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THE OTHER HEIDSIECK. (December 27, 1998) Maybe youve tasted Chuckie
and Piper, but have you ever tried plain old Heidsieck? We uncorked a bottle of *HEIDSIECK
MONOPOLE "BLUE TOP" NV tonight to accompany smoked salmon, pate and
cheese. Beautiful stuff for the money, with a zesty attack and plenty of fruity
complexity. One of the best NV Champagnes Ive tasted all year.
SYMPHONY OF STYLES. (December 21, 1998) Ill concede one tonight to the
terroiristes. If you spend enough money, wait long enough and get lucky, Burgundy can
reward you with a symphony of styles.
Preceding the main event was a motley miscellany of worthy
whites. All outstanding. But I must admit, Burgundy carried the day:
***1991 COCHE-DURY MEURSAULT LES ROUGEOTS. Hazelnut aromas, then
custardy flavors, but this was just the warmup. One hour later it had opened to reveal its
shining center rich, thick essence of the Chardonnay grape. Sauvage and refined at
once. Gave the appearance of being unfiltered one of us found a grapestem in her
glass! Stunning from the first pour and kept getting better all night. WHITE OF THE
***1992 MARCASSIN GAUER RANCH UPPER BARN. A bigger wine with
(dont throw things at me now) an even longer finish than the Coche-Dury. I mean
really, really long. And it had aged well. All creme brulee, with not a hint of a
splinter. But tonight I have to give the nod to complexity and the Coche-Dury. Remarkably,
so did California-lovin Phylis.
**+1996 SINE QUA NON OMADHAUN AND POLTROON. Won raves around the table
from folks who were fascinated by the cepage a blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay,
and it works! The result is a wine with the lush mouthfeel of white Hermitage combined
with some extremely sexy flavors and aromatics. Peach, honeysuckle, something different
every time you sniff and sip. Also, remarkably, it has the acid to carry all this weight.
One taster compared it to Condrieu and that works for me. Probably needs another year to
show all it has, and may earn another star from me then.
*1985 DOM PERIGNON. Yum yum yum. Ripe, creamy, and still kicking !
Very different style than tonights other big bubbly...
**1989 BOLLINGER GRANDE ANNEE. Way off in the other direction, with
sharp attack and apple-tinged flavors. A matter of choice compared with the Dom but
Id drink this one while cellaring the other.
Then it was time for the red riot.
***1988 PONSOT CLOS DE LA ROCHE. Give label-drinking its due. This
wine had to perform and it did. Big nose of raspberry and decayed leaves. On the palate,
it plays the mercurial Burgundy game. Holds back, then gives, then levels, then gives,
then takes back, and its back and forth like this all night. Fruit triumphs over the
1988 tannins, but the latter are still there and Id say this wine needs another
couple of years more to peak. Almost wine of the evening, but for...
***1990 MEO-CAMUZET CORTON CLOS ROGNET. Way different in style. If the
Ponsot was all about finesse, this was a fruit bomb in the best sense of the word. Dark,
dark ruby and absolutely gushing raspberries. But definitely Burgundy has the acid
to keep it balanced on a knife-edge. And you still havent tasted all it has to give.
As the evening continues, it explodes. More, more, more! Great now, great future. Slam
dunk for WINE OF THE EVENING.
**1990 MONGEARD-MUGNERET ECHEZEAUX VIELLES VIGNES. Yet another super
take on Pinot Noir. Sharp attack, racy strawberry fruit, very light its feet. An
intellectual wine penetratingly witty. Made for meat.
*+1988 CORTOCHOT MAZY-CHAMBERTIN. A 1988 whose time has arrived.
Berries, tea, gamy accents, strong acidity and a lot of movement. Took a while to get into
its game. Disappointed in the first hour but came back long and strong.
*1994 ROUSSEAU RUCHOTTES-CHAMBERTIN CLOS DES RUCHOTTES. Now were
moving down to the realm of the mere mortals. Medium ruby. Opens quickly to reveal a great
deal of fruit. Very soft and friendly. I wouldnt hold it much longer but
dont get me wrong. It tastes very, very good, and in lesser company, it would have
1987 JEAN GROS RICHEBOURG. Perhaps the only wine tonight that
underperformed its label. An initial burst of fruit soon falls prey to oxygen. Not a bad
wine, but do drink up.
And the 1977 DOWS PORT? Port is supposed to be the reliable wine
of the evening, but alas, this potential masterpiece was corked! However, I count this a
small price to pay for such a good evening with the most fickle of wines.
LECLERC AT LA COCOTTE. (December 22, 1998) Not too many folks in Chester
County are aware that West Chesters well-known restaurant La Cocotte will allow you
to bring your own bottles (if theyre good ones). How did I find out? I asked. Always
We met a couple of friends here for a pre-Christmas
celebration. I brought *1993 RENE LECLERC GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN CLOS PRIEUR
and happily had no need for the backup. Overlay tannic a year or so ago, this wine has
edged past adolescence and is just beginning to blossom -- which may just be my favorite
time for Burgundy. Deep ruby, giving black cherry and darjeeling scents, with a whiff of
forest floor. Trails off to a quite bearable hint of tannin on the finish. Terrific match
to my Chateaubriand and good too with the slice of duck I filched from Phylis.
YOUNG DUDES. (December 13, 1998) On Sunday night, Saranac in Bryn Mawr was
featuring lamb chops the size of filet mignons. Yeah, Ill do that. Medium rare,
To accompany it, we opened a foursome of bold, young,
no-holds-barred, California rockers.
The warm-up act was:
**PAHLMEYER 1995 CHARDONNAY. Still as it was a year ago. Big fat daddy
of a Chard, playing a loud, long tropical melody backed by lots of complex leesy chords.
**KISTLER 1994 MCREA VINEYARD CHARDONNAY. A capella Chard, but equally
loud. More structure, less lees. Nice contrast. Both great with Saranacs excellent
paté and Caesar salad.
Then came the main bill:
***PHELPS 1995 INSIGNIA. Tempts you with tobacco and spice aromas,
then assaults your palate with fruit -- before shutting it down. Its those 1995
tannins! Gets nice with the lamb, but dont try this it home, kids. Aerate for two
hours before serving, or better yet, send it to the cellar for five years.
***+SHAFER 1994 HILLSIDE SELECT. Whomp,
whomp, WHOMP! One of the most powerful glasses of black cherry fruit its ever been
my pleasure to sip! Also pretty tannic, but not as mouth-drying. Maybe its simply
because the fruit just cant be suppressed. Really needs more time too, but this is
going to be a tough game of keep-away. Does a beautiful dance with the lamb chops. Hey,
lets have that one more time!
FRUIT & VEGGIES. (December 12, 1998) The restaurant
last night was Nan, a near Penn Campus in Philadelphia. Service was good, glasses
were nice and the food, except for a so-so Caesar salad, was excellent.
To match the Thai-influenced food, we chose West Coast Pinot
Noir and Alsace Gewurztraminer. The results were mixed. Heres what happened:
The *WEINBACH 1993 GEWURZTRAMINER FURSTENTUM CUVEE
LAURENCE was an easy winner. Maybe the food-friendliest of all the wines tonight,
with intense aromas of rose petal and lychee, plus plenty of thick, palate-coating texture
and a satisfying finish. In other words, your basic Alsace fruit-bomb. Seemed a tad
sweeter than the Mann and Zind-Humbrecht 93s Ive sampled, but went beautifully
with the peanut sauce in my Chicken Saté appetizer. Score one for the fruit.
Then we opened AU BON CLIMAT 1993 PINOT NOIR TALLEY
ROSEMARYS VINEYARD, and asparagus stalks raised their unwelcome heads. Our
friend at first wondered if the problem was brettanomyces. I only wish it were. No,
its those dread Santa Barbara vegetables. Now heres the maddening part -- two
years ago, this wine was dense, delicious and raspberry-drenched. Fantastic, 93-point
Pinot! But I have learned the hard way that you pay a penalty for holding Central Coast
Pinot Noir too long, especially if the wines are from Au Bon Climat. The good news is that
the veggies blew off for the most part toward the end of the evening, and Im sipping
a glass from the same bottle tonight that shows just a whisper of tomato. The bad news,
however, is that whats left is just pretty good. Older strawberry flavors. An
acceptable wine, but nothing youd want to pay more than ten bucks for. Sigh.
The third act gave us a happy ending, however. Spend a little
time with **KISTLER 1994 PINOT NOIR HIRSCH VINEYARD and you can
understand why some folks are saying the Sonoma Coast is the promised land for California
Pinot Noir. The wine does need decanting if youre going to drink it tonight. The
initial aromas were alarmingly reduced. Tar, sulfur, all that kind of stuff. But a little
nursing and swirling reveals a boatload of tightly packed fruit. Stings the palate,
theres so much of it. Very, very impressive Pinot Noir. Aces with my rack of lamb.
Fruit wins the night!
Toward the end of the evening, our friend complained that the
Kistler was too tannic, with not enough stuffing underneath. Hmm. No, I disagree. Tannic
yes, but Im not averse to a little tannin on young wines, as long as I can taste a
lot -- and the fruit here bowled me over. the real question is whether to drink or hold,
if youre lucky enough to own some. Id say hold a year or two. But then,
Im the one who said that about the ABC Rosemarys.
GO-FOR-IT ZIN. (December 11, 1998) Yesterday we celebrated a turn for the
better in my Dads health with a go-for-it wine **TURLEY 1996 MOORE
"EARTHQUAKE" VINEYARD ZINFANDEL. And let me tell you, we went for it!
If there were any remaining doubt that Larry Turley and his
winemaker Ehren Jordan are the new kings of the Zinfandel hill, this wine should dash it
to smithereens. Let me present the evidence.
Exhibit one, and most significant. It tasted wonderful.
Imagine raspberries and blueberries shaded by olive notes. Yes, olive redolent of
Bordeaux (yes, I said Bordeaux). What Im saying is that this wine has
in-your-face-fruit and fascinating complexity, a combination not often found in any
Zinfandel, much less a 96.
Exhibit two oak, or lack therof. Even at this young
age, it is displaying notably less oak than, for example, St Francis Pagani. Fact is that
the Turley Zins only receive about 25% new oak to begin with. More importantly, they soak
it up much faster than other Zins.
Exhibit three finesse. The wine was remarkably elegant
for all its 15.1% alcohol, betrayed no heat and harmonized beautifully with the big slabs
of cow we were digging into.
Exhibit four value. Yes, value. The wine set me back
$30, no more than the previous vintage. Thats rather moderate given the typical
resale price of these wines. More to the point, for the money, Id be hard-pressed to
name you a wine that delivers more pleasure.
NEW QPR CHAMP. (December 9, 1998) How delicious,
after 10 days with a cold, to be able to smell and taste. In celebration I grilled a New
York Strip and uncorked a *1996 QUINTANA CABERNET SAUVIGNON. This is the
new "third wine" from Patrick Campbell, made primarily from Laurel Glen estate
grapes, priced a notch below his Laurel Glen and Counterpoint.
After one taste I sat up and took closer notice. Its not
quite as concentrated as Laurel Glen Estate, but I wonder if it may get even higher scores
from folks who adore forward fruit. The color is dark ruby, the aromas are rich and
fruity...and the flavors leave you thinking about comparisons with Chateau Pichon-Baron.
Yes, of course, Im serious. Cassis, blueberry, a whole
lot of lead-pencil, and a longer finish than you dare hope for a wine priced well under
$20. All that, and a meaty under-note that matches perfectly with rare steak.
Vacu-vinning the bottle after two and a half glasses
practically broke my heart.
TDAY SURPRISES. (November 26, 1998) It was my job this year to bring
Thanksgiving wine for a gathering of 18 people, most of whom prefer beer anyway. I tried
to keep the price reasonable and didnt have grandiose expectations, but wound up
being pleasantly surprised by a couple of the selections:
CARTLIDGE & BROWNE 1997 CHARDONNAY. Light gold, lovely scents of
pear and figs, plenty of fruit and not too much wood. Everything seems to have been done
right here, with no annoying excesses. A very, very good Chardonnay at a quaffable price.
CARTLIDGE & BROWNE 1997 PINOT NOIR. Now this is a terrific find!
Bright cherry, Russian-River style fruit that, again, is not overwhelmed by spicy oak.
Compared quite favorably to another Pinot Noir that cost twice as much. If you like the
Napa Ridge Pinots try this even better, at a similar price.
The following night a smaller group of us dined on ribs and
opened up something a little more serious:
*1985 LAFON-ROCHET. Soused cork. Indifferently stored, no doubt. But a
very impressive performance. In an hours time it progressed from a pleasing, herbal
wine to a complex delight. A core of blackcurrent fruit revealed itself and finally
demanded admiration. Ah, Bordeaux.
Over the weekend, in the course of a long drive home, my
annual holiday cold descended. I consoled myself in a mild sort of way with CASA
LAPOSTOLLE 1996 MERLOT RAPEL VALLEY CUVEE ALEXANDER. It was dark enough and had
body, but on the first night proved unpleasantly woody. I think it had improved quite a
bit by the second night, but my sniffers suffering so that I cant be sure.
SMALL JOY. (November 23, 1998) Sometimes wine dominates dinner. Sometimes
its just there. We gave it a good shot last night at Phillys worthy new BYO
restaurant, Gnocchi. Food was good -- though they could use a better cheese supply. Had a
nice time But oh, the bottles just wouldnt cooperate.
ARAUJO 1996 SAUVIGNON BLANC. Thick and
melon-scented, with just a whisper of grass. Not for you cat pee and gooseberry bush fans,
but lovely enough in its own right. Probably was more vivid six months ago. Drink up.
*MT. EDEN 1994 CHARDONNAY.
Best candidate in an indifferent night. Concentrated but still monolithic. But this one
seems to me on its way up. Needs another year or two for the flavors to fan out as they
did for the 92 and 93.
STAGLIN 1991 CABERNET SAUVIGNON. On release, some
4-5 years ago, this Cab was full of promise. Crammed with dense fruit and seemingly the
equal of such contemporaries as Phelps 1991 Eisele. Well, time has been kind to the
Eisele, but Staglin is now a cipher. Opened it, sensed the cassis core, but the wine never
delivered. The tannins did seem to soften with airing, but the fruit gusher never erupted.
Oh, it was enjoyable, but I was expecting more. Was this wine over-acidified? Or is it
just the wrong time to be trying? Hmm.
KLEIN KOSTANTIA 1993 SHIRAZ (South Africa). A
legendary name, but not a legendary wine. Light-bodied like a Cotes due Rhone. A little
bretty, or be kind and call it gamey and leathery. Eh.
SCOTLAND 94 PINOT NOIR. (November 17, 1998) No, its not grown on the
highland moors. Its a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir made by the talented Bruce Scotland --
the same fellow who made the delicious TAY CABERNET SAUVIGNON that I
enjoyed a few weeks ago.
This was my last bottle of 3 and I must say the wine fooled
me. I opened the first bottle on release a couple of years ago and found it very tasty,
but oddly mature in its flavors and colors. Almost garnet at the rim, with strawberry
aromas, joined by spice and herbs on the palate. Kind of a thin texture, too.
Fast forward to last night and guess what? Its gotten
thicker and silkier. The strawberry herb-flavors are unabated, maybe even a little better.
Really enjoyed it with my tuna steak.
HOW ARE YOUR 91s? (November 11, 1998) Every week, I try to bring my Dad a
different treat to sample. Im not waiting for the perfect time. If its
reasonably ready out it comes. Last night my eye fell on **+1991 Forman
Cabernet Sauvignon. Wonder how its drinking? No time like the present to
Its dark as ever. Nose of black cherries and cassis. But
when it hits the palate kaboom. All the rich, fruity pleasure it showed on release,
but now you can taste the strength of this wine. And theres a tough, wiry skeleton
supporting all the muscles.
Yeah, what a body. But this aint no Jesse Ventura
its a Remington bronze. One for the ages.
So tell me, how are your 91s drinking?
CA VS. WA PART 2. (November 6, 1998) Back at Saranac
in Bryn Mawr, once again we pitted California Cabernet against the good stuff from
Washington State. And once again we opened with a stellar white:
**FLOWERS 1995 CHARDONNAY CAMP MEETING RIDGE.
Ive kvelled enough. See previous notes on this wine. Third tasting in about two
weeks with consistent notes. This time there was nothing left in the bottle at the end of
the evening. (And this time we didnt offer any to the wait staff.)
The California Cabernet entry tonight was from a producer I
for one had never heard of, much less tasted before:
**TAY 1993 NAPA VALLEY. Super-easy to like,
this beauty exploded with a blast of blackberry aromas as soon as the cork came out of the
bottle. On the palate it showed structure, but so much fruit it seemed softer than it
probably is. Not a complicated wine, but so gosh darned pleasurable I eventually judged it
RED OF THE EVENING.
The Washington entry was *QUILCEDA CREEK 1992.
Unfortunately the first one we opened was corked. At least one person at our table
wondered about the verdict -- but, by dumb luck, we had a duplicate on hand. The second
bottle settled the question. MUCH better. (This, by the way, is typical of corked bottles.
Some folks cant taste the TCA, but, if theyre given a chance to compare the
bottle with an untainted one, everyone usually agrees that the fruit has been masked.)
Less showy than the California entry, this wine began with
much less folderol than the Tay. Very dark -- and you could taste fruit on the finish --
but the aromas were in hiding. Slowly it expanded, showing ripe cassis flavors and
impressive concentration. At one point I thought it might overtake the Tay, and the
arrival of my steak (piled high with crabmeat) food lent it additional oomph. Excellent
wine. But. By the end of the evening, the Tay was still ahead.
So...score one more for California. Im still
pulling for Washington, and will be buying the 95 QC, but have yet to be entirely
CAL SYRAH STOMPS. (November 5, 1998) If all California Syrah were as good as
the two I had last night, then Oz and the Rhone might have something to worry about.
Its not, of course, and they dont. Yet. But oh my,
this can be awfully good stuff, with a signature all its own. If the Rhone offers
structure and gamey character...if Australia offers plush fruit and lots of oak...then
California can give you a marvelous purity of flavor and sensational aromatics.
We opened the evening with two whites that very nearly stole
*JABOULET 1990 HERMITAGE CHEVALIER DE STERIMBERG makes
another good case for white Hermitage being the holy grail of whites, matching up with the
toughest-to-please foods and tasting fabulous all on its own. Aromas of honey, green
apples and whats that flavor -- quince? Then theres the mouth-feel, slippery
and thick. And the nutty flavors on the finish. Good sipping before dinner, aces with my
Caesar salad, and Id love to have a bottle for Thanksgiving dinner.
**VILLA MT. EDEN 1996 CHARDONNAY BIEN NACIDO SIGNATURE RESERVE made
such a strong showing -- again -- that Im starting to wonder if the Bien Nacido
Vineyard may be even better suited to Chardonnay than Pinot Noir. Intense aromas of
mangos, kiwi and cream are magnified on the palate, then trail off to a satisfying finish.
This is an unashamedly fruity but very complex style of California Chardonnay that
doesnt pretend to be anything else and succeeds on its own terms superbly.
All this time, I was swirling the reds (or should I call them
blacks?) in their glasses, hoping theyd open in time to sing harmony with my wild
boar. Blessedly, they all cried out on key:
**˝ SINE QUA NON 1995 THE OTHER HAND. Maybe its a minor point,
but youve got to love the package for this wine -- the 10-ton bottle that looks more
like a magnum than the 750 it is, the weird art on the label, and the declaration that 16
hogsheads were made. Tough to steal the show from this, but the wine inside does. Starts
out like pure crushed blackberries -- thick as a Grange without the coconut-laden oak.
Then settles down and tastes like Syrah, but Syrah of the purest, edgiest kind. Now this
is something to sip with roast boar! I finished what little was left tonight and scarcely
need add it hadnt diminished a whit.
**SWANSON 1992 SYRAH. Opens with a rush of raspberries, smelling
almost like a Burgundy. Then shuts down. Then roars to life once more. The aromas get more
complex. Something like kirsch. Finally, it gets a little gritty on the finish.
Considerably smoother than it was on release, this wine is nonetheless spouting fruit.
Id call this its best showing yet.
1988 LA CHAPELLE. Very different kind of wine, though practically the
same color as the other two. This is gamy, leathery stuff, though theres ample
cassis underneath.A more moderate wine in comparison to the two bruisers above, but worthy
Last we sampled some *1983 BOBERG PORT from
South Africa, yet another excellent and reasonably priced vintage from this producer that
I hadnt even heard of last year.
CANT KILL THIS PN. (November 5, 1998) I have to plan carefully when I
open a bottle of Pinot Noir. Phylis cant drink red and I dont like keeping a
bottle of this fragile juice open for more than 24 hours.
But sometimes you get stuck. I opened a bottle of SIDURI
1996 VAN DER KAMPE last Friday evening for some friends. We only consumed about
half of it. Problem was, I proceeded to dine out for the next 6 nights. (You know how it
is; one thing led to another.)
So tonight I finally pulled the Siduri out of the icebox.
Its been a WEEK. Hardly dared hope for anything -- and I never thought of this one
as an especially big wine to begin with.
But what do you know? Its not only drinkable -- it may
even be better than it was last Friday.
You cant kill this stuff! (Just have one bottle left,
then onto the 97s.)
See more tasting notes (Sept-Oct 1998)
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