We sampled five bottles, one of which was hopelessly corked. Here are rough notes on the others, tasted unblind and non-analytically:
Chateau de Montmirail "Cuvee de Beauchamp" 1991 Gigondas, $13.95. Brilliant clear garnet, with a luscious aroma of dark chocolate. A little light on the palate, but good chocolate-cherry fruit and soft tannins. (Importer: J et R Selections, Mount Pleasant, Mich.)
Pierre BARGE 1986 Cote-Rotie, $27.95. Dark ruby color, going to brick. Lovely scents of chocolate and raspberry, but the flavor is a little less inspiring, drying out and old before its time. (Importer: Christopher Cannan/Europvin.)
Domaine Capion 1991 Vin de Pays d'Oc, "eleve en futs de chene," $7.95. Inky dark purple color, blackcurrant and aromatic aroma notes of witch hazel or eucalyptus. Smooth and rich, lasting fruit flavor with spicy oak in perspective. Wonderful buy, several cases went flying out the door with members of the group. (Importer: Metro Wines, Dearborn, Mich.)
Madeleine put together a seven-wine tasting of "Syrah and some kissing cousins," which we followed up at dinner with selections from Morels' excellent all-American wine list.
First, the tasting. Prices are Madeleine's estimates, generally full-pop Michigan retail, which is the worst-case scenario; most of these wines should be available for less. Also, the usual disclaimer: Wines tasted unblind, non-analytically, in a social setting with fellow wine lovers.
Rabbit Ridge 1994 Sonoma County Viognier, $17. Very pale greenish-gold, with pleasant peach and floral scents and a light peach-nectar flavor, a bit off-dry, with sufficient acidity to balance the sweetness. Excellent aperitif.
Richemont 1993 Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc, $7. Bright garnet, almost a day-glo color, with light, fragrant black pepper on the nose, and a soft, fruity and approachable fresh-fruit flavor, good for quaffing. Good QPR, especially when found discounted to $5. (Importer: Vineyard Brands, Robert Haas Selections, Chester, Vt.)
Cassegrain 1993 New South Wales (Australia) Shiraz, $16. Oaky vanillins dominate subtle pepper on the nose. Ripe, jammy fruit flavor appeals, but the oak is a little overwhelming. (Importer: Kooka Wines, Seattle.)
Mitchelton 1991 Victoria (Australia) "Print Label" Shiraz, $21. Dark reddish purple in color, with minty eucalyptus and oaky vanillin aromas bursting from the glass. Extracted fruit, mouth-filling and ripe; American oak definitely present, but the deep and textured fruit more than stands up to it. (Importer: Kooka Wines, Seattle.)
Chateau d'Oupia 1992 "Cuvee des Barons" Minervois, $18. Dark garnet color, with raspberries and spicy oak aromas. Ripe and juicy fruit flavor, well balanced with crisp acidity, and firm tannins showing good aging potential. (Importer: Vins Fins, Long Island City, N.Y.)
Chapoutier 1991 "Les Meysonniers" Crozes-Hermitage, $24. Dark garnet color, with a fresh, cherry-berry nose and ripe, extracted fruit on the palate elevated by complex peppery and pleasantly "gamey" flavor notes.
With the meal, our table chose a rarity that's rapidly approaching cult status; Madeleine grabbed the region's limited allocation (a case or two) for the restaurant, and the Mo'Cool gang slurped up at least a couple of bottles at her special near-retail price for the evening:
L'Ecole No. 41 1993 Columbia Valley (Washington State) Merlot, $25. Brillian garnet color, with ripe cherries and oaky vanillins dancing on the nose. Huge, mouth-filling cherry fruit cloaks soft but substantial tannins; tart cherries linger in a very long finish. Tasted unblind with delightful food (it went perfectly with both prime Angus fillet with portabello ragout AND a Michigan wild-mushroom penne pasta with fried leeks in a rich, reduced mushroom broth), so critical analysis is lacking, but it sure seemed like a wonderful wine to me.
These notes get pretty sketchy toward the end, and I don't claim a high level of analytical quality for any of 'em, but for the record, this will at least convey a sense of what it was like: Que Syrah, Shiraz!
Horton 1993 Orange County Virginia Viognier. Pleasant floral and mineral scents, fresh, intense Viognier fruit flavor -- pears and litchees. Nice!
Georges Duboeuf 1994 Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc Rose. Faint watermelon nose, tart and dry on the palate, full of juicy fruit.
Noel Verset 1983 Cornas. Good gamey old-Rhone nose over plummy fruit; rich and full on the palate, tar and smoke and leather and plenty of ripe fruit.
Dehlinger 1992 Russian River Valley Syrah. VERY oaky, but nice vanilla oak; extracted fruit and oak flavor, hot on the attack and short on the finish.
Renwood 1991 Amador County "Spring Release" Syrah. Raisiny nose and chewy, ripe fruit flavor.
Renwood 1991 Amador County Syrah. Sees six months less oak than the above, and thought to be a different cuvee. Oaky vanilla and plummy fruit nose; warm, ripe fruit and oak flavor.
Joseph Phelps 1984 Napa Valley Syrah. Faint plum scent, simple and a bit one-dimensional on the palate.
Horton Vineyards 1993 Orange County Virginia Syrah. Fragrant pepper and smoky fruit aromas, delicious "grapey" fruit and black-pepper flavor. A little thin (very young vines?) but well-made Syrah.
Paul Jaboulet Aine 1992 Parallele 45 Cotes-du-Rhone (magnum). Spicy oak hides the fruit on the nose and palate. Pass.
Paul Jaboulet Aine 1990 Les Jalets Crozes-Hermitage (magnum). Good plum and tomato-skin nose, tart black fruits on the palate. Nice.
Horton Vineyards 1993 Orange County Virginia Norton. Good example of this rare American grape. Jammy currant nose; soft fruit flavor, a little foxy, reminiscent of a French-hybrid like Chancellor or Foch.
Alamo Farms Pecos County Texas Shiraz. 1992, 1993 and 1994 (barrel sample), tasted blind. The 1992 was DNPIM, with a bizarre, oddly fishy aroma; the 1993 was quite nice, rose potpourri and fresh-fruit flavor; the 1994 was a little rough from the barrel but shows considerable promise.
Duxoup 1985 Dry Creek Valley Syrah (tasted blind). Funky leather scent, raisin fruit. Unappealing.
Chateau Tahlbik 1988 Goulburn Valley Australia Shiraz (tasted blind). Light in color, rosy hue; good floral scent of roses and gardenias. Soft red-fruit flavors with good acid balance.
Rockford (Australia) Black Shiraz Sparkling Red Wine. After giving Joel a ration of harassment over this "cold duck," the consensus was that this highly regarded Australian rarity is a fine jug of juice. Dark purple, with a frothy pink mousse, it shows a good, varietally true black-pepper nose and petillant, intense Shiraz fruit flavor, with slight sweetness well balanced by tart acidity and a definite tannic edge.
Gentaz-Dervieux 1990 Cote Brune Cote-Rotie. Good leather and gamey aromas, round and mouth-filling fruit. Surprisingly ready for such a young wine.
E. Guigal 1990 Hermitage. Plums and pepper, very clean, without the typical "organic" Rhone qualities; fresh and juicy fruit and soft tannins.
Andre et Louis Drevon 1985 Cote-Rotie. Earthy and organic, literally reminiscent of chicken manure. Characteristic old Rhone, but a little over the top.
Joseph Phelps 1985 Vin du Mistral Napa Valley Syrah. Fresh, slight leather, good varietal aromas; a little soft on the palate, but a nice quaff.
La Motte 1989 Franschhoek Valley South Africa Shiraz. Excellent Syrah nose, earthy characteristics in restraint; clean, ripe plums and red-fruit flavors. Excellent Shiraz.
Penfolds 1991 Bin 128 Coonawarra (Australia) Shiraz. Nose a bit closed at this point, opens to good, characteristic Shiraz with breathing; ripe, extracted fruit on the palate, robust and pleasing.
E. Guigal 1991 La Turque Cote Brune Cote-Rotie. This classic went fast. Hard to judge a $130 wine unblind, but it tasted wonderful to me: Classic "roasted" Cote-Rotie nose, subtle and complex, with full and balanced fruit flavor, finesseful and clean; no controversy over game or leather or "merde" on this one!
Arrowfield 1991 South Eastern Australia Shiraz. Weedy dill nose and oaky flavors bespeak an excess of American oak despite the good ripe-fruit flavor.
Concannon 1993 Central Coast (California) Petite Sirah. Mint and pepper nose, simple and one-dimensional fruit flavor.
M. Chapoutier 1991 La Mordoree Cote-Rotie. Roasty and gamey nose in proper restraing; full and ripe flavor, opens up in layers of fruit. Excellent.
Paul Jaboulet Aine La Chapelle Hermitage, 1990, 1983 and 1982 tasted concurrently, unblind. The 1982 is a triumph, one of the favorites of the afternoon, with gamey, complex fruit aromas and rich fruit, so ripe that it conveys an impression of sweetness. The 1983 is more subtle and still needs time, but I think it may eventually be an even greater wine; it's already full of gamey and leathery complexity over huge, ripe Syrah fruit, structured, complex and lasting. The 1990 is very young, hugely tannic, and a bit closed, but with plenty of stuffing to go the long haul.
Paul Jaboulet Aine 1988 Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. Unpleasant chemical aroma, something like acetate, carries over to the palate. DNPIM.
Mitchelton 1991 Print Label Victoria (Australia) Shiraz. Consistent with last night's tasting at Morels; one of the best Shiraz coming out of Australia these days (other than Grange). Oaky vanillins in balance with ripe, luscious fruit on the nose and palate.
La Jota 1991 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Petite Sirah. Oak dominant on the nose, with a boatload of simple fruit and an equally sizable ration of wood on the palate.
Reine Pedaque 1978 Hermitage. Very gamey indeed, chicken manure and saddle leather playing against full, ripe and surprisingly youthful fruit.
Paul Jaboulet Aine 1983 Les Jumelles Cote-Rotie. Leather and gamey notes held in restraint with extracted, ripe plummy fruit, fully mature and drinking very well. A personal favorite, I reserved a glass to sip with the dinner entree, charbroiled lamb.
Delas 1985 Cuvee Marquise de la Tourette Hermitage. Pungent horse-sweat nose. Good fruit beneath it, but the brett is over the top.
Chapoutier 1990 Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage. Grapey fruit and an odd, off note that I called volatile acidity but Jay Baldwin pegged as light cork taint. Either way, it diminished the otherwise impressive flavor of huge fruit with huge tannins.
Taltarni 1986 Victoria (Australia) Shiraz. Peppery fruit nose, full red-fruit and black-pepper flavor. Nice!
A. Clape 1986 Cornas. Horsey brett overpowers all other aroma and flavor.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 1989 Herrenweg Turckheim Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive. What's this Alsatian jewel doing among all these Rhones!? Thanks to Mark Horvatich for saving me a taste ... wonderful peach, pine and mango nose, intensely concentrated mango and litchee fruit flavor, huge body, so flinty in its structure that light residual sweetness is almost imperceptible. Lingering finish seems to last until sundown.
Val Verde Winery Don Luis Texas Tawny Port, "Blend No. 5." Raisins and stone fruit nose; achingly sweet, ripe fruit flavor with good acidic "grip" to bring it into balance. Dark-purple color belies the "tawny" moniker, but it's a surprisingly credible "Port," much like a Late Bottled Vintage Oporto.
Ridge 1992 California Late Harvest Zinfandel, Lytton Springs Vineyard (Advance Tasting Program). Blackberries and heady floral scent; blackberry jam flavor, warm and rich with 16 percent natural alcohol.
Southbrook Farms 1994 Ontario Canada Framboise. Fresh, ripe raspberry nose, yum! Sweet raspberry syrup on the palat with a warm alcoholic body and ample crisp acidity to balance the sugar. I like this a lot!
Southbrook Farms 1994 Ontario Canada Framboise d'Or. Light bronze color, nose and flavor evoke white raisins more than raspberries; sweet and tart, good after-dinner wine, but suffers a little in comparison to its red-raspberry brother reported above.
Chateau Reynella 1992 McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz Vintage Port. Sharp woody nose, and a little musty, sweet-tart on the palate. Potential here, but closed and tight, very much like a vintage Oporto opened way too young.
Horton Vineyards 1993 Orange County Virginia Late Harvest Viognier. Luscious peach-apricot nose, yummy fresh-apricot flavor, light and nectar-sweet, with crisp fresh-fruit acidity to keep it from cloying.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1989 Finger Lakes New York Bunch Select Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling. Honeyed apricots and botrytis nose; luscious tart-sweet apricot flavor, laced up with firm acidic structure. Definite Beerenauslese quality here, a world-class dessert Riesling. (Reported 33.9% sugar at harvest, 9.8% residual sugar in the bottle.)
I had to slurp and run to catch my plane (and then got thrust into the maw of Sunday summer travel and didn't get home until early evening, grrrrr), but I took notes early and present them herewith. Curiously, I found after the tasting that my best/worst picks were thoroughly out of synch with the "great," "second-rank" and "lesser" Grange vintage ratings that Joel Goldberg harvested from an Australian wine mailing list on the 'net and passed out after the tasting was over. Maybe my palate's just not calibrated for fine Ozzie reds, but I'll stand on my remarks ...
Penfolds 1990 "St. Henri" Shiraz. A favorite of mine from past tastings, today's sample was consistent: Inky ruby color, intensely jammy fruit nose. Aromatic, minty, eucalyptus, licorise, anise and black-fruit flavors. Yum!
And then, on to the Grange:
Penfolds 1990 Grange. Very oaky indeed, redolent of dill. Well structured, but the fruit's in hiding for now, leaving the oak dominant. Not my favorite of the vertical, but I was out of step with most of the group on this. (Starting with the 1990, by the way, Penfolds officially drops "Hermitage" from the name, reportedly because of EEC regs that would ban it from importation into Europe bearing the name of an existing French AOC.)
Penfolds 1989 Grange Hermitage. Inky, opaque. Delicious dark chocolate and mint aromas and extracted fruit. Very accessible, easy drinking. I set it aside to sip with brunch.
Penfolds 1988 Grange Hermitage. Very dark, shy aroma focused on oaky vanillins. Better on the palate than the nose, jammy mixed-berry flavor over a firm acidic structure.
Penfolds 1987 Grange Hermitage. Good black-fruit nose with restrained oak. Consistent on the palate, good balance.
Penfolds 1986 Grange Hermitage. Very dark, almost black. A bit gamey on the nose, although certainly clean by Rhone standards. Tart fruit, a little out of balance on the acid side.
Penfolds 1985 Grange Hermitage. A goodie! Red and black fruit burst from the glass with whiffs of dill and vanilla. Rich, juicy fruit flavor, good structure and balance. This and the 1989 were my favorites for drinking now.
Penfolds 1984 Grange Hermitage. A bit of leathery funk and floral notes dance with plummy fruit. Tastes better than it smells, frankly, extracted and ripe fruit.
Penfolds 1983 Grange Hermitage. Oak evident, vanilla and dill, overshadowing the fruit; like the '84, it's better on the palate than in the nose, richly extracted to the point that it conveys an impression of fresh-fruit sweetness.
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