Steve Plotnicki
Steve Plotnicki mugs for the camera as he "guards" a selection of cult classics.
You could call it a "cult classic." Steve Plotnicki, an ardent defender of the high-end, sought-after California wines that some people chase and others dismiss as overrated "cult" items, invited a smallish group of Wine Lovers' Discussion Group participants to join him for what turned out to be the most definitive tasting of such wines to which I've ever been exposed.

Steve brought a generous selection of these hot-ticket items, and the rest of the revelers (Chris Coad and Lisa-Erin Allen, Oleg O., Bob Ross, Peter Hirdt, Joe "SFJoe" Dougherty and yours truly) got into the spirit of things by bringing show-off wines of our own.

The venue was the upstairs room of the Savoy, a wonderful little restaurant at Crosby and Prince in New York City's SoHo, where a prix fixe dinner is available nightly. We unholstered our corkscrews, started opening bottles, and ... well, let's just say it was quite an experience.

Oleg and Lisa
Oleg O and Lisa-Erin Allen.
Aperitifs (with grilled endive with apples and pancetta)
Lokoya 1995 Napa Valley Wild Yeast Chardonnay. Pale gold, butterscotch and pineapple. Big and full, rings the taste buds like a gong. Cal-style, but better than most.

E. Guigal 1998 La Doriane Condrieu. Pale straw, wildflower aromas, delicate and complex. Full and ripe, aromatic fruit follows the nose, very rich and long. For finesse and elegance, it's the popular choice between these two whites.

Peter and Bob
Peter Hirdt and Bob Ross.
First course (with wood-grilled sturgeon with collards, hominy and green olive butter)
Sine Qua Non 1996 "Against the Wall" California Red Wine. Herbaceous black fruit, cherries and herbs ... Thyme? Easy drinking, a fruit bomb.

Turley 1997 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel. Intense raspberry fruit aromas carry over on the palate, huge (17.1% alcohol), but not musclebound. I wasn't disposed to like it, but I can't help myself. In a bigger glass and with time it-opens to even more intense berry fruit. Passes the so-called "Thunderbird Test": It's the first bottle on the table to empty, and makes it into my top four of the evening (along with the 1993 Harlan, 1994 Shafer and 1967 Quinta do Noval rated below).

Beaux Freres 1994 Yamhill County Oregon Pinot Noir. Dark ruby, light tomato-skin aroma. Tart and slightly tannic, a bit candied. Complex but a bit awkward. Does seem to open with time in the glass, but there's still a "hole in the middle," and it frankly lacks excitement.

Matanzas Creek Winery 1993 Sonoma Valley Merlot. Inky blackish-purple. Cherries and chocolate on the nose and palate. Good acidic structure and length.

Lisa and Chris
Lisa-Erin Allen and Chris Coad.
Second course (with red-wine braised short ribs with farro (spelt), rutabaga and pickled horseradish)
Harlan Estate 1993 Napa Valley Red Wine. Very forward and complex. Black fruit and dark chocolate. Herbs and mint. One of the top wines of the evening.

Dalla Valle 1993 Maya Red Table Wine (55& Cabernet Sauvignon - 45% Cabernet Franc). Black fruit. Caramel and mint. A bit closed and tight, showing its oak more blatantly than most of the competition.

Shafer 1994 Napa Valley Stags Leap District Hillside select Cabernet Sauvignon. Black fruit and forward mint, full and ripe. Big and full, opens up in layers. Barely edges out the Harlan as "wine of the evening" for me.

Shafer 1995 Napa Valley Stags Leap District Hillside select Cabernet Sauvignon. Minty black fruit, very similar to the '94 but a little softer and lighter, not showing as well as its one-year-older brother.

Bryant Family Vineyard 1996 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep but rather candied aromas, fruit and sweet oak. Not my favorite.

Joe, Peter and Bob
Joe "SF Joe" Dougherty, Peter Hirdt and Bob Ross.
With an after-dinner cheese tray of Reblochon (Haut Savoie) with hazelnuts and Valencay (Loire) with quince, and later a crême brulée.
Chateau Montrose 1966 Saint-Estephe. Funky, thin, some sweet old-Bordeaux fruit, but it's not showing well.

Quinta do Noval 1967 Vintage Port. Dark ruby, dried stone fruit, intensely sweet and firmly structured. Silky, balanced and long. In a category of its own, but certainly one of the best wines of the evening.

Says Steve: "These were some pretty good wines."

He gets no argument out of us.

Have you tasted these wines?
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and I'll consider adding them to this page.

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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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