Not so! While other 1994s are on the
downslope, the Magnificent Moore is entering its prime. With air, it fans
out into a fascinating spectrum of flavors -- black cherries,
blackberries, blueberries, plus a little spice. Long finish. Lipsmacker!
SWEET LAURENE. (February 11, 2000)
Once again Iím mightily impressed by the efforts of Veronique Drouhin at
Domaine Drouhin Oregon. I opened the **1996 Domaine Douhin Oregon Pinot Noir
"Laurene" for a dinner of grilled salmon and immediately wished
that I had purchased more than one bottle. Elegant aromas of black and red
raspberry. Intense on the palate without making you feel like youíre
eating Smuckers with a spoon. Racy, but not harsh and tart in
the way of so many would-be racy wines.
Of all the wines made on Americaís
West Coast, this may be the most "Burgundian" -- in the best sense
of the word. So many try. So many fail. These guys go for the style and
GOING, GOING...(January 30, 2000) I donít want
to re-start the argument about whether Zinfandel "ages." But
friends, thereís just no question that at some point they lose
their youthful charm. And Iím afraid this has happened at last to one of
my all-time favorites, 1992 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel Sonoma
Drinking this wine at release was like robbing
the candy store. Now itís more like looking through the shop-window. Sip
it and you can still sense the raspberries, but it sure doesn't make you
sit up and say "wow!" Once it did. Maybe if I hadnít known how
fantastic this was, Iíd have loved it more tonight.
PATIENCE. You donít ever want to catch your
Burgs on the downslope, so Iíve been sampling the smaller Ď93s lately.
Looks like 1993 Jean-Luc Dubois Beaune-Bressandes Cuvee Unique Reserve
will require just a little more patience. Deep ruby, it whispers of
minerals and berries but never turns up the volume. Thereís still a
winge of tannin on the finish. Gets better when the food arrives, but Iím
going to wait at least another couple of years before trying again.
NAPA CAB QUANDRY. (January 23, 2000) I love Ďem.
They taste good. Quality has never been better.
But prices for Napa Valley Cabs are going to
the moon. I mean, outtahere. Granted, theyíve been climbing steadily for
the past 6-7 years. However, when $50 becomes the norm for the better
Last night we tasted a delicious new one.
Really, really nice...
This is from a
new place up high on Mt. St. Helena. I visited the site a couple of
years ago. Beautiful operation. Winemaker is the very talented Cathy
Corison. The wine itself is almost black. You get a few strong whiffs of
oak when you open the bottle, but they blow off in minutes, yielding to
buckets of lush black fruit. Tannins poke out for about an hour, then
fall back, and the flavors get chocolatey. All in all, the wine is both
deep and well-balanced. Like it a lot. I wish I could say Iíll be
looking for more, but at the price, I just canít afford to.
**1996 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($50).
Alongside this beauty, we open a benchmark, ***1990 Chateau
Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This one cost less than $30 at
release, though I grant you it was 6 years ago. It starts out more
generous than the Long Meadow, then gets more tannic, then opens for
business again. Has slightly purer flavors -- deeper too. Doesnít blow
its companion off the table, but letís just say Iím happy to have a
few of these in the cellar.
Among the whites tonight is...
*+1998 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Whisper of
gooseberry among the expected flowers. Lovely SB, but seems both more
acidic and less concentrated than the outstanding 1997.
MURPHY-GOODE Cabernet Sauvignons have been a
well-kept secret for a number of years. Iíve been a fan of their Brenda
Block bottling in particular. So it was with some dismay that I saw the
price on the *+1997 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
"Brenda Block" had shot up to $40. What can you do except
sigh? Itís happening everywhere.
The wine in the bottle is pretty good, but
something seems different to me in this vintage. The oak is kind of
raunchy. Nurse and swirl it for a couple of hours and you still canít
get the coconut and dill flavors to dissipate. By night two, the oak
finally knits with the wine, but in a Silver Oak kind of way. Is this a
style switch? I wish I could go back to the prices -- and the flavors --
of previous years.
HOW ARE YOUR Ď92s DOING? (January 23, 2000)
Lately Iíve been opening a few bottles of 1992 California Cabernet, with
mixed results. Giants like Araujo and Colgin, once lush with baby fat, now
seem painfully closed. Clos Pegase Hommage is getting there, but probably
needs another couple of years. Dominus, Forman, and Etude are showing
well. And I just had a terrific experience with...
***1992 Newton Cabernet Sauvignon
"Unfiltered." Gosh this is delicious right now! Still
back-purple. Smells like buttered toast slathered with blackberry jam.
Tastes really intense. Where are the tannins? Oh yeah, here they are on
the finish, but itís nothing to stop you. Lots of life ahead for this
wine, but if youíve got a few, why not pull a cork? Yum!
CHAMPAGNE SHOO-IN. (January 13, 2000) Just when
you thought you'd tasted every great bubbly, along comes one you never
even heard of and shoots out the lights.
Last night we opened **+Pierre Gimmonet et
Fils Blanc de Blanc Brut "Cuis 1er Cru" and wound up
fighting one another for the last few drops. This is one of the new
grower-bottled bubblies from Terry Theise. and it offers a taste all its
own. Yeasty, tangy, apple-tinged flavors. Zingy attack, full-bodied
texture and ample fruit on the finish. Champagne with power -- and under
$30. Watch out, Egly-Ouriet, at last youíve got competition.
PIZZA WINES (January 5, 2000). When you need
cheering up badly, and youíre way too tired and drained to cook, hereís
what to do:
1. Pull out a bottle thatís so special youíre almost scared to
2. Order a pizza. Thatís right, pizza!
It goes with almost any wine, as long as you
hold the artichokes. Unlike more profound foods, it wonít kick up a fuss
when you ask it to play second fiddle to the Grand Vin. And you can trot
everything into the family room, plop your pizza down on the coffee table
and consummate your wine-food marriage in front of a roaring fire.
So thatís what we did. Two pizzas, four
people, and two blessed bottles of:
lush and long. Bursting with blueberries, from the git-go, but it ainít
just baby-fat. As the evening wears on, the wine expands. Wowie. Close
call compared to the next, but tonight it gets my nod for WINE OF THE
***+1995 Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard.
***+1995 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard. Way different.
Gritty tannins dominate for nearly an hour. Then, presto! The curtain parts
and gorgeous Cabernet fruit takes center stage. Chocolate cherries, a hint
of tobacco, olive and gosh is it long. Our guestsí choice for WINE OF
Just for fun, we also opened:
. They say the grape rarely gets
ripe in Bordeaux. This stuff from Sonoma, however, is fat and sweet.
Blueberry-blackberry flavors. Some astringency that never quite goes
away, but a distinctively enjoyable wine tonight.
*+1997 Murphy-Goode Petit Verdot
WEDDING PLONK (January 5, 2000). How many wedding
receptions have you been to where the wines were better than the
But a miracle happened. Two of our favorite
grape geeks hit it off, tied the knot -- and imagine the grin on my face
at the subsequent party, when they served up a flight of classified growth
Burgundies and top California Pinot Noirs. Blind, no less. In big balloon
I contribute the following notes in the wildly
optimistic hope that someday, somewhere, lightning may strike again:
WINE #1. Medium ruby. Profoundly gamy, even sweaty aromas that
somehow still manage to please. On the palate, thereís tannin and acid
aplenty, with deep flavors of mineral, raspberry and tea. As minutes
pass, the raspberry deepens to the point that Iím practically picking
seeds from my teeth. This wine starts weirdly but finishes in a blaze of
glory. Just beginning to come around. Gotta be Burgundy, maybe 1989 and
probably from the Cotes de Nuit. Yes, it turns out to be **+1989 F.
Esmonin Griottes Chambertin. I pump my fist. Other guests groan.
WINE #2. A little lighter than #1. Big strawberry flavors, mingled
with raspberry. No game, little mineral. Could be California, could be
Burgundy, but Iíll guess the former. The mature flavors indicate some
age, but the depth of this wine is impressive. So. Letís say 1987
California, maybe from the Russian River Valley, or just maybe from
Santa Barbara. It turns out to be **1989 Williams Selyem Rochioli
Vineyard. Great performance for the year!
WINE #3. Medium ruby, going to amber at the edge. First you smell
horse sweat, then, at last, here come the berries. Sip, sip, hmm. Oxidized
notes and some tea temper the fruity flavors. A very pleasant wine but
beginning to crack up. No doubt that itís Burgundy. Maybe an Ď85?
But no, itís much older. *1980 Leclerc Gevry Chambertin "Combes
aux Moines". Not bad for a 1980 Burg.
WINE #4. Light ruby, with even more amber than #3. Strawberry, spice
and -- ooh -- some volatile acid. Traces of vinegar creeping in. Donít
get me wrong, itís drinkable, but this old gal has seen better days. Iíll
guess a Burg thatís down on its luck. And yes, itís 1983 Ponsot
Clos de La Roche.
WINE #5. And what a difference here! Deep purple, with very intense
raspberry and blackberry flavors. The oak is showing, but itís easily
in balance, given the concentration and youth of this wine. Long finish.
A beaut! I throw caution to the winds and pronounce it a young Pinot
Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Could be Ď95, Ď86 or Ď97. Off comes
the foil and yes! Itís ***1996 Kistler Camp Meeting Ridge and
easily WINE OF THE EVENING.
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