Tasting Notes


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March-April 2001

HOW TO USE THESE NOTES: Many of my tasting notes take the style of mini-articles and discuss multiple wines. So, rather than bust them up, I've organized them in the order they were written, with the most recent at the top.

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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:


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 well? Riiiight.)

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 bottle!

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 till 2005.

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 humbled.

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!

See more tasting notes (January-February 2001)

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