Tasting Notes


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January-February 2002

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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PINOT NOIR NEWBIES. (February 24, 2002) Now that New World winemakers have the knack for Pinot Noir, the scenes exploding. We tried two more this week, both well made and graceful:

**-2000 Copain Pinot Noir "Dennison Vineyard" has to be among the top two or three Pinots Ive tasted from Californias Anderson Valley. I hear the winemaker used to assist Ehren Jordan and hes certainly talented. Medium ruby, this wine doesnt try to clobber you, but proves very seductive with aromas of cherry, strawberry and rose petals. Nice silky texture. The floral notes intensify on the finish. No idea how it will keep, but you cant go wrong decanting and drinking now.

*2000 Murdoch James Estate Pinot Noir Reserve Martinborough provides more evidence that New Zealanders can make world class Pinot. Deep ruby, its a little overwhelmed at first by sandalwood aromas, but these fade back soon, revealing deep cherry flavors, plus a trace of Santa Barbara-style celery leaf that prevents me from scoring it higher. Id drink this puppy soon.

OLDER RHNES. (February 24, 2002) Last week's Rhne youngsters tasted so good, we reached back and tried a couple of the more mature folks:

***+1983 Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chapelle." What a great moment to catch this classic! Decanted well before drinking, its still deep ruby, lightening slightly at the rim. Starts out all tar and spice, then builds like a fugue -- as flavors of lead pencil, currants and white pepper join in, one by one. Yum.

**+1985 Vieux Telegraphe (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) looks a little older, going garnet at the rim, but the wine's still in prime time, not fazed a bit by the bruiser sitting beside it. Here weve got more cedar than lead pencil, more strawberry and mint than cassis.

RHNES RULE, BUT CLONES DON'T DROOL. (February 16, 2002) You've got to be stubborn or dead to resist Rhnes in today's market. Recent vintages have been right-on, most are actually priced appropriately and even Rhne clones from California tend to be a slightly better deal than Cabs or Chards of similar quality. Elsewhere on this site I've praised the low-end deals, but tonight we decided to try the other end:


**1997 Chave Hermitage (Blanc) should have been decanted a couple of hours before dinner. Right out of the bottle, it's woefully tight, with practically no aromas and some almond flavors. Two courses later, what's left in my glass has opened and I can enjoy the big hazelnut aromas, lots of marzipan on the palate and a lengthy finish. The wine might have been more appreciated if not for a home run from...

***+1997 Sine Qua Non "Twisted and Bent" (California). I believe this is a Roussanne-Chardonnay blend -- call it twisted but try and resist it. Showing even better than it did a year ago, it's anything but subtle but it S-I-N-G-S. Honey and hazelnut aromas arouse your curiosity and you won't be disappointed when you give in. Long apple-and-honey-drenched finish.


**1998 Gallet is probably the most "typical" wine we try tonight. It's still a youngster, showing loads of primary fruit, but you can already smell the bacon and horse poop that so many Cte Rotie lovers crave. Scents like these don't send me so much, but they're part of the game (as it were), and there's an impressive depth of raspberry flavor to make up for them.

**+ 1999 Georges Vernay "Maison Rouge" is disliked by the same folks who love the Gallet, but it's a political thing, if you ask me. Yeah, it's chocolatey and velvety, with no fecal overtones, but why is this a sin? They say it's too much like California or Australia. I say it's ripe, rich and dazzling. Pelt me with road apples if you like.

**+1998 Ren Rostaing "Cte Blonde" is even denser than the Vernay and more backward too, so maybe I've underrated it. Dark, smokey, grapey, it's big enough to cellar for the next 5 years and that's what I suggest you do with it.

*++1991 Levet La Chavaroche is downright dainty in comparison to the other three. Fully open for business, it's showing strawberries and raspberries, tinged by sweat and other animal aromas, all in the right proportion. It's time to drink this one.

Then someone has to go and open a bagged bottle. Spicy, licorice-tinged, thick and long, it gets me in trouble for loving it. I guess first that it's Australian, then change my mind as blackberry flavors emerge and declare it to be California Syrah. At least I'm consistent -- it's one more encounter with ***-1998 Lewis Syrah (Napa Valley).


This entire flight is a royal flush and quite suitably the first up is ***+1994 Sine Qua Non "Queen of Spades" (California Syrah). I was floored by this wine at release and remember some predicting the Queen would soon prove a painted lady and lose her charm. Wrong! She's still ravishing and has even gained a French accent -- retaining considerable fruit, while developing bacon and leather nuances. Taste it blind and you'll guess Rhne. (Oh yes you will.)

Nearly as sexy is **+1998 Sine Qua Non E-Raised (SQN's answer to the Beatles' White Album, sporting a blank "erased" label. Get it?). The fleshiest, broadest, easiest wine of the flight, it's more forward than the Queen at a similar age, and not quite as well-built, but I'll take it, thanks.

If you have any ***1994 Araujo Syrah Eisele Vineyard, stick it alongside the '98 Rostaing in your cellar. While showing a long finish and great purity of fruit, this is easily the most backward wine served tonight. By dessert it's just beginning to creak open.

Finally, the only serious question I have about ***+1997 Dela FrPres Hermitage "Les Bressards" is who can I talk into opening another bottle of this nectar? It's black, it's huge, but it's already showing a flurry of flavors, from cranberry and ham to blueberry pie a la mode. Probably has a ton of tannin, but it's so big, you'd never know it. WINE OF THE EVENING.

MAINLY SPAIN. (February 5, 2002) Tempranillo can taste great young, but tonight we also found out what tempting tricks the older stuff can do. Alongside a mighty fine meal of elk in Cabernet sauce, we tasted:

**+1955 Federico Patenina (Rioja). Served from a half-bottle, this stuff even amazes the guy who brought it. Thickly textured and laced with strawberry flavors, it finishes very well. Shows no sign of fading with air. Tasted blind, it might be mistaken for Burgundy. WINE OF THE EVENING.

**+1990 Pesquera Tinto (Ribera del Duero). I devoured my own stash long ago and now I'm wishing I'd treated it more like my 1990 Bordeaux. The darkest wine on the table, it's softer now, but still brimming with the same delicious chocolate and cassis flavors. Marries marvelously with the elk. Drink or hold -- it's not even close to cracking up.

**?1996 Torre Muga (Rioja) and **?1994 Torre Muga (Rioja). Both these pups want more time to grow up. Right now, you can taste some berry flavors, but there's far more spice, smoke, sausage and cocoa. Furry tannins on the finish confirm the verdict. The '94 is a little more accessible, but they both could use 5 more years of cellaring.

**1994 Havens Bourriquot is the ringer. Served blind -- but just from the texture, everyone knows it's made in a friendlier style. With strawberries, blackberries and a dash of herb, it's fun stuff that one taster rightly guesses to be partly Cabernet Franc. A Bordeaux-type blend from California, this is Mike Havens at his well-balanced best.

TWO CHEERS FOR YALUMBA. (February 5, 2002) Famed for its super-but-sanely-priced sweet wines, Yalumba is trying to do the same thing for Australian Cab. The good news is that the price is okay and the wine tastes pretty good -- but then what? Although 1998 Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa offers up nice cherry-vanilla flavors in an oaky (but not splintery) style that many people will like, it sure could use more oomph on the finish. Nice try but no cigar for $15.99. I'll stick to their stickies.

SYRAH SURGES. (January 20, 2002) California Syrah has yet to pass Cab in the race for my affections, but it sure is coming on strong. Time was I could count the labels I like on the fingers of one hand, but now I'm even running out of toes.

     Tonight we tasted two old favorites...

**+1992 Swanson Syrah Napa Valley. Swanson's been one of my favorite Syrahs from the first time I tasted the '92 and tonight it's still remarkably youthful. Even needs a little time to air before the tannins fade back and the berries come out to play. To be sure, it's not quite the monster it was 5 years back, but I'll probably wait a couple of years before opening my final bottle.

*-1995 Bedford Thompson Syrah has not held up as well. I really fell for this wine's broad, friendly fruit back in 1997, but now the primary flavors are giving way to some minty nuances. Drink up. It hasn't quite quit, but it's sure not getting better.

     And the winner turned out to be a very convincing newcomer...

***1998 Lewis Syrah is served to me blind, and bam, what a bruiser! Inky as midnight in a coal mine, it tastes like a barrel sample, tannins flattened beneath a truckload of blueberries, blackberries and traces of licorice. The velvety texture and flamboyant style remind me of great Oz Shiraz -- but it's also got the peppery nuances of a Rhne. Wonder how it will age?

WHEN WINE GURUS CATCH COLD (January 12, 2002)...can you trust their tasting notes? Ever seen one admit in print that his nose was out of commission? Well, I just did.

    Now, however, the rhinovirus from hell seems finally to be on the run -- and boy did the following wines taste terrific to my reawakened palate:

**1998 Siduri Archery Summit Pinot Noir was released late because of labeling issues, but proves well worth the wait. Medium ruby, it beckons with heavenly whiffs of roses and cherry pie -- and rewards every slurp with spicy nuances and a darned nice finish. Soft and juicy, this wine may not be for extended cellaring, but who cares right now? Wow, was 1998 ever a nice year for Oregon.

**1993 Von Strasser Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon has opened back up after an apparent one-year shutdown. The raspberry-tinged, Zin-like character of its youth has now given way to classic Cab flavors of currants and black cherry. Thick texture and only a hint of Diamond Mountain's famous tannins on the finish.

See more tasting notes (November-December 2001)

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