Tasting Notes


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January-June 2005

HOW TO USE THESE NOTES: Many of my tasting notes take the style of mini-articles and discuss multiple wines. So, rather than bust them up, I've organized them in the order they were written, with the most recent at the top.

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OL' RELIABLE. (February 12, 2005) Is it okay to like France again? I sure hope so. There's so much great Bordeaux that wants drinking. Mostly we lapped up Pauillac this evening, but the others weren't shabby either:

**1986 Chteau Pichon-Lalande. Now that the '86 is mature, I can't say that it quite hits the hype. By itself, this bottle's beautiful layered, sweet and gracious. Deepens with airing, so maybe the tannins are still a hidden factor. But it finishes thin and doesn't seem the equal of...

***1989 Chteau Pichon-Lalande. Good as the initial reviews were, this vintage of PL was underrated. It's fragrant with violets, plush as velvet, singing like a violin. The texture alone pushes it ahead of the 1986. But it's also deeper, more complex. I could stay with this lady all night.

**1991 Chteau Pichon-Lalande is still an astonishing overachiever. I just wish I'd bought another case at the $17.50 issue price. How full! How fruity! How well it's held up! At least one taster likes it best, but it's not quite as ripe as the other two.

***+1990 Grand Puy Lacoste gets my vote for wine of the evening. Every time I sample this winner, it noses ahead of its last performance. Never thought it would best '89 Pichon-Lalande, but now there's no denying it. Full of black fruit and blueberries, with lots of goodies in reserve. Must try it alongside '90 Pichon-Baron and Latour.

**++1990 Chteau Leoville Las Cases disappoints only a smidgeon. The minerals, meat and huckleberry are here. But isn't there something missing? Where's the oomph of great Las Cases? Am I falling out of love with this producer or is it the bottle?

And how sweet it is to find **++1998 Ducru Beaucaillou in pristine condition. Not even a trace of the mustiness that plagued so many earlier vintages. This is gorgeous. Silky and stuffed with briary berries. Earthy undertones. Miles to go.

B, B & B. (February 7, 2005) Phooey on the food pyramid. Cold snaps cry out for red meat, right? Cab & Cow's awfully nice, but so is B, B & B -- Beef, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

    We sampled these whites with our starters:

***-1996 Chandon de Briailles Corton Charlemagne. So full, soft and laden with minerals and apples, it out-Rhnes white Rhnes. Long and lush. As the evening wears on, just gets better. Drink now.

**++1996 Marc Colin Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets. Couldn't be more different than the CC. More acidic and focused, with flavors of gun flint, citrus and a hint of tropical fruit. Sort of reminds me of a Peter Michael Chard, which I count high praise.

    Then came the main event:

**1996 Rouget Vosne Romanee. Very pure and fruity, with a hint of cinnamon. Brings to mind an outstanding Pinot from the Russian River Valley, but for a hint of sweat. Lots of stuffing and expands impressively as the evening wears on.

**-1990 J-M Gaunoux Corton Renardes. Served blind, I guess this to be a Grand Gru from the early 1990s -- lucky, but it does have that sort of complexity. Shows its age at first, but ultimately the fruit shines through. Aromas of autumn leaves, followed by flavors of grenadine and cherry kirsch.

**+1990 Haut Bailly. Give yourself a cigar if you bought this at release. Tobacco aromas puff up from the glass and the flavors focus on blackberries. At its peak of maturity. Finishes well. One taster who tried it blind understandably guessed it to be Pape Clement or La Mission Haut Brion. Terrific steak wine.

***+1990 La Conseillante. Silky and utterly seamless stuff, caressing your senses with chocolate, raspberry, coffee, spice and many more goodies. First you love the finesse, then you notice the power. Finish just keeps rolling along.

RING IN THE OLD AND NEW. (January 16, 2005) "Mature Gents vs. Young Turks" was our excuse for an evening of opening favorite Cabs. Half were 91s or older the rest 96 or younger. Id say the generations fought to a draw, despite my growing appetite for younger wines. Heres how I score the bout, anyhow:

1. The White Flight

*+1996 Verget Puligny Montrachet "Sous Les Puits." Nice juice in its way, but I must say I expect more from a Verget Puligny. Plenty of minerals, ample length, but a tad too racy even for me, and some acid-averse tasters make faces.

*++2002 Turley "The White Coat." My favorite blond tonight, with its white peach and apricot flavors. However, this is clearly the weakest White Coat from Turley to date. Hope the next vintage recaptures the oomph of that tasty 2000.

*+1997 Nicolas Joly "Becherelle." Opens strangely with hints of sherry, although I detect no oxidation. With airing, the oddities fade and generous pear flavors come to the front. Pals up pretty well with our pear and pecan salad.

2. Mature Gents

**1988 Ridge Montebello continues to surprise and delight. Brutally panned by the influential, the wine went for fire-sale prices I loved it and finished my last one years ago. A guest provides this bottle, which proves just as delicious as ever. Understandably, its the furthest-along in the flight, with notes of strawberry, cedar and a dollop of dill sauce.

***+1991 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The class of the flight, and a champ that could hold its head high in any company. When Mondavi Reserve is on its game, theres no more pure and focused expression of California Cabernet. This, the 87 and the 94 are my favorites. No tricks, no exotics, nothing but perfectly ripe Cab flavors and a walloping finish. Mature, but with miles to go.

***-1991 Caymus Special Selection. If sheer size were all, this bottle might well have won the flight. Lots of fruit, lots of depth, impressively youthful, but too much oak for my palate. I wouldnt call it flawed, but find myself coming back to the Mondavi, not this.

3. Young Turks

**++2001 Tor Clone 4 may not be for the ages, but so what? I LOVE IT! CrPme de cassis, raspberry Chambord, cranberry, licorice and other yums contend on the palate. Yeah, its young, but so seductive  right now, I plan to consume my remaining  bottle soon. Doesnt quite have depth of the next two, but some tonight prefer this starlet.

***+1996 Peter Michael "Les Pavots" really needs more attention than were giving it. Packed up and chocolatey, only gradually releasing its treasures. Eventually sugar plums dance on the palate and linger long. Gorgeous wine.

**+1997 Catena Alta Zapata Vineyard (Mendoza), served blind, fools experienced tasters. Theyre certain its California but once you know what it is, you can find a few hints. Earthiest wine on the table, laden with dark fruit, meat and minerals. Wonder if theres any Malbec in the blend.

4. And the Winners...?

I keep saying that some evening we should just feast on nuts, cheese, sweets and dessert wines. The following make a strong argument for this plan.

**+1994 Chteau Tirecul La Gravieres is bursting with honey, kumquat and dried apricot. Sweet as all get out, but so beautifully tuned, you come back for sip after sip. Lovely match to our custard tart, as is...

***+R. L. Buller & Son Calliope "Rare Liqueur Muscat." I wont say its quite as profound as a 100-year-old Madeira, but the complexity and length seem to approach that celestial level this evening. Figs galore, pecan pie, Christmas pudding how the heck do they get all that into one little bottle?

See more tasting notes (July-December 2004)

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