Tasting Notes

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May-June 1998

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BYOG. (June 26, 1998) Don’t get me wrong, I really I like Philly’s new Café 1521. The food is good, the service is friendly, the prices are right and you bring your own wine.

     I just wish I had known in advance that we’d be drinking our Bordeaux out of juice tumblers.

     We started out with **KISTLER 1994 VINE HILL CHARDONNAY. Powerful juice (note the choice of synonyms), just a shade behind the sensational 1995.

     Then to a trio of good ‘uns from the good years:

*1989 L’ENCLOS (POMEROL). Yum. Ripe red cherries with fully integrated oak. Readiest of the reds tonight, seemingly just entering its prime. The purity of flavor reminds me a little of the 1989 Bon Pasteur.

**1990 PAPE CLEMENT (PESSAC-LEOGNAN). Double yum. Unmistakable tobacco flavors make it a very different wine from the L’Enclos, and it has a lot more structure too. Needed about a half hour to open fully. Heavenly with my strip steak.

**1990 LAGRANGE (ST. JULIEN). Sternest of the trio, but probably the biggest as well. Still a little furry straight out of the bottle. Needed about an hour before it emerged from its herbal shell and flaunted its flavors — loads of cassis and roasted meat. I took the last quarter-bottle home and opened it two nights later. Hadn’t dropped a step. Open the next in a year or two.

Finally, a surprising new sweetie:

EOLA HILLS WINE CELLARS 1994 ULTRA-HARVEST SAUVIGNON BLANC "VIN D’OR." From Oregon! Never heard of it before, but it’s very tasty. Seemed even sweeter than I expected from the label. 22% RS. Didn’t notice botrytis, but it matched well with my chocolate-hazelnut biscotti.

I-TIE LUNCH. (June 25, 1998) After a year of empty promises, I finally did the deed — met friend and fellow wine-writer Ed Hodges for a leisurely lunch at the Chadds Ford Cafe. After nodding approval to the new menu, we proceeded to take care of just about every major issue in the world of wine...well, at least we figured out the answers if anyone cares to listen. Also found time to taste a couple of good ones:

*PAOLETTI 1996 LA FORZA NAPA VALLEY. A ripe, juicy, super-Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, presumably heavy on the Sangiovese. Lots of spicy, bright cherry fruit, shaded by cedary Cabernet. Drinks pretty well now and seems to have structure and balance for cellaring over the next few years. I’ve never had a wine from this producer before, but I was impressed. Grapes are from the Paoletti estate near Calistoga. The wine is made by Nils Venge, former winemaker at Groth and owner of the Saddleback label.

**FALESCO 1995 MONTIANO (LAZIO). Another fine showing for this wine from a region just north of Umbria. It’s simply called "Rosso Lazio," but think of it as a Merlot — a broad, brawny one with bones for aging. There’s so much fruit that I found it enjoyable now with my steak sandwich, but there’s no question this one could benefit from aging.

     Let’s do it again, Ed!

*1993 DOMAINE DROUHIN OREGON PINOT NOIR "LAURENE." (June 22, 1998) This wine still has a way to go before prime time. Beautiful, deep black cherry fruit, still partially masked by gentle tannins. More approachable than last taste, but not quite there. Will open the next in 6 months.

*MATANZAS CREEK 1993 MERLOT. (June 21, 1998) Coming into its own. The early tannins have melted away quite a bit and the wine now doesn’t need much coaxing to yield up the full box of chocolates. At this stage its actually a more enjoyable wine than the ‘92, which still seems to be a year or two away from prime time. Start drinking.

DE LOACH 1994 GAMBOGI RANCH ZINFANDEL. (June 20, 1998) I was very pleased by the other De Loach single vineyard Zins from this vintage, but this bottle, while enjoyable, seemed a rung down on the ladder. Less of the ripe red raspberry flavors I had been hoping for. A twinge of pruneyness. Maybe I’m just too late to this bottle — drank all the others earlier. Decent value at about $12 purchase price, but didn’t make my evening.

WHITE-OUT. (June 13, 1998) All year round Phylis sits down to dine with us wine bozos taste at tables loaded with terrific reds -- and can’t join in. We made up for it in honor of her birthday this year. I’ve been trying to remember the last time I faced an array of whites as impressive as these. I can’t.

     This was also the first time in years I’ve eaten at Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern (it’s actually a reconstruction, but no less historic than Williamsburg, if you want to get technical).

     It’s under different management now. The 18th century theme still prevails and the waiters and waitresses still dress in costumes, but the food has improved a lot. Service? Well, not bad, I guess. A busboy dropped a fork on my head, but we had already gotten even by singing very loudly. I reckon they were just as happy that we were dining out on the porch.

     What did we learn? Mainly, I guess, that Marcassin is indeed all that it’s cracked up to be -- and also that the best California Chards can differ as greatly in flavor as White Burgundies do. The ones we had tonight did indeed taste "Californian" and we had no trouble identifying the nationality of the blinded bottles (all were French). But if you grant that California Chards tend to be fatter, riper and louder, the differences among them can be equally fascinating.

On to the notes...

***MONDAVI 1995 FUME BLANC TO-KALON I BLOCK. Offers a riot of sensations, from honeysuckle to cat pee. Intense nose, drenches the palate, long finish. It’s raunchy and suave all at once -- which may put some folks off who don’t like the grassy parts and want their Sauvignon Blanc to taste like melon. I think that amounts to saying you don’t like SB. But hey, it’s a free country.

     For me it offered a welcome difference from all the Chardonnays. I sipped it as an aperitif and hours later, after dessert, found a couple of ounces left in the bottle. It was tasting even better. I think it may actually have been my favorite white of the evening, though for once I’m not going to single out a favorite -- there were just too many great ones tonight.

**LEON BEYER 1989 PINOT GRIS CUVEE DES COMTES D’EGUISHEIM. Tough to judge as it was the lone Alsace wine of the evening. But I liked it a lot. Fragrant, sweet and unctuous.

*RAMONET 1994 CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET LES BOUDRIOTTES. Precocious for a Ramonet, a very pleasant, elegant wine, but tough to evaluate alongside all the ripe, fat, full-throttle California Chards listed below.

***PETER MICHAEL 1994 CUVEE INDIGENE. At first it’s all perfumed nose and long finish. But it opens -- and actually takes less coaxing than the one we tried six months or so ago. Compares well to the flamboyant Marcassins. Equally long, yet more refined and focused. I may have preferred it -- well, maybe not. But it’s very different and I like the difference.

***MARCASSIN FLIGHT: 1992 LORENZO, 1993 LORENZO, 1994 GAUER RANCH UPPER BARN, 1995 GAUER RANCH UPPER BARN. I had to keep adding to my notes about these wines as the evening progressed, because each bottle developed in a fascinating manner as the night wore on. At first the Lorenzos seemed rather restrained beside the Gauers, which came out of the bottle tasting downright splintery.

     Then two things happened. The Gauers lost their overt oakiness and blossomed into fabulous fruit-bowls. But just as I thought they were blowing away the Lorenzos, I was surprised again. They too were exploding!

     It occurred to me once more that folks who criticize Marcassin Chards for being too oaky have probably made these judgements hastily, at formal tastings, rather than sitting down with them at dinner.

     All that being said, the Lorenzos were somewhat less flamboyant and more mineral-laden in their flavors than the mango-papaya Gauers. Quality of the four vintages was very close. If pressed I’d say I preferred the 1992 and 1995 -- but that just may be because of where they happen to be on the maturity curve. NONE were anywhere near maturity and none showed any sign of fading as the night wore on.

***TALBOT 1993 CHARDONNAY DIAMOND T. This wine, on the other hand, was indeed showing some nutty, mature notes. Compared well in scale to the Marcassins and showed less oak. Had a purity of flavor that made it stand out.

***BERINGER 1994 CHARDONNAY SBRAGIA LIMITED RELEASE. I’ve made notes on this wine many times in the past. Tonight was consistent. Big firecracker of a Chardonnay, but again very different from its equally muscular California brethren.

*MYSTERY WINE #1. Mature Chardonnay flavors with very little oak. Very stylish. No trouble identifying this as a Burgundy. I guessed it might be a 1985. Turned out to be GOISOT 1989 BOURGOGNE ST.-BRIS. Very classy showing for a generic Burgundy.

*MYSTERY WINE #2. All minerals. Gotta be Burgundy. Very long. Grand Cru Chablis? No, it’s D’AMBOISE 1992 CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE. Nice wine and extremely enjoyable, though it couldn’t offer the decibels of the Californians.

MYSTERY WINE #3. At this point in the evening, one of our company (I won’t say who, but no, I wasn’t the first) started to sing. Perhaps as a result, I fear I forgot to make any notes at all on mystery wine #3.

**MYSTERY WINE #4. Ooh. This is darned nice. Seems like Burgundy again, but offers leesy, doughy flavors that the others aren’t showing. I ask if it’s a ‘92 Verget. No, I’m told it’s ‘91 Meursault. Okay, that makes it easier. Coche-Dury! Yes, it’s COCHE-DURY1991 LES ROUGIOTS. Impressive for a ‘91.

1986 DE FARGUES. This is perhaps the one wine of the evening that disappointed me a bit. Not bad, but a little dilute. But you certainly could not make that criticism of...

*CALLAWAY SWEET NANCY. Sweet indeed! How much sugar did this wine have, anyway? Must be over 30 points RS. Cellared for 3 years, this non-vintage wine had taken on a deep bronze color and went very well with the chocolate birthday cake.

WINES TO MURGATROYD. (May 30, 1998) How many of you knew that Snagglepuss’s favorite oath was borrowed from Gilbert & Sullivan? I for sure did not, until we took in an outdoor performance of Rudigore last evening at Longwood Gardens.

     Prior to the show we did the traditional tailgate picnic and if I may say so we had not only the best wines but the best eats in evidence anywhere. Sevruga caviar, jumbo shrimp, grilled salmon, sesame noodles, various preparations of chicken, an absolutely killer cake...all on a groaning board set with silverware, candlelight and of course proper glassware, from which to sip...

*RENE GEOFFREY (CUMIERE) BRUT ROSE. Turns out to be a nice hot weather champagne. Loud, fruity and hot pink, but there’s a racy cut to it as well. Glug, glug, fizz, fizz. Quaff, quaff, quaff. Hand me that caviar again, can you? Ah.

***KISTLER 1995 KISTLER VINEYARD CHARDONNAY. Drinking this wine outdoors is lese majeste, perhaps, and I’m sure the breeze snatched away some of the heavenly aromas. The good news is that there were plenty more coming up from the glass all the time. Lees, a riot of tropicals and a sensational finish. Best Chard I’ve tasted in a week of wonderful Chards. WINE OF THE EVENING.

*PONZI 1992 RESERVE PINOT NOIR. Gotta have a red and his one is ready. Deep, dark ruby, soft, showing black raspberry and allspice. Loves the salmon.

**MULLER-CATOIR 1994ER GELBER MUSKATELLER HAARDTER BURGERGARTEN KABINETT. "Here, try this Phylis, it will change your mind about Riesling." Whoops, no wonder, it’s Moscatel. Well, I like it anyway. Medium gold, maybe 10-11% alcohol, very refreshing for all its sweetness, and loaded with juicy fruit. If all German wines tasted like Muller-Catoir I might get serious about them.

J.J. PRUM 1993 GRAACHER HIMMELREICH AUSLESE. Nice wine and refreshing this evening, but not on a par with the M-C. Hey, can I have another piece of cake? Got any more of that there Musketeer? Hooh, this is living...

PROM NIGHT WINES. (May 29, 1998) It wasn’t our prom, but it was happening in the same hotel as our restaurant — right down the hall. So we kind of felt a part of it. Phylis wanted to sneak in and dance. I can’t tell you what Mark wanted to do, but you can probably guess.

     We were dining at Ciboulette in the stately old Bellevue building. They may well have inherited the mantle of Philly’s Best Eatery, now that Tony Clark has left Tony Clark’s.

     Dinner was a grand progression of lobster, dover sole, squab, lamb and dessert, all prepared exquisitely (though the sole was touch bland to my taste). Wines were uniformly good — some terrific — and, blessedly, not one was corked, finally ending my string of rotten luck.

     The Chardonnays were a fascinating bunch. Most were from California, to be sure. But, by sheer dumb luck, we showed up with wines from four distinctly different regions, each with its own special flavors:

**RAVENEAU 1983 CHABLIS MONTEE DE TONERRE. Deep gold, nutty, smoky and required about a half hour before it showed us all its tricks. Most graceful and complex wine of the entire evening, though overpowered in some ways by the younger Californians.

**ARROWOOD 1996 CHARDONNAY RESERVE SPECIALE CUVEE MICHEL BERTHOUD. A real discovery. Citrus tang on the attack, with pear flavors on the palate, plus lots of leesy, doughy notes. A sensuous youngster that sure can tango.

*BABCOCK 1995 CHARDONNAY MT. CARMEL. Tight and tangy when first poured. Then it broadened into a fruity, delicious Chardonnay, with exotic mango flavors predominating. Pretty girl who got a little lost in the crowd.


***SHAFER 1995 CHARDONNAY RED SHOULDER RANCH. Wish I could avoid being boring here, but here we are again. Once again this often-praised wine was white of the evening. Nothing subtle here. Jumps out, jitterbugs, wails, moans and brings down the house.

     Remarkably, we liked nearly all of the red Burgundies.

*FAIVELEY 1989 MOREY ST. DENIS MONTS LUISANTS. A mature Burgundy that I suppose we caught at the top of its game. Medium garnet, velvety texture, tannins resolved, with plenty of cherry and cranberry fruit. Nice showing.

SERVEAU 1990 LES AMOREUSES. Not bad, but still in an awkward stage that seems to be afflicting many 1990s right now. You can taste the spice and berries, but the tannins still get in the way of full enjoyment. No noticeable fading in the night, so I suppose a little more time will serve this wine well.

DOMINIQUE LAURENT 192 SAVIGNY LES BEAUNE LES NARBANTONS. A light, strawberry-scented wine that’s noticeably more dilute than the others. Some sweaty notes emerge, but I didn’t mind them. Mark, on the other hand, found this wine undrinkably bretty. It could be we simply caught it at different moments. These wines can, after all, change like chameleons from minute to minute.

***DOMINIQUE LAURENT 1995 VOSNE ROMANEE LES BEAUMONTS. Absolutely no argument here. Deep red, dense wine with plenty of structure for aging, but so much cherry-raspberry fruit that you can’t keep your paws off the glass. This is the best Pinot Noir I’ve tasted since the 1995 Rochioli West Block. Gimme more! First red gone.

**ARLAUD 1993 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN. A trifle lighter than the Vosne, but darker than the others. Ready to drink, and full of spice and berries. Most complex wine of the evening tonight, though the Beaumonts will undoubtedly surpass it in that department with a few more years.

     I was so taken with the last two wines in this flight that I totally missed a sixth. Hope someone else was taking notes on it. But I did carefully note the following:

***DR. BURKLIN-WOLFE 1970 WACHENHEIMER-GERUMPEL BEERENAUSELESE. Hope I got that right. It takes so long just to write down the names of these German stickies that I’m always afraid the bottle will be gone before I look up! This was a beaut. Thick amber nectar that penetrates past all the stuff you’ve tasted all night long and leaves you with a great big smile. Loads of botrytis to give it tang and plenty of acid to wake your tastebuds up before blanketing them in sweet delight.

STEAK & BORD. (May 25, 1998) Phylis (who eats no meat) made the grand sacrifice in honor of my birthday and took me to Morton’s Steakhouse in Philadelphia. While she made do over salmon, I tore into a 24-ounce Porterhouse with savage glee. Both wines we brought were the real goods:

     **KISTLER 1994 DURRELL VINEYARD CHARDONNAY. Very pale, noticeably tighter than the 1994 Kistler Dutton we enjoyed last weekend and probably could use another year in the cellar. Still it offers a lot of pleasure, with toasty-fruity aromas, mango flavors on the mid-palate and a lengthy finish.

     **1990 PAPE CLEMENT.Huge cigar aromas followed up by cassis and the usual Bordeaux stuff. Smoked meat and more tobacco on the palate. Fruit flavors broaden with air. Textbook Graves and a perfect steak wine, still on the young side.

BRANDYWINE BLUES. (May 25, 1998) Happily, the Brandywine Blues Festival actually does have something to do with wine. It was held at the Chaddsford Winery over Memorial Day weekend. We wandered in, listened to some good licks, tasted a bunch of stuff and concluded that 1995 was indeed as good a vintage for Pennsylvania Chardonnay as winemaker Eric Miller has been claiming. The *CHADDSFORD 1995 STARGAZER VINEYARD CHARDONNAY was so nice, we bought a bottle to sip as we soaked in the music. Flavors of apricot and toast give way to a mineral-rich finish that’s longer than normal. Excellent wine.

BURG: THE BRIGHT SIDE. (May 24, 1998) I always hold my breath when I open a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy. Will it be ready? Will it be past it? Will it feel like performing tonight?

     Last night all was happiness. Perhaps the Burg gremlins are at the beach. Dining with my folks to celebrate my birthday, we opened:

     ***ARLAUD 1993 CLOS ST. DENIS. We have a winner. Nose full of berries with just a touch of leather. Lean at first on the palate, but broadens with further airing. Lots of fruit, lots of finesse, not too much tannin or acidity. Given the vintage, I was kind of surprised at how generous it is even now.

     California was doing well too tonight:

     ***VILLA MT. EDEN 1996 CHARDONNAY SIGNATURE RESERVE BIEN NACIDO VINEYARD. I wonder who made this wine. Never had a Villa Mt. Eden white that impressed me so mightily. Bone dry, but what a wallop of fruit! Comparable to the best offerings from Kistler, with flavors all its own. saves the best right now for the finish. Probably could use another 6 months or so in the cellar. 

AL IS 40. (May 23, 1998) Friday we celebrated Al’s 40th birthday (gosh, isn’t he getting ancient?) at Tony Clark’s (sans Tony, but that’s another story) with some whizzbang wines and one corked bottle (sadly, a continuing story). A fine time was had by all, as you might guess from the wine list alone:

*EGLY-OURIET NV ROSE (DEGORGE JUILLET 1997). Pinot Noir learns to tapdance. Aromas and flavors a of wild strawberry, balanced by the bubbles and bracing acidity.

**NOEL GAGNARD 1989 BATARD-MONTRACHET. Has arrived. Nutty nose, buttery middle, mineral-laden finish. Kept returning to it. Same verdict. WHITE OF THE EVENING.

*DAUVISSAT 1992 CHABLIS "LES PREUSES." A tight young wine that probably suffered in comparison to the mature Batard. Restrained nose, stoney middle and finish. Grew in power throughout the evening but never exploded.

***1982 PICHON-LALANDE. Heavenly nose of strawberry and cassis. Layered and very fruity on the palate. Bottle was pristine and the wine outstanding, but a bit short of previous tastings.

@#$%^1989 PICHON-LALANDE. Corked! This is getting quite dismal. A corked 1994 Dominus last night — and tonight, this? Nothing to do but grimace and open the backup...

***1991 SHAFER HILLSIDE SELECT. Brrrrring! Thank heaven. We discussed whether this vintage was superior to the 1992. I think not — Al thinks so — but heck, fellas, love the one you’re with. Concentrated essence of black cherries that rolls right over your senses to a thundering finish.

***1989 RAYMOND-LAFON. Another of my all-time favorites. Still on the young side but very flashy tonight. Very thick, very sweet, loads of botrytis...pardon me while I close my eyes. We want to be alone right now, me and my memory.

ALWAYS BACK UP.(May 22, 1998) No, not your hard disk -- your wines! We celebrated my folks’ 55th wedding anniversary last night at Lauren’s Bistro and all was merry until...

     I brought out the 1994 Dominus. "You’re going to love this," I promised. "It’s even better than the ‘92." I was all smiles until the cork came out and...

     "What’s the matter?"

     "Here, Dad. What’s that smell like to you?"

     "A wet basement."

     Good nose on that man. Yep, it was corked. Textbook example.

     Happily, though, we had also brought:

**EGLY-OURIET VIELLES VIGNES. My last bottle. Notes as before -- beautiful, winey, mature flavors with plenty of zip in the bubbles still. MUST find some more!

***BERINGER 1995 SBRAGIA LIMITED RELEASE CHARDONNAY. Stood up to the challenge of the champagne and became its own center of attention. Very well integrated now, with a smooth attack and mid-palate to match the tremendous finish. And finally, my backup Cab...

***PHELPS 1994 INSIGNIA. Fingers crossed! Aaah. No corkiness. A black and brooding Goliath that finally got friendly after a few bites of lamb. This baby needs at least five years in the cellar but sometimes you seize the day.

BIG ARIAS. (May 17, 1998) It wasn’t a night for wines that whisper and coo. This was the fabled "Night of the Three Tenors" at South Philly’s most operatic restaurant, Franko and Luigi’s. And tonight, we would be serenaded not only by the wait-staff, but by Franko himself and his two tenor buddies -- the butcher, the baker and the cheese-maker.

     To accompany the vocal entertainment, we decided to bring --what else? -- BIG ZINS.

     Notes on those in a moment. But first the overture:

*BOLLINGER SPECIAL CUVEE. Trumpet fanfare. Bracing, pretty darned dry, fairly long.

**PETER MICHAEL 1995 L’APRES MIDI (SAUVIGNON BLANC). Interesting duet of sauve apricots and raunchy grass. Both worlds of Sauvignon Blanc seem balanced in the glass right now. But it’s already showing more of the herbal stuff than a few months ago. I wouldn’t hold it longer.

**MT. EDEN 1994 CHARDONNAY. Violins. Sweet, elegant, already showing the nutty character that Mt. Eden Chards adopt with age. Perceptively darker in color and not quite as rich as the following...

***KISTLER 1994 DUTTON RANCH CHARDONNAY. The full string section. Still pretty light in hue and I thought it wine might turn out to be a little tight -- but no! It’s already buzzed past the awkward stage and is showing mature complexity. Playing loud, kickin’ tail, taking names. Came back at the end of the evening and it was still going strong. Neat stuff.

     And now to the main event:

***TURLEY 1995 BLACK-SEARS ZINFANDEL. Strings, brass and woodwinds at once. So full of brambly fruit, you search your mouth for blackberry seeds. Very distinct flavors and possibly the wine of the evening, unless you happen to prefer...

***TURLEY 1995 AIDA ZINFANDEL. All the above plus tubas and kettle drums! Technically you might call this wine over-the-top. It’s got some overripe notes. Plums, currants, some raisins. But the sheer volume, harmony and (yes!) balance of the wine overwhelm any complaints. It’s the 1985 Groth Reserve of Zins. And frankly, it was tough to appreciate any other red afterward, except possibly...

**TURLEY 1994 WHITNEY TENNESSEE ZINFANDEL. A little less graceful (how do I dare use that word?) than the Aida and Black-Sears, this one shows a little roughness on the edges. Teetering on the edge of over-ripeness, though not quite as outrageous as the Aida.

     After these symphonic statements, some chamber music...

*MOUNT MARY VINEYARD 1994 LILYDALE "QUINTET." Not a very adventurous quintet, but quite correct. Australia’s answer to Bordeaux? More like Cain Five. The Bordeaux flavors are true and it’s a very enjoyable wine, but it doesn’t have the depth of great Bordeaux or California Cab. More like an Haut Medoc from a fine year. I happily sipped it -- and it provided a nice contrast to the huge Zins -- but I wouldn’t help thinking that it was way overpriced. Maybe it would have impressed me more in less swaggering company.

RAVENSWOOD 1993 COOKE VINEYARD ZINFANDEL. Woodwinds. Worthy wine with plenty of interest, but downright dainty after the Turleys. Lightest in color of all the Zins tonight, garnet and getting light at the rim.

DE LOACH 1994 OFS ZINFANDEL. Most disappointing wine of the evening. dark and dense but seemed a little dumb. Didn’t perform as I remember from just a few months ago. Maybe it needed more time to open than we gave it.

     And then, with the cannoli, back to greatness:

***LUSTAU MURILLO 100TH ANNIVERSARY PEDRO XIMENEZ. Walnuts, pecans, figs and would have been great poured on ice cream. Murky and magnificent. Dark as old Madeira with similar oomph. Totally overwhelmed the...

KULING-GILLOT 1988ER BODENHEIMER BURWEG RULANDER BEERENAUSLESE. After a round of Brodeaux, this might have been just the ticket, but we could barely hear the song tonight.

KAESLER 1994 OLD VINE SHIRAZ BAROSSA VALLEY. (May 14, 1998) Someone left these grapes out in the sun a little too long. Deep garnet color, aromas of plum and -- yup, that’s it -- prunes. The prune flavors aren’t unpleasant but not exactly what I look for in a Shiraz. Finishes well. Decent wine but this is one wine that I wish weren’t quite so ripe. Would a more severe selection have helped?

*BERINGER 1989 LATE HARVEST RIESLING. (May 9, 1998) Does anyone have any inkling if a current release of this wine is on the market? This was my last ‘89 and it hadn’t missed a step. Light amber, lots of botrytis -- lacks the structure of a TBA -- but wowie what a lot of flavor! Pleased the dinner guests too. Only drawback is that it upstaged dessert. 

SWANSON STRIKES AGAIN! (May 9, 1998) On release, the *SWANSON 1995 CARNEROS CHARDONNAY showed a lot of stuffing and admittedly a lot of oak. Last night found me wishing I hadn’t drunk all of ours so early. The wine has darkened to honey blond and all the components have plumped together into a great big creme brulee bombshell. If you’re a Puritan, go drink your stony Chablis and peace be with you -- but if you don’t mind having a good time, sailor, this is your party gal.

OLD HERMIT. (May 9, 1998) This is only a tasting note, but *LES GAMETS FAYOLE FILS 1982 "LES DIONERRES" HERMITAGE is just too long for a headline. No prior experience with the producer. This wine, however, was an elegant stunner. Brick colored and very light at the edge. Lovely bottle bouquet -- lots of leather and spice. Add a little pepper and some cinnamon-tinged fruit when you taste it. Fully mature, this Hermitage performed like you hope your old Burgundies might and we made the usual jokes about the secrets of great older Burgundies. Anyone else have any experience with this stuff?

*TURLEY 1996 OLD VINES ZINFANDEL. (May 5, 1998) WHY? Because it was there. And I’m not sorry. Two weeks was long enough to wait. Opened it to accompany tortilla pie, chips and salsa. Beautiful match to this or anything, really. Aromas of strawberries and cream. Stings the palate with pepper than slathers you with fruit. Notice I didn’t say anything about oak. The Zinfandel rules. If you have some, jump in and enjoy.

BDAY & BRYANT. (May 2, 1998). At 79, my dad doesn’t drink quite as much wine as he used to, so we have to make sure it’s good stuff. Last night at Lauren’s we ordered up oysters, langoustines and big juicy filet mignons in Merlot sauce to accompany:

**EGLY OURIET VIELLES VIGNES (DEGORGE FEVRIER 1996). I mention the disgorgement date because this particular lot has never tasted better. We tend to drink our Champagne stocks down pretty quickly -- too quicky, maybe, in this case. We’ve all had it before, and it’s never been a laid-back style of bubbly, but everyone commented how luscious and open it was tonight. In fact, it even blew away...

*1995 BERINGER RESERVE CHARDONNAY. One of my last, and this too had been improving of late. But coming after the Egly-Ouriet, it just didn’t seem as impressive as on other evenings. I tend to think it was the comparison rather than the wine itself. Wine of the evening, of course was:

***1992 BRYANT FAMILY PRITCHARD VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Like some other ‘92s I’ve tasted lately, the Bryant is dropping its baby fat and showing its structure more. Probably should be stowed away and forgotten for the next three years, but this wine is probably too big ever to shut down completely. Deep red, ripe red cherry aromas and plenty of juice on the palate. A California Cab-lover’s Cab. Slightly astringent on the finish, but it’s a nice long finish all the same. Quite similar in many ways to the Shafer 1990 Hillside we shared a couple of weeks ago, except the Hillside is more ready to play.

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