03 December 2005

Tasting Notes for December 3, 2005

Normally I write up my tasting notes on Sunday morning, but I'm headed off to Boston for a week (where I'm planning to sample as many locally brewed beers as possible). Given the star quality of this tasting, I felt like writing about it tonight.

This was an interesting tasting... The usual Saturday host decided to hold a high end tasting and charge admission. I'm more than happy to pay for the privilege, particularly when they list some of the featured wines ahead of time. For $20, I got to sample nearly $700 worth of bottles that I normally wouldn't have been able to try. This resulted in a smaller, more intimate crowd, and given the nature of the wines, I spent as much time as I could with each of the samples. Likewise, the hosts were willing to pour a little more liberally and permit seconds and thirds when requested.

As these tastings are held upstairs from a restaurant, I elected to have a late lunch after the tasting, reading a book and taking my time to sober up before driving home.

All of the beverages sampled today were of top notch quality, and while I rarely spend a lot of money on an individual bottle of wine, almost all of these could be considered recommended selections if you've got the cash to spare. I'm going to repeat myself a lot, but these were all well balanced wines. I'll point out my favorites. Also, I got to try three single malt Scotches, which I'll list at the end.

Wine 1: 2003 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee St. Catherine Riesling. Alsace, France. Ah, an Alsatian Riesling. Elegant bottle and label. There's an earthy, musky aroma, with a slight sweetness but balanced acids. An expertly crafted Riesling with great complexity. $60.

Wine 2: 2003 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Napa Valley, California. This is the '03 vintage of the famous '72 Chardonnay that won the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Not oaky or buttery, this is smooth and well rounded with large fruit flavors. There's just a bit of lemony acidity to even things out. If you do your research and feel like telling the story in a dramatic style, this would be a fun wine to present at a dinner party. $36.

Wine 3: 2002 HdV Chardonnay. Napa Valley (Carneros), California. A collaboration between Napa Valley and Burgundy producers, this is a lighter wine than the previous selection. There's some butter and cream, less acid, and just a little smoke. A lingering finish allows you to remember this wine for a good while. $60.

Wine 4: 2002 Beringer Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay. Napa Valley (Gamble Ranch), California. A luxury offering from Beringer, peddler of bargain basement table wines? The name wasn't a liability here, but most people at the tasting really disliked this wine, myself included. This wine is so heavily oaked that several of us requested new glasses. Once you get past the aroma, there's some buttered toast, but there's an almost burned quality to the wine. Not recommended. $45.

Wine 5: 2001 Antica Terra Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, Oregon. One of my two favorites out of the bunch. Very little nose, light and delicate, mild strawberry flavors and almost no tannins. This wine has that great "melt in your mouth" quality that is so hard to find in red wine. It's almost like a snowflake falling on your tongue and melting. $40.

Wine 6: 1997 Chateau Corton-Andre Grand Cru. Burgundy, France. Classy, with some red fruit, no tannins, and a short finish. Very sophisticated and just a touch of that French farmyard quality to it. Very dignified. It's hard to explain, but I felt like I should stand up straight and mind my manners while drinking this wine. $90.

Wine 7: 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Vineyard, Georges III. Napa Valley, California. Alcohol on the nose, but with some dark plum as well. The tannins have mellowed into the background, but the fruit retains a bright cheerfulness. Great wine here. $60.

Wine 8: 2001 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Alexander Valley, California. This is the first time that the great Silver Oak has passed my lips... though this is the "bargain" version, only two thirds the price of the Napa Valley release. This was my other favorite of the tasting. There are hints of cedar and anise on the nose, maybe a little smoke and something that was not quite like caraway seeds. It has an incredibly smooth start with just a little tingle of tannins on the finish--sort of like those fireworks that go dark and then erupt into sparkles a few seconds later. This was another "melt in your mouth" selection. $66.

Wine 9: 2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley, California. The darkest wine of the tasting, this had a lot of black pepper and black cherry on the nose. Just a little whiff of alcohol, but bright fruit flavors emerge. A fantastic wine, but super expensive. $125.

Scotch 1: 14 Year Old Clynelish Coastal Highland Whisky. Highlands, Scotland. Though Scottish blood flows through my veins (not in the kings and heroes vein, more poor farmers and ne'er-do-wells who got kicked out of the UK), my grandmother visits every couple of years, and my father is a single malt aficionado, I haven't yet developed the ability to fully appreciate Scotch. I'll happily drink it when served, but I've never bought it on my own. So for this and the next two listings, I'm going to quote the host's notes: "Stylish, fruity, and slightly smoky." $59.

Scotch 2: 12 Year Old Caol Ila Islay Whisky. Islay, Scotland. Distilled on an island on the west coast. "Pale golden and peated, but not pungent and heavy, yet with an intense fruit.". At this point, I was savoring every sip and was getting quite chatty with the hosts. $63.

Scotch 3: 18 Year Old Caol Ila Islay Whisky. Islay, Scotland. Same distillery as the above. "A rarely available long aged whisky displaying a rich fuller body and more intense expressions of Caol Ila's unmistakable, peaty Islay style." By the conclusion of this tasting cycle, I was making friends left and right and was debating about whether to call a cab or just set up shop in the corner as a professional philosopher. $80.

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