Browse Tag


Sergeant Schultz

Klinker Brick 2005 Zinfandel “Old Vine” (Lodi) – 15.5%. Soupy oak and the harsh burn of Scotch, spice, and not much identifiable as fruit…mostly a browned-out anonymity that might, once, have been grapes. (6/08)

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: 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: A silent confrontation (California, pt. 7)

[cable car in Chinatown]

Send me a cable

25 April 2006 –San Francisco, California

Ocean Pearl (781 Broadway) – This is a dive in every imaginable way, with tilting tables and leaking teacups (not that it much matters, because the tea is lousy). Potstickers are constructed and served like spring rolls – a new experience for me, and one I don’t think is to their gustatory benefit – and salt & pepper squid have good flavor but are overly doughy. On the other hand, a plate of spicy jellyfish is simple and tasty. Everything here is dirt-cheap, and I suppose you get what you pay for. English is barely spoken, and not well-understood either.

VinoVenue – A “concept” that seems to have spread to a lot of places, wherein one buys a sort of debit card and inserts it into machines that dispense tastes of wine. They’re tiny tastes, and something about this whole venture strikes me as profoundly antisocial, but there is an actual bar at one end, with seats and a real live bartender. Plus, proximity to the Moscone Center can’t hurt business.

The wines – several dozen of them – are categorized, albeit haphazardly, into general substations based on color, region, variety, obscurity, and price. And the per-taste prices are just uneven enough that one will inevitably be left with insufficient funds at the end of a tasting session…which is no doubt designed to encourage “recharging” of one’s debit card.

Cullen 2003 “Ephraim Clarke” (Margaret River) – A sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. There’s sweat-covered grass and good acid up front – this attack is being led almost exclusively by the semillon – and a thick, long finish that’s full and luscious in a highly floral way. If there’s a criticism, it’s that everything ends on the goopy side. But it’s a pretty good wine nonetheless.

Coyne 2002 Grenache “Old Vines” (Lodi) – Confected bubblegum, dill-infused blueberry syrup, and toast with wood-flavored jam. Blech.

Stonecutter 2003 Pinot Noir (Martinborough) – Soft plum, tomato (perhaps tamarillo would be more accurate, though there’s no citrus), and golden beet with good acidity and a long, spicy finish that, eventually, turns vegetal and sour. This is just an odd wine.

Hochar 1995 Musar (Bekaa Valley) – Well-spiced earth of terrific complexity, paired with mixed peppercorns and a stunning black truffle core. Delicious, elegant, and certainly ready to drink…though I don’t think holding it will do any damage either.

Havens 2002 “Black & Blue” (Napa Valley) – A cabernet sauvignon/syrah blend, and dreadfully, painfully corked.

It’s this final wine that assures I will never return to VinoVenue. That the wine is corked is immediately obvious…the fruit isn’t just obscured, it’s buried in a thick, moldy reek. I bring my glass to the clerk at the front desk, who shrugs and directs me to one of the bartenders. I hand him my glass.

[street & Coit Tower]

The white tower

“I think this is corked.”

He waves the glass in the general direction of his nose for far less than a second. “Nope.”

I frown. “I’m sure it is. It smells like it, and there’s absolutely no other aromas.”

He shakes his head.

This is getting nowhere. So, I attempt a bargain. “Look, the wine’s almost empty at the dispenser. Open another one, we’ll compare the two, and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If I’m right, though, I think you should credit the taste.”

He simply turns away. No further conversation is invited.

A few minutes later, as I’m pondering whether or not to escalate my complaint, the bartender reappears, a toothy grin that looks like more of a skull’s grimace pasted on his face. He’s carrying a glass. “This is what a corked wine smells like,” he says, presenting the liquid.

I sniff. He’s not wrong. But the Havens is far more deadened than this wine. At this point, I’m irritated, and say so. “It is corked. But it’s not as corked as the Havens. I do know how to identify corked wines. So are you going to replace it, or not?” For the second time, he just turns away. Apparently, non-confrontation is the service standard here.

Not that I’ll ever find out. Because I won’t be back.

Slanted Door – In need of a restorative (or perhaps purgative) wine experience, but with limited time before dinner, I power walk to the Embarcadero, in search of a wine bar that I know won’t ever let me down. And it doesn’t, as a grab the last seat in a restaurant that’s already getting very, very busy with early diners.

Prudhon 2001 St-Aubin “1er Cru” “Sur le Sentier du Clou” (Burgundy) – Lovely and elegant, with earth-flecked loam and lurking raspberry. The wine’s a bit of a structural chameleon, with good acid and tannin up front, a quick, sun-drenched brightening, then the emergence of a deeper, basso undertone, before finally softening once more on the finish. Air tightens the wine. It’s good now, but after a disappointing stage as it closes down it’s likely to be very pretty at full maturity.

[Italian products]

Where’s the prazhoot?

Delfina – It’s time to try another of San Francisco’s small Cal-Ital meccas (is that a horribly cross-cultural descriptor, or what?), and the Mission’s Delfina is next on my list. It’s absolutely packed, and the sort of “scene” that just screams SF, with same-sex and mixed-sex couples making out all around us, then sort of making out with their food. Wine flows like a river. We squeeze into the bar and order a few glasses to start.

Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (Veneto) – Fun citrus and sweet flower nectar with grapefruit and ripe melon. Aromatic and succulent. Terrific prosecco.

Unti 2003 Syrah (Dry Creek Valley) – Heavy, dark and thick fruit fighting through thick wood and thick (though ripe) tannin. Did I mention something about thickness? There are good raw materials here, and I suspect long ageability is a given, but the sludge is so heavy that it’s a chore to drink.

The food is fabulous…at least, most of the time. Artichokes done in the Jewish-Roman style with mint and lemon, a straight-from-the-sea salt cod dish, and a stunning, pure essence of cauliflower soup are the standouts from the first course, a giant platter of Tuscan pork ribs is carnivorous heaven, and gnocchi are absolutely flawless in their pillowy chew. The only letdown among the savory courses is a wan Dungeness crab salad, though it’s still better than dessert: a misguided buttermilk panna cotta with candied kumquats, which lacks both harmony and any appealing tastes.

Anselma 1993 Barolo (Piedmont) – Bitter tannin overwhelms fully-resolved fruit, leaving some dried rose petals and rough, sun-baked red cherries in its wake. Hanging on, but only just, and not that interesting of a wine.

Theresa opts for an oolong tea that arrives grossly oversteeped, while I delve into the stranger side of the dessert wine list.

Contini 1996 Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva (Sardinia) – Like dry oloroso Sherry, flat and austere with dark molasses residue. Very, very different. I’m initially repelled, but by the last sip it starts to grow on me.