[Image: Bunch of Grapes]
Today's Wine Tasting Note

© Copyright 1998 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

Circling 'round the Southeast
Map of my itinerary

Circling the Southeast, I flew from Louisville to Baltimore, then drove south, stopping for wine dinners with friends in Arlington, Va., Powhatan, Va., Raleigh, N.C., High Point, N.C., and Atlanta.

I've returned home from a two-week business trip that took me on a broad circle around the Southeastern U.S., rolling up more than 1,500 miles on the rental car and giving me the opportunity to visit some inspiring grassroots organizations on my "day job."

As a native Kentuckian, I feel a real sense of place in the South, and never more so than when spring is coming forth with balmy breezes, green buds and flowers, and it was more than a coincidence that I scheduled my visits from Baltimore around through Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia to coincide with the first real rush of spring.

And, much to my enjoyment, this trip brought me within visiting range of lots of online wine-loving friends. It was an honor and a pleasure to be the excuse for six wine-and-dinner gatherings, where I broke bread with some two dozen pals old and new, and we pulled the corks out of nearly 40 bottles of wine that ranged from "interesting" to memorable.

Arlington, Va., March 17, 1998

A great time was had by all at tonight's Washington offline, and thanks to Craig Potts for hosting and opening many bottles of very good wine. In addition to Craig and Beth, wine lovers in attendance included Colin Winston, Bob Semon and me, and Craig's friends Mike and Shannon and Lois, all of whom I hope we've talked into logging on and checking out the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group.

As always with these social events, I like to disclaim my tasting notes by pointing out that the event was informal, food was present, and the distractions of an enjoyable evening with friends don't make for analytical wine tasting. But that being said, here are my scribbled notes:

Chateau le Bost 1995 Bergerac Sec ($5.49) - Very pale straw color. Light, neutral fruit on the nose and palate with zingy acidity to make it a good food wine. U.S. importer: Mills Wine & Spirits, Annapolis, Md.

Estancia 1994 Monterey Meritage, 95% Sauvignon Blanc/5% Semillon ($8.99) - Pale straw color. Pleasant green-olive aroma and a full, round mouthfeel with ripe olives and undifferentiated fruit.

Domaine de la Mordorée 1995 Chateaneuf-du-Pape ($25) - Dark ruby color. Earthy black cherry aroma leads into a good black-fruit and light black-pepper flavor, very short at first but opens up to greater length with time in the glass. Seems as if it needs time. U.S. importer: Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.

Saddleback Cellars 1995 Napa Valley Zinfandel Nils Venge ($19) - Dark reddish-purple. Delicious aroma, big and ripe, blackberry jam and a healthy shot of wood, almost reminiscent of fresh-sawed pine boards. Huge extract, jammy fruit flavor and good firm acidity. Impressive Zinfandel.

Chateau Lafaurie-Petraguey 1989 Sauternes ($46) - Clear bright gold. Light honey and apricot aromas, typical Sauternes, perhaps a little closed. Wide open on the palate, though, full-bore fruit, pineapple and honey-apricot; crisp and tart, very clean and fresh, with such piercing acidity that its high level of sweetness doesn't cloy. Delicate and complex, a very fine Sauternes. U.S. importer: Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., NYC.

Powhatan, Va., March 19, 1998

We had a wonderful time at Linda Baldwin's last night, with a small but congenial group of Linda, Frank, Frank's sister Katherine and me; and if we didn't laugh until wine came out our noses, we came mighty close. Linda put out an incredible dinner (with Frank presiding over the gas grill and Katherine helping with the roast peppers and veggie saute, while I, er, supervised), and we opened a bunch of really good wines.

In the order tasted:

Cloudy Bay 1997 Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc - Pale brass color. Grapefruit and green-chile aromas, delicious, but no obvious "cat spray." Full and tart, flavors follow the nose. Very long citric finish. Excellent wine, perhaps a bit more balanced, if less outrageous, than some past vintages. U.S. importer: Cliquot Inc., NYC.

Sterling Vineyards 1971 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Very hazy garnet, brick edge. Plummy fruit still showing through a heavy layer of old-Cab "coffee" on the nose and palate. High in acid, lightly oxidized. Not dead, but showing the weight of its years; remarkably, though, it actually opens up and shows MORE fruit after about 30 minutes in the glass.

Domaine André Brunel 1994 Cuvée Sommelongue Cotes-du-Rhone - Dark ruby in color. Ripe red fruit and caramel, with an acceptable level of earthy and gamey qualities. Brett? U.S. importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, D.C.

Marques de Griñon 1993 Dominio de Valdepusa Syrah - Very dark reddish-purple. Jammy black fruit, fragrant pepper and spicy oak aromas. Full, peppery fruit over a firm acidic structure with ample tannins. Impressive, although I'd hope to see it develop a bit more complexity with bottle age. U.S. importer: Kooka Wines Inc., Seattle.

David Coffaro 1995 Estate Cuvee Dry Creek Valley Red Wine - If you could have just one of Dave's many delightful wines, which would YOU choose? I suspect many of us would go for this blend of the grapes he thinks are the best of the vintage -- in this instance, 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Zinfandel, 28% Carignane, 2% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A bizarre sounding cuvee, but it makes a remarkable wine, a very dark reddish-purple with "dusty" black-fruit aromas, black currants and sour cherries, leading into a big and structured flavor, delicious and showing great finesse even at this young stage.

Siduri 1996 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir Old Vines - Dark ruby color. Luscious, heady floral scents, roses and gardenias, provoking some hilarity about funeral wreaths. Huge, jammy fruit and flowers, unique. Cedar, cigar box, your grandmother's perfume. Remarkably complex, but frankly it's almost over the top, and from the standpoint of pure enjoyment, it seems a little odd. I find myself admiring it, but then passing it by in favor of the Coffaro. (This is not meant as a slur on the remarkable Siduri, but it was an interesting experience to compare two such dissimilar wines as this and the Coffaro blend.)

Raleigh, N.C., March 20, 1998

I enjoyed a pleasant, quiet evening of visiting and wine-sipping (and a great grilled-salmon dinner) at Art and Betsy Stratemeyer's place in Raleigh last night. Art raided his cellar and pulled out quite a few items he'd been meaning to taste:

Frederic Mochel 1994 Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris - Pale greenish-gold. Musky, earthy, full and ripe, maybe just a touch of sweetness over full-bodied acidity, very nice. Reminds me in a way of a demisec Vouvray. U.S. importer, USA Wine Imports, NYC.

Mommessin 1990 Meursault - Clear gold color. Light apple scent and a soft fruit flavor over tart acidity. Ho hum. "Like drinking water," Art opines. It opens up a little with time in the glass, but not much, frankly. U.S. importer: MNA Imports, Westbury, N.Y.

Roger Caillot et Fils 1992 Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru - Clear bright gold. Apple butter and honey aromas; full fruit flavor, so rich that it conveys an impression of sweetness. Pleasant wine, still needs time to achieve its potential. U.S. importer: Atherton Wine Imports, San Jose, Calif.

Villadoria 1996 Dolcetto d'Alba - Bright, almost day-glo reddish purple. Odd aroma, smells like plastic and petrochemical products. Simple red-fruit flavor, but it's not really possible to get past the nose to enjoy it. A dumper. (I tasted the 1995 edition of this same wine, from the same importer, before Christmas, and it was a delight. But something's wrong with this one.) U.S. importer: Opici Import Co., Hawthorne, N.J.

Villadoria 1994 Barbaresco - Clear ruby color, with a good black-cherry scent. Tart, fresh fruit flavor, simple but tasty. Nice wine! U.S. importer: Opici Import Co., Hawthorne, N.J.

Perica 1986 Rioja Gran Reserva - Clear garnet, amber edge. Light red-fruit aroma, tart and fresh flavor. Pleasant, but simple and surprisingly light for a 12-year-old Gran Reserva. U.S. importer: Balearic Beverage Distributors Inc., Lorton, Va.

Sérafin Pere & Fils 1994 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru - Clear bright ruby color. Simple, fresh fruit on the nose and palate. Not showing much complexity -- Art describes it, correctly, as "a California Pinot." But the fruit and balance suggest that time will bring it around; and it's fine with the salmon. U.S. Importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, D.C.

High Point, N.C., March 22, 1998

Dinner at Greg and Tami Ellis's place in High Point, N.C., tonight, assembled a group of online wine pals, including Walter Beale, Dave Stroud and me and Greg's friend John, along with excellent food and the following assortment of unusually interesting wines:

Glen Fiona 1995 Washington State Grenache Noir - Light ruby color. Delicious jammy berry scent and good oaky vanilla. Light, tart fruit flavor, an easy quaff. It's 95% Grenache and 5% Syrah, the label says.

Siduri 1996 Carneros Pinot Noir - Clear garnet. Delicious roses and red fruit in a big, Siduri-style aroma that jumps out of the glass and races around the room. Full and ripe, balanced and round. Very fine Pinot.

A. Rafanelli 1995 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County Zinfandel - Greg was worried about this one because a couple of bottles from the same case seemed fizzy, raising concerns of an unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle. This didn't seem to be a problem with this one, although the woody Rafanelli style can be offputting. Clear, bright reddish-purple. Spicy oak and anise aromas; big, tart and vaguely medicinal on the palate, loads of fruit and loads of oak.

Frankland Estate 1993 Great Southern Region Western Australia "Olmo's Reward" - Dark garnet in color and showing good, complex fruit; unfortunately, it's corked, and while the wine's capability to punch past the musty, wet-cardboard character of 2,4,6-TCA is impressive, it's not really fair to rate it. U.S. importer: Cabo Distributing Co., Inc., North El Monte, Calif.

D'Arenberg 1994 "Darry's Original" McLaren Vale Shiraz/51%-Grenache/49% ($14.95) - Very dark garnet. Remarkable aromas of jammy raspberry fruit are mirrored on the palate, so full and juicy that the wine almost seems soft, but zippy acidity and sturdy structure come through. U.S. importer: Old Bridge Cellars, San Francisco.

Spenker Winery 1995 Lodi Zinfandel - An odd, very limited production Zin from a hot Central Valley climate not known for great Zin, but this one's impressive, an inky dark-purple potion with big aromas of blueberry, coconut and resinous American oak. A lot of wood on the palate, but a lot of berry fruit too, juicy and alcoholic and almost sweet, with piney wood becoming increasingly evident in a very long finish. "Outrageous," but keeps everyone coming back for more.

Hedges 1993 Red Mountain Reserve Columbia Valley (Washington) Red Wine - Presented with the label hidden, this one's a real puzzlement in the "can you name it" game. From the ripe, exuberant berry fruit aroma, everyone guesses Zin at first, but a taste reveals a huge curtain of tannins that make Zin seem impossible. I yell "Ribera del Duero," convinced that I've nailed it, but no, it's an American wine. We then go baying down the Petite Sirah path, but that's wrong too. The label doesn't disclose the blend, but checking references (old editions of Parker) indicate that it's a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend. This is mighty hard to believe, but whatever it is, the wine is good.

Cockburn's Anno 1990 Late Bottled Vintage Port - Clear ruby color. Light red-fruit aromas; ripe, sweet and tart on the palate. No substitute for the genuine vintage product, but it still makes a pleasant ending to an exceptionally fine evening of wine, food and friends. (Hand-import, purchased in Ireland.)

Atlanta, March 25, 1998

I enjoyed a very pleasant dinner in Atlanta tonight with Chuck and Memy Miller at Marra's, a newish restaurant that I hadn't tried before, great atmosphere and seafood a specialty.

I brought along a geriatric white that I'd picked up the other day at a dusty little store in Spartanburg, S.C., and Chuck pulled a nice red out of his cellar; we finished up with a taste of a fine dessert wine from the restaurant's by-the-glass menu. All three wines turned out to be just as good as the food and the friends:

J. Vidal-Fleury 1986 Chateauneuf-du-Pape White - Clear bright gold, no hint of brown. Delicious herbal and pleasant medicinal aromas over clean white fruit. Full flavors mirror the nose, surprisingly youthful fruit over steely acidity with pleasant earthy and medicinal notes. U.S. importer: Associated Wine Distributors Inc., Columbia, S.C. (This treasure was just $12 at Deluxe Liquors, a funny little inner-city bottle shop in Spartanburg that seems to stock mostly jug wines and brown-bag specials but, unaccountably, mixes in a few under-priced high-end labels and older wines of quality.)

Leroy 1980 Vosne-Romanée - Beautiful color, light rosy ruby, clear to the edge. Lovely floral and pleasantly earthy aromas. Delicate, luscious fruit, juicy and tart-sweet. Wonderful older Burg.

Gólya 1989 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos ($9/glass, $55/500ml bottle restaurant price) - Clear golden brown. Lovely perfumed caramel and spice aromas. Achingly sweet flavor balanced by tart, crisp acidity, golden raisins and stone fruit and burnt sugar. Crisp, fresh and delicious, one of the few Tokajis I've enjoyed that doesn't seem to be heavily oxidized, and it's the better for that. A spectacular match with crême brulée. U.S. importer: Ideal Wine & Spirits, Medford, Mass.

Atlanta, March 26, 1998

Five of us gathered for a dinner and some wine tasting last night at Atlanta's Tiburon Grille, an attractive new spot in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood with a good menu (heavy on the seafood), decently priced wine list, and a reasonable ($6) corkage policy. Dave Ginn made the arrangements, and Vince C., Mike Evans, Mark Braunstein and I joined him there, where we took a bottle of bubbly from the list and then opened eight bottles of our own.

With the usual caveat about the generic nature of wine reports taken in a dark, sociable restaurant setting with food around, here are my notes:

Alfred Gratien non-vintage Brut Classique ($55/restaurant price) - Bright gold, bubbles dissipate fast. Yeasty, perfumed tart-fruit flavor. U.S. importer: New Castle Imports Inc., Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Peter McCoy Vineyards 1995 "Clos des Pierres" Knights Valley Chardonnay - This was a gift from Art Stratemeyer, who handed it to me in Raleigh last week with the observation that it's a rare California Chardonnay that pleases a Burgundy lover like him, but that this one passes his test. We liked it, too, although I'm afraid that a week of bouncing around in my suitcase as I moved on down the road might have closed it up a bit. It's a clear, pale gold, with pleasant toasty oak aromas and good fruit, balance and integration on the palate. It's certainly not in the fat, flabby, slightly sweet CalChard mode, and that's good; but it didn't ring Burgundian chimes for me.

Torre Muga 1991 Rioja Reserva - Dark reddish-purple. Ripe black fruit and aromatic oaky vanillins on the nose. Fresh, rather light, oddly Pinot-like. Clean, lemon-squirt acidity is especially evident in the finish. Enjoyable wine, but it does seem light for a Rioja, especially a Reserva. U.S. importer: Atlanta Improvement Co., Atlanta.

Caparzo 1996 Rosso di Montalcino - Dark garnet, with good spicy black-cherry fruit on the nose and palate. Juicy fruit, seems soft at first, but good structural acidity becomes more evident on the finish. U.S. importer: Palace Brands Co., Hartford, Ct.

Plaisir de Merle 1995 Paarl (South Africa) Cabernet Sauvignon - Dave said this one was billed by the retailer as "better than Margaux." No, it's not. But it's a surprisingly good Cabernet with a lot of Bordeaux style, at least at first. Inky blackish-purple in color, it shows fine blackcurrant aromas, and a full, complex flavor that's structured and tannic, with lots of good black-cherry fruit along with an herbaceous quality in the mid-palate. Softens a bit with time in the glass and adds odd tarry, sulfury notes that weren't evident at first. U.S. importer: Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., NYC.

Smith & Hook 1992 "Masterpiece Edition" Santa Lucia Highlands Cabernet Sauvignon - Inky dark purple. Luscious black-fruit, dark chocolate and mint aromas, like opening a Whitman's Sampler candy box. Full, balanced and acidic flavor, plenty of fruit on an elegant, balanced structure.

Chateau Rausan-Ségla 1985 Margaux - Clear dark garnet, no browning at the edge. Lovely Bordeaux nose, tobacco leaf and cedar and good black fruit. Fresh, bright fruit and plenty of it on the palate, balanced and long. Drinking well but not going anywhere any time soon. Clearly the wine of the evening, but going back and forth between it and the Smith & Hook, the younger California wine stands up surprisingly well. U.S. importer: Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., NYC.

Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) 1991 "Rutherford" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Very dark reddish-purple. Oaky, weedy dill and simple black fruit on the nose and palate. I picked it up for well under $10 at that odd little wine shop Dave Stroud told me about in Spartanburg, this one's holding up well and a great value, but it was probably a mistake to open it after the preceding two bottles, which are clearly out of its league.

Clos Naudin 1989 Vouvray Mouilleux - Clear salmon color, looks like a rosé. Nice honeysuckle aroma, sweet and tart, juicy stone fruit. Very nice, but Mike Evans says it was badly mishandled, baked in shipment, and only gives a hint of its potential.

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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