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(March 12, 2000) If you want to incite a minor riot over dinner, just
suggest to a Burgundy lover that American West Coast efforts are anywhere
near as good.
But let me tell you, after tasting through
some of Americas best young Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs...
Wait. Put down that rock. Im not going to
say that most American Chards and Pinots are better than most Burgundy.
Nor am I even going to claim that Americas best is better than Burgundys
But I am convinced now that Americas
tippy top tier can blow all but the very finest Burgundies off the
table. In particular, watch the Sonoma Coast.
Heres the evidence that we tasted
. Our benchmark from Burgundy,
this wine wallops the Yanks -- for a while. Its pungent,
packed with creamy flavor, and has a penetrating acidity that the others
lack. But then something unexpected happens. An hour later, the Lafon
has thinned out and the others are still expanding. It retains a lovely
elegance and a good finish, but on the whole, Id have to say that its
knocked off its perch by the following...
**+1991 Lafon Meursault-Charmes
***+1995 Kistler Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen. A broad, fat, powerful
wine, it seems a little clumsy at first when compared to the Lafon. Thats
the usual stereotype of California versus Burgundy, so Im not awfully
surprised. But guess what? This wine then proceeds to do what only
Burgundy is supposed to be capable of -- gathers strength, fans out and
turns wonderfully complex. Most of us at the table start to admit they
prefer it to the Lafon. Tremendous performance! WHITE OF THE EVENING.
**+1995 Flowers Chardonnay "Camp Meeting Ridge." This
favorite of mine is running in fast company tonight. For about the first
15 minutes, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Kistler. Same flavor
profile, same power, similar alcohol. You could swap the glasses and no
one would notice. However, as the minutes tick by, the Kistler slowly
edges ahead and shows nuances lacking in the Flowers. Comes in second
among the Californians by a head. Id rank it about equal to the Lafon.
**1997 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay. May suffer from being a youngster in
the company of more integrated and mature wines. Shows the most perfumed
oak. Doesnt seem as unctuous as the Kistler and Flowers. But its got
quite a powerful finish, and it steadily improves as the evening wears on.
So I would guess that in a year or two this wine may perform even better.
the white Lafon, this red Burgundy is inserted to remind us of the
French competition. Its a great wine. Some feel its the nights
best. I wouldnt quite go that far, but this lush young blockbuster
ought to please both Burgundy purists and California fruit worshippers.
The dense, concentrated raspberry flavors pull you into the
glass. It doesnt seem as alcoholic as the California
contenders, which will please some folks. The acidity is correct but not
overwhelming. Okay, I love it, but not as much as a couple of the other
***1995 Hubert Lignier Morey St. Denis "Les Chaffots."
***1994 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir. One thing that pleases me about
the West Coast wines tonight is how each region offers a distinctive
flavor all its own. This, our lone Oregon wine, definitely stands by
itself -- with its deep, no, make that bottomless pool of
blackberry flavors. Its so rich and rewarding that I have to say I
prefer it even to the Lignier, although the two wines are admittedly very
different, and the Lignier is a more food-friendly wine.
1995 Ponsot Morey St. Denis "Cuvee des Grives". Wine and
critic (and friend) Pierre Rovani has awarded this wine a dismal 69
points. Gee Pierre, I think it deserves at least 78. But yeah, its a
terrible flop -- especially from a producer with a great vineyard site in
an outstanding year. Watery, thin, somewhat vegetal. But not totally
***1995 Kistler Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard. This begins a Hirsch
horizontal (or maybe I should say zig-zag, since the wines are from two
different years). And what a tough wine to beat! Its so loaded with
Pinot Noir berry essence, it practically stains your olfactory nerves.
Some tannin on the palate, but not enough to stop the flavor. Clearly the
best Hirsch here and tied for second (with the 94 Beaux Frères) among
all the Pinots.
**+1997 Flowers Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard. This is also amazingly
good, and tastes a lot like the Kistler. Yet its a little more tannic
and (perhaps because of that) seems to have a little less stuffing.
*+1997 Siduri Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard. The most forward wine of
the bunch, it would be lovely by itself but is clearly overshadowed by its
competitors. Someone remarks that its too acidic. I dont agree it
all -- seems just the opposite. If anything, this wine is strung too
***1995 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard. Close in
quality to the Kistler, this wine is clearly made in a different style.
Seems less alcoholic and the fruit seems a tad less ripe. The result is
that its closer to the Lignier in mouthfeel. Dont get me wrong, its
fantastic. But I rank it a point or two under the Kistler Hirsch.
*+1995 Kistler Pinot Noir "Cuvée Catherine". Heres
where I depart from the group. I hear more than one taster oohing and
ahhing and naming this wine-of-the-evening. To me, the style is over the
top. I think they must have waited too long to pick -- because the flavors
are over-ripe, verging on pruney. No question that its enormous, deep
and long. One taster says it reminds him of an Amarone. I agree, but is
that what you want in a Pinot Noir?
***+1996 Kistler Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard. Now this
is an awesome Pinot Noir. Much better balanced than the Cuvee
Catherine -- and seemingly in need of another few years still. Huge fruit
behind some tannin and the oak is still showing a bit too much, but
everythings in proportion and all the wine needs is some time. This is
my favorite Pinot Noir of the tasting. Glorious!
***1997 Flowers Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard "Moon
Select." Very close in quality and flavor to the Kistler. The
glass overflows with raspberries. Slightly less massive in scale, and less
tannic and oaky as well. Id give this one a year or two more in the
**Lynmar Pinot Noir "Quail Hill Reserve". Overawed by the
Sonoma Coast wines, this is still a very tasty Pinot Noir, with the fruit
tending more to cherries than raspberries. Once again, Im struck by how
the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Oregon wines each have a very
distinct flavor profile.
. To quote friend of mine, woo-woo-woo! Just
when you were loving Pinot Noir, along comes a great Port and turns your
head totally. This stuff is on top of its game, tannins shed, swarming
with red fruits, alcohol way to the back. Tied with the next for WINE OF
***+1977 Fonseca Port
***+"Raspberry Diet Snapple." Actually a mystery wine
that one of us decanted into a Snapple Bottle. I taste minerals, huge,
grapey flavors and would guess the alcohol is about 19%. Tremendous finish
on the wine, despite substantial tannins. Im not awfully surprised when
it is revealed to be 1994 Fonseca Port but am intrigued by how
drinkable it is. Tied with the 77 for WINE OF THE EVENING.
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