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A tale of three valleys (California, pt. 13)

[bridalveil fall](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

30 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

A relaxing morning picnic in the shadow of El Capitan (no wine; there’ll be plenty later) followed by some lazy strolling around Yosemite Village and a long peruse at the Ansel Adams store and gallery, fill what is another beautiful morning in Yosemite. This is, truly, one of the very few places we’ve been that can match New Zealand for raw natural beauty, and it’s a little difficult to leave.

120 West is closed (rockslides, sinkholes, or some other natural feature of the California paradise), and so we’re forced onto a precipitous mountain crossing on our way out of the park. It’s a beautiful, if nail-biting, road that empties into towns right out of the mythic Old West, then continues into a verdant, ranch-covered stretch of the Central Valley. Modesto is…unfortunate…but the rest is a very pleasant drive.

Burlingame, California

Sheraton Gateway SFO – A serviceable hotel with a view of the San Mateo Bridge and the San Francisco Bay – which is not, especially from this position, one of the world’s great vistas – but that is, for us, no more than a bed proximate to the airport. We’ve got social plans, and stay no longer than it takes to chill some wine in the minibar.

Redwood City, California

Bill Futornick’s house – Bill’s gatherings feature terrific food and wine, but even better conversation. Of course, precious little of it is printable, which will surprise no one who knows him.

Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” (Champagne) – Dusty dried yeast and desiccated lemon zest. Clean and gorgeous, with a silky, enticing perfume. Complex and beautiful.

Soucherie 1995 Savennières Clos des Perrières (Loire) – Botrytis? Light wet chalk and fennel pollen mark a dry, but also dried-out wine that seems like it has given itself over to mold. Stick a fork in it, because it’s done.

Baumard 1995 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – White asparagus soup studded with cauliflower. There’s a strong, musty minerality underneath, and something that seems like low-level botrytis, but a grapefruity acidity adds zip to a long, interesting finish. Very good. It’s in no danger of falling apart, but if I had any more, I’d probably drink it soon; the balance of elements seems pretty appealing at this stage.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat peach syrup, earth and pectin with almonds on the finish. Chunky. I suspect this wine’s greatest flaw is its company at this moment…higher-acid, leaner wines that make this seem heavier than it is.

Amido 2004 Tavel Les Amandines (Rhône) – Smooth orange, rose petal and strawberry leaf. Despite Tavel’s fame, I’m rarely much of a fan; ponderousness and/or obviousness are the flaws shared by most of what I’ve tasted, and then there’s the prevailing alcohol issue with southern French rosés. But none of those problems are in evidence here. Quite nice.

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2002 Touraine Gamay (Loire) – Herb-infused earth and white pepper with a powdery texture. This wine reminds me of the same producer’s sauvignon in its dominance of terroir over variety, but it’s a little more varietally recognizable than the sauvignon; the gamay shows through with bright, red-fruited acidity. There’s good aging potential here, and I think the wine would benefit from more of it.

Lafarge 1998 Volnay “Vendanges Sélectionnées” (Burgundy) – Tannic, with red cherry and walnut peeking from beneath the iron maiden. There’s potential, perhaps, but wow is this tight, and I wonder if it will ever fully resolve.

Hudelot-Noellat 1999 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Tight but gorgeous, with crisp balance and a lovely finish of surpassing length. There’s not much “fruit” as such, at least not at the moment, but one can almost feel it lurking in the background. Stay tuned.

Boutin “Château La Roque” 1995 Pic Saint-Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – Horse sweat and mustiness. Tight, tough and very, very hard. I’d hoped that after eleven years, this would be a little more engaging, but no such luck. Is it still closed, or dying? I’m at a loss.

Terrabianca 1990 “Campaccio” (Tuscany) – Red and green bell peppers, thick, dark cherries and herbs. The wood isn’t at all apparent, and this appears to be resolving towards something reminiscent of an urban Saumur-Champigny, though the finish is a bit more acrid than one would like. Still, for a super-anything, it’s fairly unspoofulated.

TN: Carr talk

Joseph Carr 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – A charred oak mess. I don’t know if this reflects bottle variation vs. a previous bottle, or if I was just crazy at the time, but this is just ugly. (3/07)

TN: Vista print

[bottle]Sierra Vista 2003 Zinfandel (El Dorado) – Dried wild berries, thorns, brambles and briars, with a black-stone foundation. Simple, but speaking of both grape and place with clarity. (3/07)

TN: God bless North America (BWE notes)

[label]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.

De Lille 2005 “Chaleur Blanc” (Columbia Valley) – Thick with wood and ripe fig, with stone fruit and peach/apricot syrup. Good, if exceedingly heavy and even a bit ponderous, in a ripeness-above-all New World style. (2/07)

Sterling 1976 Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” (Napa Valley) – Black pepper, plum, blackberry and tobacco. Rich, complex and beautiful, with fantastic balance. Remember when Sterling actually made good wine? Anyone? (2/07)

Sterling 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” (Napa Valley) – Somewhat tired on the palate, though the nose retains its charm: tobacco and old flowers. It hardens on the finish. This wine is, unfortunately, past its drink-by date. (2/07)

Whitehall Lane 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Rich spiced plum, blackberry and ripe tannin, with a warm softness predominating. A balanced structure provides some backbone. Not bad at all. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – Simple and obvious, showing spiced nothing. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel Teldeschi (Dry Creek Valley) – Structure over fruit, with red cherry and strawberry asserting a friendlier aspect on the finish. Fair. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel Barricia (Sonoma Valley) – Structured, with dark plum, black cherry and a brooding, heavy palate. It’s long, but things turn a little sour by the end. I wonder about the future of this wine. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) – Very powdery, with graphite-dusted black cherry and blackberry. Heavy but pleasant. (2/07)

Ravenswood 2004 Zinfandel “Old Vine” (Lodi) – Dark raisin and ripe, concentrated plum and black pepper. Slightly hot, but carrying good intensity. (2/07)

[bottle]Ravenswood 2003 “Icon” (Sonoma County) – Chocolate-coated raspberry dessert (except, of course, it’s supposed to be a dry wine). Grossly overoaked, with a bitter, nasty finish. (2/07)

Ridge 2005 “Three Valleys” (Sonoma County) – Full-bodied, showing plum and burnt coconut, with a shortish finish. Good, with helpful acidity. This seems more approachable than in the past. (2/07)

Ridge 2004 Zinfandel York Creek (Napa Valley) – Strawberry and concentrated plum with good structure and balance. Fine work. (2/07)

Ridge 2003 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Dark and dusty, showing black cherry, blackberry and boysenberry. There’s an undergrowth of brambles and thorns here, and the finish – while long – is not free of wood and tar. Still, it’s otherwise balanced, and it could just be struggling with its youth right now. (2/07)

Ridge 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Quite structured, with leathery blueberry and tobacco-scented cedar. Long and balanced, with a little bit of chocolate on the finish. This would be a fine cabernet in any portfolio, though here at Ridge it pales in comparison to the Monte Bello. (2/07)

Ridge 1999 Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Leather, tobacco and blackberry with leather and a slathering of American oak. This is tightly-wound and almost pulses with energy, as exhibited on a finish that fights and claws against fading. It’s a little surprising that there’s anything to taste here, because I’d expect this to be closed tight, but it definitely shows the promise within. (2/07)

TN: Old Fogarty

[label]Fogarty 2004 Gewürztraminer (Monterey) – Still one of the best U.S. gewürztraminers, with all the lush peach/lychee/cashew oil aromas one would want, a thick texture with mild residual sugar, and a finish that wavers between clean and pleasurably sticky. It’s not complex, but it’s solidly made. (3/07)

TN: Kunde roots

[bottle]Kunde 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) – The basic Cal-cab character set, with dark fruit, some toasty wood, sludgy but ripe tannin, very little acidity and a thick, chunky texture. With air, the fruit definitely comes to the fore, and this isn’t a bad exemplar of the type by any means. But there’s also nothing new to discover here. (3/07)

TN: Less than a Jackson

[label]Kendall-Jackson 2003 Chardonnay “Vintner’s Reserve” (California) – As inoffensive as a wine can be: rote stone fruit and citrus, almost lighter than air, with vague sweetness and an utter lack of character or meaning. This is almost a work of mad genius in its predictability and inoffensiveness. But it’s still no cure for narcolepsy. (3/07)

TN: Big & tall (California, pt. 12)

[reflection](The original version, with more photos, is here.)

29 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

Mariposa Grove – The most accessible of Yosemite’s giant sequoia groves isn’t all that accessible at the moment, thanks to an inexplicably closed access road (the grove itself is still a slop of snow, water and mud, but the road is clear, and so is the parking lot). Nonetheless, the road is hikeable, and so after a morning spent admiring differently-lighted views of Yosemite Valley, and then a brief lunch near one of the park’s entrances, up (and up, and up) we trudge.

Edmunds St. John 2002 “blonk!” (Paso Robles) – Vivid wet stone fruit and white limestone dust, with faint dried meat notes, plus peach/pear skin adding a touch of pleasant bitterness to the finish. The finish is strikingly long.

In most other settings, the endless parade of majestic, ramrod-straight redwoods that litter this area would be a visual highlight. But not here, where the rich tans and incomprehensible girth of the giant sequoias dominates all else. We slog around the muddy grove, taking in most of the key sights, but in the process the sole of one of my hiking boots starts to separate, which makes walking difficult and lets water sneak into the interior of the shoe. It’s time to go.

Wawona Hotel – Tired and sole-sick (sorry), we plop down into comfortable veranda seats at this beautiful, historic hotel to have a few restorative drinks…for which we have to wait, as we’ve apparently arrived fifteen minutes before drink-serving time. What is this, France? Well, the setting makes up for it.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (California) – Hoppy and astringent. Never a favorite of mine, but the only other options are mass-market inanities.

Back at Yosemite West, we sear one of the most amazing slabs of venison I’ve ever eaten (seasoned only with black pepper and fleur de sel), add a few fresh morels, and make surprisingly quick work of what must be nearly three-quarters of Bambi. Poor deer (again: sorry).

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Heavy, dark and concentrated, with briary blackberries (in whole and juice form), good acidity and a spicy, spirituous finish. It’s excellent with food, but a bit heavy by itself.

Dönnhoff 1999 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese 19 99 (Nahe) – From 375 ml, and now open for three days. It’s still flawless, now showing molten metals at the heart of the sun (if Pink Floyd will excuse the literary license). A truly stunning wine.

TN: Lodi, lordy

[bottle]Ravenswood 2004 “Old Vine” Zinfandel (Lodi) – 14.5%. Butter (real and artificial), oak squeezings, and overroasted cherry cough syrup fruit…this wine bears the hallmarks of heat damage. In my opinion and based on long experience, the likely culprit is the store: Cambridge Wine & Spirits (formerly Mall Discount Liquors) in Cambridge, MA, which has an unfortunate history in this regard. (2/07)

TN: Happy skeleton

[label]Edmunds St. John 2004 “Bone Jolly” Gamay Noir Witters (El Dorado County) – At long last, a non-corked version of this wine. Hallelujah! And it shows exactly the qualities I’d hoped for when I stuck a half-dozen (five of which have been corked) in the cellar: big, pretty fruit maturing into a beautiful, graphite-laced structure, and finishing with delicacy and poise. (2/07)