Tasting Notes


...and don't forget to email your questions or comments!
Email me:

September-October 1999

Notes are in chronological order, with the latest at the top.

Searching for notes on a particular wine?

Click here to search the site

NOT QUITE BARGAINS. (October 27, 1999) You gotta try wines from anywhere if you want to find the sweet spots these days. Here are two that came close. Both represent appropriate value:

     1998 Casa Castilla Jumilla "Monastrell" is a dark Spanish red, with lovely aromas of cherry kirsch. You get the same flavors on the palate, and the texture is nice and full. But then it hits the wall. Grainy tannins and not much finish at all. For $9.99, not bad, but I wanted more. Still, it reminds me to search out other wines from the Jumilla region, because I like the flavors a lot.

     1997 Icardi Piemonte Cortese "LíAurora" is a shy but pretty young white from Northern Italy. Pale yellow, with good but not raging acidity. Pleasant flavors of almonds and stones. It exceeded my generally low expectations for Italian whites, but I wasnít floored. I want more fruit. Not bad for $9, but on the whole Iíd have preferred a Macon for this style of minerally white wine.

SIDURI WATCH. (October 27, 1999) Last time I sampled the 1997 Siduri Pinot Noir "Pisoni," I found it delicious, but in need of one or two years of cellaring. Well, I ignored my own advice and opened another this week. Happily, itís not as packed-up as it was on release. Plummy, meaty flavors are emerging, with some Asian spice on the finish. Still needs time, but less than I thought. Iíll try another bottle in about 6 months.

NOT TO BE BOARING, BUT... (October 24, 1999) Yikes, yet another night of Burgundies? Pushing our luck?

     If so, we lucked out. I ordered the crab cake and wild boar at Phillyís Overtures restaurant. Both were unusually flavorful, even gracious. So were the following.


**1996 Neyers Chardonnay Sonoma Coast "Theriot Vineyard." Very intense lemon-mango flavors. Lees and cookie dough in the background. Smashing stuff.

**1991 Olivier Santenay "Bievaux." Aromas of apricot and lemon. Flavors of same, joined by smoked nuts. Starts out tight, broadens all evening. An obscure beaut.

*1997 Etienne Boileau Chablis Vielles Vignes. Pure mineral flavors with a crisp bite of acidity. Ample finish. Plain olí Chablis can be impressive!


**1988 Cortochot Mazy-Chambertin. Hereís an Ď88 that actually does what so many others promised and failed at. Tannins are all smoothed out and youíre left with a lovely harmony of cassis, strawberry, tea and meaty flavors. Best performance yet for this wine. WINE OF THE EVENING.

*1990 Serveau Morey St. Denis "Les Sorbets." A more delicate player. At first I wondered if there was anything at all here. Then the mild strawberry flavors intensified and gamy notes developed. Others at the table liked this better than I. If you want your Burgundy understated and light on its feet, this is your girl. Personally, I prefer them a little more powerful.

**-1996 Dominique Laurent Gevry-Chambertin Vielles Vignes. Call me crude, but I thought this brawny brat kicked the well-behaved Serveau off the table. Still showing a good amount of oak and could use two or three years in the cellar -- but so what? Thereís so much red raspberry in every sip, you canít help grinning. Good finish too. Yet another knockout from the 1996 vintage!


Oh, yawn. Australia delivers again. **+Yalumba "Old Sweet White" Museum Show Reserve is a stunner. Who knows what grapes go into it? But somehow it resembles fine old Madeira. Flavors of pecan, wet walnuts, the usual delights. Iíve made it a rule now that sweeties canít qualify for wine of the evening, but this has to be the VALUE OF THE EVENING. Currently available even at PA state stores. Go out and try one.

WHO NEEDS A CELLAR ANYMORE? (October 15, 1999) Seems like everyone is making wines that show well without much cellaring these days. In California, it's almost taken for granted now, and certainly the 1995 Bordeaux I've tried have been precocious.

    Now I must add Red Burgundy to the list. We lined up 6 worthy Burgs plus a West Coast ringer tonight, and all the Ď96s were mighty seductive. Hereís how it went...

     THE WHITES are decidedly uneven. To my surprise, the non-Burgundies beat the field:

**1998 Cuilleron Condrieu "La Petite Cote." Nice aromas of flowers and peaches. Sharper acidity than I was expecting -- with lots of tangy apple flavors. Still, a really lovely wine that wants drinking early.

?1993 Comte Lafon Meursault "Clos de la Barre." Maybe we caught it at an awkward moment. Maybe I didnít nurse it long enough for it to open. But tonight this wine seems pretty lean and acidic.

**1992 Verget Meursault "Les Genevrieres." Blows away the Lafon, much to my wonder. Excellent concentration, with oak held well in balance. After a while, an intense note of honeysuckle emerges. Lotta fun!

1992 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet. Not much at all here. A little bit of varietal flavor. Heat damaged? Too old? Or never very good? Iíve had better village Pulignys from Ď92.

**+1994 Kistler Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard. Showing much better than last week, both right out of the bottle and after some airing. Big blast of mocha on the nose, which somehow blends in nicely with all the papaya. Even the acidity compares well to the French entries. WHITE OF THE EVENING.

     Happily, tonight's RED Burgundies make up for the region's disappointing whites:

***1990 Jean Gros Vosne Romanee Clos de Reas is everything you could want from a Burg -- and one of the only Ď90s Iíve tasted lately that seems ready to rip. It sings from the get-go. Loads of berries and a hint of Darjeeling tea. Very silky on the palate, with a lick of tannin on the long finish. As the night wears on, the wine only strengthens. Iíll name it WINE OF THE EVENING, but there was lots of competition.

1988 Mongeard-Mugneret Echezeaux is a little dull in comparison to the others. At first I have some hope that the flavors will at least fight to a draw against the tannins. Fifteen minutes into the game it even shows some grace. But alas, an hour later, itís tasting oxidized. Nipped in the bud by winter's frost.

%&*$#1993 Gavignet Nuits St. George "Les Bousselots" is corked, moreís the pity.

But **+1996 Bertagna Vougeot "Les Cras" more than makes up for it! Itís very dark ruby and initially I fear this wine might be too young to show its stuff. But just count to 20 and KABOOM! Raspberries erupt from the glass. Lots of body and a fine finish. What sexy young thing!

And ***1996 Bruno Clair Savigny-Les-Beaune "La Dominode" is perhaps even better! This one has a fragrance of violets that makes me want to dive into the glass. Doesnít quite have the class and complexity of the older wine from Jean Gros, but Iím not sorry at all we opened it tonight!

*+1996 Rouget Vosne Romanee is predictably less concentrated than the classified Ď96s, but brimming with Burgundian perfume. Racy acidity sets it apart as well. Another young beaut!

And then Steve Kistler nearly steals the show again! The **+1996 Kistler Pinot Noir "Sonoma Coast" is the darkest and most concentrated red on the table tonight. Also the oakiest, but after some air, the fruit smothers any complaints I may have harbored. Iíd give this one maybe two more years in the cellar to show its best, but once again, you couldnít go wrong by drinking it tonight.

CHADDS FORD FEVER. (October 10, 1999) Two wine-loving friends from Baltimore told us they were coming up to see the fall colors, and how about we get together and do dinner?

     Great, I said -- then proceeded to catch a cold or the flu or something.

     My fever peaked about the time our visitors were due to arrive. As if that weren't jolly enough, they had been caught in a 4-hour traffic jam.

     But somehow, magically, things turned around as we pulled corks and dug into dinner. By evening's end, I was feeling almost human and it seemed our friends were too. Here's my admittedly half-nosed impression of what revived us:


Lee and Eric Miller of nearby Chaddsford winery had very kindly sent over a few local goodies. The group favorite tonight is the *1998 Chaddsford Viognier "Mica Ridge Vineyard," which we consume as an aperitif. It has lovely aromas of flowers and peaches, joined by minerals on the palate. Bracing acidity makes it a palate-cleansing aperitif. I donít know if this is their first Viognier but I hope itís not the last.

**+1989 Herm Donhoff Oberhauser Brucke Auslese Riesling seems only moderately sweet at this stage, but packs a ton of flavor. Honeysuckle, apricot, kumquat and a hint of diesel. Just at the right stage on the aging curve for pre-dinner. Disqualifying the true dessert wines (reviewed further down), this is WHITE OF THE EVENING.

*+1994 Kistler Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay is a little reduced and sulfury when you pour it, but comes around with some air. Like the Ď94 Kistler Dutton, this wine too has modulated some since release. Not showing as much oak, which is okay, but the fruit has lost a little intensity, which is not so okay. Drink up.

And the *1981 Abbaye de Morgeot Auxey Durresse "Duc de Magenta" is way at the other end of the spectrum. We didnít know what to expect, but it has matured beautifully -- all hazelnuts and minerals.


**1995 Gary Farrell Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir is still packed pretty tight, but showing lots of flavor all the same. Cherry, cedar and cranberry flavors predominate at first. Then comes a burst of blackberry. Needs another year or so in the cellar.

**+1978 Moillard Vosne Romanee "Beauxmonts" is still a deep garnet color, though clear at the rim. Initially you get some mild, dusty strawberry flavors that make you wonder if this wine will die in the next 15 minutes. But no! Like many fine old Burgs, it pulls up its socks and starts to dance! The dust blows away, the strawberries get more intense and you can taste cherries too. Really lovely. I have a friend who puts 1978 above all others for red Burgundy, and this wine argues his point well. Iíll call this RED OF THE EVENING. Gone in a hurry.

Also showing well is the *+1978 Moillard Morey St. Denis "Monts Luisants." This wine isnít quite so classy to start with and her voice starts to crack by the end of the evening, but in between she sings some very pretty notes. Like it a lot.

The most-discussed wine of the evening, however, might be *1993 Dubreuil-Fontaine Corton-Perrieres. Itís a got a lot of bright red cherry fruit, plus a mushroomy undernote. Also shows the higher acidity of the 1993 vintage. I know folks who would love the nerve of this wine, but to me it seems a little too high-strung compared to the other bottles on the table.


**+1989 Weingut Jul Ferd Kimich Forster Mariengarten Riesling Beerenauslese is so good, Iíll even forgive the jawbreaker name. (But you know -- there should be some sort of German export law about making the name short enough that you can write it down before the other folks at your table have sucked down the contents.) Anyhow, this is a beaut. Lots of peach and apricot, a little petrol and POW! A big punch of pungent botrytis, all balanced by good acid. WINE OF THE EVENING? Maybe. Iíve accused a friend of  always favoring sweet wines and hate to do the same myself, but this is sooo seductive.

And we had a lot of fun with a *+Mystery Red. Itís dark purple. Aromas of chocolate, prune and blueberry. Big flavors. Not quite like anything Iím used to, but fun! Alcohol has to be at least 18%. Hmmm. From what I can discern of the bottleís shape underneath the brown paper bag, Iíll guess that itís not European. American or Australian, then. Australian. But no, itís Horton Port from Virginia! Nice wine. Keep making it, guys.

BLACK PRIDE. (October 2, 1999) Is there anything that these guys on Spring Mountain arenít doing great these days? Having already swooned for the 1997 Pride Mountain Merlot, I now tried the **+1997 Pride Cabernet. And good heavens this is great stuff! Black, thick and dense. Showing some oak, but well-balanced with buckets of cassis. Reminds me a bit of the 1994 Pesquera Janus.

WHENíS THE RIGHT TIME? (October 2, 1999) "Is this the right time to pull the cork?" Donít you love torturing yourself with that question? If not, either you donít have a cellar or youíre just too darned happy and well-adjusted.

     Anyhow, this was the question that kept rearing its head tonight. We were gathered to celebrate a couple of birthdays, so the wines were under pressure to perform. As it turned out, in both the white and the red flights, age turned out to make all the difference.

     You couldnít ask for a more motley batch of whites:

*1969er Mehringer Lei Auslese Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium Trier is so old I worry the wine might fade to nothing before I can write down the name. Actually it turns out to have lots of life. Medium gold, it doesnít taste very sweet, but thereís plenty of gracious old fruit. I found it enjoyable, but I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more twenty years ago.

**+1991 Domaine LeFlaive Puligny-Montrachet Folatieres started out tight and mute, but half an hour was all it needed to break open. Big flavors of apples and pears and a nice thick texture emerged. The wine kept expanding throughout dinner. Particularly well matched to my oysters. This wine is there. Neither too old nor too young.

**+1997 Patz and Hall Chardonnay Carr Vineyard didnít seem like much right out of the bottle -- pale, perfumed, apple-flavored and maybe just too young. One hour later, however, it was duking it out the Leflaive. Super-creamy, with plenty of body and a whalloping finish. Made from Mt. Veeder fruit, the wine has ample acidity, but not too much. A well made wine thatís refreshingly different from most other Napa Valley Chards. Too young? Well, we certainly didnít suffer! Probably could use another year or two, but I see no reason to wait, as long as you decant an hour before drinking.

     The reds were equally diverse:

*+1953 Gruaud Larose makes a lovely debut from the decanter. Garnet at the center, transparent at the edge, it gives off aromas of cocoa, wet dust, herb, cassis and horse-poop. After about 15 minutes, however, oxidation begins to show. After about an hour, itís mostly strawberries and sweat. If you like old wines a lot, this one should please you mightily. But itís seen better days. Drink up.

**+1992 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is precisely the opposite. Gushes with deep, deep, deep black cherry flavors for about half an hour. And then the tannins come out and freeze everything solid. You can sense five fathoms of fruit underneath, but as the evening wears on, the wine just gets number. This baby is headed the way of the 1991. Decanting eight hours ahead might work, but hey, why mess with mother nature? Donít touch another bottle for at least another three years. Way too young.

Happily, **+1989 Beausejour Duffau is just what Goldilocks asked for. Promising from the get-go, smelling of violets, cherries and, uh, sweat. No doubt about the last, but itís not enough to mar the elegance of this wine. Any tannins have melted away and the wine is velvet-smooth. Gets noticeably thinner but doesnít fade through the evening. Lovely wine in its prime. Drink and enjoy!

     And both dessert wines were at peak:

*+1989 Weingut Petri-Ekling Inhaber Otto Essling Riesling Beerenauslese is very sweet indeed with complex pineapple and petrol flavors.

But ***1989 Climens is sensational! Apricot, custard and a big splash of botrytis flavors, in a super-sweet, intensely rich but balanced wine. Right where you want it and WINE OF THE EVENING.

BROTHER & SISTER. (October 2, 1999) No wine geeks love to argue more than Pinot Noir geeks. And thereís probably no Pinot Noir producer more argued-about than Oregon winery Beaux FrŤres.

     You donít have to look very far for the reason -- itís co-owned by critic Robert Parker. (Itís called Beaux FrŤres because he and winemaker Mike Etzel are brothers-in-law.)

     But the reason naysayers cite most often is that the wine is too rich and extracted. To me, this is sort of like complaining that a woman is too sexy. Since when is this bad?

     Anyhow, as if to answer these "make mine wimpy" types, the winery has recently started issuing an additional cuvťe called Belles Soeurs. The literature says this is not really a "second wine," but a different style -- lighter and more graceful.

     So how, you may wonder, do the two different styles actually compare? Glad you asked. A few of us got together for dinner recently to answer precisely this question...

     First we opened a **1994 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay. This wine seems to have lost a little oomph since release, but not much -- and the trade-off is that the flavors are better knit than ever. No more woody splinters, some creme caramel and a whole lot of complex tropical fruit. Good time to drink up if you have any.

     Then we tried a characteristically weird 1992 Coturri Sonoma Pinot Noir. Not a shy wine and thatís about the best I can say. We argued over whether the principle problem was spritziness or volatile acidity. Both, I decided. Seems it may have refermented in the bottle. I wouldnít exactly call it undrinkable, but I sure didnít want to continue.

     Then it was time for the match of the evening:

**1996 Beaux FrŤres is one of the most impressive Oregon Pinot Noirs that Iíve tasted from this difficult vintage. Very dark, with lost of raspberry and blackberry aromas. Still backward on the palate, but you can sense the density of the fruit -- similar to the 1993 at a similar age. In a year or two, it could fan out and be a killer. Fingers crossed.

*1996 Belles Soeurs is indeed lighter and more approachable. The flavors reminded me more of strawberry and red cherry jam. I enjoyed it, but you know what? I far preferred big brother. The price of this new wine is pretty close, and if Iím going to pay close to $50, Iíll take the powerhouse.

     We wound up the evening with a sweety from Oz:

**Seppelt Show Muscat D63. Kind of reminds me of a PX Sherry. Essence of wet walnuts. Iím tempted to call it the wine of the evening, but I wonder if I shouldnít start disqualifying Australian fortified wines. Theyíve got this game down so well, it almost seems too easy.

YUCK. (September 19, 1999) Usually when a "bargain"-priced wine doesnít thrill me, I simply shut up and move on to the next. It ainít worth wasting the electrons. But this one annoyed me. 1996 Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon is under $15. Itís dark and fairly well-endowed in the body department. And there the good news ends. Itís so acidic that it tastes like a rubber band. And I can only imagine it getting worse as the fruit drops off. Couldnít finish the bottle.

ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE. Thatís my problem with most Chinon, in a nutshell.

     It may be different for you. But in many ways 1997 Guy Saget Chinon les Tenanceaux exemplifies what I like and dislike about red wines from the Loire.

     Itís got the color and density of a medium-good Burgundy. And that would be okay, except this is Cabernet Franc, not Pinot Noir.

     Itís weedy at first, but then turns on the charm. Flavors of strawberry preserve. And thatís good, but itís still a pretty simple wine.

     So there we are.

     Am I unrealistic to expect more for just $8.99? Am I pigheaded to expect a Chinon to behave like a St. Emilion? Maybe so, maybe so. And I did finish the bottle without a whimper.

     But on reflection, I wouldnít buy more.

WEST COAST WITH A FRENCH ACCENT. (September 19, 1999) 

     I like the fruit-drenched flavors of great West Coast reds. I also like the herbal nuances and elegance of the French stuff.

     Maybe I don't have to choose anymore. There's a new breed of wines -- from both France and the U.S. -- that pretty much deliver both. Last weekend we tasted two, both from 1994, and I liked them both a bunch. 

     The setting was a newish BYO outside of  Philly. Iíll give the Fayette Street Grille on the main drag of Conshohocken a tentative thumbs up. The atmosphere is basic and the room can get a bit noisy, but the wait-staff was pleasant, the food was good and the $22.50 fixed price (with dessert) was a pretty decent deal.

     Just a few of us gathered here, so we opened less than a handful of wines. First a couple of Chards:

**1994 Kistler Chardonnay Dutton Ranch. Very creamy, with lots of lees flavors still. A nice duet of fresh-baked bread and papaya. Has the intensity you expect from a Kistler, though not what Iíd call a powerhouse. This wine is about as elegant as itís going to get, and a little more subdued than on release. You got Ďem? Drink Ďem now.

1995 Storrs Chardonnay "Jekyl & Hyde Cuvee." The wine includes grapes from two different vineyards, hence the name. Nice concept and a catchy moniker, but the Chard itself kind of underwhelmed us. Aromas of pear and apple with more of the same on the palate. Disappointing finish. Maybe it dropped its fruit.

   Then the "best of both worlds" wines:

**+1994 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noire "Laurťne." This is the hard-to-find luxury cuvťe from DDO. In this case, I can attest it was worth the search. Lots of racy raspberry flavors, with a hint of saddle leather. Velvety texture with just a little tannin remaining on the finish. We caught this at a great moment. Call it Burgundy-plus -- has the charm of Burgundy plus the fruit of a West Coast wine.

**+1994 Peter Michael "Les Pavots" Proprietary Red Wine. Kind of plays the same trick as the Laurťne, except it uses Bordeaux grapes. A beautiful, juicy California wine with a French accent. Black cherry flavors with a hint of adhesive tape (yeah, thatís what I said). Cocoa on the finish. A terrific achievement for winemaker Mark Aubert.

WINES FOR A CRABBY NIGHT. (September 12, 1999) Eating Chesapeake Bay hardshell crabs is thirsty work, so we endeavored to see what goes best with them.

     Along the way, Iím afraid I got distracted by the wines themselves. There were some stunners -- and donít call the food police, but my favorites werenít perfectly matched to the shellfish. (So what do you do when that happens? Personally, I grinned ear to ear.)


A mystery sparkler is served with the hors díoeuvres. Sprightly, structured and very fruity, with a lovely whisper of peach on the lengthy finish. Very Champenoise except for that peachy coda. So I guess itís a Frenchie from outside of Champagne. Well, almost. It turns out to be **1991 Roederer Estate LíErmitage. French outfit, but the wine is from Californiaís Anderson Valley. Dare I claim victory? Aw, címon, gimme one!

As the crabs appear, a mystery still white wine comes to the table. Hmm. Pears, nuts, flowers and noticeable alcohol. Oily! Whatís that word? Unctuous. I guess an Alsace Pinot Gris. Nope! Itís **1990 Paul Cotat Sancerre Chavignol "La Grande Cote". I never, ever would have guessed this one for Sancerre. Amazingly ripe! Iíll hand this the palm for CRAB MATCH OF THE EVENING.

Well-matched too is the **1992 Amiot Puligny-Montrachet Les Demoiselles. Flinty, minerally juice with a rich, thick texture and fascinating finish.

The gaudy, gorgeous ***1996 Kistler Durrell Chardonnay overpowers the crabs, but who cares? Not me and not my Chard-loving bride. (Gosh, is that flavor mocha? Guess so.)

But my favorite dry white wine tonight is ***1996 Sine Qua Non Omadhaun and Poltroon. A California blend of white Rhone varieties and -- oh, who knows what, but itís kicking tail! Tropical fruits, stones, tree fruit, oak, and way big. Extra points for the neat-looking bottle. My vote for WHITE OF THE EVENING.


Mystery red #1 smells of raspberries, leather and bacon. Elegant palate. Beautiful balance. Gotta be a Rhone. Maybe a CŰte Rotie, I guess? Well, no, it turns out itís a Chateauneuf du Pape! **1995 Pignan. What a beaut. Continues to develop and impress throughout the evening.

Mystery red #2 is dripping with fruit. Essence of strawberry. So intense it nearly has me picking seeds from my teeth. Could this be a monster California Pinot Noir? Half-right, anyway. Itís **+1995 Terre Rouge Amador County Syrah. You know, itís odd -- the strawberry flavors here really remind me of an Amador County Zin from the Turley portfolio. Is it the iron-rich dirt? True taste of terroir?

In contrast to these strapping lads, the **1997 Siduri Hirsch Pinot Noir seems seductively elegant. Beautiful nose of ripe cherry, then a drop of blood. Broadens on the palate. Thick and juicy, but thins out a bit with some air. Nevertheless, all Burgundy-fans present are impressed.

Then comes a last-minute entry that sweeps all the chessmen off the board. ***+1995 Kistler Hirsch Pinot Noir. Yikes, this is dark, rich and luscious. Super strawberry-raspberry stuff. Concentrated as the Syrah, but gets away with it easily. This is a great wine, guys. Does California Pinot get better? RED OF THE EVENING in an amazingly beautiful flight.


Following the Kistler Pinot is a tough act for any wine, but somehow the **+1975 Coutet grabs the spotlight in its own right. Honey, botrytis and parchment flavors. Not very sweet, but a winner!

DOING THE CHARLESTON IN BALMER. (September 3, 1999) Iíve got a new favorite restaurant in Baltimore and somewhat confusingly itís called Charleston -- run by the same people who once owned another Baltimore classic named Savannah.

     Itís a trek for us, but weíre sure glad we wandered out there Friday evening to see a passel of our wine-pals. Chef Cindy Wolf and her husband (and co-owner) Tony Forman laid out one of the best meals weíve had this year -- and somehow managed to match every wine, from dry Semillon to 28-year-old Petite Sirah.

     The great wines just kept rolling by. Many thanks to all who brought in some rare cellar treasures. Maybe I missed a few but I surely enjoyed:


*+Tarlant Cuvee Louis Champagne. Like a young, tight Chablis with bubbles. Needs another year or so.

**1990 Kalin Semillon. How many mature, dry California Semillons have you sipped this year? This was my first and it splashed across my palate like a fine old Burgundy. Very pale still, but nutty and mellow.

*+1995 Chateau Beaucastel Blanc. Medium gold, but still young and tight. Lovely aromas of white peaches. Caramel on the palate. Graceful finish.

**1993 Peter Michael Chardonnay Pointe Rouge. Seemed in good shape, showing nice tropical notes with a creamy finish. The fellow who brought it wondered if it might be on the downslope. I didnít think so, but then I tasted...

***1995 Peter Michael Chardonnay Pointe Rouge. From the very first sip, there was no doubt -- this wine wiped the table. Just spectacular. Probably the best Pointe Rouge Iíve tasted. Certainly the most wide-open.

     Then came three very different West coast Pinot Noirs:

***1994 Beaux FrŤres Pinot Noir. Showing far better than the last bottle I had which seemed tannic and closed. This one was open for business and booming with flavor. Dark, viscous, jammy, blackberry essence. Super-ripe on the finish and you can taste some alcohol.

***1997 Flowers Hirsch Pinot Noir. Beautiful, flowery, red raspberry-scented nose. Not as dense and super-ripe as the Beaux FrŤres, but still has lots of body and silky texture. Ultimately my favorite of the flight, but itís really a style thing. On another evening I might have picked one of the others.

***1995 Williams Selyem Allen Vineyard Noir. If the BF emulated a Leroy, this was more in the Dujac profile -- lighter on its feet. But the flavors were quite intense all the same. Big red cherry aromas and a little herb on the palate.

     And what a sweet trio of Cabs!

***1992 Dominus. Generous as Santa Claus -- practically drowns you in sweet cassis, showing just a touch of the herbal, gamy edge thatís developed in earlier vintages. Iíd certainly opt for drinking this before the Ď91, although it undoubtedly has a long life ahead.

***1989 Palmer. Itís been a while since I sampled this vintage and tonight it certainly seemed a whole lot more ready -- though I should note that it was decanted, which may have helped. Started out more backward and restrained than the Dominus, then roared ahead. It just kept getting fruitier and sexier all night, ultimately showing even more substance and complexity than the Dominus.

***1990 Leoville Las Cases. Unquestionably the most closed and tannic of the three wines, but has so much stuffing, it couldnít help bursting out. Big lead pencil flavors mark it out as very different in character from the first two.

     So which was the wine of the evening? Amazingly, it wasnít a Cab or a Pinot, but...

***+1971 Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah. Just astonishing! I am told this was the very first vintage of this wine, yet it was so dark and intense that it might have been a barrel sample. Aromas of American Oak are totally overwhelmed after about fifteen minutes -- by an ocean of blueberries. None of the soy flavors that characterize over-the-hill PS. What incredible stuff! The perfect wine for our cheese course. I name it WINE OF THE EVENING.

     Now you may well ask -- what can you drink after a blockbuster PS? The answer was right in front of us:

***1995 Turley Aida Zinfandel. Big, broad, amazing juice. Fragrant as the Pinot Noirs, complex as the Cabs, and could trade punch for punch with the Petite Sirah. Iím sad that Larry Turley will no longer be getting Aida fruit, but very glad I had a chance to sample it in such great company, with such superb food.

   WHAT BECOMES A CLASSIC? (September 1, 1999) All too often the word "classic" is used to peddle a merely average wine or vintage, as in "This is not a great vintage, but a classic one."

     However, I think the word has valid uses too. When a wine hits all your spots without knocking you over the head...when it sneaks under your radar and catches you by surprise in mid-dinner...when an elegance-craver and a fruit-bomb-lover both agree itís mighty fine...

     Then you just may have a classic on your hands. Last night we had two:

**1989 Le Tertre Roteboeuf. Seems like this wine has reached its peak and the view up here is super. Going to garnet at the edge. Aromas of chocolate and Asian spice, joined by a flood of fruit on the palate. A soft, lush fudge sundae with a big ripe cherry on top.

**1993 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon. Wondered if this could match up, but it did! Started out a little tight and creaky but in 30 minutes the doors opened wide. Has the balance and grace of the Tertre Roteboeuf with California flavors. Loads of ripe black cherry and cassis. Ric Forman hasnít missed a beat in the 1990s.

See more tasting notes (July-August 1999)

Top of page

GO TO other tasting notes:

Most recent

April-June 2000

January-March 2000

November-December 1999

September-October 1999

July-August 1999

May-June 1999

March-April 1999

Jan-Feb 1999

November-December 1998

September-October 1998

July-August 1998

May-June 1998


     Tasting Notes     Articles
Main Contents     Under $16     Search     Blog