Boston Wine Expo: Feb. 2-3, 2002

Pouring at the Expo
Fetzer's Sara Cummings (at right) pours samples at the Expo.
The weekend's Boston Wine Expo offered the usual mix of good news and bad news.

With hundreds of wineries, distributors and importers offering samples of their wares from booths in the sprawling exhibition hall of World Trade Center Boston, the two-day Expo gives the serious wine lover a chance to taste from literally thousands of wines - many of them new releases not yet on the market - and to meet and chat with wine makers and knowledgeable winery representatives.

The program also featured wine-appreciation seminars and cooking demonstrations, food samples (the Great Cheeses of New England booth is a popular spot for a quick snack), wine books and presentations by related businesses ranging from Viking kitchen appliances to travel agencies to sausage and hummus makers.

Despite a few significant disadvantages - primarily the high cost to the public (from $60 for one day, paid in advance, to $92 for a two-day admission paid at the door), and, despite those costs, huge crowds including a significant minority that takes advantage of the opportunity to get as drunk as possible as fast as they can - the Expo is a trip worth making, and I've made it a point to get to Boston for the festivities every winter.

I tasted well over 100 wines at this year's Expo (and another 50 or so at wine dinners over the weekend with Boston-area friends); and with apologies to the few I enjoyed without taking notes, I recorded my impressions of the following 95. With the understanding that notes quickly jotted in a crowded exposition hall are hardly analytical, I present them here for general interest, particularly since many of the wines offered at the Expo offer an early preview new arrivals that may not turn up in most retail markets for a few weeks to a few months.

FRANCE: CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE

One of my first stops at the Boston Wine Expo every year is the table sponsored by Alain Junguenet's Wines of France of Mountainside, N.J. Junguenet represents a large group of Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers, among others, and this booth offers the first easy opportunity to taste the coming year's releases in barrel samples, specially bottled for tasting here. Based on quick tastings, the coming 2000 vintage seems more variable in Chateauneuf than the big, fruity 1998s or the traditionally structured '99s.

Cuvee du Vatican 1999 - Warm, peppery.

Cuvee du Vatican 2000 - This one seems to show the effects of recent bottling by closing up with little evident aroma or flavor.

Cuvee du Vatican 1999 Reserve Sixtine - The Grenache that predominates in this one is evident in ripe berry aromas backed by rather noticeable oak.

Cuvee du Vatican 2000 Reserve Sixtine - Closed, plummy, peppery. Showing well.

Domaine Moulin-Tocussel 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape - Very ripe and full. I like this wine and take note to watch for it.

Domaine Moulin-Tocussel 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape - More tart than the 1999 and a bit herbaceous.

Domaine Pontifical 2000 - Plummy, a whiff of barnyard. Ripe and warm.

Clos de Pontifes 2000 - Black fruit and caramel, perfumed.

Domaine de Bois Dauphin 2000 - Closed nose, more open on the palate; structured black fruit.

Domaine des Relagnes 2000 Cuvee Vigneronne - Balanced and tannic.

Domaine des Relagnes 2000 - Tight, closed, slight red-fruit perfume.

Mas de Boislauzon 2000 - Plummy, ripe, peppery. Showing well.

Domaine de la Cote de l'Ange 2000 - Ripe plums, a pleasant barnyard note. Showing well.

Chateau-Fortia 2000 - Perfumed, floral, tannic. A wine that will need cellar time.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils 2000 - Ripe fruit and fragrant pepper. Tannic.

Cuvee de mon Aïeul 2000 - Prunes and leather, fruity and tannic.

Bousquet des Papes 2000 - Closed, but balanced and elegant. Shows promise.

Bousquet des Papes 2000 Cuvee Grenache - Similar, with soft berry fruit.

Le Vieux Donjon 2000 - Black fruit and grilled meat, full and intense. Tannic but showing well.

FRANCE: MACON

One of the hottest little secrets on the Expo floor, spread quickly by whispered tips among enthusiasts, was the table presided over by Jean and Mme. Thevenet from the village of Quintaine in Macon, producers of a range of absolutely remarkable Maconnais white Burgundies, wines of stunning intensity and flavor that redefine the name Chardonnay.

The Thevenets were friendly people, obviously excited about their wines and eager to share them; I only wish my French were better so we could have achieved better communication than my smiles and excited "Oui!" and "delicieuse" could convey. These wines, also imported to the U.S. by Alain Junguenet's Wines of France, are very much worth seeking out. (Website: http://www.bongran.com.

Domaine Emilian Gillet 1999 Quintaine - Minerally and pleasantly herbal; dry, full and intense.

Domaine de la Bongran 1999 Cuvee Tradition - Layered and complex pear flavors with wildflower grace notes, powerful and very long. Amazing!

Domaine de la Bongran 1995 Cuvee Levroutée - Pale gold in color, with a brassy, honeyed scent layered with an intriguing minerally "petrol" scent oddly reminiscent of an older Riesling, certainly the legacy of these Chardonnay vines being affected by the "noble rot" of botrytis.

Domaine de la Bongran 1995 Cuvee Botrytis - Apricots and honey, a lovely wine, so rich that it seems soft, but texture and body provide ample structure.

Domaine de la Bongran 1994 Cuvee Botrytis - Similar yet surprisingly different from the 1995, adding alluring and delicate scents of wildflowers and dried fruit to the honeyed richness of the following year's vintage.

OTHER FRANCE

Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé Premier Cru - Very pale salmon color. Dry and tart. Served from ice, too cold to analyze, but crisp and refreshing.

And, from the portfolio of World Shippers, tasted with importer Leo Fox:

Jean Lionnet 2000 Cotes du Rhone Cepage Syrah - Peppery, full, ripe.

Domaine de Cabasse 1998 Seguret Cuvee Garnacho Cotes du Rhone Villages - Full andbalanced. elegant. First-rate.

Domaine Raspail-Ay 1999 Gigondas - Black fruit. tar and smoke. Restrained nose, big flavor, full and ripe. One of my favorite Gigondas.

ITALY

Poggio Nardone 1996 Brunello di Montalcino - Black cherry and discreet acidity, showing well.

Zenato 1999 Valpolicella Ripassa - My first tasting of the '99 vintage of this favorite. Seems consistent with the '98, jammy dried-cherry fruit well balanced with fresh acidity.

PORTUGAL

These impressive Portuguese wines were tasted with Victor Van Keuren, New England regional sales manager with Whitehall Imports, http://www.ewhitehall.com.

Quinta da Romeira 2000 Arinto Bucelas - Rather full and textured, lovely scents of flowers and almonds; crisp and clean. Very attractive white.

João Pires Dry White Muscat - It's a little unusual to find a Muscat vinified dry, as this aromatic grape makes such a delicious off-dry or sweet wine. This example is persuasive, though, with a lovely floral scent and crisp, light but lasting citric flavor. This will be a treat when summer's heat returns.

Muros de Melgaço 2000 Vinho Verde - A more "serious" wine than the usual Vinho Verde style, this Alvarinho-based wine is bone-dry, with a delicious grapefruit scent shaped by steely acidity and lingering citric flavors.

Casa de Santar 1999 Dão Reserva - The classic red table wine from Portugal's Douro valley (also home of the vineyards that produce Port), D&atillde;o is usually pronounced "dow" in English, although I understand the Portuguese say it with a French-style nasal N, almost like "dong." This hearty red shares its blend of grapes with Port, including such varieties as Touriga Naçional and Tinta Roriz. It's full-bodied and ripe, an intriguing blend of tart cherries and subtle earthy flavors.

Falua 1999 "Duas Castas" Ribatejo - Softer and more modern in style than Dão, this one seems fashioned for an export market. Soft and smooth, ripe with red fruit, it's a tasty quaff and a real value at $8 suggested retail.

Marquês de Borba 2000 Reserva - Also seemingly made with the international market in mind, this one's full of bright berry flavors limned with ample oak, accessible and "New World" in style.

Luis Pato 2000 Quinta do Ribeirinho - Full, plummy fruit, a well-balanced table wine.

Luis Pato 2000 Vinho Regional Beiras - Plummy, peppery and tannic, full in body and flavor, a wine that will reward cellar time.

Quinta da Mimosa 1998 Palmela - This lusty red's vibrant dark fruit and spicy oak marry to produce a tasty, appealing flavor that's startlingly reminiscent of Raisinets, the chocolate-covered raisins in a box that used to be a staple of movie-house snacking. Full acidic structure and firm tannins make it a good prospect for cellaring.

Sentus 1997 Douro - This fine Douro red shows lots of appealing organic character - leather, "barnyard," tar and smoke, all built over a core of ripe black fruit and lemony acidity. A really remarkable wine, although it may be difficult to find with only 2,500 cases made and likely spotty distribution around the U.S.

Quinta do Vale 1999 Meão Douro - Another first-rate Douro red, this label is said to be the lineal descendant of Barca Velha, once one of Portugal's most sought-after reds. Floral, delicate and complex, it's somewhat reminiscent of Burgundy in overall style if not in varietal detail. A very fine wine, more than competitive on the international market in the $25 retail range.

SOUTH AFRICA

Special thanks to 30 Second Wine Advisor reader Charlie Lynch, an enthusiastic advocate of South African wines, for tracking me down and offering a guided tour of some of the top offerings at the South Africa tables:

Bellevue 2000 Stellenbosch Pinotage - Closed a bit, licorice and leather. Big and juicy fruit flavor and citrus-squirt acidity.

Thelema 2001 Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc - Remrkably full and ripe, loaded with gooseberry and green chile flavors. Really a delightful Sauvignon Blanc, akin to the New Zealand style but perhaps a bit more refined and elegant.

Fairview 2000 Coastal Region Pinotage - Big fruit and estery Pinotage "paintbox" over firm acidity.

Fairview 1999 Paarl Shiraz - Full, peppery, tart. Good fruit.

Andrew's Hope 2000 Coastal Region Pinotage - Black fruit and good subtle earthy notes. The style of Pinotage I like.

Spice Route 1999 Swartland Flagship Syrah - Inky blackish-purple. Ripe and extracted but keeps its balance; big but elegant, black. fruit and fennel and good firm acidity. An exceptional wine, worth seeking out.

Jardin 2000 Stellenbosch Chameleon - 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Chardonnay. Nice marriage of two grapes seldom seen together; Sauvignon character is more evident when the wine is cold, while the Chardonnay's body and texture comes out as it warms.

Vinum Africa 2001 Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc - Melons, seems light at first but opens up in layers. Just off-dry with excellent acidity.

Bradgate 2000 Stellenbosch Cabernet (54%) Merlot (46%) - Good herbal fruit and cedar. Second label of Jardin winery.

Vinum Africa 2000 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon - Delicious forward Cabernet fruit over firm tannins and a firm acidic structure.

SPAIN

All the following Spanish wines are imports of Kysela Pere et Fils and its associated J et R Selections.

Privat Laieta Cava Reserva Brut Nature - 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Clean and fresh. crisp. Excellent, one of the best cavas (Spanish sparkling wines) I've tried.

Pergolas Crianza 1997 Valdepeñas - Good cherry fruit and spicy oak.

Valsacro 1999 Rioja - Black fruit and vanilla, straightforward and appealing.

Finca Sobreno 1999 Toro - Big black fruit sufficient to balance a blast of new American oak.

Aragon y Cia Patricia Cream Montilla-Moriles - Made entirely from the Pedro Ximenez grape, characteristic of Montilla. Smooth, very sweet but excellent structure.

ARGENTINA

I took advantage of the Expo's Argentine tables to sort through the scores of wines available and focus on Malbec, the increasingly popular Bordeaux grape that Argentina has made its own.

Finca Flichman 1999 Mendoza Malbec - Some Cabernet with Malbec in the blend, fruity, plenty of oak.

Finca Flichman 1999 Mendoza Malbec Reserva - Really big fruit, a blast of ripe raspberry. No oak, despite the "Reserva" label.

Novea Correas 1999 Colleccion Privada Malbec - Dark, juicy fruit and herbal notes. Ripe berry fruit flavor with lemony acidity.

San Huberto Crianza 1999 Medalla de Oro Malbec - Deep black fruit, markedy herbal.

Bodegas Norton 1999 Mendoza Malbec - Soft berry fruit, approachable.

Fabre Montmayou 1999 Lujan de Cuyo Malbec - Loads of berry fruit and fresh acidity. Nice!

Fabre Montmayou 1999 Lujan de Cuyo Grand Vin - 80% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot. Mmm! Big berry and blackcurrant fruit, integrated oak, clean acidity.

CALIFORNIA

Turnbull 1999 Napa Valley Red Wine - All five Bordeaux vareties. Full fruit, big structure. Very nice.

Renwood's Expo table always draws a crowd, and it's a pleasure to run into winery owner Robert Smerling pouring samples here every year.

Renwood 1999 Old Vine Amador County - Full and ripe. Benchmark Zin.

Renwood 1998 Grandmere Amador - Chocolate-covered fruit. Delicious.

Renwood 1999 Amador Barbera - Ripe and plummy, piercing acidity. Very fine.

Renwood 2000 Amador Ice - Pale pink. Very ripe, intensely sweet. Remarkable stuff.

This California producer wasn't familiar, but word quickly spread at the Expo about Richard Longoria's excellent wines, which show a European-style refinement along with ripe New World fruit. (Check his Website, www.longoriawine.com.)

Longoria Santa Rita Hills 2000 Chardonnay - Good appley fruit, crisp and fresh, no oak and butter here but clean and forward Chardonnay fruit.

Longoria 2000 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir - Ripe wild cherry aromas, juicy and full, with herbal tomato-skin notes adding complexity. Very fine, a California Pinot Noir worth seeking out.

Longoria 1999 Blues Cuvee Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Franc - Fennel and black fruit, fresh and ripe. The label bears a jazz theme with specially commissioned art every year, a happy concept that Longoria says he came up with a decade ago as a way to use his love of jazz to promote what was then a little-known grape variety.

Richard Longoria 1998 Santa Ba&rbara Countv Merlot - Ripe cherry, dark chocolate; fine Merlot with real character.

Fetzer wine maker John White guided me through a tour of the winery's new "Five Rivers Ranch" line, a range of Monterey wines that will go into national distribution this summer.

Fetzer 2000 Five Rivers Ranch Monterey County Chardonnay - Big and appley; fresh, oak present but restrained.

Fetzer 2000 Five Rivers Ranch Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir - Light garnet. Good Pinot character, tomato and cherry-cola with a shake of pepper. At about $12, this joins the tiny niche of affordable California Pinot with real varietal character.

Fetzer 1999 Five Rivers Ranch Central Coast Merlot - Fruity, easy sipping.

Fetzer 1999 Five Rivers Ranch Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon - Good ripe blackcurrant; structured with acidity, some tannins.

Another young and rising wine maker is Gallo's Eric Cinnamon, who recently moved from the giant California firm's Frei Brothers Ranch label to Rancho Zabaco, one of the winery's Sonoma labels particularly known for its Zinfandels. Cinnamon walked me through the following:

Rancho Zabaco 2000 Dancing Bull California Zinfandel - Fruit forward, bright Zin flavors, made for easy drinking and restaurant service.

Rancho Zabaco 1999 Sonoma Heritage Vines Sonoma County Zinfandel - full and ripe, old-style Zin, with a bit of the herbal greenness that seems to show up often in Rancho Zabaco's line.

Rancho Zabaco 1999 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County Zinfandel - Jammy, wood evident, big and forward.

Rancho Zabaco 1999 Stefani Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County Zinfandel - Big and full, old-fashioned Zin, again with some herbal character behind the forward mixed-berry fruit.

Rancho Zabaco 2000 Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris - Very attractive, lots of varietal character; floral and mango flavors.

EASTERN U.S.

Wines from East of the Rockies don't generally get wide distribution, so I try to take advantage of opportunities like this to expand my experiences a bit.

High Hill Vineyard (Mass.) DeGrazia Red Alicante and Barbera - Good quaffing red, lots of body and fruit. This small new winery is making some waves in Massachusetts, and this wine shows why: Although made from fruit brought in from outside the state (California? They didn't say), it's a warm and approachable red, an excellent companion with food.

Swedish Hill 2000 Cayuga Lake (New York Finger Lakes) Vignoles - Fresh and fruity, loaded with peaches. Pleasantly sweet at 4% residual sugar, with good snappy acidity for balance.

Newport Vineyards 2000 Rhode Island Vidal Blanc Ice Wine - Extremely ripe pear and melon aromas; intensely sweet, with sufficient acidity for balance.

Finally, a stop at the booth of Wagner Vineyards, one of the largest and most respected New York Finger Lakes wineries.

Wagner 1999 Finger Lakes Reserve Pinot Noir - Soft. fresh, good balance. Spicy. Not strongly varietal but pleasant.

Wagner 1998 Meritage - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Ripe fruit, spicy oak. Slightly herbal, good balance.

Wagner 2000 Finger Lakes Riesling - Floral, fresh. Off-dry, but steely acid brings balance.

Wagner 1999 Finger Lakes Vidal Blanc Ice Wine - Ripe melon flavors; intense sweetness balanced by firm acidity.

PORT

Quinta do Crasto 1996 Late Bottled Vintage, unfiltered, bottled in 2000 - Ripe, sweet, balanced. Ready to drink.

Broadbent 1997 Porto - Ripe and surprisingly accessible.

Royal Oporto 1995 LBV Porto bottled in 2000 - Dark mahogany color. Full stone fruit, very sweet; good acidic grip.

Royal Oporto 10 year Tawny - Soft, sweet, good acid.

Royal Oporto 20 year Tawny - Similar to the 10 year but more complex; layered nutty character over stone fruit and lemony acidity.

Porto Barros 20 years old tawny - Fruitcake in a glass, delicious. One of the most delightful tawnies I've tasted.

Porto Barros Colheita 1977 - Lemony, not as soft, sweet and grippy.

Porto Barros Colheita 1990 - Darker bronze. Sweet, pruney, balanced.


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