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tasting notes


Lageder “Tòr Löwengang” 2004 Pinot Bianco Haberlehof (Alto Adige) – Stunning, intense and pure. Dried white winter fruit ground to a micropowder, with powerful glacial minerality and a long, vibrant finish. Really amazing.

The Alto Adige is one of the most beautiful wine regions on the planet, with sheer, ice-capped mountains and cliffs sheltering warm valleys, and vines trussed up steep hillsides; some of these sites may well require a Sherpa at harvest time. Since there’s no real restriction on what can and can’t be made under the appellation laws, there’s no signature identity of the region except the one you might expect: a stern, mineral-driven austerity indicative of both the climate and the hybrid Italian/Austrian culture. When it fails, one is merely left with a severe, overly-restrained wine. When it succeeds, as in the rest of the Germanic wine world, it succeeds brilliantly. This wine, from older (for pinot bianco) vines at 1500 feet and aged with the very slightest touch of new wood (which here shows more oxidative than flavor-deforming), is an unquestioned success. Importer: Lageder USA. Alcohol: 13%. Web:


Château d’Estoublon 2001 Les Baux de Provence (Provence) – Very advanced for its age, with somewhat baked red fruit, earth-toned spice box aromas and a structure that’s starting to fray at the seams.

Les Baux de Provence is known for its beauty and for the Michelin-starred restaurant L’ Oustaù de Baumanière. What it’s not very well known for are its wines. And that’s an odd thing to say, considering that a very well-known wine indeed – Domaine de Trévallon – is produced within the appellation’s borders. The problem with Trévallon is that it exceeds the legal limit for cabernet sauvignon (a debatable limitation on the region’s wines), yet again relegating an appellation’s best producer to vin de pays status. When will the French learn? 30% grenache, 30% syrah, 30% mourvèdre, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Importer: Ruby Wines. Organic. Web: Alcohol: 13.5%.

White roussanne (hold the vodka)

Tablas Creek 2002 Roussanne (Paso Robles) – Varietally restrained and hiding under its (fairly moderate) oak aromatics at the moment, with a weighty, thick texture (though there’s pleasant enough acidity) and a long, heavy finish that shows faint hints of crystallization. This wine has a better future than a present.

Of the well-known trio of white Rhône Valley grapes (I say “well-known” because others – grenache blanc, bourboulenc, etc. tend to get lost in the shuffle), roussanne is by far the least appreciated. It lacks the honeyed floral charm of viognier and the boisterous fruit of marsanne, instead showing an austere, fabric-like texture that’s rather forbidding. It does age, but even then it’s not exactly an easygoing, beginners’ wine. Here, Tablas Creek (the California venture of Beaucastel’s Perrin family and their American importer, Robert Haas) separates some roussanne from their white blends for a varietal wine; a useful and educational comparison can currently be done with the 2004 version of this wine (from the same site) that’s vinified by Steve Edmunds at Edmunds St. John. The ESJ, unsurprisingly, is crisper and uninfluenced by oak, while the Tablas shows less skin bitterness and more generosity (a relative term, in this case). Both, however, show raw materials worth aging and further examination, and both show that while Tablas Creek is doing admirable work in the cellar, it is perhaps in the vineyard that they are making their greatest strides. (Alcohol: 14.3%. Web:

Kritt-ical thinking

Kreydenweiss 2001 Gewurztraminer Kritt “Les Charmes” (Alsace) – Succulent ripe pear and lychee dust with vivid crystalline minerality and lovely acidity. Poised, flavorful and balanced. Built for the long haul.

Lyrical fish

Zaccagnini 2004 Colline Pescaresi “il bianco di Ciccio” (Abruzzi) – Vivid, ripe green leaves and wood-smoked minerality. Intense and somewhat neon, with a powerful backpalate and a forceful, balanced finish.

Megan 2001 Lirac “Les Queyrades” (Rhône) – Sweaty leather, dark blackberry residue, black dirt and meat oil. Classic and pure, though the finish is perhaps a bit shorter than one would want.

Mescladis…without the worm

Mas de Périé “Domaine Clavel” 2004 Côteaux du Languedoc Terroir de la Mejanelle “Mescladis” (Languedoc) – This, since it’s not apparent from the name, is a rosé. Slurpy red fruit with lavender-scented aromatics. The nose promises much, but the palate fails to deliver.

Closing the Bookwalter

J. Bookwalter 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley) – Chocolate and eucalyptus – not as awful as it sounds – in a rich, big-fruited, reasonably balanced and well-made wine that I don’t care for one bit. Too anonymous for me.

Simmern over low heat

von Simmern 2002 Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 010 03 (Rheingau) – Fresh liquid steel and succulent honeysuckle, quite sweet and ripe (well into spätlese territory, it seems), with a long and lovely balance to the finish. Really beautiful, youthful, and endlessly promising.

The cab is always greener…

Like all wine lovers, I have my likes and dislikes, and the wines I choose to buy reflect those choices. And like most wine lovers, I don’t much care for drinking bad wines. What’s fun, though, is crossing over to the “other side,” and tasting (mostly) well-made wines that fit the preferences of those with decidedly different tastes.

A recent holiday party gave me the opportunity to do just that. Below are some quick takes — I didn’t take formal notes at the event — on a lineup of wines that, with one or two exceptions, aren’t likely to make regular appearances in my glass.

Lafond 2003 Sancerre (Loire) – Reedy green citrus and grassy notes, though with the skin bitterness and lowish acidity characteristic of the vintage. In the context of many truly awful 2003 Sancerres, this one is actually half-decent.

la Poussie 2003 Sancerre (Loire) – Heavy, green, bitter, and acid free. See above.

Ladoucette 2003 Pouilly-Fumé (Loire) – Gorgeous, silky fruit with earthy elegance and the first stirrings of complexity. Beautifully balanced and long. I could drink this all night.

Paul Hobbs 2003 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) – Simple and spicy peach, pear, citrus and white fig-like fruit with moderate oak spice and a reasonable dollop of acidity. Pretty decent, though chardonnay’s still not exactly my favorite grape in the world.

Belle Pente 2002 Pinot Noir Belle Pente (Willamette Valley) – Gorgeous, silky fruit with earthy elegance and the first stirrings of complexity. Beautifully balanced and long. I could drink this all night.

Relic 2002 Pinot Noir Alder Springs (Mendocino County) – Forceful pinot noir, dense and throbbing with heavy, leaden black and red fruit, plus streaks of plummy orange rind that make me think of an especially heavy Central Otago pinot. This will be very popular with some, and it’s not a bad wine, but I much prefer the Belle Pente.

Fanti 1998 Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany) – Luscious, clove-spiced baked berries with not-insignificant oak and a relatively balanced finish. There could be less technology and wood thrown at this, and it would improve, but it’s a nice drink in its present form.

Brancaia 2003 “Il Blu” IGT Toscana (Tuscany) – The sangiovese is, as usual, overwhelmed by cabernet and merlot, but that said there’s merit to the wine; internationalized it is, indeed, but there’s plenty of juicy and fun fruit here.

Gaja 2001 “Magari” IGT Toscana (Tuscany) – Weedy bell pepper and seed pepper dust. There are interestingly floral aromatics, but the palate is disappointing, and a long finish doesn’t mean much when the flavors aren’t that pleasant.

Thomas Fogarty 2001 “Skyline” (California) – Massively overwooded and underripe at the same time. Horrid.

Tor 2003 Syrah Durell “Clone No. 1” (Carneros) – Incredibly thick and dense…a sort of chocolate-and-oak shake…and varietally anonymous. Kind of a waste of the raw materials, but certainly destined for popularity amongst the bigger-is-better crowd.

The young and the fruitless

“I want to gather together to drink dead whites.”

Fearing some sort of stealth Black Panther rally, I rubbed my eyes and re-read the email. “Unusual whites,” it actually read. Oh, OK. That’s better.

The call had gone out from the Rajah of Rioja, the Master of Moose, the man that puts the salt in cod, the Humbert-Humbert of Hamburger, Mighty Young Joe, Mr. Roll Bar, the man that keeps exotic upholstery manufacturers in business…many know him as Joe “I’m-not-the-lead-guitarist-of-Aerosmith” Perry…to assemble on a tiny island off Boston’s North Shore for the imbibing of whites that were, in Joe’s words, “off the beaten track.”

“What do you mean by that?” I queried.

“You know, no popular whites. No riesling, no gewürztraminer, no chenin…”

“Chenin is popular?!?

“Well, what I’m thinking is…”

“Gewürztraminer is popular?!?

“Oh, you know what I mean.”

A resigned sigh. “Yes, I think I do. You want to drink oxidized whites from Spain.”

“And the Rhône. Don’t forget the Rhône.”

“Oh, no. How could I?”

…continued here.