Tasting Notes

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January-February 1999

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

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CAB CONTEST. (February 22, 1999) I went through a quartet of Cabernet-based wines in the past week and the good news is that the cheapest ones won. Marvelous to say, one of them is even still on the market:

    *1995 CHATEAU TAYAC CUVEE PRESTIGE (CÔTES DE BOURG). This was a last minute stand-in for a corked bottle, so we started it at cellar temp. The tannins may have been unduly emphasized as a result. I noticed a rougher edge to the wine than the last time I tried it, but it continues to be a ripe, juicy treat, with plenty of Bordeaux character. Still in stock at my local Pennsylvania state store, at the uncharacteristically (for PA) reasonable price of $17.99. Buy it and try it!

    *1992 PER SEMPRE CABERNET SAUVIGNON. A big, structured wine that needs time in the glass to unwind – and we couldn't give it the time it needed. For this reason, perhaps, it didn't blow me away as it has in previous tastings. I'm not writing it off, but I can't say I felt we got our money's worth on this one. By Johnson's Law, it wouldn't even get a star.

    1995 JOGUET CLOS DE LA DIOTERIE VIELLES VIGNES. A fruity, friendly wine that delighted me at first. But there's not a whole lot of interest after the first gush and I can't even say it tasted much like Cabernet Franc. Made me wonder what kind of yeast they used to ferment it. Not as much to my liking as the excellent CF from Alliet that I tasted a few weeks ago.

   And the winner for the week is...

    *+1991 RIDGE SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Just delightful! What did I pay for this wine back in 1993 – maybe $10 to $15? You get varietally perfect Cabernet Sauvignon flavors, plus a big dollop of California berries, plus a goodly finish. This wine seems to me to be at peak, but shows no sign of fading any time soon. Has anyone tried the current release of Ridge SCM? If it's anything close to this beaut, I'd consider laying in a case.

DOG BITES MAN, TWICE! (February 18, 1999) Human nature, I guess. Wine-geeks love to brag about their disagreements with Robert Parker's reviews. It's a shocker! Man bites dog.

     But let's be honest for a moment, friends. How many terrific wines would you have missed out on entirely if you – or your wine merchant – hadn't read about them in the Wine Advocate?

     I had two this week:

    *1995 CLARENDON HILLS SHIRAZ. Black, thick and peppery, and surprisingly plush for all its youth. Has a hint of bacon too but mostly it's fruit, fruit, fruit. Has structure to match the substance, but not too much to enjoy right now.
    **1995 PRIDE CABERNET FRANC "SONOMA COUNTY." Was expecting tannic and herbal. Nope, ripe and juicy. Yes, you still have that sort of twang that tells you it's Cab Franc, but there's so much flavor otherwise that you enjoy the accent. Would be fun to face this off with ‘95 Viader some evening.

     Thanks, Bob.

BOLSHEVIKS. (February 12, 1999) Tonight we compared a familiar Russian River Valley Red with a newcomer:

    **1995 DEHLINGER GOLDRIDGE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR. Our old friend showing as beautifully as before, with loads of Russian-River-style red fruit, reassuring depth and a good finish. Will it ever taste better? Maybe so, maybe not, but why take chances when now is so nice?

    **1996 LYNMAR QUAIL HILL VINEYARD PINOT NOIR "RESERVE". My first taste of the reserve and well...if their regular bottling was good for the money, this is downright delicious! Shows well against Dehlinger's benchmark, very similar in style with a tad more structure. Bright cherry fruit that begs for another sip...and another. I mark the evening a draw.

$18 WELL SPENT. (February 8, 1999) Monday-night wine is a balancing act. You're feeling poor after the weekend, so you don't want to open a budget-buster. But it's such a depressing time of the week, you do want a smile at day's end.
      Well. At $18, *1994 BODEGAS ISMAEL ARROYO "VAL SOTILLO" may be too far on the expensive side. But this is assuredly a wine to smile about. Pretty dark! At first you smell cedar and wonder if the wood will be overbearing, but no – soon you're tasting red currants, bitter chocolate, graphite and Asian spice. There's a dry, metallic bite of tannin on the tail, but nothing really to wince about. Good body and weight. A very well-spent $18.

2 CHEERS FOR THE WHITE, GREY & PINK. (February 7, 1999) We opened a few "Non-C" bottles to accompany some grilled octopus and other Greek-style goodies:

    *EGLY-OURIET NV gets a cheer. Goes well with just about anything and it sucked up to the sucker-fish with usual aplomb. The wine opens zingy, then mellows down to some winey flavors, then starts tasting like a fine still Burgundy, except with bubbles.
    *1993 ZIND-HUMBRECHT PINOT GRIS VIELLES VIGNES gets another cheer. Thick, rich texture. Ditto on the flavors. Lots of lychee and floral stuff going on. You'd swear it wasn't just his "generic" bottling.
    But the cheering stops with 1997 SINE QUA NON CROSSED ROSE. You grin at the beginning, because this "rosé" looks and smells more like a light Pinot Noir – with light ruby hue and fresh raspberry aromas. But then, although it hits the palate brightly...everything seems to fade. Too bad, but no tragedy. Wonder what went into this blend?

CHRISTIAN VS. COUNTESS. (February 6, 1999) Two of my favorite wines are Napa Valley's Dominus and Bordeaux's Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, so tonight wasn't much of a hardship. We were back at Saranac restaurant in Bryn Mawr, this time with just a couple of friends. I had suggested California vs. Bordeaux to make things fun. We both brought out the good stuff and our picks just about fought to a draw. Whites were:

    **1995 BOILLOT PULIGNY-MONTRACHET. A stunning 1995 that announces itself like a fencer -- stab, stab, take that! Fairly pale with flavors including a trace of honey and moderate oak to begin with, but the wine then opens to pure, minerally Chardonnay fruit. Can't imagine any Burgundy fan not liking this wine and even Phylis, the California fan, lapped it up happily.
    By comparison, *+1995 FLOWERS CAMP MEETING RIDGE CHARDONNAY was broader and oakier, but nearly as deep. Close contest of very different styles and Phylis seemed genuinely torn (in a happy way), but there's no question that France wins this set.

     My tender and succulent braised lamb chop then arrived, and the battle of the reds commenced:

    **1978 CHATEAU PICHON-LALANDE is still a stern wine but seemingly mature, tannins and all. It required some swirling and a bite or two of lamb before revealing the sexy side of P-L, but at last, there it was. Memories of the 1989 P-L consumed the evening before come forth -- and, well, I think I slightly prefer the '89. It has an added suppleness. However, this is a terrific wine, prime Bordeaux. Probably could have bested an '87 Dominus or even an '85, but not...
    ***1990 DOMINUS is not to be denied! Compared to the '87 that we opened a few weeks, this wine is sooo much more suave and beguiling. The old-style Dominus really requires you coddle it, cozy it and get to know it, but this wine doesn't even let you think -- nope, it goes straight to your sensory apparatus. Flavors? Lots of fruit of course...plenty of cherry and cassis. Plus tobacco, leather and other stuff. The overall sensation,even beside the P-L, is very Bordelaise, so the match-up is fair.

Winner? Christian bests even my beloved Countess.

BORDEAUX BEDLAM. (February 5, 1999) Stuff eight thirsty wine-geeks into Bryn Mawr's tiny restaurant Saranac, add two more at the last bottles from Pauillac, St. Estephe, Pomerol, St. Julian, St. Emilion, Pessac Leognan, pour and serve...and what do you get?
     A nice, relaxing evening, although I couldn't resist the title. Many thanks to Al, who organized it.
     My meal was among the best I've ever had at this place and even though my whiskey-rubbed strip steak didn't sound awfully wine-friendly...what do you know, it was. The restaurant was even kind enough to provide sufficient glassware, a rare service among BYOs we frequent.
     We worked our way through the salad course by sampling from a grab-bag of whites:

    **1996 MICHEL NEILLON CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET "CLOS ST. JEAN". Neillon's wines characteristically seem to have a nice big drinking window. This one is pungeunt and tight at first, but ultimately proves to be drinking extremely well. Appropriate oak and excellent length. Certainly among the wines of the evening.

    *1992 COUHINS-LURTON (PESSAC LEOGNAN). A nutty, creamy white Bordeaux that proves very popular. Phylis insists it has coffee aromas, a comment which raises some eyebrows at first. Then others say, yup, coffee. No idea about the cepage, but presume it to be mostly Semillon. Tell me if you know.
    *1997 ROCHIOLI SAUVIGNON BLANC OLD VINES. For a California SB, this is unusually fragrant, smooth, honeydew melon-scented stuff, without the kick-butt gooseberry others specialize in. Tonight, after sipping the white Bordeaux, people commented on aromas of fresh-mown grass. I agree, but the predominant impression for me is still sweet melon.

     All this time, corks were coming out of the reds and of course some of us couldn't wait. Perhaps we should have tasted the oldest wines first, but most of us simply started with the nearest bottle. Here's the order in which I tasted:

    **1989 PICHON-LALANDE. Just a little too tannic at first. Given I'm fairly tannin-tolerant, others may have found it shut. In about an hour, however, it is simply swoon-inspiring. The chocolately Merlot flavors peel off and leave you with essence of Paulliac berries, cream and toast. You would expect this to be the youngest tasting wine on the table and it is, but for me, also the most irresistible. Bear in mind Pichon-Lalande is my favorite Bordeaux and that I brought this bottle. Still, I give it...WINE OF THE EVENING.
    *1988 FLEUR DE GAY. Coming after the unabashed Pichon-Lalande, this wine seems mannerly, even shy, but then reveals a nice core of cassis. Didn't revisit it so can't comment on what, if anything, happened next.
    *+1985 CANON-LA-GAFFELIÉRE. When first poured, delivers a wonderful hit of coffee-bean, toast and jam. Then clamps down, seems to fade, but slowly rises up again. This was perhaps the most interesting wine poured all night. Not as concentrated as the Pichon-Lalande, perhaps, but beautifully balanced and fascinating.
    1982 L'AROSSEE. Notes on this one are consistant with a bottle tasted two years ago from a different cellar. Seems on the downslope. There's fruit here, but oxidation is creeping in and I'd drink up.
    **-1978 MEYNEY. If this is a sign of what may be in store for the 1989, wow! Plenty of fruit, lead-pencil shavings and tertiary flavors too. A model of mature older Bordeaux, in the old, Haut-Brion-shaped bottle. Fades a bit toward evening's end or I would have awarded it two full stars.
    *1983 GRUAUD-LAROSE. Caught at a nice moment. Classic Gruaud -- cocoa and mocha flavors with the slightest twinge of metal and sweat. On its plateau and likely to stay there for quite a while, I'd say. 

DOES ZIN GET BETTER...(February 3, 1999) Than this? With big, thick, juicy grilled strip steaks, you pour everyone a Riedel full of *1996 TURLEY AIDA ZINFANDEL. It's a big, thick, juicy wine with shades of chocolate and toffee lightly surrounding the berry core. Ahh. All's well until an hour into dinner when some major tannins pop out and threaten to hold your tongue hostage. Wassis? Anyone else had this experience? Biggest tannins I've encountered in a 1996 Turley. Think I may wait another year before opening the other.

SWEET MYSTERY OF WINE. (January 31, 1999) For wine-geeks who think they know a thing or two, blind tastings can be, well, bittersweet.

     If the host is doing his job right, you'll be embarrassed at least once or twice. But it's a rare blind tasting where I don't walk away having learned something – and maybe lost a prejudice or two.

     Two friends of ours, who decidedly sing their own tune where wine is concerned, gathered us at their home last night to undergo this pleasant purgatory. Here's what we tasted and what I learned:


    WINE 1. Aromas of rose, lychee and lots of alcohol. Dry and peppery on the palate. Tastes a lot like Alsace. Really lovely nose! But the palate is a little thin and alcohol continues to shine through. I guess an Alsace Gewurztraminer or possibly a Pinot Gris.
         It turns out to be 1992 JEAN ZIEGLER SPOREN PINOT GRIS -- from a producer and Grand Cru vineyard I can't remember ever hearing of.
         Lesson: Even such an utterly distinctive grape as Gewurztraminer may not be as utterly distinctive as you think.
    WINE 2. Very pale. Toasty vanilla, nut and honey aromas. Heck of a lot of oak, but well done and integrated with the wine. My first guess is White Bordeaux or a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend from elsewhere. But try as I may, I can't taste much Sauvignon Blanc in the blend, so I speculate. Semillon-Chardonnay from Australia? No, the oak is too sexy and well done for that. One taster even comments on mocha and chocolate notes. Chardonnay? No. Okay, White Bordeaux or an imitator.
         Turns out to be *1994 MOUTON ROTHSCHILD AILE D'ARGENTS. Well, that sure explains the oak! Voted wine of the flight with a few dissenters including myself.
         Lesson: When in doubt, follow the oak.

    WINE 3. Deep gold. Peach, vanilla, tangerine aromas. Nice thick texture. Spicy? First I scrawl down Older Burg. Some folks guess a Rhone, but no, the finish is too fruity for that. As the wine expands, so do the tangerine flavors, until they seem to dominate the wine. I like it a lot! Reminds me of Cloudy Bay Chardonnay. And Phylis loves it! Okay, that means it's got to be Chard. I guess Chardonnay, probably from Australia or New Zealand.
         It turns out to be *1986 GRGICH HILLS CHARDONNAY and I am impressed. Phylis, another and me all vote it wine of the flight. Never much liked Grgich Hills wines or thought the Chards would amount to anything. Still I wonder if their unimpressive efforts from the '90s will fare so well.
         Lesson: Grgich made better wine than I thought.


    WINE 4. Deep red and fizzy. Ton of Ameriucan oak on the nose and in the wine. I don't like it. Uh, actually, I hate it. Gack. Has to be Australian and sparkling Shiraz is not a tough guess. One taster even guesses it's Hardy's, but it turns out to be...
         Lesson: I really, truly hate sparkling Shiraz.

    WINE 5. Funky nose at first. Light ruby with a touch of amber at the rim. Not much here. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Peppery, tea-like aromas, then some berries. Still not much here. Palate reveals tannin, more pepper and oxidised flavors. Probably an older Burgundy from the eighties. Could be Central Coast Pinot, but really too tannic for that. Some tasters who are more devoted to Burgundy than I say they love it. I don't.
         It turns out to be 1988 RION CLOS DE VOUGEOT. Hmm. I would have guessed a livelier wine from this producer.
         Lesson: Nothing really. Burgs can be treacherous, but you knew that.

    WINE 6. Superdark. Black. I like the nose. But what is it? Cassis and toast. Lots of cassis. Rich and thick on the palate, like a big young Zinfandel, but it doesn't taste like Zin. Syrah? Doesn't have the shadings of a Syrah. But what's left for it to be? Okay, I'll guess a New World Syrah, maybe from the California central coast. Kind of reminds me of the Qupe or Ojai style. Another taster says "Italy, because I don't know what this is and I don't know much about Italian wines."
        Humility serves him well. The wine is *1997 FORADORI TEROLDEGO ROTALIANO. If that name and that grape mean nothing to you, join the club.
        Lesson: Sometimes when a wine tastes like nothing you know, it really is nothing you know.

    WINE 7. Poured from decanter. Is this a clue? Kind of mute compared to 6, but then it opens. Quite charming. Herbal, floral notes on the nose. Cabernet Sauvignon? Cab Franc? Hey, I like this! Yummy. Fruity. Okay now, what is it? I'll say Cab or Cab Franc. Kind of reminds me of Dalle Valle or Viader. I'll say Napa Valley. Well, I'm one-third right, but it's actually...
         *1996 ALLIET CHINON COTEAU DE NOIRE. Our host had read my smirky note about Loire reds – set his trap – and I fell right into it. I claim victory for recognizing the Cab Franc (which no other taster mentioned), but am hooted down unmercifully by the others.
         Lesson: Ooh, that smarts.


    WINE 8. Dark to medium ruby. Tar and pepper aromas. Nope, make that oxidation, tar and pepper. Swirling only magnifies the smell of death. Dare I taste? Spent. Gone. A deceased parrot. I guess it's an over-the-hill wine of some Bordeaux variety. But no...
         It's 1988 ROBERTO VOERZIO BAROLO BRUNATE. Nobody guessed this for a Barolo.
         Lesson: The deader a wine gets, the more it tastes like every other dying wine.
    WINE 9. Very dark ruby. Crammed with cassis. Love it! So fruity that some guess a Rhone, but no, here are some Cab flavors. Ooh, what a ton of fruit. And what's this? American oak? Yes, it's developing – that flavor that some call "weedy dill." So it can't be Bordeaux. And it's so, so ripe. Maybe an Australian Cab? Whatever, I like it a lot. And it turns out to be...
        **1990 KISTLER CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Terrific wine.
        Lesson: Didn't really learn anything, but pleased I came close. Wonder why Kistler stopped making Cabernet? This is a treat.
    WINE 10. Another black monster, but this one has an incredibly fragrant nose – violets, fertilized by a trace of dog-poop. Some tasters cringe at this decription, but I'm sticking with it, and I like the wine a lot. As it expands, I l-o-v-e it. The stink recedes and the fruit flavors pop off like fireworks. Yes, it's a trifle dirty, but magnificent. Reminds me a little of Domaine L'Aigueliere Cote Rousse, but this is a Bordeaux variety. I guess a great California Cab or Bordeaux from a very ripe year and that's close enough...
         It's ***1995 TROTONOY and wine of the evening in a walk. (Funny how none of us even said the word "Merlot" before the foil came off.)
         Lesson: Never underestimate Merlot. Folks who say it's a weak sister to Cabernet just haven't tasted enough wine.


    WINE 11. Corked. And a mystery it remains even now. I didn't see what it was before the bottle was wisked away. 

    WINE 12. Deep red going light at the rim. Delicious strawberry aromas. So fragrant that it could be an older, big Pinot Noir, but there's a metallic tang toward the end that argues for Grenache or maybe even Mourvedre. I guess the South of France, Grenache or Mourvedre. A really nice wine, whatever it turns out to be – and it is revealed to be...
         *+1985 LA BASTIDE BLANCHE BANDOL. Have to say, I never would have guessed this wine could be so good after so long.
         Lesson: Guess all those folks who say Bandol can age well know what they're talking about after all. Maybe I should take my last 1990 out of the current drinking rack.

    WINE 13. Amber and seemingly very sticky. Sweeeet stuff! Lovely apricot aftertaste. But the question is -- Muscat or Riesling. One taster remarks on a petrol smell and yes, there it is. So Riesling. I have no opinion on the country of origin but others guess Navarro and...
         It's *1987 NAVARRO LATE HARVEST GEWURZTRAMINER, harvested at 41.5º Brix with 19.4% residual sugar.
         Lesson: I'm still puzzled. What about that Diesel smell? Were we imagining things? Or maybe there was some Riesling in the cuvée all the same?

    WINE 14. An older white desert wine with botrytis aromas and this one has got to be Riesling. Nice stuff, but shown up by the other two stickies.
          Lesson: Even fine old BAs start on the downslope eventually.

    WINE 15. Light gold and sweet. Not nearly as sweet as wine 13 or 14 -- but I like this one even better. Wonderfully balanced stuff that you could drink all through dinner and dessert. Delicate, elegant poached pear flavors, with custard on the finish. Strangely, it has a crisp, refreshing quality that I practically never taste in a dessert wine. What the heck could it be? I won't even guess.
         And that's just as well, because I never would have guessed it's **1995 DOMAINE CAUHAPE JURANÇON "NOBLESSE DU TEMPS". A revelation for me.
         Lesson: Find some of this wine!

BURGS BASHED. (January 27, 1999). Just the facts, ma'am. Some nights Burgundy just doesn't behave like it's supposed to -- and there are other wines in the world.

     Before you start looking for rocks to throw at me, Burgundy-lovers, stand advised:

     1. The decision last night about the wine of the evening was unanimous.

     2. Nearly all of us (except, perhaps, me) were predisposed to favor Burgundy.

     3. A couple of the real Burgs were quite good.

     4. The fabulous winner, a ringer, was served blind.

     We were dining at the new Philly restaurant, Lena, in the up-and-coming Old Town area. Decor was lovely, food pretty good and the prices pretty decent. (NOTE: They have a liquor license but allow BYO for a corkage fee. Here's hoping that more local restaurants adopt this enlightened policy.)

     The first hint that this night would be unusual came as we introduced ourselves to other tasters. I discovered I had known one of the women when I was seven years old.

     Then the whites were served and the upside-down events began in earnest.

    1995 DROUHIN CHABLIS PREMIER CRU. Good and drinkable, but kind of unexciting. Sharp, apple-scented attack, with flint on the palate and a simple, okay finish.
    *1994 OLIVIER LEFLAIVE PULIGNY-MONTRACHET LES CHAMPS GAINS. A very nice, straight-down-the-middle Puligny that starts out steely and silent, then slowly begins to purr. By the middle of the evening, it was delightful, but knocked off the table by...
    **1994 NEWTON UNFILTERED CHARDONNAY. Best performance yet by this Napa Valley giant. Oak all soaked up by the fruit and volume undiminished. If you hate big, fat, lees-scented Chardonnays, this wine isn't for you -- but I pity you.

Reds got poured. Things got weirder.

    1993 ECARD SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE LES JARRON started out fruity, deep and slightly sauvage. Then it got more than slightly. Then the bret took over completely. Yuck. Where's the bucket. My bottle -- and the first I've had that's acted this way. Hope the last one is better.
    1983 GRIVOT CLOS DE VOUGEOT showed class for the vintage. Medium to light ruby, with not much if any amber. (I think. Dim room and black table!) Tea and berries, then berries, then seems to fade, then comes back an hour later. Waxes and wanes in the entertaining way that good older Burgundies often do.
    *1996 AMBROISE NUITS ST. GEORGE VIELLES VIGNES. Really impressed me. While it's not quite the behemoth that Ambroise produced with his Clos de Rognet, it's a highly concentrated, raspberry-bomb that needs at least two years to settle down. Same story on the oak as big brother -- seems obtrusive at first, but settles down beautifully with a couple of hours in the glass. I'm going to be looking for this one.
    But the winner is a ***MYSTERY WINE! Big fruit, but varietally true. Deep and dark, but focused and pure. I didn't bring it, but I won't guess -- I've had it before and recognize it. The others all assume Burgundy. We all gape in awe at this majesty.

     And what is it? 1994 BEAUX FRERES! Bow you heads, ye naysayers. It hasn't fallen apart or out of balance – nope, not at all, it's coming together. Probably needs another 3 years before it hits its prime, but I can assure you this was the first bottle drained.

TR RIDES AGAIN. (January 18, 1999) You buy an eight buck bottle of Cab and wonder how long it will last. In the case of *1991 TERRA ROSA, things just get better! I opened a bottle tonight and was impressed with the deep, black colors. The berry aromas are still fresh and it's very satisfying on the palate -- even better than I remember, with some added gamy, lead-pencil complexity. Great year for one of the best values in California Cabernet Sauvignon. Not quite as good as the 1996 Quintana, but comparable.

THE PAWS THAT REFRESHES. (January 16, 1999) Nearly a year has passed since I tasted **1996 TURLEY BLACK-SEARS VINEYARD ZINFANDEL from barrel. And what do you know -- it's even better. The Howell Mountain tannins have subsided enough for you to taste the rich, ripe, chocolatey fruit and savor the smooth, thick texture. Alcohol is noticeable when the wine is first poured but any heat vanishes with a half hour in the glass.

     Tip for Turleyites. Use Reidel Bordeaux glasses. The aromas are complex enough to warrant it, and the added oxygen contact helps to open these big wines.

     Trivia question for extra credit. Anyone want to guess what the paw print on the label is all about? (Write to me for the answer.)

THE CHRISTOPH OFFLINE. (January 15, 1999) Pardon my haste, but it's late and I wanted to post the first note on the first offline dinner for Mark Squires' new Bulletin Board . I'm not quite sure, but I think the excuse for dinner tonight was a general curiosity over who this Justin Christoph guy (another local wine wonk and frequent contributor to Mark's Bulletin Board) really is.

     Icy roads once again threatened the area as we drove out to dinner at Overtures in Philadelphia, and we heard repeated advice on the radio that Chester County residents should "stay off the roads." Phylis and I conferred briefly and decided it was best that we keep the car on the roads. I'm happy to report that the strategy worked.

     Dinner was loud, long and good. The wine theme was Cabernet Sauvignon, assuring that the wine would be decent -- and, in fact, it was excellent. We also answered the question of which wine goes best with chocolate. (Port, what else?) And, of course, Justin charmed the socks off everyone, notwithstanding the fact that he's under drinking age. (Note to the shocked: hey, I'm just kidding!)

    The lineup included:

     **1990 BOUZEREAU MEURSAULT 1ER CRU LES GENEVRIÈRES. This was one of Michel's and, as usual, the label was so moldy as to challenge even a paleographer. Do not ask me if the vineyard was dessus or dessous. Do not ask me the first name of the producer -- my notes say Philippe, but I never heard of such a man before. One thing I do know, however, and that is the wine was delightful. Decayed aromas yielding to nuts, with plenty of mineral and vanilla on the palate. So pleasing that it was all but gone when Phylis and I sat down -- 5 minutes late.

    **1995 PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY Another super showing for this fat, rich, thick, in-your-face California Chardonnay. Way, way different from the Bouzereau and I relished the difference. Some might -- give me the Burg. I say, if you can't enjoy this wine as much as the Burg, you really don't like the Chardonnay grape.

     1995 BABCOCK ELEVEN OAKS SAUVIGNON BLANC. Well balanced between melon, grass and cat pee. Yes, that's praise. Perfect with my Caesar salad.

     *1990 CHATEAU DE LA RAME "RESERVE DU CHATEAU" ST. CROIX DU MONT. I have said recently that wine-food matching is overrated. Here's the exception. I'm a sucker for fois gras and Sauternes, and this stuff, although from a satellite, is super all by itself. Add it to the gooseliver and you have a mouthful of bliss. (No Monica jokes please.)

     Then we opened a few reds:

     *1986 CAIN FIVE Deep, fruity and supple -- a delicious mature California Cab -- but perhaps the simplest of the older Cabs. Hasn't developed the complexity of the others.

     **1986 LAUREL GLEN Very complex and still holding some of its flavors in reserve. Has the lead pencil note of a Paulliac with the broad cassis of Sonoma, plus a shade of leather. Not quite as extracted as the Cain Five, but I mark it higher for its interest and elegance.

     **+1995 PAHLMEYER RED WINE Still has a hint of unintegrated oak, but let's not quibble. This is super! Lots of different flavors at work here including some that may offend purists, but I love it! Has a decadent pleasure to it that reminds me a little of Le Tertre Roteboeuf. My only criticism is that I expected it to be a little less forward -- this is supposed to be a backward vintage, yes? Wonder how it will age. Still, a smashing performance for this wine. The best Pahlmeyer red I've ever tasted and WINE OF THE EVENING.

     *+1990 LES ORMES SORBET We all thought we heard Michel say "Les Ormes de Pez." So we expected to like it. And I sure did! But it's not Les Ormes de Pez -- another surprise from our master of obscure delights, Michel. In the context of tonight's wine, this one made a fine case for Bordeaux -- light on its feet but delivering plenty of flavor. Fantastically sexy aroma of coffee ice cream. I'd like some more, please.

     **1987 DOMINUS Probably the deepest, most structured, most serious wine tonight -- and the pronounced leather flavors married to perfection with my venison. But tonight it was upstaged by the Pahlmeyer and the Laurel Glen. And I have to say, the Bordeaux out-danced it. If it had been decanted and aired, we might have had a different story, but, but, but.

     Finally, with my triple-layer chocolate whatever...

     *+1984 SMITH-WOODHOUSE LBV PORT. Tasted outstanding by itself, but came on even stronger with the chocolate -- the sweet layer peeled off and the red depths were revealed. Can any evening be bad when it ends with a lovely Port?

WHAT GOES WITH STEAK? (January 14, 1999) Sheesh, what a day. You turn on the Weather Channel and there's the state of Pennsylvania all colored pink. Ice storms. They call it "wintry mix" as if it were a new flavor of cat food.

     How awful. How depressing. What can we do tonight to cheer up?

     Steak? That'll do for me. Too icy tonight to fire up the grill, but there's always the grill pan.

     And now, WHAT GOES WITH STEAK? Ah, what a wonderful problem...

     Let's try the remains of the *1994 HAVENS BOURRIQUOT. Tasted great last night. Supple, sweet, elegant, with lots of deftly tweaked cassis. And tonight...still good! Yum. Wish I had more. But I don't. So now let's try...

     1996 JOGUET CHINON CUVEE TERROIR. Yes, once a year I try a Loire red to see if they still taste herbal and thin.

     And...they still do! This one's actually pretty good for a Loire red -- there's some fruit mixed in with the asparagus -- and the price is only about eight bucks. But I'll tell you what. Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger is even cheaper, just as acidic and almost as herbal.

     So what goes with steak? Name it. Just about anything. The only catch is -- it has to be good.

FLAUNTING THE FLOWERS. (January 11, 1999) When you got it...well, you know the rest.

     Saturday we made like lunatics and traveled all the way out to the twisting country roads north of Yellow Springs, braving the full chorus line of winter weather -- snow, sleet, freezing rain, plain old rain and a final hard freeze, creating sheets of black ice on the roads.

     We converged on the Village Café, where the rest-rooms are in the Post Office next door, but the food rewards the brave. Why? For Pinot Noir, of course. How better for wine-geeks to torture themselves?

     Happily, the bottles were north of sensational. First, some Chardonnays:

*IRON HORSE VRAIS AMIS. Showing mature flavors and quite Champagnoise tonight.

*+1996 RAMEY CHARDONNAY HYDE VINEYARD (NAPA VALLEY-CARNEROS). Formerly winemaker at Chalk Hill and Dominus, David Ramey now is bottling his own and if this one is any indication of what's to come, more power to him! Seems to be full malolactic, but tight, focused and amply acidic. And NOT oaky, folks, not a bit. Stings you on the finish with apricots. Throughout the evening, it expands. I'm impressed.

1995 OLIVIER LEFLAIVE LA ROMANEE. Minerals and florals, but muted. needs more time? Maybe. Jury out.

*+1988 GUY ROBIN CHABLIS BLANCHOR. A mature mouthful of minerals. Soaring nose. Controversial palate. Some say too austere and acidic on the finish. Didn't seem that way to me.

     Then to the reds. Earlier, I have written in praise of the Chardonnay from Flowers -- the new winery on the Sonoma Coast. Are the Pinot Noirs as good? We found out and the answer is...

**+1994 FLOWERS CAMP MEETING RIDGE PINT NOIR. Yes, yes, yes! Dark stuff, with deep, extracted flavors of red ands black raspberries, plus a fantastic fragrance of violets that inches this vintage just a bit above the otherwise exciting...

**1996 FLOWERS CAMP MEETING RIDGE PINOT NOIR. Very similar to the 1994, but a tad less integrated -- and to me, tonight, a shade lighter.

**1995 DEHLINGER GOLDRIDGE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR. My third taste of this terrific wine from one of the Russian River Valley's hottest producers. Hasn't missed a beat since last year. Similar in many respects -- both in flavor and intensity -- to the 1996 Flowers, with fruit a shade more to the red side of the spectrum and a touch more oak.

1987 ARTERBERRY YAMHILL COUNTY PINOT NOIR. A totally different take on Pinot Noir, with pronounced blueberry flavors. Attractive early in the evening, but fades. Nice showing all the same for a 12-year-old Oregon PN.

Finally, one from Burgundy, *1990 PARIGOT POMMARD LES CHARMOTS. Fooled me, but I'm used to that with Burgs. Started out flat with vague soy flavors. Uh-oh, I think. A goner. I move on to the West Coast cuties -- and then, almost around dessert time, a friend at the end of the table says "try it again." What do you know? It's open and intensely grapey. So young-tasting I must believe it needs another year or so.

MONTELENA MINI-VERTICAL. (January 3, 1999) Something was said about wanting to start the New Year with a guaranteed good night of wines.

     Sound like a job for Chateau Montelena? It did to us.

    There they sat. Black, black and black. All terrific. Pick your preference.

**1985 MONTELENA CABERNET SAUVIGNON. The furthest along, this was showing some resemblance to a generous Bordeaux. Aromas of toast and herb swirling about a core of olive-tinged fruit. Tannins pretty much resolved and ready to rip.

***1986 MONTELENA CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Poured at cellar temperature, so hard to compare right away to the room-temp 1985. I'd say it was marginally darker, more extracted and less evolved than the '85. A bigger wine that hasn't fanned out as much as the '85 -- more focused on the fruit.

***1990 MONTELENA CABERNET SAUVIGNON. At once the most tannic and most fragrant. Aromas of rich, ripe cassis with a hint of violets. Responds beautifully to filet mignon and portabello mushrooms, uncoiling to an impressive length.

     As the evening drew on, we began wondering aloud about the '95. Now I wish I had bought some. How bad can it be? With over 20 years of amazingly ageworthy wines to its credit, you just can't find a better-pedigreed California Cab.

ONE MORE FOR CIACCI. (January 2, 1999) Lately I've been reading a lot of press raves about '95 Tuscans, but nary a mention of *+1995 ATEO – the Super-Tuscan bargain from Brunello producer Ciacci Piccolomini. I opened my first bottle of this stuff in the week after Christmas, and have kept it open for about 4 nights now. It was massively enjoyable the first night and refuses to fade. Bright cherry fruit that's almost Burgundian in its spicy complexity, with a toasty blackcurrant undernote that rounds out the body and makes everything more interesting. Zingy natural acidity makes it a great match with any meat, pink to purple. This is what I love in Tuscan VDTs -- it ain't Chianti, it ain't Bordeaux, it is what it is and that's Super.

BURG WITH A BANG. (January 1, 1999) Start the New Year with a young, long and strong wine, right? So for dinner today, we sacrificed **1996 DOMAINE BERTRAND AMBROISE CORTON CLOS DE ROGNET. Good golly, this wine is dark and intense! Took a taste an hour before dinner and ran for the decanter. Opened a hair more and that was enough. Aromas of black and red raspberries, palate-staining flavors of same, acidity to match -- and yes, there's a good measure of new oak, but you can't simply over-oak this wine. I'm in love. Just wish I had a couple more to cellar for about five years.

TARLANT & SEVRUGA. (December 31st 1998-January 1, 1999) Both of us were sniffling with colds last night, but **TARLANT CUVÉE LOUIS could wake up even the numbest noses. Sipped between mouthfuls of caviar, this Champagne leaves little to be desired -- attacking the palate with sharp apple fruit, then caressing with a broad array of flavors that remind me of Grand Cru Chablis. Full, long and bubbles too! No vintage on the bottle, but word is that it's pure 1990.

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