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GREAT FRUIT, LOUSY OAK. (April 29, 1999) I've been hearing complaints in
some quarters about overuse of French or American Oak. Here's a different critter
1996 J. Portugal Ramos Vila Santo (Vinho Regional Alentejo)
is a big, dark, fruit bomb of a wine. The flavors make you think of Chambord.
Theres so much red raspberry in the bottle, youre practically picking seeds
from your teeth.
But then...something bitter cuts in. Tastes like Ive
been chewing bark. Yuck. What could it be? I check the back label. "Aged in
Portuguese half casks."
Im all for local character, but please -- change the
wood on this wine. At $14.99 per bottle, it was almost a great bargain.
ZIN & FOOD. (April 27, 1999) Some say that
Zinfandel is a descendant of the Italian grape Primitivo. Some curmudgeons say its
the other way around. However that may be, Zin goes great with Southern Italian food --
and we proved it last weekend at Franko & Luigis in the heart of South Philly.
The winner tonight was ***1995 Turley Whitney Tennessee Vineyard Zinfandel. A
juicy, chewy young wine that gives all the toffee and cassis flavors your heart could
desire. Yet it married beautifully, sip for bite, with my chicken and pasta in red sauce.
Couldnt ask for a better pasta wine.
More restrained -- but only relatively -- was **1995 Turley Duarte Vineyard
Zinfandel. Way different in flavors too, emphasizing strawberries, minerals and even a
The only one that wanted to be by itself was *+1995 Turley Moore Vineyard Zinfandel
(Late Harvest). This wine was vinified with a small amount of residual sugar -- and
even so, its got 16.8% alcohol. Still theres not a trace of heat and the wine
seems remarkably balanced. But the sweetness, while pleasant, made the wine a little
tougher to drink with the entree. Much better with my cannoli afterward.
Over dinner, we all remarked on how well the wines were
showing -- and how the alcohol some complain about really didnt intrude. Id
love someday to do a blind tasting with Turley versus other Zins, and ask folks to try and
guess the alcohol content of each wine.
SIERRA SUPER SYRAH. (April 24, 1999) I must credit Stuart
Yaniger of The
Stupids for turning
me on to the Sierra Foothills region in general (click here to see
my article) and to**1997 Sierra Vista Syrah Herbert Vineyard in particular.
When I visited the winery last month, I thought
this wine was excellent value at the suggested retail of $18. Now Ive found it
closer to home and tried it again with consistent notes. What does it taste like? Well,
think of Domaine Peyre Rose or Edmunds St. John. Its that good. Deep, deep purple.
Juicy black cherry and blueberry fruit. Lots of depth. Structure for aging. And it tasted
even better after a day in the fridge.
LAUREL GLEN DOES IT AGAIN. (April 23, 1999) Patrick Campbells 1996 Quintana was so delicious, I felt sure that big
brother must be commensurately grand. I finally opened the main event tonight. No
**+1996 Laurel Glen resembles the stellar 1994 with a
bit less tannin and stuffing held in reserve -- and because its more accessible,
Im sure that some folks will like it even better. Big hit of violets on the nose,
followed by cassis, lead pencil and a slight gamey note. Fabulous juice for the 96
vintage and one of the very best buys among Californias Big Boys.
95 TEST DRIVE .(April 21, 1999) Lunchtime. Walk into the wine store. Oh,
look here. **+1995 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon! Plenty here still on the rack. Better
buy a bottle before committing. Tonight, sashimi-grade tuna steaks. Good time. Can't wait.
Wait. Five hours pass. Time! Pull the cork, glug, glug, glug.
Sniff. Mmm. Lotta cassis and whats that zing? Better taste. MMM. Major zing. I can
taste several layers already. Better have another glass just to make sure.
Okay, Im sure. Buy more.
BURGLING THE CRADLE. (April 17, 1999) Will she age? Do I care?
Not tonight! **1995 Bertagna Vosne Romanee "Les Beaux Monts" was crying
to me from the depths of the cellar -- so I liberated her. Shes purple to deep ruby
and speaks in seductive tones of pure raspberry. Not exactly fleshy but gracious and
curvaceous. Classy and beautiful candidate for cradle robbery.
BLIND, CHEAP & ROWDY. (April 15,
1999) The wines were tasted blind. As you might expect, the results
were mixed. Some were good, a few were dreadful and a couple were just plain weird. None
of them blew me away, but I did taste some that I really liked. And a number of these
actually played by the rules -- meaning you could honestly buy them today for $12.99.
THE WHITE FLIGHT. Not enough whites were tasted. Happily, a couple were very good.
White #1. Very pale, with faint aromas of pineapple and vanilla. Spicy on the
palate, but kind of empty. Lots of acid. One taster says, "If this isnt Alsace,
Ill leave the room." I say, "I dont like it much, so it must be
German Riesling." Another taster comments, "Chenin Blanc."And what do you know, it turns
out to be 1997 Navarro Chenin Blanc. He flashes a told-you-so grin. I shrug.
White #2. Deeper gold. A ton of diesel! And on the palate, flavor! Well, this is
wine. One taster guesses an old Spatelese. Yup, I say, gotta be. It turns out to be *1989
Peter Scherf Spatlese "Kaestler Nieschen" Riesling. A fine value. VOTED BEST OF FLIGHT.
White #3 arrived late, so it wasnt tasted blind,
although the label was incredibly moldy. It was nutty, earthy white Burgundy, matured to a
perfect moment. *+1989 Saint-Bris Bourgogne Cuvee du Corps de Garde,
purchased at the Domaine for $5. My choice for WHITE OF THE EVENING.
FIRST RED FLIGHT.
Red #1 has serious fruit but something strange on the nose. What is that? Banana?
Anyhow, once you get beyond that flavor, it unfolds to be something more familiar. I guess
a Cotes du Rhone or more likely a Languedoc Grenache. It turns out to be Chateau La
Roque Pic St. Loup "Cupa Numismae." Others like it quite a bit, but I think
its the weakest in a very strong flight.
Red #2. Very fruity nose with a touch of bubblegum. Broad, soft and boisterous on the
palate and some flavors I usually associated with Beaujolais, but it could be any soft
young wine made with whole-berry fermentation. I guess Beaujolais, without much
conviction. but it turns out to be *1994 Domaine de Fontenille Cotes du Luberon.
Ive had this wine before, and never noticed how much the carbonic maceration shows.
Blind tasting can be very revealing. Still, a very good wine for the money.
Red #3 is dark and more viscous than the other two. Very deep raspberry flavors,
followed by strawberry. Some chocolate too, with meaurable tannin on the finish. Immensely
enjoyable. Its so fruity that I guess Zinfandel -- after all, someone must have
brought Zin tonight. One taster says "no way," but offers no better guess. Its *+1997
Falesco Merlot Umbria. VOTED BEST OF FLIGHT though nobody else guesses Merlot. Maybe
we just didnt expect such a serious wine could be bargain Merlot? Ill award
this part of a three-way tie for my DRY RED OF THE EVENING. (Frequent readers may remember
this wine was recommended on our bargains page weeks
SECOND RED FLIGHT.
Red #4 is funky, tarry, but otherwise quite similar to Red #2. Peppery. Grenache. Well
heck, I suddenly remember what I brought. I proclaim "Cotes du Luberon" and
voila! Its 1992 Domaine de Fontenille Cotes du Luberon. I had an unfair
advantage, but at least I recognized it. Not showing as well as the 1994 and my least
favorite of the flight.
Red #5 is full of delicious cherry and strawberry flavors, with an astringency on the
finish. I like it. I guess a Loire red. Nope, its *1995 Ciacci Piccolomini Rosso
di Montalcino but youre out of luck if you want the 1997 release, because they
just jacked up the price to $24. Yipe.
Red #6 has Cabernet aromas. Yummy, soft and fruity with chocolatey oak on
the finish. Guessing goes all over the place, but I declare it a Sonoma Cab or some other
oak-aged Bordeaux variety. Sure enough its *+1995 Villa Bel Air Graves.
Another big vote for 1995 Bordeaux, though it doesnt taste much
THIRD RED FLIGHT. (Note there was no Red #7.)
Red #8 Smells like a combination of prune juice and unbaked bread. Overripe and
alcoholic. Like an Amarone without the fruit. I say its Italian. Its 1997 Na Vota Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato (Cantine
SantAgata) (Piedmont). If you dont mind overripe fruit, this might ring
your chimes, but I gotta say that I hate it.
Red #9 has really big fruit and more than a hint of whole berry fermentation.
There also seems to be a substantial amount of oak tannin. I guess it to be a classy Cotes
du Rhone or more likely a California Rhone Ranger. It turns out to be 1996 Domaine de
St. Martin de la Garrigue. VOTED BEST OF FLIGHT.
Red #10 is lightly corked and I cant get beyond that. It was 1994 Merlot
Francois Labet Vin de Pays de LAude.
FOURTH RED FLIGHT. (The flight from hell.)
Red #11 is, uh, the strangest wine of the evening. Tastes like kiwi-raspberry jello.
What on earth could it be? Well, it turns out to be a Homemade Pinot Noir-Riesling
Blend created by one of the tasters. Once you know that, you can sit back and say
"Well, its not bad for a blend of Pinot Noir and Riesling." Why
he decided to blend them is something he will have to answer himself.
Red #12 Light raspberry-strawberry flavors. Some wood tannin. Pleasant, if simple. No
idea what it is. Turns out to be 1997 Syrah Cuvee de la Coutiat. VOTED BEST OF
FLIGHT, but I marginally prefer the previous concoction.
Red #13. Strong stench of musty wood. Corked? Or just a ton of old American oak?
"Horrible Spanish wine," says one taster. Sounds like a reasonable guess to me, not to
mention a great descriptor. Turns out to be 1989 Valfornosa Penedes "Gran
FIFTH RED FLIGHT. (Note, there are no wines #15 or
Red #14 is full of beautiful strawberry fruit, with some herb and leather. Seems easy
enough. I guess an older Bordeaux. Lovely stuff, especially after the last flight.
Its *+1989 La Faurie Maison Neuve Lalande de Pomerol. BEST OF FLIGHT by an
almost unanimous vote. Tied with two others for DRY RED OF THE EVENING.
Red #17.Weedy dill and cedar. Strong, fruity, oaky aromas. Strawberry sundae. Not bad!
California. Its 1996 Seghesio Zinfandel.
Red #18 is also pretty darned good! Herb, cassis aromas. Shouts "Bordeaux" at
you and sure enough its *1990 Chateau Moulin Rouge Haut Medoc. You know, this
is turning into rout for France and Italy! Could have won any preceding red flight except
SIXTH RED FLIGHT.
Red #19 is another real beaut! Blast of herbs, followed by a rush of fruit. Blueberry.
I guess a terrific Cotes du Rhone or an obscure Italian variety. Turns out to be *+1990
Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. VOTED BEST OF FLIGHT. Tied on my card for DRY RED OF THE
EVENING, along with the 1997 Italian Merlot and the 1989 Lalande de Pomerol.
Red #20 shows lots of oak, bright cherry flavors and an oaky finish. I never would have
guessed Burgundy, but its 1995 Tollot-Beaut Chorey de Beaune. I dont like it,
but theres plenty here on the table that I do.
DESSERT WINES. I didnt take careful notes on this
flight, but the winners for me were :
*1997 Domaine Richou Coteaux de Laubance. Honey, hazelnuts, wonderful balance.
Not very sweet, but so refreshing! Nice finish too. And finally...
**Reynella Old Cave McLaren Vale. A terrific ringer for old Tawny Port. Loaded
with mushrooms and mellow fruit. WINE OF THE EVENING.
MAINLINING MERLOT. (April 10, 1999) Even
geeks who tip their snouts up at most Merlot out on the market these days have to admit
that every region has at least a few big winners.
Tonight, at Saranac restaurant on Philadelphia's Main Line, we
lined up a world-class assortment. The styles were in many cases wildly different, all
seeming to point to one lesson -- Merlot, though sometimes slammed as a monolithic
blending-grape, can actually offer a dazzling spectrum of flavors, if the oak isn't
overdone. Here's what we tasted.
From Washington State...
**1997 Andrew Will. Just outstanding. Lots of juicy fruit with big blueberry
flavors that mark it as unique. Tannins aplenty, but the supple kind, so highly drinkable
now. Family resemblance to the 1997 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon (from barrel) that I
tasted last month.
1996 Leonetti. Very dark, with lots and lots and lots and lots of oak. Too much
oak for me. Way too much. There did seem to be substantial fruit below the oak, and it did
emerge after some airing, but I just didn't enjoy this style. The one thing I can say in
the wine's defense is that there seemed to be a slight mustiness, which may mean the fruit
was quashed by marginal cork-taint.
**1995 White Cottage Ranch Howell Mountain. Way different from any of the
others. Intensely forward, delivering luscious raspberry and currant flavors directly to
your nerve-center. Made every other wine on the table seem restrained. Zero astringency or
earthy character, but complex. Whether you like this or not is another matter. I certainly
*+1996 Whitehall Lane Leonardini Vineyard. Lots of oak here, but not quite as
over-the-top as the Leonetti. It's well-stuffed and seems like it could do with a year or
so of collaring, at which time the oak may have knit better into the wine.
**1989 Duckhorn 3 Palms Vineyard. Fabulous performance for the vintage. Big,
dark wine with flavors much more like the Vieux Chateau Certan (below) than any of its
*1982 Chateau Nenin (Pomerol). Definitely showing its age, maybe even on the
downslope, but a fascinating wine for all that. Garnet colored with herb, tar and some
berry at the bottom, plus cedary bottle-bouquet. If you're a fan of older Bordeaux you
might love this a lot. But tonight, I felt it was upstaged, even within its style by...
***1986 Vieux Chateau Certan (Pomerol). Caught at a beautiful moment, tannins
resolved and still packed with power. Hmm, let me be more emphatic -- it's kicking butt! A
very concentrated and complex blend of cassis and Bordelaise herbs, with some metal and
horse poop on the finish. Even if you go for fruit bombs, this is impossible to resist.
And from Italy...
**+1996 Falesco Montiano (Lazio). Probably the most backward Merlot of the
evening, with very pure flavors of currant and chocolate, firmed up by plenty of tannin
and a winge of metal on the finish. A massive Merlot that is perhaps not quite as
delectable as the 1995 Montiano, but I'll take it, thank you.
Also worth noting tonight was a California Chardonnay of
*+1997 Paoletti Napa Valley Chardonnay. Striking flavor combination of creamy
fruit and flint. It works. Nice finish, excellent juice!
SANTA CRUZ MTS. STRIKE AGAIN. (April 8, 1999) Dinner tonight was
grilled filets, so I opened a big red and hoped it would star. But the wine of the evening
was **1997 Thunder Mountain Chardonnay "Ciardella Vineyard." Another big
win for Chardonnay grown in Californias Santa Cruz Mountains. It shows a great depth
of fig and kiwi flavors, some yeasty complexity and a fruit-dominated finish, with
balanced acidity that keeps it from ever tasting flabby. Might even remind you of Mt. Eden Chard from a good year.
I wish the reds had been as memorable. A 1993 Forman Cabernet
Sauvignon was marginally corked -- which is to say, ruined -- and my backup was a *1995
Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages. This is a bold, dark, well-stuffed wine that some may
like better than I. On the good side, the chocolate, cassis and cranberry notes give me
what I want in a Cab. But theres mucho oak here too and I found that kind of
annoying tonight. Maybe because the tainted Forman gave me a teasing suggestion, behind
the corkiness, of how good pure Cabernet fruit can be.
PISONI RULES. (April 4, 1999) We
celebrated both Easter and my Moms birthday today with lobsters and a bottle of
**+Siduri Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir. Wine verdict -- as good as the '97 Siduri Hirsch is, this one offers just
a little more in every department. Darker hued, it also seems even more complex on the
palate, layering blackberry, raspberry, vanilla, game and other flavors. Its also
more structured and probably a year or two away from drinking at its best. All in all, one
of the best new Pinots Ive tasted in the last year.
FRENCHIES AND A FOOLER. (April 3, 1999) After a weeks
vacation in California merrily drinking Cabs, I was in the mood for Bordeaux. So off we
scooted to a favorite local BYO, with friends, to enjoy the following...
*1989 Clerc Milon. Quite dark though beginning to go garnet at the rim. Tempts
you with cedar, chocolate and currant aromas. Sip it and at first youll confront
dusty tannins, but the wine opens convincingly with more airing. We kept half the bottle
in the fridge overnight and Im sampling the remainder as I write this. Its
even better -- more velvety, currant flavors much more to the fore, framed with the cedar
and cocoa. Like many of the better 1989s, this wine has some tannins to shed but seems
stuffed for the haul. Decant if opening now.
**1986 Talbot. I was expecting this to be even harder than the Clerc-Milon, but
no! Its mature -- with sweet, almost flowery aromas and a bit of the barnyard. A
tasty and dense concoction that matches my porkchop very well. RED OF THE EVENING.
Nice, huh? Just what you might expect. But surprise! One of
the best "Bordeaux" was...
*+1990 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. When served this wine blind, one
of our party guesses "Pichon-Baron." Understandable. Its eerily at home
with the 89 and 86 Bordeaux. Four years ago, this wine was obdurate and dumb
as a boulder -- and I wondered, geez, is there anything here at all? Since then it has
developed into a really nice impression of a St. Estephe, with roasted herb, olive,
earth...and once you get down to business, it isnt long before you find a beautiful
core of fruit.
We also enjoyed a couple of noteworthy whites...
1997 White Rock Napa Valley Chardonnay. Lime and some lees on the nose. Full
flavors when you sip it, but theres an oaky edge that needs filing down. Wine is
young. Hope it happens.
**1994 Peter Michael Chardonnay "Cuvee Indigene." Just fabulous. The
oak pokes out on first sip, but quickly subsides beneath the waves of fruit. Thick, silky
texture. Tremendous finish. A good argument for letting the bigger Peter Michael Chards
age a couple of years before opening.
THE ACID TEST. (April 2, 1999) Some folks demand
high acidity in their whites. But I don't and my wife simply won't drink the stuff when it
gets too racy. So I've got mixed feelings about 1997 Lusco Do Miño "Lusco
Albarino" (Rias Baixas, Spain). It's light gold, with intense flavors of
lemon and gooseberry. Kind of reminds me of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, without the
grassiness. Lots of nice fruit, but man, what a bite! The acid reaches a level that some
might call refreshing, but for acid-sensitive Phylis it was just too much. Still, it's one
of the better Spanish whites I've tasted. Could be just your ticket. About $15.
*+1997 SIDURI PINOT NOIR HIRSCH VINEYARD. (March 31, 1999) The first couple of vintages from Siduri gave us gushers of
fruit. In 1997, the style seems to be veering more toward finesse. More, dare I say,
Burgundian? Whatever. This is beautiful juice. The most elegant and complex wine I have
yet tasted from Siduri. First you get a whang of tangy, meaty, flavors...then a hit of
sweet red cherries...and the cherry flavors just keep getting more pure on the finish.
WHITE COTTAGE RANCH PRE-RELEASE & BARREL TASTING NOTES. (March 25, 1999) The following notes are excerpted from my interview with owner
and winemaker Dennis Johns. (Click here to
go to the interview.)
**1998 White Cottage Ranch Sangiovese and Zinfandel (from
barrel). This is the blend that will become the wine Dennis calls Ezivese
(pronounced "EE-zee-vay-zee"). And wow, is it easy to like! Deep, deep ruby with
beautiful cherry and bramble flavors. Like biting down on the richest, ripe berry and
feeling it burst in your mouth.
*1998 Saviez Vineyard Zinfandel (from barrel). This is a wine
that Dennis is making for a client, from Calistoga grapes. The wine has a lovely fragrance
to it and yields pure raspberry flavors on the palate. Really makes me hungry, too.
**1998 White Cottage Ranch Howell Mountain Merlot (from
barrel). For anyone with a nose, this stuff will be irresistible. Violet and chocolate
aromas shoot out of the glass. It's medium-thick on the palate, with more chocolate, loads
of cherries and a raspberry-tinged finish. A touch of cabernet Sauvignon will be added to
the final blend. I tasted the blend and it expanded perceptibly -- finishing even longer.
**1996 White Cottage Ranch Ezivese. Juicy berries with
plenty of spice. Lingers long. The blend this year is about 1/3 Zin and 2/3
Sangiovese, with traces of Cab and Merlot.
**+1996 White Cottage Ranch Merlot. Oh my! Again the
raspberry juice. The chocolate. The length. Can't bear to spit it out. Could this be even
better than their 1995 Merlot?
FOR A FEW DOLLARS LESS. (March 19, 1999) World-class Cab
for $11.99? Try *1996 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon. Brimming with
ripe, plummy flavors. Lots of toasty oak, but it works -- the effect is chocolatey, with
no the whiskey-barrel flavors. And you'll never get a cork-tainted bottle,
because every St. Francis wine is finished with an easy-to-extract SupremeCorq.
A GOOD $13.999 MERLOT. (March 18, 1999) The Italian producer
Falesco makes such a delicious high-end Merlot ("Montiano") that I had
high hopes for the new release of their basic *1997 Falesco
Merlot Umbria. Turns out it is very good -- but give it some air!
The first time I tasted it, two nights ago, it seemed way
tannic, with some dried cherry flavors. My guests and I had a few glasses anyway,
whereupon I put the bottle in the fridge. By the next night the wine had opened and was
much more generous, yielding up the chocolate and berry flavors I was expecting. The
texture had also thickened some.
This wine won't make me forget the terrific Adastra (below) -- but it's
also almost half the price and good value for what it is. You may want to buy some now and
sock it away for six months to a year. Can't hurt.
HOWELL MOUNTAIN BALLERINA. (March 16, 1999) Adele and
Dennis Johns say they want to make wine that will "make your mouth water." They
get their wish with *+1995 White Cottage Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain.
If the site makes you expect a tannic bruiser, you're going to
be shocked, because this is a balanced, gracious ballet dancer. Give it a half hour in a
big glass and you'll be seduced by the fragrance of violets and berries, almost like a
rich Pinot Noir. But there's plenty of substance and lead-pencil Cab character here as
well. About $35 from the winery.
CHARDONNAY FROM WHERE? (March 16, 1999) The bite of an excellent Macon...lemon and
minerals galore...with just enough well-restrained oak to offer a kiss of creme brulee on
the finish. Kind of reminds me of Domaine Valette, but this baby is from Portugal.
It's 1997 Sabe Chardonnay "Entre Serra"
Vinho Regional Beiras and it only cost $9.99 full retail. Beautifully balanced
character that should satisfy my flab-averse friends, yet the flavors are so full that
even my wife Phylis ("make mine California Chard") gave it the thumbs up.
DIAMOND IN THE OAK. (March 13, 1999) A gang of grilled yellowfin tuna steaks wanted
something and I figured, okay, this is close enough for Cab. Browsed the cellar and **1994
St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve called to me. Fine. Wont be corked!
Lets see how its doing...
Black, massive stuff! Theres still a husk of oak -- they
do like their oak at St. Francis -- but underneath is a gem of a wine. Rich, thick, black
cherry scented. Good length, and with air the oak begins peeling off. So decant it if you
open now or wait another five years. And if you absolutely, positively cant stand
oak, too bad. Theres a diamond inside.
PLANT MORE CHARD IN SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS? (March 5, 1999) Lately I've been reading a
lot of talk online about the great reds of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but I started
wondering tonight if people should be planting more Chardonnay here.
**1994 Mt. Eden Estate Chardonnay
Santa Cruz Mountains disappointed me a bit last November and I was
wondering if we'd ever again taste the likes of the stellar 1992. But tonight it finally
opened for business and zorch...what a palate-stinger this is! Burg-snobs who
crave structure should give this one a taste. It just may satisfy their idea of
By contrast a 1997 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch,
opened the same night, seemed softer and more laid-back. But vintages '94 through '96 of
this non-malo Chard have pleased me so much that for now I'll suspend judgement. It's just
been released and may need time to fall into place.
THE SPICE OF LIFE. (March 5, 1999) What does
"typical" Chateauneuf du Pape taste like?
Best answer: like just about anything. It can taste like great
Burgundy, like cherries, like pepper -- and certain CNDPs have been accused of emitting
aromas like, well, you know what.
Tonight we tasted a "typical" foursome of
Chateauneufs, bought at original prices I would estimate from about $9 to $30. And I guess
it's been too long since I've done something like this, because I was really blown away by
the stunning variety of flavors this wine affords you at what are still reasonable prices.
From the cheapest to the grandest, they were:
*1988 Saint-Préfert. Mature with miles to go. Surprisingly thick and
textured. Red cherry flavors with simple spicy accents. Our friend Michel, who brought
this wine, expressed some embarrassment when he saw the other selections on the table. But
the wine had nothing to apologize for -- and I would bet the current vintage is under $15.
BARGAIN OF THE EVENING.
**1988 Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurier. Intensely aromatic and complex.
What many would-be great Burgundies would like to resemble -- full of raspberries and
Asian spice. Pepper galore and a trace of oxidation that made me remark at the time that
this wine "needs drinking." But the remains, consumed the next day, were equally
glorious, so it's probably okay to hold it at least a few more years. The cork was soused
to the top, so it could be this bottle was simply improperly sealed. Still, if this is an
imperfect bottle, wowie when you open a good one!
**½1989 Brunel Cuvée Centennaire. See its sister below. Very
similar behavior, but maybe a shade less powerful.
***1990 Brunel Cuvée Centennaire. Fantastically tempting to the nose
-- and then the eraser hits your tongue! But it's so intense and long you keep coming back
for more punishment. Very pure cherry and blackcurrant flavors that easily punch through
the tannin barrier, then fan out and fascinate you. In ten years, when it finally
reaches its prime, this wine may reveal itself as a legend -- till then it's
"merely" a showstopper and WINE OF THE EVENING.
We also opened a 1990 Jaboulet White Hermitage
Chevalier de Sterimberg that puzzled me a little. It started out so musty and
closed that I suspected borderline cork-taint, but revealed delicious green-apple and
lemon flavors as the evening wore on. Still, it was much less impressive than the terrific
bottle we had a few months ago, so perhaps the cork was the culprit after all.
With dessert, 1996 E.A.R.L. Longepe Bonnezeax
"Domaine de Grandes Grosses." This Chenin Blanc wasn't very sweet, but
charming, balanced and flavorful. Hand-bottled at the domaine by Michel's brother -- with
the vintage year lettered in by hand! It was purchased for the grand sum of $6, nailing
home the lesson of the evening: if you hunt hard and don't drink labels, France is
still a motherlode of bargain wines.
TWINKLE, TWINKLE. (March 4, 1999) Those who mutter
darkly about Napa Valley Merlot are often vindicated, but tonight the stars twinkled down
on our dinner table.
This was the first bottle I've ever tasted of *1996
Adastra Merlot Carneros Napa Valley and if I can collar some more it won't be the
last. The wine is deep, deep ruby with aromas of mocha and cassis. Lots of velvet and
glycerine on the palate, backed by bearable tannins. Ample oak on the palate but not
overdone a sweet, ripe, chocolatey glass of pleasure. Okay, it won't make you
forget '95 Trotanoy, but at around $25 a bottle, does it have to? Now the sad news: only
225 cases were made.
See more tasting notes (Jan-Feb 1999)
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