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FLIGHTS AT THE RIO (August 30, 1998.). On our recent trip to Las Vegas, we
stopped by the Wine Cellar at the Rio Hotel. It aint Napa Valley, but its sure
a welcome respite from the rest of Las Vegas.
Its attractively furnished to resemble a real wine
cellar, features a large collection of hard-to-find wines, both old and current (all at
sky-high prices, of course). It even makes an effort at wine-education, with a tasting bar
where you can order up flights. Best of all, as long as youre down here, youre
insulated from the perpetual Las Vegas soundtrack of slot-machine noises. They dont
even have a Keno board!
Phylis and I each tasted a flight and I guess this is as good
a place as any to transcribe my notes.
My flight was 1994 California Cabs featuring 1994
Cakebread Reserve, 1994 BV Reserve and *1994 Silverado
Reserve. The Cakebread had medium weight, a very muted nose, and clean,
compressed chocolate-tinged flavors. Wasnt very impressive.
The BV was darker and deeper, with pickled American Oak
flavors partially masking some nice black currant fruit. The finish was tannic, though not
overbearingly so, and I would anticipate a positive development over the next 10 years.
The Silverado Reserve was far and away my favorite, with a
chocolate-herb-cherry nose and a nice, supple mouthfeel. I fault it only for its
astringent, acidic finish, which may indicate over-acidification.
One final thing I must note about the Rio Wine Cellar
the prices they were asking for "gift baskets" of wine. As I recall, they wanted
something like $4000 for a basket containing one bottle each of 94 Bryant, Colgin
and Grace Family! And Ill bet some high roller eventually springs for it.
WHAT DOES CAB TASTE LIKE? (August 26, 1998) Wait. Its not as easy as
you think. Im talking about mature stuff. And well-chosen.
And well-stored. So often when you get together with friends
to taste older California Cabernets, you have to wonder how well theyve been treated
over the years.
Not tonight. All three Cabs came from our own,
They showed it. They all tasted really good.
But heres the weird part or maybe not so weird.
They also all tasted like...uh...mature Bordeaux.
**1/2 HESS COLLECTION 1986 RESERVE.
Heres a Hess thats actually ready. Sure, you taste the tannins if you search,
but theyre pretty tame. This is a dark, thick, juicy wine with lots of cassis, olive
and Bordeaux-style tabac. Chocolatey, slightly astringent finish. Very impressive. My
favorite California wine of the evening.
**SIMI 1985 RESERVE. Not quite as thick as the
Hess, but maybe even sweeter. Similar flavor profile, though. Youd guess St. Estephe
or St. Julien. Fully resolved and ready to rip. Runner-up.
**SIMI 1986 RESERVE. Started out at cellar
temp, so was tough to compare to the 1985. Quite similar as it warmed, though seemed a bit
more tannic, less generous. Perhaps it could use a couple more years to scrape off the
burrs. Perhaps more; 24 hours later, it was virtually unchanged.
All three of these wines simply out-Bordeauxed a worthy
contender from the real place:
PICHON-BARON 1982. Nice wine. Outclassed. Showing a
bit of oxidation...but more to the point, just didnt have the flavor-intensity of
the above. Faded as the evening wore on.
But dont accuse me of rigging the game for the home
team. Because the winner was:
**1/2 CLINET 1993. Oh do I wish I had bought
some of this! Its much the youngest-tasting, of course, and still has some toast and
tannin to shed. But what a delicious, viscous, powerful, mocha-chocolata yaya! Maybe we
Bordeaux-lovers should be looking again at the 93s? WINE OF THE EVENING.
**BERINGER 1990 PRIVATE RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON. (August 24, 1998)
Enjoyed a bottle of this over the weekend to accompany some penne pasta with andouille
susage and red sauce. Still very dark ruby, but lightening at the edge. The
once-formidable tannins have melted away and whats left is thick, juicy and
compellingly drinkable. The aromas and flavors are your classic California combination.
Very ripe cassis and plum, with a hint of licorice. This wine was showing a lot of toast
at release but the fruit has gobbled it up and youre not even left with a burp. Yum.
WHO WON? (August 22, 1998). Ever tried keeping score by region in your
tasting notes? Silly, but fun and I find the outcome does influence ones
general buying attitude. The winners this week from my cellar were Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir and Carneros Chardonnay, with an honorable mention to Burgundy. Biggest loser
was Napa Valley Cab, with a yawn allotted to German Riesling.
*PATZ & HALL 1996 PINOT NOIR RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY.
Riding a hot streak for RRV wines in my tasting notes. This medium-to-dark ruby wine
isnt what Id call thick and rich, but after an hour in the glass it really
surprised me. Ho-hum quaff turned into aha! A beacon of bright cherry fruit flashed out.
Held up well through the rest of the evening. Flavors typical of the best stuff from this
region. I wouldnt take a chance and hold this wine for more than a year or two, but
right now its a really pleasing glass of PN.
*JEAN-LUC DUBOIS 1993 SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNES CUVEE UNIQUE
RESERVE. Surprised me. I opened a bottle of this in March and it was ready to
rip. But that bottle had a wet cork. This ones stopper was in beautiful shape and
the wine was much sterner. Still very youthful looking, with some tannins to shed. No
decanter on hand. Just had to swirl and enjoy what we got. A tease, since theres
plenty of fruit under the veil. I have only one more. Will wait a couple of years to open
*SWANSON 1995 CARNEROS CHARDONNAY. I found
some of this favorite at one of my favorite stores last week and it still amazes
why it doesnt fly off the shelves. Bought a couple more and opened one last night. Beautiful as ever...same creme brulee bombshell. I suspect
this will continue to age well over the next year or two.
*ROMBAUER 1996 CARNEROS CHARDONNAY. New
release just showed up on local shelves. Different style from the Swanson more
acidic, with fig flavors instead of custard. Crisp attack, good finish. Nice for a change
and very food-friendly.
WITTMAN 1995 WESTHOFENER STEINGRUBE WEISSER RIESLING
SPATLESE. Turnabout. Phylis ("make mine Chard") and our guests liked
this a lot. I wasnt moved. Very thick and tasty, but scant evidence of the petrol
aromas I like and it seemed a bit short.
PER SEMPRE 1993 CABERNET SAUVIGNON.
Disappointing evolution. A year or so ago, this wine seemed full of Cab fruit, though a
little tight. Now the tannins seem lower, but so is everything else. In fact, theres
an unpleasant oaky flavor that seems to be overtaking the fruit. I have a couple more and
some reserves. Lets hope its just a phase.
*MARIETTA 1992 CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Much
better drinking right now than the Per Sempre, at less than half the price. I dont
think Ive ever been disappointed by a Marietta wine. After two days, half-full in
the fridge, its just as delicious.
5 BDX...BUY MORE? (August 16, 1998) After a long day of pruning, I was way
too tired and sore to have a good time. But somehow I managed. Good company and 95
Bordeaux had something to do with it.
Six of us gathered at Overtures to taste though a few of our
favorite producers. We went away pleased though Im not sure what to do as a
result of the tasting. Buy more or just be happy with what Ive got?
We opened the evening with a *LARMANDIER NV Champagne
a Grand Cru from Cramant. Very satisfying stuff in the creamy, toasty, Egly-Ourier
mode. Wonder how it compares on price. Forgot to ask the guy who brought it.
Then to a *1996 BANNISTER ALLEN VINEYARD CHARDONNAY. Unusually
nervy for a Sonoma Chard, with a penetrating lemon-apricot bite, somewhat leesy middle and
I regret I missed tasting the SCHWEIGER 1995
CHARDONNAY that also circled the table; the Reds were open, aromas calling,
making a great argument for moving on.
Took my first sip of ***1995 PICHON-LALANDE,
let out a deep sigh, and scribbled down YES! Even though it hadnt warmed yet to room
temp, the violets were blossoming. Its a bee-oo-tee-ful Pichon-Lalande, with the
sweet cassis and cigarette flavors that make even lesser years heavenly. But this one has
a super-thick texture that reminds me of the 82. Well, maybe its not quite the
ultimate P-L, but Id put it a notch ahead of the outstanding 89 and 94.
As it developed, you could sense a lot of bone and muscle below the baby-fat. Great wine
with a long life ahead and my (unsurprising) pick for WINE OF THE EVENING. Drink now for a
decadent thrill or revisit in 2003.
Worthy competition was offered by ***1996 COS
DESTOURNEL. If you tasted the 1990 when young, this ones going to be
familiar. The first whiff makes you wonder if you wandered into Starbucks huge
roasted coffee bean aromas. But theres also a lot of concentrated fruit waiting to
greet your palate, as well as substantial, but balanced, tannins. Clearly this wine needs
more time to integrate, but its going to be a big winner. Id say dont
waste a great future wine by drinking now, but do sock it away for five years.
So far we were tasting superlative, but typical examples of
each producer. Then **1995 MONTROSE threw us a curve. The flavors are
spot-on Montrose blood, brass, cherries but the texture is unexpectedly
friendly. This is not the hard, stern hero that greeted us in æ89 and æ90. A kinder,
gentler Montrose? Yes, but wait, heres some tannin at the end too. And the wine wore
well through the evening. Its no lightweight. I heard it said during dinner that
Montrose used abnormally high amounts of Merlot in the cepage. maybe that accounts for the
difference. Predict an aging curve similar to the Pichon-Lalande.
The cipher of the evening, to me, was the *+1995
Lynch-Bages. This is the only wine that was decanted prior to dinner. Perhaps it
suffered as a result one taster noticed that all the wines had noticeably toughened
by the end of the evening, the result, I would guess, of the outer "cloak" of
young fruit. In any case, this wine seemed to me noticeably dumber than the other three,
although it had a lovely, rich texture and good finish. Yes, it was well-stuffed. Given
the record of the producer, Im tempted to think that we caught it at an odd moment.
Certainly it was enjoyable.
Dinner closed with *1988 Guiraud. Lovely
wine, but a little weird could it actually have less sugar and more botrytis than
other 88s Ive tasted? Thats how it seemed to me. Pungent tangerine
flavors. Not a bad match to my mango sorbet.
So yes, all they say is true, 1995 is a winner for Bordeaux.
Big fruit, good balance and an excellent bet for cellaring.
But what about the big question buy more 95s or
sit tight? And if "more," which?
*HESS COLLECTION 1994 CABERNET SAUVIGNON. (August 12, 1998) Tasted from
barrel nearly three years ago, this wine seemed like a powerhouse. Best Hess Id ever
tasted. Well, guess what. It still is! The initial impression is heavily-oaked cassis, but
thats just a snapshot. With an hour of air, the oak falls way off and the Cab fruit
comes to the fore. The usual Mt. Veeder tannins still hum in the background and will
probably get louder in another couple of years. But right now, its a treat.
Prediction? Drink now or after 2003.
A LA BELLE ETOILE. (August 8, 1998) Cicadas sang lazy, echoing scales. We
sat out on Als deck, swirled the red stuff and I thought, life can be kind.
Something about the evening made for good talking. Eight of
us, and everyone seemed ready to relax, unwind and follow the ball of conversational yarn
wherever it rolled.
Is Ulysses really the best book of the century (or
course!) and why? Is Shelby Foote an historian or a novelist? What is love? Yuck! Did
Yeats really say that? (Yes he did.) Why do people like gamy flavors? Why do women love to
talk about love? What does a cat think when you think it loves you? How did you avoid the
draft? Why is that guy the way he is? Why is Clinton? Why did you vote for him
would you do it again? Would you sell your Colgin for $400 a bottle? Would you pay capital
gains taxes on it? What goes on in the head of an 11-year-old boy?
I broke the flow and insisted that we discuss the stuff we
were drinking. It was, after all, our excuse for knowing each other. It was also really,
really good, especially with the grilled duck. So discuss we did, for a bit, before the
river of real talk rolled back over the technical chatter.
I held back for a minute, figured out how I felt (about the
wine, anyway) and scratched some words onto a couple of scraps of paper. It would have to
Its tough taking notes by starlight, but
heres what survived:
***PERNOT 1992 BIENVENUES BATARD-MONTRACHET. Honey-gold, hint of
brimstone that dissipates quickly, penetrating pungeunt attack, holds back in the
mid-palate, opens up broad on the finish. WHITE OF THE EVENING.
*DOMAINE DAUVISSAT 1990 CHABLIS LES PFEUSES (GRAND CRU). Tough for me
to read tonight. Much lighter than the younger Batard. Lots of flavor, but missing the
complexity I expected. Too young?
**COLIN-DELAGER 1992 CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET LES CHAUMEES. Also lighter
colored than the Pernot. Dances well, skipping back and forth between creme brulee and
walnuts. Lovely wine, robbed of center stage by the Pernot and the next:
***BOUZERAUT 1990 MEURSAULT-CHARMES. About the same golden color as
the Pernot. Lacks the concentration but makes up for it in grace. What a bouquet! is that
***GRANTET-PONSIOT 1991 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN. (The first of a four-part
vertical.) Al asked me to uncork this wine and make sure it was okay. I pulled the
stopper, sniffed the neck, and wham! "Oh yeah, Al, its okay." Deep ruby,
as were all the wines in this flight. Very intense red raspberry with plenty of Chambertin
spice. Held all evening. Occasioned much discussion about the "forgotten" 91
vintage. Over dinner, it announced itself unmistakably (to me anyway) as WINE OF THE
**GRANTET-PONSIOT 1993 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN. Part of the fun of this
vertical was how "transparent" the wine tasted. Each revealed a textbook picture
of the vintage. Here you could taste a heavier (though not unbalanced) twinge of tannin,
and a corresponding tealike flavor on the finish. Drinking well enough now, though. Seemed
to me to lack some of the intensity of the 91, though one experienced taster felt it
would prove the better wine in a few more years.
*GRANTET-PONSIOT 1994 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN. This wine had been decanted
prior to serving and at first I ascribed its lesser depth to that. As the evening
progressed and the first two wines opened, I decided that, again, it was simply the year
talking. With excellent color and outstanding flavor, this is nonetheless the lightest,
most dilute wine of the vertical.
***GRANTET-PONSIOT 1995 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN. Very fresh, spicy and
lively! The oak has not quite knit completely with the fruit, but the baby-fat on this
youngster is just delightful. Im pretty sure the 91 will ultimately prove the
better wine; however, the 95 is still so youthful, comparisons are tough.
*TRUCHOT-MARTIN 1985 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN. Totally different experience.
Lighter than the G-Ps, with a lot more game. This is a fully mature wine that probably
needs drinking it started to fade after about an hour in the glass. Al, who
generally likes his wines older than I do, thought it was pretty much dead. Nah. Super
stuff, starting on the downslope.
Finally, a *MYSTERY RED was thrust under our noses. Red. We all agreed it had to be
Pinot Noir. Excellent Pinot Fruit, in fact, though a tad rustic. Fruit and oak fighting a
little and probably always will. We agreed it was probably French. Maybe an 88,
someone said. Nah, I said, too young for that. Early 90s. I was right on that, but
just as wrong as everyone else about the locale. It was SANFORD 1993 BARREL SELECT
PINOT NOIR. Well, Ill be. Five-year-old Santa Ynez Pinot Noir and
not an herb in the glass!
*PRESIDENTIAL 1970 PORT. Medium ruby with amber rim. Soft and
resolved. Mild and understated compared to the big names, but delightful on its own,
**CHATEAU DE FARGUES 1976. Gold going to amber. Very sweet and
*GUILLEMOT 1992 MACON-CLESSE-QUINTAINE SELECTION DE GRAINS CENDRES.
Chardonnay-based dessert wine that met with general satisfaction. Not as sweet as the
Sauternes, but offers a delicious collection poached-pear flavors. I like this a lot for a
change of pace.
BETTER THAN BURG? (August 1, 1998) Thats the bait, isnt it? Why
we all keep trying West Coast Pinot Noir? I mean, Burgundy is so punishing, we figure that
some other product must stand a good chance of being better in some way. If not better,
period, maybe it will be better value. Or get to us in better condition. Or be
"better for drinking tonight."
Well. I dont mean to start any fights or make any
peremptory claims. But. If...
If the three Pinot Noirs we consumed tonight had been from
Burgundy, we all would have been thumping one another on the back for our flawless
judgement. Thats all. Get the picture?
Notes in a moment. But first, the whites.
A stranger from Australia first. DARENBERG 1996
CHARDONNAY MCLAREN VALE "THE OLIVE GROVE." Not your typical Ozzie.
Seems to be non-malolactic or maybe partial. Higher acidity than most, and with a
noticeably more muted nose. Spicy oak, good viscosity. Lots of bite. Nice wine, but a
little lacking in the flavor department for me.
Next, an entry from the Central Coast of California,
***VILLA MT. EDEN 1996 SIGNATURE RESERVE. Made by Jed Steele, this is full-blown
Chard following the Sbragia model (hope you dont mind the comparison, Jed, but
thats high praise in my lexicon). Very intense tropical fruit, buttery as all get
out, and finishes like an Arctic sunset. Yowsah! We took home the last quarter-bottle and
it was undiminished two nights later.
Finally, the fun of the evening, a *MYSTERY WHITE from Michel,
who delights in pulling our chains. Seemed to me to be a Chardonnay, barrel-fermented with
full malo. From the color and development, I guessed a 92 or 93 from Sonoma.
We all agreed it was well balanced and well made. Off the bag came it turns out to be from
OHIO! Its 1993 MARKKO CHARDONNAY. Never had it before and may never
have it again, but Im here to tell you it was pretty darned good.
Now to the serious stuff. The **CASE 1994 PINOT NOIR
from Talbott was so pure, tight and focused, whod a thunk this beautiful stuff came
from Monterey? Maybe this is terrific Pinot-Noir-terroir and nobody knows yet?
(Well...whod guess that Ohio could make very good Chardonnay?) Anyhow, as the night
progressed, I was increasingly impressed. This kid is structured for a run. Cherry
flavors, with a little chocolate. Would have guessed it for a Williams-Selyem, Rochioli or
Gary Farrell from the Russian River Valley. Close runner-up in my book for Red of the
Next a wine Im familiar with, **PONZI 1994
RESERVE PINOT NOIR. Another outstanding performance from this wine, which shows a
softer, lusher character than its RRV cousins, with flavors more on the blackberry side of
the spectrum. As the night wore on, it kept up with the others, which increased my respect
for it. Yup, another beaut. I love the way it tastes now and intend to drink mine
up over the next two years.
Finally, the winner by a slender margin, the DOMAINE
DROUHIN OREGON 1993 LAURENE. Seemed to have the highest acidity of the three.
Similar in flavor to the case very correct and Burgundian but deeper by a
hair and even tighter than the Case. Probably needs another two years to show its best,
but Ill take what I tasted tonight, thanks. Boy, if Drouhin could make wines like
this in Burgundy, wouldnt folks exult!
WINE FACTORY OUTLET. (July 25, 1998) No, its a lie, but I got your
attention, didnt I? The outlet stores in Flemington, New Jersey have Riedel crystal,
Leverpulls, Screwpulls, coasters, decanters, even ice buckets but we made up for
the lack of wine last night by bringing our own.
Sixteen online friends actually managed to align our calendars
and show up at Flemington with...hmm...how many bottles? Was it 29 or 31?
Anyhow, the food at Maxs Bistro was mighty fine. Loved
my beef tournedos in portabello mushroom sauce. And, mirabile dictu, only one bottle was
corked. Lets see how many I managed to take notes on.
Well, look at this. Not one bottle of Champagne! But a riot of
other whites, most terrific. My favorites were:
**LOUIS LATOUR 1992 CORTON CHARLEMAGNE. Joel, Mark, Phylis and I
sipped this on the porch of our B&B right before dinner. Its a lot more open and
fleshy than it was a couple of years ago. Very penetrating and long. A unique take on CC
with its oak, but a delicious one.
***DR. F. WEINS-PRUM 1990 WEHLENER SONNENLUHR RIESLING AUSLESE. Too
dry to be a dessert wine, but one walloping aperitif. Just attacks your tongue with
pungent fruit and botrytis. Leaves you numb, in fact. You need a roll and glass of water
before you can go onto anything else. And yes, Phylis did like this non-Chard a lot, as
she did the...
***MONDAVI 1995 TO-KALON I-BLOCK FUME BLANC. Ultimate SB? Starts out
with a strong spray of gooseberry and cat pee, then erupts into a riot of seductive
aromas. Peach blossom. Honeysuckle. Figs. Controversial again. If you dont like the
raunchy side of SB as well as the mild-mannered version, this wine is just too complex for
you. Its not one or the other. Its everything.
***GIRARDIN 1995 CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET "MORGEOT" VIELLE VIGNES.
I heard some comments from the north side of the table that this wine was too disjointed
and young. Disagree. Right now it tastes like a loud, fat, sassy, brassy California
Chardonnay, flaunting its oak. I love it and I like the bite of acid that
reminds you it might be Burgundy.
**COMTE LAFON 1993 MEURSAULT "CLOS DE LA BARRE." Another one
thats tasting very young, showing its youthful fruit and oak right now
playing at just a shade less volume than the Girardin.
*MARTINELLI 1995 CHARLES RANCH CHARDONNAY. A fine Chard in fast
company, has excellent fruit and, again, a good dollop of oak. Some called this wine
"oaky," but if you want to play that game, you must also indict the Latour,
Girardin and Lafon, yes? I liked it a lot.
**PAHLMEYER 1994 CHARDONNAY was also on the table and I managed to
snatch a sip before it vanished. This wine went into a dumb stage about a year after
release, but now it seems more open than ever, its lees-scented character coming through
loud and clear.
*ROCHIOLI 1997 SAUVIGNON BLANC. If you want the well-behaved side of
SB, this is your baby. Melon-flavored, smooth and creamy with a hint of honeysuckle and
not a sign of the cat.
*CLOUDY BAY 1997 SAUVIGNON BLANC. Fun drinking this evil twin of the
Rochioli alongside its bro. This is Sauvignons wild side. Grapefruit and gooseberry
galore with a hint of kumquat.
REDS, FIRST FLIGHT:
*MYSTERY RED. Lots of fun with this one. Dark and pretty stiff. Muted, Cab-like nose.
Tobacco, tar, kind of Bordelaise. Might turn into something very nice indeed. Ill
guess a backward Bordeaux or a Madiran. Nope! Its SULLIVAN 1988 COEUR DE
VIGNE. A very impressive California Cab from the most-despised vintage of the
past decade. Thanks for bringing it, Joel.
*SEAVEY 1990 CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Dense and focused. Packed with black
currants. Seems to have the focus but not quite the power of the one I tasted two weeks
***ARAUJO 1991 EISELE VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON. This one was a
pleasant surprise. More open and generous than the one I tasted last January -- when it
was shut tight as a spiteful clam. Yawned ever wider throughout the evening. Not the sheer
power statement of a couple of others noted below, but the chocolate-cherry flavors made
me keep returning to it. Wins the first flight on my card.
*SILVER OAK NAPA 1987. Yowie! Oaky, okay? But a stunner in the style.
Oak and fruit seamlessly married to produce something different and delicious.
SILVER OAK NAPA 1984. Similar but not as lively, oak now overcoming
the fruit. But the best Silver Oak of all tonight wasnt even Silver Oak. It was...
**PENFOLDS 1991 BIN 707 CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Beats Silver Oak at its
own game. Theres no mistaking the American oak, but the fruit makes a powerful
statement and oak is off in the background. maybe even closer to Monte Bello in its style.
REDS, SECOND FLIGHT: (WHAT GREAT CABS!)
***CHATEAU MONTROSE 1989. A power statement. Tannin, blood, meat,
brass, tar and finally, loads of Cabernet fruit. A terrific Montrose. Tied for my second
favorite of the flight.
**ABREU 1993. A chunky but ultimately well-balanced Cabernet with
classic flavors that seemingly needs a few years to lose its rough edges. Seems to have
been lost in the shuffle of big-name wines, but worth remembering. (I seem to recall that
David Abreu is the vineyard manager for Araujo. Good fruit here.)
***PHELPS 1994 INSIGNIA. Another awesome showing for this gigantic,
but oddly approachable California Cab. Right now the cassis and licorice flavors are
dominant, but toward the end of the evening you can taste Asian spice and tobacco. A
***STAGS LEAP 1991 CASK 23. Wonderfully complex wine. A
multi-layered hot-fudge sundae. Supple and light on its feet, but doesnt quit all
night. Pick your style for wine of the evening. This is mine.
?**HARLAN 1991. This was marked down by several tasters for being
monolithic. Lets give it the benefit of the doubt -- I just cant decipher it
right now. Its an immense wine that may turn into something wonderful. Or not. No
hardship to drink it, but the reputation makes you expect even more. Will it or wont
*VILLA MT. EDEN 1992 SIGNATURE RESERVE. Overlooked among the
superstars and thats too bad because this is one heckuva wine. Has a different
flavor than the Napas -- a plummy, chocolatey quality that speaks of very ripe fruit.
Reminds me a little of Justin Reserve cabs from Paso Robles, but this is Mendocino fruit.
Along with their new 1995 Signature Reserve Chard, this confirms that Villa Mt. Eden is
back with a vengeance.
***1990 MONDAVI RESERVE. Ive made notes on this a couple of
other times in the last two years, and this one was consistent. Classic, classic, classic,
California Cab on the model of their archetypal 1987. Nothin flashy, nothin
quirky, just a great example of what Napa Valley can do better than anyplace else.
DESSERT: We finished up with a Beerenauslese that was very
nice, but I couldnt keep the bottle in front of me long enough to copy down the
name. Ortega? Funny, it didnt taste like taco shells.
STEAK & DOMINUS. (July 24, 1998) Simple fare last night. Green salad
with grapes and Gorgonzola, French bread drizzled with Dei olive oil and pan-grilled filet
mignons (tuna for Phylis), accompanied by...
WEINGUT TONI JOST 1995 WALLUFER REISLING KABINETT
. Phylis called this one "good" but didnt flip over it. I thought it
excellent for a hot night Very fruity, amply structured style, with no detectible diesel
aromas but plenty of pineapple and lemon flavors.
**1987 DOMINUS. Consistent with previous
note, this wine has smoothed out remarkably. Still retains a healthy deep ruby color. A
grain or too of grit remains, but for the most part its just rich, delcious Cabernet
fruit, with the roasted-grain-mushroom-and-whatever Dominus signature. This wine has
reached its prime drinking tableau and I look forward to opening more in the coming year.
OREGON PN VS PB. (July 22, 1998) Last night we tried both Oregon Pinot Noir
and Oregon Pinot Blanc with sauteed salmon filets.
The red was **Ponzi Reserve 1994 Pinot Noir
in beautiful shape, with lush, deep raspberry flavors pairing perfectly with the sweetness
of the salmon. This is a gorgeous wine for drinking now.
The white was Ken Wright 1996 Pinot Blanc. It
showed sharp acidity, a tinge of the lime flavors I often find in Orgegon Chardonnays and
a nice slippery mouthfeel. Seemed either a tad austere or a little tight (giving it the
benefit of the doubt for being young).
Winner by far: 94 Ponzi Reserve PN!
BURG FIGHT. (July 14, 1998) Born on the 14th of July, Michel knows Burgundy
better than anyone else I taste with knows it in the sense of buying shrewdly,
knowing when to open them and nearly always bringing an eyeopener to dinner. We celebrated
his birthday yesterday in appropriate style, at Sienna in Wilmington, with a table full
of, well, what else.
Loud arguments ensued. We agreed on practically nothing except
that we were having a good time. Here are my notes. Let the arguments begin again.
First let me mention that the **EGLY-OURIET 1989
MILLESIME was predictably superb, but its probably time to drink it up. The
mature notes are exploding, but the finish is waning a bit.
The dog of the evening was indisputably DUJAC 1989
MOREY ST. DENIS VIN GRIS DE PINOT NOIR, a textbook argument against aging rose
wines. Not even diplomatic Al could think of anything nice to say about it.
Its tough picking a favorite among the whites, but I
guess Ill go with ***RAMONET 1992 CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET LES RUCHOTTES.
Balanced right now between young fruit and mature nuttiness, creamy as all get out and
lengthy as well. This is the moment I look for in whites.
**VERGET 1996 PULIGNY-MONTRACHET SOUS LE PUITS is
one of the best young Pulignys Ive tasted tight, lemony, very intense with a
rich layer of lees, and a silky texture that just makes you want to purr. Im looking
for some starting now.
And **COMTE LAFON 1990 MEURSAULT LES PERRIERES
might be too young to show all the class its capable of . I didnt follow it for very
long perhaps it might have won out by the end of the evening but it seemed a
touch more restrained than the others at the time I sampled it. Pick your style.
Biggest disappointment for me among the whites was REMOISSENET
1992 CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE. Mute at first. I thought, well, give it time to open.
Then it opened. Dilute and forgettable. What happened here?
Best red was, of course, brought by Michel, the
**CORTOCHOT 1988 MAZY-CHAMBERTIN. Absolutely kick-a** fruit, with barely a trace
of the infamous 1988 tannins. Just pure, focused Pinot Noir fruit with perfect acidity,
opened on just the right evening.
First runner-up was *JOBLOT 1996 GIVRY CLOS DU CELLIER
AUX MOINES, which probably wont be as long-lived as the Cortochot, but is
drinking beautifully now if you like em young (and I do). Very intense and pure
Burgundy. Worth looking for and I plan to.
Close on its heels, *BOUCHARD 1990 LA ROMANEE,
which started out tasting wonderful just a beautiful shade of raspberry but
then seemed to fade at the moment I was hoping it would explode.
LABET & DECHELLETTE 1990 CLOS DE VOUGEOT
"CHATEAU DE LA TOUR" seemed a little dull as well. Is it just too soon
to be opening these 1990s? It was getting rave reviews at the other end of the table, but
I couldnt taste what the fuss was about tonight.
And, although others liked the LIVERA 1993
CHAPELLE-CHAMBERTIN "DOMAINE DES TILLEULS" a lot, I found it too woody
and tight. Decanting helped a little. Maybe a few more years in the cellar is called for
or maybe theres just too much oak.
To atone for the Livera (which I brought), I opened a **BEAUX
FRERES 1993 PINOT NOIR, which afforded far more satisfaction, and compared well
to the better red Burgs. This may be the most "Burgundian" vintage of Beaux
Freres to date. I doubt very much that it would have been spotted for an Oregon wine in a
Star of the evening? I vote for ***1989 RAYMOND-LAFON.
Cheating, I know, but this wine is amazing. Still very pale and doesnt seem to have
budged a millimeter since release. Does this wine need another decade until it starts
showing a little age? Dont care. It was open. I drank.
A RIESLING FOR MIKEY? (July 12, 1998) This is front page news. On a whim,
opened a bottle of Koehler-Ruprecht 1995er Kallstadter Steinacker Kabinett.
Poured a glass for mein Frau, who usually loathes Riesling.
She not only drank it, but asked for more and even said
"this is good."
Have the stars shifted?
BIG CAL90 TASTING. (July 11, 1998) Dont look for startling news here.
Do look for lots of I-told-you-sos. Of the 15 different 1990 California Cabs I tasted last
Saturday, only a couple made me or the other tasters sit back and go
The event was held at Jayco in Maryland. We tasted from INAO
glasses, labels in view. rankings are strictly my own; we didnt vote (but I
didnt sense a lot of disagreement). Every participant brought a bottle, so you can
always question the storage if you happen to disagree with a tasting note here.
SMITHBRIDGE. A ringer from Pennsylvania. Garnet hued, aromas of
greenery. Old tasting. Good azalea-food. #3 in flight.
HEITZ NAPA. Garnet at the rim, with aromas of pepper and cassis. Quite
clean. No musty or sour-milk flavors. Moderate Cabernet fruit on the palate. Soft and
ready. Drink up. Better than I expected! #2 in flight.
FISHER COACH INSIGNIA. Chocolatey, earthy aromas. Round and spicy on
the palate. Nice wine! But more mature than expected. This bottle needs drinking. #1 in
GROTH (REGULAR BOTTLING). Garnet at rim. Aromas of cedar, cassis,
herbs. I find it pleasant but others complain of the herbs. Needs drinking. #2 in flight.
CINNABAR. Garnet at rim. Rubbery aroma. And some kind of strange spice
Cardamon? Peppery and unpleasantly tart on the palate. Yuck. The one clear dog of
all the California wines. Was this wine over-acidified or just unripe to begin with? #3 of
the flight. Dont drink, dont cellar. Get rid of it somehow.
ARROWOOD. Deep ruby with no garnet. Focused cassis aromas. Clean and
correct on the palate. Good Cabernet but a little short. #1 of a weak flight. Drink or
TREFETHEN LIBRARY SELECTION. Deep ruby to the rim. Looks pretty young.
Nice cherry-cassis nose. Quite tasty with a decent finish. Very good wine and my #2 of the
flight. Im surprised its this food. Drink or hold.
STAGS LEAP NAPA. Color is a little closer to garnet than the
Trefethen. Chocolate-cherry aromas. Smooth and velvety on the palate. Good finish. My #1
of the flight. Drink or hold.
CAYMUS NAPA. Garnet at the rim. Aromas of American oak still cover the
fruit and its the same story when you sip it. Theres good fruit here, but
its smothered by the oak. Some tasters like it fine, but its my #3 of the
flight. Drink up.
FLIGHT D. (The heavenly flight.)
**DALLA VALLE ESTATE. Very dark ruby. (Now this is more like it!)
Berry-bramble aromas. Delicious, thick fruit on the palate. #3 in the flight and the
tasting. Enjoyable now but can be cellared for many more years.
***SEAVEY. Almost black. Deep cassis aromas. MONSTROUS concentration,
but beautifully balanced. Blows away everything else with ease. Without question, the WINE
OF THE TASTING.
**BERINGER RESERVE. Very dark ruby. Classic California Cabernet
aromas. Beautiful cassis and plum on the palate. The fruit has seemingly soaked up the
toasty flavors that characterized this wine at released. A large, youthful wine that can
be drunk now or cellared for another 5-10 years. #2 in the flight and the tasting.
FLIGHT E. (The tannic flight.)
MT. VEEDER. Deep ruby, lightning at the rim. Schizoid, sweet cassis
and bellpepper aromas. Cedar joins in on the palate. Tannic finish. Should come around
with a few more years, but I still mark it down for the green notes. #3 in the flight.
Hold a few more years.
*HESS COLLECTION. Very deep ruby. Aromas of cassis and dust. Sweet,
grapey fruit on the palate with a slightly gritty finish. Good stuff! least tannic of the
flight and my #1. Drink or hold.
?LA JOTA HOWELL MOUNTAIN. Deep ruby. Unexpectedly drinkable, despite
marked tannins. May be a little dumb right now. Tough to guess what to do with it, but
Id say cellar 5 more years. Seems to have the balance to emerge. My #2 of the
OFF THE BEATEN PATH. (July 10, 1998) We gathered to greet a couple of
out-of-town friends them at New Jersey's osh Laurel Creek Country Club, where even the
pissoirs are gilded, and it looked to me like all 17 guests had a 24 karat evening.
The wine theme was "Off the Beaten Path" and wander we did. Discipline broke
down early I saw Howard and Mark comparing Bandols even before the Champagne was
poured. Forgive me, therefore if I scramble some names or leave out a few worthy ones.
DIDIER DAGUENEAU 1992 POUILLY FUME "PUR SANG." I didnt
see the full label before I took my first sip. Grapefruit attack finishing with melon.
Very tasty Sauvignon that makes me wonder why I dont drink more of this varietal. On
the other hand, when I was told the producer, I wondered why it wasnt even better.
MICHELOT-BUISSON 1985 MEURSAULT CHARMES. Corked, drat it.
**MICHELOT-BUISSON 1985 MEURSAULT "LES NARVAUX". More like
it. Still pretty stiff and might benefit from a year or two more in the cellar. Swirling
and time reveal beautiful flavors of nuts, vanilla and minerals.
*CHEVALIER 1989 LADOIX "LES GRECHONS." One of Michels
bottles, with a label so moldy I couldnt extract much information from it.
Regrettably too, I neglected to quiz Michel himself, who sat across from me. Nice juice,
fully mature. Can anyone offer particulars?
***SINE QUA NON 1995 "THE BRIDE." I believe this is made
from a blend of Chardonnay and Rousanne. Sounds weird, but it really works. Gives you the
tangy bite of a great young white Burgundy with the slippery mouthfeel of a White
Hermitage. Would be a fine choice for a blind tasting. From St. Luis Obispo.
*PRADEAUX 1990 BANDOL. We had two different bottles the regular
cuvee and the Vielles Vignes. Both excellent, very typical Bandols with plenty of pepper
and roasted herb. The Argument of the Evening seemed to be whether the VV was worth the
money. They tasted fairly similar to me, with the VV a shade more tannic and intense. Some
claimed the difference broadened as the night wore on, but by then I was onto the others,
**DOMAINE LAIGUELIERE 1993 COTE ROUSSE. Predictably polarized
the guests. The smell of garrigue is often interpreted as brett, but Im here to tell
you it aint. Theres a big gulf between dog poop and Provencal herbs and this
bottle is full of the latter. The depth of this wine is indisputable, and I also love the
violet aromas that twist their way up through the rest of the potpourri.
*ROSTAING 1994 COTE ROTIE "COTE BLOND." What a delicious
wine! So elegant and blackberry-scented, it reminds you of a fine Burgundy. This is my
style of Cote Rotie. The polar opposite of a bacony, smokey OGIER opened alongside it.
*SILVER OAK 1991 NAPA. Despite the fact that one guy (the one who
brought it) dissed this wine for being too oaky, I say theres room in this world
(and my cellar) for a wine that does the style to perfection. The 1991 Napa is one of this
producers best efforts and its maturing well. Flavors fully integrated, and
yes, theres plenty of fruit in the bottle. It just tastes good. (Would be fun
someday to do a blind tasting of Silver Oak and Penfolds 707 to see who gets the wooden
*DALLE VALLE 1992 CABERNET FRANC "CASA DALLA VALLE." I had
never seen or tasted this bottling before. Its kind of a baby Maya, still a little
tannic, showing cedar, flowers and strawberry hints. Not surprisingly, it also reminds me
some of the 1994 Viader.
***PRIORAT 1995 DOFI. Another controversial wine, most likely because
it was so young. Its 60% Garnacha, the remainder being Bordeaux varieties. Inky,
deep, pretty tannic but ferociously intense. Is this what Grenache really wants to be?
Dunno, but Ill take it! Think of a young Le Pavillon and youll get an idea of
the size and structure. In ten years this wine will be a barnburner. WINE OF THE EVENING.
**CLARENDON 1995 OLD VINE GRENACHE "BLEWITT SPRINGS." Same
variety but, uh, a world apart. If the former was Night on Bald Mountain, this Australian
Grenache is Ave Maria. Also highly extracted, but less tannic, with an amazing red
raspberry flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. Pepper on the finish. Someone
compared it to a Gros Freres Burgundy. Cant argue with that.
***ARGIANO 1995 SOLENGO. Another great wine but would you ever
guess it was Sangiovese and Syrah? Tuscan, but it winds up tasting a lot like Bordeaux. I
dont think Ive ever tasted this particular blend of grapes before, but in this
case it really clicks. You get the finesse of Sangiovese on the attack and then the Syrah
sneaks up and clobbers you.
***ZIND-HUMBRECHT 1993 GEWURZTRAMINER ST. URBAIN SGN. Very dark for a
1993. Not as sugary as I expected, but massive! Loads of botrytis on this baby and a very
long finish. The blackstrap molasses of SGNs.
**1990 FILHOT CREME DE TETE. I was execting this to be a big comedown
after the SGN, but not so. An unexpectedly great Sauternes from this producer. Is it the
year, or should I be tasting more of their stuff?
DUCK FOR PINOT. (July 4, 1998) Why a duck? Because Phylis loves it
and because I love Pinot Noir. It was right tasty too, with a passel of All-American reds
and whites, including:
**BERINGER 1996 CHARDONNAY "SBRAGIA LIMITED
RELEASE". How fitting for the fourth. Explodes with fruit and finishes with
a long resounding boom. Will not disappoint those who loved the æ94 and æ95. Just as big
*WILLIAMS SELYEM 1993 PINOT NOIR "OLIVET LANE".
Has aged well. A core of focused cherry fruit bears up well to airing and keeps your
interest. But it didnt have near the power of...
**TALLEY 1995 PINOT NOIR "RINCON VINEYARD." A
rich, spicy Pinot with no herbs showing and plenty of raspberry fruit. More complex and
more intense than the WS. I wonder if it will age as well, but theres really no
reason to wait on this one. If you got it, pull a cork!
See more tasting notes (May-June 1998)
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