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CRAZY FOR CROZES HERMITAGE. (April
24, 2003) Producer Albert Belle first hit my radar screen with the 1990
vintage. Feeling stingy, I sprang only for his bargain *-1990 Albert
Belle Crozes Hermitage "Les Pierelles."
It was good enough stuff ten years ago, but
who'd a thunk it would still be alive today?
I had a backup handy when I pulled the cork of
this long-misplaced cellar orphan. No need! Still very dark, though going vaguely garnet at the rim.
Bacon and seaweed flavors recede to reveal a tasty blackcurrant core.
Wouldn't call it youthful or age it another day -- but try a drink before
WHAT GOES WITH GEFILTE FISH?
(April 19, 2003) You might think this an impossible task, but not if
you've got great gefilte fish. Our friends have an unusually tasty recipe,
yielding a smoothly textured, delicately flavored dish that cozies up well to just
about anything. Tonight we tried it against...
WHITES (served blind)
Honeydew melon and grapefruit flavors with a little spritz, presumably from recent bottling. Good texture, finishes well. Acidity
surprisingly moderate, given what it turns out to be. Reminds me of a
fruity, ripe New World Sauvignon Blanc at this stage, but it's actually *++
2001 Maximin Grünhäuser
QbA Bruderberg Riesling.
No mistaking this one. Pure mineral flavors with
slippery mouthfeel. It's**1989 -Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet
Some oak shows at first, but quickly moderates, and whoa, what a
finish! Lots of stuffing here. One taster understandably mistakes this for
Coche-Dury, but it's ***-2000 Aubert Chardonnay "Ritchie
Ranch." My first taste of master winemaker Mark Aubert's new
venture, and I'm mightily impressed. Mark made the Peter Michael wines for
years, but I like the minerally flavors, finesse and balance of this one
even more than many PMs.
REDS (served blind
A little cinnamon, a bit of beetroot and a great big wallop of
cherry, with nuances of wet stones trailing on the finish. No one's
fooled. Plainly a fine New World Pinot. Yes, it's **1997 Martinelli
Pinot Noir Reserve.
Ripe red cherry, Bordelaise herb
and a very good, chocolately finish. Gotta be Right Bank Bordeaux. Reminds me a
lot of 1990 Bon Pasteur and I'm not too far off -- it's **1990 Petit
Final wine is the most fun of all. A twist of herb, a gush of
blackcurrant, a hint of licorice on the long finish. No noticeable oak,
lots of elegance. Bit of tannin, but not too much. I guess a great
Pauillac from 1989 or 1988. And am I ever floored when the foil comes
off and it's ***+1987 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon "Howell
Mountain"! All those guys who guffawed this tough baby
would never come around should have a sip now. Wins tonight's
beauty pageant and even minds its manners aside the gefilte fish.
SHOWING THE FLAG (April 6, 2003) Picking a theme for
dinner tonight was not too tough. Justifying the prices for some of
these American boutique beauties -- well, that's another subject.
But for now, let's lift the chips off our shoulders and simply enjoy
the pleasures of:
tasters gripe about off-flavors -- free country, but they're
wrong. My two cents says this is the sexiest red tonight. Floral
scents seduce you and buckets of berries seal the deal. A hint of
strawberry-rhubarb pie hits you on the finish. There's some tannin
here, as with many of the better '92s, but an hour's decanting
could have solved that handily.
**++1992 Barnett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate.
***+1992 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is also still a
little tannic, but a few swirls and a couple of bites of duck breast
end that dilemma. Big, black, cuddly bear cub of a Cab. Loads of fun
now and should be even more powerful when it grows up. Little dill
on the finish reminds you it's Monte Bello, but that's part of the
deal. Decant if drinking now, or hold 20 more years. RED OF THE
**2000 Signorello "Padrone" is plenty big and
juicy, but doesn't quite develop as well as the Barnett and Monte
Bello. I like the black cherries, appreciate the Bordeaux-type minerals
and love the
texture even at this stage. Give it five more years in the cellar
and it may score higher.
***-1997 Tom Eddy Napa Valley puts in another fine
performance, although it can't knock Monte Bello off the podium.
More acidic than the three above, which will please some and offend
others. Once again develops lovely cherry-kirsch flavors as the
hours tick by.
*++1998 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon frustrates me tonight.
Like the size, adore the fruit, but can't get used to the oak. Could
well be it's just too young. Some like it better than I. Regret I
wasn't able to sample it again at the end of the dinner.
***1997 Kistler Pinot Noir "Sonoma Coast" has no
trouble standing up to the Cabs, and very nearly beats the bunch on
their own turf. Brimming with cherries and raspberries, it's almost
like a wine smoothie, but longer, far longer.
FRANCE & AMERICA (March
16, 2003) Sigh. I only wish the nations could get along as well as
the wines tonight. They matched up so happily, eight people sat down
for five hours and didn't discuss politics once. All were served
blind and here's what happened...
**1997 Nicolas Joly SavenniPres
"Clos de la Coulée"
is pretty obviously French, but no one guesses Chenin Blanc.
Aromas of daffodil give way to Winesap apple flavors, finishing
with a drumroll of stones. Pretty tight at evening's start, so I
saved a bit in my glass 'til dessert. Even better.
There's no disguising the grape or producer for ***+1990 Zind
Heimbourg Vendange Tardive. This stuff has never been better!
You can sniff the roses two feet away from the glass. Sweet, sexy,
spicy and a stunning match to Mushroom Soup with Pear Conserve and
Cumin Oil. (Yet another proof that great Alsace can handle
*++1985 Leroy Monthelie has to be Burgundy -- strawberry,
mineral, dirty socks -- but no one even comes close to guessing
the commune. Starts out incredibly funky, then shapes up in a
hurry, holding up well over the hour it stays in my glass. I've
had Leroy's Monthelie once before and was impressed then too.
Must say I could get used to **+1998 DuMol Pinot Noir Russian
River Valley. Someone said "Kistler." I wouldn't say
it's quite that big, but it does have intense berry flavors and a
long finish. The earthiness is an added turnon -- just enough to be
sensual. Finesse, California-style.
I scratch my head over the final Pinot, then guess it might be
Australian. It isn't, but at least I'm in the right hemisphere. *++2000
Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir "Walker Bay" is
the best South African Pinot I can remember tasting. Bright cherry
with beetroot on the finish. Needs a few more years, I'd say.
From first sniff, I'm certain that **+1987 Duckhorn Merlot 3
Palms Vineyard is St. Emilion and Pomerol. Symphony of cedar,
chocolate, bright red cherry and a touch of Bordelaise herb. Opens
beautifully over the next 30 minutes, berries smothering any trace
of wood. "Hey," says I, "at least I got the
grape." Great ringer! This could be the fourth or fifth time
I've seen Duckhorn Merlots or Cabs fool the table.
Having disgraced ourselves with the Duckhorn, we then decide **--1982
Petit Village (Pomerol) must be California Cab. Black cherry
shaded by sandalwood with a hint of nail polish. Best this wine
has ever tasted in my experience.
At least one taster hits paydirt with **++1990 Les Tourelles
de Longueville, declaring that it must be great Paulliac. I
only a wish I could have collared more of this second wine from Château
Pichon-Baron back when it was under $20! A little more angular
than big brother, but deep, dark and delicious enough. Lead pencil
is the giveaway, but the ocean of blackcurrant leads some to
I wish I could say ***1998 Behrens & Hitchcock Cabernet
Sauvignon Kenefick Vineyard is not my favorite red
tonight, but you know? There's a reason these wines develop cults!
Cherry preserve, piecrust, a touch of rhubarb and a very
convincing finish. Pure yum and plenty of it. I've heard purists say they dislike the hint of
dill in B&H Cabs. Lighten up, guys.
FAT TUESDAY WARMUP WINES
(March 3, 2003) Truthfully, I don't know a soul who's planning on
giving up wine for Lent, but our friends don't need more than the
barest excuse to pull out big fat wines. The following accompanied a
***+1995 Château Tirecul
Madame." Let there be no doubt this wine is fantastic --
unworldly in its richness and sweetness, like sex in outer space.
We're divided, however, on how well it matches the food, which in
this case is big chunks of hot foie gras in an apple-scented
sauce. We taste, eat, taste, eat, taste, eat, and most praise the
result to the skies. ("Is there only one foie gras
course?" asks one hopeful taster.) Personally, however, I
think this wine is really best all by itself. My prize for best
foie gras enhancer goes to a technically lesser contender...
**++1986 Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes). Not nearly as
unctuous as the Tirecul, but you know what? It cozies up to the foie
gras instead of stealing the show. Flavors of botrytis, burnt
cumquat, dried apricot and other goodies make my heart go galumph in
Frankly this flight is a bit of a dud, and I'm not sure the
wines are to blame. For one thing, the food is duck salad with
curry sauce, better matched to Gewürztraminer.
More importantly, the sweet wines of the previous course totally
nuked our palates, and it takes more than water to wash away the
endless finish of the Tirecul. Be that as it may...
1994 Talbott Pinot Noir "Case" isn't showing much
at all. A few years back, this wine was humming with cherries and
tea. Now the autumn leaves are tumbling.
*-?1999 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley is
tight as a drum, but seems to open a bit more after about 30
minutes. Couldn't follow it further. Final judgement reserved.
Clearly the class of the course is **-1999 Domaine Serene
Pinot Noir "Evenstadt Reserve" -- perfumed, fruity,
meaty, everything you could ask for in a young Pinot Noir. I would
have liked a little more oomph, but might have sensed more in a
context friendlier to Pinot Noir.
***1998 Paolo Scavino Barolo "Bric del Fiasc"
takes me totally by surprise. I'm not the world's biggest Barolo
fan, but this wine is WOW with pasta and shaved truffles. Roses
rule the nose and plums plunk a sonata on the palate.
**1997 Antinori VDT "Solaia". Berries and chocolate
are out in force, and the texture is deliciously dense. No
complaints and I'd happily drink it again, but this evening the
Scavino rules. May have needed another two hours or so in a
***1982 Château La Mission
Haut Brion is textbook Graves and the most perfectly mature
wine of the evening. Cigar-scented, lush, juicy, singing its great
big heart out tonight. Basically all you could ask for, were it
not that you could also ask for...
***+1989 Château Haut Brion!
I love my La Mission, but oh you kid! Take all the tobacco,
fruit and meat of the '82 La Mission and add something extra at the
core. Deep as the ocean, but you can't dive all the way down
tonight. Needs about 10 years. (So what!)
Much as I love the Bordeaux, ***+1994 Shafer Cabernet
Sauvignon "Hillside Select" is ON tonight and will
not be surpassed. Black cherry to the power of ten, with emphasis
on the BLACK. Plus, unlike the Haut Brion, this technically tannic
titan tastes impossibly supple and velvety. WINE OF THE EVENING,
although its companion is no slouch...
***1998 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine is dissed by
some, but I humbly beg to differ. Yes, this bruiser is backward
and gruff, but what a wallop it packs! I remember when heavenly
***+1991 Harlan was a hulking tot and predict this vintage, though
not quite as immense, will follow suit.
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