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FRENCH FOO-FOO WINES. (December 11, 1999) For us,
the week began with a flooded basement and went downhill. Our friends had
even grimmer stories. We were in no mood to trifle.
So we used the season as our excuse to meet at
the newly re-opened and re-Christened Birchrunville Store Cafť. New
owner, new chef and the foodís even better than before. We all loved the
fois gras and my venison was beautiful.
Then, of course, we had to open some
hoity-toity French bottles -- and, bless Les FranÁais, they delivered.
We open with:
*+1996 Chateau Smith Haut-Lafite Blanc. Itís
much as I found it last month -- a grassy, gooseberry, no-nonsense style
of Sauvignon Blanc. Velvety texture provides a nice counterpart to the
racy acid. I like it a lot. But Phylis, who hates acidic wines, takes a
sip, makes a face and turns to the lone Californian on the table...
***+1997 Flowers Chardonnay "Moon Select." Much as we
found it two weeks ago. Yeah, I know itís way too young. So what? Just
magnificent. Not French, but close your eyes and itís Grand Cru
Then onto the reds. Just to be safe, we've brought
we canít decide which to open. So heck, our friend suggests, letís try
out with aromas of smoked duck and raspberry sauce. Too young? No, after
half an hour, the smoke swirls away and the flavors stand out sharp and
clear. Darjeeling tea, flint and berries. Medium weight, but quite long.
Develops well all evening.
**+1991 Meo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanťe "Les Chaumes"
***1995 Chateau Monbousquet (St. Emilion) is too young, but
wonderfully drinkable all the same. Mainly Merlot, I guess, but showing
like a California Cult Cab. Shafer Hillside Select with a French accent.
Deep purple, with big, big fruit flavors -- and showing more than a hint
of sexy oak. Powerful argument for new-wave Bordeaux. Give it five more
years in the cellar and prepare for a lot of pleasure.
By contrast, ***+1990 Pape Clement (Pessac-Leognan) is
everything a classic-lover could ask for. Tons of tobacco with some
prosciuto on the finish. A smokiní Bordeaux cigar! Best showing yet and
WINE OF THE EVENING.
IN PRAISE OF CAYMUS SPECIAL SELECTION. (December
3, 1999) Caymus was one of the first Napa Valley wineries to bust the
hundred-buck barrier for one measly bottle of wine. Theyíve taken heat
for it ever since, including some from me. But I must confess that I
really enjoyed what I tasted the other evening.
Iím talking about ***1990 Caymus Special
Selection. A friend brought it to dinner and it was easily the wine of
Iíll admit that, at first, the aromas are
dominated by American oak. But within an hour the coconut and dill blow
off, revealing a big, opulent, well-balanced wine. Lots of cassis and
olive flavors. It seems to be maturing like some of the great Special
Selections of the past, and could hold its own easily in a vertical.
Overpriced? Maybe. But I canít complain about what I find in the glass.
Unfortunately, my own matching contribution, #$%^1991
Shafer Hillside Select is CORKED. This is the second Hillside Select
that Iíve opened in as many weeks -- and both have been corked!
So instead, I open *+1997 Siduri Pinot Noir
Hirsch Vineyard. A lovely wine that Iíve reported on before -- chock
full of cherry and meat flavors. But tonight, the Caymus pushes it aside.
We also open a couple of whites:
**1997 Newton Chardonnay "Unfiltered" is a big, deep
Chard with plenty to enjoy. However, it isnít quite as complex as...
***1997 Peter Michael Chardonnay "Belle Cote."
Continues to impress. I think it may be my favorite Peter Michael Chard
of all time. Explosive papaya flavors with lots of leesy, bready
highlights. Overtones of lime. Long, luscious finish.
DINNER WITH JOAN AND WALT FLOWERS. (December 1,
1999) Over Thanksgiving weekend, we had the great pleasure of dining with
Joan and Walt Flowers, proprietors of a red-hot new winery on California's
What nice people they are -- and how
unspeakably convenient to meet them at a restaurant in Lambertville, New
Jersey! They're originally from this area and were visiting relatives.
I'll be covering details about the Flowers
winery in an upcoming interview. But tasting notes on their new releases
can't wait. We opened:
The Moon Select designation is reserved for their top
cuvťes. And as much as I like the "regular" Flowers Chard
(see below), this one is even better. The wine is incredibly focused and
intense. Hits your palate like a laser beam. And although the wine
received 88% new oak, itís been all soaked up. Nary a splinter! Walt
Flowers predicts a long life for this wine and feels it needs a few
years to mature. As dicey as it is to age California Chards, Iíll go
along with his assessment. Certainly, the 1995 Chardonnay continues to
improve. The 1997 Moon Select is among the best Chardonnays Iíve
tasted all year, including Burgundies.
***+1997 Flowers Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge "Moon
***+1997 Flowers Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge "Moon Select."
Bright, beautiful and Burgundian. Aromas of red raspberry.
Ultra-concentrated on the palate. Shows some tannin too, but the finish is
outrageous. Wow! This wine is well-balanced and seems to have the stuffing
for long-term aging. I find it comparable in style to the Kistler Pinot Noirs -- which shouldnít be a big surprise, as the Flowersí are
big fans of Steve Kistlerís wines. As with the Chard, Walt feels the
wine needs years in the cellar to show its best. Probably true, but I sure
enjoyed it tonight!
For comparison, I had brought one of my
favorite young red Burgundies:
On its own terms,
this is a fruit-packed wine with plenty of complexity. It has a mineral
note that I didnít find in the Flowers, but otherwise the flavor
profile was similar. When it comes to intensity, however, this wine was
simply blown away by the Flowers!
**1995 Bertagna Vougeot "Les Cras."
Once again, Iím mightily impressed by the
potential of Sonoma Coast vineyards to produce world-class wines from
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. More on the Flowers at a later date.
RHONES AND...WHAT? (November 20,
1999) The reds tonight were mostly
big, classic Chateauneuf du Pape. Iím not sure what to call the whites,
but I do know I liked Ďem a lot.
We were dining at Philadelphiaís hot new
restaurant on Market Street East, Fork, and let me observe
parenthetically that I have never seen the cityís eateries doing
better business. Every place in the area was jammed. They seemed almost to
be leaking diners out onto
the street and parking was nearly impossible.
. I often joke that German wines require more time to copy
down the name than to write the tasting note. In this case, I exaggerate
not. Folks impatiently yell "pass the bottle!" as I try to
make sure I've spelled "Monchspfad" correctly. Anyhow, as
sparkling Reisling goes, this is a beaut. Fruity but racy enough to kick
your palate like Champagne.
*1997 Schuman-Nagler Reisling Brut Sekt b.A. Rheingau Geisenheimer
WHITES tonight consist of a vertical from the
hot new California producer of Rhone-type wines, Sine Qua Non. I believe
all the wines are mostly Roussanne, though thereís other stuff in here
too. Seem to remember that the Ď95 has some Chardonnay it in. If anyone
knows for sure, let me know. Anyhow, we open:
The debut white from
this winery and probably still their best to date. Terrific aromas of
all kinds of goodies. Tropical fruits, creme brulee, sea breeze,
cashews, other stuff too. Seductive and slippery on the palate, too,
with a racy tang that only adds to the fun. I first tasted this wine two
and half years ago. Now the wineís more integrated and seemingly just
as powerful. DRY WHITE OF THE EVENING.
***1995 Sine Qua Non "The Bride."
1996 Sine Qua Non "Omadhaun and Poltroon." CORKED, and Iím
really getting sore. Iíve opened three irreplaceable bottles this
week that have all been tainted with TCA. Some at the table say this
bottle is the weakest in the vertical -- but that isnít really fair. TCA
doesn't just make the wine taste musty; it mutes the others flavors too.
Judgement reserved, perhaps forever, because I doubt Iíll ever taste
**1997 Sine Qua Non "Twisted and Bent." Young, tight and
still somewhat disjointed, this wine improves quite a bit by the end of
our meal. Even at this stage of development, itís impossible to resist.
Similar flavor profile to the Bride. Same lovely mouthfeel. However, from
my memories of the Bride when young, Iím guessing the latter will
ultimately prove to be the bigger wine.
. In keeping with previous
notes on this wine, itís big, wide and wild. Storm-force aromas of
raspberry and roasted meat. The Mourvedre in this wine is getting more
evident with each passing year. DRY RED OF THE EVENING.
**+1989 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape
**1990 Brunel Chateauneuf du Pape "Les Cailloux." Now weíre
on the civilized side of Chateauneuf du Pape. Pure, sweet, slow to open,
but ultimately very rewarding. You could call it elegant, but understand
thereís a lot of substance here. Probably still several years from its
plateau of maturity.
1990 Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape "Marie Beurrier."
CORKED, and if I was sore about the SQN, now Iím beside myself! The wine
is so big that the fruit almost covered the mustiness. But alas, itís
ruined. On the desperate hope that I might be proven wrong the next day, I
recork the bottle and try it the following evening. Nope, itís even
worse. Down the drain goes yet another rarity.
*+1997 Sheutz-Oles Petite Sirah "Rattlenake Acres."
Thick, sweet blueberry juice laced with coconut. Reminds me of the Ď94
Rockland PS as it tasted several years ago. Will this stuff age? Who
knows. Iíd drink now.
Iíve disqualified DESSERT WINES from
claiming "Wine of the Evening" honors, but I'm sorely tempted to
revoke the rule tonight. The only argument I hear at the table concerns
which sweetie we prefer. At first, I think it will have to be:
. Decanted three hours before consumption, it
still hadnít opened fully. Tremendously concentrated, with a 60-second
finish, this is great Port and what could be finer? Much to my surprise,
the answer is:
***1977 Fonseca Port
***+1989er Winzergenossenschaft Vier Jahreszeiten-Kloster Limberg
Durkheimer Hochmess Riesling Eiswein. (And you thought the bubbly
above was a jaw-breaker?) Medium gold and not only super-sweet, but
endowed with so much flavor and backbone, you never get tired of it. One
of the best Eisweins Iíve ever tasted. Normally I prefer Port, but this
wine is just so intense and well-balanced, you canít deny it the crown.
A BLAST FROM BRUNELLOíS FORGOTTEN VINTAGE.
(November 20, 1999) You wonít find too many people with much nice to say
about 1991 Brunellos. So that made it all more satisfying to uncork
**1991 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino.
Consumed with a splendid meal of Chicken
Marengo at a friendís home, this wine made a number of us drop our jaws
and stare into the glass. Classic Brunello aromas of dried cherries,
roasted meat and cedar. Lots of punch on the palate. Tannins evident but
the rough edges are gone. This wine is still a few years away from its
prime, but so well-balanced you can enjoy it tonight.
Also delicious but way too young was **1996
Falesco Montiano. Deep purple, pumping out cherry-currant flavors, but
hasnít yet knit with its new oak. Reminds me a little of the 1990 Bon
Pasteur when it was first released.
CALIFORNIAíS FINEST. (November 20, 1999) When
my precious %&*$#1992 Shafer Hillside Select proved to be
cork-tainted, I muttered a mighty oath. But other stuff soon soothed the
savage soul. At Chester Countyís tiny new gem of a restaurant, Catherineís,
we sampled some frighteningly young California cuvťes, including:
and needs time, but itís stuffed like a Burgundy Grand Cru. The
remainder of the bottle, consumed 2 nights later, was humming along
without a trace of decay. Is this even better than the stellar Ď95?
***1997 Flowers Chardonnay "Camp Meeting Ridge
***+1995 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon "Hillside Select." You
know, Shafer wines are so supple they can deceive you. This one has such
well-behaved tannins that you almost ignore them at first -- but donít
get suckered. This stuff is massive and really needs years
to show anything more than a hint of its power. Heady aromas of chocolate
cherry. On the palate, you get tempted with lots of delicious fruit on the
palate, but then, BANG. You hit a wall. An hour into the game, you begin
to sense what lies beyond, but you just canít get much further tonight.
Itís too full of goodies not to enjoy, but youíll be much
better rewarded by cellaring your stash for at least 5 years.
***1995 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Similarly supple and
dense. Same story, really, as the Shafer, except this wine is more
flattering right now, and probably less powerful in the long run. The
second half of the bottle, consumed the following night, hadnít budged
THE MAIN STUFF. (November 13, 1999) Sigh. We rant
about the skyrocketing cost. We boycott an overpriced vintage or two. But
when you get right down to it...
No one does it better than the
This fact forced itself on us yet again last
night as we joyously slurped our way through a bunch of the main stuff at
Phillyís stylish South American eatery, Pasion. The goodies included:
. This older St. Emilion just
arrived in Pennsylvania State Stores and I would guess itís a
re-release from the Chateau. In any case, itís in pretty good shape. A
little bricky at the rim, it shows some oxidized aromas as soon as you
pour it. But after a while, a layer of nice, sweet fruit reveals
itself. As the night wears on, the wine slowly fades, so I wouldnít buy
any to lay down for future use. But I like it for drinking tonight.
*1982 Domaine de la GaffeliŤre
**+1982 Chateau La Pavie. Clearly a classier specimen from the
vintage, this wine is in its prime. Rich, dark ruby stuff, showing clear
at the edge. Aromas of blackcurrant and olive. Pure velvet on the palate.
?*1986 LaMission Haut Brion. My first whiff of this wine revealed a
slightly musty note, but it quickly gets overwhelmed by the expected Bordeaux
aromas. As the evening wears on, however, it becomes clear that something
is wrong with this bottle. The fill is good and it doesnít taste
heat-damaged, but this is not what youíd expect from La Mission
in a great year. So Iíll go back to first impression. Borderline cork
**+1989 Mouton (from half-bottle). As I sip this wine, I think
to myself, "I really, really, really love Pauillac." Okay, this
is not the biggest Mouton Iíve tasted. And the tannins are more resolved
than you might expect from a 1989 First Growth. But all the cylinders are
firing . First you smell a ton of mushroom. Then the fruit and spice pokes
through. And when you finally dive into the glass -- ooh, itís so good.
Sexy, chocolately, oak-influenced in the best sense. And a core of pure,
deep, Cabernet yum.
***1990 Chateau Lagrange (St. Julien). Still a little tannic and
could use maybe a few more years in the cellar, but thatís a quibble.
Stuffed to the gills with Bordeaux blackcurrant flavors, shaded by Asian
spice and even some almond. As the night wears on it just gets better.
**1989 Chateau Lagrange (St. Julien). A lot like the 1990, but
seems a little more austere and acidic and seems further down the aging
curve. In fact, the two wines seem very representative of their vintages.
Both outstanding, with the 1990 more voluptuous.
We end the evening with yet another Oz
**Seppelt Ruthglen Show Muscat "DP63". Another
Madeira taste-alike that I fall for in a big way. And a bargain, which
is more than a miracle in todayís over-juiced wine market. Okay, maybe
there is something to be said for non-Bordeaux wines.
ITALIAN THOROUGHBREDS LOSE A HORSE-RACE.
(November 12, 1999) All year Iíve been tooting the horn for Italian
reds. So I really looked forward to tasting a bunch of legendary names
We gathered at Phillyís hot new restaurant, Vetri,
and the food was as good as the menu looked. You havenít lived until
youíve had Chocolate Fettucine with Wild Board Ragu.
And the Italian wines were very, very nice.
However, my favorite three wines were not Italian but...
Okay, hereís what happened:
magnificent as always, and despite my note of a year ago, it hasnít
passed peak. Exploding with mature, apple and pear flavors.
**1989 Egly-Ouriet Champagne "Cuvee Millesime"
**1995 Kistler Chardonnay "Vine Hill" wins applause for
its class and complexity. Smoked nuts, minerals, tropical fruit, all knit
well together. May improve, but the intensity is so terrific, why not
**+1994 Zind Humbrecht Riesling "Clos Hauserer" is on the
point too, loaded with diesel and pine-sap aromas, and lots of fruit all
through the finish. WHITE OF THE EVENING.
is a classic Bordeaux taste-alike. Aromas of
coffee, fudge and cassis, with lots of pleasure when you taste it.
Tannins resolved, velvet smooth. Beautiful finish. Thereís an overall
elegance that might betray it as Super-Tuscan. But serve it blind in a
flight of outstanding St. Emilions, and who would suspect?
*+1988 Tignanello is perhaps a bigger wine, but not as generous.
Maybe it needs more time? Lovely stuff, donít get me wrong, but clearly
outclassed by the Sassicaia.
*+1983 Quintarelli Reciota della Valpolicella Amonderlato goes
beautifully with the wild boar, and the big, alcohol-tinged, overripe
flavors are a nice counterpoint. But I keep going back to the Sassicaia.
Until I taste...
***1991 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Okay, itís not
as ready as the Italians. But I canít get enough of it. Essence of
Cabernet Sauvignon. Amazing purity and depth of cassis fruit, with all the
little varietal subtleties you could want. RED OF THE EVENING.
And my third favorite? Iím currently
disqualifying dessert wines from contention for wine-of-the-evening
honors, because Iím just too much of a sucker for them. But, if I hadnít...
might have won again! See
my note on this wine from last month.
**+Yalumba Old Sweet White Museum Reserve
WEST COAST CAB FRANC. (November 9, 1999) For
years I was underwhelmed with Cabernet Franc, with the notable exception
of Cheval Blanc. The grape can present you with wines that are weedy and
dull, and usually does.
But lately the stuff is getting my serious
interest. Iíve tasted a few Loire reds that actually seem ripe and have
some concentration. And now even a few American wineries are doing good
things with it.
You gotta like Dalla Valle Maya, even if you
hate the price. Viader has been on my "buy" list since 1991,
although price may cause me to skip the 1997. And tonight we tasted a
couple of other goodies:
Black and backward, but oozing
fruit all the same. Barrels of berries, dipped in chocolate. Not for
Loire nuts, acid freaks or finesse-fiends, but ooh-la-la! Grows in
majesty as the evening wears on.
***1995 Pride Cabernet Franc.
*+1996 Justin Isosceles. Cab Franc is just one of the grapes in
this blend, but to me it defines the wine. Always seems made in an
ultra-ripe style and this vintage is no exception. Very dark, though not
as black as the Pride. Fragrant, plummy, just short of pruney, but it
We also tried:
. Combines the cherry flavors of
Sangiovese with the supple depth of Shaferís Stags Leap District
Cabernet Sauvignon. Initially I would have ranked this even higher, but
it thinned out notably as the evening wore on. Still like it a lot.
*+1994 Shafer Firebreak
?1995 Simi Sendal White Table Wine. Seems like it has a lot of
Semillon. Kiwi and saltwater taffy flavors. Good mouthfeel. Canít make
up my mind about it.
*+1997 Horton Viognier Reserve. Surprises me by being so
controversial. Beautiful perfume on the nose. Pure, varietally true and
oakless on the palate. I like it a lot. Another taster says itís not the
equal of the 1993 Horton. Another just doesnít like it. Well heck, I do.
**+1995 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay. Best performance
yet? Very intense. Expands impressively with airing. Yes, new oak, but
behaves like a classified growth Burgundy.
MASKED REDS ON HALLOWEEN. (November 9, 1999) Nine
days after the fact, I can still taste the wines we blind-tasted on
Halloween night. Zin wimps can skip to the next notes, because these guys
For those who care, let me add that the wines
were served double-blind and their identities were not revealed until all
the blinded wines were tasted. Here are my notes:
MASKED RED #1. Deep ruby. Strawberry and bramble-fruit aromas. Spicy,
big and thick on the palate. Shows the most alcohol of the bunch, but in
keeping with the enormous flavors. Lots of finesse and complexity,
despite the scale. I guess itís a single-vineyard Zin, which ainít
rocket science, and hazard that it may be from sandy soil. Right grape,
wrong dirt. Itís **+*1992 Williams Selyem Zinfandel Russian River
Valley. There's some discussion about whether this was made from Martinelli
Jackass Vineyard fruit; turns out that 1992 was the first year WS didn't
get those grapes.
MASKED RED #2. Seamless, smooth, strawberry-raspberry fruit bomb. Thereís
less alcohol evident here than in wine #1. Also a little less roughness
around the edges. Zinfandel is again the easy guess -- and itís so
beautifully put together that I conclude it may be a blend. But itís ***1996
Martinelli Zinfandel Jackass Vineyard. Best showing that MJV has
ever made in my presence, and itís fun to compare this to the Williams
Selyem. Both, you see, have about the same alcohol level
(somewhere between 15% and 16%). Yet the Martinelli has less heat.
MASKED RED #3. Darkest by far. Also the most tannic. Also the deepest
and biggest and...well, yes, Iíd say the best. Super-ripe stuff with
plum and chocolate flavors. Alcohol coats the sides of the glass, but
thereís not a trace of heat. In fact, it seems the coolest of the
three. Easily WINE OF THE EVENING. I guess Zin again and Napa Valley Zin
at that. Our host grins and asks how old we think this wine is. I guess
itís 5 years from vintage. Finally I get one right! This is ***+1994
Turley Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard and oh my, is it magnificent
We then uncorked a couple of others without
bothering to uncover the labels. Both were either showing very backward,
or else overwhelmed by the Zins. Maybe both? Good stuff, all the same:
decanted and badly needs it. Big tannins, covering a packed-up wad of
raspberry flavors. Lots of pepper. Forget about this guy for a couple of
years at least.
*?1996 Clarendon Hills Kangarilla Vineyard Grenache
*?1994 Rockland Petite Sirah was decanted, but needed 24
hours. Ink black, with some blackberry and soy aromas. Palate says next to
nothing. By the next night, it had begun to talk, but too little, too
late. Stick this one in the back of your cellar for another decade, Iíd
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