Fetzer 1998 Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido County Reserve Pinot Noir - Light garnet. Ripe cherry-cola and herbal notes on nose and palate. Fruity, almost sweet. Suggested retail $28.
Fetzer 1999 Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido County Reserve Pinot Noir - Clear garnet. Cherries and cinnamon and bright red fruit, a bit more open than the '98.
Fetzer 1998 Valley Oaks California Syrah - Peppery fruit, a bit short and hot. Suggested retail around $9
Fetzer 1996 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Clear garnet, perfumed and smoky; a bit shy on the nose and thin on the palate. Better with food, especially good with a bite of crisp bacon.
Fetzer 1997 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark garnet. Pleasant perfumed cassis. Full fruit flavor, ripe and sweet; a spicy whiff of anise. Nice.
Fetzer 2000 Echo Ridge California Gewurztraminer - Pale straw, grapefruit and spice. Soft, fruity and sweet. Suggested retail around $7
Fetzer's wine maker made an interesting presentation, good with technical info and reasonably candid about his wines, not trying to present the mass-market Syrah as if it were the second coming of Hermitage. The Brown-Forman marketing folks are friendly, too, and the group at my end of the table shared a few stories about our Louisville connections.
Soon we move on, run out to Thor's and then back in to the city, fighting horrible traffic and arriving late for another trade tasting: A one-on-one with friendly, frank Mike Benziger of Benziger Family Winery. Mike pours, and tells us about, five of his wines:
Benziger 1999 Sonoma County Fume Blanc - Pale straw. Melon, a hint of yeast. Dry white fruit and oak. A bit Chardonnay-like in style.
Benziger 1999 Carneros Chardonnay - Clear straw. Apple and chestnut. Full and fresh, flavors follow the nose,crisp and dry; rich, almust seems off-dry but Mike says it's bone-dry.
Benziger 1998 Sonoma County Merlot - Black fruit, white pepper and a hint of green bean. Soft and mellow, a good restaurant Merlot.
Benziger 1998 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark garnet, black at the core. Fresh cassis, hints of mint and anise. Good fruit-acid balance, firm tannins.
Benziger 1996 Sonoma Valley Reserve Merlot - Very dark reddish-purple. Attractive blackberry, cassis and mint. Full fruit, almost jammy; tart acid for balance.
It's a reasonably impressive lineup. The lower-end wines are well-made, although I find the Merlot a bit veggie; the Reserves are very well-made indeed, and Mike puts the cork back in the Cabernet and offers it to us to take to the offline. Nice freebie!
The daylong drizzle starts to turn to soft snow as we head back up the Interstate from downtown toward suburban Woburn, the seat of many a Wine Lovers' Discussion Group gathering: Il Fiorentino. Frankly, the place seems a little more downscale and gritty than I remembered from past offlines, particularly since our private room requires a trip around to the eerie, dark back side of the building to enter through an unmarked door that leads through the restaurant's stock room. But we finally make our way to a big, private room where we're among the last of some two dozen to arrive despite being only 15 minutes late. It's a merry band indeed, and the jollity and decent Italian family fare make up for the truly marginal ambience of this bleak, dim room.
I've already missed some of the whites, or more precisely don't bother to round up and taste everything that's already open, but one familiar label demands a try:
Salon le Mesnil 1988 Blanc de Blanc Champagne - chocolate and buttered toast, caramel, tart acidic structure, so rich that it almost seems sweet.
It makes an odd contrast with another bubbly of somewhat less ethereal origins:
Tabor Hill Lake Michigan Blanc de Blancs - Soft, fizzy, grapey.
And the beat goes on ... more food, more wine, more wine-geek talk, some food, and a great time was had by all. I miss a few, and for one reason or another don't take notes on a few - PMac's familiar coffee-pot decanter goes around twice, with good wines in both - I know one is a Chasse-Spleen, miss the other, but manage to get notes on quite a few of the bunch into the Palm:
Kurt Darting 1999 DürkheimerSteinberg Muskateller Spätlese - Litchee and grapefruit, gewurz-like. Much hilarity about the AP number, which somehow never gets noted.
Ojai Vineyard Echantillon Travail a l'Anglaise - Soft and grapey fruit, peppery fruit. Syrah-Pinot Noir blend. Interesting wine, only available at the winery, said to be made from pressed skins - a sort of ripasso-like method? Will Masi sue?
Boskydel 1998 Leelanau Peninsula (Michigan) de Chaunac - Grapey fruit. Dry and full. Typical red-hybrid character, a bit one-dimensional.
Steele 1993 Carneros Pinot Noir - Red fruit, pleasant earthiness. Fruity, showing some oxidation. Not as oaky as I expect of Steele, but seems past peak.
Brown bagged wine. Slight aroma. Nice earthy black fruit. Chianti-like. It's Avelina 1998 Mezzanotte, a California Italian.
Charles Melton 1998 Nine Popes - Raspberry and pepper; big, fat and tannic with menthol notes. Grenache 54% Syrah 44% Mourvedre 2%. Very Australian in style, not much like Chateauneuf despite the papal association.
Inglenook 1981 Napa Valley Charbono - plums, tar and smoke; tart acid, lots of fruit. Further substantiates my opinion that old Charbono and old Petite Sirah are very much alike ... and very interesting.
Chateau Tayac 1989 Cotes de Bourg - black fruit and barnyard, acidic, still seems young.
Clos des Papes 1996 Chateauneuf-de-Pape - peppery black fruit, some barnyard. A rare revisit to a '96 for me after slurping a lot of "hedonistic" '98s lately, and it seems surprisingly thin in comparison.
Brown bag deux - Berries, herbal, light tannins. Cabernet Franc? No, it's from Avelina, a California winery that makes Italian-style wines. (The label never makes it around, but it's said to be a weird blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Merlot).
Antinori 1993 Chianti Classico Riserva - Soft, evolved black-cherry fruit.
Franus 1992 Hendry Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel - Earthy berries, chocolate and huge tannins.
Felciaia 1996 Toscano - My contribution to the deliberations, a nice, relatively affordable Super Tuscan. Alas, it's horrifyingly corked, the sort of wine that should be put in Oxford as a sample alongide the entry for TCA.
Abadia Reuerta 1996 Cuvee El Campanario Sardon de Duero - Prunes, plums and spice, jammy and full. A "Parker" wine but a good one.
Pride Mountain Vineyards 1993 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Cassis, ripe fruit, good balance, youthful.
Remelluri 1997 Rioja - Cherries and leather, earthy fruit. My notes grow terse as I start to fade a little toward the end of a long day, but Bob Ross nudges me and the next wine lures me back ...
Chateau Montalena 1986 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Coffee and black fruit. Tart and tannic, full and concentrated but tight; needs lots more time but definitely showing the style and grace of this longtime Napa favorite.
Luenzo 1998 Toscano Rosso - Tart tomato and black plum, full and ripe.
Sangenis I Vaque 1997 Clos Monlleó Priorat - plummy and ripe, very full-bodied and tannic.
I pass on most of the dessert wines and skip taking notes on some others (the mulled-wine-style 45th Parallel Cherry Wine from Michigan is intriguing but hardly noteworthy, but three catch my eye. I take notes on two ...
Domaine Cauhapé 1990 Vendange Tardive Jurançon - caramel and hazelnuts, sweet and tart.
Chateau Rieussec 1983 Sauternes - Clear amber, lovely caramel and apricot. Luscious sweetness framed by steely acidity.
And then I veg out, enjoying but not even taking notes, as I linger over a Baumard 1990 Coteaux du Layon with the peacock label, a lovely, seductive wine that's all peaches and cream and fresh fruit sweetness with a zingy acidity that has Thor rambling about how it doesn't get any better than Loire sweeties as I simply nod with a goofy grin and have another sip.
Have you tasted these wines?