Last Roundup

I like wine for the most part; I love Cal Cabs entirely. And the '91s -- well, I loved them so much, I built a cellar to hold them.

Now they're mostly memories, but I held onto enough of them to furnish the core for a 20th anniversary do at Philadelphia's studly new Union Trust Steakhouse.

The surroundings here are socko and the chef served up a nine-course feast. One dazzling dish followed another -- no question, it's foodie heaven. But you know what? I personally would have preferred a Caesar and a slab of cow, the better to focus on our treasured reds.

For all my adoration of Cal Cabs, I never expected so many of them to be alive and singing their little hearts out. Not one was a goner, although one faded and one heartbreaker was corked. The rest kept the music up all meal long, and as we reluctantly phoned our driver, I could swear I heard them calling, "Come Back!"

Here's the lineup:

***+Von Strasser (magnum)
***Phelps Eisele
***-Peter Michael Les Pavots
**+Mondavi Reserve
*Forman (decanted because of a crumbly cork)
Shafer Hillside (corked, alas!)

And here's the lowdown:

I found the von Strasser and Dominus to be the clear stars of the evening. The Dominus showed exactly as I remember it from my last tasting -- still very rich and powerful, but with more earthy character than when it was young. Some disliked it and I actually sold off my stash a couple of years ago, but still find it very appealing. Biggest wine of the evening, but maybe not the best.

I was holding my breath about the von Strasser, because the once-yummy '94 and '96 have gone dog-breath bretty, but wow! This bottle was brilliant -- fruit galore, a hint of crushed rocks and just enough brett to bring out a bouquet of violets. Saved some for dessert and it was still gathering strength. Rudy's ears must have been burning as we marveled.

The Phelps Eisele was voted wine of the evening and I have no problem with that. Didn't find it quite as lengthy as the Dominus and von Strasser. My next to last bottle -- I have no '91 Araujo left, but would love to do the two Eiseles head to head some evening.

Some tasters found the Peter Michael too influenced by oak, and I think they're wrong. The sweetness and cherry flavors are just the way this wine tastes year after year. People who say Les Pavots is too low in acid to age should have been here tonight. Is this the first wine from this vineyard? How old were the vines?

Mondavi Reserve showed true to form -- utterly classic Cal Cab with blackcurrant, black cherry, a hint of pipe smoke, sweet peppers. No faults to find here, but didn't quite have the oomph of some others this evening.

Montelena was pretty much exactly as expected. Deep, dark and quite generous, it could be my favorite of all Montelenas. This particular bottle out-powered all but the Dominus and von Strasser, but lacked complexity compared to its peers.

I've had better bottles of '91 Forman, which had to be decanted because the cork was too crumbly to be extracted. An hour passed before we got around to drinking it, and by then it had lost fruit. Too bad. I've got a few more and must retaste sit oon.

OVERALL TAKE: I was chuffed to find them all doing so well, haunted that the Hillside was corked (you could taste tons of fruit below the TCA) and the Forman imperfect. Except for the Forman, Phelps and Montelena, these were my last bottles, and I was happy to see the bins go out with a bang.


Jonesing for Bordeaux

(October 19, 2009) You say you're discovering other regions? You're telling me Spain is the main thing these days? You stammer sweet nothings about Argentina, Greece, Portugal? Pah! You know you're still in love with Bordeaux.

If you won't admit it, I'll man up to it. When the dollar dived, Bordeaux broke my heart and sold her charms to higher bidders -- in Shanghai, Bangalore, Singapore, I don't know and she doesn't care! And maybe they'll treat her nice, bed her down in sexier cellars than I could afford, but I tell you what. They don't, won't, can't possibly love her like I do.

And maybe my cellar won't ever get photographed for Wine Spectator, but it's mine, all mine. And I've got memories like last Saturday's. They can't take that away from me:

**-1990 Lynch-Bages takes her time opening up and casting off earthy, decayed notes. By evening's end, she's offering up the cassis, blueberry and herbs I remember from previous dates. Going through an awkward stage?  Still has considerable oomph.

**+1999 Pichon Baron is the surprise star of the evening. Seemed light on release, but has taken on weight and explodes with flavor tonight. Cedar, tobacco, blackberry, classic Pauillac in its prime. The remainder of the bottle tasted just as good if not better the next night. Drink now and for the next few years. No reason to hold back.

**1999 Peter Michael Les Pavots is the ringer this evening. Biggest wine of the evening, but carries its weight and alcohol beautifully. Oak more noticeable here than in the other two, but that's okay. Olive, berries, cocoa and anise figure among the flavors. Drink now. 


Back in the High Life

(October 19, 2009) Many wine folk I know have trimmed back their buying, but we've still got stuff squirreled away that wants drinking. A recent weeknight get-together gave us reason enough to open:

**1995 Jean Gros Vosne Romanee Clos des Reas. You don't need a pukka palate to nail this as Burgundy in a blind tasting. It's got grace and layers of flavor, initial earthiness giving way to raspberries and minerals. Drink now if you got it and enjoy.

***2000 Marcassin Pinot Noir Blue Slide also announces itself loud and clear, and I'm loving every syllable. When the fruit struts onstage, you gasp, you grin -- you wonder if its too gosh-darned beautiful to have any talent -- then, tada! It ties on its tap shoes and dances its way into your sense-centers, demanding more devotion with each eager sip. Call me crass for picking this over the Burg, but I defies ya to taste both and do any different.


Full Disclosure

(October 6, 2009) In response to new F.T.C. regulations, I hereby reveal that no one has sent me any free wine to review for years (sigh). For what it's worth, I also believe that these new regs, however well intended, are a violation of First Amendment rights and expect them to be challenged in court by some better-heeled and more cantankerous blogger than yours truly.

For a well-reasoned critique of this very dangerous infringement of free speech on the Internet -- and a spirited string of arguments from readers -- see Jeff Jarvis's rant on Buzz Machine. As Jeff so cogently puts it, "the FTC assumes – as media people do – that the internet is a medium. It’s not. It’s a place where people talk." 

Think about it. When you posted a note on your Facebook wall this morning, were you publishing? Of course not! You're talking. The FTC is asserting the right to regulate all such conversations. Next they'll be listening in on what people say to each other at Starbucks, and levying fines on liars. We fought a revolution to get out from under stuff like this. Let's it gets smacked down soon in court.


Not a curveball

(October 5, 2009) With a name like **Meander, you might expect this 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to be sinuous or curvy or kinky. Not so. It's manly, clean as a whistle, straight down the middle Napa Cab and I like it like that. Very black cherry with a trace of licorice. Talks a good game on the attack, follows it up in the middle, comes to a convincing conclusion and holds up admirably in the glass. Maybe a tad too much char on the oak for my personal taste, but if you like Beringer Reserve Cabs, you'll be one happy imbiber.