Does tasting environment matter?
Wine snobs will tell you that the proper environment for tasting great wines must be formal, quiet and classy, with proper crystal set upon white damask tablecloths, in a purified setting with no distracting aromas or sounds.
Yet MoCool, this year like every year, turns out to be one of the most memorable wine events on my calendar, and I invariably come home with memories - and tasting notes - on dozens of wonderful wines that didn't seem to lose a thing from the "inappropriate" setting.
I'm thinking the snobs are wrong, as they so often are. If wine is really about social enjoyment with friends, then all the rest is secondary. And once you get your mind focused and your nose well into the glass, it's surprisingly easy to ignore distractions and concentrate on the wine.
"MoCool" is short for "MoTown Cooperative Offline," a non-profit, non-commercial gathering of Internet-connected wine lovers that's been going on for 16 years now. Participants converge on the Detroit and Ann Arbor area for a weekend of wine-related events that center on the aforementioned picnic scene, where 100 wine lovers or more bring wines with some connection to the annual theme. The 2006 event was this past weekend, with the theme "Sweet, Sixteen and Bubbly" inviting dessert wines, sparkling wines and, best of all, 16-year-old wines from the vintage of 1990 around the world.
My complete report, with my own notes on nearly 100 wines sampled over the weekend, is now online at the MoCool Home Page,
Just to whet your appetite, here are a few short reports on random wines of the weekend that I found particularly interesting:
Laurel Glen 1987 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - Sweet red fruit, a lot of barnyard. Mature or maybe a bit more than mature, but still going strong.
Edmunds St. John 1997 Story Vineyard Amador County Zinfandel - Showing a little oxidation, but mostly dark chocolate and lovely old-red claret-like sweet red fruit. Remarkably good mature red, although I don't know that I'd have picked it as Zin in a blind tasting.
Schweiger Vineyards 2000 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Big and bold, cassis and eucalyptus and dark chocolate, classic Napa Cabernet. Promising, but needs cellar time.
Moulin Touchais 1979 Anjou - Pale straw. Luscious and rich, strawberries and cream, incredibly youthful. A Loire classic.
Ch. Leoville Las Cases 1967 St.-Julien - Cassis and leather, fully mature but very much alive. Amazing.
Chateau Musar 1966 - Clear, medium-dark ruby, youthful color belies its age. A bit of old-wine funk, but Musar sweet-cherry aromas ride over it, and it's a delight on the palate, crisp and balanced and remarkably youthful.
Chateau Musar 1998 Blanc - Light golden-bronze, a look of age. Lovely aromatics, beeswax and roasted almonds. Rich white fruit, full-bodied, balanced acidity.
Pol Roger 1990 Brut Rosé - Pretty, pale salmon. Truffly, tart and dry. Holding up well, perhaps the best bubbly on the table for me.
Pol Roger 1990 Brut - Gold. Truffles, mushrooms, apples and honey. Creamy, rich, full-bodied. Fine.
Albert Morot 1990 Beaune-Marconetts 1er Cru - Pale ruby. Ethereal, delicate mineral iron-rust scent; sweet red-fruit flavor. Wonderful, intriguing older Burg.
Santa Rita - Casa Real 1990 Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Rich Cabernet from Chile, big and balanced. Cassis and chocolate, acid and substantial tannins.
1990 Cos d'Estournel - Mature red fruit, a hint of barnyard, excellent mature Bordeaux.
Shafer 1990 Hillside Select Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon - Beautiful balance and structure, a great Napa Cabernet.
Ridge 1990 Lytton Springs Zinfandel - Red fruit and leather, claret-like, holding up very well.
Chateau LaGrange 1990 Saint-Julien - Cassis, herbal notes, hints of anise and white pepper.
Ch. Lafite-Rothschild 1990 Pauillac - Amazing. A burst of cassis right out of the glass, beautiful structure and balance. Oh, yeah!
Graham's Malvedos Centenary 1990 Vintage Port - Deep fruit, searing tannins; great potential, still very young.
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The Connoisseurs' Series: Two excellent California reds
Just as I was trying to decide what impressive goodies to take to the MoCool Friday dinner, in came my monthly shipment from the California Wine Club's limited-membership Connoisseurs' Series. Problem solved!
These wines, chosen by Connoisseurs' Guide publisher Charlie Olken, never fail to meet my preference for top-end California wine, and happily this shipment was right up there, with a big but exceptionally stylish and complex Carneros Pinot Noir from Cuvaison and a top-of-the-line classic Zinfandel from a favorite Napa producer, Storybook Mountain.
I'm enthusiastic about the Connoisseurs' Guide selections because, frankly, high-end California wines are a bit of a minefield for me. Too many of the Usual Suspects' 90-point wines strike me as one-dimensional and monolithic and aren't to my taste at all. But I've found that I can trust the judgement of Olken and California Wine Club's Bruce Boring, who sort through all the high-rated wines and select the bottles that suit both New World and Old World palates alike.
Connoisseurs' Series members may subscribe for monthly, alternate month or quarterly packages. Each shipment includes two to four bottles of California's top wines, with detailed background information. Monthly shipments average $125-$175, including all shipping and handling. There's no membership charge, no long-term commitment (cancel any time), and every wine is guaranteed.
Following are my tasting reports on the current shipment. If you want them, act promptly, as these limited-production items sell out fast. Visit http://www.cawineclub.com/connseries or call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443. Feel free to tell them that I sent you ... and, if you join, please don't hesitate to contact me by E-mail and tell me what you think.
Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2002 Estate Reserve Napa Valley Zinfandel ($50 retail, $46 per bottle for half or full case orders from Connoisseurs' Series)
Very dark reddish-purple, bright garnet edge. Deep bramble fruit, intense, a touch of cherry cordial and subliminal notes of dark chocolate and black coffee. Long and deep, a wine that will benefit from a few years in the cellar. This wine came up against very keen competition at MoCool, with such classic Zins on the table as a younger, silken 2003 Hendry Block 7 and an older rarity, Edmunds St. John 1997 Story Vineyard Amador Zin. Even so, it impressed with its old-style Napa Zinfandel structure, balance and elegance and its potential for evolution over time. It's sold out at the winery but still available in limited quantities from Connoisseurs' Series. Here's the winery Website: http://www.storybookwines.com/ (Aug. 25, 2006)
Cuvaison 2003 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir ($48 retail, $45 per bottle for half or full case orders from Connoisseurs' Series)
Clear bright ruby. Lovely, forward and complex, a burst of spicy black and red cherries. All of that on the palate and more, rich cocoa and warm cherry cordial. It's very much a New World-style wine, far from Burgundian (with the possible exception of some of Burgundy's more extreme '03s), but comparing-and-contrasting on the MoCool tasting table tells the tale: In competition with such big names as Williams-Selyem and Kosta Browne, this Cuvaison stands out for its unusual depth and complexity; it's big and bold, but it's also multi-dimensional and complex in a way that the other big-boy Pinots can't match. Here's a link to the winery Website:
This week on WineLoversPage.com
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
(Aug. 18, 2006)
More on suggestion (Aug. 23, 2006)
Power of suggestion (Aug. 21, 2006)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Tomato season (Aug. 24, 2006)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Aug. 28, 2006