Tasting Notes


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April-June 2000

Notes are in chronological order, with the latest at the top.

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WHAT AMERICA NEEDS...(June 26, 2000) is a great $10 California Cab. I'd settle for a good one. Patrick Campbell's Terra Rosa used to be the answer. It's still very good, but now the wine comes from Chile or Argentina.

     Still we all search. No luck yet. But here's one that came close and may do in a pinch...

1998 Cartlidge and Browne Cabernet Sauvignon "California" is medium ruby, with nice cherry aromas, kirsch flavors and not too much oak. None of the vegetal flavors that often mark lousy cheap Cabs. You're absolutely delighted for about two seconds and then it hits you -- there's virtually no finish.

     Oh well. It still tastes nice on the front end. It's only $9.99. But so far, I fear, Patrick is making his point.

NEVER NEVER CABS. (June 25,2000) Some wines I simply can't afford. Others are so unattainable, I don't have to worry about not affording them. But today I walked into the right room at the right time and what do you know? I got to taste:

***+1997 Joseph Phelps Ranca Dorada Vineyard "Premier Napa Valley." The way it's explained to me, the juice from Ranca Dorada usually goes into Insignia. In 1997, they reserved about a barrel of the stuff for this special bottling. There are maybe 180 bottles in all the world. Today, by some happy mystery, 1/180 of the world supply is staring me in the face. Envy and egalitarian instincts urge me not to love this wine. But you know what? It's really, really, really, really, g-o-o-d. Ample tannins all but vanish beneath a fantastic cascade of blackberry and cassis. It's rich, black, flamboyant Cab perfection. I nurse my three ounces for all they're worth.

***1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia. To put things in perspective, I'd rank this among the top California Cabs of the vintage. And you can theoretically buy it -- at $95 a bottle, it's merely unaffordable. I really want to say that it's the equal of Ranca Dorada. But no, not today. The Insignia is lush, thick, deep and all those good things, but it's showing more oak and more tannin. Not because it actually has more tannin -- and not because it saw more new oak. Nope. The Ranca Dorada just has so much fruit, it drowns out everything else.

**1997 J. Rochioli Cabernet Sauvignon Neoma's Vineyard. Did you that Rochioli made a Cab? I didn't. I'm told that 1997 will be the last year for this rarity -- they ripped up the vines. It's certainly a distinctive wine. Very plummy, with bing cherry notes. Served blind, you might guess Zinfandel. But don't get me wrong, this is serious Cab. Glad I got to taste the last of the line.

WALKING THE WOCC. (June 23, 2000) Laugh if you like, but my nearest and dearest loves WOCC (Well-Oaked California Chardonnay) above all other wines in the world.

    Go ahead and tell her that it's hopelessly unhip. She'll say, "So?"

     So what can you do? Once a year, in her honor, our wine-buddies and I assemble the best WOCCs we can muster. Other whites are allowed, but I know in advance what her verdict is going to be.

     Here's what we tasted tonight. Scores are mine, not hers:

***+1995 Peter Michael Chardonnay Cuvée Indigène. This is the penultimate rung on the Peter Michael Quality ladder -- and I know a number of folks who say they prefer it to the top rung, Pointe Rouge. Tonight, it's close enough to heaven for me. May have been a bit splintery on release, but now it's sleek and creamy, and the intensity doesn't seem to have suffered a lick. Still has a lot of doughy delights on the palate. Complex tropical fruit finish goes on until you're tired of counting.

***1996 Peter Michael Chardonnay Cuvée. Very similar to the '95. A little less knit, with maybe a shade less oomph on the finish. Tough to say which I like better -- probably the 1995.

**+1995 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay. Not quite as complex as the Indigène, but equally bready and full, with a more pronounced note of crème brulée on the finish. I've found that Pahlmeyer Chards tend to do well with a couple of years on them -- but two years past release, this one seems to have peaked. Hasn't improved since a year ago and may have lost a step. Drink up.

***+1996 Marcassin Chardonnay Gauer Vineyard Upper Barn. Flavors are quite similar to the '96 Indigène, but there seems to be a tad more of everything, including concentration and, well, yes, oak. The wine has amazing focus and depth, loads of tropical notes, shadings of lees and a long, creamy finish. California Chardonnay doesn't get much better than this. Probably could use a year to smooth out the splinters. Phylis' choice for WINE OF THE EVENING and I can't disagree.

?Ledson Vineyard Chardonnay. First time I've tasted a wine from this vineyard. Pity it's marginally CORKED. Under the haze of the TCA, there may have been quite a depth of nice Chardonnay.

1995 Hanzell Chardonnay. Only a couple non-malolactic California Chards really do it for me. This isn't one of them. Yes, it has a little more bite on the palate, but the aromas just aren't there.

**1990 Paul Pernot Puligny-Montrachet. Textbook example of an Un-WOCC. All lemon, apples and stones. Good, flinty finish. No oak poking out.  Phylis wrinkles her nose but I like it a lot.

**+1993 Willi Brundlmayer Riesling Trocken Zöbinger Heiligenstein. Huge blast of diesel greets your nose. Boatloads of pineapple and spice on the palate. How lovely for a change. Super argument for Austria.

***1990 Bouzereau Meursault Charmes. Purist's Chardonnay par excellence. Loads of mineral flavors, mushroom and some earth. Big wine with a finish that rivals the California Giants. No oak apparent. 

**1990 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon. Thick, sweet, sugary poached pear essence. One of three very different sweeties tonight that set one another off well.

**1989 Château de La Tour Blanche (Sauternes). Medium-sweet, with parchment and omelet flavors, plus some apricot. Fully mature. Charming, balanced, gracious. Might have graded it higher had my palate not been spoiled by...

***+1989 Wethofener Steingrube Albalonga Beerenauslese. More than just a super-sweetie, this stuff is just fascinating. Lots of different tree-fruits to taste -- peach, apricot, cumquat -- and tropical flavors as well! Very long.

DECENT PINOT NOIR, INDECENT PRICES. (June 17, 2000) The good news is that New World Pinot Noirs are getting better fast. The bad news is that prices are shooting up even faster. I've sampled a few in the last week or two. One's a winner, but I'm afraid the others were overpriced for what they offer.

From New Zealand comes *+1998 Seresin Pinot Noir Marlborough. It's deep dark ruby, with exotic aromas of blueberry and raspberry. Good texture on the palate. Soft, fruity and ready to drink. Doesn't seem to have structure for aging. Drink it right now, this summer, and have a good time. I certainly did, but for $45, I wanted something a little more serious.

From Sonoma's Russian River Valley. A while back, I scored a hard-to-find bottle of *1993 Williams-Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley. Squirreled it away for some special occasion, then brought it out this week for my beloved mother. It's light ruby. Much lighter than I expected. Offers round cherry flavors with mild acidity and a pleasant finish. Not a blockbuster, but an elegant wine that has aged well and seems to be at its peak now. Mom loved it. I liked it, but somehow, well, I wanted more for my money. Cost over $30 five years ago. Too much.

From a famed California vineyard. I was intrigued by the designation on *1997 Tarius Pinot Noir Chalone Vineyard. Chalone is underperforming these days, but I figured maybe another winemaker could squeeze something better out of the grapes. Well maybe. It's got decent concentration and a tad too much chocolatey oak for my taste. When you're done, the wine just doesn't jump out of the ordinary. At $36 bucks, it's less than the Seresin, but not quite as good either. I'm still underwhelmed.

And the winner is **1998 Flowers Pinot Noir Pisoni Ranch. At last a Pinot Noir with true varietal character, deep fruit flavors and plenty of sex appeal too. The cinnamon and spicy oak can fool you at first -- but if you wait an hour or two, they fade back and my, what a good wine this is. Develops well. May have good medium-term aging potential. At $42 bucks, it ain't cheap, but it's appropriate value in today's scheme of things.

SPAIN VS. SONOMA. (June 1, 2000) If you're passionate about great California Cabernet, you've got a dilemma. Right? Stuff that used to be $20 just five years ago is now closer to $50. And the stuff that used to be $50? Prepare to bend over.

     So where do we go for better prices? Lately I've been enjoying Spain -- in particular, Ribera del Duero. It's not like you're getting twice the quality for your money, but if you choose well, maybe you'll get an extra ten to twenty percent. Consider this match-up of decently valued wines:

**+1995 Bodegas y Vinedos Alion "Consecha" is a powerful, serious wine. Dense. Long. And remarkably complex, when you sit back and think about it. First you taste currants. Then raspberries. Then blood and a hint of metal. Reminds me more than a little of Château Montrose. At $36 this is pretty good value in today's scheme of things.

Against it, let's consider **1996 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. This is one of the best wines made in Sonoma and recent vintages have been among California's better values. The current vintage is a little more laid back than the stellar 1995. But it gives you plenty of plum, blackberry and cherry goodies, along with a whack of American oak that you may like or not. Outstanding juice for drinking over the next 5-10 years. Price, $40.

     So. See what I mean?

NEW CULT VS. OLD CLASSIC. (June 1, 2000) I've been oohing and cooing lately over Napa Valley Cult Wines like Colgin, Bryant and von Strasser Reserve. But are they really any better than the old-guard California Classics? Tonight we pitted one against the other and a fun fight ensued:

NEW CULT. Having something to celebrate tonight, we open my favorite vintage to date of what may be the Valley's juiciest Cabernet Sauvignon, ***+1995 Colgin. Ruby at the rim and black at the center, this wine has so much sex appeal that I'm worried Jesse Helms may try to ban it. Intense aromas of violets. So much cherry-blueberry flavor that you can't even think about anything else while you're tasting it. Terrific finish. Ample tannin, but very, very supple. Over the next three hours, it opens, expands and the cherry flavors grow stronger, finally joined by cassis and herbs.

OLD CLASSIC. I can't think of a California Cab with a more consistent track record than Château Montelena and ***1980 Montelena certainly is a case in point. Tonight, you might think you were drinking 1990 classified growth Bordeaux. It's black as Montelena oughtta be. At the evening's beginning, the tannins are talking -- all you get is a walloping finish. We confidently award the belt to Colgin. But as minutes tick by, it gets off the canvas and starts to slug away. Notes of cassis, tobacco and black olive grab your attention. This is a contender! When both bottles are gone, we still prefer Colgin, but not by a whole lot.

WE FINISH our meal with the only logical choice to follow such big bold Cabs -- Port. On any other evening, **+1980 Dow might have easily claimed wine of the evening honors. Tonight, it's a big strapping youngster, oozing delicious fruit, but not quite up to the Montelena and Colgin.

Petit WHAT? (May 21, 2000) Petit Verdot. In Bordeaux it's what they call a blending grape. Good stuff may include a few percentage points of Petit Verdot to give it some extra pizzazz. It's very flavorful, but the catch is that it ripens late -- and so, in Bordeaux, it tends to be kind of acidic and tannic.

     But in California. Ah, well. All things are possible.

     Tonight we opened the ***+1995 von Strasser Reserve -- made mostly from Petit Verdot grapes grown in a special hillside plot of Rudy von Strasser's Diamond Mountain vineyard. Our table was knocked for a loop. Powerful aromas of blueberry, followed up by an enormous wallop of blackberry and blueberry flavors on the palate. Long finish. Vibrant acidity, but not overdone. Big tannins, but they were totally overwhelmed by the wine. Tastes exactly like the barrel sample I tried three years ago. And wotta finish!

    This has to be the most profound example of the grape I've ever tasted, not to mention one of the top California wines of this terrific vintage. Anything but uh...petit.

     Alongside it, we tasted **1991 La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon "Howell Mountain 10th Anniversary Release." This is normally counted a big bruiser in its own right, but alongside the von Strasser Reserve it seemed surprisingly generous and downright elegant. Some Bordeaux herb, pepper and lots of cassis were the major players here. Excellent wine.

HIGH-CLASS DILEMMA (May 16, 2000) Suppose you've got a bottle of wine for which you paid maybe $39. And now, some 4 years later, it's worth $390 at auction. And suppose you really, really, really love the wine.

     What do you do? Unless you're broke and need the cash, I submit that selling such a wine is self-debasing. Not quite like peddling your wife to Robert Redford for a million bucks. But getting there. You're putting your joie de vivre up on the block.

     All this is by way of justifying the fact that a few of us recently opened a quartet of California cult wines over dinner -- and, just as God intended, we gloried in every last drop.


***+1996 Marcassin Chardonnay Lorenzo Vineyard (Sonoma Coast). Aromas of mocha and fresh baked bread, followed by a riot of fat, ripe, rich tropical fruit. Mango! Papaya! And other stuff I can't quite nail but certainly can enjoy. As the evening slips by, oaky overtones fade and the wine gets sexier still. Our friends are tempted to name it wine of the evening, but keep reading...

**1996 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler Vineyard. Also plays the tropical notes, but in a less flamboyant style. Has higher acidity and more lemon flavors. Crisp attack, long finish and a terrific Chard -- but playing in a tough league tonight.


***+1992 Bryant Family Pritchard Hill Vineyard. From the time the wine escapes the bottle, aromas practically fill the room -- violets, black cherries, blueberries. Can't wait to sip and swallow, so let's do it and...oooh! Aaaah! It's like wading into a deep pool of pleasure until you're up to your neck. After a while, some flavors arrive that kind of remind me of rhubarb pie. Tannins are evident, but the wine is wide open for business all night. I'll name it WINE OF THE EVENING.

***+1992 Colgin-Shrader Herb Lamb Vineyard. Starts out much more closed than the Bryant. Lots of spice, red cherry and even some herb. But with each passing hour, it unfurls another layer of flavor, until it's very tough to choose which wine pleases you more. By evening's end, this is a huge, Port-like wine with cherry Kirsch flavors dominating. Very different profile from the Bryant. So much for people who claim that Helen Turley's wines all taste alike. (I'll grant you they practically all taste great.)

     Decadence? I'm shocked, shocked you'd even suggest it. No, this was an act of defiance! I'd do it again in a heart beat and come to think of it, next week wouldn't be too soon...

JUST SHORT OF A BARGAIN. (April 30, 2000) If you’re a boysenberry jam fan, maybe 1997 Hogue Syrah Columbia Valley "Barrel Select" will ring your chimes. It’s got plenty of pretty fruit flavors and some toasty notes in the background. But it falls a little short on the finish, and the body is kind of light.

     At around $15, this wine is decent value in today’s scheme of things. But there’s so much good Syrah on the market today from the South of France, Australia and the West Coast, that you’ve got the luxury of being choosey -- even in this price range.

WINE AND A MOVIE. (April 23, 2000) We gathered at a friend’s to christen his new home theater. The screen is enormous -- and when the picture gets this big, DVD stomps VHS.

     When it came to the wines, however, New World and Old were more evenly matched:

We lead off with **1995 François Mikulski Meursault Charmes which is, well -- utterly charming. Medium gold, it purrs from the moment it’s poured. You taste layers of flint, lemon and crême brulée. The finish is good and the wine holds well throughout dinner. Age may bring out more complexity, but I’d drink mine now if I had any.

Then ***1982 Sociando Mallet. Still very dark ruby with no garnet at all. This wine is drinking magnificently. Tannins have subsided, the oak is soaked up and  pure cassis flavors keep pumping. Notes of cedar and cigarette add to the interest. Two bottles of this wine are opened. Interestingly, the second  has thrown a lot less crust than its mate and seems more tannic too. But they’re both from the same crate. Go figure.

***1990 Dominus tastes even younger, but doesn’t seem out of place beside the Bordeaux. It’s not as cedary as the S-M, a measure more gamy, and seems to have more packed-up fruit in reserve. Which do I prefer? I change my mind with every sip. Tonight, perhaps the Sociando-Mallet by a whisker.

But ***+1991 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select steals my heart. The style is pure California, the texture is thick and concentrated, and the flavors are too sexy to resist. It's an endless parade of black cherries against a background of dark chocolate.

TURLEYS & OTHER BURLIES. (April 22, 2000) Philadelphia’s restaurant Pasion serves up Argentine fare that’s often on the spicy side. This kind of food demands massive reds or Alsace/German whites, so that’s what we opened this evening:


**+1990er Weingut Willi-Schaefer Reisling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruhr Gracher Dompropst. Except for the five minutes required to write down the name, everything about this wine is easy to like. Your nose is greeted by a blast of diesel and your palate succumbs to a wallop of steel, stone and citrus flavors. It’s a penetrating wine that races past the peppery food and finishes long.

**+1989 Zind Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer. One taster thinks this wine has lost a step in the last year or so. Could be, but it still offers up righteous rose petal flavors and, like the Riesling, isn’t fazed by the food. What the wine may have lost in aroma, it makes up for in depth.

***1996 Zind Humbrecht Clos Jebsal Pinot Gris. Wow, this is thick and rich! Some prickles blow off in the first fifteen minutes. What’s left is a riot of pineapple and lychee that delights and lingers. Stands up to my dinner well and may be the best match of all.


*+1995 Turley Zinfandel Black-Sears Vineyard. Gives the expected pepper and blackberry flavors, but seems to lack something of what it offered a year ago. After about an hour, it starts to round out -- perhaps the tannins are subsiding. Still, it seems a little hot and hollow. Disappointing performance from a wine that usually blows down the doors.

**1997 Martinelli Zinfandel "Louisa and Guiseppe." Made in a slightly overripe style, it’s a charming Zinfandel all the same, bursting with chocolatey berries. More pleasing than the Black-Sears tonight, it’s pretty darned seamless from attack to finish.

***1997 Turley Zinfandel Moore "Earthquake" Vineyard. Now this is what Turley Zins are all about. Dense, black stuff that offers up a truckload of pure raspberry flavors. Unlike the Black-Sears, there’s no trace of heat -- and unlike the Martinelli, it’s not overripe. A Papa Bear of a wine that could please even Goldilocks.

***1997 Pahlmeyer Merlot. You might think a mere Merlot would suffer if tasted right after a Turley Zin. Not this burly boy! Created in a super-ripe style that pushes the grape to the max, this wine is all about big fruit flavors. There’s oak, but it’s  transformed into chocolate fudge that just adds to the fun. Kind of reminds me of a favorite St. Emilion, the 1990 Le Tertre Rôteboeuf.

**+1996 Pahlmeyer Merlot. Presented to us blind, this wine shows the same characteristics as the ‘97 Pahlmeyer, but even more super-ripe. I take a wild stab and guess it to be Clarendon Merlot from Australia. When the bag comes off, there are chuckles, but hey, someone else thought it was Bordeaux. And I'm unrepentant -- I’d love to serve this wind blind beside a blind bottle of Clarendon.

CAL CAB CLASSICS (April 16, 2000) Any list of California Cabernet "first growths" would have to include Ridge Monte Bello, Dominus and Chateau Montelena.

     The vineyards for each have yielded great wine for more than 25 years. Last night I tasted convincing proof that recent efforts are better than ever:

***1985 Ridge Monte Bello. Hitting its peak of maturity. You get a strong hit of American oak right after pouring it, but this quickly dissipates, revealing the kind of wine that great Bordeaux aspires to be. It's got plenty of blackcurrant fruit, plus notes of tobacco, lead pencil and other subtleties too. At first I notice a minor hint of decay, but within a half hour this is drowned out by the other goodies. Continues to expand and hold over the course of three hours.

***1992 Ridge Monte Bello. I'm not all that sensitive to tannin -- but on release, this wine was too backward even for me. Now it's finally getting approachable and what a star! Jammy, thick, younger version of the above. Has the same power and depth, but the nose is not quite so developed yet. I'd love to taste this alongside the 1991.

***1991 Chateau Montelena. Darkest, youngest-tasting wine of the night. Pure blackcurrant nectar. So dense and grapey, you're almost sorry for having opened it so soon -- but the finish overwhelms any possible regrets.

***+1991 Dominus. I have loved this wine ever since tasting it before release, but tonight may have been the best bottle yet. The aromas are just w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l. Violets. Honeysuckle. On the palate, it's got the complexity of great Pauillac -- plus the sheer power of California Cab at the top of its game. Best Dominus I've ever tasted from any vintage and slam dunk for WINE OF THE EVENING.

Also present are a couple of older Cabs, including **1978 Beringer Knight's Valley. I personally would never have the guts to a KV so long, but this one turns out to be in great shape. You can smell a little oxidation at first, but soon there's a blast of berries and it's smiles from then on. Place this wine in a blind flight of 1979 Bordeaux and watch the fun.

On the other hand, 1974 Burgess doesn't win any admirers. The initial aromas are all death and ashes. Things improve a little for about 15 minutes, but then vinegar flavors start to take over. Granted, this is by far the oldest Cab of the evening -- but perhaps it's also evidence that pedigree counts.

GO PATRICK GO (April 16, 2000) Patrick Campbell's flagship wine, Laurel Glen may be Sonoma County's greatest Cabernet Sauvignon. Better still, the price the 1997 vintage remains below $50. You can't buy better Cab for that price and you'd be hard-pressed to do so for more.

     I was reminded of these happy facts yet again this week as we revisited the **+1993 Laurel Glen. Still a black, dense infant, the wine is beginning to show the stuff that makes Laurel Glen such a complete wine -- with flavors of cigarette and leather emerging to join the sweet cassis.

DOLCETTO DELIRIUM. (April 5, 2000) Lately I've been talking up the virtues of Dolcetto. It's affordable, food-friendly, red -- refreshingly different from the usual suspects -- and the last two vintages in Northern Italy have been knockouts.

     Yet even I was a little startled over dinner the other day, when a friend produced 18 different bottles of the stuff and asked us to taste them blind. I mean, when were we supposed to eat?

     Somehow we managed. And here are the notes. Unless otherwise indicated, assume that all bottles are Dolcetto D'Alba. Be warned that these are all 1997s, while the vintage available at most stores now is 1998. Both vintages are good, however, and the prices low enough to let you experiment.

First Flight

WINE #1. Gamy aromas, with some hint of fruit. Nothing much on the palate. In fact, there's so little here that we suspect a bad bottle. However, I can't detect any mustiness that would indicate it's corked. It turns out to be Corino. Better luck next time.

WINE #2. Focused aromas of cherry and almond. Full and satisfying on the palate. Soft and approachable, with little sign of tannin. I like it a lot and no wonder. It's *+Giacomo Conterno.

WINE #3. Light cherry aromas. I find it hollow on the palate, with a trace of volatile acidity. But our group likes it best of the flight. It's Elvio Cogno "Vigna del Mandorlo."

Second Flight

WINE #4. Pretty aromas of red cherries and cranberries. Juicy and full on the palate. Moderate finish that reveals some tannin. Nice stuff. Turns out to be the 1997 vintage of *Luigi Scavino "Azelia."

WINE #5. First your nose is greeted by sulfur, but this eventually blows off to reveal a charming Dolcetto. Excellent depth of fruit and a very satisfying finish. I think it's the best we've tasted so far and it wins the flight by group vote. One of the top three vote-getters of the tasting, it's **Paolo Scavino "Vigneto del Fiasc."

WINE #6. Lots of sulfur. Sharply acidic attack, and without the fruit of #4 or #5. Easily last in the flight. It's Gillardi Dolcetto di Dogliani.

Third Flight

WINE #7. Wow! Powerful, intensely grapey aromas. Almost like a Syrah. Then you smell rose petals and licorice. Love the nose! It's not quite as powerful on the palate as you're led to expect, but the floral scents make it really seductive. Initially I rank it first in the flight -- then #9 (below) keeps developing and eventually pulls ahead. It's *++Aldo Conterno.

WINE #8. Slightly funky nose. There's a bitter flavor on the aftertaste that might indicate cheap old oak. I don't care for it, nor does the group. It's Manzone.

WINE #9. A dark horse. Starts out haltingly. Downright brooding for a Dolcetto. Then aromas of cherries and almond come forth. Impressive! To be sure, it shows more tannin than the others, and at first the acidity pokes out annoyingly. But as the evening passes, this wine gains power and the flaws recede. It's **Vietti Lazzaritto. Very much in the style of their excellent Barolo.

Fourth Flight

WINE #10. Corked. Too bad for Elis Altare.

WINE #11. Delicious raspberry aromas. There's a lot of sweet oak on the palate. A little too much for my taste. Most tannic wine of the flight. It's M. Marengo. Group favorite, but I prefer...

WINE #12. The nose here is more what you'd expect from a Dolcetto and the wine seems less manipulated. Very juicy on the palate, it's my favorite of the flight. *-Brovia "Ciabôt de Re."

Fifth Flight

WINE #13. Irresistible aromas of ripe red cherries. Full and satisfying. Love it! It's the group favorite of the flight, my own as well, and one of the three most popular wines of the evening. **Domenico Clerico.

WINE #14. Vanilla aromas join the usual fruits. Some cardboard flavors on the palate. Tannic. Marginally corked? It's Sylvio Grasso.

WINE #15. The aromas here are almost like Burgundy. Lots of raspberry. Spicy and a little tannic on the palate. Some expensive oak has been used here and I don't mind it at all. It's *+Seghesio.

Sixth Flight

WINE #16. Not much to smell here. But good when you sip it. Full and slightly tannic. Bruno Giacosa.

WINE #17. Maybe the most controversial wine of the evening. Terrific nose of black cherry and cola. Chocolate cherry flavors on the palate. Some love it. I like it too and it's my favorite of the flight, but something's wrong. What's going on here? Too tarted up? I can't taste Dolcetto. No wonder! It's a ringer, *+Parusso Barbera "Ornati".

WINE #18. Seems slightly oxidized, but a powerful wine nonetheless. Keeps broadening and taking on weight. Impressive in it's way, but not better than #17. Maybe it just needs six months in the cellar. It's Moccagatta .

Seventh Flight

WINE #19. Terrific nose. Also delivers on the palate. Chocolate, cherries, but is it Dolcetto? Someone says it reminds him of a ripe Merlot and I can't disagree. But no, it is Dolcetto after all, from **Sandrone.

WINE #20. Whoa. Way different. Aromas of wet dog fur and cassis. Lots of body and fruit when you taste it, but what is this? It's another ringer -- Domaine Madone Beaujolais "Le Perreon."

The Grand Dolcetto Taste-Off

     So which is best of all? We've had so many wines by now. Someone suggests we put the group's three top wines in a single flight and have a taste off. I'm kind of sad the Sandrone is not included in this flight, but won't dispute the virtues of those chosen: Paolo Scavino, Clerico and Vietti. This time, the winner is indisputable. The **Vietti has taken on even more complexity and oomph, and is overwhelmingly voted WINE OF THE EVENING.

AH, PARIS. (April 2, 2000) Pardon my foie-gras-eating grin, but I just came back from Paris, and I gotta say, we had a great time. 

     Naturally, the food was fabulous -- but an unexpected pleasure was finding a number of wines on the menus that didn't cost the earth and delivered the sun, moon and stars. These included...

***1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl. Consumed with a sensational Magret de Canard at Brasserie Bofinger, this wine was a steal at 289ff, or about $44US at current exchange rates. That's less than I can buy it retail here in the states! The wine is just what you'd expect from a Z-H Grand Cru -- thick, concentrated, flower-scented, and loaded with kiwi and lychee flavors. Essence of Alsace that matches up effortlessly with just about any food you can throw at it. A few days later, we returned to Bofinger and ordered the same wine again. This time I sucked it down alongside oysters on the half shell, salmon and sauerkraut. No problem. Heaven again.

***1997 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Herrenweg Turkheim. Enjoyed with oysters and duck at Boeuf sur le Toit, a brasserie off the Champs Elysées, run by the same folks who own Bofinger. Deep gold, big aromas of rose petals, and so oily, concentrated and fruit-laden, you'd think you were drinking a late-harvest wine.

**1996 La Dame de Montrose. Consumed with a fork-tender beefsteak at Le Bellecour, a little jewel of a restaurant near Les Invalides. Priced on their list at 330ff, or about $49US, this wine is strikingly similar to its behemoth big brother, the 1996 Montrose. Loads of blood, brass and currants on the palate. Lots of tannin too, but it was decanted as soon as I ordered it. An hour later, with the steak, it was singing.

***1976 Leroy Monthèlie. You read right. A 24-year-old generic Monthèlie! It accompanied one of the best meals I've enjoyed in my entire life -- at Alain Dutournier's Carré des Feuillants, near Place de la Concorde. The food here is not cheap, so I was searching for something special that wouldn't break the bank. When I came across this on the wine list, I feared at first it would prove a half-dead curiosity. But the sommelier insisted, no, it's in great shape. And so it is. At first you taste mostly tea and earth, but with airing it bursts with strawberries and mineral flavors. Still has a lot of spice and even some tannin. (Must have been rock hard as an infant.) Matched every course of the meal. It went well with the truffle salad and showed gloriously with the Boeuf de Chalosse. Held up so well over three hours that I canceled my glass of Port for the cheese course. Priced on their wine list at 450ff, or about $67, this wine testifies both to the potential of Monthèlie and the wonders of ideal storage.

**1997 Ente Meursault and **+1995 Haut Marbuzet, both consumed in the course of a meal at the romantic Relais Louis XIII in the Latin Quarter, not far from the Odeon Metro stop. My perceptions were doubtless enhanced by our setting -- the restaurant was built on the remains of the Grands Augustin monastery, where Louis XIII was proclaimed King of France, and it positively drips with romantic grandeur. Even so, I have to conclude the Ente Meursault is mightily endowed for a village wine, with youthful oak flavors falling back quickly to reveal lots of perfume and mineral nuances. This is my first encounter with Ente's work and I hope it won't be the last. As for the '95 Haut Marbuzet, I'm kicking myself that I didn't pick up a case of this stuff when it was released. Even at this stage it's doing an excellent impression of classified-growth Pauillac, showing lots of cedary cassis and lead pencil.

***1988 Chateau Broustet Barsac. We had this with dessert at the Louis XIII, and it's one more example of how well the 1988 Sauternes are showing right now. Not as syrupy as some of my favorites, but it compensates with a boatload of apricot and botrytis favor.

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