We enjoyed a small gathering at home with a few wine pals from around the region who dropped in from Indianapolis, Lexington and Knoxville, bearing sundry wines. As is usual with these events, we opened more wines than there were people, and found hardly a klunker in the carload ...
Champagne Egly-Ouriet à Ambonnay Grand Cru Cuvée Vieilles Vignes
Bright-gold in color, tiny bubbles go still rather quickly. Toasty and apple aromas; rich and creamy on the palate, tart fruit, bone-dry. Fine Champagne, although it seems older than the 1996 disgorgement date on the back label would imply. Importer: Ideal Wine & Spirits, Medford, Mass.
Domaine Valette 1994 "Tradition" Pouilly-Fuissé
Clear brass color. Apples and honey on the nose, lovely aromas. Full and bright flavors, consistent with the nose, clean and crisp in a very long finish. Chardonnay as it was meant to be. Importer: Kysela Pere et Fils Ltd., Winchester, Va.
Merryvale 1993 Silhouette Napa Valley Chardonnay (magnum)
Brass color. Oak defines the aroma, but it's startlingly complex oak, heady sandalwood and tropical fruit. Full and rich on the palate, buttery (and becoming more so as it warms in the glass). Multi-dimensional to be sure, but the oak dominates.
(Sipping these two Chardonnays side-by-side offers a serious reality check on the divergence between White Burgundy and California Chardonnay. The Merryvale -- which I understand earned a high-point Parker rave -- literally seems to be made from a different grape in an utterly different style. It's fruity and in-your-face, but there's no comparison with the P-F in terms of structure, balance and, frankly, elegance.)
Turley 1995 Aida Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel
Hazy dark garnet, almost black, with a full if vaguely bizarre aroma that mingles mulberries, black raspberries with caramel, mixed nuts and anise. Full and rich and powerful (16.7% alcohol claimed!) and almost port-like on the palate, it mingles ripe black fruit with something like tangy molasses. I'm in the minority on this one, but it's just too over-the-top for me.
Storybook Mountain Vineyards 1985 Napa Valley Estate Reserve Zinfandel
Confession being good for the soul, I'm always pleased to report when an older Zinfandel disproves my usual argument that Zins don't age. This one (cellared at the winery and stored carefully since purchase two or three years ago) is a beauty. Dark ruby color, purple at the edge. Cedar, blackcurrant, tobacco and a marked "cigar box" aroma prompt comparisons with Lynch-Bages; it's claret-like on the palate, too, with mint and eucalyptus singing a counterpoint to ripe black fruit. Aging remarkably well and still has plenty of life left in it.
(Again, in a side-by-side tasting, the differences between these two Zins are so stark as to make objective comparison almost impossible. I crack that going quickly from the Storybook to the Turley is like watching Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal on video and then turning immediately to The Simpsons.)
Fossi Rosso non-vintage Vino da Tavola ($5.99)
Opened just for fun and as a reality check after the massive Zins, this bargain-basement special (allegedly a blend of declassified Chiantis) has held up well enough under passive cellaring over about 12 months. It's dark ruby in color with very pleasant black-cherry aromas and a tart, dry and warming black-fruit flavor, flawed only slightly by a very short finish. Importer: Francis A. Bonanno Inc., Springboro, Ohio.
Edmunds St. John 1994 "L'Enfant Terrible" California Mourvèdre
Hazy ruby color. Earthy aroma, red fruit framed by typical Mourvèdre "tree bark." Flavors consistent with the nose, red fruit and tart acidity. A little on the funky side, but a good food wine.
Lindemans 1987 Griffith (Australia) Late Harvest Botrytis Semillon ($10.95/375 ml)
Bright amber in color. Delicious honey and fresh, juicy apricots on the nose and palate, sweet and luscious. Good botrytis apricots linger in a very long finish. Importer: PWG Vintners USA Inc., Monterey, Calif.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1987 Finger Lakes (N.Y.) Bunch Select Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling
Pale amber-gold color. Powerful Riesling "petrol" and piney aromas pushed to the extreme, almost evocative of kerosene, but that's far too negative a descriptor to fit this wine's appealing scent. Aromatic apple and white-fruit flavors, so lean and structured that the 9.8% residual sugar hardly tastes sweet; excellent wine, minerals and steel.
(Comparing these two wines offers us another striking case of compare-and-contrast. The Australian wine is very Sauternes-like while the Wiemer, as you might expect, is fully Germanic. They're both delicious, but everyone in the group is drawn to the Wiemer, coming back for refills until the bottle is empty.)
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.||