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PIE. (April 28, 2002) Watch out, Russian River Valley.
Just a couple months ago I was seduced by a
new Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and now here comes another that
may be even better. **+2000 Siduri Pinot Noir Anderson Valley
"Cerise Vineyard" lives up to the sexy moniker and then some.
It's such a young babe, but I couldn't resist pulling a cork and,
gulp, I'm glad I did.
This wine is just brimming with ripe red
cherry and piecrust flavors, with more than a hint of blueberry on
the finish. The oak is already soaked up, but enough vanilla lingers
to provide a scoop of ice cream for your cherry pie. Will it age
well? Search me, but for now, wow-wow-wow. Way to go, Adam and
(April 28, 2002) Terroir enthusiasts, welcome to hell. Not only are
competing regions producing equally fine Cabs and Merlots, in some
cases even you guys can't taste the difference. Old-guard grumps
call this a crime against wine. Me, I just drink and take notes.
Following are a few of my favorite ringers from recent tastings:
In a flight of Californians, you'd find it pretty easy to
identify ***--1991 Joseph Phelps Napa Valley "Insignia."
It's got the spice, the fruit and the power that have driven
prices of recent Insignia vintages north of $100. But as it ages,
Insignia also takes on saddle leather and subtle herbal overtones
that trick your brain into thinking "Bordeaux." Maybe you
could train yourself to nail it in blind tastings, but it's
developing just as you'd want your better 1990 Bordeaux to
***-1997 and ***1998 Ornellaia should be required
drinking for those who scoff at Super Tuscans. Drink either one
blind and you know you're on the Right Bank, except you're
not. Both have the lead pencil, black fruit and fascination of
your favorite St. Emilions and I predict both are going to age
just as well. Right now, the 1998 is cuddly and cute as a kitten.
You can drink it right now or wait another 5 years. The adolescent
'97 emerges after some coaxing, but I'd advise giving it a few
more years in the cellar.
I was personally stumped a couple of weeks ago when trying to
identify ***1987 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley "3 Palms
Vineyard." My notes say "sweet cassis, anisette, expands with
air and Bordeaux flavors take over. Structure, balance for more
age. 1985 Left Bank." You'll note I not only blew the region, but
couldn't even nail the main grape. (Fair enough. I've done
the same to others with other Duckhorns.)
**-1998 Viader Napa Valley will fool no one at this point,
as it's all about succulent California fruit and sweet new oak.
But the sterner sister from ***-1995 has a much more
pronounced French accent. Talks tough at first, but she cozies up
an hour or so into the evening, revealing the strawberry, cherry
and herbal notes of Bordelaise Cabernet Franc. We compared these
side by side and several tasters were intrigued by how the highly
hyped 1998 faded as the 1995 came on strong. You may as well drink
the 1998 now, but don't rush the '95. Even greater days may lie
Next, if you really want to outfox the Bordeaux hounds at your
next blind tasting, stick ***1994 Angelus into a flight
with some California ringers. They'll snuffle the minerals and
graphite, lap up the cassis-laden fruit, smack their lips, savor
the lengthy finish and think "Bordeaux." But they may then
second-guess themselves, because it's so ripe and chocolatey. Call
it Bordeaux with a California accent, but don't deny it's
PINOT PICKS (April 13, 2002) If you
like discovering cool new boutique wines, 2000 West Coast Pinot Noir
could be your proverbial pasture of plenty. I've only tasted a
handful so far, but quality seems to be steady or slightly up across
the board. Here are my picks from the spring portfolio at Michael
Sean Capiaux's wines are devilishly hard to find, but whenever
I do, I'm impressed with his flair for finesse. **-2000 Capiaux
Pinot Noir "California" blends fruit from various vineyards in
Sonoma County and the Santa Lucia Highlands -- with 47% coming
from Demostene Vineyard ( a source of fruit for some legendary
Kalin DD Pinot Noirs). I guess that must be where it gets its
meaty character. Berries come into play too, but the effect is
intriguingly un-Californian. I'd love to have a bottle of this to
stick in a blind tasting.
Equally exotic is **-2000 Capiaux Pinot Noir Russian River
Valley "Widdoes Vineyard." This one has a gamy tang too, but
red cherry flavors win the day. I like the hint of cranberry on
And **2000 Capiaux Pinot Noir "Gary's Vineyard" veers
off in yet another direction. Richest of the three, it's all about
sweet young fruit at this stage. My notes say I tasted blueberry
pie. Wish I had a sip right now to confirm it.
Ever since Diane and Adam Lee sprung for their own winemaking
facility, quality at Siduri has been on the rise (it was already
very good). Their 2000s are still fearfully young, but I'll creep
out on the limb a little and call this their strongest overall
vintage yet. *++2000 Siduri Pinot Noir "Santa Lucia
Highlands" may be the easiest to like in the lineup. It's got
these wonderful rose aromas (how? why?), followed by red cherry
flavors and a darned nice finish. Three-quarters of the fruit
comes from Gary's Vineyard, with the remainder from Pisoni.
By contrast, the **2000 Siduri Pinot Noir "Gary's
Vineyard" is a darker, tighter, deeper wine. A tang of
pomegranate mingles with red raspberry at the core. Really needs a
year or two, unless you're prepared to decant and be patient. Less
than half the fruit they harvested from Gary's went into this
cuvée, with the remainder
going to the SLH bottling.
As in past vintages, **++2000 Siduri Pinot Noir "Pisoni
Vineyard" may be my favorite of their current releases. The
silky texture and black cherry flavors make it sexy as all
get-out, and the lingering finish seals the deal. Not too tannic,
not too fleshy, just right.
A couple of tasters I spoke with today preferred **+2000
Siduri Pinot Noir "Muirfield Vineyard." They could be right --
it's more structured and although it's not showing quite as much
fruit upfront, it's even longer than the Pisoni. If it follows a
"normal" development curve, this could mean it beats the
Pisoni in a couple of years. But I'm not sure what's normal for
Pinot, and past Siduri Pisonis have all developed well. I wouldn't
bet against them.
Meantime, you can enjoy the regional Oregon bottling,
*++2000 Siduri Pinot Noir "Willamette Valley," just about
any time you choose in the next few years. This one's already
oozing blackberry jam and reminds me a bit of the
still-alive-and-kicking 1993 Fiddlehead Willamette.
Another Willamette Valley fruit bomb is **-2000 J. K.
Carriere Pinot Noir, the first wine I've ever tasted from this
producer. Full of ripe, generous blueberry flavors, the wine shows
little oak influence even at this stage. Wouldn't hold it long but
it's mighty fine drinking today.
Finally, Paul Hobbs wins big yet again this spring with his
***-1999 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir "Augustina." Okay, it's not
a 2000, but I have to give it mention. The spicy nose and big,
full cinnamon-raspberry flavors remind me of some of the great
Calera Pinot Noirs.
ZANY FOR ZIN (April 6,
2002) California's 2000 Zinfandel vintage may have been more
challenging than 1999, but the top producers have fielded a bunch of
outstanding wines. In a couple of cases I actually prefer the 2000
efforts. Here's what I tasted recently from the Michael Skurnik
According to Robert Biale and his partner Dave Pramuk, the big
challenge in 2000 was that "the sugar levels in the grapes were
racing ahead of the flavors." This is a classic problem in dry
years and can result in an overly alcoholic wine -- but
Biale's 2000 Zins are models of balance and finesse. My favorite
today is the **2000 Robert Biale Zinfandel "Old Crane
Ranch." The fruit's grown across the street from Hayne
Vineyard, but this is a very different kind of Zin, with pure red
cherry fruit, silky texture and an elegant finish.
**-2000 Robert Biale Zinfandel "Black Chicken Vineyard" is
grown on the plot out behind the Biale family home in Napa. It's a
thicker, richer wine, with flavors that veer toward briar and
blackberry. Broadens out well on the palate, finishing without a
Biale and Pramuk also gave me a sip of their new **2000
Robert Biale Petite Sirah "Thomann Station," grown from
10-year-old vines across the street from Crane. Love blueberries?
This is your baby -- big stuff that's drinking well now. Tough to
resist even if you're not a PS person.
**-2000 Downing Family Zinfandel "Oakville" opens with a
blast of raspberry, trailing cherry and a hint of cranberry
relish. The vines come from a plot just a bit South of Oakville
Grocery. Another beaut from this Napa newcomer. (Don't miss their
*++2000 Dashe Cellars Zinfandel "Dry Creek" is stuffed with
briary fruit and doesn't mind a bit if you call it brawny. Brash,
friendly and easy to like, it impressed me just a little more than
the tighter, more tannic *1999 bottling, also tasted
With heady black cherry aromas, **-2000 Dashe Cellars
Zinfandel "Todd Brothers Vineyard" is a classier wine than the
Dry Creek cuvée -- bigger and
more focused all at once. Here again, I slightly prefer the 2000
to the *++1999.
Finally, Larry Turley gave me a taste of the treats in store
for people lucky enough to cadge a bottle or three of his wines.
*++2000 Turley Zinfandel "Juvenile" brings together grapes
from younger plantings in the Hayne, Duarte and Earthquake
vineyards. I hope winemaker Ehren Jordan won't be miffed if I call
it this babe very pretty. Lots of forward cherry fruit and a long
finish make it a swell date with pizza or pasta. (Had the
**-1999 Juvenile last night with a South Philly hoagie and
ooh, what a feast.)
Turley "Old Vines" Zins are special favorites of mine, going
great lots of different foods and priced pretty reasonably too.
The broad, lush **2000 Turley Zinfandel "Old Vines" gets it
right on the money once again. A barge-load of jammy raspberries
float across your palate and meander downstream to a leisurely
finish. Climb aboard and prepare for smiles all the way.
*2000 Turley Zinfandel "Pesenti" is made from Paso Robles
fruit and it's plummy character reminds me of other wines from the
area. Frankly, I'm not as thrilled with this wine as the other
Turleys today, but it's still good juice that won't disappoint
**+2000 Turley Zinfandel "Duarte" is big stuff (like
you were expecting a shrinking violet?) and very complex -- dates,
figs and other unexpected fruits join the dance. Pushes ripeness
as far as it can and gets away with it, finishing full and
And a star is born with ***2000 Turley Zinfandel "Mead
Ranch." Located over on Atlas Peak, this vineyard is new to
the Turley roster, and I must say its my favorite since Aida left
the tribe. No matter what kind of Zinfandel flavors you like,
you'll find them in this wine. Briar, berry, cherry -- the full
Zin symphony. Catch it if you can!
CAL CAB CRAZY (March
30, 2002) In spring a man's fancy turns to...well, several things we
won't talk about here, but sexy California Cabs and Merlots are
Sigh, shrug, I can't help it. After all
the crazy price increases, I may not be able to buy it, but I still
love the stuff.
Following is the first in a series of
tasting reports from the spring portfolio of Michael Skurnik Wines.
They distribute some of California's hottest bottlings to New York's
top restaurants, so I'm always eager to slurp what's being poured.
Today I tasted mostly 1999s and found them tasty indeed. While not
as consistent as '97s, they're two steps up from just-okay '98s and
a couple of producers really belted it out of the park. Happily too,
most of the winemakers I asked couldn't hold back their glee about
The Skurnik offerings have multiplied,
so I tasted a lot of wine and even then didn't have time to
do all that I wanted. Apologies for any good bets I missed, but
here's the cream of the crop I sampled. Some are actually
Plenty of soft, ripe fruit plus some meaty, chocolatey overtones
make this an excellent choice for restaurants or for your own
house pour. I would guess the retail hovers somewhere around
$10-$12. Drink now and over the next year.
*+Michael Sullberg 2000 Merlot "Reserve" (California)
*-Michael Sullberg 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon "Reserve"
(California). This one's a tad less exuberant than the 2000
Merlot, but similarly well-made. Aging in 2-3 year old barrels
puts the oak blessedly in balance. No dill notes, even though
there's some American oak in the elevage. Swell drinking over the
next year for just $10-$12.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON & BLENDS.
**+1999 Downing Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa is a new
name for me and boy does it bear watching. The fruit's from a
vineyard on Bella Oaks Lane -- and includes 6% Cabernet Franc plus
a 1% squirt of Merlot. It's seemingly built for aging, but showing
gorgeous strawberry and cherry flavors already, and the finish is
convincing. I'll be looking for some.
***+1999 Peter Michael Les Pavots may not be quite
as profound as their plush 1997 and 1996, but still thrills. Rich
blackberry flavors are shaded by the usual lead pencil, shoe
polish and adhesive tape (that's what I said, but it works).
Texture is thick and the finish sings. It's like ultra-Bordeaux. I
shrink to think what Peter Michael's asking now for this
used-to-be-buyable wine, but hey, I had my sip.
I only wish Emilio's Terrace had some of their 1999 to pour,
because the **--1998 Emilio's Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon
Reserve was a really nice effort for the vintage. Made by Joe
Cafaro (whose own wines I didn't have time to taste, more's the
pity), '98 Emilio's is drinking well now, supple and soft with
loads of straight-down-the middle Cab flavors. No showboating --
this is purist's Cab, not unlike offerings from their Oakville
neighbor, Mondavi. Thins a bit on the finish like many 1998s, but
should drink well for the next 5 years.
Equally classy with more oomph to the ounce is **+1999 Paul
Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon "Napa." Most of the fruit's from
To-Kalon Vineyard and it shows. Hobbs is ringing my chimes with
every grape variety he tries and, like his other efforts, this Cab
is a model of balance and elegance.
I also had the good fortune to taste a couple of Paul Hobbs'
Argentina efforts. I don't approach Malbec expecting to be
seduced, but the **1999 Cobos Malbec "Mendoza" is about as
sexy as this grape gets. With exotic raspberry and chocolate
aromas, it's all plush on the palate, trailing off with a spray of
spice. If you're used to thinking of Malbec as a tough guy, try
this and change your mind fast.
Cathy Corison fans should be happy to hear about the library
release of **-1994 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. If
I've got my geography right, this vineyard is fairly far up the
Mayacamas ridge. The oak has fallen back revealing plenty of juicy
black cherry fruit. You can drink it now, but I'd anticipate 10
more years of good times ahead. Frankly, I liked it more than the
**--1998 Long Meadow Ranch -- good stuff but 50% more
It was nice to catch up with Rudy von Strasser, who's been busy
upgrading and expanding his line of reds made from Diamond
Mountain fruit. The ***1999 von Strasser Estate Vineyard
Cabernet Sauvignon could be the finest Cab I've tasted from
von Strasser (Rudy's '95 Reserve is still my favorite, but that's
mostly Petit Verdot). Simple explanation -- this new "Estate"
designation now gets the best 20% of the grapes he produces.
Anyhow, this is big, thick, extracted, cult-grade stuff, with a
whalloping black cherry finish and I wouldn't be surprised to see
it age positively for the next 20 years.
He's also added a proprietary blend, the **+1999 von
Strasser "Sori Bricco Vineyard" Red. It's 54% Merlot, 28%
Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cab Franc, and represents a new kind of
style for von Strasser -- dark and juicy as you'd expect, but a
little cuddlier than his previous offerings.
Finally, the *++1999 von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon
"Diamond Mountain" is the softest wine in the lineup. It's
half estate grapes, with the remainder from 5 other Diamond
Mountain vineyards. Nice stuff in its way, but it won't make me
forget the Estate.
Mia Klein's ***--1999 Selene Merlot "Napa Valley is one
I'll be cellaring, if I can find some. It's opened up since my
pre-release tasting last spring and performing as hoped. With
plenty of chocolate and berry flavors, this is gorgeous stuff for
now through 2010, at a price that's pretty darned good in the
current overheated scheme of things. (I'm sorry that a Skurnik
shipment glitch prevented Mia from pouring the sensational ***+1999
Selene Merlot Blackbird Vineyard, but I'll be looking for
John and Tracy Skupny are coming on strong at Lang & Reed.
I've had fun with previous offerings, but their **1999 Lang
& Reed Cabernet Franc "1er Etage" is serious wine.
Perfumed nose and focused blackcurrant flavors with a hint of
strawberry on the finish. Not a weed to be found. We're edging
into Viader territory here, and the price is pretty sharp too.
Drink now until 2007.
For less money and happy drinking with dinner tonight,
*++2000 Lang & Red Cabernet Franc offers lots of soft,
forward strawberry fruit, some bellpepper and no perceptible oak.
Seems like it would go well with lighter fowl and
WABBIT. (March 9, 2002) Tonight we had a
tewwific wepast of wabbit pie and opened way too many Pinots,
pitting a few more newbies against some tried-and-trues.
Yes, more Pinots. I'll get back to Cab
soon, I promise! But the new West Coast Cabs go mostly for $60 and
over -- the Pinot Noirs for $50 and under. So maybe you'll forgive
me if I'm mostly tasting the Pinots.
*+2000 Loring Wine Company Gary's Vineyard (Monterey,
California) comes out of the bottle smelling of sandalwood and
potpourri, and I'm wondering if the oak is overdone. But the color
is dark, the texture silky, and before long the fruit emerges. It
holds up all evening. A really nice first effort from this new
*--2000 Loring Wine Company Clos Pepe (Santa Barbara,
California) starts out more attractively than its cousin,
showing cherry and raspberry notes that I like a lot. By the end
of the evening, however, it's thinned quite a bit. You'll have fun
with this wine for two years, but don't push your luck.
Finally, **+Murdoch James Estate Fraser Vineyard Pinot Noir
(Martinborough, New Zealand) has to be the best Pinot Noir
I've tasted yet from down under. Dripping with intensely ripe red
cherry flavors, it gets a little kinky on the mid-palate. (Is that
beetroot I taste?) But I can't resist the total effect. This is a
big, pleasure-laden Pinot without the vegetal and oak flaws that
I've tasted in so many Oz and New Zealand Pinots. Bravo
TRIED AND TRUE:
*+1996 Ponzi Reserve is holding up well for Oregon Pinot
from the usually-dismal vintage of '96. Garnet to clear at the
rim, it's showing the strawberry flavors of older Burgundies, and
the texture is satisfyingly thick.
***1994 Ponzi Reserve shows how different vintages in
Oregon can be. This one's still a puppy, with very pure, sweet
cherry aromas and noticeable tannins as it airs. The length is
convincing, the balance is terrific and I'll bet there's at least
another 5-10 years of happy life left for this classic. Delightful
on release, but the best may be yet to come.
**-1990 Leroy Savigny Les Beaune "Les Narbantons" (1er Cru)
occasions some argument. One taster asserts it's cracking up
and showing oxidation. But I'm no necrophile and I like it a lot
-- savoring the sweet strawberry flavors, the velvety texture and
the long finish. Don't detect any oxidation, just mature fruit. I
wouldn't hold it much longer, but I'd love to open another
**1998 Dehlinger Estate begins sort of spare, like the good
Rochioli vineyard wines usually do. 1998 may have been tough for
Cabs, but this Pinot is comparable to '96s I've tasted from
Russian River Valley. With airing, it shows cranberry relish and
sour cherry notes that get sweeter as the night wears on.
Beautiful wine with a lovely future.
Speaking of 1996, the WINE OF THE EVENING by universal vote is
(no surprise) ***+1996 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The deep jammy notes of its youth have given way to pure, focused,
raspberry fruit and a finish that endures like the last chord of
"Day in the Life." Until I've got a chance to taste the first
Marcassin Pinot Noir with some age on it, Steve Kistler remains
King of West Coast Pinot Noir.
SPAIN REIGNS! (March
2, 2002) Hush, hear? What you're about to read must remain a deep,
dark secret or the fun will be through before you can say "price
This week some friends and I tasted
through a dozen current releases from Spain, all distributed on the
East Coast by Tempranillo, Inc. The uniformly high quality was treat
enough, but the stickers had us pinching ourselves. All but a couple
were under $15 and some of the nicest even dove below the ten buck
What's the catch? Well, you do have to
be willing to drink Tempranillo or Garnacha, but honest, it won't
hurt. Just close your eyes, taste and then remind yourself that it's
*-Marques de Gelida NV Brut. Fruity and friendly, with a
mild sort of mousse, this isn't the usual, bone-dry kind of Cava
that makes you feel like you've sucked a lemon. Think of a
well-bred Moscato with extra kick. Weighing in at 11.5% alcohol,
this should be very pleasant summer fare and you can pour it at
parties with nary at flinch for only $7.99. Excellent with
marinated olives and other wine-challenging tapas.
*-1999 Vega Sindoa Chardonnay won't make you forget
Marcassin, but it sure beats most California Chardonnays under
$10. The French oak is frank but won't turn off seasoned
Chard-junkies like my own Best Beloved. With air, things come into
balance just fine and you're left with a Beringer taste-alike for
about half the price. There seems to be plenty around for
*-2000 Martivilli Rueda Verdejo was compared by one taster
to a good California Sauvignon Blanc minus the grass, and I think
that's about right. Honeydew melon with a squirt of grapefruit and
not a trace of veggie. Decent acidity, good viscosity, nice clean
aftertaste. What's not to like for $5.99?
REDS (in rough order of seriousness):
*2000 Campo de Borja Borsao. Fragrant and juicy, this
Garnacha-Tempranillo blend delivers a gush of fresh raspberry and
plum flavors. Nice palate presence, finishes well and just $5.99!
I first tasted this five months ago. It's not for the cellar, but
should remain swell drinking for the remainder of the year.
*+Venta Mazzaron Tinta de Toro is shamelessly forward
Tempranillo in a fun, drink-me-now style. Ripe red fruit, soft
texture, good follow-through, start-to-finish yum. For $8.99,
here's proof that once in a while life really can be a bowl of
*++1998 Partal Bullas. If you don't mind Silver Oak Cabs,
this Tempranillo should float your boat fine. With cherry,
chocolate and coconut notes, you can surely taste the American
oak, but the result is so round and well-balanced, most folks
won't mind a bit. The $14.99 price tag doesn't hurt either.
*+2000 ViZa Alarba
Old Vines Grenache plays to those who go for super-ripe Zins
or Amarones. You'll either dig the depth or complain that it's too
pruney. Ultra-ripe and almost raisiny, it needs about half an hour
in the glass to collect itself, but then the raspberries pop up
and it's smiles all the way. For $7.99, you can afford to smile
**- -1998 Sierra Cantabria "Cuvée Especial" (Rioja) gets my
vote for STEAL OF THE EVENING. The pure, focused blackberry
flavors really ring my chimes, plus there's plenty of depth and
some structure for short-term (like maybe 3 years) cellaring.
Gorgeous juice that can stave off your Cal Cab Jones for a
phenomenally reasonable $9.99.
*-1999 Vega Sindoa Merlot suffers only in comparison to the
above. With scads of soft, sweet fruit, the wine reveals a touch
of weediness on the finish, but its so sanely priced at $8.99,
who's gonna complain?
*++2000 Tresantos Zamora Vinos de la Tierra is promisingly
dark and fulfills expectations with big, deep cherry and
blackcurrant fruit. This 100% Tempranillo is very close in appeal
to the Sierra Cantabria, above -- close in price too at $11.99 --
and some may prefer its slightly more structured style.
*+1998 Lanzaga is the most Rhône-ish selection tonight, with mint
and herbal overtones to shade its raspberry flavors. Good juice,
but at $19.99, not the best value tonight.
And yes, we did taste one wine over $30, but it too is a fairly
compelling value. **1998 Bodega Emilio Moro "Malleolus" (Ribera
del Duero) is big, chewy stuff that can square off against
Bordeaux, with blackberries, cedar, tobacco and spice playing in
pretty harmony. This one feels like it could go 10 years or more.
At $38.99, I'm buying a couple.
tasting notes (January-February 2002)