The '96 MO'LYMPICS
... the Fifth Annual
MOtown COoperative Off-Line
tasting in the Ann Arbor/
Detroit, Michigan area
is now history.
Following are my tasting notes from this annual gathering of 'net-wired wine lovers who converged on the Detroit-Ann Arbor area on the weekend of Aug. 23-25, 1996, for the fifth annual MO'COOL (MOtown COoperative Off-Line).
As in the past, MO'COOL offers cyberwine folks who normally communicate digitally (that's us), to have the opportunity to meet face-to-face and simultaneously indulge in one of our favorite pastimes. We tasted lots of good wine and ate plenty of good food during a weekend that was planned to be informal, social and moderately-priced. As in the past, folks joined us from across the US (Florida to Massachusetts), Canada, and from CompuServe, Prodigy, AOL and the Net.
MO'COOL is non-commercial, non-profit and volunteer-run. Everyone shares the cost of the weekend's events.
In keeping with our never-ending search for relevance, this year's MO'COOL theme was the '96 MO'LYMPICS. Wine-tasting and dining events were built around a humorous Mo'lympics theme featuring such competitive entries as the "2x4 Relay" for woody wines, and, of course, the DECANTalon.
As the first out-of-town arrival in Ann Arbor for Mo'Cool '96, I joined hosts Joel and Sally Goldberg at their home for a casual dinner. We ate good cheese, good grilled sausages, lots of gourmet mustards, and opened, um, several bottles of wine.
Delheim 1994 Stellenbosch (South Africa) Gewürztraminer. Clear pale gold, with a pleasant, delicate Gewurz scent of litchees and apricots. Soft, juicy fruit flavor, consistent with the nose, just off-dry, but with ample acidity to hold it in balance. Importer: Fairest Cape Importing & Distributing Co., Long Beach, Calif.
Chateau Capion 1995 Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé ($7.99). My contribution to the evening's deliberations; I had high hopes, since I'm generally smitten with dry Southern French rosé, and Capion has a great reputation for quality-price ratio. This one was a disappointment, though. Clear, bright cherry red, rather dark for a rosé. Nice herbal scent, with a slight prickly petillance on the tongue. The palate fails to deliver on the nose's promise; clean, fresh but neutral, void of fruit; not flawed but, at best, "innocuous." Importer: Metro Wine Distributors, Dearborn, Mich.
Domaine du Grand Montmirail 1993 Gigondas Cuvee Vieilles Vignes. Clear, dark garnet. Lovely herbs and floral notes in the aroma; light, fruity and fresh flavor, no obvioius tannins; quaffable, but not at all typical of Gigondas. Prompts comparisons with Duboeuf's "Beaujolais-style" Rhones, but at the end, we liked it. Importer: Private wine club.
Domaine Bois de Boursan 1990 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Inky dark garnet, with a delicious aroma of peppery, plummy black fruit. Big and chewy, luscious flavor, follows the nose; substantial tannins still, but the big fruit punches through. A Jay Baldwin QPR special, wonderful value at approximately $13 retail. Importer: J et R Selections Ltd., Mount Pleasant, Mich.
FRIDAY EVENING was be an international dinner with appropriate wines (one course per country) organized and hosted by Madeline Triffon, our local Master Sommelier and ultimately cool "wine girl" (in her words), at Relish, a fine bistro in suburban Detroit. Oh, yes, and the ceremonial arrival of the MO'LYMPIC torch ... borne in an amphora of retsina.
In keeping with the Mo'lympics theme, Madeleine put together a bill of fare with selected wines representing the nations of the world.
The apertif course, representing Greece, featured dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), spinatch-stuffed phyllo and feta-topped crostini with three Greek wines previously available in New York and Illinois, shortly to be introduced in Michigan:
Skouras Megas Oenos 1994 Mantinia (Greece). Pale-gold color, with a light, neutral scent with a nutty edge of pecans; there's a light nutlike note in the crisp, dry flavor, with a marked edge of bitter-orange. Good aperitif. Importer: Diamond Importers, Chicago. (Suggested retail, $10)
Skouras 1993 Nemea (Greece) Saint George. Named in English for the Agiorgitiko grape from which it is made. Inky dark ruby color; oak is dominant on the nose and palate, spicy and sweet. Berry fruit and dark chocolate show through the oak to add complexity and character. Importer: Diamond. (Suggested retail, $9)
Skouras Megas Oenos 1993 Nemea (Greece) Agiorgitiko (70%) - Cabernet Sauvignon (30%). Dark reddish-purple, opaque. Oak and ripe blackcurrant aromas with a light whiff of "barnyard." Full and ripe fruit over lemony acidity and firm tannins; only the organic notes would distinguish it from an excellent California Cabernet in a blind tasting. (Suggested retail, $18)
The first course, focusing on Germany, offered home-smoked salmon atop crispy potato pancakes with a bit of ginger creme fraiche, a dab of caviar and grilled apples. The wines:
Kommerzienrat P. A. Ohler'sches Weingut 1994 Munsterer Kappellenberg (Nahe) Riesling Kabinett. Pale-gold color. Light appley scent, clean and fresh, with a soft sweetness on the palate nicely balanced with tart, tangerine-peel acidity. Importer: Terry Theise.
Lingenfelder 1994 Freinsheimer (Pfalz) Riesling Spätlese Halbtrocken. Bright gold in color, with a lovely, complex aroma of apricots, honey and toasted coconut. (The importer's book indicates that the wine is botrytis-affected.) Tart, steely fruit flvor, bit and rish, a real mouthful that lasts into a very long finish. Great wine, but call me a traditionalist, I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't have been even better as an old-fashioned Sp„tlese without the Halbtrocken vinification. Importer: Terry Theise.
The second course, focusing on South Africa, featured a dish that Relish's chef fashioned from one of Sally Goldberg's cookbooks: Curried crayfish with basmati rice and a cucumber-yogurt sambal, a flavorful but relatively mild curry. The wines:
Thelema 1995 Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chardonnay. A relative rarity, said to be South Africa's finest Chardonnay. Clear straw color, with luscious apples and chestnuts dancing in the aroma with light, spicy oak. Full and dry, apples and pineapple on the palate, full-flavored, big and rich. Importer: Cape Classics, Port Chester, N.Y.
Cape Indaba 1995 Coastal Region (South Africa) Pinotage. Bright ruby color. Odd scent, faintly vinegary and aromatic with an aldehyde that Madeleine says South African wine experts call "paintbox" and consider typical of Pinotage; it does indeed evoke watercolor boxes from grade-school days. Dry and tart, flavors follow the nose. Not a taste that I've acquired or intend to acquire. Importer: Cape Classics.
The third course, bowing toward Spain, featured a tasty if somewhat overwrought entree of roasted pork loin rolled around a stuffing of sun-dried tomatoes, Spanish Manchego cheese, pine nuts and "garlic red wine jus," served with a tart, funky warm beet and broccoli rabe salad. The wines:
Bodegas Berberana 1985 Gran Reserva Rioja. Dark ruby with a bronze glint. Plums, prunes and toasty oak aromas with a nuance that oddly but pleasantly evokes portabello mushrooms. Soft, plummy fruit and sweet oak flavors, falls off short in the finish. An "old-fashioned" Rioja that spent many years in oak. Importer: Kooka Wines Inc., Seattle.
Dominio de Conte 1990 Rioja. Inky garnet color. Oaky vanillins, aromatic and sweet, with cherry-berry fruit showing through a veil of oak. Still distinctively Rioja, but more in the modern style, fruity and accessible. Importer: Classical Wines from Spain, Seattle.
The final course featured a trio of gelati (hazelnut, chocolate and raspberry) with three biscotti. Additional wines brought by participants and passed around the room:
Chateau Musar 1988 (Lebanon). A pleasant surprise, apparently at peak, more intense, refined and frankly impressive than my past exposures to Musar. Hazy ruby color; deep black-cherry fruit on the nose and palate, tart and ripe and lasting, with a whiff of sulfury "rubber-tire" flavor that's not as objectionable as it sounds. I still don't see this one as a Bordeaux lookalike as some authorities insist; I'll stick to my opinion that it's closer to a Chianti in style.
Beau Freres 1994 Oregon Pinot Noir. Dark ruby in color. Intense black-fruit aroma; rich, ripe, a bit vegetal on the palate, tart and full. Served after dessert, probably not the best time to evaluate it competently.
And finally, thanks to Joel and Jay, what may be the best South African wine that any of us in the room had ever tasted, a gutsy, humongous red that seems certain to tickle Parker's palate. This was a direct import, but a distributor is poised to bring it into the U.S., allegedly awaiting the ratings before setting a price that will surely be a large multiple of its US$17 retail tag in its home country. (Less than 500 cases made, but more than half of them are reportedly destined for the U.S.)
Stellenzicht 1994 Stellenbosch (South Africa) Syrah. Opaque reddish-purple. Perfumed black-pepper aromas, opens up to tar and smoke and deep black fruit. Tarry, smoky and huge on the palate, strongly evocative of Cote-Rotie; clean and consistent in a very long finish. Blows us all away, even with palates jaded at the end of a long and delightful dinner. Wonderful wine.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING: Tasting, picnicking and socializing with fellow cyberwinos, this informal BYO tasting was organized around MO'LYMPIC events, some serious, others less so.
Chateau Morgues du Gres 1995 Costieres de Nimes Rosé. Pretty salmon color, light berry scent. Crisp, fully dry, fresh. Excellent! Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Pa.
Domaine de l'Espigouette Vin de Pays de la Principauté d'Orange ($4.99). Hazy ruby color. Red-fruit and a whiff of caramel. Soft, peppery, simple. Importer: J et R Selections Ltd., Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
E. Guigal 1994 La Doriane Condrieu. Clear brass color. Lovely floral and spearmint aromas; ripe and fresh, almost buttery texture. Importer: Bacchus Ltd., Baltimore.
Walnut Crest 1996 (!) Rapel Valley (Chile) Chardonnay ($2.99). Pale greenish-gold. Flowery, minty, dry and tart. Totally uncharacteristic of Chardonnay -- could pass for a Viognier -- but a surprising value for a very low price. Importer: Royal Imports, Farmingdale, N.Y.
Marc Kreydenweiss 1990 Alsace Kritt Klivner (Pinot Blanc). Bright gold color. Musky, melon fruit still evident, but maderized and well past peak. Importer: Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Calif.
Ridge 1986 Monte Bello California Cabernet Sauvignon. Very dark ruby. Mint, eucalyptus, tobacco, leather, classic Monte Bello at its peak.
Helena View 1992 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark ruby color. Strongly oaky, with an intense chocolate-covered cherry aroma and flavor, lasting and full, the most marked "chocolate" flavor I've ever tasted in a wine.
d'Arenberg 1991 Ironstone Pressings McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz (58%) - Grenache (37%) - Cabernet Sauvignon (5%). Very dark ruby. Black pepper and medicinal notes, linden and alcohol. Plummy, peppery fruit, substantial wood. Importer: Old Bridge Cellars, San Francisco.
Silver Oak 1987 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Opaque purple. Dill and green bean American oak flavors remain dominant; tart, full fruit, holding up well.
Marietta Cellars non-vintage Sonoma County Old Vine Red, Lot Number Seventeen ($9.99). Darn near black, with warm, raisined fruit aromas and a soft, plummy fruit flavor.
Saddleback Cellars 1992 Napa Valley Zinfandel. Too much lumber on the nose and palate renders it one-dimensional and uninteresting.
Domaine du Mas Blanc 1991 Cuvee Cosprons Levants Collioure ($18.99). Dark ruby. "Horsey" brettanomyces is certainly present, but in perspective with herbs and plummy fruit. Ripe and full, good balance, impressive wine in a controversial style. Importer: Martine's Wines Inc., San Rafael, Calif.
Domaine Tempier 1987 Cuvee Speciale Bandol. Clear, dark ruby. Black-fruit and "barnyard" aromas. Intense, extracted black fruit flavor, good acidity, good balance. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
Topolos 1989 Rossi Ranch Sonoma County Zinfandel. Ripe, full fruit flavor and tart acidity, appealing if not characteristic of Zinfandel.
Domaine Montvac 1990 Vacqueyras. Clear, dark garnet. Plums and black pepper; soft red fruit, tart acidity shapes it up in mid-palate. Importer: J et R Selections Ltd., Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Maui Blanc non-vintage Hawaiian Pineapple Wine. Pale straw color. Ripe pineapple scent, dry pineapple flavor, crisp and tart. Surprisingly pleasant.
L. Mawby 1994 "Coteau" Leelanau Peninsula (Michigan) Vignoles ($11). Dark gold in color. Rich butterscotch and caramel aromas. Dry, buttery and rich, backed by steely acidity. Excellent wine.
Horton 1993 Orange County Virginia Norton. Deep purple. Jammy berry fruit scent; juicy and soft flavor, with plenty of acidity for balance.
Mount Pleasant 15 Barrel Tawny Augusta (Missouri) Port. Clear light ruby. Lovely berry scent with herbaceous haylike notes. Rich and sweet, with a good lemony acidic "grip."
Zaca Mesa 1979 Santa Ynez Valley California "Toyon Noir" (43% Pinot Noir, 37% Zinfandel, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon). This odd blend, said to be Jim Clendenen's last wine made at Zaca Mesa, is holding up well. Murky brownish-ruby (heavy sediment was not decanted), with nice spicebox and red-fruit aromas. Juicy, mixed-berry fruit, good acidic structure. Lots of life left, very pleasant wine, seems to bespeak its Pinot character more than the other varietals.
Beaulieu Vineyard BV 1970 Napa Valley Burgundy. Dating back to the days when a quality American wine could call itself "Burgundy" without irony, this Gamay-Mondeuse blend may never have been intended for a quarter-century of aging, but it's holding up surprisingly well (better in the second of two bottles opened). Hazy ruby color with a bronze edge. Weedy, green and herbaceous, but surprisingly fresh, good acidic balance.
Inglenook 1967 Napa Valley Charbono. Dark burnt-umber with hints of ruby. Sulfury, burnt, maderized, but still gasping faint breaths of life. (It had been open for an hour when I came to it, and reportedly was in better shape on first opening.)
Inglenook 1978 Napa Valley Limited Cask Cabernet Sauvignon. Very dark, almost opaque. Wood, no fruit. Disappointing.
Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte 1988 Pessac-Leognan. Very dark. Spicy oak dominates simple fruit. Startlingly oaky for a Graves. (Importer not noted)
Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno 1982 Vigna Cannubi Barolo. Very dark purple. Warm, pruney fruit with oddly pungent flavor; leathery, Portlike. Past peak. Grapevine Imports, Medford, Mass.
Gilardino 1978 Riserve Speciale Barolo. Murky brown, maderized. Dead. Importer: R. Leone, Livonia, Mich.
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1990 Pauillac. Dark garnet. Blackcurrant and cedar aromas, nice! Hard and tannic, but huge fruit and good balance show considerable potential. Importer: Stacole Co. Inc., Boca Raton, Fla.
Chateau Mouton Baronne Philippe 1985 Pauillac. Dark ruby. Leather, light "barnyard," cassis and cigarbox aroma notes. Flavors consistent, still substantial tannins. Importer: Paterno, Chicago.
Horton Orange County Virginia Cabernet Franc. Bright ruby. Lovely blueberry aroma and juicy fruit flavor, dry and tart; good balance and a long, clean finish. Excellent wine, appealing and accessible.
Walnut Crest 1995 Rapel Valley (Chile) Merlot ($2.99). Dark reddish-purple. Red fruit and mint aromas. Soft and fruity, clean and fresh. Rather simple, but an amazing $3 bargain. Importer: Royal Imports, Farmingdale, N.Y.
Fleur du Cap 1991 Coastal Region South Africa Pinotage. I'm increasingly convinced that I simply don't care for Pinotage; this one strikes me as sulfury and soft, diminishing the enjoyment of its fresh, simple red-fruit flavors. Importer: Maisons, Marques & Domaines, Oakland, Calif.
David Coffaro 1995 Dry Creek Valley Old Vines Zinfandel. Clear dark garnet, unfiltered yet jewel clear. Intense black-fruit aroma, powerful yet elegant flavor, clean and consistent in a finish that goes on and on. Tasted unblind, and I'm disposed to love Coffaro's wines, but this one seems inarguably world-class.
Schloss Schönborn 1976er Rauenthaler Rothenberg Riesling Auslese. Bright-gold color. Pine and apple butter and "diesel" aromas; complex "petrol" and mineral on the palate with plenty of ripe, honeyed fruit, nearly dry over a firm acidic structure. Importer: Paul Mann Vintage Wine Co., Mount Clemens, Mich.
William Hill 1986 Napa Valley Reserve cabernet Sauvignon. Dark garnet color; minerals, cassis. Good fruit, good structure; a controversial wine that Parker rated 71 and the Spectator in the low 90s, and that our wine-loving pals have also found variable. I go with the Spec on this one: It's showing very well indeed.
Chateau Calissanne 1994 "Cuvee Prestige" Coteaux d'Aix en Provence ($32). Inky ruby color. Intense red fruit leaps from the glass. Warm, plummy fruit with "forest floor" notes, ripe and complex. A Cabernet-Mourvedre blend, pushing the limits of value as one of the most expensive wines of Provence, but it's persuasive. Importer: Langdon Shiverick Inc., Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
Chateau la Grande Roche 1993 Napa Valley Zinfandel. Clear, dark-ruby color. Delicious cherry-berry scent (bespeaks 20% Sangiovese in the blend), with ripe and mouth-filling fruit flavors, structured and full. Excellent wine.
Cline 1993 Contra Costa County Late Harvest Zinfandel. Very dark ruby, ripe and sweet, structured like a Port.
Ridge 1993 California Zinfandel Essence. Dark reddish-purple. Intense, high-octane mixed-berry aroma. Big, sweet and strong, a little on the hot side.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 1986 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark garnet. Dill, herbaceous and mineral notes; full fruit, big and ripe, with substantial acidic structure.
Andrew Will 1994 "R" Washington State Merlot. Clear, dark ruby, black cherry with green herbaceous notes. Full fruit with excellent balance and finesse.
Decoy 1993 "Migration" Napa Valley Red Table Wine. Clear garnet. Simple red-fruit and spicy oak aromas; fresh, pleasant fruit, simple, unexciting.
Portteus 1994 Yakima Valley (Washington) Merlot. Dark reddish-purple. Ripe tart-cherry fruit, full, soft and almost sweet. Unexpected simplicity and a musty edge suggest slight cork "taint."
Benziger Imagery Series 1990 Trousseau Lot 1 Cienega Valley. Clear cherry-red. Odd, unfortunate aromatic estery, acetone notes. Dumped.
At the end of the day, participants voted for "gold medalists" in each category. Following are the winners:
SUNDAY NOON was a full-blown all-you-can-eat brunch in Ann Arbor, preceded by the MO'LYMPICS' showcase event, the DECANTALON -- a gruelling, go the distance taste-off among teams of top decade-old contestants (that's 1986) from Team France, Team USA, and Team Oz.
Thanks to Joel Goldberg and Mark Horvatich for grabbing the relay baton after we headed home on Sunday morning. Here's their coverage of that day's closing event:
Joel: Major upsets today in the '86 Decantalon -- top-scoring wine was Penfolds Bin 707 cab. Three of top five wines were Oz. Dominus nearly dead last. Haut Brion tasting seriously leathery. There's something amazingly humbling about a double-blind tasting -- both to the taster and the "name" wines. Here are the rankings of the eleven 1986 wines we tasted on Sunday.
For the record, I think some of the lower-rated wines fared poorly because they were in very closed stages of development, while the top two benefited by being well-evolved in comparison. (I ranked the Taltarni tied for 8/9/10, for example). But despite what Mark will gripe about its "dill" flavors, which did exist, the Bin 707 was deserving of a high spot -- it's a luscious wine! And the Haut-Brion score was no fluke -- Sally and I each scored it dead last, and when we retasted the remains in the evening, it was clearly deficient in depth.
Mark: The final 'event' at MoCool '96 was the Decantalon, a tasting of 11 red wines from the 1986 vintage. The wines were in three groups, Team USA, Team OZ, and Team France, and the tasting was double-blind (ie, attendees only knew they were tasting 1986 vintage red wines). There were 23 participants.
I condensed my complete TNs into the following one-liners. The results (brief TN/group rating/my rating/wine) speak for themselves. I'll only add that it re-inforced my opinion that the only way to hold a tasting when wines are rated is to do it double-blind.
Some highlights: Dominus finished dead last and its second label (Daniel Estate) was rated equal or higher on all but two scorecards. The three OZ wines finished 1/2/5. I generally like Haut-Brion and dislike Dunn, but Haut-Brion was last on my scorecard and Dunn Howell Mountain was second.
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