Words and Images:
 George Heritier
and Kim Adams 

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Saturday Night Rhône All-Stars 

Amy, Florida Jim and JeffBesides the previous night's revelers, also in attendance were Mitch Tallan, Frank Joyce, Mary Ann Barnett, Bob Eppich, "Florida" Jim Cowan (right, flanked by Amy McClellan and Jeff Faunce) and Loren and Jane Sonkin. After a full day's activities, we didn't waste much time getting to the "white stuff."

1987 Trimbach Riesling Alsace Cuvée Frédéric Emile, 12.5% alc.: This pale gold is showing bees' wax and wet stones on the nose; flavors echo with some added star fruit, toned down acidity and a finish like a mountain stream. A nice, mature Freddie Emile.

2001 Robert Niero Condrieu "Cuvée de Chery," 14% alc.: Medium straw, to pale gold, this lovely viognier smells something like shortbread cookies and honeysuckle, with soft herbal pear and mineral flavors. It's not too acidic, and Florida Jim noted impressions of "some spice on the finish, almost like black pepper; cleansing." The wine proved to be an excellent match for fried wontons, guacamole and curried scallops. 

1993 Nikolaihof Wachau Riesling Smaragd Vonstein, 12.5% alc.: This medium straw shows a tint of lime with swirlatude, giving off faint green apple and mineral on the nose, but the flavors pick things up nicely, echoing with an added hint of lime (which seems only right), excellent acidity and a nice finish. This is marvelous with seared sesame seed crusted tuna, shaved pickled ginger and wasabi. 

1996 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl, 13.5% alc.: Intense sweet litchi, peach and apricot aromas waft large out of the glass of this medium gold colored gewurz, and explode on the palate with excellent concentration and a long finish. Unctuous, almost overripe, and yes, over the top, but everybody really enjoyed it, including this taster.

Pubic hair on a wine label?!2000 Gangloff Côte-Rôtie Le Sereine Noire, 13% alc.: There's a wealth of bacon, pepper, smoke and earth on the nose of this deep, dark garnet syrah, and these follow through on the palate with a remarkably smooth mouthfeel, silky tannins and restrained acidity. The finish is not all that long right now, but then, this is still a very young wine, so patience will be rewarded; give it seven to ten years. Very nice. 

1991 J. L. Chave Hermitage, 13% alc.: This ruby garnet may not be as aromatically robust as the Gangloff, but it was the wine of the night for this taster, nevertheless, with green olive, smoked meat and plum aromas. The huge, lovely flavors echo beautifully; it's elegant and refined, and yet dense and intense at the same time. Jeff commented that "it's dirtier than the '92," no doubt referring to a certain earthy quality present. This beauty is ready to go, right there, right now. 

1992 J. L. Chave Hermitage, 13% alc.: Generally a lighter version of the '91, which Florida Jim suggested emphasized structure at the expense of fruit, saying he doubted that the latter will come back. However, I don't think the fruit is gone yet; in fact, I think the wine is drinking rather nicely right now.

1994 J. L. Chave Hermitage, 13% alc.: A smoky ruby garnet, this is not showing nearly as much smoky, meaty characteristics as the previous two selections; rather, it has some slightly poopy red and black fruit flavors and aromas that aren't even up to the intensity of the '92. Not a bad wine, but nothing special, this will probably be nice on its own terms, but it was badly outgunned on this occasion.

J. L. Chave Hermitage1997 J. L. Chave Hermitage, 13% alc.: There's some intense blackberry and plum with hints of smoke on the nose of this dark garnet, and while the flavors generally echo, it's a tight young wine that really needs several years of cellaring to do it justice.

1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage "La Chapelle," 13% alc.: Ruth Blakely aka Saaz told me that she's had one of these recently, and that it was drinking pretty well, so I pulled one of ours for this occasion, and she was right. It's the usual dark garnet color, with smoky, earthy, peppery plum flavors and aromas that seem to show some oak influence, although not unduly so. Rich on the palate, medium full bodied, not too tannic and with good acidity and a nice finish, this is an elegant Hermitage that provided an interesting contrast in style to the Chaves. 

A bucket of clams magically appeared in the kitchen, and so we made a quick switch back to the white stuff, starting with a little bubbly.

Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Le Mensil Champagne Brut: A medium straw with a yeasty nose, this has an active bead, a lot of froth and yeasty pear and green apple flavors. Very clean and refreshing. 

Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Pur Sang1999 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Pur Sang, 12.72% alc.: It's always a treat to taste any one of Pouilly's "enfant terrible's" sauvignons, and this pale straw terrific. It exudes a grapefruit and garlic perspiration "bouquet," which Florida Jim characterized as "a wonderful thing." These follow through on the palate with an herbal, and an almost creamy quality, despite the brisk acidity. Larry added impressions of "tangerines, slate and wet stones," while Doggie chimed in with a note of guava. This was a big favorite, and one of at least a few participants' favorites of the night. 

Almost any of the reds above and below were a fine match for some terrific grilled haunch of lamb, sweet corn and a tasty batch of heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh basil and mozzarella. 

1996 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage "La Chapelle," 13.5% alc.: A slightly cloudy inky dark garnet, this features hints of sea air and game over smoky plum and blackberry aromatics, with like flavors that show a slight green streak. Medium full bodied and elegant, but again, not up to the Chaves.

1990 Domaine du Pégau Châteauneuf du Pape, 13.5% alc.:
Leave it to Alan Kerr to bring a Châteauneuf du Pape to a northern Rhône tasting, but everyone was still hot to get a taste of this dark garnet. But while it shows the signature smoky black fruit flavors that one would expect from Pegau, this one's surprisingly tannic and tight; most thought that it seems shut down right now. 

1999 Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Albéric Bouvet, 13% alc.: This pretty dark garnet exudes a garrigue, smoke, bacon fat, plum and blackberry bouquet that is quite enticing, but the flavors are pretty tight at this juncture. The best days are still ahead for what will one day be a very nice wine, to which Doggie says "schwing!". 

1994 A. Clape Cornas, 13% alc.: There's some pretty meat, smoke, plum and red fruit character to this inky, opaque garnet syrah, and Mr. Kerr described it as "teeth coating." Many of us liked it quite well, and while Florida Jim thinks it could use a few more years, I wondered at the time if the fruit might not fade. I'd drink this sooner than later.

Mary Ann Barnett and Frank Joyce

1996 E. Guigal Chateau d' Ampuis Côte-Rôtie, 13% alc.: Frank Joyce described this deep, dark garnet as "in the top five of the night, easy," and it certainly is a big mouthful of flavor, with its smoke, oak, game and garrigue, plum and red berry personality. Frank went on to gush, "It's full, it's complex, it's all there," and he got no arguments that I heard. I'd like to try this one twenty aught six, when it's bound to be even better. 

As happened the night before, I didn't get to everything that was opened (or didn't note them if I did…), but Larry once again picked up the slack with these observations:

2002 B. Giacosa Arneis: Clean, fresh rain water, soft textures...a big bouquet of flowers -- excellent!

1999 Dom. de Gachon St. Joseph: Opened late, as I was not enthused about the "leftovers" after the cooking had completed. Absent for this event, my friend Tim Thomas should note that this syrah sang a beautiful song -- gorgeous smoke/meat/floral aromatics, supple textures and wonderfully balanced. One of the better sub $20 reds I recall having.

1998 Vineland Estate Cab/Merlot Reserve Niagara: It is just like AK to slip a Canadian wine in on us ;-)...actually, I rather liked it -- not great but pleasantly interesting. Seemed to lean toward Cab Franc herbaceousness...

1996 Chat. de Targe Saumur Champigny: I usually dig these blood, stick, root, twig wines...this one seemed a bit lacking.

2001 Dom. Calot Morgon: A very pretty essence of dirt rolled strawberries...fighting above its weight class, though.

1999 Guigal Cote Rotie "Brune et Blonde": Bob E. held a glass to my nose (amazing what is acceptable in wine circles, but nowhere else) -- "buttered popcorn" I said...he told me it was the Guigal. A sip was better...not great.

1996 Jamet Cote Rotie: Another "late open"...Bob Graeter shook his head incredulously -- hey Bob, I was working late and missed out on a bunch...a relatively fresh palate after 11pm is a strange occurrence ;-) This was delicious -- bacon, black olives, roasted meat, light floral tones...nice textures...dense flavors. Mmmmmmm

1999 Milan Maximovich's Raspberry Late Picked Dessert Wine: Great intensity of fruit...essence of raspberry. I've never had the plum wine, but this was quite nice...thanks to Kira and Jon for sharing.

It was a wonderful weekend indeed, with some brilliant wines and great food. As always, it's a pleasure spending time with the Gang of Cleve, Alan Kerr, Bob Graeter, Mitch Tallan, Frank Joyce, Mary Ann Barnett, Bob Eppich, Loren and Jane Sonkin, and especially Florida Jim and Jon "Bigdog" Cook, who both traveled such a great distance to join us. Special thanks to Mary, Larry, Amy and Jeff for their wonderful hospitality!

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© George Heritier  October 2003