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Today's Wine Tasting Note

© Copyright 1997 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.


A Tasting in Chicago (August 1997)
Following are my tasting notes from the wines tasted during a pleasant evening in August 1997 at the Chicago-area home of wine-loving pal Mark Horvatich and a couple of his friends. We pulled the corks out of quite a diverse and eclectic group of wines, mostly from Mark's cellar, a few brought along -- some in brown bags -- by other participants.

Here's the list, in the order tasted:

Guenoc 1990 Reserve Genevieve Magoon Vineyard Guenoc Valley Chardonnay - Dark gold in color, with pleasant candy-apple and light walnutty scents and a musty note that leads to some speculation that it may be corked; frankly, though, the fruit is so intense that, if it IS corked, it's hard to imagine how outrageously full-flavored a perfect bottle would be.

Leeuwin Estate 1992 Margaret River (Australia) Chardonnay - Clear, rich gold. Luscious honeyed apples on the nose and palate; oaky tropical fruit definitely present, leading to a discussion about whether it's more "California" or "Australian" in style; it's certainly not "Burgundian," but it's so ripe and delicious that this doesn't seem to matter.

Bouchard Pere & Fils 1976 Domaines du Chateau de Beaune Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru - Clear, dark gold. Beautiful nose, apple pie and honey; rich, layered fruit flavor, showing its years by drying out a little but still going strong. A wonderful wine, prompts a rant about how Chardonnay, even more than Pinot Noir, may be the REAL glory of Bourgogne ...

DeLoach Vineyards 1990 Russian River Valley Zinfandel OFS - Very dark garnet color. Ripe berry fruit on the nose and palate, full and startlingly fresh. It's almost impossible to believe that this wine is seven years old and, according to Mark, a stunning 16.9% alcohol (deliberately understated on the label for marketing reasons, within the limits allowed by law). Do Zinfandels age? Take my word for it: This one does.

D3 (D-Cubed) 1994 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Zinfandel - Although this tiny winery enjoys "cult" status for its wines, this one showed poorly in company with the Deloach OFS. It's a dark, slightly hazy garnet in color, funky and weedy on the nose, hot with alcohol on the palate.

Laurel Glen 1991 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - Mark pours this one from a brown bag to prove a point: At a Laurel Glen tasting with wine maker Patrick Campbell in New York City a few months ago, I had roundly panned the 1991 as bretty and lacking in fruit. Mark argues that this vintage is simply so incredibly ageworthy but immature that it requires at least two days after opening to come into its own. The brown-bag test makes a persuasive case: The color turns almost black, the barnyardy brett fades to a pleasant leathery note, and stunning, elegant fruit appears, emerging as a wine that's a dead-ringer for an exceptional Bordeaux ... Leoville-Las Cases?

Siduri 1995 Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - Very dark blackish-purple. Lovely black-cherry and mineral aromas, full of subtle notes, something pleasantly medicinal ... witch hazel? Flavors follow the nose, big but elegant, Schwarzenneger in a tux. More restrained than the Siduri 1994 Rose Vineyard Pinot (which I loved), not as "outrageous," but more elegant and finesseful. Definitely "Burgundian" in the best sense.

Paloma 1994 Napa Valley Merlot - Another tiny, little-known winery producing remarkable wine in minuscule quantity: It's opaque purple-black in color, with a heady aroma that almost hurls black fruit, tarragon and a whiff of anise out of the glass. A huge mouthfull of Merlot fruit, big and ripe, amazing extract; hugely tannic, but all the fruit blows the tannin away. Amazing wine.

Ch. Haut-Brion 1980 Graves - Remember how 1980 gets panned as a light vintage that should have been drunk up years ago if at all? Not so fast, bubba! Dark-garnet with an amber edge, the fruit may have faded from this beauty, but the tertiary aromas and flavors that remain are a delight: grilled meat, smoke, pitch, strongly evocative of Lapsang Souchong tea. Flavors follow the nose, a bit lacking in depth at this late date but still showing good black fruit limned with smoke.

Judd's Hill 1989 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Mark is a long and devoted fan of Art Finkelstein's excellent wine, and I thank him for introducing it to me years ago. I can't say I'm enamored of the '89 at this late date, though, although I'll acknowledge that it's probably among the pick of the vintage. Very dark ruby; cassis and plummy fruit, a bit one-dimensional on the palate and leaning toward the tartly acidic side for perfect balance.

Foxen 1995 Morehouse Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Syrah - Another currently hot item, but I'm having a little trouble getting what the excitement is about. Dark reddish-purple color. Ripe blueberry fruit aromas; full and fat on the palate, almost blowsy. Not bad, not great.

Seven Hills 1993 Klipsun Vineyard Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon - Very dark reddish-purple. Intriguing mineral nose; full, extracted fruit, massive tannins. Impressive, but needs lots of time.

Leonetti Cellars 1992 Select Walla Walla Valley (Washington) Red Table Wine - Presented in a brown bag to deter the psychological impact of this "cult" label, and wisely so -- none of us came close to guessing the wine, the appellation or even the varietal (mostly Cabernet, with a skosh of Merlot). Its ripe mixed-berry scent sent me baying down the Zinfandel trail, and its relative lightness suggested Sonoma - but the soft, juicy, undifferentiated fruit flavor almost had me embarrasing myself by speculating about French-hybrid reds. Even with the bag removed, it was mighty hard to find any cabernet varietal character in it.

Leonetti Cellars 1992 Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon - Also brown-bagged; like smelling, then biting, a dill pickle, American oak so thoroughly dominates the aroma and taste, prompting speculation that it's Penfolds Bin 707 or maybe Silver Oak. Nope. It's tasty dill, but the absence of fruit suggests that, at best, it's in a "dumb" stage.

Vigil Vineyards 1995 Terra Vin Napa Valley Reserve Red Table Wine - Yet another tiny-production rarity of remarkable quality. A blend of Zinfandel, Carignane and Refosco del Pedunculo Rosso (!), it's a clear, dark ruby color, with delicious mixed-berry and black-pepper aromas; remarkable depth and structure on the palate, defines the term "elegant" from a most unexpected quarter. I love this wine!

Chateau de Fesles 1994 "Les Deux All‚es" Bonnezeaux - A stylish, absolutely delicious Loire Chenin Blanc ends the evening on a high note. It's a clear straw color, with a complex and absolutely delicious aroma, mineral ("wet stones"), pears, and pleasant mossy forest-floor components. Aromas carry over in the flavor, rich and complex and lightly sweet; not a dessert wine by any stretch but perhaps Auslese-level sugar -- 3 or 4 percent residual sugar? Hard to tell, but dry enough that it could serve quite nicely with appropriate food -- lobster, maybe, or strong-flavored fish. "Sweet Chablis," I say as a joke, but it seems to pass as a wacky analogy that's not entirely off target. Exciting wine, we immediately conspire to grab, and split up, what may be the only case left in the region ... never mind where!

All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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