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January-March 2000


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1970 BORDEAUX. (March 19, 2000) When a friend calls, you gotta pitch in and do your duty.

     In this case, my duty was to taste a baker's dozen of 1970 Bordeaux. All were acquired by the same guy -- on release -- and very well stored.

     The vintage has received a lot of hype. But up until today, to be frank, I had very little opinion about it. I own none and have only tasted a little more than that. The few Iíve tasted in recent years havenít been awfully profound, but they werenít the heavy hitters of the vintage, and they may not have been stored all that well.

     Today was different. The storage was unimpeachable, big names were included and a splendid time was guaranteed for all. Wines were served blind and three different ringers were included.

     Here are my notes:

     FIRST FLIGHT.

WINE #1. Like smelling a pencil sharpener. Strong aromas of cedar and lead pencil, with berries creeping in after a bit. Medium body, perky acidity and a very nice finish. Pulls ahead in the next fifteen minutes. Itís my favorite of the flight and the group ranks it #2. Eyebrows are raised as the foil comes off. Who would have guessed such a classy old wine could be **1970 Chateau Beycheville!

WINE #2. Seesaw wine. At first the aromas are fairly herbal -- then the currants come on. Then you taste it and you practically feel it fading in your mouth. Flavors of decay creep in. But lo and behold, it revives! Turns out to be a very nice wine, thought not as interesting as the Beycheville. Itís my second of the flight and the groupís #1. *+1970 Ducru Beaucaillou.

WINE #3. Very toasty. Sexy vanilla, chocolate and currant flavors. Excellent body -- best, in fact, of the flight. Like the Ducru, it fades, comes back. Then it fades again. And comes back. Very mercurial! Someone guesses it must be Merlot, but itís too sharp-tasting for that. Almost like it wasnít picked ripe enough, which isnít likely if this were Merlot. I name it my third favorite of the flight and the group agrees. Turns out to be *+1970 Leoville Las Cases. Iíve tasted Las Cases from this vintage that was a good deal worse. Chalk up one more for good storage.

WINE 4#. Decayed aromas greet your nose. You taste ashes, plus some residual fruit. Short finish too. Iím afraid this oneís seen better days. Itís last in the flight by all accounts. 1970 Talbot.

     SECOND FLIGHT:

WINE #5. Everyone else says wow! I say -- what? Thereís a strong scent of dill here that stops me cold. Tastes like some of the old California Ď74s that I had last year. Dill and some burnt aromas. The palate is a much easier story. Lots and lots of fruit. But what is this? Loud argumentation ensues. Itís voted #1 in the flight, but I canít agree. As wine, I like it fine. As Ď70 Bordeaux, somethingís wrong. I demote it to my #2 in the flight. And what do you know, itís **+1970 BV Georges de Latour Reserve. It must have been the American oak that I didnít like. In a flight of California wines, I might have thought it spectacular, but here it sticks out like a sore thumb.

WINE #6. Sharp herbs and some currant on the nose. Much more what Iíd expect. Not a bad wine, but last in the flight by my count and the groupís. Itís *+1970 Cos DíEstournel.

WINE #7. This has ample fruit, approaching wine #5, without the burnt flavors and dill. Lots of Bordeaux-style tobacco. I choose it #1 in the flight, but only one other taster agrees. Itís an impeccable **1970 La Mission Haut Brion

WINE #8. A weird one. Brownish amber. Clearly the oldest-looking wine of the day. Ashy aromas. Dead? But taste it and no! Actually, thereís a lot of fruit hidden here. Wonder what it is? Fun! Gotta be a ringer, but what? Itís *+1968 Inglenook. Not the reserve cask, just the regular Cab. What a producer this must have been before Hublein bought it.

     THIRD FLIGHT:

WINE #9. Toasty aromas. Lots of cassis on the palate. This is beautiful, classic, straight-down the middle Bordeaux. Not as big a wine as the next, but I prefer its focus, purity and grace. My #1 of the flight, and several other tasters agree. Itís **+1970 Margaux.

WINE #10. Big, big wine. Aromas of cereal, herb and caramel. Fantastic toffee flavors. And in terms of texture and finish, itís the most massive Bordeaux tasted all day. But thereís a note of dill here as well that makes me prefer wine #9. My second-favorite of the flight. Enough others love it without reservation to vote it the groupís #1. And how can I fault them for liking ***1970 Petrus?

WINE #11. Smells like tar. Big whiff of it. Burnt molasses when you taste it. Big-time tannins still. Astringent finish. Is there some volatile acidity here? Not a bad wine, but lacking some balance and may be cracking up. Itís *1970 Trotanoy.

WINE #12. Beautiful color -- deep ruby. Bright and cassis-laden when you taste it. Seems more acidic than other wines in the flight. Wonder if it was acidified, but I like it a lot all the same. Gets two votes for best in the flight, but I think it ranks third and thatís the general consensus. Turns out to be a ringer! *+1970 Mondavi.

     FOURTH FLIGHT:

WINE #13. Wow-wow-wow-wow-wow! Now this is great Bordeaux. Very dark, although garnet at the rim. Perfect mix of currants, tobacco and earth. Powerful primary fruit underneath, but itís showing gorgeous, nutty, tertiary flavors too. Sweet and intensely long. I canít help commenting that this wine has everything -- itís powerful, elegant and seductive all at once. And thereís absolutely nothing wrong with it. Iím shocked that it isnít voted best wine of the flight, but itís clearly my favorite Bordeaux of the whole day. Not surprised at all when it turns out to be ***+1970 Latour. Wotta wine!

WINE. #14. A little lighter than the previous wine and nuttier. Some cigar aromas. Most elegant wine of the flight, but lacks the substance of the Latour. Terrific wine, though! What a great showing for the ***1970 Lynch-Bages.

WINE #15. Lovely nose of violets and, uh, well, shall we call it dung? But not dog-poop. Just a suggestion of horse-poop. Seems like it may have a touch of brettanomyces. Tastes wonderful. Tremendous weight on the palate. Long, meaty finish. Sexy, sexy wine. Best nose of any wine tasted today. The group votes it #1, but I canít say it quite measures up to #13. It turns out to be ***1970 Pichon-Lalande.

WINE #16. Hmm. This is a come-down. Mare caramelized than the others in the flight. Sugary oak? With airing it darts and flits about. Decent wine, but a notch down from the others. No votes for best in the flight. I rank it last. Itís *+1970 Mouton.

WITH DESSERT:

We wind things up with three sweet wines, including *+1976 Chateau DíYquem, but it's the ***+1970 Fonseca Port that clearly kicks tail. Itís at a peak of perfection, oozing cherries and strawberries, and not showing any heat or harshness at all. Wine of the day? I disqualify sweet wines from the running these days, but otherwise -- yeah, could be!


SEXY SPANIARDS. (February 26, 2000) Seeking refuge from overpriced California Cabs, we opened a few slightly less overpriced wines from Spainís new sweet spots:

*+1994 Pesquera Ribera del Duero Riserva Especial. Deep, black, chewy stuff that still needs a couple of years to lose its tannins. One taster thought the wood too obtrusive tonight -- I didnít. This is rich, meaty stuff that any California Cab lover ought to go for. Doesnít approach the amazing heights of the 1994 Pesquera Janus, but very, very nice in its own right.

**1994 Teofilo Reyes Tinto Consecho. I think this wine is made by the former winemaker for Pesquera. In any case, itís beaut. Deep, dark and even more concentrated than the Ď94 Pesquera Riserva. Take everything I said about the above and add an exclamation point. WINE OF THE EVENING.

We also opened a 1996 J. M. Fuentes Bellmunt de Priorat "Gran Clos" -- a wine that might have surpassed even the Reyes had it not been CORKED. Iíve had rotten luck in the last couple of weeks with the TCA demon.


ITALY AGAIN? (February 17, 2000) Iím feeling like a scratched LP. Once again we line up Big New World Reds against a graceful Italian. And once again, well, hereís how the evening goes:

**1992 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Iím a large fan of Philip Togni. Not too long ago, we opened a Ď91 Togni alongside a Ď90 Dominus and other delicacies, and most proclaimed Philip the winner. Reminded us of Latour. (When I told Mr. Togni, he scolded me, said the wine was too young and that I should have been drinking the Ď93, but thatís another note.)
     Anyhow, Iíve previously loved this vintage of Togni and thought it his finest of the decade. Tonight itís purple-black, bold as all get out and so rich you could eat it with a spoon. Somehow, though, it isnít quite perfect with the chicken breasts weíre eating. A big bell pepper note emerges and refuses to go away. Oh, we polish off the bottle, but it isnít quite wine of the evening.

*+1995 Guillam Spring Mountain District. If youíve never heard of this producer before, join the club. I think my friends must have purchased the wine at cellar door. Itís a lovely wine in its own right, though overshadowed by the Togni. A smaller-scaled wine, with a slightly overripe character.

And the winner of the flight is...**+1990 San Felice Brunello di Montalcino "Campgiovanni." A lighter, more elegant wine than either of the Spring Mountain cabs, but you know Ė  when you drink it with a bite of the chicken, it wins! Aromas of cherry and cigarette. Some tannins to shed, but the fruit rolls right over it. Complex and irresistible. Seems like the better 1990 Brunellos, like the Bordeaux, are starting to shine. DRY RED OF THE EVENING.

So thatís that, but wait, weíre not done. THE WHITES include:

**1990 Mt. Eden Estate Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains. Thatís right, 1990! I personally lack the courage to cellar Mt. Edens this long, but a friend did and he made his point. This wine is positively singing, laden with truffles and minerals, tasting for all the world like a fine mature Meursault.

**1997 Marc Colin St. Aubin "En Remilly." Okay, the Burgundians can still do it Ė even in St. Aubin. Brought out toward the end of the evening for the benefit of "I drink only white" Phylis, this one charms the socks off everyone. Steely fruit with a just-right dollop of oak and a pretty darned good finish.

     And the out-and-out winner? I have a new rule that sweet wines canít take the crown Ė  too easy Ė but the wine we canít stop talking about is:

**+1992 Philip Togni "Ca Togni" Sweet Red Wine. Warning: youíve got to be in the mood for it. This wine, made from the Black Hamburg grape, is so flowery, so rose-scented, so golderned exotic that it can really shock you Ė or send you to heaven. Tonight itís the latter. Seems to taste a little less sweet than it did on release, but I think this actually helps. You just get into the flavors, and are they ever amazing. I understand that many of the vines that produced this wine have been ripped up because of Pierceís disease. I do hope that the Tognis are replanting.


TOUGH OLD BIRD BEATS THE BIG STUFF. (February 12, 2000) If youíre holding 1982 Barolo, lucky you.

**+1982 Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Riserva. This tough old bird has become as tender as the juicy braised lamb shank I matched it to. Tarry and tannic right out of the bottle, but rapidly expands and shows a lot of charm. Cherries, flowers and cinnamon. Elegant and sexy as heck. Wows us all, even after tasting the giants listed below.

*+1992 Rosemount Syrah Balmoral Estate. Once this also was a brooding hulk. Now itís drinking beautifully. Still dark, thick and extracted, but showing a lot of blackberry fruit and some hints of mineral.

**1995 Turley Zinfandel Duarte Vineyard. Chocolatey essence that probably matched with dessert better than with my entree. Beautiful stuff in a slightly overripe style that some might view as over the top. Me? Love the one youíre with.

**+1994 Turley Zinfandel Moore "Earthquake" Vineyard. Hey, itís coming around! Once this wine was showing some tannin, which led some to condemn it as unbalanced. Not so! While other 1994s are on the downslope, the Magnificent Moore is entering its prime. With air, it fans out into a fascinating spectrum of flavors -- black cherries, blackberries, blueberries, plus a little spice. Long finish. Lipsmacker!


SWEET LAURENE. (February 11, 2000) Once again Iím mightily impressed by the efforts of Veronique Drouhin at Domaine Drouhin Oregon. I opened the **1996 Domaine Douhin Oregon Pinot Noir "Laurene" for a dinner of grilled salmon and immediately wished that I had purchased more than one bottle. Elegant aromas of black and red raspberry. Intense on the palate without making you feel like youíre eating Smuckers with a spoon. Racy, but not harsh and tart in the way of so many would-be racy wines.

     Of all the wines made on Americaís West Coast, this may be the most "Burgundian" -- in the best sense of the word. So many try. So many fail. These guys go for the style and succeed.


GOING, GOING...(January 30, 2000) I donít want to re-start the argument about whether Zinfandel "ages." But friends, thereís just no question that at some point they lose their youthful charm. And Iím afraid this has happened at last to one of my all-time favorites, 1992 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel Sonoma County.

     Drinking this wine at release was like robbing the candy store. Now itís more like looking through the shop-window. Sip it and you can still sense the raspberries, but it sure doesn't make you sit up and say "wow!" Once it did. Maybe if I hadnít known how fantastic this was, Iíd have loved it more tonight.


PATIENCE. You donít ever want to catch your Burgs on the downslope, so Iíve been sampling the smaller Ď93s lately. Looks like 1993 Jean-Luc Dubois Beaune-Bressandes Cuvee Unique Reserve will require just a little more patience. Deep ruby, it whispers of minerals and berries but never turns up the volume. Thereís still a winge of tannin on the finish. Gets better when the food arrives, but Iím going to wait at least another couple of years before trying again.


NAPA CAB QUANDRY. (January 23, 2000) I love Ďem. They taste good. Quality has never been better.

     But prices for Napa Valley Cabs are going to the moon. I mean, outtahere. Granted, theyíve been climbing steadily for the past 6-7 years. However, when $50 becomes the norm for the better ones, ouch.

     Last night we tasted a delicious new one. Really, really nice...

**1996 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($50). This is from a new place up high on Mt. St. Helena. I visited the site a couple of years ago. Beautiful operation. Winemaker is the very talented Cathy Corison. The wine itself is almost black. You get a few strong whiffs of oak when you open the bottle, but they blow off in minutes, yielding to buckets of lush black fruit. Tannins poke out for about an hour, then fall back, and the flavors get chocolatey. All in all, the wine is both deep and well-balanced. Like it a lot. I wish I could say Iíll be looking for more, but at the price, I just canít afford to.

Alongside this beauty, we open a benchmark, ***1990 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This one cost less than $30 at release, though I grant you it was 6 years ago. It starts out more generous than the Long Meadow, then gets more tannic, then opens for business again. Has slightly purer flavors -- deeper too. Doesnít blow its companion off the table, but letís just say Iím happy to have a few of these in the cellar.

     Among the whites tonight is...

*+1998 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Whisper of gooseberry among the expected flowers. Lovely SB, but seems both more acidic and less concentrated than the outstanding 1997.


MURPHY-GOODE Cabernet Sauvignons have been a well-kept secret for a number of years. Iíve been a fan of their Brenda Block bottling in particular. So it was with some dismay that I saw the price on the *+1997 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve "Brenda Block" had shot up to $40. What can you do except sigh? Itís happening everywhere.

     The wine in the bottle is pretty good, but something seems different to me in this vintage. The oak is kind of raunchy. Nurse and swirl it for a couple of hours and you still canít get the coconut and dill flavors to dissipate. By night two, the oak finally knits with the wine, but in a Silver Oak kind of way. Is this a style switch? I wish I could go back to the prices -- and the flavors -- of previous years.


HOW ARE YOUR Ď92s DOING? (January 23, 2000) Lately Iíve been opening a few bottles of 1992 California Cabernet, with mixed results. Giants like Araujo and Colgin, once lush with baby fat, now seem painfully closed. Clos Pegase Hommage is getting there, but probably needs another couple of years. Dominus, Forman, and Etude are showing well. And I just had a terrific experience with...

     ***1992 Newton Cabernet Sauvignon "Unfiltered." Gosh this is delicious right now! Still back-purple. Smells like buttered toast slathered with blackberry jam. Tastes really intense. Where are the tannins? Oh yeah, here they are on the finish, but itís nothing to stop you. Lots of life ahead for this wine, but if youíve got a few, why not pull a cork? Yum!


CHAMPAGNE SHOO-IN. (January 13, 2000) Just when you thought you'd tasted every great bubbly, along comes one you never even heard of and shoots out the lights.

     Last night we opened **+Pierre Gimmonet et Fils Blanc de Blanc Brut "Cuis 1er Cru" and wound up fighting one another for the last few drops. This is one of the new grower-bottled bubblies from Terry Theise. and it offers a taste all its own. Yeasty, tangy, apple-tinged flavors. Zingy attack, full-bodied texture and ample fruit on the finish. Champagne with power -- and under $30. Watch out, Egly-Ouriet, at last youíve got competition.


PIZZA WINES (January 5, 2000). When you need cheering up badly, and youíre way too tired and drained to cook, hereís what to do:

1. Pull out a bottle thatís so special youíre almost scared to touch it.

2. Order a pizza. Thatís right, pizza!

     It goes with almost any wine, as long as you hold the artichokes. Unlike more profound foods, it wonít kick up a fuss when you ask it to play second fiddle to the Grand Vin. And you can trot everything into the family room, plop your pizza down on the coffee table and consummate your wine-food marriage in front of a roaring fire.

     So thatís what we did. Two pizzas, four people, and two blessed bottles of:

***+1995 Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard. Juicy, lush and long. Bursting with blueberries, from the git-go, but it ainít just baby-fat. As the evening wears on, the wine expands. Wowie. Close call compared to the next, but tonight it gets my nod for WINE OF THE EVENING.

***+1995 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard. Way different. Gritty tannins dominate for nearly an hour. Then, presto! The curtain parts and gorgeous Cabernet fruit takes center stage. Chocolate cherries, a hint of tobacco, olive and gosh is it long. Our guestsí choice for WINE OF THE EVENING.

Just for fun, we also opened:

*+1997 Murphy-Goode Petit Verdot. They say the grape rarely gets ripe in Bordeaux. This stuff from Sonoma, however, is fat and sweet. Blueberry-blackberry flavors. Some astringency that never quite goes away, but a distinctively enjoyable wine tonight.


WEDDING PLONK (January 5, 2000). How many wedding receptions have you been to where the wines were better than the Diet Coke?

     But a miracle happened. Two of our favorite grape geeks hit it off, tied the knot -- and imagine the grin on my face at the subsequent party, when they served up a flight of classified growth Burgundies and top California Pinot Noirs. Blind, no less. In big balloon glasses.

     I contribute the following notes in the wildly optimistic hope that someday, somewhere, lightning may strike again:

WINE #1. Medium ruby. Profoundly gamy, even sweaty aromas that somehow still manage to please. On the palate, thereís tannin and acid aplenty, with deep flavors of mineral, raspberry and tea. As minutes pass, the raspberry deepens to the point that Iím practically picking seeds from my teeth. This wine starts weirdly but finishes in a blaze of glory. Just beginning to come around. Gotta be Burgundy, maybe 1989 and probably from the Cotes de Nuit. Yes, it turns out to be **+1989 F. Esmonin Griottes Chambertin. I pump my fist. Other guests groan.

WINE #2. A little lighter than #1. Big strawberry flavors, mingled with raspberry. No game, little mineral. Could be California, could be Burgundy, but Iíll guess the former. The mature flavors indicate some age, but the depth of this wine is impressive. So. Letís say 1987 California, maybe from the Russian River Valley, or just maybe from Santa Barbara. It turns out to be **1989 Williams Selyem Rochioli Vineyard. Great performance for the year!

WINE #3. Medium ruby, going to amber at the edge. First you smell horse sweat, then, at last, here come the berries. Sip, sip, hmm. Oxidized notes and some tea temper the fruity flavors. A very pleasant wine but beginning to crack up. No doubt that itís Burgundy. Maybe an Ď85? But no, itís much older. *1980 Leclerc Gevry Chambertin "Combes aux Moines". Not bad for a 1980 Burg.

WINE #4. Light ruby, with even more amber than #3. Strawberry, spice and -- ooh -- some volatile acid. Traces of vinegar creeping in. Donít get me wrong, itís drinkable, but this old gal has seen better days. Iíll guess a Burg thatís down on its luck. And yes, itís 1983 Ponsot Clos de La Roche.

WINE #5. And what a difference here! Deep purple, with very intense raspberry and blackberry flavors. The oak is showing, but itís easily in balance, given the concentration and youth of this wine. Long finish. A beaut! I throw caution to the winds and pronounce it a young Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Could be Ď95, Ď86 or Ď97. Off comes the foil and yes! Itís ***1996 Kistler Camp Meeting Ridge and easily WINE OF THE EVENING.


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