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2000 TITAN (December 14,
2003) Someone forgot to tell Sine Qua Non that 2000 was a light vintage in
California. This is not just a case of a great producer overcoming a
daunting vintage -- they've outdone themselves.
Granted, the ***+2000 Sine Qua Non Incognito isn't
Cabernet, but my golly it's wine! When the generous friend who brought it to
dinner swore it was Grenache, I could scarcely believe him. I've never
had New World Grenache so black, complete and palate-drenching. In fact,
it really doesn't remind me much of Southern Rhônes,
either. With flavors of deep black raspberry and bacon, it brings to mind
a great Hermitage.
This could be the most amazing wine I've ever tasted
from Sine Qua Non, and that's saying something.
TOP 99 CABS: TANNIC! (December
14, 2003) By many accounts, 1999 was a challenging vintage for California
Cab, but we've had some good times lately tasting the top ones. They're
delicious and duly stuffed, but stand advised they tend to be more tannic
than previous vintages from the same producers. Decant, decant, decant.
was my favorite wine in an over-the-top
evening that also included a well-stored example of ***+1982 Latour.
Can't fault the Latour -- it's got octaves of flavor, like drinking Bach
organ music. But when the Eagle spreads its wings, you gotta gasp.
Watermelon, blueberry, raspberry fudge fly by, and the tail is
impressively long. For a while you simply admire the show and then you
sense the grit on the finish. We did not decant this wine and we
probably should have.
***+1999 Screaming Eagle
***+1999 Shafer Hillside Select may not be quite as mighty as the
'97, but that's comparing Hector to Achilles. The biggest difference is
that it's much more backward. Hillside is usually all about supple; this
year the story's a little different. The expected chocolate cherries pop
out after about an hour's airing
And I've never tasted a Colgin before that wasn't ready to rip, but the
***1999 Colgin Cariad needs coaxing right now. Flavors are also
different than you'll remember from Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard bottlings.
Coffee, cassis and blackberry jam on toast, instead of the Herb Lamb's
more exotic fruits.
RAMEY PREVIEW (October
18, 2003) I'm still writing up last month's interview with David Ramey,
but I can't wait any longer to spill the beans about his terrific 2001
While visiting his new winery in Healdsburg, I
tasted through the entire 2001 lineup, plus some selections from previous
vintages for comparison. The single-vineyard designates are expensive, but
well-priced vis a vis the competition -- and the Russian River Valley
Chardonnay is a steal. I'll have more to say about them in the interview,
but here's what you need to go shopping:
Priced in the mid to low $30s, **+ 2001 Ramey Chardonnay Russian
River Valley is everything you want in a white for tonight. Big
blast of tropicals, followed by apple, almond and wet stones. Has
Ramey's characteristic crispness, but won't require the cellar time of
his single-vineyard stuff. Following the tasting, we sucked down two
bottles of this stuff over dinner and a picnic. Great with goat cheese,
salad, snails, crab, pretty much anything we could throw at it.
Restaurants should be buying this by the case.
The **++2001 Ramey Chardonnay Carneros District comes mostly
from Sangiacomo El Novillero Vineyard with the remaining third from
Sangiacomo Tall Grass Vineyard. This one may prove even fuller than the
RRV, but needs at least another 6 months of cellaring to smooth out the
sharp spots. Lemons and apples on the attack and even more mineral on
the long finish.
Taste the ***-2001 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard blind, and
you'll swear it's got to be Burgundy. Displays the basic flavor profile
of the Carneros, but packs even more clout and trails longer on the
finish. Aromas show a hint of honeysuckle and I would guess this will
intensify as the wine matures. It does need time. Give it a couple of
years before you even think of touching it.
Pardon me if I compare ***+2001 Ramey Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard
to a minerally Batard-Montrachet, but that's about the best I can come
up with. Huge -- and so backward, it's practically all finish right now.
Opened enough during the hour or so I gave it to convince me more's on
the way, maybe 3-4 years in the future. However, I would guess this wine
may develop well for 5-10 years or more. Checking the geek-sheet, I see
that the clones here are Wente and Robert Young, which may account some
for the structure, but this is one impressive feat of winemaking. Home
Underscoring my impression of the 2001, the ***-2000 Ramey
Chardonnay Hudson Valley is only a bit more approachable and
practically as long. Minerals R Us.
And here's a hint of how you may expect the 2001s to taste given
time. ***+1997 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard is shooting off
with florals, papaya, mango, flint, plus some earthy undernotes that
knit it all together. Yet it's still pretty packed up. More tricks to
Not so ***-1996 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard. This one's all
fanned out in the proverbial peacock's tail. Even more complex than the
'97 right now, but I doubt it's going to get better. Showing a hint of
caramel with air.
If you liked the 2000 Rudd, you're going to die for the ***+2001
Ramey Jericho Canyon Vineyard, Napa Valley. Same winemaker, same
vineyard (northeast of Calistoga), stronger vintage -- and wow, does it
taste good even now. Black and grapey, with compelling aromas of mocha
and blackberry. To call it penetrating on the palate would be
understatement. Finish lasts at least 30 seconds For those who care, the
cuvée is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon,
36% Merlot and 19% Cabernet Franc. 2001 trophy hunters, take aim.
I may be underrating the **2001 Ramey Diamond Mountain District.
The aromas are sexy as all get out -- violet, blueberry, hint of
band-aid -- and it's delicious when you sip it, but the dusty tannins
give me a little pause. Five years on the rack may be all it needs. I'd
like to taste this again over a meal. The grapes come from young vines
fairly high up on Diamond Mountain, up above Diamond Creek Vineyard.
It's 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 7%
Finally, **-Ramey 2001 Claret Napa Valley offers outstanding
current drinking. Sniff it and you get licorice, cocoa and cassis on the
nose. Flavors veer to blackberry-mocha-milkshake. Made from declassified
juice that would have gone into the single-vineyard wines, it's plummier
and softer. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot. I
think it's priced in the mid-$30s.
STRIKES AGAIN (October 18, 2003) Pardon me for strumming on this
string yet again, but I only wish California made more Cabs as lush and
well-priced as *++2000 Château
Plaisance from St. Emilion. At about $17 a bottle plus tax, it's not
quite cheap enough to make our bargain page -- but be a sport and spring
for the extra buck if you can find it. It's got plush texture, beautiful
coffee bean and blackberry aromas, plenty of palate presence and a
convincing finish. Not exactly a cellar candidate, but should drink well
over the next few years.
RUSSIAN RARITY (October 18,
2003) I never thought I'd be marveling over a wine made in Stalin's Soviet
Union. Well, I won't be -- but I did just taste a sensational one that
must have been made about six months after he died, in autumn of 1953.
A generous friend picked up a bottle of
**1953 Massandra on a recent trip to Russia, and shared it with us
over dinner. It seems to be made from Muscat, and perhaps someone who
reads Cyrillic can tell me more. Click here
to see a photo of the bottle.
No one knew what to expect when the brownish,
sediment-strewn liquid was poured, but as minutes ticked by, smiles
blossomed. Sweet, fruity and full on the palate, the wine is still charged
pear and apple flavors, shaded by a hint of allspice and nutmeg. What a
MAGNUM MAGIC (October 12,
2003) WARNING: I'm not sure if this is a tasting note or just
bragging, but here's what happened. A friend reached his 50th birthday,
and invited just under 50 folks to help him celebrate. He encouraged those
who happened to be wine geeks to bring magnums. Did they ever.
Better still, those who weren't wine
geeks didn't know enough to Bogart the good stuff. So we label-sluts wound
up with all we wanted of wines like...
never know 1998 was a bust from this baby! As expected, it's black as
Mobil 1 and nearly as thick. But this is not the backward monster of
1991 or 1997. Poured straight form bottle, it blossoms beautifully in
about 15 minutes, yielding great gushes of mocha java, lead pencil and
blackberry. Oh, it may not be as nice in 50 years, but it's certainly
got at least two decades great drinking ahead of it. WINE OF THE
***+1998 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine (from magnum)
**+1998 Jones Family (from magnum). Here's another one that beat
the vintage, even if it can't best Harlan at the arm-wrestle. Has the same unctuous texture as previous Jones vintages
and darned if it doesn't seem to be equally extracted. Blueberry, vanilla,
touch of red plum. After a few swirls, it goes straight to the back of
your head and shuts down your critical faculties. You are SEDUCED, end of
***1999 Behrens and Hitchcock Alder Springs Merlot (from magnum).
This one's more concentrated than the Jones and takes about an hour
to unwind. Those who bother to follow it (its tough to focus on one glass
with so many other sugar plums dancing in front of your nose) are rewarded
with buckets of raspberries and bittersweet chocolate. Not your typical
Mendocino Merlot. Not your typical anything.
***1986 Shafer Hill Side Select (from double-magnum). Over the
years, I've had this wine several times from bottle and at least twice
from magnum. I consider it the prototype for the great Hillsides of the
1990s, although a tad less complete. It has never tasted taste better than
tonight, that's for sure. Thick, rich and showing no trace of oxidation.
Cherries, milk chocolate, currants, classic Hillside. Oh, you could
quibble. There's a slight, shrill note of something buried under the fruit
-- green tannin? acid? -- that you won't find in later Hillsides. But
yeow, what a wine.
B&H (October 1, 2003) If you want the complete interview with
Les Behrens and Joe Bob Hitchcock, click
here. If you'd rather just jump to the barrel-tasting notes for their
2002s, here goes:
***+2002 Alder Springs Syrah is singing in
three-part harmony this morning. Aromas of violets erupt from the glass.
The palate's mostly about raspberries, with shades of strawberry-rhubarb
pie. The finish is long and soaks your senses. This is not your
normal Syrah -- it's got the flavor profile of great Pinot Noir. Only
the concentration and density might lead you to guess the grape.
***+2002 Hommage to Erna Shein
is 40% Merlot, plus about 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.
And not to put too fine a point on it -- this is pedal to the metal
FRUIT. Lots of it. Many different kinds. Blueberries to the max, plus
any other berry you like.
They're thinking of calling the next one ***+Rudy's
Cuvée, after one of the Behrens
sons. It's roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and
Merlot. Entirely different from the Erna Shein, this is more like
Bordeaux on steroids. Blackberries and other dark fruit, plus a trace of
herb and anise. Yum.
***+2002 Chien Lunatique is
Napa Valley Syrah from Yountville's Page-Nord Vineyard. Here again,
we've got a totally different wine than the 2002 Alder Springs Syrah.
It's much more like classic Syrah, but huge -- swarming with blueberries
and blackberries, plus lesser notes of dark chocolate and earth. The
texture is wonderfully thick and velvety.
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