Tasting Notes


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July-December 2004

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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LET'S BE FRANC (October 5, 2004) Cabernet Franc may be the granddaddy of Cabernet Sauvignon, but most wine geeks treat it as a stepchild. Sure, Cheval Blanc and Dalla Valle Maya get respect, but both are blends -- the 2000 Cheval Blanc, for example, is only 47% Cab Franc.

     So what gives? How good can Cab Franc get? Is it better blended or can it taste great on its own? We spent an evening over that question and here's what happened:

     FLIGHT #1.

1994 Horton Cabernet Franc (Virginia). Maybe this was a fun wine once, but there's nothing to coo about now. Thin and acidic, with a sour suspicion of fruit.

1996 Serge Sourdais Chinon "Les Cornuelles" Vielles Vignes. Bell pepper aromas and fairly high acidity on the palate. Not as gone as the Horton, but too many veggies for me.

*--1990 Gerard Spelty Chinon. A notch up from the Les Cornuelles, with ripe plum and blackberry flavors. A little stewed on the finish, but nice juice.

*+2002 Chaddsford Winery Cabernet/Chambourcin (Pennsylvania). Served blind, this wine snookers the table. Contains both Cabernet Franc and Cab Sauvignon, I believe -- and they work weirdly well with the Chambourcin. Violet aromas followed by sweet strawberries. Finishes well. Beautifully made and compares well to its Loire rivals. Just $14.99 at the winery, this wine's a bargain.

*++1990 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie. Seductive bouquet, say some. Too much brett, say others. I'm with the former folks, but prepare for a wild ride, reader. Elegant notes of strawberry pie. A bit more body than the Chaddsford and a slightly better finish. Best Loire offering of the evening.

     FLIGHT #2

2002 Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc Napa Valley. I've enjoyed other vintages of this wine, but this one doesn't do it. Too many greens on the attack, and the salad bowl broadens with airing.

*+2002 Veritas Cabernet Franc Monticello (Virginia). Fragrant, silky and fairly long -- wow! Would have guessed Virginia? Delivers classic berry flavors with nary a whisper of greenery. Best Virginia CF I can remember tasting.

1995 Serge Sourdais Chinon "Les Cornuelles." Even more disappointing than the 1996, with a strange nose of stewed prunes and vegetables. Green and angular on the palate.

     FLIGHT #3

**-1998 Behrens and Hitchcock Cabernet Franc Napa Valley. Now this is the sexy side of Cab Franc. Lavender and violet aromas, with Damson jam on the palate. Plainly made from very ripe fruit and carries its alcohol well. First B&H Cab Franc I've ever tasted -- is it the only one ever made? Hope Les Behrens will give the grape another go sometime. Fun!

**++2001 Wolf Family Vineyards Meritage (82% Cabernet Franc). Complex aromas of strawberry, raspberry and flowers. No blockbuster, but sensuous and fascinating, sip after sip. So different from most Napa Cabs, and so good in its own special way. If the price were right, I'd buy!

*-?1999 Chappellet Cabernet Franc Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyards. Judgment reserved. Seems to have plenty of fruit, but much of it is masked by adhesive tape aromas. Alcohol showing a bit too much. May have needed more time to open.

*++1997 T-Vine Cabernet Sauvignon. Served blind, this ringer doesn't make anyone guess Cab Franc, but we like it. Soft, fruity and full. Drink now.


**+1995 and **+1996 Pride Cabernet Franc. If anyone doubted that Bob Foley makes some of the world's best CF, this pair puts the matter to rest. We argue a bit over which vintage wins, but I see smiles all around. The '96 is more tannic and may prove a bigger wine. The '95 is singing arias about chocolate-covered strawberries. All finesse at first, with a thundering finish.

*++1998 Pride Cabernet Franc. Lightest of the flight, but impressive for the vintage. If you're holding any, I'd drink them in the next year or so. Won't go away, but probably won't improve.

**++2000 Pride Cabernet Franc. Folks look up and says "ooh," as if surprised that 2000 could threaten '95 and '96. Chocolaty and primary. Needs decanting. Pride keeps going from strength to strength.

     FLIGHT #5

**++1995 Viader. I was wondering how Viader would show, coming right after Pride. Not too shabby! The expected bouquet of violets blossoms right on schedule and the blackberry Cabernet Sauvignon notes set off the strawberry Cab Franc flavors to perfection. Great argument for blending.

**++1997 Viader. I have almost identical notes for this vintage. The aromas may not be quite so developed, but the texture is even sexier. Pick 'em.

***1997 Beringer Cabernet Franc Howell Mountain "III". Just when you thought that you'd have to choose between Pride and Viader for top honors, along comes this stranger and steals the show. I don't hear any taster disagree. Strawberry essence. WINE OF THE EVENING.

A ROSE IS STILL A ROSE (September 2, 2004) Buried deep in a bin was **+1992 Domaine Peyre Rose Clos Syrah Leone -- I wine I had loved years ago, having nabbed it for $14.99. I'd been knocked out by then by its floral aromas, focus and finish. But how did it age? Well, what do you know -- it's better than ever today! The tannins have fallen away and the fruit's fabulous. Plums, pomegranates and minerals on the palate beg you to pour another glass. And yes, those floral scents still serenade.

RICH AND STRANGE (August 26, 2004) Anything gets boring if you do it the same way too often, and Iíll admit to being stuck in a mainstream rut lately. So we wined on the wild side for a bit and hereís what tasted good. I wonít try to sound too knowledgeable about any of these wines, because Iím not:


*++2001 Charles Hours JuranÁon Sec "Cuvťe Marie" may be best JuranÁon Iíve ever tasted. (Not that Iíve tasted many!) Comes on something like a young white RhŰne, with notes of guava and honeydew melon. Sensual, slippery texture conceals a fair amount of acidity. Doesnít shrink from the salad we match it with. Seems a mere pup. Opens with airing. Could merit a higher score in a few years, depending on how it ages.


**2000 Feudo Montoni Nero DíAvola "Selezione Special" from Sicily, was hand-carried home by a friend, but I believe you can get it in the U.S. Joyous juice! Dark and grapey, with a hint of boysenberry, it reminds me a bit of those delicious Edmunds St. John Durrell Vineyard Syrahs from the mid-1990s. In fact, thatís what I guess it to be when it's served up blind. Not much oak showing. Lots of stuffing. Holds up well through the evening. Itís 100% Nero DíAvola from 40-year-old vines and I think itís mountain-grown.

***+1995 Domaine LíAigueliere Montpeyroux "CŰte Dorťe" is not for the squeaky-clean crowd, but right down my twisted alley this evening. Defines sauvage and glories in it. Aromas of violets, roasted herbs and bacon precede an ocean of blackcurrant flavor. Wonder if the 1998 is ready yet?

**+2000 Cortes de Cima "Incognito" comes from the South of Portugal, was produced by Hans Kristian Jorgensen (whom I figure to be Danish) -- and itís 100% Syrah. Is that wild enough for you? The wine is all about lush, ripe fruit. Lots of deep cherry and raspberry flavors. Doesnít quit on the finish. We guess it to be a Turley Charbono when it's served to us blind.

Ripe, sexy, **+1998 Cortes de Cima "Reserva" comes on sort of like California Cab, but itís actually 85% Aragonez (what the Portuguese call their Tempranillo) and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Once you know the grape content, youíll be tempted to compare it to a Spanish Ribera del Duero -- but the wine has a character all its own.

Finally, Iíd like to try **1999 Quinta da Cortezia Reserva one more time, on its own, to see how it develops. This oneís Portuguese too, but comes from an area near Lisbon and itís 100% Touriga -- a grape that usually goes into Port. It really does taste like Port too, except itís dry and not as alcoholic. So tannic, it needs food to strut its stuff, but strut it does. Impervious to the artichokes in my salad. Classy wine!

RIC'S ON A ROLL. (August 8, 2004) Got a Chard diehard in your life? We like Kistler as much as the next folks, but his prices are making this habit expensive. Yesterday, though, we found a big winner for about half the price. ***-2002 Forman Chardonnay Napa Valley is made in exactly the same steely, stoney, non-malolactic style that Ric Forman has been stubbornly championing for lo these many years. And truthfully, my Chard-loving loved one is a sucker for oak, lees and butter. But we both flipped for the 2002 Forman. It's that good, that long, that penetrating.

     Ric Forman's recent roll began with his ***2001 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm a fan of his Cabs year in, year out, but this one's irresistible. Same blackcurrant flavors and floral notes that he always brings forward, but bigger. If you liked his '91 and '94, this one's up in that league.

THE GLORY THAT WAS MONDAVI. (August 8, 2004) It seems only yesterday that I ranked Mondavi Reserve Cab right up there with my 5 or 6 favorite California wines. But what's been happening to it lately? Replanted vineyards, a change in philosophy -- or are the best grapes it used to get going into other wines now? I don't have a clue, but I sure do wish I had a few more of the amazing ***+1994 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted it alongside some heavy hitters:

***1992 La Jota 12th Anniversary yields up plenty of juicy blackberry and raspberry flavors, but seems more a little tannic than when I tasted it a year ago. Possibly that's because we did not decant tonight. If you're opening one soon, an hour or two of airing couldn't hurt.

***+1994 Dominus makes its usual power statement, stressing currants, tobacco, a touch of teaberry and a whiff of the barnyard. Delicious.

But the ***+1994 Mondavi Reserve is taking no prisoners tonight! It's got the depth of the La Jota, the class of the Dominus -- plus a fabulous, focused finish that outlasts them both. Previous tastings of this vintage never revealed quite this much sweet fruit. Maybe it just needed time. In any case, this one's comparable to the '87 and '91. Maybe even better?

See more tasting notes (January-June 2004)

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