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Today's Wine Tasting Note

© Copyright 1998 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.


Mondavi Reserve "vertical," and more
A group of friends from the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group gathered Saturday night at Eric and Ginny Stauffer's home in Indianapolis, converging from all over the Midwest and Upper South for an evening of good food, good friends and, of course, good wine. Participants included Eric and Ginny; Young-Bean Song (Chicago), Joel Goldberg (Ann Arbor) and his friend Andrea (West Lafayette, a former neighbor and fellow tasting-group member); Mike Conner (Knoxville); Bob Henrick (Lexington); and this reporter and his wife, Mary Johnson (Louisville).

The centerpiece of the evening's deliberations was a 12-bottle "vertical" of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon -- mostly provided from Eric's cellar with a few gaps filled by contributions from friends -- including all vintages from 1987 through 1995 as well as the 1985, 1982 and 1973.

Needless to say, as with any such gathering of wine lovers, contributions from the group swelled the array of samples on the tasting table to an even 20, without a loser in the bunch.

I'll present my tasting notes on the Mondavis first, then wrap up the rest in a separate list below.

Mondavi "vertical," 1973-1995
Robert Mondavi 1973 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark, slightly hazy ruby color with an amber edge. Beautiful sweet cassis aroma with pleasant menthol and leathery notes. The nose is so delicious that the flavor comes almost as a disappointment; black fruit and light tannins, it's satisfactory but not as exciting as the nose's promise. It actually opens up a bit in the glass at first, but two hours later has faded and died.

Robert Mondavi 1982 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark garnet. Cherry and tobacco-leaf aromas and an odd but not offputting "dairy" note that blows off after a while. Lean, tart fruit flavor.

Robert Mondavi 1985 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
This one showed the only questionable cork in the flight, a soft, crumbly stopper that was difficult to get out of the bottle intact. The wine seemed to have survived, however: Very dark garnet, it showed an earthy aroma with light "barnyard" elements, and a ripe fruit flavor with the delicious "sweetness" that often shows in older Cabernets.

Robert Mondavi 1987 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark garnet. Full black-cherry fruit aromas with a pleasant whiff of "tar" that evokes something like a Barolo or a Rhone. Ripe, elegant and balanced, full and long, still quite tannic; opens up into delicate complexity after two hours in the glass. Time is clearly on its side.

Robert Mondavi 1988 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Inky reddish-purple. Spice and cedar and ripe black fruit, floral and fresh, showing a faint and pleasant whiff of "barnyard." Big and full, tannic and tart; needs lots more time.

Robert Mondavi 1989 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark ruby color. Very strongly barnyardy aroma with some black fruit showing through. Green and thin, the one real disappointment of the group.

Robert Mondavi 1990 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark ruby color, cassis and caramel aromas. Black fruit flavor, tart and tannic. Closed.

Robert Mondavi 1991 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark garnet. Leathery cassis aromas; a boatload of black fruit punches through a heavy curtain of tannins. Hold.

Robert Mondavi 1992 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark ruby. Black fruit aromas, light but pleasant, and full, tannic fruit on the palate. Young, needs time, but it's good enough that it's hard to keep hands off now.

Robert Mondavi 1993 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Opaque. Very closed and tight, hard to get much out of the aroma; much more on the palate, black fruit, eucalyptus, menthol. Full and tart, tannins present but cloaked by the fruit. Hold.

Robert Mondavi 1994 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark garnet. Delicious cherry-berry fruit aromas and a rather light, jammy and fresh flavor. Young, but accessible, and a significant stylistic break from all the other vintages.

Robert Mondavi 1995 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark garnet. Blueberry and licorice aromas and good forward fruit flavor over a substantial structure.

Other wines of the evening
Champagne Perrier-Jouët non-vintage Grand Brut
Very pale straw color, tiny bubbles dissipate surprisingly fast. Good biscuity aroma; tart and a little green on the palate. U.S. importer: Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., NYC.

Jacquesson & Fils 1990 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Clear, pale gold with a constant stream of pinpoint bubbles. Luscious buttered-toast aroma; full and crisp flavor, clean and long. Delicious! U.S. importer: USA Wine Imports, NYC.

Burgess 1985 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark garnet. Good berry fruit on the nose and palate, juicy and fresh, with soft tannins. Seems much younger than the label indicates. Pleasant Cabernet, even in the exalted company of the Mondavi reserves. Eric says it's currently available at $25 in Indianapolis.

San Vicente 1994 Tempranillo Rioja
The subject of much recent online discussion, this Spanish red lived up to the early line, impressing even in the aftermath of the Mondavi vertical. It's a clear ruby color with a lovely, heady and complex aroma; toasted coconut dominates, with fresh strawberries and hard butter-honey candy. Amazing! The palate doesn't disappoint, with fresh, crisp and mouth-filling fruit. Although $24.99 (in Louisville) seems pricey for a Rioja, it's good value by the inflated standard of other top reds from around the world. U.S. importer: Cutting Edge Selections Inc., Cincinnati.

T-Vine 1996 Yolo County Chapeau
Clear light ruby. Wonderful but unexpected scents of red grapefruit and apricots leap from the glass. It's luscious and juicy on the palate, fresh and tart, but close your eyes and you'd swear you were drinking a white. No wonder -- it's a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre with 40% Viognier! Bizarre, but delicious.

Thunder Mountain 1995 Bates Ranch Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark ruby. Eucalyptus, mint and big black fruit aromas are immensely appealing even to palates growing jaded as a long evening draws to its end. Huge extract, ripe and tart, black fruit and cherry cola flavors; significant tannins, but such forward fruit makes it delicious now. Tasted side-by-side against the Mondavi Reserve of the same vintage, it's far more immediately appealing; discussing which will cellar more gracefully gives us grounds for enjoyable but ultimately inconclusive speculation.

St. Julian "Michigan Light" Solera Cream Sherry
Joel unveils the label to considerable hilarity, but to everyone's surprise (except his) this proves to be a persuasive wine, a surprisingly authentic replica of a fine sweet Sherry. Clear amber in color, it breathes delicious stone-fruit and raisin aromas with pleasant earthy notes; it's walnutty and sweet on the palate with an appropriately lemony "grip" to give it structure.

Quinta do Noval 1991 Vintage Porto
We probably shouldn't have opened this ... it was too young and a bit hazy from recent travel. Never mind, it was still delicious. Opaque blackish-purple, with tasty stone fruit on the nose and palate, built on a sturdy acidic and tannic structure with the requisite "grip." Particularly nice with slivers of Idiazbal cheese, a Basque smoked sheep's milk item that we picked up on the way out of Louisville as we headed north.

FOOD MATCH: Although the food was secondary to the wine in this group of serious fanciers, the choices were delicious and went well, from a smoked-salmon and caper starter with Belgian endive leaves for dipping through very garlicky hummus, assorted fine cheeses (including the previously mentioned Idiazbal, Spanish Manchego, smoked Gouda and more; and the centerpiece, a delicious tenderloin from the grill, a perfect "tannin-wiping" match for the many youthful reds.

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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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