Bernie Roth and his wife Summer Shepard were celebrating their anniversary in the wine country, and my business trip to Napa coincided with their visit. So they invited me to join them and their friends Jeff Ames and Dea Fried (who work at in the Valley) for dinner and wine at the popular Rutherford Grill.

It was one of the coldest places I've ever eaten - the air conditioning must have been cranked down to literal cellar temperature after a record-warm spring day - and one of the darkest, requiring us to hold up the table candles to read wine labels, and demanding constant use of the battery-draining backlight feature in my Palm Pilot. But all kidding aside, the food and service were excellent, the wines were fine, and the company superb. Here are my wine notes, with special thanks to David Seidner, who left behind the Mondavi Reserve at a recent gathering in Louisville. I thought the only proper thing to do was share it with another WLDG group.

Fox Creek 1998 McLaren Vale J.S.M. Shiraz Cabernet Franc - Inky. Big blackberry and raspberry fruit and oaky vanillins, oak seems in reasonable balance. Big fruit, sweet oak, soft tannins. Dunno that I would go along with the reported Parker 96, but it IS enjoyable.

Kistler 1999 Cuvee Cathleen Sonoma County Chardonnay - Clear pale gold, surprisingly delicate for a Cal Chard, apples and chestnuts, rich and off-dry.

Au Bon Climat 1996 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay "Nuits-Blanches" - Light gold, pineapple and oaky spice. Full, sweet, tropical fruit and oak.

Robert Mondavi Winery 1992 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Cassis and mineral scents, rather closed. Refined and balanced, needs time. Marked eucalyptus notes appear after time in the glass.

Milagro 1995 Napa Valley Syrah - Dark garnet, gamey and grilled meat nuances over black, peppery fruit. (Non-commercial wine made by the owners of Paloma.)

Grant Burge 1995 Barossa Meshach Shiraz - Dark garnet. Black fruit and buttery oak on the nose and palate. Opinions somewhat divided; Dea and I find it overly oaky (but pleasant nonetheless) the others like it.

Foxen 1996 Santa Ynez Valley Cuvee Jeanne Marie Syrah/50 - Mourvedre/50 - Clear ruby. Red fruit, apple skin, a hint of leather. Seems a bit light but very pleasant.

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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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