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Tasting Notes
July/August, 2004

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arrowblu.gif (140 bytes)QPR Winner   I give this award to wines that demonstrate an excellent quality to price ratio. They are sometimes more expensive than the wines featured in my Best Buys section (which is cut off at $20), so while every Best Buy is also a QPR Winner,  not every QPR winner is an official Best Buy.  QPR winners are simply wines that are great values for a relatively  reasonable price. 

yellball.gif 0.1 KAlsace   yellball.gif 0.1 KAustria   yellball.gif 0.1 KAustralia  yellball.gif 0.1 KBordeaux  yellball.gif 0.1 KBurgundy  
yellball.gif 0.1 KCalifornia/USA  yellball.gif 0.1 KChile  yellball.gif 0.1 KDessert/Sparkling  yellball.gif 0.1 KGeorgia  yellball.gif 0.1 KGermany  
yellball.gif 0.1 KItaly  
yellball.gif 0.1 KPortugal  yellball.gif 0.1 KRhone/South/SW France  yellball.gif 0.1 KSpain   yellball.gif 0.1 KUruguay

yellball.gif 0.1 KAlsace  (except dessert/sparkling)
2000 Gewurztraminer "Harth Vielles Vignes" (Schoffit)
Pepper and spice, and everything nice....this wine effortlessly announces that it is gewurz, and that's a good thing. It has nice texture and glycerine, gaining weight as it airs out, and nice focus.  Fruity, not sweet, or perhaps a touch off dry at most. This is very pleasing, classical gewurz with lots of body and an inviting mouthfeel.  90 points.

1998 Gewurztraminer "Heimbourg" Vendange Tardive (Zind-Humbrecht)
This is a wine I've found curious--it never quite seems to have the depth and concentration I expect, but in pure flavor, it is utterly delicious. Easy going and nicely balanced, it does sport a lingering finish, and has the texture to coat your mouth as it rolls around. It could be called subtly powerful---but you'll have to drink it to figure out what that means. It's gripping when it counts, but it seems curiously subdued and almost erring on the side of too much elegance for VT.  Very good, but a bit underwhelming for grand cru VT in a fine vintage. 91 points.

2000 Gewurztraminer "Herrenweg" (Zind-Humbrecht)
Simply gorgeous, and a highly underrated offering from ZH in most years. This shows plenty of depth and concentration, and great typicity, lychees and pepper with air. It has a fairly dark color, perhaps indicating extended skin contact with the juice, because it sure doesn't seem old. It gains a little sweetness, too, as it airs, but the sugar is restrained here. Nice, sensual texture. If this doesn't quite have the finesse of the Heimbourg VT above, or its length, or, perhaps its ageworthy capabilities,  in most other respects, it is pretty fine and will surprise those wrongly expecting something close to entry level gewurz. Not quite as focused as the Schoffit, above, this is, however, deeper and lusher. They're both pretty fine.   92 points.

1999 Gewurztraminer "Heimbourg" (Zind-Humbrecht)
Off dry, and only modestly sweet, this is delectable on the finish, but rather light for Heimbourg. Its best feature is pure flavor--it is gorgeously, unrelentingly fruity and delicious.  This was pretty good, but I was frankly a little disappointed with its depth and finish. 89  points.

20002 Gewurztraminer "Furstentum Vielles Vignes" (Albert Mann)
A touch off dry, this shows basic gewurz notes, but seems unusually short and simple for Mann. It seems a touch hollow in the mid-palate, and unless this picks up some weight and shows some length, it is a couple of steps behind anything resembling great gewurz. 87 points.

2000 Gewurztraminer "Bergheim" (Marcel Deiss)
Lovely. A fine, lush texture leads off this very ripe and fruity wine. It has bite to it, too, which makes it a bit distinctive and interesting. Classic gewurz notes abound, and this shows beautiful focus. 90 points.

2000 Gewurztraminer "Sonnenglanz" Vendange Tardive (Bott-Geyl)
Dry-ish for a young VT, this shows focused fruit, fine structured and a certain refinement that makes it a pleasure to drink. Spice and pepper pop out with some air and it picks up a little weight, which it badly needed. It gets a little sweeter too as the fruit seems to wake up.  Smooth and polished, elegant and refined, this wine had me hovering on the borderline because there were times it seemed a bit hollow in the mid-palate for a VT, but it finished very well and developed nicely with air. 91 points. 

1995 Gewurztraminer "Cuvée Maxime' (Barmes-Buecher)
Spicy, with touches of botrytis, this is very ripe, but not very sweet. It is tightly focused, tightly wound,  and very intense, more so than you normally see with any gewurz. Interesting and a bit different. 92 points.

2001 Pinot Gris "Cuvée Ste. Catherine Clos des Capucins (Domaine Weinbach)
Elegant and fruity, and a bit light, this nonetheless seems airy and ethereal. Charming and beautiful, it subtly sneaks up on you, showing nice focus, and refreshing blasts of bright fruit. 90 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KAustralia  (except dessert/sparkling)
1998 Cabernet Reserve (Fox Creek)
There's a hint of well integrated mint or eucalyptus from oak, but it is impressive how well it integrates, how fast it fades. The wine is otherwise youthful and fruity, a bit astringent on the finish. It's a rich mouthful, that is gripping and flavorful, impeccably balanced. 92 points.

2002 Merlot  (Craneford)
Lively and and forthcoming, this might have been interesting. But there is too much pickle and dill, and the wine seems vegetal. Its elegance is undermined by its flavor profile, and it hardly seems very much like merlot. There's nothing else here that would make up for the oddities--it is of average weight and finish. 87 points.

1997 Shiraz "The Freedom" (Langmeil)
Bright, a bit tart, soft and easy, this shows little fruit, and too much of everything else, especially oak. It's overly sweet, and overly simple, short and routine, at best. 84 points.

2001 Shiraz Reserve (Henry's Drive)
Flamboyant, but structured, this wine is just TOO much at this point in its life, in every respect. Its core is thick and almost syrupy, essence of shiraz. Yet, it has power and structure, too. Add the two together and you get a wine that is hard to handle--and this was from magnum---at this age.  The fruit is very sweet, ripe blueberries all around, and the finish is a bit harsh. Amazingly concentrated, I think this wine actually can improve in the cellar and integrate a lot of its components, but it needs another three years at least (certainly, from magnum). The obvious question is whether the balance of this remarkably concentrated wine will be good enough to make it truly pleasant to drink. If so, the score could be higher, but judging from today, this is about right. 90+ points.



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yellball.gif 0.1 KAustria  (except dessert/sparkling)
2000 Gewurztraminer "Gamitzberg" (Gross)
Peppery and focused, this is dry and shows nice lychees on occasion, but not much else. It is far too civilized for gewurz, and shows none of the flamboyant characteristics its fan base loves. Too neutral, too---ungewurzy, but better if judged as ordinary wine. 86 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KBordeaux  (except dessert/sparkling)
2000 Haut Bergey
Hmmm. This seemed extremely disappointing. Admittedly, it is young and a lot of these wines are going to start heading into a closed, dumb stage, if they already haven't. But still. This was decanted for a couple of hours. It simply seemed thin, too acidic, too bright. It was hard to find the fruit or the focus. Hopefully, this pulls together with cellaring, but this wasn't a good showing. 82 points.

1999 Chateau Pichon Baron
Earthy, and maturing fast (like a lot of 99s I've stumbled across), this has an excellent finish, lovely, classic cab flavors, and tobacco and leather nuances. It already seems to be projecting tertiary notes. It is of medium weight at best, relatively easy, a lot of fun and interesting, but lacking the depth and intensity to be superb. 88 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KBurgundy  (except dessert/sparkling)
1999 Clos de la Roche Vielles Vignes (Domaine Ponsot)
A table full of people tasted this and pretty much simultaneously shrugged.  Served from magnum (but decanted), this showed no one very much, and at its price and with its status seemed to be a monument to how disappointing scarce, prestigious, expensive wines can be. It had a decent nose, some nice black cherry notes and a touch of olive. Medium bodied, it had a bright finish, not much depth, and seemed a touch simple and austere, flat, and perhaps a little bitter on the end. If only it were $30.  We sat with it, went back to it. Nothing interesting happened. No one admired it. 87 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KCalifornia/USA  (except dessert/sparkling)
1998 Pinot Noir "Kistler Vineyard" (Kistler)
Intense and hard, it shows lots of everything--fruit, tannin and acid. It has lots of focus, too, lots of raspberry flavors, and a fine finish. It evolved consistently in the glass while I had it, gradually gaining weight. It's so tight, though, that it never did quite open up, making it hard to evaluate. There seems to be great stuff in the making here, though. 93+ points.

1996 Pinot Noir (Drouhin)
This had its good points, but is showing some age. I liked its intensity and finish, but the fruit flavor flattened noticeably with air, and while the tannins subsided, the wine did not evolve much after opening. This seems to me to have passed its peak, and shows too hard, with too little fruit. It isn't dead yet, though, so drink up. 85 points.

2001 Cabernet "Napa" (Clos du Val)
You might hope that in a fine vintage, you'd catch a little break at the lower end, but there's not much of one here. It is grapey and simple, tasty and charming to a point. But there's not much on the finish, it has little depth, and seems too short and too simple, even for a wine in the mid-$20s. 86 points.

1999 Pinot Noir "Beacon Hill" (Tony Soter)
Tight and intense, this flaunts tannins and structure, but it is hard to find the fruit. What there is seems a bit too herbal. Finally, this gradually begins to open, but I have to wonder whether the structure will overwhelm the fruit here. This seems a bit too stern, and I suspect it will always be on the austere side. 88 points.

1999 Pinot Noir "Russian River Valley" (Dehlinger)
Bright, charming raspberry fruit opens this up. The wine is medium bodied at best, a bit shy in concentration, but the fruit makes up for a lot. If anything it sometimes seems a touch too sweet. It integrates nicely with air, becoming bright and sunny. If this is neither distinguished nor complex, it is a lot of fun. 89 points.

2003 Gewurztraminer (Handley)
Not bad for new world gewurz, though that is a back-handed compliment. It shows touches of typicity and "gewurz-ness" although not enough to make a true fancier happy. This has decent depth, but is a touch simple. Nice, basic, straight ahead wine, that should be an easy food matchup since it is fruity but not particularly sweet. 86 points.

2003 Gewurztraminer (Little Valley Wine Company)
This Anderson Valley Gewurz actually had no commercial release, so maybe this review is pointless. Still... It improved nicely with air, but didn't seem too much like gewurz to me. The predominant flavor seemed to be peach, and the wine was pleasantly off dry. It was a bit simple, pleasantly fruity. A nice quaffer, not much else. 85 points.

2002 Gewurztraminer Late Harvest "Biscuit Ridge Vineyard" (Three Rivers)
There's a nice gewurz-y nose, but there is very little on the palate of this Washington State wine, and once past the nose, it would be hard to pick out as gewurz. Easy and friendly, just off dry, there's little depth, finish or concentration here. 84 points.

2002 Gewurztraminer "Dragonfly" (Francis Tannahill)
This Oregon winery looks to be aiming for a statement with gewurz, maybe the most exciting new gewurz producer I've seen in a long while.  This is the first time I've had their wines outside of a trade tasting, and I liked what I saw here. Fat and dry, this shows nice pepper and good weight, excellent varietal typicity and charm. It gets fatter with air and shows some spice and pepper. It's not particularly complex or distinguished, but as new world gewurz goes, this stands out as the real deal. I'd like to see this hold nicely in the cellar for a couple of years, too. I liked this a lot better than what I tasted a few months ago. It has evolved nicely.  89 points.

1997 "Beckstoffer" (Merryvale)
This Bordeaux blend (69% cab, the rest Merlot) was a Jekyll-Hyde wine. It opened beautifully, soft, elegant, with classic notes, and a decent finish. It was a bit shy in depth and maybe a bit simple, but very nice. It even seemed youthful. It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise how quickly it fell off the table, flattened out, and very definitely didn't improve with air. At opening, I was loving it. By the end of the evening, it was without interest. 86 points.

2001 Syrah  "Dreaming Detective" (Red Car)
This opens a bit harsh and hard, showing mostly toasty oak, but it developed beautifully. The tannins became more supple, and the finish remained gripping and powerful. It showed some touches of brightness and liveliness as it continued to air, too. I would've liked to have spent more time still with it, but its evolution was impressive and interesting. 90+ points.

2001 "Cardinale" (Kendall-Jackson)
This Bordeaux blend showed a nice mouthfeel, classic flavors and a pleasant demeanor, but opened short and simple. It gained weight as it sat, and it's hard to believe it could show thin on opening. It shows you how a wine can close down, mislead you completely on first sip, and be a bit dumb, needing some time to strut its stuff. The tannins are obvious but supple, and ultimately it becomes burly and rich, with a nice, finish. I'm not sure this will be particularly distinguished, but it was impressive in a middle of the road sort of way. 91 points.

2001 Pinot Noir "Moonshine Ranch" (Martinelli)
Harsh, heady and oaky on opening,  this actually developed nicely, and most of its components integrated well with air. Cherry fruit notes popped out, and were pleasing, and the wine took on a rather intense, focused demeanor, evolving beautifully as it sat. 91 points.

2002 Pinot Noir "Clos Pepe" (Loring Wine Company)
Black and inky in color, this looks like motor oil, but is thankfully not quite so awkward. It is actually a bit spicy, with nice, lively tannins for grip, and good fruit in the middle. With air, the flavor flattened appreciably and the tannins became harder and less inviting. It finished a touch bitter, and the wine became less inviting and interesting.  I confess that I haven't been a fan of the Clos Pepes from LWC. They simply seem awkward and not likely to age or develop well. This may be as good as any, and better than most of them, though. Let's see if this acquires any distinction with cellaring. 88+ points.

2002 Pinot Noir "Balcome" (Patricia Green)
This could be called the anti-Loring (see above). In a 180 degree turnaround, this is light in color, not particularly extracted, a bit thin, shy on depth. It shows some liveliness, and some earthiness. It is clearly aiming for elegance, but I'm not sure it achieved much besides "thin and short." It seems a bit too bright at times, as well, ultimately rather ordinary.  86 points.

1997 Pinot Noir "Cuvée Catherine"(Kistler)
Fragrant, powerful and deep, this wine seems like distilled essence of pinot noir. It has palate staining fruit that throws off waves of raspberry flavor effortlessly. The nose of red berries is inviting, and the finish intense and gripping. As it sat, it acquired a certain elegance, too. This is not going to be called an elegant wine, relatively speaking, by most, but it is actually in rather good balance. Not quite ready to drink, but approachable. 96 points.

2002 "White Coat" (Turley)
This proprietary blend opened dry, but opulent, with a velvety texture. It brooded for awhile, showed some minerality --or something--that I thought might be a hint of TCA, but that proved wrong with time. There were hints of vanilla on opening which pretty much integrated completely. The oily, mouthcoating texture was this wine's claim to fame, along with intensity and depth. 92 points.

2000 Syrah "Eisele Vineyard" (Araujo)
Tannic on the finish with an astringent bite, this nonetheless recovers, showing a nice, relatively thick mid-palate, good flavors, and a chocolately feel. For the vintage, this shows very well, but it does seem a bit tough and rustic, and I wonder if the fruit flavor will keep up with the tannins. 89+ points.

1990 Chardonnay Reserve (Chalone)
Laced with vanilla, oaky notes up front, this seemed bright and seemed like it had a good shot at being interesting, especially served from magnum, even if initially dominated by oak. Unfortunately, the early notes were the better ones, and the fruit faded as it sat, leaving little but the oak and acid. 84 points.

2000 Zinfandel "Sonoma Station" (Ridge)
Pleasing, medium bodied and lively, this zin drinks nicely, but seems oddly bland and a little too reticent in flavor and fruit. It's dull and closed. The next day sees a major improvement, and the wine suddenly has some flavor that eradicates the blandness. It shows excellent weight and seems fuller in body, too. Not quite distinguished, but very nice. 88 points.

2000 Zinfandel "Old Vines" (Turley)
I didn't like this much on release, but one thing I've learned is the OVs need some cellaring, and with cellaring they take on a certain grace and elegance that is charming.  I was afraid at first that this had aged too quickly in this vintage, because all I got at the outset was acid, but with ten to fifteen minutes of air, this woke up, put on weight, developed flavor and became very nice. If this doesn't have any more (and seems actually to have less) depth than the Ridge Sonoma above, it has way more flavor and charm, even if it is a touch short. 88 points.

2002 Syrah (Rock Rabbit)
I have several notes on this, with variations. This, my third, is the least favorite. The wine does not show the structure of the first bottle or the fruit and flavor of the second. It showed disjointed, laced with inappropriate acidity, with the fruit hard to find. It's very young, so you hope it has closed down, but I'm not sure this is a good sign with this wine. I tried it the next day and while the acidity integrated nicely, the fruit flavor I once liked still wasn't there. This was only a $10 wine, but I'd like to see it regroup with a little cellaring. 85 points. 

2000 Chardonnay "Overlook" (Landmark)
Very nice performance from this reliable producer. Toasty, but very focused and with bright edges, this shows good depth, seems rather tightly wound and is flavorful as well. It seems to be drinking nicely now, and I'm not sure I'd age this much more than another two to three years...   89 points.


2001 Merlot (Madrigal)
With every passing vintage, I like Madrigal more and more. The wines have more "suave," better integrated oak and more class than in the past. The 2001s (especially the petite sirah) have been very nice. This advertises black cherry notes on the label, and that's spot on.  The wine opens a bit sharp, calms down quickly, has a moment where the oak takes over, and then integrates beautifully, becoming smoother with air, but never losing its grip and focus. The only downside--the next day, there were cracks in the fruit, and it seemed a bit sharp, maybe a bit too hot, too. It didn't develop well. But drink it at dinner tonight after ten minutes air and you'll be a happy camper. Priced in the mid-20s. 88 points.


1999 Sangiovese Family Reserve "Penny Lane Vineyard" (Venge-Saddleback)
This opens bright and earthy, but it is a wine that needs some air and time, which was probably not your first guess for California sangiovese. Its acidity is soon matched by ripe fruit and the tannins pop out, and are gripping as well. As it opens, the fruit flavor becomes a little more prominent, showing hints of chocolate, but this is a structure dominated wine, that could use a bit more depth. An hour later it still wasn't fully open, and was still changing. 89 points.

2000 Cabernet "Beckstoffer" (Schrader)
When I first had this, I thought it was an excellent 2000, if a bit burly and with the oak a bit too prominent. It is still an excellent 2000, but its components are better integrated now, and it even has occasional moments of elegance and grace. It seems very well balanced now, but the fruit flavor is still clear, up front and pleasing at all times. Very nice. It lacks the depth and ageworthy qualities to rate a better score, but it drinks beautifully now and is not so far off the winery's 2001 at this point in their developments. 89 points.


2002 Syrah (Pride)
Black, and highly extracted, this wine is also a bit minty and dominated in flavor profile at the moment by its oak treatment. I admit that the oak smelled rather good and tasty, and the fruit popped up later. This, it seems to me, will show better integration of its oak and other components with about two years more of cellaring. There was nice sweet fruit that popped out periodically. 89 points.


1998 Syrah (Behrens & Hitchock)
Very dark in color, this wine shows little else at this point. Bright, but simple, flat in flavor and very ordinary, this seems dull and fading, already on a downhill slide at age six. It wasn't an easy vintage, to be sure. 84 points.


1999 Lytton Springs (Ridge) 

A touch of ripe chocolate up front melds into blueberries with air, and then cooler black cherries, and the wine becomes more precise and focused, occasionally showing some sunny qualities. Served blind, it made me guess "petite sirah," and there is a healthy dollop in there, but less than 20%. Nonetheless, that's the feel this wine has, and its flavor profile picks up a lot of PS notes. Very nice, elegant and a little sexy. 89 points.


1999 Monte Bello (Ridge)
Elegant and flavorful, this has classic cab notes, and a certain sexy texture and aroma, mostly from oak, but not entirely. The good news ends there, though. Pleasant as it is, enjoyable as it is, it seems rather simple most of the times, and seems to have insufficient depth in the mid-palate. To me, noting that this is not from Napa, this is very typical of a lot of 99s---pleasing fruit, but way too simple and a bit short in the mid-palate. Very nice, but unless it suddenly puts on weight in the cellar and blossoms, shows some intensity, this is not a great Monte Bello. 88 points. 


2000 Monte Bello (Ridge)
This is a rare instance where the 00 of a winery may be actually better than the 99--noting again that this is not from Napa. This is certainly a fine 00, with more intensity and power than most have. It is black and highly extracted, with a mouthgripping finish and lots of power. It is very tight at the moment, and it is hard to find the fruit. The question becomes...is the balance there? Or will the tannins here always overwhelm the fruit? I suspect this has a pretty good shot, and it is simply too tight to evaluate properly at the moment. A very good, not great Monte Bello, in the final conclusion, with a possibility for an uptick in score (but I think this is about right).  90 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KChile (except dessert/sparkling)
1999 Carmenere "1810" (Casa Donoso)
This cuvée is named after the year of Chile's independence--1810. Although labeled "Carmenere," I understand it also has cab sauvignon in it. It is pretty nice. It opens with a touch of cherry, and seems grapey and simple, if tasty and pleasant. It shows some welcome structure with air, and generally drinks well now. Served from magnum. I could not find any clear pricing on this in the USA, but would expect the bottle to be under $20. 88 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KDessert / Sparkling wines
2000 Gewurztraminer Late Harvest (Navarro)
I'm not sure whether to include this in dessert wines or not, but here goes. On release, it was so sweet, only as a dessert wine could you serve it, or perhaps an aperitif.  Time has tamed it a bit. It's still sweet, but the sugar is better integrated and it shows more charm. The mid-palate occasionally seems a bit hollow, but this wine operates on flavor, not depth. Very nice, but needs some grip and finish. Navarro, at least with their late harvest wines, may be America's premier Gewurz winery, but this is just a nice effort in what was probably a tough vintage, not a great one. Better the next day, thicker, richer. 89 points.

1989 Gewurztraminer "Altenberg" Selection des Grains Nobles (Deiss)
Very interesting--this SGN is almost bone dry at this point, and that's  not much of an exaggeration. The sugar is mostly gone, but the spice and weight is intact. There seems to be almost a touch of mint, too. If it is neither sweet nor unctuous,  it is lively and intense. If I judged this as gewurz, I'd rate it higher, but as a SGN you'd have to say it is drying out some and needs to be drunk. Someone said to me that this merely exemplifies Deiss' philosophy and he doesn't care whether it seems like SGN or not. Fine--then don't call it SGN. A wine that is SGN should seem sweet and rather rich.   89 points.

2001 Gewurztraminer "Passito" (Tannahill)
I had the 2002 of this in a big trade tasting and was glad to try one again in normal circumstances.  Unless the extra age has dimmed it, the 01 is considerably inferior, not as sweet as it was, nor as thick, but very ripe and piercing. I really like what this winery is doing with gewurz, but try the 02 of this for a big step up. 89 points.

2002 Gewurztraminer Cluster Select Late Harvest (Navarro)
As always, this is very, very sweet, with a nice hit of tangy spice on the finish. It seems lively and bright. If past is prologue, this wine will put on weight and become very unctuous with age. It shows more focus now--and all that sugar and spice. 92+ points.

1996 Gewurztraminer "Quintessence" Selection des Grains Nobles (Deiss)
Others seem to like these Quintessences more than I, but I can't quite warm up to them completely. This shows mango, and then odd flavors--almost like cinnamon sprinkled onto mangoes. It is very late harvest, and I appreciated  the rich, sugary finish, but it is very off beat. Reminded me a bit of Wittman albalonga.  92 points.

2001 Petite Sirah "Essence" (Ridge)
Gripping in its finish, this is moderately sweet and succulent, bright and elegant. The sensual velvety texture makes it sexy and charming. It does not project weight, but the gripping finish provides some intensity. These can age well, and the harmony they acquire makes them even more sensual. 92 points.

1992 Port (Quinto do Vesuvio)
Utterly charming, if not particularly profound, this was a sloppy puppy, sweet and friendly. It had a soft, sensual velvety texture, enough zing and pizazz to add some liveliness and structure, and...flavor. Most of all, sweet, delectable fruit, in a mid-weight body. Quite nice, and drinking beautifully now. 90 points.

2002 Beerenauslese (Gunderloch)
This is a blend of several varietals, and it is relatively inexpensive, running about $13 a half for BA. On the other hand, you get what you pay for sometimes. It is bland, easy and simple. It is startling to find it labeled as BA, as it seems to lack the depth, concentration and richness.  Top producers would not think of selling this as BA. Of course, they won't be selling BAs for $13 either. Clean and fresh, best used as an aperitif, not a dessert wine. For what it is supposed to be (and isn't..), 80 points.

1990 Sauternes "Crème de Tête" (Chateau Filhot)
Beautiful, intense and lingering....This is certainly one of the best if not the best Filhots I have had. It opens with a nice touch of syrup, unctuous fruit in the center, but that's not the price of admission actually. This wine is beautifully structured to support the fruit with intensity and focus. It is rich, but precise and penetrating, and loaded with botrytis. This is also a perfect time to drink this---it is showing some maturity, no  longer a simple fruit bomb, but it is also far from too old, or showing fading fruit. Has years of life left, too. 94 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KGeorgia (except dessert/sparkling)
2001 "Grammy Collection" Alazanis Valley
That's Georgia--from the old USSR, not the USA. This red wine is just a little off dry, has a scent of roses, and some sensual velvety fruit. It's also a little too thin and simple and is an oddball wine in a lot of respects. It might have its place though, and was certainly not hideous. It reminded me of a calmed down--and mediocre--Ca' Togni, something soft, but now with little intensity and just a touch of sweetness. Or, maybe a Beaujolais crossed with Ca' Togni. In any event--not a bad aperitif, but it is hard to see what you do with this. It probably doesn't work as a table wine for most dishes, and it is not sweet enough to be a true dessert wine. 84 points. 


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yellball.gif 0.1 KGermany (except dessert/sparkling)

1990 Riesling Auslese "Scharzhofberger" (Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt)
Well, baby. Tightly wound, and not particularly sweet, this Auslese is thick and intense, very deep, and very powerful. The texture is almost oily, coating your mouth. The acidity is gripping. There are mature apricot nuances, and just a touch of sweetness on the finish in particular. Very rich, without much obvious sugar--or more likely, it is overwhelmed by the structure. 93 points.


2001 Riesling Spatlese "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" (J.J. Prum)
Whew. This is unbalanced at the moment, showing cloudy and a bit disjointed. It is nonetheless pretty darned good, with lots of sweet fruit, not to mention lots of sugar, and a great lingering finish. I can only say, though, it's a shame to open this at this point. The wine needs 3-5 years of cellaring just to knit together. It's a little hard to evaluate at the moment, but this score should go up. 92+ points.


1990 Riesling Auslese "Brauneberger-Juffer-Sonnenuhr" (Willi Haag)

It opens with a big, mouthgripping acid kick, but it is a pleasure to discover that there is lots of fruit, and superb depth and concentration here. There are some tertiary notes, but the wine mostly seems in the prime of life, young and robust, with great density and wonderful fruit. A superb performance at age 14. 93 points.


1989 Riesling Auslese "Oberhauser Brucke" (Donnhoff)
This bottle (not the VDP) is on the delicate side, but flavorful, surprisingly sweet for its age, and amazingly youthful. It doesn't have much weight, but its elegance, and sweet, sexy finish, and its amazing freshness at age 15--I never would have guessed anything more than 5-7 years old--win it big plaudits. 92 points. 


2002 Riesling Spatlese "Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg" (Donnhoff)
Elegant, sweet on the finish, a bit light and a bit short, relatively speaking. This wine seems a bit dull, perhaps a bit closed, but shows little, certainly not at the moment. I kept waiting for it to show me something, but it never did, and usually seemed ordinary. Maybe it will blossom, but I'm not betting on it. 88 points.


1997 Riesling Spatlese Abtsberg (Maximin Grunhaus)
Served from magnum, this was penetrating and austere, showing hard fruit, and plenty of acid. I expected that to calm down after awhile, with the fruit reasserting itself, but it was worrisome that the acid stayed dominant for hours. I was wondering where the fruit got to...and I never got a good answer. The wine remained forbidding and austere, and seemed to get worse, not better with time. I expected more, didn't get it from this bottle. 87 points.


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yellball.gif 0.1 KItaly (except dessert/sparkling)
2000 Gewurztraminer (Elena Walch)
Very light, with hints of spice, but not much more, this is thin and simple, without much varietal character. Pleasant, but short. 83 points. 

1998 Gewurztraminer "Kolbenhof" (Hofstatter)
Decent body, but almost a semillon character, this is another Italian gewurz that doesn't seem to speak of Gewurz-ness. Flat in flavor, if decent in depth. Not much to write home about. 82 points.

1999 Cepparello (Isole e Olena)
Bright and tannic, and a touch astringent on the finish, this is monolithic at first, and not terribly charming. It could really use cellaring or aeration, or both. Gradually, it opened nicely and a couple of hours later it was quite charming, showing nice, succulent cherry fruit, and becoming more and more delicious every second. This Super Tuscan should age well and be delectable, but give it at least three, maybe more like five, years in the cellar. 93 points.

1990 Brunello di Montalcino (Fattoria dei Barbi)
There's a nice cherry nose here, followed by good fruit, good depth and some rather hard, astringent tannins on the end. The good news at the moment is that the substantial fruit is holding its own, and this drinks fairly well with air.  A couple of hours of decanting could have helped this powerful, slightly rustic Brunello, but it ultimately opened and did all right. The tannins may outlast the fruit, though. If it holds its balance with cellaring, the score should rise. 91+ points.

1990 Brunello di Montalcino (Altesino)
Bright and delicious, with delectable cherries flavors popping out everywhere, this puts on weight as it airs, and turns into a solid and flavorful Brunello, with plenty of charm and a nice finish. It never seemed as deep as the Barbi, above, and perhaps could use a touch more depth, but it was more harmonious and flavorful, and far more charming, not to mention easier to drink today. If the Barbi cellars well and holds its balance, that equation may change, though. 91 points.

1997 Balifico (Fattoria Castello di Volpaia)
This wine is a blend of Sangioveto di Volpaia (65%, I'm told), which is a local clone, and cabernet, sourced from the Balifico Vineyard. Tasty, and a lot of fun.  Medium bodied with a nice grip, this throws off waves of flavor as it airs out, and remains bright and lively. It harmonizes nicely with more air and always drink well. Tasty, tangy and beautifully balanced. 92 points. 

1999 Campoleone (Lamborghini)
Elegant, and very sweet, this is a sexy charmer that needs a couple of more years to integrate and have its components mesh together well. The problem is that the fruit is so tasty that it's hard to resist even now. Despite the fruit forward aspect of the wine, it is well structured and well balanced, and very capable of improving throughout mid-term cellaring. This is a wine with lots of pizazz and sex appeal, but not quite ready to drink. Try again in two to four years. 94 points.

1996 Solengo (Argiano)
Beautiful, succulent and flavorful, this is supple and round, drinking rather well. There are supporting, ripe tannins, and nice depth in the mid-palate, but the price of admission here is the flavor, more flavor, and more flavor still. Don't mistake this for a sloppy fruit bomb though, because the fruit is well supported by the wine's structure. Another friendly and interesting Super Tuscan. 94 points.

1997 Guado al Tasso (Tenuta Belvedere-Antinori)
I found this disjointed on my first taste a couple of years ago. It is meeting its promise now, but I still find it short of spectacular or distinguished. It opens earthy and dominated by cabernet flavors, having a certain Bordeaux feel to it. It seems precise and well focused, but it doesn't have much depth, not a particularly long finish. For its price and status, it correct and good, but you may be a bit underwhelmed. 90 points.

1999 Ceuso Vigna Custera
This Sicilian is a blend of nero d'avola, cabernet and merlot. Although I've seen it offered as low as $24, typical pricing is closer to $40, which is pretty pricey for Sicily. This is worth it. Mouthfilling and ripe, it shows great structure with firm supporting tannins. The fruit holds its own, though, and it is ripe and flavorful all the time. Tasty, delectable and gripping, this puts on quite a show. Serve it blind, and you may fool a lot of folks who would otherwise dismiss Sicily. 91 points.

2002 Barbera (Pio Cesare)
Mechanical and correct at best, this is hardly recognizable as Barbera, and certainly not as decent Barbera. It seems thin and routine, something that is just there, without any distinguishing features at all. Run of the mill. 82 points.

1995 Cremes (Gaja)
There are sweet red cherry notes up front, and nothing else. It's grapey, light, simple and short. This is not a wine intended for the long haul, and it is fading fast. It's nice that it still has pleasing cherry fruit notes up front, but the supporting structure is crumbling fast as the fruit thins. Drink up! 84 points.

1993 Barolo "Cannubi Boschis" (Sandrone)
It was a little shocking how simple and thin this was. Okay, '93 is not the best Barolo vintage, but lots of producers made elegant, early maturing wines that have drunk very well. This tasted more like dying Barbera.  It was tasty enough, and rather fragrant--the nose may have been the best feature--but the color had weakened so much that it was easy to see through it, and the wine was so thin that there hardly seemed to be any fruit left. It cracked up and became more acidic as it aired out. 80 points.

2001 Rosso "Fabius" (Ciacci Piccolomini)
A burly little runt, this Rosso shows nice structure, and good underlying fruit, but it is rather tight and closed at the moment. It grudgingly and gradually opened a little--but never fully. Try it again in two to three. Pricing tends to be in the mid-$40s. 88+ points. 

1997 Barbaresco "Sori'Paitin" (Paitin)
A touch of early ripeness opens up this up, but it gets brighter and tighter as it sits, with more tannins popping out. Eventually, the fruit reasserts itself, and it comes into some balance, but it never quite recovers its early charm or promise, and shows a bit flat at times. Interesting, but not distinguished. 89 points.

1998 Morellino di Scansano Reserva (Fattoria le Pupille)
This well priced ($30 or so) old favorite seems to have come on some hard times. The fruit seems to have faded, and the tannins and acid are winning out. The fruit flavor has flattened and faded, and as it sits it gets thinner and flatter still. It still has a decent core of fruit, but I'm a little disappointed this has faded so quickly. 85 points.

1999 Brunello di Montalcino (Siro Pacenti)
Bright, young and grapey, this shows beautiful fruit and a nice finish. There is some astringency and a gripping finish as it airs out. This is a sweet young Brunello, but it's made to age and seems to be about on the verge of closing down. In fact, as it sat, it got harder and the fruit got harder to find. I think this has a very nice future, but that time may be more like 2009, not today. 90+ points.



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yellball.gif 0.1 KPortugal (except dessert/sparkling)
2000 "Incognito" Syrah (Cortes de Cima)
Of the often fancy, and often pricey Portuguese wines on this page (often in the $50 to $100 range, roughly), this was my favorite, and the only one that seemed truly worth serious money, although even this may be a little overpriced at around $50. It is made by a Danish winemaker.  Served blind, I was thinking that this was possibly a California cult, maybe a Turley Petite Sirah, or a Sine Qua Non. It had great strawberry notes on the end, with supple, bright tannins, and blackberries at the outset. It was heady, deep and flavorful, with nice focus. Very nice. It is called "incognito" because syrah wasn't allowed at the time it was made. This could use more cellaring, but it is approachable enough to drink now. 90 points.

1998 Branco Evora (Pera-Manca)
The ultimate cult Portuguese wines? Very disappointing, if so. This, and the Tinto below, are hideously expensive, around $100 a bottle. They are surely one of the very worst wine values ever. I actually liked this white a bit better. Modest in depth, with an average and undistinguished finish, it does show nice flavor, but never attains much weight, distinction or finish. It's a nice $15 wine that sells, unfortunately, for $90. 87 points.

1997 Tinto Evora (Pera-Manca)
This is merely $100 in the USA and $100 Euros in Europe. It's no bargain here, however, despite the exchange rate, because no one in sight could believe that anyone would pay $100 for this wine. It opened reasonably supple, with some lushness, and decent depth, but started sweet, almost too sweet. It got lusher and I began to like the texture, and it put on a little weight with air, but I began to notice a bell pepper, vegetal note to the wine that I rather disliked. Thirty minutes later, you could add asparagus and broccoli to that descriptor and just call this wine vegetal. Without those notes, it was an 88 point wine or so--not bad, but nothing special and nothing anyone would dream of paying $100 a bottle for. But with those notes, this was distinctly off-putting and I didn't want to drink it at all. Surely, one of the worst $100 bottles I've ever had.   83 points.

1998 Reserva Reg. Alentejano (Cortes de Cima)
If you could forget the pricing, around $50, this is pretty nice. It had a nice attack, some good intensity and grip, and decent depth. Its components integrated nicely with air, and it became more gripping on the finish, though it thinned, ultimately, too fast. Still, this is very pleasant, showing nice flavor and structure. It is 85% tempranillo, 15% cabernet sauvignon. This is approachable now, but not at peak, I suspect. Give it another two or three in the cellar, and it might yet improve a bit, too.  89 points. 

1999 Douro Reserva Branco (Porca de Murça)
Bright and sharp, with very modest weight and concentration, this seems like an inexpensive pinot grigio or verdicchio, something along the lines. Decent nose, but not enough depth or finish. 83 points.

2000  Vinha da Nora Reserva (Qunta do Monte D'Oiro)
This is mostly syrah, and shows some earthiness, followed by some sweet fruit. It's light and pleasant, on the simple side, and develops poorly with air. In its price class, $10, it isn't a bad deal, though. 84 points.

2000  Vinho Reg. Alentejano (Cortes de Cima)
This kitchen sink blend including  tempranillo (65%) and  syrah (20%) opens with a red berry nose, almost candied, it is so sweet and aggressive. It is bright and refreshing, but also a bit simple and thins to fast.  The brightness overwhelms the fruit at times, and it stays a bit candied. Unimpressive, not always pleasant, and not such a great deal at $18. 84 points.

1999 Tinto Reserva (Quinta da Cortezia)
This 100% touriga nacional wine is medium weight, and shows some very sweet fruit, and nice grip. Priced in the mid-20s, you want to see some structure, too, and this has some, projecting nice focus and balance. It gets livelier and more interesting with air, and the flavor comes back gradually. Let this air a bit before drinking, and it is pretty nice. 88 points.

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yellball.gif 0.1 KRhone/South/SouthWest France (except dessert/sparkling)

1998 Chateauneuf du Pape "La Reine des Bois" (Domaine de la Mordorée)
Sweet, bright and focused, this has a gripping finish, and hint of game. It comes around nicely with air, but never loses its primary selling point, the delectable, flavorful fruit. Served blind, it was an immediate crowd favorite. While this lacks the depth and intensity of the great '01 I had recently, it is on its own very fine Chateauneuf. It is drinking fairly nicely now, though not quite at peak, and I don't expect this to be a long term ager. 94 points. 


1998 Coteaux du Languedoc "Grande Cuvée" (Chateau de Lancyre)
This has aged gracefully and beautifully. It's a little dumb at first, and badly needed air (in fact, it drank slightly better the next day). Then, it put on weight and showed depth, finish and quite a bit of class. I was also impressed that the oaky demeanor that this wine displayed on release was mostly gone, at least after some aeration, and the oak had integrated beautifully. A lovely Languedoc and a fine deal in the $20 range. 91 points.


1999 Cote Rotie (R. Rostaing)

This "basic" Cote Rotie from Rostaing opened simple, showing some roasted meat and a touch of game. It was routine, and too reticent. I loved its development in the glass though, as it evolved and blossomed, and the finish improved greatly. This never finished its performance, but I was liking it a lot when I left. Not quite great, perhaps, but very good. 90 points.



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yellball.gif 0.1 KSpain (except dessert/sparkling)
1999  Criança (Morlanda)
Ah, Spain and oak. You may think "Australia and oak." Or, "California and oak." But there's a lot of overoaking going on in Spain, traditionally, too, and the old fashioned approach tends to deliver heavy coconut, vanilla and dill nuances, very much like American oak, even when it is not. That's the big flaw with this Priorat wine, which otherwise does a lot right. There's just too much oak. It is otherwise vigorous and lively, with soft tannins and nice depth and texture. It's a bit too flamboyant, though, and that mostly comes from the oak treatment. There's still a lot here to like. Criança, by the way, is the Catalan way of spelling Crianza. 90 points.


1999 Tinto (Pesquera)

Bright and cherry nuanced, this has mid-weight, moderate flavor and drinks nicely. It hardly seems special or distinguished in any respect, but always provides enough volume and flavor to be consistently enjoyable. Running about $24 or so. 88 points.



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yellball.gif 0.1 KUruguay (except dessert/sparkling)
2002 Tannat Primeur "Canelones" (Filgueira)
Uruguay? Ok. You've heard that Argentina and Chile make wine? So, too, does Uruguay, and this Tannat, which runs around $20, was pretty darned good.  Serve it blind and see. (I don't know if in fact this is imported to the USA; it was purchased in Belgium.)  Thick and rich, this has nice grip, a fair amount of power, and is chock full of restrained blueberry flavors wafting up from the fruit. It is very black, very extracted, and the finish is, well, mouthgripping. It did get more and more tannic as it sat, and it definitely needs some cellaring. It's a wine that will likely shut down. My first thought was about 92 points, but when dealing with a new wine, not to mention winery and region, let's be conservative and see how it develops. P.s. Canelones is the state, and the winery is a small one there. 90+ points.


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arrowblu.gif (140 bytes)QPR Winner   I give this award to wines that demonstrate an excellent quality to price ratio. They are sometimes more expensive than the wines featured in my Best Buys section (which is cut off at $20), so while every Best Buy is also a QPR Winner,  not every QPR winner is an official Best Buy.  QPR winners are simply wines that are great values for a relatively  reasonable price. 

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