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SON OF A GUN, THOSE 91s! (March 17, 2001) Tonight
we delved into a dozen legends from the California's kick-tail 1991
vintage. They're supposed to taste great and they do. But here's a
surprise – how ready they
are. I mean, would you expect a '91 Dunn Howell Mountain to be
supple and seductive?
Wines were tasted blind, flights. All of the
reds were very dark ruby to black, so I won't say much more about color in
the notes. Here's what we poured:
FLIGHT ONE (WHITES)
WHITE #1. Light gold. Lemon aromas, followed by apple and pineapple.
Tightly wound stuff. Opens grudgingly over the next half hour and charms
the room. Definitely more backward and maybe more complex than the next.
We are left in the dark about vintage, grape and region for the whites.
So I guess it might be a Peter Michael Chard from 1994. Nope, it's ***1991
Kistler Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay. (California Chards can't age
WHITE #2. Darker than #1, with big aromas of pure Chardonnay fruit.
Not much doubt about the variety here. On the palate it's less acidic
and OH MY... very broad and long. A fuller, more generous wine than #1
in a completely different style. I guess it's a '92 California Chard and
can't say more. It's ***+1991 Marcassin Gauer Ranch Upper Barn
and this wine has never tasted better.
RED #1. Hmm, what's this smell? Blackberry, shoe polish and...yup,
Scotch whiskey. Gotta be some American Oak involved in this. Big wine on
the palate with lotsa length. Well, it's not too tough to put a name to
this one. I'll guess Monte Bello or maybe Silver Oak, but the
wine is so big, I lean toward Monte Bello. Yes, it's **+1991 Ridge
Monte Bello. The group votes this their favorite of the flight, but
I mark it down a little for the oak influence.
RED #2. Very pure aromas of blackcurrant, then violets. Wow, what a
wonderfully fragrant wine. Some bell pepper on the palate just adds to
the fun. Love it! Does a little earthiness creep in on the finish? Could
be, but it's still my favorite of the flight. It's ***+1991 Mondavi
Reserve, already drinking beautifully. If you've got any, try a
RED #3. Definitely the most backward wine of the flight and perhaps
of the tasting. Not gritty, but fairly mute for the first half hour,
only gradually yielding up its deep blackcurrant flavors. Not
surprisingly, it's the muscular ***1991 Montelena.
RED #4. Irresistible chocolate-cherry aromas, but rather tannic when
you sip it, showing lean and even a bit gritty on the long finish. It's
does begin to come around, but I'm onto the next flight before it's even
close to open. Not quite as backward as the Montelena, but definitely
needs another 4-5 years. Still it's a sensational Cab, my favorite of
the flight and the group's too. I'm pretty sure I've tasted this kind of
fruit before and guess it to be Araujo. Whaddya know, it's ***+1991
Araujo Eisele Vineyard. If you're lucky enough to have a few, hold
RED #5. Big, thick, rich, black stuff. Huge blackcurrant aromas,
shaded by a bit of shoe polish. Very viscous on the palate, supple and
sensuous. That's right, sensuous. Deep, long, all you could ask
for in a Cab. Who on earth would have guessed that ***+1991 Dunn
Howell Mountain would be showing so beautifully so early? I've been
missing something here!
RED #6. Now this is something really different. Comes across
more as Bordeaux than California Cab. Lots of fruit, but plenty of
mineral, earth and herbal flavors as well. Then the herbs get less
noticeable as the fruit overwhelms. What on earth could it be? I take a
wild stab and guess Philip Togni, whose wines have a Bordelaise quality.
It's ***1991 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and
makes me kind of regretful that Steve Kistler gave up on Cab.
RED #7. Very pure fruit but not as big a wine as the previous three.
Someone guesses it might be Merlot and he's right on. I like the **1991
Ravenswood Pickberry Vineyard a whole lot on its own merits, but
it's up against pretty stiff company in this flight.
RED #8. PA-BOOM! Very pure, very concentrated expression of Cabernet
Sauvignon. Sexy cherry kirsch aromas and very complex
tobacco-berry-earth stuff going on when you sip it. Plus of course that
marvelous cherry character. Very long finish. With its
combination of complexity and power, it's easily my favorite of the
flight and the tasting. I guess Dominus, but no, it's the best
showing yet for ***+1991 Shafer Hillside Select!
RED #9. This wine takes much longer to open and is the second-most
backward wine of the tasting -- running close to the Montelena. Changes
a lot as the oxygen hits it. Initially you get big mocha coffee bean
aromas that remind you of Cos Estournel. Then the very concentrated
fruit begins to trickle out. The backward character makes me guess that
maybe it's Harlan, but no – it's
***+1991 Dominus, showing its tannins today.
RED #10. This one makes a fool out of me. It's an enormous wine –
perhaps the most powerful of the tasting –
but the tannins are supple and the flavors are like eating a box of
fruit-centered chocolates. The approachable texture and chocolate-cherry
flavors make me guess Shafer, but no, it's ***+1991 Harlan Estate.
Later vintages of this wine have been such hulking brutes that I never
would have guessed.
HERE COMES ARGENTINA...AGAIN (March
11, 2001) Last night we tasted one more reason why Argentina needs to be
taken seriously as a source of ripe, juicy Cabs. *+1999 Mapema Red Table
Wine "Primera Zona Mendoza" is packaged like a California
Ultra-Premium Cab and tastes like one too. Made from 50% Cab, 30% Malbec and
20% Merlot, it delivers a lot of fruit up front -- plum, red currant and
kirsch. Texture is nice and thick. You can taste the chocolatey oak, but
it's in balance. The only place it really comes short is, well, the finish.
At $35, it's a better deal than many comparable California Cabs, but not
exactly a bargain for what you get.
MYSTERIES IN A FIZZLED BLIZZARD (March 5, 2001)
Last night, in the heart of a raging blizzard that never actually
happened, we gathered with friends to celebrate a birthday and play Name
That Wine. As two feet of snow failed to fall and something resembling
rain swirled outside, we consoled ourselves by swirling:
MYSTERY WHITE. Poured from decanter to further bamboozle us, it's
medium gold with misleading aromas of honeysuckle and mushroom. I'm
expecting Burgundy, but the darned stuff just doesn't taste like
Chardonnay. Fairly acidic with practically no oak showing. Citrus
flavors emerge with food. Could it be a white Bordeaux? It broadens a
bit with airing. Still no Chardonnay flavors, but I have to go with the
aromas and say it's White Burgundy from the mid-eighties. Guess what?
It's *+1982 Ponsot Morey St. Denis "Mont Luisants" --
and it's not Chardonnay. Pinot Blanc!
MYSTERY RED #1. Medium ruby, it's slightly amber at the rim. Takes on
a terrific fragrance -- strawberries, autumn leaves, portabella
mushroom, cherries and earth. Palate shows some tar as well. No
perceptible sweat or animal aromas. It's so pure and focused, I'm led to
believe its West Coast Pinot Noir from the early 90s. But no, it's
**+1987 Jean Gros Richebourg! Stunning performance for a 1987. I'm
MYSTERY RED #2 shows a deep purple color, with enormous aromas of
cherry, violet and dark chocolate. More cherry on the palate, plus
cassis and yep, that chocolate again. Big bing cherry finish. It looks
young, but tastes incredibly supple and ripe, so our host rightly
guesses it's a mid-nineties Cabernet from Napa Valley. Someone else
hazards Shafer Hillside Select, and it does bear a strong resemblance,
but it's the amazing ***1995 Neyers Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon,
made by Ehren Jordan -- who also makes the famous Turley Zins. Wish
Ehren would do more Cabs!
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