Easton 2006 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Comes in columns, with separation and little integration, of sweet black fruit, pepper-spice, wild-eyed – almost olive-like, though the wine doesn’t taste of olives – brininess, and minor structure. The finish is shorter than usual, and there’s a significant final chord of vanilla. This might just need a little bit of time to knit, but I think it’s not quite the wine it has been in recent years. (7/08)
Sobon Estate 2005 Zinfandel “Hillside” (Amador County) – 14.5%. Good, basic Amador zin flavors…wild, tiny, dark berries and a gnarly, twisted texture burned into some remote, grassy, sun-drenched hillside…with little in the way of complexity or nuance. Sometimes, that’s all you want. (5/08)
Montevina “Terra d’Oro” 2001 Zinfandel “SHR Field Blend” (Amador County) – 15%. The initial burst is oak, followed by over-toasted vanilla and then some tortured, mangled, and blackened fruit residue. Eventually, it calms down enough to be unpleasantly drinkable, but the damage remains clear on the face. This just isn’t very good. (4/08)
Easton 2006 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Perhaps an off bottle. If not, a rather dramatic stylistic left turn. The nose is quite volatile, then a breath of coconut precedes a crisp, light, tangled and gnarly palate of thin vines and biting, early-picked acidity. I like it (once that volatility blows away), but it’s certainly not what I expect from either Amador or Easton. (4/08)
Easton 2006 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Reliably fruity and vine-y, its twisty palate a result of grapes that have been goofing around rather than studying Dadaism. There’s very little a zin should have that’s not present here, and while it’s fairly straightforward, it holds on to a varietal purity that grows increasingly rare in these days of tricked-and-tarted volume wines. (12/07)
Karly 2003 Zinfandel “Buck’s Ten Point” (Amador Country) – 14.5%. Tight, dried-berry Amador wildness; call it blackened zin without the Cajun spicing. Fruit tends towards blackberry and other less common, tiny and slightly bitter berries, with a slight whiskey burn that somehow doesn’t offend. It lacks ambition, but it’s tasty enough. (8/07)
Montevina “Terra d’Oro” Zinfandel “Port” (Amador County) – The usual late-harvest zin problem with overwhelming volatile acidity has been mostly tamed here, though there is a remnant. Perhaps the zin wasn’t all that late-harvest to begin with; certainly it has softer, lusher, more red-berried aromas than one would expect from Amador. Somewhat lugubrious, but pleasant enough. (8/07)
Van Volxem 2002 Saar Riesling 01 03 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Gorgeously-textured silk paper with the thinnest possible coating of lime honey and a fine-grained granitic surface. The power is obvious at first, though it does recede at an accelerated pace, and this is not a wine for the long haul. (8/06)
Run by the incomprehensibly-named Roman Niewodniczanski, this is an estate with lots of creative ideas about wine. There are successes and there are failures, but certainly no one can say the property is dull. Age – as with this wine – helps clarify some of the notions that Mr. N. is pursuing, because some of his fresh-off-the-bottling-line efforts can be a little obscure. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Theise. Web: http://www.vanvolxem.de/.
JJ Prüm 1999 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 3 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Better than a previous encounter, with an old-riesling cream supported by dusty, post-windstorm summer leaves and a baked, country road strewn with gravel. Still, it’s definitely on the downslope. (8/06)
One of the better vineyards of the Mosel, producing wines that are usually on the fruitier side in their youth. And, unlike so many of its modern brethren, this feels like it should actually be labeled kabinett…rather than spätlese or, heaven forfend, even auslese. Alcohol: 8.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.jjpruem.com/.
von Hövel 2005 Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett 9 06 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Sweet melon and crisp, ripe engineered apple (by which I mean, one of those Honeycrisp-type breeds) with acidity and intensity, but not much cut or integration. It’s awfully young, so there’s still time, but this seems more a collection of fine ideas than a unified theory. (8/06)
Unquestionably one of the great vineyards of Germany, though the site is perpetually underutilized by many (most?) growers. The best wines have an impressive complexity that is maintained through a long aging curve. Alcohol: 9.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.weingut-vonhoevel.de/.
von Simmern 2004 Hattenheimer Nußbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 009 05 (Rheingau) – Sweet-tart key lime and shattered quartz crystal minerality with raw steel and a subdued, but solid, structure hanging out in the background. Promising, though there’s the threat of a heavy metal drone looming in the subaudible. (8/06)
The 1893 labels on this estate’s wines are perfect examples of how to make an already-unfamiliar wine completely unidentifiable. Which is a shame, because the wines are really terrific across the range. And “thanks” to a rough patch a short while back, they’re also relatively underpriced for their quality. Not that much in Germany is exactly overpriced in that regard. Alcohol: 11%. Closure: cork. Importer: Carolina. Web: http://www.langwerth-von-simmern.de/.
Sokol Blosser “Evolution” 9th Edition (America) – Off-dry, floral, fruity and fun, though it’s flabbier than a sea lion and sorta flops around in the glass. Cocktail wine, without question. (8/06)
Riesling, müller-thurgau, pinot gris, sémillon, muscat, gewurztraminer, sylvaner, pinot blanc and chardonnay. When this wine was first introduced, it was “Evolution #9.” I suspect Apple (the music publisher, not the computer/iPod manufacturer) had something to say in response, because it’s not called that anymore. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.evolutionwine.com/.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2005 Touraine “Cuvée Gamay” (Loire) – Bitterly tannic when first opened, though this quickly recedes under the impetuous crescendo of graphite-tinged wild cherry and rose hip fruit. There’s an almost vibrant sense of possibility here, though it buzzes and dances just out of perception for the moment, and the structure of the wine is, other than a slight gravitational tug towards the tannic, very nice. (8/06)
Gamay is so delicately malleable in the soils of Beaujolais that it’s almost certain to do wonderfully expressive things elsewhere. Yet it remains so relentlessly unhip that few are much moved to try. This isn’t to say that there’s not a lot of non-Beaujolais gamay elsewhere in France – there is – just that most of it’s fairly mediocre. Here, for example, is a delightfully different take on the grape from the soils of the Touraine. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Peillot 2003 Vin du Bugey Mondeuse (Ain) – Spiced blackberry soda, with blueberry skin and slashing razors of sharp herbs, tar dust and grillchar. Yet it’s full-bodied enough to withstand these rendings, and fills the room with delicious, pulsating fruit. A true success. (8/06)
See previous note for more on this wine. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Briary wild berry fruit and vanilla-coconut wood, with the suggestion more than the actual presence of firming structure…yet the wine is neither soft nor out of balance (for a zin). Good, early-drinking stuff. (8/06)
Darling Cellars “Onyx” 2002 “Noble Late Harvest” (Groenekloof) – Beautiful old honey and nut paste in a toasty-spicy cream. Extremely sweet, though buoyed by a fair sense of acidity, with rich sunset browns, oranges and golds lingering on the succulent finish. Gorgeous. (8/06)
100% botrytis-affected chenin blanc, 240 g/l residual sugar. Though it’s made from chenin, and should thus theoretically be more akin an ultra-late harvest Côteaux-du-Layon or Vouvray, the actual model here is Sauternes…most easily seen via the oak aging that lends much of the spice to this wine. In truth, many grapes respond well to this treatment, though few can reach the standalone heights of botrytized chenin in its native state. This is not to suggest that the winemaker missed the boat here (especially since the wine is terrific), only that alternative expressions are possible and might be worth exploring. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Loest & McNamee. Web: http://www.darlingcellars.co.za/.
Kanu 2004 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Softly enticing, with hints of chalk dusting subdued pineapple, apricot and Meyer lemon flavors. A lovely, simple summer sipper. Just a bit off-dry, but it comes off as more of a softening element, rather than actual sweetness. (6/06)
This is the point where wine writers inevitably say something like “chenin blanc is traditionally known as ‘steen’ in South Africa.” Well, it’s not untrue, but in reality almost no one actually calls it that anymore. Why do we keep repeating this cliché? Inertia, most likely. Anyway, there’s a teensy bit of chardonnay in this wine, but not enough to notice. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Cape Classics. Web: http://www.kanu.co.za/.
Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – A hefty lumberjack of a wine (not to suggest overwooding, though wood is definitely present), showing thick and somewhat feral dark fruit lightened by sticky red cherries and then counter-weighted with a dense, intensely “winy” texture. Nice, and a good value, but not for the faint of heart. (6/06)
Winemaker Bill Easton is a great guy, I’ve played golf with him, and I like both him and his wines a lot…but when he calls this “cru Beaujolais-styled” (as he does on his web site), I have to wonder if he’s been in Amador – where the wines are men and the sheep are nervous – a little too long. Beaujolais on anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and a ten year weight training regimen, maybe. In any case, this retains classic wild-vine Amador character without the rough edges exhibited by so many other wineries in the region; the tradeoffs are a little less fiery exuberance and a little more slickness, but that’s a fair price to pay. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.terrerougewines.com/.
Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Second note, same as the first. (Does anyone remember Herman’s Hermits?) (6/06)
Ditto the write-up. This is a remarkably consistent wine. The screwcap undoubtedly helps that: a reliable wine presented exactly the way the winemaker intended, without all the inevitable cork-induced variability. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Davies & Co. Web: http://www.tohuwines.co.nz/.
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – And again with the reliability. This is a good wine that’s just not worth extensive re-notation, especially when all the notes start to read the same. (6/06)
This would make a good “house wine,” especially for the budget-conscious, but one of its strengths is that it’s just a little bit better than that. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/.