Tasting Notes


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July-August 2001

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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MORE 1990 BORDEAUX. (August 26, 2001) If you bought this vintage way back when, you’ve got to be feeling pretty smug as 2000 Bordeaux futures shoot moonward.

I sure am, anyhow—and joined a few kindred spirits recently for an evening of mutual back-patting. We tasted through nine of the better ‘90s and all but one showed just dandy. Here’s what we tried:


**1994 Peter Michael Chardonnay "Mon Plaisir" was pooh-poohed at release by some, but the more experience I get with Peter Michael Chards, the more I see how they benefit from cellaring. Once a prim wallflower, this wine has finally hit the dance floor and started to tango. Tropical notes are shaded by a hazelnut or two, with the once-splintery oak now smooth and unobtrusive.

**+1990 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese "Josephshöfer" is roaring with diesel aromas, palate-staining pineapple flavors and a finish even longer than its name.

***-1990 Bouzereau Meursault-Charmes is seemingly at its peak as well, with a stony attack, broad, peachy mid-palate and a lengthy, tree-fruit laden finish.

     FLIGHT 1

*++1990 Chevalier delivers a healthy snort of cigar aromas that blow off fairly fast, revealing a super-ripe, well-balanced sweetheart of a wine, trailing traces of tobacco. Probably would get even more compliments, were it not paired with the next.

***-1990 Pape Clement starts out much more reserved than the Chevalier, but 45 minutes later it’s kicking tail and taking names. Big tobacco aromas emerge, matched to perfectly ripe cassis flavors. Broad on the palate, finishing long. It’s got all the appeal of the Chevalier, only there’s more in every department. FLIGHT WINNER.

*++1990 Talbot divides the table. I’m smitten with the violet and plum aromas. Others criticize the moderate body and touch of barnyard. Well guys, this is Talbot, love it or leave it. Doing its kinky thing pretty well tonight, I’d say.

**+1990 Cos D’Estournel kind of frustrates me tonight. I tasted a bottle earlier this year that really roared. This one could have used an hour in the decanter. Starts out all coffee-bean and splinters. Creaks open enough to convince me that the bottle is pristine, but just as it starts developing, it’s time to move on to the next flight.

     FLIGHT 2

The first time I encountered ***+1990 Le Tertre Rôtebeouf was five years ago. That bottle was served blind and I thought I was tasting a great Stags Leap Cabernet. Tonight I’m still stunned at what this Merlot-dominated wine can do. The flavors are just amazing -- Jamocha almond fudge, followed by a flood of blackcurrant. The concentration inspires comparisons to Port. Some one jokes that tonight the "belching beef" is licking our faces. FLIGHT WINNER by a country mile.

1990 Figeac sure suffers in comparison and it's the only wine tonight that disappoints. Some wonder if there’s something wrong with this particular bottle. I detect no cork-taint or premature oxidation, but I suppose it’s possible the wine could have been heat-damaged at some point. In any case, it starts by delivering classic Bordeaux flavors, but proceeds to become more angular and eventually seems pretty fruitless.

**+1990 Bon Pasteur delivers its best showing yet in my experience. The red cherry flavors keep broadening and swelling, followed up by Bordeaux herbs and other nuances. It escapes me why this Pomerol isn’t more sought-after. Seems kind of ironic that Michel Roland’s consulting projects get so much press and his own superb wine remains overlooked.

*++990 Petit Village, while smaller scaled than the Bon Pasteur and Tertre Rôtebeouf, is elegant in the best sense of the word. Lots of pretty flavor nuances and more than a hint of cigarette smoke.


Mystery Red 1. A little harsher than the wines of the previous flight, this wine is nonetheless pretty well-stuffed. Some guess California Cab but to me the flavors scream Bordeaux. Sure enough, it’s *+1991 Latour and a terrific performance for the vintage.

Mystery Red 2 is tougher to suss out. Smoother, better-resolved and more complete than wine 1, it doesn’t seem Bordelaise to me, but I’m darned if I can figure out where it’s actually from. I scribble down "Not Bordeaux, but Bordeaux varietal—or Tempranillo." Turns out to be **1990 Pesquera Crianza.

     FLIGHT 3

***+1990 Margaux. Starts out dumb as box of rocks. Then the fireworks show begins. Gorgeous honeysuckle and jasmine tea aromas precede a floodtide of cassis, Asian spice and other goodies. I’ve got to admit this is one well-hyped wine that lives up to the press and then some. Great as the other wines in this flight are, it’s the hands-down favorite for WINE OF THE FLIGHT and WINE OF THE EVENING.

**1990 Rausan-Segla gets panned by some tasters tonight and I think that’s awfully unfair given what’s sitting in the glasses on either side. It’s a more advanced case of the Chevalier vs. the Pape Clement. Same bag of tricks, less of everything, but still a delightful wine.

***+1990 Pichon-Baron is described by one taster as "an unashamed slut" and that’s fair enough. Coffee bean, toffee, blueberry, blackberry and other goodies just keep gushing, from the moment its poured to evening’s end. My third-favorite wine of the tasting, after the Margaux and Tertre Rôtebeouf. Fourth-favorite is...

***+1990 Canon Le Gaffeliere. Just huge for a Pomerol, elbowing the Margaux and Pichon-Baron aside to claim its own share of applause. I’m too smitten by the Margaux to record the precise flavors, but the depth and concentration are both remarkable.

GEWURZ GALORE (August 19, 2001) If you haven't gotten into Gewürztraminer yet, you should and it won't cost you much. You can get the greatest stuff made for less than half the price of comparable Chardonnay and gads it is useful, cuddling up to nearly any wine-unfriendly food you can throw at— sauerkraut, salads, salmagundi, Szechuan, Southwestern, you name it.

     So who's who in Gewürztraminer? See below. At a friends' annual Gewürztra-thon, we tasted through some 22 babes and oldsters over a suitably sumptuous five-course feast. You'll have to imagine the food, but here's how the wines went:


**-1999 McGregor Reserve. Our lone representative from New York's Finger Lakes stands up well to its Alsace and German cousins. With over 5% RS, it's got such good cut that you don't notice the sugar much. Lotta lychee on the palate, finishing well. FLIGHT WINNER.

*- 1998 Kohler-Ruprecht Spätlese Kallstadter Steinacher. In general, the pre-1990 Gewürztraminers tonight are hard-pressed to keep up with the youngsters. That's my palate talking anyway—I like fruit, the more the better. Yet this one does well. Oxidation is creeping in, but there's plenty of flavor persisting on the finish.

     FLIGHT 1:

**-1999 Albert Mann Steingrubler. Mann's doing great work these days and the Grand Cru Steingrubler is a bargain at just over $20. The 1999 is still tight, which may be why it lacks the fabulous floral aromas of the 1993. Meantime I'm plenty happy with its spicy flavors and lush texture.

**1999 Marcel Deiss Bergheim. I'm in a minority that prefers this a bit over the Mann. It's drier and not quite as luscious, but what a wallop of rose petals! FLIGHT WINNER.

*-1997 Weinbach Cuvée Laurence. Flowery aromas and peppery flavors. Leaner on the palate, thinner on the finish, defended by some, but outclassed in this flight.

     FLIGHT 2:

*+1983 Scholoss Reinhartshausen Erback Siegelsburg Halbtrocken Auslese. Some say it's spent; I kind of like it. It's not awfully sweet, but there's still a lot of botrytis and apricot to enjoy here. Like an older Sauterne, which ain't bad in my books. With a little more residual sugar, maybe it would have wowed 'em. FLIGHT WINNER.

1983 Josmeyer "Les Archenets." Eh. Leaves me cold. Alcohol and not a lot else. Reminds me of many equally neutral-tasting Italian Whites.

*--1989 Schleret Herrenweg. Okay, but not enough to move me. May have had more to say five years ago.

     FLIGHT 3:

*++1991 Navarro Late Harvest. Delightful performance from this California Anderson Valley contender. Intense quince flavors with a good hit of orange-peel on the finish. Served blind, I would have guessed Alsace. Cracks up a little with air—drink now.

**-1995 Ernst Bern Goldert "La Chapelle." Lots of perfume. Minerals dance on the palate. Beautiful stuff for those seeking elegance over oomph. But my vote for the flight goes to...

**+1999 Albert Mann Furstentum, Even tastier than Mann's '99 Steingrubler (above), this cuvée overs honeysuckle aromas, lychee flavors and a big squirt of grapefruit. It's big, broad, generous and I would guess it will taste even better in another 6 months. FLIGHT WINNER.

     FLIGHT 4

*+1991 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl. Year in year out, ZH's Clos Windsbuhl vineyard hands us some of the world's greatest white wines. That being said, this particular bottle seems to have crested its peak. At first, the apricot and lychee flavors please mightily. Minutes tick away and oxidation shows. Still excellent, but drink up.

***-1999 Zind-Humbrecht Goldert. What a fascinating wine. We argue for a while whether this or the Heimbourg (below) should win the flight. Both are unctuous, penetrating wines. With plenty of grapefruit and lycee flavors, the Goldert scores big with its array of mineral notes. I name it FLIGHT WINNER, but more votes go to...

***-1999 Zind-Humbrecht Heimbourg. Not quite as intense, but sweeter, broader and some say sexier. It's a style thing. Pick yours.

     FLIGHT 5

1983 Dopff Vendange Tardive. Still alive, with a fruity spicy palate, this older VT fails to excite me. I far prefer...

**-1998 Haag Zinnkoepflé Vendange Tardive. More what I want from a VT. Sweet and thick, offering wet stone and fresh fig flavors.

     FLIGHT 6

Ooh, what a flight. Gewürztraminer (or any other white wine) doesn't get much better than this. Other conversation ceases as we cheerfully debate these three:

***1994 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl. I've blissfully slurped the '94 Clos Windsbuhl several times before, and this is the first time it didn't stomp the competition. Could the once-overpowering fruit have calmed down a notch? Or is it just that the Hengtst VTs (below) are too amazing to trump? In any case, the Clos Windsbuhl is showing loads of spice and lychee, but seems not quite as compelling as...

***+1994 Zind-Humbrecht Hengst Vendange Tardive. We talk about spice, pepper and orange peel, but I'm a little at a loss to describe the laser-beam focus of this stuff. It zips from your palate straight to your brain, singing "HERE I AM! ENJOY!"

***+1990 Zind-Humnbrecht Hengst Vendange Tardive. What a great wine! Doesn't seem quite as sweet as the 1994 Hengst, but makes up for it with even more concentration. Arresting. Love it. FLIGHT WINNER and WINE OF THE EVENING.


*+1983 Lorentz Selections des Grains Nobiles. Fascinating example of how sugar subsides with age. This SGN is full of flavor, shows no oxidation, but seems dry as a bone. Excellent with the bread pudding dessert.

*-1997 Ravenswood Sonoma Valley Late Harvest. A swell sweetie by itself, but the flavors seem not quite in line with the others. There's a not-unpleasant perfume that I think must be the oak treatment. Anyhow, the hands-down winner of the flight was bound to be:

***1992 Vier Jahrzeiten Trockenbeerenauslese. Dark, syrupy, viscous, unctuous, endlessly sweet, penetrating, pick your adjective. Does well with dessert, but doesn't need any excuse to be enjoyed other than an available corkscrew and glass.

UNDER-HYPED WHITES (August 12, 2001) Human pleasure soars when the reality exceeds the hype. That's my pet theory, anyhow, and it sure worked for me when I encountered these unpretentious gems:

***1992 Diznoko 6 Puttanyos Tokaji Aszu. If you're a devotée of Hungarian Tokaji, maybe you'll hate me for spilling the beans, but this stuff is too good not to shout about. The more puttanyos, the sweeter they get—and 6 is very sweet indeed. This bottle is all honey and apricot essence. Drink it with dessert or better still, make it your dessert.

*++1999 Kurt Darting Durkheimer Steinberg Muskateller Spätlese. Consumed on a hot summer afternoon, this wine fits the bill beautifully. It's got loads of ripe pear flavor, enough acidity to make it refreshing, and the low alcohol keeps you from keeling over. Takes a chill well and tastes great with potato chips—who needs beer when you've got this?

***1983 Joseph Phelps Délice du Semillon. So you thought 1983 was the worst California vintage in the last 20 years? Not for this sweetie. Whatever screwed up everything else must have also triggered a ton of botrytis for late-harvest Semillion. Still very sweet, with lots of tangy apricot-peach flavors, this is a ringer for great Sauternes.

**-1998 Chappalet Chenin Blanc Demi-Sec Napa Valley. Imagine, Napa Valley Chenin Blanc, alive and well in 1998. I hear they've finally ripped out these vines to plant more profitable varieties—inevitable but lamentable, because this juice is really distinctive. Deep gold, with fabulous poached pear aromas, it's a perfect aperitif for a warm August evening.

FRENCH FINERY (August 12, 2001) My tasting buddies don't need much excuse to trot out the good stuff, but this weekend offered a great one, when a much-praised chef from the Big City opened a BYO restaurant out in the hinterlands, not far from me.

     Opening nights can be perilous for folks expecting a flawless experience, but the food and service both delivered beyond our admittedly high hopes. So did the wines, including:


***-1999 Zind Humbrecht Gewirztraminer Goldert. New release that's ready to rip. Rich unctuous, pear, lychee—pick your usual ZH Gewurz descriptor and it's here except, oddly, no rose petals and not much spice. If it were served blind, I'd probably guess Pinot Gris. That aside, this is yet another big winner for ZH.

**-1995 Amiot Chassagne-Montrachet "Les Vergers." Tasted blind, this wine pleases but fools me. You get elegant almond aromas, taut acidity on the attack, mineral flavors on the palaye, marzipan on the finish. With a half hour of airing, the aromas get more perfumed, and you might wildly guess Chardonnay, but it tastes more to me right now like White Hermitage. Decant well ahead of time, or better still lose it in your cellar for a few more years.

**1997 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma. A pole apart from the Burgundy, it screams "Sonoma Chard" and that's not a bad thing in my books. A couple of years of age have done well by it, integrating the oak and adding nutty nuances to its crLme brulée flavors.


***1994 Château Pichon Lalande. Another big success from a vintage that offered tremendous value to cherry-pickers. With chocolate, cassis and, yes, black cherry notes, this wine has taken on even more weight since I last sampled it a couple of years ago. From the flavor profile, I would guess that right now we're mostly tasting the Merlot in the blend—the Cabernet Sauvignon probably still needs a couple of years to open fully.

***1982 Château La Lagune. I'd be interested in learning the cepage of this wine. It's showing very well indeed—a fruit bomb, in fact—with the cedar and cassis that great vintages of La Lagune deliver so well. However, tonight I'm surprised by the strength of the strawberry flavors, similar to those you'd get from Cabernet Franc.

***+1990 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape "Barbe Rac." Tonight's my first taste of this hard-to-find rare bottling and where has it been all my life? Burgundian in its elegant raspberry and game aromas, but classic CnDP in the power it packs on the palate. Wide open and roaring, with doubtless many years of high living ahead. WINE OF THE EVENING.

CLASSICS VS. CULTS (July 26, 2001) So what actually tastes better? Hideously expensive 1982 Bordeaux—or outrageously priced California Cult wines? A few of us lined them up at a local steakhouse with the flimsy excuse of finding the answer.


**+1982 Haut-Brion. Nothing, but nothing, matches up to a great Porterhouse like a great Pessac-Leognan. That being said, this particular '82 Haut-Brion falls shy of the expected grand slam. With plenty of tobacco and cigar box aromas, it seems slightly oxidized on the palate. Imperfectly sealed bottle? That's the consensus.

***1982 Cheval Blanc. Now this bottle seems pristine and the wine inside is enormous. Slight herbal notes typical of Cabernet Franc disappear after an hour of airing, and the strawberry, cassis and cherry flavors just keep getting stronger. It's got style, it's got grace, it's got sizeit's a great wine, but not quite the best on the table.


***1994 Colgin. The most seductive aromas on the table. First you smell violets and honeysuckle...then a deep river of red cherry flows over your palate. So different from all the others and so sexy. If all the bottles had been tasted blind, this wine and the two above would have been unmistakable. But my favorites of the evening were strikingly similar:

***+1995 Araujo Eisele Vineyard. I've had this wine before and still can't get over how friendly it is, yet how deep. There's plenty of tannin, but it's so supple, you can slurp it down from the moment the cork comes out. The familiar black cherry and chocolate flavors keep gushing all evening long. You could call this the Cab of the Evening and one of us does, but tonight I prefer...

***+1996 Shafer Hillside Select. Maybe it's not so curious that this wine resembles the one above. They're both from the eastern slopes of Napa Valleyand the Shafer Hillside vineyards are partially planted with Eisele clonestock. Slower to open than the Araujo, this wine is also just a tad longer. A fabulous kirsch note on the finish seals the deal.


***+1985 Grahams Vintage Port. Hmm. Well. How to treat this? Great Port is so overwhelming that I've retired all Ports from Wine of the Evening candidacy. So I can't award it the overall crown, but be advised that it delivers all the pleasure you could possibly crave, for a lot less money than any of the legends listed above.

MORE BARBECUE BOTTLES (July 15, 2001) One glory of barbecued chicken is that you can't find a table wine it doesn't like. This week we matched it with everything from steely light whites to whopping black bruisers, and everything clicked. Including:


*+1998 Cordier Pouilly Fuissé "Vers Cras." This Weygandt-Metzler import packs nice flavors of flint and steel, with a decent amount of pure Chardonnay fruit on the palate. It thins a bit on the finish, unlike its superior sibling **1998 Cordier Vielles Vignes.

***-1998 Beringer Chardonnay Limited Release "Sbragia" isn't exactly subtle, but makes up for it with masses of ripe fruit that work well with the toasty oak treatment. The  full palate presence and lengthy coda are quite an achievement given the vintage. Yes, this is the kind of Chard that makes Burgundy purists cringe -- but fellas, you're missing the point. Shut up, slurp and smile.

*+1993 Kalin Semillon is served blind and predictably baffles us all. It's got the nut and mushroom flavors of older white Burgundy and there's ample fruit on the palate, but it's a little too peachy to for Chardonnay. One of us guesses mature Vouvray, while I suggest 1990 white Bordeaux. I understand this is a recent release; Kalin likes to hold them back.

And the winner of the flight is ***+1992 Willi Haag Braunbenberger Juffer Sonnenuhur Riesling Auslese (special auction lot 10). You know, if it didn't take so darned long to write down the names of these German jawbreakers, I could get hooked on the wine behind the label. The low alcohol in an Auslese makes it perfect for hot weather and the flavors of this particular beauty could cut through anything short of five-alarm chili. It's got everything great Riesling offers in spades -- a big gust of diesel, a mountain of mineral, an orchard of apricot. Hooray!


If you think pink wine can't be serious, get with the programthe good stuff can be sensational. If memory serves, *++2000 Mas Cal Demoura Coteaux de Languedoc is the first "millenium" wine I've tasted from bottle. It's a gorgeous summer sipper, with floral scents, wild strawberry flavors and a touch of pomegranite on the finish. Ample acid keeps it graceful and refreshing from sniff to finish.


This is second time I've tasted ***-1998 Flowers Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard. I liked it before, but this timewow-wow-wow! It's not quite as spectacular as the 1999 I tasted at the winery, but ooh, it's really improved with a year in the bottle. Fragrant violets, allspice, raspberries, earth...a very complex and complete Pinot Noir, with a character all its own. Tonight it mightily pleases a roomful of Burgundy lovers. I serve it blind and they correctly guess it as New World, but who would ever think of Sonoma Mountain?

**1999 Etude Pinot Noir Carneros is more supple, fleshy and forward, emphasizing red cherries and plums. Nice, silky mouthfeel, very much in keeping with a previous tasting.

***1995 Pahlmeyer Merlot. This one is always fun to serve blind, because it's so over-the-top. But tasters tonight mostly rule out Cabernet Sauvignon and one even nails it as Domestic Merlot. In any case, it's a winner dripping with black fruit flavors and finishing with sexy notes of mocha fudge ice cream. It would be fun to taste this wine next to the equally flamboyant 1990 Tertre Rotebeouf.

**+1995 Turley Aida Petite Syrah. Decanted well ahead of time, this wine is surprisingly open for business, andperhaps not too oddlyhas much in common with the '95 Pahlmayer. Different flavors, of course! The PS had much more cassis and no chocolate. But the scale and the finish are comparable.

THIS BORDEAUX WON'T BREAK THE BANK. (July 8, 2001) Wine-geeks in need of relief from super-heated 2000 Bordeaux futures prices should try a bottle of **1998 Château Barde-Haut. The '98 vintage was stellar in St. Emilion and this new "garage wine" isn't yet famous enough to cost the moon and the stars.

     We opened a bottle recently and it was way too early, but the quality of the wine speaks load and clear. This dark ruby baby is loaded with cassis, cocoa and tobacco flavors. Lots of substance on the plate and finishes very well indeed. At under $30 a bottle, I'm mighty pleased, but I'll try my next bottle 5 years down the road.

See more tasting notes (May-June 2001)

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