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BLIND AS BATS. (Halloween night, 1998) Instead of disguising ourselves for
Halloween, we bagged our bottles...and flitted over to a friends for a bang-up
dinner and blind tasting.
No mischief here just some of the best wines Ive
tasted all year, including a couple of tricky ringers that won their flight.
FLIGHT 1 is Alsace whites, accompanied by a
wickedly tasty pumpkin soup:
WINE 1. Very light gold and initially very tight in the aroma
department. But take a sip and WHAM what a wine! Incredibly thick, highly
structured, with a finish that went into Sunday. A huge bowl of roses. I figure it has to
be ***+ZIND-HUMBRECHT 1994 CLOS WINDSBUHL GEWURZTRAMINER (no, not a tough
guess, since I brought it). My #1of the flight and the group pretty much agrees.
WINE 2. About the same color as wine 1, but much leaner and mellower.
Seems to be out of its peer group, emphasizing melon flavors instead of classic Alsace
Gewurz flavors. Not a bad wine, but definitely the odd one out. Sure enough, it turns out
to be MARTINELLI 1996 GEWURZTRAMINER DRY SELECT. Nice try, California,
but no one does Gewurztraminer quite like Alsace. My #3 of the flight.
WINE 3 is the darkest, softest and sweetest of the flight. Soaring
lychee and rose petal aromas. Softer, more lush, more flavorful than wine 1. Well yes,
its Gewurz, but lets get specific. I guess Albert Mann. Nope, I shouldnt
have showed off. Its *** ZIND-HUMBRECHT 1989 HEIMBOURG VENDANGE TARDIVE.
A couple of folks pick it for number 1, but I rank it second by a whisker.
IN BETWEEN COURSES, we taste another blind
white, very different from all the above. Peach and apricot flavors. I suspect Viognier,
but note its not quite as thick and slippery as Id expect from this varietal.
But wait, lets consider what we just tasted. Okay, and I make the palate correction.
Yes, I say, Viognier, and sure enough its *VERNAY 1996 CONDRIEU LES CHAILLEE
DE LENFER what an appropriate name for tonight!
FLIGHT 2 is served alongside a
fantastic-tasting, feather-light shrimp mousse. Its supposed to be all Chardonnay,
WINE 1 sure isnt! Deep gold with a huge nose of honey, spice and
orange peel. Definitely not a Chard. I knew just from swirling it that this wine would
overpower my palate, so I waited to taste it last. When I did, big sugar and botrytis
flavors took charge totally. Okay. I guess its a botrytis Semillon-Sauvignon blend
and I love it. Turns out to be *RAYMOND-LAFON 1986. I dont rank it
as part of this flight, but put it aside for dessert.
WINE 2 is light gold and decidedly Burgundian. Very complex, developed
nose. Plenty of oak, nuts and lots of fruit on the palate. We debate this wine a lot. It
actually tastes a lot like a mature Mt. Eden to me could this be a California
ringer but its so long and loud, I figure it must be something rarer. Yes it
is. **NEILLON 1991 CHEVALIER MONTRACHET! Yet, believe it or not, my #2 in
WINE 3 is about the same color as wine 2 and I figure this one just
has to be Burgundy. Starts out shut tight but then opens gradually to a subtle fan of
flavors and an almost hurtful sting of fruit on the finish. This is a tight, tight, great
young wine. I hear whispers about Verget, but theres really not enough oak here.
Canny Michel is about to guess, then says "I believe this is a great producer."
Well guess what. Its **FLOWERS 1995 CAMP MEETING RIDGE and
the table buzzes with astonishment. I feel humiliated. After all, I tasted this wine just
a week ago! # 3 of the flight, just behind the Neillon Chevalier. I gotta find some of
WINE 4 sneaks up on me. At first I dont like it. Tight, almost
soapy aromas. But that phase passes and I get perfumed oak, then a flinty blast of mineral
flavors and a long, long stony tail. Oh YES! But what is it? The mineral flavors are so
pure that Im tempted to guess a great Chablis, but its really ***COMTE
LAFON 1991 MEURSAULT DESIREE and easily my #1 of the flight.
FLIGHT 3 is served with char-grilled steaks.
All Pinot Noir and the most devilishly deceptive flight of the evening.
WINE 1 is medium ruby, light at the rim, and if this isnt
Burgundy, well, I give up. The funky, sweaty nose could hardly be anything else. Leathery,
gamey and you know what? really good! Its **MUSSY 1990 POMMARD.
(Les Epenots? Didnt get to see the label!) Tied for my #3 of the flight.
WINE 2 might have won the flight if it had been more open. Deep ruby,
with classic, down the middle Burgundy flavors, but a tannic clamp on the palate. Swirl,
swirl, swirl yep, heres more but I have to give up and go on. Spicy,
pure raspberry fruit. Very focused. Most flawless, perhaps, of the flight. Ill put
it alongside Wine1. Its **MEO-CAMUZET 1991 AUX MURGERS. Would like
to revisit this wine in a few years.
Theres nothing so elusive about WINE 3. Darkest wine of the
flight and kicking tail. Aromas of raspberry, plums, spice. Very ripe and all about deep,
deep fruit. I think I can tell what it is I brought it but lets play
the game and shut up. Folks vote it a Burgundy and #2 in the flight. Hah! Its
***1992 BEAUX FRÈRES.
WINE 4 is also deep red, but much funkier than wine 3. Cinnamon and
leather alongside the fruit. Nice wine, but compared to the others, a little dull.
Its 1988 ADELSHEIM ELIZABETHS RESERVE. Not bad at all for an
88 Oregon Pinot, but not in a class with the others. Last in the flight.
And yes, there is a WINE 5 and oh, what a winner. Very, very
sexy fruit plus exotic spice, flowers, berries, you name it. Michel comments that
theres even a hint of Chardonnay on the nose. "Close your eyes and smell
it," he says. Hes right. Could this be a Leroy? Ponsot? Who knows? But
its no contest this is my WINE OF THE EVENING. Then off
comes the cloak and tada! Its ***+WILLIAMS-SELYEM 1986 ROCHIOLI VINEYARD.
What an amazing Pinot Noir!
We finished up with Creme Brulee, the remainder of the
Raymond-Lafon and a sensational 1976 **DE FARGUE. If you didnt love
the wines, food and company tonight, well, boo on you, child!
BISTRO BEAUTIES. (October 30, 1998) A back-in-action Phylis and I repaired
to our local bistro last night. We found it mobbed populated by, among others, the
staff of Chaddsford Winery, who were celebrating the close of what promises to be a
memorable harvest. (DIGRESSION: Weve had an unusually warm and dry October here in
Pennsylvania, and our summer was sunny , but not overly hot. Winemaker Eric Miller says
the grapes were tasting fantastic.)
Anyhow, we did finally nab a table, and proceeded to open:
**NEYERS 1997 CHARDONNAY CARNEROS "EL NOVERILLO VINEYARD".
First bottling from the vineyard for Neyers and what a sexy lady it is. Like a barrel
sample? Yes, and I like barrel samples. Cloudy, yeasty, but shows real class on the attack
and has decent grip on the mid-palate. The main show is the fruit platters of it,
ranging from mango to citrus. This may be the most complex wine Ive tasted yet from
*LYNMAR 1996 QUAIL HILL VINEYARD PINOT NOIR. Medium ruby color leads
me to expect something, but theres plenty of pure, focused, cherry fruit on the
palate and a decent finish. Oak is a bit overdone a slight taste of ashes pokes
through now and then but this is a minor flaw and the wine may well integrate
better in another year. All in all, a very satisfying Russian River Valley Pinot, and
decent value at $27. I also bought some of the Reserve from this vineyard and now
cant wait to taste it.
CANT GET ENUF...(October 26, 1998) ...o dat Cantemerle! Nine years
out, the *1989 CANTEMERLE still needs a few more to be called easy
drinking. But haul out the big Riedels, be patient, and here come the chocolate, minerals
and roasted meat. One glass is not enough. Sipped another after dinner while munching
peanuts and watching the biography of Joan of Arc. Call me a heathen. It worked.
GIMME ANOTHER MERLOT! (October 23, 1998) Ye who scorn the Napa Valley
product, get humble if you plan to sample **PALOMA 1994 MERLOT. Dark as molasses,
its too young yet to sing the high parts of the National Anthem, but the bass notes
are ringing loud and long tonight. Needs red meat, 2 hours decanting or 5 more years in
BOGART THAT BORDEAUX! (October 24, 1998) Even wine-maniacs can get tired of
I mean, I attend a lot of dinners where we open loads of
different wines and they can be fun.
Sometimes at these affairs I catch myself wishing that I could
just grab a bottle of the legendary best, Bogart it for the rest of the evening, forget
about taking notes and relax with my dinner.
So thats what we did last night at Mortons in
Just a few bottles. Just the best. And just heaven.
First, with the bacon-wrapped scallops, a white:
***MARCASSIN 1992 GAUER RANCH UPPER BARN. Its nice in a
melancholy way when the last bottle in your bin is the best. This one was just where I
wanted it. Fruit is still huge, but all the oak has been soaked up and the splinters
sanded off. 45 seconds of creme brulee on the finish.
Then onto the main thing. Serious Bordeaux, alongside a 24-ounce rare porterhouse:
***1983 PALMER. Layers of lead pencil and mineral, gradually yielding
to reveal the sweet core of cassis. On top of its game and fully mature. What Margaux is
***1990 PICHON-BARON. Revealing its glories at last. Sexy coffee
aromas swirl above a glorious pool of blackberry. Jump in! Structured for a long lifetime,
but why deny yourself now?
Finally, with the flourless chocolate cake, ***DOW
1984 QUINTA DA BOMFIN. This single quinta was so smooth, so sweet, so full of
cherries, Im tempted to name it wine of the evening, but nah. Tonight was just about
loving each wine for itself.
CA VS. WA. There are those who say Washington State will one day be home to
the best Cabs and Merlots in America.
Okay, whatever you say someday. But right now there are
some very heavy-hitters from California that show no signs of rolling over and playing
We staged our own little bout last night at Saranac in Bryn
Mawr. Lets see what happened...
The opening act:
*NEYERS 1996 CHARDONNAY "THERIOT VINEYARD." Looks Ive
I gone through a year (and 3 bottles) already without posting a note. Previous tastings
have been pleasurable and promising but the wine seemed to be still at sixes and sevens.
Let it be said that tonight this wine finally delivered, made its best showing yet,
flavors finally integrated. Wonderfully complex with a lemon squirt attack, tropical
flavors on the mid-palate and a fairly long, custardy finish. Wowed the table.
Havent seen a 97 Neyers Theriot. Wonder if there will be one?
PETER MICHAEL 1995 SAUVIGNON BLANC "LAPRES MIDI." For
about 30 minutes this wine was an admirable match to my oysters, with lots of grapefruit
and grass...then lapsed into vague melon-type flavors...then expired. Uh-oh. Drink up,
Onto the main event:
*½WOODWARD CANYON 1995 "CHARBONNEAU" Weird name for a
Cab-Merlot, since it sort of rhymes with "Charbono." But I gotta say, I was
impressed by this contender from Walla Walla. No cheap tricks here. Sweet, seductive fruit
and beautiful balance. Deep, ripe blackberry flavors with a kiss of kirsch on the finish.
Just 12.6% alcohol according to the label. Very sexy. Finished the rest tonight. Still
But now lets talk about...
**NEYERS 1995 CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Bang! Big, joyous mouthful of
cherry-berry fruit with a lingering finish. plenty of streucture for aging too
ought to be even better in 5 or so years. Fruit comes from a favored place a little
southeast of Calistoga. Its more flamboyant and more alcoholic at 14.%. But, you
know? It works really well.
Nice going, Washington. I like you a whole lot but
better luck next time. [NOTE: We did it again a few weeks later. Click here to hop to next time.])
DIAMOND MT. DEELITE. (October 14, 1998) Found a fabulous new butcher up in
Malvern, Pennsylvania. Stuck a 2-inch-thick cow strip on the grill beside Phylis
salmon steak. Now how to honor this grand hunk of meat? Maybe its time to test-drive
**VON STRASSER 1994 DIAMOND MT. CABERNET SAUVIGNON? Sure, why not. I feared it
might be too stern, and tannins there are, but after about an hour in the big glass,
Im getting beautifully focused fruit blackberry, cassis and then,
after another half hour, a wild, meaty perfume, part flower, part who knows. Texture gets
velvety. What torture to put the rest away till tomorrow!
DEI 1995 VINO NOBILE DE MONTEPULCIANO. (October 13, 1998) The wines from
this small producer have consistently impressed me in past years, so I was expecting great
things from the 1995 Vino Nobile. Well...uh...I have to say Im a little
disappointed. Its a very good wine, but seemed at first taste to be thinner and more
acidic than, for example, the 1990. The fruits there but not quite as ripe and lush
as I hoped for from this vintage. Maybe its just a little tight? Ill revisit
the rest of the bottle tonight.
PONSOT &. BERTAGNA. (October 12, 1998) Just when I think the days of
good deals in Burgundy are over, along comes a wine like **BERTAGNA 1995 VOUGEOT
"LES CRAS." Its got everything nice, fleshy fruit for now,
with plenty of structure and depth for aging. Theres so much spice and cherry stuff
swirling around in the glass that you almost forget the tannins on the finish. Plus,
its got a racy attack cut that cuts to the heart of your meal. Went beautifully with
yellowfin tuna last night. Not cheap, but didnt cost the moon.
A very different character was *PONSOT 1989 CLOS DE LA
ROCHE. Started out a lot milder, with some notably sweaty aromas. But these
dissipated, Im happy to say, leaving a lively yet elegant wine. Lacked the power,
but showed a little more complexity than the Bertagna tonight.
GOOD OL CAB & COW. (October 10, 1998) With Phylis still
convalescing, steak is an easy standby and when the wines are good, its
awfully tough to get tired of it. This weekend, a visiting friend and I chowed down on New
York strips, while staging a bout between the two heavyweight wineries of Highway 29.
**MONDAVI 1987 RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Opened
restrained, but quickly asserted itself, pumping on the sweet cassis and olive notes,
finishing long. Didnt seem to fade over four hours...but its missing a step,
maybe, from bottles previously tasted. Think its probably bottle variation, as the
one before seemed a lot younger. Nevertheless, its the winner and still champeen.
*½ BERINGER 1990 RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON.
In comparison to the Mondavi, this came across as sterner, but after about three hours
began gushing fruit. Similar flavor profile, with a lick more licorice and mineral. A
touch shorter, too. Tonight it bowed to the Mondavi but wait till I open a
PHYLIS DINES OUT. (October 4, 1998) Yesterday, at long last, my favorite
convalescent felt well enough -- and bored enough -- to brave an evening out. We kept it
low-key and local, meeting a couple of friends for dinner at the Chadds Ford Café. I
selected the Angus filet with Portabellos and Gorgonzola; she chose the yellowfin. And
yes, we did open some wines. In honor of Phylis, our friends had brought Flowers:
**FLOWERS 1995 CAMP MEETING RIDGE CHARDONNAY. A very classy Chard,
reminiscent of Mt. Eden, with good acid bite, nutty nuances and a lengthy, custardy,
finish. My first experience with Flowers and we were all impressed.
*SAINTSBURY 1996 CARNEROS RESERVE CHARDONNAY. Softer, leesier, with a
distinctive coconut note. Worthy wine, but decisively trumped by the Flowers.
We had named Pinot Noir for the red theme, but were a little disappointed:
ROUMIER 1995 CLOS DE LA BUSSIERE. Nice dark color with a muted nose of
black cherry. Acidic attack, very little oak, tannic finish. Mighty tight. Theres
fruit behind the structure and this could develop into a fine bottle of Burgundy, but if
so it needs at least a couple of years. Tough to read tonight. So we went on to...
DU MOL 1996 DUTTON RANCH PINOT NOIR. Medium ruby color leads me to
expect a lighter wine and thats what I get. The fruit is very pretty and varietally
correct -- with tangy red cherry flavors. Structure is good but not overpowering and the
oak is way in the background. A very well made wine, but lacking in complexity.
Fearing that a white might be the wine of the evening, I
reached in my bag for the secret weapon:
**1990 MONTELENA CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Super-dark. Swirled, sniffed,
sipped, and looked up at friend Al who had just done the same. Almost simultaneously, we
grinned and intoned "Doesnt s*ck." Its just beginning to open for
business, but flavors are flooding out over the transom. Deep, ripe cassis and other black
fruit surrounding a core of packed-up goodies that are waiting to explode five years down
the line. If you want to open one now, reach for the oversized Riedels and have yourself a
WHO WOULDA THUNK... (October 1, 1998) That two such delicious-tasting Pinot
Noirs would evolve on such shockingly different course? Two years ago, I would have ranked
**MARTINELLI 1994 RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY and W.H. SMITH 1994
HELENTHAL VINEYARD OLD VINES at the same outstanding level. Both were ripe, rich,
bold Pinot Noirs with lots of glycerin.
Two years later, the Smith seems to be thinning and fading,
showing more oak, not less -- but the Martinelli has never been better! Medium ruby in the
glass, it offers beautiful red cherry and cinnamon aromas, then fills up your mouth with
delicious, complex, fruit. Acidity seemed kind of low at release, but now this is one
nervy critter. Flavors remind me of a Rochioli reserve wine, although this stuff
isnt quite as extracted. Glad I have another bottle; sorry I dont have six!
SULTANS OF STAGS LEAP. (September 29, 1998) Ask
anyone four years ago to name the premier producer in Stags Leap District and most would
have told you "Stags Leap Wine Cellars." Youd probably get the same
answer today, but Im here to tell you theyre wrong. The heavyweight crown now
belongs to SHAFER.
Why? Well, first, because Shafers flagship wine,
Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, has been going from strength to strength since 1986.
It over-achieved impressively in the subpar vintages of 1988 and 1989, then went into
overdrive starting in 1990.
I would name 1992 as the year that Hillside Select finally
overtook the long-reigning local champion, Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23. Then, in
1994, Hillside Select simply shot out the lights -- it could well be the wine of the
94 Napa Valley vintage -- while Cask 23 was, well, disappointing.
But wait, were not done. All through the 90s,
Shafers less expensive Stags leap District Cabernet bottling has been outstanding as
well -- easily, the best value for money going in SLD Cab.
Then, in 1994, Shafer started producing one of the best
Chardonnays in the valley, and possibly the single best non-malolactic Chardonnay produced
They have also introduced a Sangiovese-Cabernet blend called
Firebreak, which, if it doesnt deliver quite the value of some of my favorite Tuscan
blends, is nonetheless one of the best Sangiovese-based wines coming out of California
All this brings me to the wine Im drinking tonight, SHAFER
1996 STAGS LEAP DISTRICT MERLOT.Deep ruby, with yummy chocolate-cassis aromas,
followed up by a violet-kirsch perfume that rewards those who sniff twice. On the palate,
its got medium weight and is very supple indeed. Concentration isnt equal to
the divine elixir that Shafer gets in its Cabs, but its not bad, and the finish is
pretty decent too. While this is probably the smallest-scale red in Shafers muscular
lineup, its nonetheless a delicious wine and fair value at $24.
Nice going, Doug.
LIBATIONS (September 21, 1998) If ever I had something to be thankful for,
it was the news from the surgeon on this Rosh Hashana. Operation successful my
wifes going to be just fine.
Later that evening, a couple of friends joined me for dinner
and helped me unwind. We dug into some steaks and poured a few glasses of the good stuff.
True, just about any decent wine would have tasted like nectar tonight, but I figured it
was as good a time as any to uncork the **1992 COLGIN.
Its a big, deep, dark, red wine, but the readiest of any
released to date. Beautiful black cherry aromas are followed up by gusher of fruit on the
palate. Still a bit tight but opens enough to make you push your chair back and say
"ahhhhhhhh...." Finishes long. Yes, I think I will have another sip.
Also consumed that evening was a *1996 ETUDE PINOT
BLANC. This is Pinot Blanc in a rich, decadent, leesy California style. Not a
whole lot like the Alsace product, but I liked the difference a lot.
GIMME A MERLOT! (September 18, 1998) You know what I mind the most about
wine snobs? Theyre so predictable. Much more so than the poor shlubs they look down
their snoots at.
Take Merlot. Sure, its demonically popular at weddings,
bar-mitzvahs and chain bistros. Sure, people order it just because its easy to
pronounce. Sure, a lot of it tends to be overcropped, overpriced and, well, awful.
But surer than all of these verities is the reaction
youll get when you say the word to a wine snob. The twitch, the sigh, and the little
disclaimer, "Well, of course, Petrus is nice." (I agree. At least I would
if I were able to drink enough Petrus often enough to generalize so broadly.) "But,
Then, maybe, if the snob is really cool, youll start
hearing about how you ought to be drinking Riesling or Gruner Veltliner.
WELL, dear snobs, there was a time when Riesling was Merlot.
(Remember the 70s? No? Well, you missed a lot of bad Riesling.) And someday
maybe 10-20 years from now Merlot will become Riesling. It will be wonderfully
cheap, because the world will be bristling with mature vines. And very cool, having long
since passed out of fashion. And consistently terrific tasting, because only the best will
find a decent market.
Meantime, we unflinching Merlot-lovers can make do with *RAVENSWOOD
1991 PICKBERRY. (Yup, heres the tasting note at last.) Still very dark
ruby, with a little lightening at the edge. And, finally, drinking just swell. Thick and
smooth as hot fudge. Berries below. The tail-end is barbed with just a lick of tannin.
Lots of life left, but Im drinking this sucker tonight and loving every sip.
Okay, its only 60% Merlot, but the Merlot defines the
Anyone else tired of Merlot-bashing?
See more tasting notes (July-Aug 1998)
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