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LOIRE TIME. (June 24, 2001) Hot summer nights are
prime time for crisp whites, cutting-edge rosés
and soft, light reds. France’s Loire Valley is home to some of the
coolest—and better still, many are findable and affordable. What’s
not to like?
At a barbecue yesterday, we tasted a bunch of Loire beauties,
*+Cuvée de la Chevalerie Saumur
Brut (Non-Vintage). Here’s exhibit "A" in the case for
Loire sparklers. It’s a little denser and fruitier than most
Champagnes, but the acidity keeps it from cloying and it finishes pretty
well too. For $10, you can’t go wrong. Chill and serve with just about
anything you feel like eating.
*+1999 Pascal Reverdy Sancerre "Cuvée
Les Coftes." At $16.06,
it’s got the floral aromas of Sauvignon Blanc at its
best, with pear and gooseberry flavors, and a long finish. Acid levels
won’t punish your ulcers, but cut enough to make for fine
summer drinking. Super with salad, squid, octopus, shrimp, lobster or
lighter varieties of fish.
*1999 Patient Cottat Pouilly Fumé
"Domaine des Berthiers." Although I find it not quite the
equal of the Reverdy Sancerre, some might like it more. The
fruit flavors are shaded by honey notes and the texture is a bit more
slippery. Simpler and shorter, but showier. A veritable bargain at $15.99.
EVEN BETTER WHITES:
**1996 Didier Dagueneaux Silex is showing at least as well as it
did two years ago and maybe better. No more oak showing -- but lots of
honeydew melon and honeysuckle. Ample acidity, but it’s submerged
beneath the wonderfully deep fruit. The only sad note is that this is a
rarity and accordingly priced.
***1990 Domaine des Baumard Savenierres "Clos Saint
Yves" reminds you that the Loire at its best can kick Burgundy
butt. Very floral, very long and umm, yes, unctuous. Just hitting stride
at 10+ years past vintage.
*1999 Francois Cota Chavignol does exactly what rosé
should do -- tempts you with strawberry and raspberry scents, fulfills
just enough to refresh you and balances it with enough acidity that you
gratefully come back for more. Don’t shun pink wine until you’ve
tasted the class acts. This is one.
*1995 Thierry Germain Saumur-Champigny "Marginale"
is more than marginally pleasing. Deep red with lots of strawberry
flavors and only a hint of the bellpepper that marks most Cabernet
Francs, except the following amazing...
**-1996 Lang and Reed "Premier Étage" Napa Valley
Cabernet Franc. This creates a big buzz at the
barbecue by being loaded with ultra-ripe raspberry flavors, brambly
notes and absolutely no vegetal notes whatsoever. Some grouse
that it's atypical. Others say, "Yes, and your point is...?" It
tastes like no Cab Franc I ever had, but I like it a whole lot. At about
13.5% alcohol, you’d never mistake it for a Loire.
UN-CABS. (June 17, 2001) I wouldn't exactly call
these wines Cabernet Sauvignon substitutes, but they're nice for a change
and hit the spot for not a ton of money:
*+1999 BenMarco Mendoza "V.M.S." is yet another piece
of evidence in the case for Argentina as South America's best
wine-producing area. Made from 60% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5%
Syrah and 15.5% Bonarda, it's far from a traditional Bordeaux blend—but it is big, red and loaded with blackberry flavors. Ripe and
juicy on the mid-palate, it gets kind of dusty and earthy on the finish.
Decent value at $19.99. Try it with spicy barbecue fare.
*+1997 "Les Cornuelles Vielle Vignes" Chinon is
imported by Weygandt-Metzler, which is usually a sign that you're in for
a good time. This Loire red is surely no wimp. Dark ruby, with lots of
blackcurrant stuffing, it needs about an hour of some airing before it's
ready to reveal itself. A little jalapeno on the finish is typical for
Cabernet Franc and quite bearable in the scheme of things. You're not in
Bordeaux, but somewhere else nice and the price is right at just
THE OTHER KIND OF CHARDONNAY (June 17, 2001) If you seek
terrific Chardonnay for uninflated prices, don't scorn France's Macon
region. Quality here is consistently inching up. Producers like Valette
and Verget have received a lot of ink elsewhere, but do also try **1999
Pierrette et Marc Guiellemot-Michel Macon Village "Quintaine."
It's the best vintage I've yet tasted from this excellent producer.
Brimming with minerals and fig flavors, the wine has depth, nice texture
and a long, steely finish. At $19.99, it's pricier than before, but
appropriate value. Drink it now or squirrel it away for a year or two.
IN MY OWN BACKYARD (June 3, 2001) When I tell
Left Coast friends that I live in wine country, I generally get a blank
stare (when they don't smirk). But yes, California, the Mid-Atlantic
states do have serious producers and, just like yours, they too are
getting better all the time.
In my own backyard, Eric and Lee Miller at
Chaddsford Winery are now producing some 70,000 cases a year. You don't
reach numbers like that in Pennsylvania unless you're doing more than a
few things right. They've made very good whites for years and I've been a
particular fan of their steely, minerally, Chablis-style Chardonnays. But
Eric's been hunting the Holy Grail of East Coast Red for some time now and
guess what? I think he's onto something.
We stopped by the winery today with white in
mind—and they were good—but it was the reds that made me get out my
Current releases that I like include:
*-1999 Chaddsford Pennsylvania "Proprietors Reserve Red."
There aren't too many hybrid grapes that do it for me, but when
Chambourcin is handled well, it works. This one's a big winner for
$10.99—medium ruby and light-bodied, with lots of soft, ripe raspberry
fruit and hints of cinnamon toast on the finish. This and the reds below
are happily lacking in the sharp bell pepper notes that often mark East
coast reds. Drink now while the young fruit is strutting its stuff. At
the price, you can do so often.
*-1999 Chaddsford Pennsylvania Cabernet/Chambourcin. If you're
cocking at eyebrow at the blend, I sympathize, but keep an open mind. At
first sip, I wonder if the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon and
Cabernet Franc are simply covering up the juicy Chambourcin. But then
the wine opens and tada—this too is a charmer. Flavors veer over to
cherries and strawberries. At $14.99, it's still a value.
Eric then took us down to the cellar and
suggested we taste some of the 2000 vintage from barrel. I wondered at
first what he could be up to, since the local weather last summer could be
summed up as rain, rain and more rain.
He confirmed it was the proverbial vintage
from hell, but said they had enough sunny days at the right times to keep
the vines healthy—and then came some blessedly arid weather in the weeks
leading up to crush. This and hard work in the vineyards saved their
He also confided that, like producers in
France and on our own West Coast, he's been crossing his fingers and
picking significantly later in the season, to get ripe flavors and
sweeter, larger-grain tannins. This has plainly paid off in his newest
reds, which I liked a lot.
*2000 Chaddsford Pennsylvania Cabernet Sauvignon (from barrel).
With lots of ripe red cherry fruit, medium body, soft texture and a nice
finish, this wine has none of the sharp angles I was expecting from such
a tough year on the East Coast. Like it a lot. This and the next remind
me some of the better Loire Reds I've been tasting lately.
*+2000 Chaddsford Pennsylvania "Merican" (from barrel).
This proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and
Petit Verdot has a firmer texture and somewhat bigger body than the
above wine, and again no bothersome burrs. The flavors tend more to
black cherry and I'm especially pleased by the finish. Clearly a leap
And, in case you're wondering, yes, the white
program continues to perform:
*+2000 Chaddsford Pennsylvania Chardonnay "Miller
Estate" (from barrel) is made from 7-year-old vines on their
own tract up in Northern Chester County. Lingering mineral flavors are
joined by yeasty, leesy notes on the finish. Another winner.
I'm looking forward to tasting some other
upcoming Chaddsford offerings. New state regulations finally permit
Pennsylvania wineries to make a small percentage of their production with
grapes from surrounding states—something that California producers often
do. In particular, Chaddsford will be making a Long Island Merlot and a
Finger Lakes Sweet Riesling. If their quality is on a level with the other
wines I tasted today, we could be in for a treat.
WHEN YOU PIT BORDEAUX VS. BURGUNDY VS.
CALIFORNIA (May 27, 2001)...who's gonna win?
Let's not spoil the ending. We
***+1992 Ramonet Batard-Montrachet. Stingingly young still, but
develops well over the course of three hours. Citrus and stones to the
max. Penetrates to the core of your palate and hangs on close to
forever. Best finish of the evening and very nearly the overall winner.
***1990 L'Evangile. Most elegant of the evening, not to say it
lacks power. This wine has hit peak of maturity and the flavors are
really rolling. Red cherry, mocha, splash of spice. Silky texture with a
well-bred finish. Drink or hold.
***+1994 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. A year ago,
this wine was so tight that decanting was practically mandatory. Now
it's open for business again and showing even better than on release.
Chocolate-covered Bing cherry flavors mingle with buttered toast and
cherry jam. As the hours pass, you keep peeling back layers but there's
still more at the core. Power-play of the evening and maybe you
would have found this your favorite, but I'm the scorekeeper here and I
say the winner is...
***+1977 Taylor-Fladgate Vintage Port. Great Port shows so
consistently that I generally don't even bother taking notes, but this
virtuoso vintage from one of my favorite producers screams for special
mention. The alcohol is completely covered with a riot of (still!) young
red fruit, and what tannins remain are so velvety, they merely add to
the fun. Drink it now or save it for ten more years, but you can't deny
this is WINE OF THE EVENING.
1990 BORDEAUX (May 20, 2001) Hype is hot and
heavy for the 2000 Bordeaux vintage, said by some to be the greatest since
1990. Which begs a big question -- how well are the 1990s holding up? We
set out to answer that question tonight.
The reds were tasted blind with a couple of
ringers thrown in for fun. And since this was done over dinner, we started
with some whites:
WHITES (labels showing)
***1994 Peter Michael Chardonnay "Point Rouge." Perched
atop the Peter Michael hierarchy of hard-to-find Chards, this wine
showed a lot of oak at release, but has shaped up beautifully. There's
still a dash of vanilla bean on the nose, but the palate is stones and
pure Chardonnay fruit. The mineral-laden finish rolls on and on and on.
**-1999 Araujo Sauvignon Blanc "Eisele Vineyard."
Aromas of grass and honeysuckle are followed up by a biting attack. Lots
of fruit on the palate with little herbal character. The sharp malic
acid is moderated by a satisfying texture. Drink soon, while the florals
are still at their most seductive.
**+1997 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain "Dinner
Vineyard." The alcohol levels give it away as a California
Chard, but the flavors are intriguingly atypical. Instead of the usual
tropical fruit, you get a truckload of mineral flavors. Nice finish too.
Not sure how well it will age, but who cares? Drinking superbly now.
***+1990 Zind Humbrecht Riesling "Clos Hauserer" Vendange
Tardive. Steals the show. White of the evening and maybe the best
wine poured, period. Gives a consummate come-on with huge aromas
of diesel and pineapple, then delivers even more when you sip it. Very
full, sweet as it needs to be and long as you could ever desire. Be sure
to have some bread and water before moving onto the next.
REDS (tasted blind)
RED WINE #1. Deep, deep ruby. Young, tough and muscular. At first
it's mostly road tar and cassis, then opens with great reluctance. As it
broadens you get a metallic hint and lots of meaty flavors. Very long
finish. Cab Franc? Or what? Looking back on these notes, the name of
this wine was staring us in the face. It's ***1990 Château
Montrose, seemingly unchanged since I tasted it six or seven years
ago. Wait five more years before pulling a cork or be sure to decant!
RED WINE #2. Deep ruby to garnet. Yummy aromas of chocolate fudge and
strawberry. Soft and velvety on the palate with a satisfying finish.
This one we guess to be Merlot-based—a sure bet for St. Emilion or
Pomerol. No one mentions Cab Franc, but guess what? It's **+1996 Le
Petit Cheval, the very sexy second wine to Cheval Blanc.
RED WINE #3. Nectar! Very deep ruby, with aromas of violet, cassis
and cocoa. Clearly Merlot and a great one. Pure silk on the palate. Long
finish. It's ***+1990 La Conseillante.
RED WINE #4. Exotic aromas arouse my suspicions from the start.
Strawberries and cassis, with a touch of, what, rhubarb? Tastes at first
like a more approachable version of Bryant Family Cab. Then super-ripe,
plummy notes emerge. These grapes got about as ripe as grapes ought to
get. Has to be from California. Yes, it's ***1995 Beringer Cabernet
Franc "Howell Mountain"—a rarity available only at the
RED WINE #5. Just when you thought reds couldn't get much better than
#3, along comes this sweetheart. Chocolate, cherry, blackcurrant and
herbal flavors storm your senses and depart with long, cocoa coda. This
is such a complete wine that I'm inclined to guess Pauillac, but no,
it's the amazing ***+1990 L'Angelus. My pick for WINE OF THE
RED WINE #6. Deep dark ruby, with some oak on the nose that falls
back to reveal a big vat of blackberry. Then pepper. Then blueberry!
There's so much berry, but even more held back for future years.
The longer it airs, the more you're impressed by its potential. Now this
is Pauillac in spades. It's ***+1990 Grand Puy Lacoste and
shame on me for not buying a case on release!
RED WINE #7. Similar in its flavors to #6, this wine starts out far
more muted, then opens more completely. Big, broad, blueberry-laden and
impossible not to adore, it's another great showing for ***+1990
Lynch-Bages. Years ago, I thought this wine might be giving too much
away, too early—but it's just as generous now. Who says you can't have
RED WINE #8 is even deeper red, packed with red cherry flavors and
clearly fortified. Gotta be from far Southwest of Bordeaux. Yep,
it's Port -- and a swell one too. ***1985 Grahams.
Conclusion? I fear fueling the buying frenzy for 2000 futures—but
if this vintage is truly the best since 1990, it's bound to be
pretty darned wonderful.
CATCHING UP (May 6, 2001) With so many interviews
happening lately, I haven't had time to write up all the other wines I've
been tasting. Apologies to those who missed them. Let's breeze through a
bunch of the best right now:
1988 is my kind of Bordeaux vintage -- high in quality overall and
happily unappreciated by status-seekers chasing '89s, '90s and '96s.
Some of the better wines are pretty well-priced at auction right now,
and if you can satisfy yourself about storage, I'd say go for it! Just
how good these wines can get? Consider ***+1988 L'Angelus. Opened
recently alongside the none-too-shabby 1997 Araujo Cab (reviewed below),
L'Angelus danced away with wine-of-the-evening honors. With hints of
cedar, loads of cassis, some Asian spice and other goodies, it seems to
be at a peak of maturity and I doubt it will fade anytime soon.
Now's also a super time to uncork a ***1990 Cos D'Estournel.
Much of the coffee bean aromas that mark youthful examples of Cos have
now blown off, revealing stunning amounts of cassis, shaded by herbs and cigarette
aromas. Complex, long, what's not to like?
Michel Niellon is one of those rare Burgundians who manages to please
just about everyone—purists as well as folks like me who love to lap
up the showy stuff. Certainly it's tough to hate **1997 Niellon
Chassagne-Montrachet "Les Vergers." The attack bites you
with citrus and flinty flavors unfold on the palate. This wine seems
ready to rip right now.
If you want to taste just how terrific Pouilly-Fuissé
can get, try a glass of ***1996 Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé
"Vintans." Made by wizard winemaker Jean-Marie Guffens of
Verget fame, this cuvée comes from
his own patch of land. Purists like to kick about the Guffens' use of
oak, but the treatment here is in balance with the fruit—which kicks
major tail. Loads of minerals, steel and a lovely, lingering finish.
If you want a true Napa Valley Cult Cab at a fraction of the price
you'd pay for Colgin, Araujo, Bryant or Screaming Eagle—ry the wines
of William Seavey. The ***+1991 Seavey Napa Valley Cabernet
Sauvignon is certainly one of the greatest wines from what may be
Napa's best-ever vintage. With a boatload of blackberry fruit, shaded by
shoe polish, buttered toast, coffee bean and other attractive aromas,
the wine reminds me not a little of Bordeaux's great 1989 Pichon-Baron.
Seavey Cabs fell back a notch in 1992 and 1993 -- perhaps because so
many mature vines fell prey to phylloxera. But he's certainly back on
his game with the remarkable ***1996 Seavey Cab. Opened alongside
the 1991, this wine is perhaps not quite as huge, but not far off.
Similar flavors, but a little less integrated. Give it several years in
the cellar if you can wait.
A bargain at release, **+1991 Justin Isosceles went for under
$20. I bought a bunch at the time, but sometimes wondered if this
massive wine would ever mature. At last, it's open for business—big
time. With terrific concentration and broad, plummy flavors verging on
the super-ripe, this proprietary blend features a large percentage of
Cabernet Franc, but it couldn't be more different from its Loire
cousins. Grown in the Paso Robles area of California's Central Coast,
where you don't often find noteworthy Cabs. I understand that 1997
Isosceles went for under $40, still decent value in today's overpriced
world of California wine.
I've heard it said that the 1997 vintage wasn't so great for
producers in the northern end of Napa Valley. Daytime highs get hotter
here because less fog rolls in from the south, and some are claiming
that heat spikes compromised quality. Sounds plausible, but sorry -- I
just don't see the evidence. Certainly, ***1997 Araujo Eisele Vineyard
bears no witness to compromise. After about an hour in the glass, the oak
flavors give way to the black cherry flavors that fans of this vineyard
treasure. No signs of over-ripeness. Keeps broadening as the
night wears on and it's hard to say no to a second glass.
Also going against this myth is the burly ***1997 Château
Montelena. As you would expect from a great young Montelena, this
wine is coal black, brooding, backward -- but already showing loads
promise. The blackcurrant fruit on the finish is very long and intense.
Yet this estate is even north of Eisele Vineyard, in Calistoga.
And if 1998 was supposed to be lousy for Napa Valley, nobody told the
guys at Pride on Spring Mountain. The ***+1998 Pride Reserve Claret
is frankly too expensive for my budget, but it sure wasn't painful to
drink someone else's last month. My stars, this stuff is stuffed! Needs time
in the cellar to smooth out the splinters, but packed with juicy black
cherry, seasoned with spice—and the finish just echoes. Surprisingly,
I understand this bruiser is 63% Merlot.
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