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November-December 2002

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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READY TO RIP (December 14, 2002) A few cellar raids in the past week resulted in some mighty fine sipping. If you're holding any of these bottles, now's the time to enjoy:

**1992 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon "Fay Vineyard." Ah, yesterday. Prior to 1994, SLWC was charging from strength to strength, and not charging us a whole lot for the pleasure of watching it happen. Purchased for something like $20, the 1992 Fay Cabernet is nearly the equal of the celestial 1992 Cask 23. At 10 years of age, this wine has shed its splinters, pumps out plenty of cherry flavors and follows up with fudge, finishing well. I'm not about to pay $100 to see if the 1999 is as good.

*++1993 Prunier Beaune "Les Sizies" is fully mature and quite elegant now, with aromas of autumn leaves, and flavors of Damson plum and dried cherry. No trace of the shrill acidity that marks other wines from this vintage. Has some cut, but it's in balance.

And **1991 Ravenswood Pickberry has never tasted better. Very sweet blackberry flavors with earthy undernotes. Tangy acidity marks it as different without marring the fun. More like a Washington State Cab than most of its Sonoma cousins.

TURKEY, SHMURKEY (December 4, 2002) Wine geeks love to obsess about what goes perfectly with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the other stuff piled high on the holiday table.

     The obvious answer: nothing! But if you're willing to settle for imperfect matches, just about anything goes. So why not simply drink what you like? That's what we did last Thursday, as we dined on Turkey with Zinfandel sauce and opened the following reds. (All but wine 5 were served blind.)

WINE 1. Ripe and spicy, showing plenty of red cherries and black raspberry. Dark, obviously young, but fairly soft, with a generous finish. Too cherry-ish to be Zin, so I guess major New World Merlot. It's actually **1997 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. My first taste of this new producer. Yum.

WINE 2. All about minerals and earth. Currants come out after half an hour. Good finish, medium concentration. Gotta be Bordeaux. I guess it to be 1981 left bank, maybe St. Julien. It's **-1992 Latour. Terrific effort in a very tough year.

WINE 3 is a huge slice of fruitcake. Ultra-ripe plum, chocolate, dried bing cherry. Thick texture, endless finish. Who would guess that ***1995 Turley Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard would go so well the turkey? (This could also be one of the few wines one earth that can out-shout cranberry sauce.)

WINE 4 rapidly ravishes us. Aromas of cherry and strawberry-rhubarb pie, followed by grace notes of violet and rose petal. Silky and round on the palate. Gorgeous wine and no wonder -- it's ***1998 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard.

WINE 5 may be the food-friendliest. Succulent, juicy, fruity -- you might even call **-1993 Robert Craig Affinity mouthwatering.

But my heart belongs to wonderful WINE 6. Overflowing with ripe red fruit, balanced by Bordeaux-style earthiness, set off by a touch of herb, I figure it's got to be a great 1990 Pomerol. Couldn't be more wrong, but it is indeed great! ***+1991 Robert Mondavi Reserve.

ITALIANS & STALLIONS (November 24, 2002) Over a long, leisurely meal at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, we pitted a crew of new wave Europeans against some California contenders.

We open with the perfectly mature **+1994 Selbach-Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, which could have provided great company all night long. Greets you with a big gust of diesel and follows up with mouth-coating pineapple and cumquat flavors. Saunters down the high wire, balancing lots of sugar with ample acidity. Works great as an aperitif and isn't fazed a bit by all the garlic in the appetizers.


Biggest disappointment of the evening is 1999 Falesco Montiano. A tremendous wine on other occasions, it doesn't show much tonight, except for some sulfur that never blows off. Too tight for fun or mercaptan taint? If the latter, no amount of decanting could help. However, I do suggest decanting if you're planning on opening recent Montianos -- they've certainly got the stuffing to take it.

**+1997 Dei Sancta Catherina, on the other hand, may be the best vintage of this Super Tuscan blend I've ever tasted. Dei makes my favorite Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, and it gets even better when she blends in the Bordeaux grapes. Explodes with varied cherry flavors and finishes with a hint of cranberry spice. Keeps opening all evening.

*--2001 Cantine du Palme "Canonico" is made from the Negroamare grape, and reminds me a bit of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. Soft and fleshy, with a gamy attack and earthy finish.

But tonight's top European is a newcomer from Spain, the sensational ***1999 Numanthia Toro. Very dark, bursting with berries, still showing tannin on the finish. Sort of like great California Cab, but slightly more acidic. If this is where Tempranillo is headed, count me a follower.


Big, soft and friendly as a King Kong teddy bear, **-1999 Outpost Zinfandel is tons of  fun. Served blind and guessed by some to be Cab or Merlot. Flavors veer more to plum and blueberry than bramble.

**++1999 Turley Pringle Zinfandel soars off in the other direction. This is serious, structured stuff that begs to be sipped and savored. Blackberries dominate. Massive finish. Just begins to develop as I'm finishing my entree. Here again, a decanter might have helped.

When all is said and done, however, it's still tough to beat a classic Cab. ***+1990 Robert Mondavi Reserve certainly qualifies. Now in its prime, it's not just stuffed to the eyeballs, but wonderfully nuanced. Violet aromas intensify after about half an hour in the glass. WINE OF THE EVENING.

WHO WAS THAT MASKED CAB? (November 17, 2002) Add another legend to your list of heartbreakingly hard-to-find cult Cabs. This one was tasted blind in a flight of sensational reds, including...

**+1990 Chteau Gazin (Pomerol). Ballerina in her prime, doing the dance of the veils. First she unfurls aromas of cedar, truffle and cocoa. Half an hour into the dance, violets blossom. Berry flavors twirl about for an encore during the elegant finish.

***+1992 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Estate. Decanted for a half hour before serving, this is still a brooding, beautiful youngster. If your eyes were closed, you might mistake it for the great 1989 Pichon Baron. Lead pencil, black currant, Asian spice and dark chocolate on the palate. Still some tannin on the massive finish. Needs at least a few more years before it comes of age.

***-1997 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Estate. Double-decanted even longer than the 1992 and pretty much its twin, minus a bit of grip and muscle. Seems readier, but it got more air.

     Not a shabby batch! But the first bottle emptied is a masked marvel that turns out to be...

***+1999 Switchback Cabernet Sauvignon "Peterson Vineyard." Served blind, it's just about black, with enormous black cherry aromas. Texture is deep pile velvet, reminding me a bit of 1996 Jones Family. On the palate, it's all about berries, with an intense hit of blueberry on the coda. I wonder if there's any Petit Verdot in the blend. No rough edges, which kind of surprises me for such a big, young wine. The intense fruit, low acidity and voluptuous flesh make this mystery wine easy to guess as a young Napa Valley Cab. I understand fewer than 300 cases were made, so this may be the only bottle I ever get to taste, more's the pity.

BULL'S EYE (November 3, 2002) I've had little time for major wine over the past two weeks, but  **+1999 Siduri Pinot Noir "Archery Summit Vineyard" provided a mini-vacation last night. This wine may not be as big as many of Siduri's other '99s, but it does represent a new summit of finesse and complexity for talented winemakers Adam and Diana Lee. Silky texture, berries aplenty, and the flavors just dance across your palate. A Burgundy lover's delight. Now's a perfect time to open one, if you've got any.

See more tasting notes (September-October 2002)

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