Our eastside Tasting Group got together for our regular monthly tasting. Justin Wells a sommelier and chef, was the host of this event and picked the theme and put together a heck of a meal to enjoy with the fine wines that everyone brought. The whites were mostly uninspiring but the reds were pretty spectacular except for the two off bottles, sadly, both were Insignias. Thanks to Justin for a great choice of a theme with one of the more memorable flights in recent memory; and also for the top notch food accompaniments.
2004 Venge Spetro Blanco – Chard/SB/Marsanne – pleasant and serviceable. 86 points
2005 Scholium Project “Naucratus” Lost Slough Vineyard (Sonoma) – this was one of the more interesting white wines I have tried in the past month. Tropical notes of tangerine and white peach. On the palate this was decadent with layers of off-dry nectarine and apricot flavors delivered with a super smooth texture and a good dose of acidity to keep it all in synch. A nice discovery! 92+ points
2001 Dehlinger Estate Chardonnay – toasty vanilla and not much atypical about this “same old” CA Chard. Note to self: stop buying their Chards! 85 points
1998 Kistler Sonoma Coast – Yawn! Some really liked this a lot, I found it just a tad better than the above juice with the major difference emanating from the aromas that were very enjoyable. Smooth and balanced but too much vanilla extract. Not my style. 88 points
1992 Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet – bring back the CA stuff! Slightly green note with coconut and other tropical aromas. On the palate there was nothing nice to say. I had a sip an hour before the tasting and this was better, but still not even as good as the Kistler. 84 points
Onto the first of four red flights:
1997 Opus One – I am not a fan of this winery, the wines or the prices they sell for. That said, blind tasting is a humbling equalizer. This may just be the best Opus One I have had. Lots of folks diss on this wine, big time. I don’t care, and from this tasting ... I don't understand what's not to like. We must have had a great bottle, because EVERYONE in the group, (very diverse and a few who DO NOT almost ever drink CA reds) really liked this wine! Initially tightly wound on the nose, with a half hour in the glass, this opened nicely to offer up tobacco, mocha, tar and saddle leather. It really delivered early and often on the palate with lush plum and cassis fruit and a peppery nuance.. The tannins were soft and overall the wine was powerful with a good length to the enticing aftertaste. 94 points
1997 Mount Veeder Reserve – funky nose with a charred note, some medicinal essence and someone mentioned a lactic aroma which was spot on. Nonetheless, the flavor profile was significantly better, delivering soft and smooth, very ripe blackberry and dark cherry that was as tasty as it was texturally pleasing. I like this a lot and given the dusty, lively tannins this has a long life ahead of it. 93 points
1994 Beringer Alluvium – A wild nose on this one with spearmint, tar, cherry and chocolate and a slight plastic note too. Young and bright fruit, this seemed the youngest of the three. Its strong point was the overall harmony of the elements. Dark cherry-centric with gripping tannins and dense almost jammy fruit. My least favorite of the flight as the mid-palate was hollow and this was a bit simplistic, even though it tasted good. 89 points
2nd red flight – a nice assemblage of CA classics
1994 Dominus – I haven’t had this since November and every time I do get to drink it, I love it. I was thinking Dominus or Togni upon first sips as this was very reminiscent of an earthy Bordeaux with great fruit. Slightly green and bretty stink with some bandaid that was actually a heck of a lot more enjoyable than it sounds. This was a perfectly balanced wine that reminds me of the Haut Brion style of symmetry and approachability. Dark purple fruits are singing here with round and generous delivery. A fabulous and complex, somewhat drying finish that kept me thinking and smacking my lips. 94+ points is probably stingy here.
1994 Montelena – Not the best example of this bottling I’ve had, but it fleshed out with time. Intriguing aromas had to be coaxed and the pine resin and plum were powerful. Initially a bit Port like with a prune and plum purple profile that was supported by ripe juicy fruit and almost jammy, while showing some youth. Mild mannered and the finish was quite a bit shorter than the others in this flight. 92 points
1995 Dalla Valle – If Eric had been here, he would have let out an “OMFG” and other choice adjectives. Now this is 100% Cab and just an outstanding expression of the typicity of the grape. I loved the nose of wintergreen, cedary tobacco leaf with vibrant dark berry accents. Dense and almost chewy but brimming with power and elegance too. Multi-layered, concentrated black fruits that are stylish and providing gorgeous persistence on the loaded and ever lasting finish. This is still a baby with a great long life ahead! 96 points
3rd red flight – one of the greatest CA Cab flights I have had in a long while
1995 Dalla Valle Maya – I am glad this was not side by side with the regular bottling but since I had some still in one of my glasses, it was easy to go back for comparison sake. The 45% Cab Franc makes a significant difference stylistically and this is atypical, as Justin mentioned that Maya normally has about 75% Cab Franc, if I heard him correctly. I remember loving the ’94 a few years ago and don’t get to taste many Mayas. It smelled great on the nose which was packed with herbal, tar and somewhat grapy notes. Chewy, big and intensely structured plum and cassis fruit, this is a cellar worthy monster that is voluptuous and slutty at the same time. An extraordinary finish to boot. 95+ points
1997 Shafer Hillside Select – Jeez, lifting this bottle felt like the weight of a frickin’ bowling ball. The darkest wine of the night so far, this is a youngster and had to be a ’97. Polished aromas of coffee bean, raspberry and cocoa puffs deliver the goods early on. It’s hard to take my nose out of the glass. If you own more than one bottle, you owe it to yourself to open one soon to experience the vibrancy of this wine at this stage. Silky and sexy mouth feel this is a real babe in plum paradise with blackberry and cocoa to round out the picture. As much fun as this is to drink now, you can feel comfortable revisiting it in a decade too. Every bit as big as the ’94 and just a step or two below the ’99 SHS. 96+ points.
1996 Shafer Hillside Select – I have only had this particular vintage once before and that was part of a vertical. I don’t remember it standing out like this bottle did. A massively extracted and concentrated wine that is coming into its own, this provides all the drinking pleasure you could ask out of a CA Cab with a decade of age on it. I preferred it to the ’97 and again, this was being tasted blind. I started out with 96 points and upgraded my score to 98 points by the end of the night, as I kept this in my glass and it kept changing, for the better. The structure was a bit more solid and the tannins showed more prominently than the above wine. The nose was crazy with chocolate malted milkballs, cassis and black currants swirling and evolving over hours in the glass. This was more muscular and showy than the ’97 with an even longer finish, if that is possible. 98 points and clearly my RWOTN
4th flight – I expected the best was saved for last and had no idea how the heck it would surpass the last flight. Simply … it didn’t have a chance.
1997 Insignia – CORKED and tears were shed when we found out what it was. Underlying the TCA there was some really beautiful fruit but the nose and palate just were not right and all agreed. Damn!
1994 Insignia – I knew this was coming to the party and realized it was in the last flight when it did not show up earlier. Sadly, this was an off bottle. I love this wine every single time, until now. There was a distinct Ajax cleanser aroma which was distracting and it was bolstered by some nice anise and high toned Eucalyptus. On the palates it was lighter than any ’94 Insig I have ever tasted and showed some coffee, plum and blueberry flavors. Something just wasn’t right. I gave it a 92 point score, but it really deserves a n/r!
1997 Pride Claret – I thought this was some type of a ringer. This seemed to be a much lighter bodied wine, although in reality it was medium weight. (Insignias not included) It was certainly less extracted than almost any other red this evening. It also lacked the density and concentration of fruit that the others all showed. A brown sugar note along with some dusty black cherry made for a complex aromatic profile. I appreciated the approachability of this wine and it showed very good balance with bright acidity that stood out. Yet with all the great Cab based wines we had, this paled in comparison to almost all the others. 92 points
We had a number of dessert wines, some forgettable while the ones here were worth noting and Justin had made a great pear tartlet from scratch, which was outstanding. It was designed to pair with:
1989 Schloss-Schonborn Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Auslese Riesling – Amber with a touch of petrol but more so, beeswax and over-ripe pineapple delivered an ultra-complex and ethereal nose. This wine was at its apogee and was uncorked at the perfect stage of life. Elegant and actually delicate in its light bodied presence palate. Just slightly lacking the zingy acidity that would have raised the bar and my point score by 2-3 points. Nonetheless this was a delicious German seductress. 94 points
1981 Hopler Noble Reserve – I have had a few of these recently and this was the best showing, yet still not that great. Some burned sugar, apricot and an orange marmalade note provided a better nose than this delivered on the palate. Light in body and acid, the flavor profile was good but devoid of the structure necessary after the Auslese above. 89 points
1950 Barbeito “Faja dos Padres” Terrantez Madeira – I loved this rarity. I’ll let others comment, as my formal tasting note will encompass a week’s worth of tasting this bottle.