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Washington DC Wine Diary 1999
A quick Friday-to-Sunday business trip to Washington, D.C., with my wife provided plenty of opportunity for wine tastings, with two evening gatherings with wine-loving friends as well as a visit to an excellent tasting event, a huge tasting sponsored by the Schneider's wine shop as a thank-you to its customers after 25 years in business.

With the usual caveat that the following tasting notes, taken casually and in social settings, should be taken only as general comments and not fully analytical reports, here's a look at the wines I tried over the weekend.

Washington tasting
At Cafe Atlantico, Al and Mindy Goldsborough and David Glasser (from left).
Saturday, Oct. 9
Dinner at Cafe Atlantico in Washington:
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group "Offline"

Our group of about two dozen pressed the limits of this small, stylish Nuevo Latino restaurant near the Museum of American Art, but they handled it reasonably well, lining up a table for about 20 and placing the overflow at an adjacent bar. The food - purportedly Cuban-influenced but striking us as more generally South American - was fine, and the wines brought by the revelers just kept on coming.

Having only one wine glass at each setting made comparisons difficult, and the pressure to empty each glass to make room for the next created some odd impressions when two wines of wildly different styles came along in quick succession. But never mind - with only one "corked" wine and not more than a couple that didn't pass muster, the overall quality of the wines on the table was very high indeed.

Adriano Adami 1998 Prosecco Vigneto Giardino - Pale pea-green color, with a light, fresh scent of peaches and a frothy, tart-sweet flavor, surprisingly full and long.

Cloudy Bay 1997 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - Bright brass color, with delicious jalapeño pepper and green-pea aromas. Fresh, crisp and fruity, almost sweet in the finish. Holding up well.

Domaine des Terrisses 1997 Cuvée Saint-Laurent Gaillac - Although it's only a $10 wine, this is Terrisses' high-end cuvée, and it shows in its style and grace. White fruit and vanilla custard on the nose, rich fruit on the palate; there's significant oak present, but it's well oriented, and balance and structure carry this one off overall. Excellent value.

Muller-Catoir 1997er Haardter Mandelring Scheurebe Trocken Kabinett - Pale straw color, with a delicious scent of grapefruit and apricots, and a luscious flavor, tart and just off-dry. AP Nr. 5 174 079 1198.

Cafe Atlantico
Linda Baldwin (left), Josh Duffin and Paul Campbell.
Robert Denis 1989 Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau Vignes de la Gaillarderie - Pale straw color. Apples and earthy mineral scents lead into a balanced flavor, full, acidic and rich. Not overly yielding, still very youthful after a decade; a fine Loire Chenin Blanc that will live and improve for many years.

Cuvaison 1997 ATS Selection Chardonnay - Packaged in a frosted bottle with an obscure graphic that prompts remarks about "the wine formerly known as Prince," this one, sadly, fails to impress most of us. Clear straw color, it is strongly, obnoxiously oaky, with vanilla and wood dominating the aroma and flavor.

Th. Mayr & Huei 1997 Alto Adige Lagrein Rosato - Dark rose in color, with a delicious scent of berries and markedly herbal notes. Full, crisp and gutsy, a rosé trying its darndest to be a red. Excellent pink wine; I may have botched the maker's name trying to read very fine print in dim light.

Michel Ogier 1988 Cote-Rotie - Dark garnet in color, with barnyard and strong herbal aromas over intense fruit. Full flavors consistent with the nose, good red fruit showing through the earthy funk. One of the most controversial wines on the table: Many of us called it "the wine of the evening," while others found its earthy and medicinal scents offputting. Both my wife and I, at opposite ends of the table and without consultation, caught a whiff of, well, chicken manure in its barnyard aromas ... but liked it.

Clarendon Hills 1996 Blewitt Springs Vineyard Old Vines Grenache - Inky reddish-purple. Potent aroma, jammy and floral, leads into a big, fruity-sweet flavor, full ripe and "outrageous." Very much like my experience with this winery's Kangarilla Vineyard bottling from the same vintage, tasted recently at a Bay Area gathering, the wine was impressive but difficult to enjoy in context with the other wines on the table. This one almost needs to take center stage for a solo performance, perhaps even sipped after a meal like a Port.

Edmunds St. John 1992 California Grand Heritage Syrah - Inky blackish-purple. Plummy and warm on the nose and palate, big and peppery, but seems a little one-dimensional, particularly in comparison with the Clarendon Hills that came just before it.

Rosemount Estate 1996 Mudgee Mountain Blue Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon - Very dark color. Peppery black-fruit aromas; big, jammy and oaky. Oak seems to increase as the wine crosses the palate, becoming overwhelming in the finish.

Cafe Atlantico
Beth and Craig Potts.
Opus One 1993 Napa Valley Red Wine - Very dark garnet. Minty black-fruit aromas; full, fruity and approachable on the palate, cassis and mint. I enjoy it very much and rate it among the evening's best, although this is another one that seems to divide the group, this time between those who admire it for its balance and accessiblity and those who find it too simple for its cachet and price.

Dominus Estate 1986 Napa Valley Red Table Wine - Inky, almost black, with good perfumed black-fruit aromas. Juicy and ripe on the palate, it seems fully mature but in no danger of going over the hill.

Abreu 1993 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Opaque in color. Closed and tight in the ose, a little more open on the palate, black fruit and oak, with ample fruit saving it from being too woody. Needs time.

La Jota Vineyards 1994 Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - Very dark blackish purple, with plummy black-fruit aromas. Tight on the palate, fresh fruit and a hint of anise, with the fruit fading quickly to unveil dominant oak in the finish.

Woodward Canyon 1988 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Very dark garnet color. Black fruit and dank oak aromas; similar on the palate, with dark fruit, wood and brassy acidity. Complex, interesting, but a bit awkward.

Leonetti Cellar 1988 Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon - Inky reddish-purple. Spicy black fruit flavors, big and full. Oaky, but the fruit is there. There's a lot of interest in comparing this and the Woodward Canyon, a pair of "name-brand" Washington Cabs at a decade-plus. I prefer the Leonitti, but the jury decision is definitely split.

Val Sotillo 1995 Ribera del Duero - Very dark reddish-purple, showing forward black fruit, plummy and leathery aromas on the nose and palate, well-structured with lemon-squirt acidity.

Ridge 1991 ATP Lytton Estate Zinfandel - Dark reddish-purple. Mixed berries, jammy and ripe, with big, mouth-filling berry fruit. Seems very youthful for its years. (A blend of 86% Zin with 2% Petite Sirah and 7% Grenache.)

Mastroberardino 1968 Taurasi Riserva - Dark garnet, loaded with cherries and caramel. Showing some oxidation and still laced up with noticeable tannins surprising in a 31-year-old red. Holding up well, although I'm not sure how much it's gained in three decades; although in its defense, many rate it as one of the wines of the evening.

Newton 1990 Napa Valley Merlot - Dark purple in color, black-fruit and vanilla on the nose and palate. Attractive but a bit on the simple side, although a taste later in the evening finds it opening up with time in the glass.

Zenato 1983 Amarone Classico della Valpolicella - Dark in color, deep in aroma and flavor, ripe black cherries and very rich and strong, with pleasant bitter notes in a very long finish. A real treat, another of the two or three wines that stand out for me as the evening's best.

Dashe Cellars 1997 "D" Russian River Valley Late Harvest Zinfandel - Allan Bree's gift from a Bay Area offline, brought along to share with another group in the East. Hazy dark-garnet in color. Intense raspberry and blackberry fruit with plums, plump raisins and herbaceous notes. Big, sweet and jammy fruit; luscious, makes me want to gulp it, but there's not enough.

Saturday, Oct. 9
Schneider's Tasting at the National Press Club
A massive public wine event of this scope, with well over 200 wines and a very large crowd trying to taste them all, calls for a tasting strategy worth discussing in a separate article, which I've written as the main item in this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor. My tasting notes are archived at www.wine-lovers-page.com/wines/wt100999.shtml.

Friday, Oct. 8
Dinner at Marcel's in Washington:
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group "Offline"

Organized by Maureen Nelson at one of her favorite restaurants, Marcel's on Pennsylvania Avenue, this dinner took a slightly different approach from the usual WLDG free-for-all.

Maureen's idea - and I think it's a good one - is to plan dinner for a relatively group, spending the entire evening at a fine restaurant, and accompanying each of multiple courses with a good but manageable flight - two to three bottles - of very good wines. Have the food made to match the wines, or choose the wines to match the food, and then allow a little time and space to approach the wines more thoughtfully than we generally do in chaos-mode offlines.

I'll be frank, I like it both ways. But especially with Marcel's really excellent chef knocking himself out to come up with goodies specially created for the group and the wines - and a roster of wine choices so stellar that the wines we didn't open would have stood tall on any table - it was indeed an event to remember. Here's a look at the wines, along with brief descriptions of each course.

With an amuse bouche of smoked salmon topped with a dollop of caviar and a poached quail egg on blini:

Joh. Jos. Prüm 1985er Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Auslese - Bright gold, with good old-Riesling aromas, mango and pine. Fresh, sweet peach flavors, prickly and tart. Showing very well. AP Nr. 2 576 511 32 86.

Alfred Merkelbach 1985er Ürziger Würzgarten Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling Auslese - Clear gold. Apples and an intriguing note of caraway on the nose. Intense fruit and very zingy acidity on the palate. Very youthful still.

With red snapper on a delicate fennel purée:

Domaine Leflaive 1988 Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru - Pale straw with a golden glint. Notes of vanilla and spice on the palate, very closed and tight at first, but swirling brings out complexity and richness and, after extended time in the glass, develops an odd and almost resinous aromatic.

J.M. Gounoux 1983 Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d'Or - Pale straw color. Immediately accessible and thoroughly enjoyable, with rich scents that I describe as "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," prompting Cole Kendall to riposte, "Fire in a nuthouse." Full and rich, white fruit and nuances that follow the nose. A delight, perhaps without the refinement of the Leflaive during its brief peak but very easy to enjoy.

With a roulade of sweetbreads with spinach and garlic mashed potatoes:

Mongeard Mugneret 1978 Grands-Echezeaux - Dark ruby, with good Burgundy fruit holding its own over a ground bass of characteristic "barnyard." Fresh black-cherry fruit and tart acidity on the palate, very fine. I rate it a close second in this flight after ...

Robert Groffier 1985 Chambertin Clos de Bèze - Dark ruby, with delicate earthy aromas and good black fruit; sweet and luscious on the palate, perfumed and floral. Best of the trio, showing very well indeed.

Remoissenet Pere & Fils 1985 Clos de la Roche - Ruby-rose color, with red fruit and herbal aromas, a bit closed and tight. Sweet red-fruit flavors, tart and crisp. Nice, but not in the same league with the other two Burgs.

With medium-rare entrecote of beef and a spectacular boudin blanc made with foie gras and truffles on deep and intense reduction sauces:

Chateau Margaux 1978 Margaux - Very dark reddish-purple, with basil and lavendar nuances and tobacco leaf; big, full black fruit, hints of cedar and something almost like dill, drinking well although still showing ample tannins. Consensus wine of the evening, and I agree, although it's closely trailed by the Clos de Bèze and ...

Chateau la Conseillante 1982 Pomerol - Dark garnet with an amber glint. Earthy dark fruit aromas, deep and brooding; ripe black-fruit flavor, full and tart, dark chocolate and rich fruit.

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 1982 St.-Julien - Very dark garnet. Perfumed fruit, plummy, cedar and "lead pencil" aromas. Loads of fruit, flavors follow the nose; big structure and tart acidity. I rate it third of this trio, but it's a very high-tone trio.

With a fresh black-fig tart and cinnamon ice cream:

Domaine des Baumard 1976 Quarts de Chaume - Clear bright gold. Perfumed, estery white fruit, aith a high-aromatic whiff that's floral and vaguely but not unpleasantly reminiscent of varnish. Layered, complex flavors, full and rich, light sweetness well-balanced by firm acidity. (Cole, who brought this bottle, said others from the same case have seemed fresher.)

Domaine le Peu de la Moriette 1970 Vouvray Moelleux - Clear straw color. Good earthy white fruit, almost a hint of ripe cheese, a characteristic that I often perceive in old Vouvray. Crisp flavors follow the nose, fresh-fruit (peach) sweetness well balanced by zippy acidity.

Cernot Cysler Weingut 1989er Weinheimer Hölle Riesling Eiswein - Clear dark-gold, almost amber. Ripe peaches, honey and a whiff of mint leap from the glass. Intense honeyed fruit flavors follow the nose, very sweet and tartly acidic. AP Nr. 4 325 062 013 90.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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