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READY TO RIP (December
14, 2002) A few cellar raids in the past week resulted in some
mighty fine sipping. If you're holding any of these bottles, now's
the time to enjoy:
**1992 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet
Sauvignon "Fay Vineyard." Ah, yesterday. Prior to 1994,
SLWC was charging from strength to strength, and not charging us
a whole lot for the pleasure of watching it happen. Purchased for
something like $20, the 1992 Fay Cabernet is nearly the equal of
the celestial 1992 Cask 23. At 10 years of age, this wine has shed
its splinters, pumps out plenty of cherry flavors and follows up
with fudge, finishing well. I'm not about to pay $100 to see if
the 1999 is as good.
*++1993 Prunier Beaune "Les Sizies" is
fully mature and quite elegant now, with aromas of autumn leaves,
and flavors of Damson plum and dried cherry. No trace of the shrill acidity that
marks other wines from this vintage. Has some cut, but
it's in balance.
And **1991 Ravenswood Pickberry has never
tasted better. Very sweet blackberry flavors with earthy
undernotes. Tangy acidity marks it as different without marring
the fun. More like a Washington State Cab than most of its Sonoma
TURKEY, SHMURKEY (December 4, 2002) Wine
geeks love to obsess about what goes perfectly with turkey,
stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the other stuff piled
high on the holiday table.
The obvious answer: nothing! But
if you're willing to settle for imperfect matches, just about
anything goes. So why not simply drink what you like? That's what we
did last Thursday, as we dined on Turkey with Zinfandel sauce and
opened the following reds. (All but wine 5 were served blind.)
WINE 1. Ripe and spicy, showing plenty of red cherries and
black raspberry. Dark, obviously young, but fairly soft, with a
generous finish. Too cherry-ish to be Zin, so I guess major New
World Merlot. It's actually **1997 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley. My first taste of this new producer. Yum.
WINE 2. All about minerals and earth. Currants come out after
half an hour. Good finish, medium concentration. Gotta be
Bordeaux. I guess it to be 1981 left bank, maybe St. Julien. It's **-1992
Latour. Terrific effort in a very tough year.
WINE 3 is a huge slice of fruitcake. Ultra-ripe plum,
chocolate, dried bing cherry. Thick texture, endless finish. Who
would guess that ***1995 Turley Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard
would go so well the turkey? (This could also be one of the few
wines one earth that can out-shout cranberry sauce.)
WINE 4 rapidly ravishes us. Aromas of cherry and
strawberry-rhubarb pie, followed by grace notes of violet and rose
petal. Silky and round on the palate. Gorgeous wine and no wonder
-- it's ***1998 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard.
WINE 5 may be the food-friendliest. Succulent, juicy, fruity --
you might even call **-1993 Robert Craig Affinity mouthwatering.
But my heart belongs to wonderful WINE 6. Overflowing with ripe
red fruit, balanced by Bordeaux-style earthiness, set off by a
touch of herb, I figure it's got to be a great 1990 Pomerol.
Couldn't be more wrong, but it is indeed great! ***+1991 Robert
ITALIANS & STALLIONS
(November 24, 2002) Over a long, leisurely meal at one of our
favorite Italian restaurants, we pitted a crew of new wave Europeans
against some California contenders.
We open with the perfectly mature **+1994 Selbach-Oster
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, which could have provided
great company all night long. Greets you with a big gust of diesel
and follows up with mouth-coating pineapple and cumquat flavors.
Saunters down the high wire, balancing lots of sugar with ample
acidity. Works great as an aperitif and isn't fazed a bit by all
the garlic in the appetizers.
Biggest disappointment of the evening is 1999 Falesco
Montiano. A tremendous wine on other occasions, it doesn't
show much tonight, except for some sulfur that never blows off.
Too tight for fun or mercaptan taint? If the latter, no amount of
decanting could help. However, I do suggest decanting if you're
planning on opening recent Montianos -- they've certainly got the
stuffing to take it.
**+1997 Dei Sancta Catherina, on the other hand, may be the
best vintage of this Super Tuscan blend I've ever tasted. Dei
makes my favorite Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, and it gets even
better when she blends in the Bordeaux grapes. Explodes with
varied cherry flavors and finishes with a hint of cranberry spice.
Keeps opening all evening.
*--2001 Cantine du Palme "Canonico" is made from
the Negroamare grape, and reminds me a bit of Montepulciano
D'Abruzzo. Soft and fleshy, with a gamy attack and earthy finish.
But tonight's top European is a newcomer from Spain, the
sensational ***1999 Numanthia Toro. Very dark, bursting
with berries, still showing tannin on the finish. Sort of like
great California Cab, but slightly more acidic. If this is where
Tempranillo is headed, count me a follower.
Big, soft and friendly as a King Kong teddy bear, **-1999
Outpost Zinfandel is tons of fun. Served blind and
guessed by some to be Cab or Merlot. Flavors veer more to plum and
blueberry than bramble.
**++1999 Turley Pringle Zinfandel soars off in the other
direction. This is serious, structured stuff that begs to be
sipped and savored. Blackberries dominate. Massive finish. Just
begins to develop as I'm finishing my entree. Here again, a
decanter might have helped.
When all is said and done, however, it's still tough to beat a
classic Cab. ***+1990 Robert Mondavi Reserve certainly
qualifies. Now in its prime, it's not just stuffed to the
eyeballs, but wonderfully nuanced. Violet aromas intensify after
about half an hour in the glass. WINE OF THE EVENING.
WHO WAS THAT MASKED CAB?
(November 17, 2002) Add another legend to your list of
heartbreakingly hard-to-find cult Cabs. This one was tasted blind in
a flight of sensational reds, including...
Ballerina in her prime, doing the dance of the veils. First
she unfurls aromas of cedar, truffle and cocoa. Half an hour into
the dance, violets blossom. Berry flavors twirl about for an
encore during the elegant finish.
**+1990 Château Gazin (Pomerol).
***+1992 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Estate. Decanted for
a half hour before serving, this is still a brooding, beautiful
youngster. If your eyes were closed, you might mistake it for the
great 1989 Pichon Baron. Lead pencil, black currant, Asian spice and
dark chocolate on the palate. Still some tannin on the massive
finish. Needs at least a few more years before it comes of age.
***-1997 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Estate.
Double-decanted even longer than the 1992 and pretty much its twin,
minus a bit of grip and muscle. Seems readier, but it got more air.
Not a shabby batch! But the first bottle
emptied is a masked marvel that turns out to be...
Served blind, it's just about black, with enormous
black cherry aromas. Texture is deep pile velvet, reminding me a
bit of 1996 Jones Family. On the palate, it's all about berries,
with an intense hit of blueberry on the coda. I wonder if there's
any Petit Verdot in the blend. No rough edges, which kind of
surprises me for such a big, young wine. The intense fruit, low
acidity and voluptuous flesh make this mystery wine easy to guess
as a young Napa Valley Cab. I understand fewer than 300 cases were
made, so this may be the only bottle I ever get to taste, more's
***+1999 Switchback Cabernet Sauvignon "Peterson
BULL'S EYE (November
3, 2002) I've had little time for major wine over the past two
weeks, but **+1999 Siduri Pinot Noir "Archery Summit
Vineyard" provided a mini-vacation last night. This wine
may not be as big as many of Siduri's other '99s, but it does
represent a new summit of finesse and complexity for talented
winemakers Adam and Diana Lee. Silky texture, berries aplenty, and
the flavors just dance across your palate. A Burgundy lover's
delight. Now's a perfect time to open one, if you've got any.
tasting notes (September-October 2002)