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s p a r k l i n g

Argyle 1998 Knudsen Brut (Willamette Valley) – On the off-dry side, or so it seems – it could just be the extremely ripe fruit, which tends towards pear, grapefruit and strawberry – with a thick texture. There’s a bit of brioche, and a counterpoint of shaved Buddha’s hand pith. It’s a nice bubbly, but I think it could use some more age, to tame the rather exuberant fruit. (3/07)

Westport Rivers 2001 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Leaner than previous vintages, with light toasty/leesy aromas sizzling under a wan apple and walnut palate. Finishes a bit flat. (3/07)

Argyle 2003 Brut Rosé (Willamette Valley) – Spiced, aged strawberry and raspberry with blended apples and tightly-wound acidity followed by a mélange of spices. There’s significant weight here (not surprising for a varietal pinot noir), but it’s never heavy or overpowering. This is complex and interesting, in a way that few New World sparklers are. (2/07)

Westport Rivers 1999 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Tastes strongly of tonic water and mineral salts, with grapefruit and some aged, yeasty creaminess lurking in the background. This has always been a bit odd and slightly disjointed, and age doesn’t seem to be helping. Look for other vintages. (8/06)

Argyle 2001 Brut (Willamette Valley) – Frothy. Tart citrus and more lurid tropical notes dominate a wine playing host to a war between simplicity and goofiness. It’s pleasant, but easily forgotten. (7/06)

Argyle 2001 Brut (Willamette Valley) – 53% chardonnay, 48% pinot noir. Soft grapefruit, geranium and banana with notes of too-old papaya and carambola. Too fluffy and imprecise. (7/06)

Argyle 1998 Blanc de Blancs (Willamette Valley) – Clean and crisp, showing mixed apples and great balance between sharp fruit and bracing acidity. Essence of walnut emerges on the finish. A very nice wine, with medium-term aging potential. (7/06)

Argyle 1998 Knudsen Brut (Willamette Valley) – 70% pinot noir. Full-bodied for a bubbly, showing strawberries and leaves with apple skins. It’s nicely structured, and in this respect acts more like a still wine made from pinot, but there’s also the elegance and sophistication of a fine sparkling wine. A fine particulate softness suffuses the wine, which has balance and length to spare. Marvelous (7/06).

Argyle 2003 Brut Rosé (Willamette Valley) – Raspberry, mango and strawberry in a bit of a fruit explosion, but there’s minerality underneath (mostly graphite), and a perfect, dry-but-not-desiccated finish. Terrific stuff. (7/06)

Argyle 2003 Brut Rosé (Willamette Valley) – Full and flavorful, with bouncy, energetic strawberries and a touch of potpourri layered over deeper, richer, earthier pinot notes; this is wine more than it’s sparkling, and is unquestionably the better for it. (7/06)

St. Innocent 1999 Brut (Willamette Valley) – Soft, frothy and simple sorta-fruit flavors. Not their best wine. (4/06)

Westport Rivers 2000 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Lemony and frothy, showing ripe apple and a big burst of fruit with a rather abrupt finish, but it seems to be a bigger hit at the table. The ’98 was better. (2/05)

w h i t e

Breaux 2005 Viognier (Virginia) – Somewhat confused, with faint suggestions of flowers hollowed out by a corrugated metal tube, leaving the center void and the edges uncertain. It’s not overworked, which is a blessing, but it doesn’t have much of what one drinks viognier for either. (6/07)

Navarro 2004 Chardonnay “Première Reserve” (Anderson Valley) – Balanced and clean. Bright melon and grapefruit are braced by fine acidity and a light, only mildly acrid butter tone shorn of its fat by a slight backpalate bitterness. This is no modernistic New World chardonnay, and in fact it tends a bit more towards the lean than it might. It should age for a short while, as well. (6/07)

Edmunds St. John 2006 Pinot Gris Witters (El Dorado County) – With a name switch from the Italian form, this carries certain stylistic expectations on which it doesn’t deliver. Which is not necessarily a criticism, as the following will detail. There’s honeysuckle and a flashing, floral palate full of pollen and spice. It’s weighty and a touch hot, but the balance is mostly solid, and there’s a deeply-buried foundation of sun-yellowed minerality. In other words, this is a really good Condrieu. Probably the best Condrieu made outside the region. Who could have guessed? (6/07)

Kalin 1996 Semillon (Livermore Valley) – Lightly oxidized, but in a good way, with waxy Rainier cherry, preserved citrus rind, gravel and honeysuckle slashed by cider. The density is striking, as is the acidity, but if there’s a flaw it’s that the wine is a bit hot for the form. It won’t be for everyone, but I like it. I think. (5/07)

Kalin 1990 Sauvignon Blanc “Reserve” (Potter Valley) – Flop sweat and sweet, metal-encased apples and pine. There’s a strongly insistent note of old Sherry wood as well. This draws raves from everyone but me; I think it’s very good, but that it has reached that asymptotic old wine stage where everything tastes the same. It’s not bad because it’s at that point, but it’s not declarative either. (5/07)

Silver Springs 2003 Delaware (Seneca Lake) – Served blind; I think I guess some sort of fruit wine. It would have been preferable to somehow mask the taste rather than the label, as this shows fermented lemon-lime Pixy Stix and other sticky, sour candies, and watermelon Jolly Rancher with too much sweetness and disjointed acidity. Blech. And the less said about the owner, the better. (5/07)

Tablas Creek 2005 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Soft peach and apricot up front, more lively tangerine acidity out back, and a lovely, floral overlay completes the picture. A tight ball of nutty complexity lies poised to emerge, but this is as yet some years off. Right now, it’s very primary. (4/07)

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)

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)

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)

Edmunds St. John 2001 “Los Robles Viejos” Rozet White (Paso Robles) – A bit difficult out of the gate – closed, cranky, too old or too young; it’s hard to say – but matters improve dramatically after some air. Mixed nuts (peanut, pignoli, almond, hazelnut) and slightly bitter stone fruit spike through an otherwise softly-textured midpalate, while the acidity crescendos on the finish. I don’t get the sense everything’s quite together here, but the elements are tasty even in sequence. (2/07)

Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Elegant and seemingly fully mature (though it would be a somewhat surprisingly early exit for this wine), showing blended nut oils with sun-desiccated flower and herb characteristics. It seems fat, then scratchy, then faded…it’s a little hard to figure this bottle out, and one immediately wonders if there might not be some very low-level taint or mild oxidation at work – but under the layers of difficulty there’s enough spicy, low-acid complexity to make it worth the effort. (12/06)

St. Innocent 2005 Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill (Willamette Valley) – Striking green grape and zingy, underripe apricot with fresh-cut grass and spiky acidity. It’s got a nice, clean, pure appeal, but it carries too much alcoholic heat, and as a result loses most of its claim to freshness and approachability. (12/06)

J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Maresh (Dundee Hills) – Green fruit and herbal sodas with a shattered crystalline minerality, dustings of sea salt, and a lot of exciting, almost frothy complexity along a sharp, clean finish. This is fantastic sauvignon blanc, individualistic and nervy, with structure to spare. (12/06)

Hendry 2005 Chardonnay “Unoaked” (Napa Valley) – Friendly peach, grapefruit, ripe lemon curd and apple. Deliciously appealing, and there’s plenty of bright, balancing acidity as well. Despite a well-justified fear of aging any unoaked chardonnay that isn’t from Chablis, I’d consider holding on to this just to see what happens…but then again, it’s awfully nice now. (12/06)

Sterling 2002 Chardonnay (71% Napa County / 16% Sonoma County / 13% Mendocino County) – Sweet peach, honeydew melon and orange with a pretty, albeit confected, palate presence and lots of buttery, toasty wood. Paint-by-numbers chardonnay, and tedious before the first sip has left one’s mouth. (9/06)

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)

Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Grapes grown in the desert, with beautiful mixed nut oils, dry (and dried) stone fruit and an evocative brick-red desert palette of spices. Beautifully long and balanced. Delicious wine. (8/06)

Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Mixed nut oils and dried apricots with a roasted earth and mushroom character. The wine doesn’t initially seem all that assertive, but there’s a surprising amount of power and concentration, which must eventually express itself as force. This is a very complete and impressive wine. (8/06)

Ponzi 2005 Arneis (Willamette Valley) – Floral, showing honeysuckle, ripe apricot and mango with a spicy texture. Yet despite all these yummy descriptors, the wine comes of as simple. Pleasant, to be sure, but simplistically so. (7/06)

Andrew Rich 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Croft (Willamette Valley) – Grassy, with big lime, green apple and grapefruit bursting forth on the nose and palate. It become riper and more focused on the finish, with gooseberry, lime, lemon and lemon curd dominating, yet the wine is obviously a bit of a fruit salad. And there’s an intrusive Styrofoam note throughout, the memory of which the delicious finish can’t quite obliterate. Admirable but worrisome. (7/06)

Patricia Green 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Oregon) – Citrus rind, Bosc pear, green apple and fetid armpit notes – not all that unusual for sauvignon blanc, though I don’t know that it’s ever actually welcome – with an exceedingly dry, flat finish. Not very interesting. (7/06)

Patricia Green 2005 Chardonnay “Four Winds” (Yamhill County) – Restrained with terrific acidity, showing melon, grass and lemon over a firm bedrock of limestone. The finish, though seemingly dominated by malic acid, is incredibly persistent. A terrific wine that almost mimics unoaked Chablis (not in taste, but in overall structure)…and it’s hard to believe that it’s from the U.S. I don’t know that it will age, but it’s awfully nice right now. (7/06)

J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Maresh (Dundee Hills) – Dominated by majestic quartz-like minerality, with grass, dried lemon, and apple skin. Acid and a tannic dryness compete with fine-grained minerals on the finish. Just terrific, and probably the best domestic sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted. (7/06)

J. Christopher 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Croft (Oregon) – It’s interesting to compare this with the Andrew Rich wine from the same vineyard…though I note they use different appellations. A blending issue, perhaps? This is harder-edged than both the Maresh and the Rich version of the Croft, with green apple about all that’s discernable amidst a biting wave of acidity. It probably needs some time to settle down and develop aromatics, but it is a much more uncompromising interpretation that either of its cohorts. (7/06)

St. Innocent 2004 Chardonnay Freedom Hill (Willamette Valley) – Green apple and celery; crisp and intense, with balanced acidity but a dominant simplicity. (7/06)

St. Innocent 2004 Chardonnay Anden (Willamette Valley) – Grapefruit and limestone with a drying, structured finish. Very long. This shows more complexity and character than the Freedom Hill, though it’s less pleasurable to drink in its callow youth. (7/06)

Van Duzer “Stone’s Throw” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Lake County) – Slightly fetid grass and pink grapefruit with gooseberries on the finish. The wine has a strange texture that turns gummy as it rests in the mouth. Disturbing. (7/06)

Van Duzer 2005 Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley) – Tart pear and grapefruit. Big and fruity, this tastes more like freshly-crushed grapes than wine. It’s not bad, just uninspiring. (7/06)

Argyle 2005 Riesling (Willamette Valley) – From relatively new plantings, after an outbreak of phylloxera. Lime, grapefruit and some sourness with a strange, off-putting finish. (7/06)

Argyle 2003 Chardonnay “Nuthouse” (Willamette Valley) – From the Stoller and Knudsen vineyards, with 30% seeing new oak. Sulfurous and bland, with apricot and an unmistakable coal aroma. Perhaps the barrels weren’t just toasted, but were instead blackened? Did Paul Prudhomme have a hand in this? (7/06)

Belle Pente 2005 Muscat (barrel sample) (Willamette Valley) – Dosed with sulfites just prior to our arrival, and thus showing a little oddly, but the quality is obvious. All the muscat signifiers are there – flowers, yellow plum, exotic perfume – with a striking mineral core and a long, dry finish (the wine carries just four grams of residual sugar). It might be just a bit too dry for the average muscat fan, but I think there’s obvious potential here, and would like to taste it when it’s free of the sulfites. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2003 Gewurztraminer (Willamette Valley) – Light and shy on the nose, with full, fruity orange and peach dusted with a little spice. The finish is long and equally fruity. O’Donnell seems unsure about the wine, but I think it tastes like a cold site Bas-Rhin gewurztraminer, which isn’t a bad thing at all. What it’s not is lush and full-bodied, as many people presume gewurztraminer must be. Still, it’s outclassed (in a sense) by the next wine. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2005 Gewurztraminer (barrel sample) (Willamette Valley) – From chardonnay vines grafted over to gewurztraminer (virtually the definition of a universal good), showing honeysuckle and a long, balanced and dry finish. There’s still not the overwhelming “whomp” of highly-ripe gewurztraminer in the Alsatian style, but what this wine has – and the 2003 lacks – is coherence and harmony. On the other hand, at the moment the 2003 is definitely more fun to drink. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2004 Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley) – Anise, leaves and mild residual sugar with faint minerality. The finish is long and soft. One wishes for a little more of…well, something. The wine doesn’t necessarily need size, but in its absence more nerve and clarity would be welcome. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2004 Riesling (Willamette Valley) – O’Donnell labels this wine “the upper end of halbtrocken,” and notes that some of the fruit is from the third vineyard planted in all of Oregon. It’s a beautiful, late spring wine, showing crushed slate (between which flowers are blossoming) and honey, with great acidity. The minerality expands and sharpens on the palate and throughout the finish, giving this wine the razor-edge necessary for riesling, but in a somewhat smiley-faced and more immediately appealing fashion than its Germanic ancestors. Among North American rieslings, this is near the top of its class; in the Fatherland and its oenological brethren (Unclelands?), it would be about middle of the pack. That, lest its unclear, is pretty high praise. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2003 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – Two-thirds estate fruit, spending eighteen months in barrel on the gross lees (O’Donnell calls it an “extended élevage experiment”). There’s great, spicy orange rind and candied tangerine on the nose, though the wine’s initial attack is a bit hollow. Things fill out on the midpalate, and build towards more tangerines just loaded with barrel spice and yeasty tingles. There’s even a bit of gravel. It’s very good in its idiom, though it tastes a bit more “made” than the other wines in this portfolio. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2005 Pinot Gris (Oregon) – Ripe pear and hints of wood, with a juicy, chewy, and almost salty broth of overripe grapefruit infused with a little bit of anise. Feels off-dry, though I don’t know if it is. Strange wine. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2003 Chardonnay (Oregon) – Smoked Calimyrna fig and sweaty oak with a sweet aspect countered by bitterness on the finish. The overall impression is candied and somewhat sickly, but then I’m rarely a fan of chardonnay. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2005 Riesling (Willamette Valley) – Geraniums dominate a big, floral nose, rising from a wine full of ripe apple and tangerine. It’s crisp and fun, but the finish is distressingly short. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2005 Viognier (Oregon) – Very floral, showing honeysuckle and peach with a pretty, flower-dominated finish. Gorgeous, varietally-true, and somewhat of a revelation. (7/06)

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2004 Chardonnay “Arthur” (Willamette Valley) – Tight, showing fig, grapefruit rind and a hint of dusty gooseberry on the nose. The palate is more elegant but with youthful solidity; Rainier cherry and walnut skin flavors present as dry as a desert wind. This wine is stuffed to the gills with extract, but remains wonderfully textured and balanced throughout…a quality which really emerges on the finish. This is one of the best domestic chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. (7/06)

Tablas Creek 2004 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – A rich mélange of raw, roasted and pressed-into-oil nuts, with wet grey minerality, a creamy texture, and a pleasant overlay of peach and nectarine purées. Long and structurally sound, with aging potential. (7/06)

Marcassin 2002 Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch (Russian River Valley) – Extremely thick, showing wave upon wave of yellow fig – it’s more than a little monotonal – with a hint of peach, plenty of syrupy wood, and absolutely no finish. I suspect that people who like this style of oil wine would greet this with adoration, but I do not number among those people. (7/06)

Uvaggio 2005 Vermentino (Lodi) – California vermentino? From Lodi? And yet, this is eminently pleasant, alive with intense green fruit and flowers bolstered by reasonably fair acidity. Somehow, it reminds me more of sauvignon blanc than any Sardinian or Corsican vermentino I’ve tasted, but the flavors are just different enough to set it apart. It’s no Tayerle, but it’s a clean, juicy accompaniment to briny oysters. (7/06)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2002 Chardonnay (Columbia Valley) – Nasty, fetid oak with a vile bitter streak. Horrid. (7/06)

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – This has taken on deeper, earthier, more coppered (or perhaps bronzed) characteristics with a little extra age; almost, but not quite, a sort of fetid fruit “funk” to go with the well-oiled flowerbed that is viognier. I think it’s drinking marvelously well, but it’s probably a little bit controversial at this stage, and the timid might want to approach gingerly. (Speaking of which: there’s just a hint of ginger in there. Coincidence?) (6/06)

Casa Vinicola “Tayerle” 2005 Vermentino “Troubadour Blanc” (Sonoma Coast) – Kiwifruit and grass, with a touch of Midori liqueur and a lot of fresh, briny and somewhat sticky textural elements. Decent acidity. Ever so slightly heavy, but a rather remarkable achievement in California vermentino. (5/06)

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House White” (California) – Mixed citrus with slight spiky, lime-spritzer acidity and a mildly confected finish. Good party wine, but don’t peer behind the curtain. Tasted from two bottles, with consistent notes. (5/06)

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. (4/06)

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. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Sweaty and full-bodied, showing sultry decayed flower petals and dark stone fruit; the sun beats down on this wine, but it’s a dark, eclipsed sun. It’s rich and a bit heavy, but quite tasty nonetheless. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2002 Pinot Grigio Witters (El Dorado County) – Juicy pear skins and dried leaves. Just barely rises to the level of “eh.” (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2003 Pinot Grigio Witters (El Dorado County) – An improvement, especially as the flavors drift over to the red side of things (for dark-skinned pinot gris, I think this is a highly positive quality), showing strawberry and rhubarb. It’s fuller-bodied than the ’02, but it also has an odd, out-of-place feel to it. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 “Los Robles Viejos” (White) Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat and fruity, like thick peach soda. There’s also pear, grapefruit rind, and a long, sticky finish. This is just a bit on the goopy side at the moment, and I think it was better a few years ago. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2002 “blonk!” (Paso Robles) – Balanced and pretty, with richly-spiced nuts (mostly cashews) and a lovely finish. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2003 “Los Robles Viejos” (White) Rozet (Paso Robles) – Peach flowers in a thick brew, with a slight bitterness that adds to the complexity and helps prevent it from being as sticky as its older brethren. The finish is long and broad, and there’s clear potential for development. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier (Paso Robles) – Everything you want in a viognier: flowers, apricots, peaches, and a silky texture. Heavier vs. most quality Condrieu, but then that’s to be expected from Paso. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Los Robles Viejos (white) Rozet Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Thick, spicy peach and honeysuckle with minerality underneath. It’s in a pretty stage right now. However, I take the remnants home, and on the second day (despite sitting in the fridge) it has undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle. So if you’ve got it, be wary…or at least, be quick about the drinking. Update: The winemaker says this was sterile-filtered, and thus a second fermentation should have been an impossibility. I'm at a loss to explain this. (4/06)

Sokol Blosser 9th Edition “Evolution” (American) – Sweet, perfumed muscat; the other eight grapes add little but acid and some vague, light but tart citrus. Beginner wine, but good in that idiom. (3/06)

Adelaida 2004 Roussanne/Grenache Blanc The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Honey and wax gum with fatty cashews and a slightly sweet aspect. Decent. (1/06)

Adelaida 2004 Viognier The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Sweet honeysuckle and apricot. Nice. (1/06)

Anne Amie 2004 Pinot Gris (Oregon) – Ripe pear, mostly. This is succulent and fresh, if slightly syrupy, and very modernistic and easy-drinking. No challenges, to the mind or the palate, here. (1/06)

Chatom 2004 Chardonnay (Calaveras County) – Peach sorbet. Fairly fluffy and insubstantial. (1/06)

Chatom 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Calaveras County) – Grassy, with crisp melon. Clean and simple. (1/06)

Eberle 2004 Viognier Mill Road Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Sweet peach and honeysuckle. Why do all viognier notes come out the same? Decent enough, possibly bordering on tasty. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Moonlight Sonata” Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County) – Fig, orange and good acidity with some wood bitterness. A full-throttle but fairly well-executed chardonnay. (1/06)

Justin 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Paso Robles) – Screwcap. Sugar-dusted brioche; this does a great imitation of a breakfast pastry. Wait, what’s that…? (1/06)

Opolo 2004 Viognier (Central Coast) – Peach, pear and honeysuckle. Low acid with sweet fruit, but decent enough. (1/06)

Belle Pente 2003 Riesling (Willamette Valley) – Clean, water-washed ripe red apple and ripe lemon with moderate sweetness. It’s good for a fruity expression of riesling, but (at least at this stage) it lacks further complexities of the mineral or floral variety. The balance is there, but it remains to be seen if the wine will develop into anything more than pleasant. (12/05)

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. (12/05)

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. (12/05)

Storrs 2004 Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Spiced fig, tangerine and ripe peach. Sweet at first, though with nice balance. Good, simple New World chardonnay. (11/05)

Storrs 2004 Chardonnay Christie (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Baked white plum, tangerine rind and honeysuckle, showing very ripe fruit and mild oak bitterness. There’s a touch of peanut on the finish. A “better” wine than the basic chardonnay, which means that it’s even less my preferred style, but fans thereof will like this one. (11/05)

Storrs 2003 Chardonnay Meyley (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Buttery caramel and tons of wood. Ugh. (11/05)

Storrs 2002 White Riesling Riverview (Monterey) – Petrol and mild crystalline lime with green apple and ginger form the nose of this rather exotic-smelling riesling. The palate shows green apple and crisp, ripe pear. Unfortunately, things turn ill from there: The finish is both soft and abrupt, and the sweetness…while light…eventually ends up tasting a little sickly. (11/05)

Edmunds St. John 2004 Roussanne Tablas Creek (Paso Robles) – 14.5%, and an interesting contrast with Tablas Creek Winery’s heavier and more forceful bottling. This one is crisp and a bit acrid at first, with a hot nose presiding over a tight, wiry body. It takes a lot of swirling and general aeration to get even the slightest hints of green apple underneath the feisty alcohol and high-toned fruit. But after a few hours, it finally begins to blossom, showing pear and tart peach skin with a juicy, crisp finish. It’s just too young. (11/05)

David Arthur 2003 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Napa Valley) – Full and fat, with pear, melon, and soft, tangerine-dominated citrus. Gentle and fun, and blessedly underwooded, but there’s no complexity. (4/05)

de Sante 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley) – Clean bright greenness – desirable in a sauvignon – showing lime, lemon, grapefruit and grass with a dose of crisp gooseberry. Ripe, fun, and balanced, and probably the best California sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted. They have on display, but do not open, an “old vines” version (the “old” isn’t very, of course) which is a shame, considering how well they’ve done with this one. (4/05)

Tremani 2003 Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley) – Funky leather and presenting somewhat sour on the nose (also, not lacking in mercaptans). The palate shows ripe, smoky pear, raw cedar, and a pleasant finish with a hint of bitterness, but there’s just not enough right here to recommend it. (4/05)

Garretson 2004 “G White” (Central Coast) – 14% alcohol. A blend of roussanne and marsanne. Ultra-thick nuts, peach, and honeysuckle without noticeable acidity. And this is the easy-drinking white? Uh-oh… (4/05)

Garretson 2004 “The Chumhra” (Central Coast) – 15.9% alcohol, viognier/roussanne. Very, very sweet in a sticky, children’s’ syrup sort of way, showing spiced stone fruit and pear with a suede texture, but it’s so sticky I’m worried that I won’t be able to rinse it from my glass. Ever. (4/05)

Garretson 2004 Viognier “The Saothar” (Paso Robles) – 16.1% alcohol. No, I didn’t make that up. An acrid, nutty nose and terrific (I mean that in the size-related way, not as a qualitative adjective) palate weight, honey and honeysuckle, ripe flowers, and the whole fruit basket put in the blender and set to purée. But Jesus, 16.1. This is probably the best of the whites, but more than a glass and everyone but John Daly will be blotto. (4/05)

Edmunds St. John 2004 Pinot Grigio Witters Vineyards (El Dorado County) – Thick pear syrup with good skin tannin and a decent acidic balance, with slate hovering in the background. Nice on the nose and the finish, but not as enjoyable on the somewhat sticky palate. Steve is quite enthusiastic about this, but it’s never really reached me; I’m not sure what I think it lacks, but maybe it just suffers for not being Alsatian enough. More spice, maybe? It’s a good wine, it just doesn’t move me. (4/05)

Edmunds St. John 2004 “Shell & Bone” (Paso Robles) – This is the white “Los Robles Viejos” with a shiny new easily-marketable name, or so Steve assures us. New name, same terrific wine; Steve muses that this might be his best yet. It’s roussanne from Tablas Creek and marsanne/viognier from the Rozet vineyard, and it shows floral spiced apricot, sweetly ripe hazelnut, and drying skin tannins. After the relatively restrained rieslings it comes off a bit hot – though just a bit – but this is hardly unusual for the white grapes of the Rhône, planted anywhere. As is typical, is has an upfront friendliness that will win easy friends, but some complexity and length for those looking for a little more from their wine. Yet another fine effort. (4/05)

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Lightly aromatic, with mixed white flowers and dried honeysuckle. It fills out on the palate, showing apricot jelly and a faint tropicality on the finish. Balanced and nicely structured. (8/04)

Cold Heaven 2002 Viognier Vogelzang (Santa Ynez Valley) – I see this wine on by-the-glass lists all over the Bay Area during our three-night stay, which must represent the end product of some sort of high-intensity promotion. The wine itself is pretty good, showing rich varietal honeysuckle not always well-expressed by California viognier, but the oak is too prominent, especially on the nose. Winemaker Morgan Clendenen admires, and even makes a wine with, Yves Cuilleron, the oak-meister of Condrieu, so this probably shouldn’t be a surprise. But with a bit less wood, this would be a superior effort. As it is, it’s fine. (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Powerhouse Vineyard (Mendocino County) – Clean and crisp, showing grapefruit, gooseberry, and ripe pomegranate. Fruity and fresh. (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2003 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) – Fig, orange jam, and ripe red apple with good acidity. A nice quaffing chard, easy on the palate without being wifty or fat. (8/04)

Porter Creek 2003 Sauvignon Blanc Ritchie Vineyard (Russian River Valley) – Big, hot grapefruit and pineapple aromas remain solid through a thick and sludgy texture, and while it shows decent aromatic varietal characteristics, it’s missing the necessary acidity. (8/04)

Porter Creek 2001 Chardonnay George’s Hill “Unfiltered” (Russian River Valley) – Fresh Calimyrna fig, tangerine, and pineapple in a bright, big-fruited but crisp and fresh bottle of sunlit joy. There’s only a very light hint of oak here. Extremely well done, with the balance to age. What’s more, even my chardonnay-loathing wife likes it. (8/04)

Porter Creek 2002 Chardonnay George’s Hill (Russian River Valley) – As with minerality in wines of all colors, something I nearly always love in whites is red fruit. It often seems to go hand in hand with perfect ripeness unmarred by oenological abuses…and there’s undoubtedly an element of terroir at work, as well. Here we have red cherry and strawberry at the core of a wine surrounded by fields of fully-bloomed clover, all brought to a razor-honed edge by crisp, apple-hued acidity and steely minerality. Very, very nice, somewhat better than the unfiltered (though it may just be a matter of taste), and equally ageable. Theresa likes this one, too. (8/04)

Swan 2003 Gewürztraminer Saralee’s Vineyard (Russian River Valley) – Rod Berglund explains that he made this because he wanted some dry gewürztraminer to drink at home. I consider pointing out that some people just buy the stuff when similar desires strike, but restrain myself. In any case, he’s done a very credible job: smoked lychee and pork skin jerky with dried pear rind and some light grape tannin, which isn’t unusual for gewürztraminer. Pretty decent acidity. It lacks the intensity of the finest Alsatian versions, though that’s hardly unusual, but it manages to be balanced and varietally correct, which is unusual for New World gewürz. (8/04)

Ridge 2001 Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains) – 14.8% alcohol. Fig, orange and vanilla in lush, intense quantities. There’s decent acidic balance, and while I personally can’t stand more than the first micro-sip, I think the relative quality is clear. Though heaven knows what fans of this style actually prefer. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2003 Sauvignon Blanc Hartsock (Dry Creek Valley) – Creamy lemon rind and green apple with an intense sweet/sour candy character at its core, showing great acidity and good ripeness. That candied note is slightly negative, however. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2003 Viognier (Dry Creek Valley) – White peaches, honeysuckle and light minerality; a really beautiful and varietally-accurate expression of viognier, but with the unexpected buoyancy of fresh, zingy acidity and an unusually light-footed finish. The only flaw, and it’s a very slight one, is a bitter high-toned note that streaks across the midpalate. But overall, this is really pretty excellent for California viognier, which all too often shows the absolute worst characteristics of this variably cranky grape. (8/04)

r o s é

Unti 2006 Rosé (Dry Creek Valley) – Big, forward and juicy-fruity, with the mild sheen of heat steaming to the top of Pixie Stik strawberry and raspberry syrup. This description makes it sound more candied than it actually is; aside from the minor alcohol issues, it’s a fine example of California rosé, with much more fruit to stand up to the alcohol than can be found in similarly-formed Mediterranean pinksters. In fact, its goofy drinkability is quite engaging. (4/07)

Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Amador County) – Red cherry and strawberry with a mildly tinny note, and starting to fade under the onslaught of its alcohol, but still showing enough boisterous, summery fun to be pleasurable. After all, it was never really meant to age this long. (10/06)

Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Paso Robles) – Earthy mixed red berries with a soft elegance and some obvious, alcohol-driven palate weight. In fact, it’s too elegant; previous versions have shown more intensity, and I think this might be suffering from a mild cork taint. It’s so mild that the wine is still pleasurable, but everything that should be at this party, isn’t. (7/06)

Van Duzer 2005 Pinot Noir Rosé (Willamette Valley) – Raspberry bubblegum and tart green beans wrapped in plastic. Odd, and very acidic. (4/06)

Harrington Pinot Noir Rosé (appellation unknown) – Fun, with big, giggly strawberry fruit. It’s in an unlabeled bottle, and no information other than its cépage is forthcoming, but it’s a bit of a shame it’s not for sale. I’d buy it. (4/06)

Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Paso Robles) – Neon lavender squeezings, concentrated strawberry preserve, wood spice, and tongue-numbing alcohol. (1/06)

Garretson 2004 Rosé “The Celeidh” (Paso Robles) – 14.4% alcohol, syrah/grenache/mourvèdre/roussanne, and much darker than many reds. The first opaque rosé I’ve ever seen. Thick herbed strawberry, sweet and clumsy. Better as a dessert topping than a wine. Seriously. (4/05)

Edmunds St. John 2004 “Pinc Froid” (California) – Alas, the days of the rosé of nebbiolo are over; this is now a co-fermented saignée of counoise and grenache in stainless steel. Steve massively prefers it to the nebbiolo; I’m not so sure. Yet I can hardly condemn the wine on its merits; strawberry, dried plum, mango, and a touch of bubblegum on the finish (which is otherwise redolent of carnations). It is, not unexpectedly, the slightest touch hot (not, I think, an actual function of the alcohol…rather a normal behavior of pink grenache), but overall quite balanced, fresh, fun and light. A prettier rosé than its differently-cépaged predecessors, and it will certainly find its fans. Meanwhile, I continue to search for a regular local source of consistently great nebbiolo rosato. (4/05)

Limerick Lane 2003 Rosé “Sec” Collins Vineyard (Russian River Valley) – A 50/50 blend of zinfandel and syrah, which both the woman behind the counter and the web site proclaim as “Tavel-style.” I must have missed the zin in my previous Tavel experiences. Sarcasm aside, I can see points of congruity: peach flowers and a long, minerally core around which a reasonably light-styled wine is constructed. Simple but OK, as long as one doesn’t make demands. (8/04)

r e d

Medusa 2004 “Old Vine” Zinfandel Lover’s Lane (Mendocino) – This comes with a sporty black extruded synthetic cork, but the wine’s not nearly that ominous. It’s powerfully oaky for the first half-hour or so, but later it relaxes into something more approachable (and in fact, the oak mostly lurks in the deep background), showing juicy red-fruited acidity and freshly-crushed berries with a preserved maraschino topnote. It’s a little herky-jerky right now, and I don’t know if it’s got enough internal integrity to solve itself, but if it does it will always be a higher-acid zin, which isn’t unwelcome in these overheated times. (6/07)

Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado) – Served blind (by me), and while some of the early guesses are in the realm of grenache, eventually a few people close in on it, though no one guesses it’s California sangiovese. Charred strawberry and banana leaves turn seedy and dark, with blueberries and olive pits and a lot of amorphous tannin hanging around in the foreground. This would appear to be suffering from travel shock (it had been on a short plane ride earlier in the day), especially given the fine particulate matter suffusing the wine. (6/07)

Ridge 1994 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Fully given over to the “Draper perfume” of refined yet lurid American oak, old zinfandel’s baked-briar-patch berries, and soft, tongue-caressing solids. The old berry, animal, wood and earth aromas here mingle in a misty autumnal haze, breathing and pulsing with polished authority. A beautiful old zin. This, unlike a previous (Ridge-sourced library selection) bottle, is completely ready to go. (6/07)

Bella 2004 Zinfandel Big River Ranch (Alexander Valley) – 15%. Huge. Thick blackberry and boysenberry sludge with plenty of spreadable oak, yet it’s “balanced” in that strange, youthful-but-ageable zin fashion. It’s a bit much to take right now, but with a decade or so, I think pretty much everyone will be happy. It tastes a lot like a Dashe zin, or a Ridge, and there’s a reason for that… (6/07)

Quivira 2002 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Good, sun-roasted berry flavors with a thickening paste of syrupy wood. Why molest good fruit this way? The wine’s not bad for uncritical quaffing, but keener palates won’t enjoy trying to penetrate the sludgy perimeter. (5/07)

Ridge 1992 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Cedar and roasted coconut over zingy red cherries and oat bran. Richly-spiced and mildly tannic, with a pecan-skin punch to the finish. Yet this wine is clearly in the early stages of its decline, showing telltale signs of softness amidst the defiance and lingering aromatics. Drink a few years ago for maximum pleasure. (5/07)

Au Bon Climat 2005 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County) – Simple mixed berries and obvious structure. Direct and straightforward. The finish is absent. (5/07)

Palmina 2001 Nebbiolo Stolpman (Santa Ynez Valley) – One of the most tangible wines I’ve tasted in a long time, with a powder-on-velvet texture that’s absolutely captivating. The nose is explosive, showing blackberries and black cherries undercut by rich black earth, tarragon and skin-like qualities. Balanced, forceful, and beautiful right now, but it will most definitely age. As to the question of whether or not it tastes like nebbiolo: if the standard is Piedmont, it does not. But it’s a terrific wine nonetheless…one of the best reds I’ve had from California in a long, long time. (5/07)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Dark and moody, with leather-wrapped blackberry and blueberry beneath a growing layer of black silt. This wine hasn’t budged much over the last few years; it’s an excellent value, full of honesty and delicious, authentic quality. (4/07)

Marietta “Old Vine Red Lot #43” (California) – Solid though unidentifiable fruit dominated by old, briary berries and mild woodspice. Balanced and friendly. Exceedingly easygoing. (4/07)

Ridge 2005 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – Highly-perfumed coconut, spicy dark red fruit and an impenetrable wall of embryonic formlessness. This is way, way, way too young. There’s the vague sense that things are in balance and thus ageability is suggested, but it’s honestly just too early to tell. (4/07)

Nalle 2004 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Coconut-spiced cherries with a gravelly texture and juicy acidity. This is still very young, but while it’s balanced enough to age, I can’t imagine anyone being able to keep from opening it. It’s just too much fun. (4/07)

Nalle 2003 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Bright red fruit struggling to get out of a weirdly soupy, difficult set of restraints. There’s a hint of cooked fruit as well. This is very likely heat-damaged, because the performance of the wine certainly isn’t typical for Nalle. Source: New Hampshire state liquor store, Nashua. (3/07)

Carlisle 2001 Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – Served as a mystery wine. It’s thick blueberry syrup, dense and sticky, with a powdery finish that flattens quickly to nothingness. The alcoholic heat is searing and actively unpleasant. This is a monstrosity, a wine to get skid row bums loaded when Mad Dog 20/20 isn’t upscale enough. I guess Turley, then realize there’s not quite enough VA (though there is some), so switch my guess to Carlisle with about five years of age. Bingo! I’m also asked to guess the alcohol. “Just shy of 16%?” 15.9% it is. (3/07)

Ridge 1993 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Coconut, blackberry, black cherry and boysenberry. Very silky but high-toned, and it gives indications of being past its prime, with old spice box and dead earth emerging on the finish. Eventually, all that’s left is a wan shell of white chocolate. (3/07)

Domaine de la Terre Rouge 1999 Syrah Sentinel Oak Pyramid Block (Shenandoah Valley) – Very oak-dominated, and while it’s so massive it doesn’t appear closed, I suspect that it might be. There certainly used to be more fruit here. What remains is dark and scowly, like sandpaper-bruised blueberry residue and sweat-soaked leather, and there’s a feral (not bretty, just wild) element lurking in the background…a snarling wolf hidden in a dark grove of evergreens. There’s structure, though a good deal of it seems to be coming from the wood at the moment, and though I have confidence that it will meet its maker’s expectations for a long life, I think it will always be fairly woody. I guess we’ll see. (3/07)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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-bodies, 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)

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)

Evesham Wood 2005 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Charred, creamy vanilla wood with milk chocolate, coffee, and soft waves of rich, black cherry fruit given just a hint of strawberry zip. While it shows broad appeal, it’s too woody for me (which is strange, as I don’t think it sees anything new, and the weight of the fruit should be enough to deal with the time it spends in barrel). (2/07)

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)

Ridge 1992 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – A soft, fully mature Geyserville, showing milked coffee, spice, roasted/candied pecan, and crushed roses on the nose. The palate is no less mature, though it moves things in a slightly different direction: rich blackberry/chocolate jam, raw milk, black and red peppercorns, and a soft, powdery, graphite-textured tannin. This is a beautiful wine, completely ready to go, and shows all the best and most elegant qualities of well-aged Geyserville. (2/07)

Ridge 1993 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Aromatically insufficient (my neighbor wonders if it might not be corked, but there’s no indication if so, and a comparative glass from a different bottle smells the same), with canned blueberry and licorice liqueur. Some air helps, bringing forth some redolent dust. The palate feels, though does not (retronasally) smell musty and stale. Frankly, this is disappointing…and it’s strange, as Paul Draper is highly enthusiastic about the current performance of this wine. The second glass is a bit better, with supple, elegant, Crozes-Hermitage mimicry somewhat masking the essential Geyserville character. Again, it bears repeating: Draper and many others are very positive about this vintage. I’m agnostic at best, and greatly prefer the 1992. (2/07)

Ridge 1994 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Plum liqueur and mixed berries in a gorgeous, well-knit and fully complete package. The palate brings forth more mature, older fruit characteristics of baked berries and wheelbarrows full of rich organic earth, but there’s still plenty of fruit on display. A soft, wavy wine with yet more development in its future. (2/07)

Ridge 2002 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Blackberry, blueberry, black cherry and licorice-infused plum in a thick, edging-towards-syrupy (but redeemed by fine acidity) style. There’s also thick, Valrhona Guanaja and dry stones aplenty. There is a flaw – an alcoholic tingle that, for some palates, will be a deal-breaker – but it’s really not out of place in this wine, which shows loads of potential. If it can survive that heat, it’ll be majestic in a few decades. If not…well, it’ll be Geyserville-flavored Scotch. (2/07)

Ridge 2003 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Very aromatic, albeit full of primary American oak esters, blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry; a Big Fruit wine with papery tannin and a weirdly petulant disposition at the finish. I suspect this wine is struggling to close, and interested parties should probably let it do so. (2/07)

Ridge 2004 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – Not yet released, and picked extremely early (mid-August, several weeks before the usual start date), before almost anyone else in the entire region. Very, very concentrated licorice/anise, blueberry and chocolate with an ultra-dense, peanut butter texture that darts in and out of the syrup category, plus some obvious alcohol. There are also crashing waves of vanilla-infused oak butter, which is to be expected in a young Geyserville these days. It’s way too young to judge in any sensible way, though my sense is that this will never be a “great” Geyserville, but merely a good one. (2/07)

Coturri 2004 Grenache Testa (Mendocino County) – Ah, the dreaded Coturri. Thankfully, there’s nothing at all wrong with this wine, except perhaps that it is ripe grenache, and tastes like fermented bubblegum. I’m no grenache-hater, but this is a one-note wine. Acid, yes, and balance as well. But still one loud, braying note of gum-popping cheerleader. I’ll pass, thanks. (1/07)

Marietta “Old Vine Red” 41 (California) – Every year, this wine disappears further into its own shadow. This version is fading to transparency (and I don’t mean visually), showing anonymous spicy fruit underneath somewhat strident oak…not that much of that latter, but more than enough to subdue aught else. Not only is this no longer the value it once was, I’m not even sure it’s recommendable as a bargain quaffer anymore. Let’s see what the next release brings. (1/06)

Edmunds St. John 2002 Syrah “The Shadow” (California) – Earthen mushrooms, mixed nuts, smoke and dark, dark fruit with bracing acidity. Really good, but it will really reward some cellar time. (12/06)

Hartley Ostini “Hitching Post” 2005 Pinot Noir “Cork Dancer 5.1” (Santa Barbara County) – A separated wine, with zippy strawberry and raspberry, clingy acidity, and a light, scraping tanning all sitting in their corners glaring at each other. It’s got a picnic-style appeal, but doesn’t bear close scrutiny. (12/06)

Evesham Wood 2004 Pinot Noir Seven Springs “En Dessous” (Willamette Valley) – Difficult at first, showing thick, almost brooding fruit under a smooth wave of tannin. With an hour or so of air, complexities emerge from the murk, and the wine picks up an earth-floral component – still in the tone of brown, but with promise and possibility for the future. The finish is long and, eventually, elegant. There’s nothing but upside here. (12/06)

Benoni 2002 Syrah “Three Vineyards” (Napa Valley) – Simple plum-berry aromas with a little bit of water-soaked leather and a good deal of dry, papery tannin. Good old Napa, doing to syrah what it does to zin: drying it out. (12/06)

Loring 2004 Pinot Noir Brosseau (Chalone) – Red-black fruit, soupy and searingly alcoholic. More like a harsh, grappa-infused berry liqueur than wine, and not a particularly balanced one as well. The next day, however, the alcohol has calmed down somewhat…perhaps a nice sweet rum rather than grappa…which makes it a little less painful to drink. But it’s still profoundly imbalanced. (12/06)

Sierra Vista 2000 Zinfandel Reeves (El Dorado) – Hard-edged wild berry fruit ripped and rent by thorny vines and the slashes of a razor, with shattered tannin and acid providing a fierce sort of structure. Zinfandel can mellow into something Bordeaux-like with age, but it can also go in this direction…one that’s more difficult to love, but in a strange way might be a little more appealing. In any case, this is a somewhat angry wine that may benefit from a little more age; on the other hand, at that point the tannin might dominate. It’s a judgment call that I’m not qualified to make. (12/06)

Nalle 2004 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Soft and juicy for a Nalle zin, showing friendly red-faced berries and cherries with a sun-dried tomato sauce acidity and a little lightly-smoked wood influence. Nalle’s zins show so much upfront pleasure that it’s difficult to believe they age. But they do. Still, this vintage seems a bit less appealing than usual. (12/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Growing steamier, sweatier, and more long-ridden leathery with each passing month, this sheds its California roots and looks towards Gallic climes as it ages. It’s still quite full-bodied and balanced, but the black’n’blueberry fruit is fading under the animalistic imperatives of aged syrah. A delicious wine, a ridiculous bargain. (12/06)

Carr 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Good, straightforward Napa cab…dark cherry, cassis and blackberry fruit with nicely layered wood (expressed as vanilla, chocolate and toast), very little acidity, and a little bit of dust coming from the subwoofer. A fairly good value, too. It’s not something I’d want to drink very often, because it’s more than a little obvious, but as an occasional diversion it’s perfectly decent. (11/06)

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Big, juicy and a little goofy, yet there’s complexity and a New World-defined balance as well. Bright, somewhat overdriven red fruit is supported by sands and silts, with a white pepper texture and a fairly hefty palate impact. I don’t know that it will age, but that’s probably not the point. (10/06)

Edmunds St. John 2003 “Rocks & Gravel” (California) – Dense, fruity blueberry compote with light leather and faint morels. Forward and juicy, with decent structure somewhat overwhelmed by a lot of friendly, smiling fruit. (9/06)

Dashe 2002 Zinfandel Big River (Alexander Valley) – Big and slightly fierce, showing thoroughly untamed wild berries – dark and angry – with concentrated blackness somewhere in the realm between grilled meat and tar. There’s spice and structure to spare, and the wine grows more deliciously aromatic with aeration, yet its clenched fists never quite relax. Terrific, balanced, muscular zinfandel still in the hormonal rages of its rebellious youth. (9/06)

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)

St. Innocent 1999 Pinot Noir Seven Springs (Willamette Valley) – Gorgeous black cherry soda on the nose, with a rougher, more tannic brew of raspberry, strawberry, plum and grey earth on the palate. Just starting to round into form…though a few more years will bring superior harmony. (8/06)

St. Innocent 2004 Pinot Noir Shea (Willamette Valley) – Woody, showing layers of coconut over raspberry, with lots of thick tannin. Full and almost fat, but structured. Opened way too early. (8/06)

Edmunds St. John 1999 Syrah Durell (Sonoma Valley) – Leather, blueberry and powdery tannin, with all sorts of yummy, earth-and-herb-and-sweat characteristics starting to bubble to the surface. The future looks promising. (8/06)

Van Duzer 1998 Pinot Noir “Barrel Select” (Willamette Valley) – Brown earth, loam, wet autumn leaves and dried cherries. Just a little tiny bit past it, with the tannin biting the remaining aromatics into rough chunks, chewing them up, and spitting them out in an increasingly angry way. Drink up soon. (8/06)

Everett Ridge 1999 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Massive blackberry and boysenberry fruit bordering on concentrate, with jammy inclinations only slightly mitigated by a nice dose of ground black pepper. A one-note wine…though it’s a tasty note. (8/06)

Domaine Coteau 2004 Pinot Noir (Yamhill County) – Earthy beets and dark, brooding, slightly charred plum fruit. I’m tempted to call this “feral,” but that’s not really accurate. It’s a wine that’s more comfortable in lumberjack clothing than a business suit, a wine for a deck in the woods rather than a balcony in Tuscany. It’s good – in fact, it’s quite good – but it’s a very particular sort of good, and not everyone will like it. (8/06)

Willakenzie 1998 Pinot Noir Aliette (Willamette Valley) – Shy at first, though it builds and improves throughout the evening, showing gentle baked cherries and leaves over a flowing stream of gravel and crushed granite. Soft-textured, this pinot embraces the tongue, getting longer and longer with each sip. A lovely wine, though I don’t know if I’d hold it much longer. (7/06)

Ponzi 2004 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Very closed at first, with burnt cherries and a bit of jam underneath a heavy, palate-deadening weight. With air, a Port-like character emerges, with jam a significant player as well. A decidedly fruit-dominated, somewhat behemoth wine that’s not to my taste, but that’s executed pretty well for those that appreciate this style. And I suppose it will age...though my previous experiences with old Ponzi pinot suggest that “last” is a better term. (7/06)

St. Innocent 2004 Pinot Noir Temperance Hill (Willamette Valley) – Dusty strawberry is the only element of interest in an otherwise odd, off-putting nose. The palate shows growth, with dried seeds and leaves both green and dry. Not particularly enticing, and showing rather striking desiccation. (7/06)

St. Innocent 2004 Pinot Noir White Rose (Willamette Valley) – Red fruit and white flowers on a gravel bed, turning soft on the palate but then finishing crisp and spicy, with lovely balance. It neither strives for nor reaches the summit, but it’s a very good pinot nonetheless. (7/06)

Bella Vida 2002 Pinot Noir “Ryan Harms” (Dundee Hills) – Shy on the nose, though the palate is redolent of dark chocolate and black cassis liqueur. It’s heavy and strong, perhaps even a bit hot, though a bit of age might resolve things. Harms is the Rex Hill winemaker. (7/06)

Bella Vida 2004 Pinot Noir “Jacques Tardy” (Dundee Hills) – Much lighter in color than the Harms bottling, with dust on the nose and a red cherry/licorice palate. As with the previous bottling, there’s noticeable heat on the finish, turning the cherries to kirsch. Tardy is the Torii Mor winemaker. (7/06)

Bella Vida 2004 Pinot Noir “Brian O’Donnell” (Dundee Hills) – Aromatic, showing strawberry and raspberry plus gentle earth. More agile than either of the two previous bottlings, with the nicest, prettiest fruit and by far the best balance. Brian O’Donnell is the Belle Pente winemaker. (7/06)

Bella Vida 2004 Pinot Noir “J. Christopher” (Dundee Hills) – Mixed cherries and mint with rosemary. A bit spirituous, with a long, hot finish. The second best of the cuvées. Jay Christopher Somers is the J. Christopher winemaker. (7/06)

Domaine Coteau 2002 Pinot Noir “Reserve” (Yamhill County) – Solid, with dark fruit and black, post-forest fire undergrowth. A dense, muscular structure surrounds the brooding fruit, and there’s incredible aging potential here. Right now, however, it’s all a bit much to take, and requires aggressive food to keep it in check. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2004 Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton District) – These are young vines, and the fruit spends twelve months in barrel. The wine shows elegance, with dried strawberry leaves in the key of autumn, and gray soil in a cold fall light. Is that a hint of funk on the finish? A very pretty wine with some brief notions of complexity, but some rebellious elements as well. (7/06)

Argyle 2002 Merlot (Oregon) – Oak and oakspice with roasted cashew, blueberry jam and chunky peanut butter. Those with gluten allergies who nonetheless crave PB&J sandwiches might do well to consider this wine as an alternative. (7/06)

Argyle 2004 Pinot Noir “Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – Gorgeous, crowd-pleasing strawberry and plum in a big, fat but muscular package. There’s no complexity now, but this has the construction and raw materials to age. (7/06)

Argyle 2003 Pinot Noir “Nuthouse” (Willamette Valley) – Chewy and big, with huge plum flavors soured up by orange and blood orange. There’s decent acidity, but a hefty whack of alcohol, and the fruit is a little on the bizarre side. A confusing wine. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2003 Pinot Noir Belle Pente Vineyard (Willamette Valley) – Eighteen months in barrel, and adjusted to 24 brix before fermentation. Ripe strawberry and red cherry with a hint of fraise liqueur, an intense floral overlay, and a sturdy, tannic structure. The finish is very long. A wine more for the future than for now, and it should definitely reward careful aging. (7/06)

Belle Pente 2003 Pinot Noir “Estate Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – O’Donnell explains that this wine stems from a “red fruit/black fruit” decision, with the Estate Reserve designed to express the latter. The difference is immediately obvious, with a heady wave of cassis and blueberry supported by great structure constructed of perfect, ageworthy amounts of tannin and acid. The acidity and the sheer stuffing of this wine quite literally buzz on the palate, especially as the finish lingers. Gorgeous, and highly ageable. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2004 Pinot Noir “Cuvée A” (Oregon) – Intended as an early-drinking, inexpensive bottling, showing slightly stale and burnt notes on the nose, though it freshens considerably on the midpalate. There’s simple plum and synthetic strawberry fruit, with corn silk and an out-of-place buttery note on the finish. It’s decent, but no more than that. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2003 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Fragrant with roses and lush strawberry vegetation, somewhat green in the middle, but longer-finishing than its predecessors, and showing more breadth and potential; not everything here seems to have ripened at the correct time. I’d suspect this is better in other vintages (and, as it turns out, we’ll have the chance to find out). (7/06)

Anne Amie 2003 Pinot Noir Yamhill Springs (Willamette Valley) – Raspberry, strawberry, and charming floral notes, which turn to red plums on a bed of decayed leaves on the palate. Just a bit sweet (I suspect it’s from alcohol, not sugar), which expresses itself more positively as soft plum on the slightly overpolished finish. Almost a really nice wine, but it lacks…I’m not sure how to express it, but perhaps that extra bit of conviction necessary to carry the complexity of pinot noir. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2003 Pinot Noir Hawks View (Willamette Valley) – Cherry liqueur, ripe strawberry and plum, with a nice, fresh, flower pollen finish with softness and elegance. By far the class of the bunch thus far, and a really lovely wine…as long as one isn’t overtly averse to kirsch. (7/06)

Anne Amie 2002 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – A small dip into the archives, showing a better (and, one assumes, more representative than the ’03) vintage of the basic pinot. This is very closed at the moment, showing hefty tannin that lends the wine a fairly bitter cast, but there’s soft fruit lurking underneath the structure. Too difficult to assess at the moment. (7/06)

Sokol Blosser 2002 Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills) – Sweet plum and orange rind with a boring, flabby structure. Understuffed. While it’s never actively unpleasant to drink, boredom soon sets in. (7/06)

Ridge 2002 Zinfandel Ponzo (Russian River Valley) – Big, almost explosive fruit and oakspice with a particulate leather texture, black earth, and an utterly compelling and enjoyable presence on the palate. Delicious and not yet fully mature, but drinking incredibly well now. (7/06)

Scott Paul 2004 Pinot Noir “La Paulée” (Willamette Valley) – A selection made in the cellar, assembled from the best lots, and named after one of the bacchanalian wine dinners for which producers in Burgundy are famous. It’s restrained and aromatically repressed at first, but it can be coaxed both with aggressive swirling and retronasal agitation. There’s strawberry and concentrated plum on a foundation of sweet lead, which trends towards the gelatinous but then finishes with the emergence of seeds and a grace note of bitterness. The acid’s flawless, the balance is fine, and the finish is extremely long. A lovely wine in the first throes of its adolescence. (7/06)

Scott Paul 2004 Pinot Noir “Audrey” (Willamette Valley) – The pinnacle of what’s available in a given year, and again a cellar selection; this time named after Audrey Hepburn. That’s a lot to live up to. And yet, the wine surpasses expectations: beautifully soft and elegant, full of life, and possessed of hidden strengths expressed with delicacy. The nose is pristine, showing red cherry and lavender, followed by the gentlest of explosions on the palate: flowers and light red fruit. The finish is lithe, silky and seductive, with spices intermingling with a fine particulate granite texture, and lingers until the sensation can no longer be separated from the memory. Stunning, world-class pinot noir. (7/06)

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2003 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Chewy nuts, but otherwise pretty tight and oddly disjointed; a strange performance, or a strange wine? It’s hard to say, but there’s just not much here to judge. Mild taint? Perhaps, but our pourer pre-tasted the wine. (7/06)

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2002 Pinot Noir “Laurène” (Willamette Valley) – Sweet plum, strawberry and black mission fig with a deep undertone of black earth and traces of thyme and leather. Medium-bodied, though with a full and strong palate presence, turning to juicier blackberry and other dark fruit on the finish. Brilliant balance and structure. (7/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Solid, leathery blackberry with a lovely mix of earthen and fruit paste aromas lurking underneath. The wine’s a bit bass-heavy now, but with time the higher-pitched aromatics will emerge from what is already a highly aromatic wine. A terrific value, as well. (7/06)

Eyrie 1999 Pinot Noir “Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – Fully mature, showing dried cranberry and tart cherry steaming on the forest floor. Little hints of pine needle and very mild brett dance around the forest. A bit archaic vs. modern styles, but in a good and thoroughly enjoyable way. (7/06)

Au Bon Climat 2004 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County) – Soft red and lavender berries with a gentle, easygoing approach. There’s some brightening acidity, and a cluster of earthy/rocky structural elements tumbling about the wine, but mostly this is about an enticing, fragrant, fruit-forward beverage of both joy and elegance. (7/06)

Cooper Mountain 2002 Pinot Noir “Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – Corked. (7/06)

Porter Creek 2004 Zinfandel “Old Vine” (Sonoma County) – Spicy, dark plums, a bit of black road tar, and reduced blueberry concentrate with a dusting of freshly-cracked black pepper; an intense, powerful wine that nevertheless carries a nice undercurrent of acidity. The wine, for all its force, is fairly round and balanced, promising at least the potential for balanced aging. (7/06)

Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Spicy, slightly untamed dark blueberry and blackberry fruit given a fleeting attempt at polish in the cellar…it pretties things up a bit, but there’s no real way to restrain this much fruit. It’s not overpowering, though it might be a little acid-deficient. (7/06)

Domaine Coteau 2003 Pinot Noir (Yamhill County) – Rough, chewy dark berries with brighter raspberry and rhubarb elements and some basso soil undertones. There’s earth, there’s structure, and there’s fruit, but it’s all a bit untamed and unruly at the moment. (7/06)

Sobon Estate 2004 Zinfandel “Hillside” (Amador County) – Big, brambly, fiery Amador zin, just the way it’s supposed to be. Sure, it’s a little tarted up (by chocolaty oak? it seems so, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it) and probably a bit more alcoholic than it needs to be, but typicity will usually out. Doofus wine, but eminently gluggable and fun. (6/06)

Kenwood 2004 Zinfandel Jack London (Sonoma Valley) – Spicy oak with waves of charred, chocolate oak and a finish of cinnamon and clove oak. (6/06)

Nalle 1995 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Gorgeous waves of ancient spice and well-baked berries, laying bare a core of rich, loamy earth and a delicate, almost feminine (for zin) structure. Gorgeous and fully mature. (6/06)

Hartley Ostini “Hitching Post” 2004 Pinot Noir “Cork Dancer 4.2” (Santa Barbara County) – Lovely, balanced, and pure, with succulent red berries in light array and lithe, dancing structural elements over a soft foundation of rich earth. There’s just enough tannin and just enough acidity to make this feel ageable, though frankly it will be hard to resist its youthful charms. (6/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Aggressive, with delicious blueberry and olallieberry marmalade fruit zested by crisp acidity and that very slightly spirituous midtone that is so often present in high-octane zin. But there’s chunky, graphite-infused earth as well, and a nice, balanced finish that shows less heat than the initial palate impression promises. A very good wine, made in a more classic style, and rounding into some tertiary characteristics that really improve it. (6/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Leathery, smoky and a little sweaty, with old blueberry and decidedly carnivorous characteristics thickly coated by layers of tannin and dried fruit residue. The finish is a little brighter – raspberries, mostly – but then heavies up again…and lingers, and lingers, and lingers. For the sub-$20 price, this has always been, is, and probably will be for some time a spectacular value, showing more character than scores of California syrahs at three times the price. (6/06)

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)

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)

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – Fun, fruity, pleasantly acidic. Red. That’s about the it. (6/06)

Ridge 1992 Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Very tight, tannic and dusty when first opened…and this doesn’t change much with extended aeration. The “Draper perfume” (from the wood regime, the terroir and the aromatic high-altitude fruit) is still present, but plays only a loud supporting role to the other structural elements and to the emergent characteristics of the blend: hard dark cherries with lashings of cassis, some rosemary, black pepper, and a deep base note of the blackest earth. So while the primary, oak-driven sheen has receded, there’s still much more that needs to emerge from this dense, tannic shell; I’d say the wine is probably about halfway to maturity. And if this note sounds a little cold, it’s not an accident. I think the wine is potentially extraordinary, but it’s so unyielding at the present that it’s hard to form any sort of emotional bond with the elixir…something that I think is essential to the enjoyment of the very best wines. (6/06)

Porter Creek 2004 Carignane Angeli "Old Vine" (Alexander Valley) – Big, fruity and relatively acidic, with a lot of adorable doofus qualities. In other words, not particularly sophisticated…but then, one doesn’t look to carignane for sophistication. (5/06)

Tablas Creek 2001 Côtes de Tablas Red (Paso Robles) – Full-bodied roasted berries and dark, sun-drenched soil with an undertone of leathery tannin and squeezed meat textural discontinuities. Very interesting, with a long future still ahead of it. (5/06)

Edmunds St. John 1993 Syrah Durell (Sonoma Valley) – Very tight and closed at first. Harder than nails, in fact. But as it airs, it starts to blossom, showing deep-toned blackberry and leather with dark black earth, rosemary pressed into the leaves of an ancient tome, walnut oil and little hints of unidentifiable spice. Masterful wine in the full glory of its maturity. (5/06)

Porter Creek 2004 Zinfandel “Old Vines” (Sonoma County) – Very woody at first opening, but this quickly fades under a throbbing pulse of boisterous fruit. Blackberry, boysenberry, black raspberry, black cherry – all the songs you know and love, played at top volume – with enough acidity and just a hint of tannin to lend it some support and rhythm. A delicious, drinkable zin, though possibly not for the long haul. 15.1% for those who care, though it’s not at all hot…just big. (5/06)

Franus 1999 Zinfandel Brandlin (Mount Veeder) – Quince pie and coal dust. Still quite structured, with hints of dried leaves and suggestions of toasted blackberry liqueur, plus a forcefully whispered notion of acidity. This it maturing nicely, and far better than it was in its youth. (5/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah Bassetti Vineyard (San Luis Obispo County) – Less forbidding but no less massive than the last time I tasted it, with exuberant leathery blueberries and a thick coating of mink-like tannin. It’s heavy, to be sure, but it’s structured and possesses a thudding, ponderous balance. All it needs is time, really, but in the meantime, when an aggressive yet food-friendly wine is required, this fits the bill. (5/06)

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. (4/06)

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Mixed red berries and plums with hints of graphite. Ripe and full-fruited, yet pretty. It’s a little on the heavy side, but then that’s hardly unusual for domestic pinot. Pleasant. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado) – Crisp raspberry acidity spiked with strawberry seeds (that add both their fruit and their bitterness) with very slightly green tannin. It’s long and intense, however, and really sings with food. What is isn’t is completely ready; a few more years might help calm matters down. (4/06)

Van Duzer 2005 Pinot Noir “Vintner’s Cuvée” (Willamette Valley) – Smoky plum and juicy blueberry with Juicy Fruit Gum™, jam and canned peas. Red apple and raspberry emerge on the finish, but the vegetal thing is a deal-breaker. (4/06)

Van Duzer 2004 Pinot Noir “Estate” (Willamette Valley) – Big spiced blueberry and blackberry with anise liqueur. There’s some structure, but heat will always be the wine’s dominant feature. (4/06)

Van Duzer 2003 Pinot Noir Homestead Block (Willamette Valley) – Roasted cashew, dark plum and moody blackberry with leathery black earth underneath. This, at least, shows remnants of the quality I remember from this winery. The fruit edges towards liqueur (kirsch or mure, perhaps?), but there’s structure and aging potential here. (4/06)

Van Duzer “Stone’s Throw” 1999 “Skipping Rock Red” (Mendocino) – A blend of syrah and zinfandel, still full-bodied and fat despite seven years of age, showing wild blueberry and leather with a smooth, creamy texture. It’s all quite enticing, until one realizes that the wine is absolutely formless, as if its skeleton had simply been removed. (4/06)

Storybrook Mountain 2003 Zinfandel Mayacamas Range (Napa Valley) – Fat and woody, with spiced cedar and huge blackberry fruit. There’s good acid though, and this really works best as simple, sun-drenched fun. (4/06)

Coyne 2002 Grenache “Old Vines” (Lodi) – Confected bubblegum, dill-infused blueberry syrup, and toast with wood-flavored jam. Blech. (4/06)

Havens 2002 “Black & Blue” (Napa Valley) – A cabernet sauvignon/syrah blend, and dreadfully, painfully corked. (4/06)

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. (4/06)

Eno 2003 Pinot Noir Fairview Road Ranch “The Great Promise” (Santa Lucia Highlands) – 14.1%. Slightly synthetic berries are all that can be coaxed from a rather closed nose. The palate is much better, showing lots of graphite, but I like my pinot to have an aroma. At this point, I’m thinking there might be some potential here…after all, this was their first stab at this wine. (4/06)

Eno 2004 Pinot Noir Fairview Road Ranch “The Gifted One” (Santa Lucia Highlands) – 15.5%. Bigger fruit with a thick, sludgy texture and some clearly noticeable heat on the finish. Not for me. (4/06)

Eno 2001 Zinfandel Teldeschi “Little Miss Dangerous” (Dry Creek Valley) – 14.9%. Light blueberry infused with mint leaves, and showing a barky finish. Not good at all, and unrecognizable as zin. (4/06)

Eno 2002 Zinfandel Teldeschi “Caught Red Handed” (Dry Creek Valley) – 16.1%. Notice how the alcohol levels escalate as the wines advance in vintage? Anyway: Fuller-bodied than the 2001, showing big, juicy fruit and raw peanuts, and even a bit of earth. Not too hot, but extremely heavy. This is by far the best wine at the table, but still not anywhere close to a purchase for me. (4/06)

Eno 2004 Grenache Eaglepoint Ranch “The Wild One” (Mendocino County) – 14.9%, and from a vineyard I usually like. This is high-toned (as grenache often is), showing raspberry syrup and zingy, acidic fruit jelly with just a touch of biting tannin. Maybe 75% of a good wine, but that missing 25% makes all the difference. (4/06)

Eno 2004 Syrah Las Madres “The Matriarch” (Carneros) – 15.6%. Heavy, ponderous blueberry syrup. More like a dessert topping (minus the yummy sugar) than a wine, really. Maybe as the base for a sauce? (4/06)

Harrington 2002 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) – Orange rind, red cherry and strawberry seeds; sweetly pretty, though simple. (4/06)

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Sweet plum, strawberry and rhubarb with some structure and a long, metallic/iron flake finish. Nice acidity, too. This ends up being my favorite of the entire lineup. (4/06)

Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Hirsch (Sonoma Coast) – A rough nose, perhaps with slightly burnt notes, opens up to a somewhat hard, watermelon-shaped wine. I’d like more finish (and more attack, even in the lighter-entried pinot noir sense), and in general I’d like better fruit. I do note, however, than most of my fellow tasters seem to regard this wine as one of the best, so maybe I’ve misjudged it. (4/06)

Harrington 2004 Pinot Noir Brosseau (Chalone) – Thick, meaty and heavy, showing chunky peanut butter and big tannin. A sticky wine, more akin to a paste than a pinot. (4/06)

Harrington 2004 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) – Full-bodied cherry and blueberry with a long, juicy finish made ever so slightly edgy by a stemmy note. Almost really nice. (4/06)

Harrington 2004 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown (barrel sample) (Sonoma County) – From a decanter. There’s huge fruit here – blueberry and black cherry – with fair acidity; a “fruit bomb” with at least one redeeming quality. Moreover, it doesn’t taste particularly spoofulated, just explosive. People of a certain taste will love this, assuming it holds form through bottling. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado County) – I’ve always felt about this wine the way I feel about ESJ’s pinot grigio: indifferent at best. But today, I’m forced to drink my words. Spicy, black pepper-encrusted strawberry and bitter walnut skin with some tannin and biting (but not overdone) acid. In other words, the ultra-rare California sangiovese that tastes like a sangiovese. It’s still a little on the extreme side, but this has finally come around. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – 15.2% alcohol, though there’s reason to believe it’s a bit higher than that. In any case, it doesn’t really taste more than a little bit hot. What we’ve got here is actually zin done in an older, almost bygone style, with concentrated wild berries, tannin and acid to spare, and a peppery finish. The heat expresses itself with a little herbality, a bit like juniper (or, I guess, gin). Steve hears our discussion, notes that this bottle was opened yesterday, and uncorks another (see immediately below). (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Bigger, juicier and fruitier than the aerated version, with spicy berries dominating and the structure retreating a bit in the face of the “zinberry” assault. (4/06)

Ravenswood 1997 Zinfandel Teldeschi (Dry Creek Valley) – Glue. There’s heavy VA, but mostly this smells and tastes like glue. Sheesh. (4/06)

Domaine de la Terre Rouge 1995 Syrah (Amador County) – Menthol and strident black fruit. Simple, and a bit treble-toned. Somewhat of a doofus wine, but enjoyable in its idiom. (4/06)

Patricia Green 2002 Pinot Noir “Estate” (Yamhill County) – Initial whiffs of brett eventually fade a bit; those with an extreme aversion to brettanomyces will never embrace this, while those who enjoy a very mild amount of funk in their bass will probably enjoy the results. Anyway, there’s also vivid but elegant frothed strawberry and red cherry fruit, with hints of cranberry darting in and out of the mix, and a long, pleasant finish that leads to the barest suggestions of earthiness. A surprising effort from a New World producer in its mimicking of an Older World style, and while it’s not at the top rank of Oregon pinots, it’s certainly worth a second look. (4/06)

Storrs 1997 Zinfandel Lion Oaks (Santa Clara County) – Intensely concentrated “zinberry” fruit, heavy on the dried wild blackberry, wild blueberry and olallieberry (tending towards, but not reaching, the jam stage), with the receding memory of structure at the circumference. There’s still some acid, though, and this ends up being crisp and delicious, though in a narrow-focused way. I think it’s probably time to drink this, though it seems in no danger of fading quickly away. (4/06)

Ridge 1997 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – Vanilla- and anise-scented sweet American oak essentially covering a thinning layer of blackberry and boysenberry fruit juice. This would appear to suggest further aging, but as the mild tannins in this wine are starting to bite a bit, I think Draper’s advice to drink now-ish is probably wise. (4/06)

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – Silly and insubstantial when first opened (for, it must be admitted, pouring into a stew), but a day by itself works wonders on the body and integration of this wine. After some alone time, it shows ripe mixed red fruit with some chunky purple grape skins and a fresh, balanced structure. The wine is good, but it’s an excellent bargain. (4/06)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – As is typical whenever I bring a domestic wine to France, the weight and heat are commented upon (negatively) by the natives. And maybe it’s the setting or the context, but this does come off just a touch hotter than usual: there’s strong leather, blueberry, black pepper, and a touch of sweet Scotch lounging in Sherry wood. It’s rather forceful, sure, but there’s good acid and a succulent juiciness that keep it tasty. I also note that, despite their reservations, my family guzzles it down. (3/06)

Concannon 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Coast) – Hard and skin-dominated at first, eventually developing some rounder red fruit characteristics, and even a hint of softness. But overall, it’s a harsh wine; big, but harsh. (3/06)

Cooper Mountain “Cooper Hill” 2004 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Reasonably friendly, soupberry fruit with elements of earth and leaf. Varietally-correct pinot, without complexity but also without trauma. A nice, simple-minded wine. (3/06)

Blackstone 2003 Merlot (California) – Boisterous dark fruit and stewed vegetables, which soon start to smell like – no kidding – garbage after enough air. Ugh. (3/06)

Sierra Vista 1999 Zinfandel Reeves Vineyard (El Dorado) – Brooding yet fierce, with animalistic wild fruit and jagged, pointy tannin, acid and alcohol. I’m not sure this is aging harmoniously. It might still come around, and the fruit that’s there is rather good in its classic, angry Sierra Foothills fashion, but the alcohol is worrisome, and I suspect the problem is that it’s actually a bit late to be drinking this. (3/06)

Edmunds St. John 2000 Syrah (California) – A bit truculent at first, relaxing to mere surliness, then finally…perhaps most of all after 24 hours of air…showing its inner colors of leathery blackberry skins, hints of smoked meat, and a thick, solid structure. This is aging nicely, if perhaps a bit slower than I’d anticipated, and appears to be willing to be held for a few more years at least. (2/06)

Adelaida 2003 “Rhone Style Red Wine” The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Earth, ripe plum and a touch of bubblegum with a nicely floral finish, though overall it’s fairly hot. (1/06)

Adelaida 2003 Syrah “Reserve” Viking Estate (Paso Robles) – Hard leaves and perfumey blueberry blossoms. Strident. (1/06)

Adelaida 2003 Syrah “Reserve” The Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Fluffy, sweet blueberry syrup. Very forward, but more of a waffle topping than a wine. (1/06)

Adelaida 2003 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Mt. Range HMR Estate (Paso Robles) – Strawberry and leafy aromatics in a firm, concentrated balanced package. Very nice. (1/06)

Anne Amie 2002 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Vegetal and lightly herbal, with raspberries and floral notes. Too restrained; this gives “elegance” a bad name. (1/06)

l’Aventure 2002 Syrah (Paso Robles) – Blackberry, blueberry and earth with a initial shock of chocolate. This fades and smoothes while the fruit fills out, bringing with it a lovely graphite-like texture. Very, very nice wine. (1/06)

l’Aventure 2002 “Optimus” (Paso Robles) – 50% syrah, 46% cabernet sauvignon, 4% zinfandel. Beautifully structured, showing lush and full-bodied plum and gorgeous graphite textures. Outstanding. (1/06)

l’Aventure 2003 “Estate Cuvée” (Paso Robles) – Chocolate, tough and somewhat seedy strawberry, black cherry and blackberry in a firmer, much-less lush package than the Optimus. A bit tough at this stage, but I think it will age well. (1/06)

Chatom 2002 Syrah (Calaveras County) – Black pepper, leather and blueberry with low acidity. Good raw materials, but needs structure. (1/06)

Chatom 2002 Zinfandel (Calaveras County) – Rustic wild berries (mostly micro-raspberries) with cappuccino and a nice, zingy but clean intensity. Good acidity. (1/06)

Deerfield 2003 “Old Vine” Zinfandel Buchignani/Garcia Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley) – Spiced berries and light coconut; a soft and elegant zin, which doesn’t necessarily strike me as the best expression of this vineyard, but is also not unwelcome (despite the intrusive coconut). (1/06)

Eberle 2004 Zinfandel Steinbeck Vineyard (Paso Robles) – Spiced plum, coconut and big cherry aromas. A tropical, coconutty fruit bomb with some supporting structure. Did I mention the coconut? Oh yeah, twice. Well, there’s a third time. Not my style, but good in its idiom. (1/06)

Eberle 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) – Balanced and structured, showing cases, black cherry, leather, thyme and the expected wash of vanilla-scented chocolate. Long, though the length is mostly tannin by the end. There’s serious aging potential here, and even some complexity. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Rhapsody” Sangiovese Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – Spiced wood, bitter strawberry and a short, hot finish. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Hilltop Serenade” Syrah “Reserve” Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – Chewy, with weird plastic and vinyl characters dominating. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2002 Zinfandel Outlaw Ridge “Reserve” (Paso Robles) – Heavy, thick, and sludgy with strong oak spice dominating. The finish is long, but what of it? (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Bon Vivant” Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” Destiny Vineyards Derek Heights Selection (Paso Robles) – Amazingly dense black cherry and blackberry with good acidity and a powdery tannin texture. Succulent and massively of its place. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2000 “Cab-Ovation” Cabernet Sauvignon Destiny Vineyards Mount Christo Block (Paso Robles) – Hard, impenetrable tannin. I’d write more, see, but let’s get back to that “impenetrable” thing… (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2000 “Rhapsody” Meritage (Central Coast) – Herb-dominated, with a firm structure. Eh. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2002 “Irresistible” Petite Sirah “Old Vines” (Paso Robles) – One of the biggest wines I’ve ever put in my mouth, fortified wines included. Blueberry liqueur, thick black chocolate, and strong, firm but balanced structure. Absolutely tooth-staining. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Cab-Ovation” Cabernet Sauvignon Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – (Mount Christo Block as well? My notes aren’t clear.) Black cherry, plum and dark, brooding wood. Much better than the 2000. (1/06)

Hunt Cellars 2002 “Hilltop Serenade” Syrah “Winemaker’s Private Reserve” Destiny Vineyards (Paso Robles) – Black dirt, blueberry and huge, thudding tannin; I might have to take back the description of the petite sirah, because this is equally over-endowed. Just a huge, huge wine. (1/06)

Justin 2004 Petit Verdot (Paso Robles) – Thudding dried nut, raw bark, and chewy chocolate with a papery dryness and scalding heat. (1/06)

Justin 2002 “Isosceles” (Paso Robles) – Smoked cedar and thick, bitter chocolate coffee. Ultra-dense, thick and sludgy, though obviously time will help it along. (1/06)

Opolo 2004 Viognier (Central Coast) – Peach, pear and honeysuckle. Low acid with sweet fruit, but decent enough. (1/06)

Opolo 2002 “Rhapsody” (Paso Robles) – Blueberry and dark earth, with loads of tannin. (1/06)

Opolo 2001 Syrah (Paso Robles) – Plum and blueberry, with a sugary aspect, dense tannin, and a finish highly reminiscent of Lowland Scotch. (1/06)

Opolo 2004 “Mountain” Zinfandel (Paso Robles) – Baked celery. Absolutely horrid. (1/06)

Peachy Canyon 2004 Zinfandel “Indredible Red Bin 118” (California) – Oak, spiced chocolate and tart berries. (1/06)

Peachy Canyon 2003 Zinfandel Westside (Paso Robles) – Big fruit, huge spice and sweat. Zingy. (1/06)

Peachy Canyon 2003 “Jester” (Paso Robles) – Dull, soupy herb sludge with green tannins. (1/06)

Peachy Canyon 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) – Blueberry-infused milk chocolate and fluffy cotton candy; simplistic, childish, and so confected it tastes off-dry (but it’s not). (1/06)

Peachy Canyon 2002 “Para Siempre” (Paso Robles) – Big, with underripe berries, plum and dill-dominated structure. The finish is long, but that’s not necessarily a good thing here. (1/06)

Dashe 2002 Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – Unlike another recently-consumed bottle, this one has chosen to cower under a tight sheen of coconutty oak. There’s big, generous zinberry fruit underneath it all, but the performance of this wine is a touch inexplicable. Finishes with the expected blackberry liqueur and black pepper residue, though it’s important to note that this wine isn’t hot or boozy. (12/05)

Sierra Vista 2003 Grenache (El Dorado) – Weighty but not powerful, with raspberry and pomegranate but very little of the expected bubblegum, a slightly sludgy structure (though there’s plenty of it), and a somewhat more promising introduction of ground-flowerbed earthiness and spice on the finish. I’m unsure about this wine. (12/05)

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. (12/05)

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. (12/05)

Thomas Fogarty 2001 “Skyline” (California) – Massively overwooded and underripe at the same time. Horrid. (12/05)

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. (12/05)

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. (12/05)

Renwood “Sierra Series” 2003 Syrah (Sierra Foothills) – Chunky, monolithic and dark Sierra fruit, clunky tannin, and a chewy texture. Certainly drinkable, but it lacks class. (12/05)

Verdad 2003 Tempranillo 67% Syrah 17% Grenache 16% (Santa Barbara County) – The back label uses “variety” correctly, which is a plus, but it also says that this winery “makes wine from Spanish grape varieties.” Syrah, huh? Anyway, this is pretty much what one would expect: bitter chocolate, milk chocolate, woodsmoke, vanilla, goopy boysenberry and black cherry syrup, and thudding oak tannin. Ponderous and mouth-coating, like Kaopectate but from “Spanish grape varieties.” (12/05)

Storrs 2001 Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Baked fig and sugary strawberry with papery tannin. There’s good balance here, with the caveat that that it might be a little on the sweet side, but this either needs more fruit or has been open too long (I try to ask, but the attention required by other tasters delays me long enough that I decide to simply move on with the tasting). (11/05)

Storrs 2002 Pinot Noir Wildcat Ridge (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Very floral and fragrant (roses, certainly), with concentrated micro-berries dominated by wild blueberries and plum. Dark and slightly brooding. I like it. (11/05)

Storrs 2002 Two Creek (Santa Clara County) – A blend of carignan, syrah and grenache, showing bubblegum, nuts and a sweet, slightly synthetic nature with soft structure. Honestly, it’s a little dead. The tannin solidifies with air, but the finish is very short. (11/05)

Storrs 2001 Merlot (San Ysidro District) – Softly ripe blueberry jam infused with malic acid and juicy oak spice. Lingering tannin is somewhat green, and there’s dill on the finish. (11/05)

Storrs 2002 Zinfandel Rusty Ridge (Santa Clara County) – 75 year-old vines, 15.5% alcohol. Cherry cola forms a sweet palate impact, with coconut, dusty granite and sweet basil on the palate. Despite a brief dalliance with geology, this is awfully tutti-frutti. (11/05)

Storrs 2000 “BXR” (San Francisco Bay) – Oh, how I love the precision of this appellation. Anyway, there’s smoky wood and toast up top, strong strawberry seeds, ripe plums and black cherries down below, in a lush, full-bodied and mouthfilling wine. It is strongly wooded, and there’s a bit of a liqueur-like finish, but the balance here is pretty decent, overall. Definitely New World, though. (11/05)

Edmunds St. John 2004 “Bone Jolly” Gamay Noir Witters (El Dorado County) – 13.1%. Juicy, reddish-violet fruit (mostly plums and cherries) with light strawberry leaves backstroking on top. The structure includes that powdery graphite stuff for which I’m an absolute sucker, and on the finish some intriguing notes of honey…no, it’s more floral; perhaps honeysuckle…emerge. This is like wine juice, and pure fun. Buy it by the pallet. (11/05)

Ridge 1987 Zinfandel Geyserville (Sonoma County) – 13.7%. Gorgeous and fully resolved, with mixed berries leaning towards the softer side of cherry, smooth earth and dried underbrush. After an hour or so, it starts to fade gently away. Drink it quickly. (11/05)

Ridge 1995 Zinfandel York Creek (Spring Mountain) – Ripe apple and concentrated strawberry jam, still tannic and firm but with fruit that’s starting to “roast” (a personal descriptor I have for one specific quality of aged zin) and I suspect it’s about half as rich as it once was. Drink soonish, I’d say, though it won’t outlive the tannin. (11/05)

Ridge 2002 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – 14.4%. Scotch and blackberry liqueur, with thick, massive waves of oak and density. Very long, and I’m used to young Ridge tasting woody, but what’s up with all the heat? (11/05)

Ridge 2003 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – 14.6%. Big berry fruit (mostly cherry and blueberry), showing good, zingy acidity and moderately-strong tannin. A good, balanced wine. (11/05)

Ridge 2003 Zinfandel Independence School (Sonoma County) – 15.4%. Papery and flat, with dried, dust-covered berry residue. No thanks. (11/05)

Ridge 2001 “Late Picked” Zinfandel York Creek (Napa Valley) – 15.9%. Chocolate-covered cherries. This is starting to mellow a bit, though it’s still dominated by its off-dryness rather than its inherent qualities. At least here, the size makes sense, but it’s not showing much of interest at the moment. (11/05)

Ridge 2003 Zinfandel Buchignani Ranch (Sonoma County) – 14%. Dried walnuts and light plum with shriveled berry skins. Balanced. (11/05)

Thunder Mountain 1996 Zinfandel Dusi Ranch (Paso Robles) – Sweaty plum liqueur, strawberry eau de vie, and a soft, light-fruited but high-alcohol palate with low acid and little remaining tannin. (11/05)

Freemark Abbey 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché (Napa Valley) – It’s my once-per-year positive tasting note on a Napa wine! Gorgeous, mixed powdery peppercorns with bright cherry and lovely tobacco notes. Balanced and structured (less tannin than acid at this point). I’ve had decidedly mixed experiences with Freemark Abbey – some horrible, some reasonably positive – but this is a really nice wine, and ready to go now (though it’s probably in no danger of immediate death, either). (11/05)

Edmunds St. John 1994 Syrah Durell (Sonoma County) – Boozy and flat, with smoked leather and a heavy payload of tannin. Dead and hot. Something’s wrong here, and I don’t know that “closed” quite covers it. (11/05)

Saisons des Vins 2004 Syrah “l’hiver” (Mendocino County) – Fairly elegant, perhaps almost tinny, with leathery blackberries and a lithe structure. Not overdriven at all, but swinging a little too far to the other side, with stemmy aromatics and a bit of spiky acidity. Still, it’s a lot more pleasant to drink than the soupy alternatives, and it’s balanced enough that it might flesh out with some time in the cellar. Indeed, it does flesh out with extended airing, showing deeper and darker echoes from within. (11/05)

Vina Robles 2001 Zinfandel Westside (Paso Robles) – Huge and massively blackberry-chocked with wild, vine-y characteristics, not inconsiderable alcohol, and forceful presence. Classic roasted-fruit Paso zin. 15.5%. (11/05)

Ridge 1995 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – My friends continue their campaign of generously opening wines for us that are nowhere near ready. This one is full of American oak and Asian spice (the aromatically omnibus “Draper perfume”) with walnut oil, spicy wood, and fragrant toast. Ridges at this stage – all wood, all the time – are trying to tell us something: leave me alone! 14.3%. (11/05)

Sonoma-Cutrer 2002 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – Synthetic raspberry, black cherry, and powdered strawberry-flavored sugar. Soft and gulpable, but highly out of place after red Burgundy; it would probably do better amongst the sweet pinots of today’s earlier tasting. (4/05)

Terroir Napa Valley 2002 “Centa” (Napa Valley) – A left bank-style blend, showing dense herbed blackberry, cedar, and tobacco. A touch green and soupy despite pretty good structure, with a black pepper finish and drying tannin. Balanced, but it will have a difficult middle age, and always be a bit on the green side. (4/05)

Terroir Napa Valley 2002 “Dusty Red” (Rutherford) – Blueberry, black cherry, cassis, tobacco, and graphite. All the classic elements in a dense, hard, but balanced package. Tannins edge towards dusty coal and burnt redwood, but the finish is incredibly long. A very good wine. (4/05)

August Briggs 2003 Pinot Meunier (Napa Valley) – Black cherries dominate a sweet and simple midpalate. This is a good example of why pinot meunier is an excellent blending grape, and it’s intellectually interesting to taste, but as a standalone wine…no. (4/05)

August Briggs 2003 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – Sweaty black plum and blackberry with juicy blood orange and a persistent light sweetness, then drying to basil and fennel on the finish. There’s some potential here, but only a little. (4/05)

August Briggs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso (Napa Valley) – Leather, black cherry, blackberry, and cassis syrup with green weeds and hard, ripe tannin. Thick, with only a cursory nod towards acidity, long, and sticky. When did wine reduction sauces become desirable drinks? (4/05)

August Briggs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Leathery plum, dark cherry, and dusty earth with a stony, graphite-dominated texture. Long and incredibly dense with some interior complexity, this seems like a really excellent wine…until the finish, which is like sucking on a cherry Life-Saver. A shame, because what precedes it is rather impressive. (4/05)

August Briggs 2002 Syrah (Napa Valley) – A very light funk (which blows off), fragrant violets and blueberries with a chewy walnut palate. Hollows out on the finish, showing rhubarb, dried plum, and rancid fig. Drink soon, or suffer the consequences, because this wine has the raw materials to age about a week. (4/05)

August Briggs 2003 Zinfandel (Napa Valley) – Blackberry and burnt cherry tree bark with roasted nuts, peanut butter, and zingy coconut-infused goat cheese. Texturally gritty, thick, and tongue-sticking, with a sweet-tart finish. (4/05)

Auteur 2002 Pinot Noir Hyland (Willamette Valley) – Shy on the nose, showing lightly herbed grapefruit and graceful crushed roses passed through a filter. Builds towards a really pretty finish, but needs better aromatics upfront, and a little more assertiveness. (4/05)

Auteur 2003 Pinot Noir Montasi (Willamette Valley) – Slightly hot nose, with plum, fig, and dark, dusty mushroom. Chewy and balanced, with good structure. The best pinot I’ve tasted today. Balance and potential count for a lot. (4/05)

de Sante 2002 “Calder” (Napa Valley) – Cabernet franc, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Vanilla and herb dust with cassis, blueberry, black earth, and bruised black cherries with hints of black licorice, dark and dusty throughout, and showing a lovely, soft yet balanced structure and a great deal of complexity, with a long, lovely finish. A very nice wine with a solid future. (4/05)

Serdonis 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) – How could this possibly come from the same winemaker? Graphite and tar with a chewy, vanilla-infused structure, herbality, and dark plum residue that shows almost sugary despite a wall of hard tannin which clamps down on the synthetic finish. This shows the most unflattering aspects of Howell Mountain fruit, unfortunately. (4/05)

Serdonis 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) – Very dense and impenetrably tannic, with dark, peppery black fruit and bell pepper peeking out for a moment before being body-slammed by overwhelming bitterness. Not as synthetic on the finish as the previous wine, but completely indecipherable right now. Those who munch razor blades for fun might find some pleasure in this. (4/05)

David Arthur 2002 “Meritaggio” (Napa Valley) – Sweet strawberry and juicy plum; pretty fruit all dressed up with no place to go, except as a simple (and tasty) quaffer. Which would all be fine, except that the price doesn’t exactly reflect quaffability... (4/05)

David Arthur 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Sweet cherry, strawberry, and cranberry flavored with Juicy-Fruit™ gum, dressed with very light chocolate, and held up by some pretty decent acid and a bit of structural tannin. Not bad at all, if a little confectionary. (4/05)

Showket 2000 Sangiovese (Oakville) – Funky but intense peanut butter and strawberry sandwich, dense throughout and with a buttery, attenuated finish. (4/05)

Showket 2001 Sangiovese (Oakville) – Tannic, adding blackberry jam to the strawberry, and thick on the nose and palate, showing better balance than the previous wine despite massive fruit; the tannin, firm at first, turns bitter and green on the finish. (4/05)

Showket 2002 “Asante sana” (Oakville) – A “super-Tuscan” analogue from sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. A hot nose portending dense, liqueur-style berries. Structured, with decent acidity and big tannin which “balance” this forcefully muscular wine until the finish. Which, unfortunately, turns to a lurid sort of dried celery rather quickly. Still, this isn’t truly awful… (4/05)

Showket 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) – …but this is. Bell pepper and vegetable-infused chocolate with a fiery, nasty finish. Disgusting. (4/05)

Duchamp 2002 Syrah “Cuvée Trouvée” (Dry Creek Valley) – Cute name. Too bad the wine’s ugly. Minted lamb burger with a bouquet of flowers and ripe coconut, finishing harsh and peaty with more of that coconut. Bad barrels. Bad, bad barrels! (4/05)

Kosta Browne 2003 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) – Nice, dusty strawberry and red cherry, soft and not at all bad, though tannin clips the finish in a slightly annoying way. A good value, though. (4/05)

Kosta Browne 2003 Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) – Plum and cherry, soft to the point of fluffiness, with a sugary midpalate that particulates to powdered sugar on the finish. There’s a decent, feminine pinot somewhere under all this sugar, but the ants might get to it first. (4/05)

Kosta Browne 2003 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) – 15.25% alcohol (this is the last heat level I’ll note; everyone knows where this is going). Slightly darker, plumy fruit with juicy mushrooms. Somewhat hot, though the flavors are good, but the finish is no less sugary-sweet than the previous wine. Is it residual sugar, overripe fruit, or just the alcohol again? It’s getting impossible to tell these days. (4/05)

Kosta Browne 2003 Pinot Noir Cohn (Russian River Valley) – Lightly-spiced plum, sweet maraschino cherry, and intense sweetness with only a touch of tannin to combat it. The finish shows sweet anise candy. Labeled as demi-sec, this would actually be pretty good. (4/05)

Kosta Browne 2003 Pinot Noir Kanzler (Sonoma Coast) – Denser and darker with a bit of kirsch liqueur, more tannin than any previous wine, and banana studded with strawberry seeds. Overtly better-balanced than the other pinots, with good acidity and a decent medium-term future. (4/05)

Kosta Browne 2003 Pinot Noir Koplen (Russian River Valley) – Succulent strawberry jam with some vegetal notes, medium tannin, and chewy, almost toffee-like sweetness. What is up with these wines? (4/05)

Tremani 2003 Pinot Noir Hansen Vineyards (Russian River Valley) – Smoked hickory and thick boysenberry syrup. Extremely overwooded. (4/05)

Pelerin 2003 Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) – Kumquat, rhubarb, artichoke, and other not-worth-identifying vegetables. Really weird. (4/05)

Pelerin 2003 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) – Bark on the nose, synthetic dark cherry on the palate, water on the finish. “Balanced,” I suppose, though it turns hot with swirling. Still, it’s better than the previous wine. (4/05)

Pelerin 2003 Syrah (Monterey) – Blackberry liqueur fades away into…nothing. A completely absent palate. The finish is nice, showing dried leather, tar, and some reasonably firm tannin. But where’d the palate go? Big Sur? (4/05)

Pelerin 2003 “RTW” (Monterey) – A blend of zinfandel, syrah, and pinot noir. Lightly smoked blueberry, thyme, and drying tannin. A thin, simple quaffer at best, but I like it better than the rest of the lineup. (4/05)

Garretson 2003 “G Red” (Central Coast) – 14% alcohol. I think Mat says this is syrah, but by now I’m getting a little tipsy just from the fumes. Chewy blueberry, sweet and short. Fun, but a very brief sort of fun. (4/05)

Garretson 2003 Grenache “The Spáinneach” (Paso Robles) – 15.2% alcohol. Strawberry, mushroom, nut, and big cherry bubblegum on the palate. Incredibly dense. And is it lightly sweet? I admit that it’s almost impossible to tell at these alcohol levels, as alcohol can “taste” sweet on the palate. Massive, but tasty in its idiosyncratic way. If there’s one grape that I think can handle these sorts of alcohols, it’s grenache. (4/05)

Garretson 2003 Mourvèdre “The Graosta” (Paso Robles) – 14.8% alcohol. Coconut, thick and earthy blended herbs, and blackberry, with a syrupy finish. This shows a little more structure than the previous wines, and actually approaches something that, in this context, might charitably be termed balance. Certainly it’s the only red so far that seems to have a future in an industry other than bourbon… (4/05)

Garretson 2003 Syrah “The Craic” (Central Coast) – 15.4% alcohol. Fragrant violet, herbs (especially tarragon), anise, and thick, sludgy blueberry. Mouthfillingly sweet alcohol dominates. This may last forever, much in the way spirits do. (4/05)

Garretson 2003 Syrah “Mon Amie” Bassetti Vineyard (San Luis Obispo) – 16.8% alcohol. No, I’m not making that up either. Nose-burning, sweet, thermonuclear blueberry and sticky blackberry fruit finish long, goopy, and hot. I’ve had vins doux that tasted less fortified. Hell, I’ve had Alsatian mirabelle liqueur that tasted less alcoholic. But thank God for engineered yeasts, eh? You know, I hear Sam Adams has developed a yeast that can take things up to 22% or so before giving up the boozy ghost. Certain winemakers might want to look into borrowing the little critters. (4/05)

Garretson 2003 Syrah “The Bulladóir” (Paso Robles) – 15.9% alcohol. Less overtly hot, but so frickin’ big I think it might be the most massive wine I’ve ever tasted (that didn’t rely on 300-year burials in barrique for size and palate weight, the technique I swear certain Barossa producers must use). Blueberry, plum syrup, black tar, and gallons of unidentifiable liqueur. Somebody get me a tissue… (4/05)

Edmunds St. John 1992 Syrah “Grand Heritage” (California) – Steve’s play on “Grange Hermitage,” though of course there’s only a passing resemblance. Baked hickory, plum, and green olives sprinkled with coffee grounds and old thyme, and showing just enough dried, leathery blackberry skins to out-fruit (though not quite out-complex) a '92 Chave poured at the same time. It, too, is long and lovely with good acidity, but there is a very faintly watery note on the finish, and I think it’s closer to the end of its life than the Hermitage. I wouldn’t kick either of these wines out of bed, and while my personal preferences run towards the Chave, I think the ESJ proves that California syrah can gain complexity and tertiary qualities with age, if not prevented from doing any more than “lasting” by a modernistic prison of oak, overripeness, and glitzy structural management. (4/05)

St. Innocent 1996 Pinot Noir O’Connor (Willamette Valley) – Balanced, rich, and mature, showing spiced leaves, rosemary, and slightly gritty tannin with the soft remembrance of fruits gone by. Just gorgeous, and I’m pleased that it seems to strike the natives most positively. Unfortunately, later into the bacchanalian evening, I manage to spill my last half-glass all over the table (just missing Sue thanks to a curled-up paper tablecloth) but even then the aroma just sings. Beautiful, elegant pinot at the peak of its aromatic decadence. (2/05)

Ridge 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Flawless, strong and majestic and seemingly much younger than its thirty years. The nose is hugely fruity, showing smoked plum, black cherry, blackberry, and earth that are fully resolved yet full and forceful, with a gorgeous, warming texture that lingers and dances on the palate. Beautiful, soul-stirring wine, with the sort of completeness and confident power that only the best cabernets in the world are able to possess. (8/04)

Edmunds St. John 2003 Gamay Noir “Bone-Jolly” Witters (El Dorado County) – Steve is all a-twitter about the potential of his incoming 2004, but the 2003 is already a dramatic improvement over the first version of this wine…and the first version was pretty darn good. The nose is a bit tight for gamay, showing only a brief preview of pretty strawberry blossoms, but the liquid is lovely and balanced, with succulent floral notes (dominated by violets) and a beautiful finish rich with potpourri. Terrific. (8/04)

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – 15.2%. Smoky blueberry bubblegum, blackberry, black cherry, boysenberry, and pomegranate – a veritable festival of fruit juice – with white pepper and graphite-like tannin. Big, powerful, and showing a hint of its alcoholic roots on the finish, but delicious and medium-term ageable. (8/04)

Ridge 1996 Mataro Pagani Vineyard “ATP” (Sonoma Valley) – The remains of last night’s bottle, supplied by Mike Dashe. While Mike was initially put off by the wine’s less “clean” aspects, which he later decided to ignore when the wine proved too delicious to criticize, I know Steve Edmund’s a bit of a mourvèdre freak and won’t let a bit of funk bother him. Instead, Steve’s reflexive reaction is instead to wrinkle his brow and start complaining about the level of new wood, even before he’s tasted the wine. Afterwards, however, he admits that it’s not really woody at all, and is in fact rather enjoyable. A day of oxidation later, I find it even better than the previous day: rich spiced plum, coffee, black cherry, graphite tannin, and a zingy mouthfeel akin to the feeling of a trillion little bubbles dancing around my tongue. There’s the slightest sheen of vanilla toast on the! finish, but overall this wine is simply masterful. (8/04)

Dashe 2001 Zinfandel Todd Brothers Ranch (Alexander Valley) – For the first hour, this shows almost nothing except coconut-scented wood, despite aggressive decanting and swirling. The wine underneath shows black fruit and coffee encased in a firm tannic structure, tight and tightly-wound and in no way ready to drink except for purely analytical purposes. (8/04)

Ridge 1996 Mataro Pagani Vineyard “ATP” (Sonoma Valley) – Mike Dashe’s reaction to this wine is fascinating and revealing (and, tomorrow, Steve Edmunds’ reaction will be equally revealing), as he takes one whiff, scrunches up his nose, proclaims the overwhelming presence of an off-putting funk (from brett, mourvèdre, or both, he doesn’t specify), and goes back to his zin. Well, there’s about as much funk here as there is on a Whitney Houston album: very light brett with an earthy, smoked character underlying dark, dusty blackberry and French roast coffee beans. Balanced and rich, with firm tannin and a lovely graphite texture, this is a tremendous wine nowhere near even its first stirrings of maturity. Eventually, Mike goes back to the wine, finds it to be “actually, pretty good” (I smirk, but don’t comment), and stops avoiding it. (8/04)

Ridge 1991 Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) – From 375 ml. This carries a special anniversary label…gold and green and, honestly, kinda ugly. But the wine sure isn’t any of those things, instead showing a graphite character to its fine-powdered tannin, mature cedar, leafy fruit, and a very slight herbal greenness. It’s still lovely, even from half-bottle, and holding nicely, but in this size it’s probably as mature and developed as one would wish it to be. (8/04)

Nalle 2002 Pinot Noir Hopkins Ranch (Russian River Valley) – Bright, succulent strawberry with earth tones and great acidity. Supple and freshening with our heavy food, it weaves in and out of the gustatory mélange, finishing long and lovely. (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2002 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) – Apple, strawberry, raspberry, and citrus peel with a crisp, zingy feel. Very nice, but an early drinker. (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2001 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – 15.3%. There are some fairly unique orange, tangerine, and peach aromas here, along with the more typical plum and boysenberry (the latter taking on a somewhat jammy quality), though there’s also good acidity and a little bit of tannin. Interesting and decidedly different. (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Pena Creek Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley) – Black pepper, cherry skin, and a green hue shade this juicy yet firm wine that too-frequently falls into rough hardness. Out of balance, but coming down just barely on the side of drinkability. (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2001 Syrah Nuns Canyon (Sonoma Valley) – No, I didn’t forget an apostrophe. The wine, however, forgot to have an aroma. There’s leather and smoked blueberry on the palate, but this is awfully ephemeral for a syrah. (8/04)

Dashe 1999 Zinfandel Todd Brothers Ranch (Alexander Valley) – Closed up, to the point where only lovers of extreme structure will find enjoyment here. A little dark, baked fruit remains, but since this wine is in it for the long haul, it would be best to wait. Give it, oh, another six-plus years or so, and then revisit. It was a monster when young, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be great when it emerges from sleep. (8/04)

Swan 2002 Pinot Noir “Cuvée de Trois” (Russian River Valley) – Plum, orange rind, strawberry, and red cherry fruit with great acidity; light and lively, this is the sort of delicious, ripe but lightly elegant pinot noir that some winemakers, enamored of their efficiency in extracting every last bit of sugar and orgasmic phenol from their well-hung grapes, insist just can’t be made in California. This won’t blow down anyone’s doors, but then why would you ever want a poor, defenseless pinot noir to do such a thing? It will be awfully fun to drink. And what more can one ask, really? (8/04)

Swan 2001 Syrah Trenton Estate (Russian River Valley) – There’s light brett-derived funk (though it’s actually more on the Band-Aid side of things) with bubbly, fresh blueberry and black pepper hardened up by a light tannic sheen like walnut skins. Almost more akin to syrah juice than wine, with good acidity and a friendly face belying a more serious veneer. Very good, though I’m not sure it will age in an entirely satisfying way. (8/04)

Swan 2002 Syrah Great Oak (Russian River Valley) – Smoky blueberry and pepper with slightly green notes, tannic and chewy and not entirely well-balanced. Unlike the Trenton Estate, this will need age, but that greenness is worrisome. (8/04)

Swan 2001 Mourvèdre (Russian River Valley) – Ashen flecks of burnt pine needles, blackberry, blueberry, and cashew-studded earth with a keening tin note throughout. Fleshy on the midpalate, but slightly underripe on the perimeter, and a bit zingy and uncontrolled at the moment. I’d give it a few years to settle down, but not so many that the tannin starts to really dominate. (8/04)

Ridge 2001 Mazzoni Home Ranch (Alexander Valley) – 45% zinfandel, 50% carignane, 5% petite sirah, 14.4% alcohol. Rough and rustic, showing chewy dried cranberries and even drier grapes, earthy tannin, and high acidity. Balanced, but only just, this is a reasonably extreme form of desiccated zinfandel that some will love, but many will not. I’m on the fence. (8/04)

Ridge 2002 Zinfandel Buchignani Ranch (Sonoma County) – 95% zinfandel, 5% petite sirah, 14.4% alcohol. Plum, raspberry, and slightly green floral aromas lift from a wine with more (and more balanced) structure. It’s juicy with supporting acidity, but things seem in order, and I think it should age reasonably well over the medium-term. (8/04)

Ridge 2001 Zinfandel Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County) – 100% zinfandel, 14.5% alcohol. Raspberry juice infusing intense red-and-black licorice eau de vie, alongside vivid and slightly roasted fruit. The finish is very long. A quite impressive wine, though awfully big-assed, and lovers thereof should adore it. I, myself, can’t help but admire its width. Sir Mix-a-Lot makes a comeback! (8/04)

Ridge 2001 Syrah/Grenache Lytton Estate Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley) – A 50/50 blend, 14.8% alcohol. Ridge syrah, in a previous and unlamented vintage, remains the one and only non-damaged and non-overaged Ridge wine I have ever truly hated. Thus is it with considerable anxiety that I bring this to my lips. Soy, licorice, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry bubblegum are fairly striking on a rather boozy nose, but turn shy on the palate, leaving big acidity and good structural tannin naked right through to a hide-chapping finish. Not offensive, but I just don’t get what they’re trying to do here (8/04).

Ridge 2001 Zinfandel Pagani Ranch (Sonoma Valley) – 88% zinfandel, 8% alicante bouschet, 4% petite sirah, 15.4% alcohol, and loving every head-bashing degree therein. Massively concentrated, but not at all hot, showing strong dark berry fruit and a long, chewy, food-like, utterly delicious finish. This couldn’t be more unlike, say, the Nalle approach to zinfandel, but in its style it’s turning out to be an absolute masterpiece. (8/04)

Ridge 2002 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – 75% zinfandel, 20% petite sirah, 5% carignane, 14.4% alcohol. Plum, boysenberry, blueberry, and lots of malic/apple zing with lashings of vanilla-scented oak and powdery tannin. Fresh and extremely primary, and seemingly a touch lighter than this wine has been in the past. Only a bit lighter, that is, and still quite balanced and ageable, but it’s not all that interesting right now. Shed not a tear while it heads off to nursery school; it’s time to let the little ones go. (8/04)

Ridge 2002 Geyserville (Sonoma County) – 84% zinfandel, 12% carignane, 4% petite sirah, 14.6% alcohol. Smoky, concentrated plum and forceful tannic structure, turning dark and brooding with gentle storms of wood drifting away on a long, firm finish. Very impressive, but definitely in need of significant aging to come together, shed the primary wood tones, etc. (8/04)

Limerick Lane 2001 Zinfandel Collins Vineyard (Russian River Valley) – Sweet plum, blueberry, and red licorice that is neither over-oaked nor over-fruited; remarkable restraint, really. On the other hand, the fruit that is there has a zin liqueur quality to it, which will not please everyone. I kinda like it, as it doesn’t come with the alcoholic burn such wines usually present. (8/04)

Limerick Lane 2001 Zinfandel Collins Vineyard “Old Vine” (Russian River Valley) – Blueberry, blackberry, plum and intense strawberry seed that turn to fat-bodied jam on a longish finish, but this time layered with an obvious spread of vanilla-scented toast. This will age better than the previous wine, and there’s “more” here, but it has less individuality. (8/04)

Limerick Lane 2001 Syrah Collins Vineyard (Russian River Valley) – Leather and black plum marred by stemmy green tannins. Short and Kermit-hued. (8/04)

Fetzer 2001 “Coro Mendocino” (Mendocino) – My first taste of this vaunted multi-producer regional “concept wine,” albeit from the many-tentacled kahuna of the region. There’s red and purple fruit, big acidity, and a rather tremendous amount of hard tannin. Very, very primary and separated right now, and far too young to evaluate. I wonder how the others taste? (8/04)

Bonterra 2002 Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Muscat (California) – An attempt at a California version of your basic, inexpensive, un-spoofulated table wine for uncritical everyday quaffing. Naturally, it’s only sold elsewhere; heaven forfend we Americans give up our ridiculous quest for gobs and jam and wood and points at bargain-basement prices. Anyway, this shows lightly floral perfume, big and somewhat sweet tropical fruit, and a decent acidic bite underneath it all. Yes, this is – at long last – the sort of wine I think should be available all over the country, pumped out by the tanker load from vineyards all over hot and fertile California, and opened at every kitchen table and family restaurant in the country. And yet, it’s not. Why not? Because, honestly, we’re very, very foolish people. (8/04)

Charles Melton 2004 “Rose of Virginia” (Barossa Valley) – Massive bubblegum, blueberry, red cherry, and strawberry; gee, do we think there’s grenache in here? A big doofus of a fruit bomb. Virginia needs to go to high school. (8/04)

Sokol Blosser 2001 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Candied strawberry and plum in a light, simple, direct package slightly marred by plastic notes. (8/04)

Fetzer 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon (California) – Someone’s having a little joke on Mr. Brown-Forman, yes? Well, the joke’s on the other foot, to mix a metaphorical stew with the verbal spoon of righteousness. The nose is beautiful, full of roses and lavender, and the palate is still chock-o’-block with relatively primary strawberry fruit. I’m not saying it’s going to get any better, but it certainly hasn’t crumbled into dried industrial sludge either. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2002 Mourvèdre (Dry Creek Valley) – Blackberry and blueberry, with chewy, slightly green tannins and a gritty texture. It’s juicy, and it’s reasonably long-finishing, but it’s fairly disjointed and has a vaguely unpleasant demeanor. I’m not sure this is fully ripe. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2002 Sangiovese (Dry Creek Valley) – Ripe strawberry seed and raw duck breast; juicy, big, and short. Surprisingly Tuscan, in a facelifted sort of way, for a California sangiovese, and better than this note might indicate. At least over the short term, this could provide some fun chugging. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2001 “L. Preston” (Dry Creek Valley) – A blend dominated by syrah, with mourvèdre, carignane, and cinsault playing supporting roles, showing smoked almonds, thick blackberry, and chewy leather characteristics. Despite a rather positive organoleptic profile, however, the overall package isn’t all that fun to drink. Perhaps it just needs time, but I suspect the elements are not as well-knit as they need to be. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2002 Zinfandel “Old Vines/Old Clones” (Dry Creek Valley) – 14.4% alcohol. Brambly and briary in a way that far, far too few zins are these days, showing blueberry and wild cherry with persistent acidity and a good dose of tannin. Good stuff, and likely balanced enough to be ageable. (8/04)

Preston of Dry Creek 2001 Syrah Vogensen Bench (Dry Creek Valley) – Blueberry, leather, earth, oregano, and smoked midsummer leaves that initially present as underripe, but grow and ripen and sweeten as the finish progresses. A gamble that pays off, but just barely. (8/04)

Nalle 2002 Pinot Noir Hopkins Ranch (Russian River Valley) – Plum, red cherry, strawberry seeds, and walnut skins in a crisp, juicy, balanced package. The wine comes on so lively and zingy that one is almost unprepared for the extremely long finish. It won’t please lovers of pinot-as-Porto, but the effortless ease of its quality is something much more to be admired. (8/04)

Nalle 2002 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – As juicy and acid-crisp as the previous wine, showing blueberry, boysenberry and dark plum, with a long finish. I can’t help but feel that even with my expressed enthusiasm I’m underrating these wines, which have all the balance and food-worthiness that’s so lacking these days in wines from…well, just about everywhere. Doug Nalle admonishes me to let this age, but I protest with some justification that a wine this tasty is very, very hard to hide in the cellar. (8/04)

s w e e t  ,  f o r t i f i e d  &  u n u s u a l

Heitz 1999 Grignolino “Port” (Napa Valley) – Can anyone actually afford to plant grignolino in Napa these days? Anyway, this was a favorite post-prandial quaffer back in my early wine-drinking days, and it tastes pretty much as I remember it: strawberry and candied/spiced apple, with a bright, smiling, simple face. Fun. Don’t overthink it. (5/07)

Anthony Road 2004 Vignoles Trockenbeerenauslese “Martini Reinhardt Selection” (Finger Lakes) – Grapey and quite acidic, with peach blossoms and clementines predominating. Simple, clean fun. Painfully sweet. (2/07)

Ridge 1993 Zinfandel “Essence” (Paso Robles) – By far the best of the half-dozen bottles I’ve tasted. Sweet, ultra-concentrated blueberry, boysenberry, olallieberry and stripes of anise candy are given lift by the otherwise restrained, unobtrusive buoyancy of slight volatile acidity, while the tannin has completely melted away. Delicious. (2/07)

Andrew Rich 2005 Gewurztraminer “Les Vigneaux” (69.5% Washington, 30.5% Oregon) – A “freezer wine” that apes true ice wine as made in Germany and Canada. There’s much varietal truth here, with lychees and peaches in play, and though the wine is a little on the silly side, it’s got a great balance between acid, sugar and fruit. Fun. (7/06)

Van Duzer “Windfall” Port (Oregon) – This is, to my knowledge, the first “port” of pinot noir that I’ve tasted. It’s big and strong, with strawberry and red cherry cough syrup sweetened by milk chocolate. It nods, briefly, towards balance, but soon slips into unstructured flabbiness. Plus: cough syrup. Blech. (7/06)

Sineann 2002 Riesling Medici (Willamette Valley) – Out of balance, showing sweet lime, lemon and green grape with spiky acid that’s completely unable to beat back a thick, goopy sludge. Those for whom intensity is the only worthwhile virtue in wine will find this exemplary. But it’s not good. It’s not good at all. (7/06)

Argyle 2005 “Minus Five” (Willamette Valley) – Freezer wine…in this case from pinot noir, which is a first for me. It’s pretty good, with sweet, silky corn syrup, raspberry and rhubarb in equal measure. There’s enough acid to supply balance. A fun wine. (7/06)

Hunt Cellars 2001 “Zinful Delight” Zinfandel “Winemaker’s Reserve” (Paso Robles) – Great, briary blueberry fruit with a zingy finish. Fun. (1/06)

Opolo 2004 “Late Harvest” Zinfandel (Paso Robles) – Concentrated berry syrup with maple drizzle. (1/06)

Black Cat Vineyards 2003 “Miel” (San Mateo) – Ah, the great vignoble of San Mateo, world-renowned for its…uh…. Actually, this is John DeFiore’s homemade wine. I guess sauvignon blanc, Larry guesses muscat, and we’re apparently both right. It’s a pretty good effort for homebrew, showing the expected volatile acidity, clear botrytis notes, pear, sweet saccharine, and good acidity. Quite credible. (4/05)

Thunder Mountain Raspberry Wine – Unbelievably intense raspberry liqueur and syrup notes, with some of the spicier, leafy notes one expects from maturation (this is, after all, more than a few years old). (8/04)

Everett Ridge 2001 “Port” (Dry Creek Valley) – 60% zinfandel, 40% cabernet. Smooth, though dirty, cherries tinged with greenness and dusted with cocoa powder; there’s a little light tannin, moderate sweetness, and a frustrating simplicity to this wine. Eh. (8/04)

Ridge 2001 Petite Sirah “Essence” Lytton Estate (Dry Creek Valley) – 75% petite sirah, 25% zinfandel, 14.2% alcohol, 10% residual sugar. A sweaty coffeehouse – or perhaps teahouse – with juicy black plum, blueberry, and pencil shavings over a bedrock of sweet earth. Balanced and pretty, especially on the finish, though the concept of the wine is a little hard to wrap one’s head around. Hard, but provably not impossible. (8/04)

b e e r  &  c i d e r

Port “Lost & Found” Abbey Ale “The Lost Abbey” (California) – Sprightly for an abbey, but with all the spicy/leesy complexity one would want, here dominated by banana skins and strong yeastiness. It’s just the faintest bit watery, especially on the finish, but otherwise a very solid exemplar of the style. (5/07)

North Coast Brewing “Brother Thelonious” Abbey Ale (California) – Strong and insistent, with caramelized apples and nuts, but the insistence eventually becomes harassment, and then everything just leaves. Someone forgot to finish this. (4/07)

Avery “Hog Heaven” Barleywine-Style Ale (Colorado) – Dark, thick and Scotch-like, with toasted old wood, French press coffee, baked plum and cherry stems leading to a malty, but round and mouth-filling finish. Nicely executed, and very polished. (3/07)

Avery “The Reverend” Belgian-Style Quadrupel Ale (Colorado) – This is outstanding. Weight and intensity married, with enough thick, bracing, spiced stone fruit to carry the alcohol. It’s a powerful brew, but it’s complete and polished in every respect…a terrific exemplar of the style, and most likely the best I’ve ever had from a domestic brewery. (3/07)

Rock Art “Ridge Runner” Barley Wine Ale (Vermont) – The aroma keeps sending me back to the label to make sure this isn’t a lager. Strange. There’s palate-deadening weight, bringing with it dried espresso residue and an old maple-syrup wash, but everything’s a bit hollow. (3/07)

Otter Creek “Otter Kilter” Scottish-style Wee Heavy Ale (Vermont) – Rich, heavy, a bit hot, but with a beautifully creamy, mineral-influenced thickness. Otter Creek succeeds most of the time, but they always do best with more naturally sweet-seeming brews. And: nice pun. (3/07)

Allagash “Grand Cru” Batch 14 (Maine) – Thick roasted-nut spice with a thin midpalate and some bitterness on the finish. A little thinner than I’d prefer. I always want to like Allagash, but they’re persistently mild underachievers. (3/07)

Allagash “Curieux” (Maine) – June 2006 bottling, aged in oak barrels previously employed for the production of bourbon. This is a strong (11%) alcohol beer, and it wears on the palate to little salutary effect. There’s a very minor bit of actual ale flavor buried under a monotone din of raw and toasted wood, alcohol, and general dreariness, and the overall impression is one of extreme boredom. (2/07)

Poverty Lane “Farnum Hill” 2004 Kingston Black Cider “Reserve” (New Hampshire) – Striking raspberry and chalk with not-insignificant tannin. Minerality is cider is no less welcome than it is in wine. (10/06)

West County Cider Redfield (Northern Berkshires) – Strong, dark and ripe apple with a slight tannic bite, good acidity, and a faint sparkle. The structure gives this persistence and wipes away the sticky residue that sometimes lingers from everyday cider. Vivid and intense. (2/06)

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