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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
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.
*++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
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
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
**+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
*++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.
***+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
***+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.
***+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
**-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.
**-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.
*+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
*++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
**-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.
*+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.
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.
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
***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
*++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
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
***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
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 size—it'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
***+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 Valley—and 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.
AND THE ONE AMAZING BARGAIN:
***+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
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.
If you think pink wine can't be serious, get with the program—the 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 time—wow-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, and—perhaps not too
oddly—has 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
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
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
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