Article and
Tasting Notes by
George Heritier



There are all kinds of good things to report on this time out, so let’s not waste time and space with lengthy a prologue.

I had the very good fortune recently to try two Champagnes that I’d never encountered before, both from J. M. Gobillard et Fils. One of the selling points used to promote these is that Gobillard’s vineyards are located primarily in Hautvillers, home of Dom Pérignon, and in fact they are the only Champagne house besides the more famous (not to mention much more expensive) Moët & Chandon to include that prestigious name on their labels. That’s all well and good, but it wouldn’t mean much if the wines weren’t of high quality, and happily, they are very tasty indeed.

Champagne J. M. Gobillard et Fils Brut Rosé NVChampagne J. M. Gobillard et Fils Brut Rosé NV, 1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Pinot Meunier, 1/3 Chardonnay; Dosage: 8 g/l. Aged for 3 years in cellar, 12% alc., $41.80: Peachy pink in color, with an explosion of bubbles when poured, leading into a fine, very active bead; big, rich and yet utterly dry, with earthy cherry flavors and aromas laced with undertones of minerality. With good weight, racy acidity and very good length on the finish, this is a pleasure to drink and it gets even better as it opens with air. A big, delicious mouthful of Brut rosé, one that I daresay would give my beloved Jean Laurent a run for its money.  Find this wine

Champagne J. M. Gobillard et Fils Brut Tradition NV, 1/3 Chardonnay, 1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Pinot Meunier; Dosage: 8-9 g/l. Aged for at least 2 years in cellar, 12% alc., $36.60: Medium straw
color, with an explosion of bubbles when poured, leading into a fine, very active bead; big and crisp, with tart apple and grapefruit citrus flavors and aromas, with good minerality underneath and a distinctive lack of the kind of yeasty bread dough characteristics found in many a Champagne, and that’s just fine by me. Intense in flavor, with excellent acids and length, this provides an eminently satisfying drinking experience, made all the more pleasure when the price is considered. Find this wine
Champagne J. M. Gobillard et Fils imported by Grape Expectations Wine Imports, Inc., Raleigh, NC

Inspired not only by Brad Baker’s excellent narrative of his visit to the Champagne house Philipponnat last summer, but also some excellent closeout prices from their local distributor, I took the opportunity to try two of the two non-vintage offerings from this producer and was most impressed with what I tasted.

Champagne Philipponnat Royale Reserve BrutChampagne Philipponnat Royale Reserve Brut NV, 30% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier; Dosage 8 g/L, 12% alc.; $28.80:
Pale gold in color, with an impressive mousse, active bead and racy acidity, this offers rich and intense flinty tart green apple and quince flavors and aromas shaded with yeasty undertones and a subtle nutty note. With good weight and length, there’s a lot to like here, and like it I do, especially as it opens and improves with air. A great value while it lasts. Find this wine

Champagne Philipponnat Royale Reserve Rosée Brut NV, 35% Chardonnay, 55% Pinot Noir; 10% Pinot Meunier, 12% alc.; $30:
Salmon pink color, with an impressive mousse and active bead; rich and intense in the mouth, with earthy minerality over tart red apple and subtle yeasty undertones. Good weight, excellent acidity and nice length on the finish; in short, a very solid Brut rosé and a great value while it lasts. Find this wine

Champagne Philipponnat imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agencies, Inc., Solvang, CA

And then, we tried this next bubbly simply because it was there...

Champagne Duval Leroy Cuvée Paris BrutChampagne Duval Leroy Cuvée Paris Brut NV, 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 12% alc., $37.20:
More than just a pretty bottle, this medium straw colored Champagne delivers solid, consistent quality with every one we have the pleasure to pop a cork from. It offers an abundant mousse, an active bead and expressive lemon-y citrus and tart, under ripe green apple flavors shaded with mineral and yeasty undertones. Excellent intensity and acids keep this one moving right along through the nice finish. 
Find this wine

Imported by Duval Leroy Imports, Manhasset, NY


We’re always game to sample new offerings from the team at Tablas Creek, so when we got our hands on four new reds not long ago, we wasted no time finding out what they are all about.

2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Cotes de Tablas Rouge, 43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise, 14.8% alc.:
Deep, dark color, almost opaque, with lots of Rhône-ish briar, bramble, roasted meat and iron over deep, dark plum, berry and currant in flavor and aroma, all accented with something like a note of root beer. Full bodied, well structured and considerably brawnier than last year’s model, this is drinking very well right now, and it has the stuffing to age and develop for at least three to five years.  Find this wine

2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Esprit de Beaucastel2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge, 44% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5 % Counoise, 14.5% alc.:
Deep, dark smoky color, not quite opaque, and like the Cotes de Tablas, bigger, brawnier and more rambunctious than the previous vintage; it shows and intense core of rich dark plum and berry, accented with shades of wood smoke, grilled meat, fine leather and a little briar-bramble. Full bodied, well structured and long on the finish, this is already an excellent palate coating red, especially with an hour’s worth of air, but it will certainly improve with some time in the bottle, as it’s without question a 10-year wine. Find this wine

2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Syrah, 14.5% alc.:
Nice dark color, with rich dark black and red plum and berry shaded with underbrush-briar-bramble, leather and a hint of root beer, all anchored to an earthy base. Full bodied, well structured and powerful, with some youthful rough edges that smooth out nicely with an hour’s worth of air; five years or so in the cellar should do it even better. A very solid Left Coast Syrah. Find this wine

2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Mourvedre, 14.3% alc.:
Slightly murky dark color, being more in the red fruit spectrum on the somewhat perfumed nose; flavors of smoky grilled meat and black plum, berry and cherry. Rich, full-bodied and well built, this is already delicious, at a perfect state of ripeness with no excesses, and it offers lots of promise for further development. Find this wine

Joseph Swan Vineyards
is one of the legendary wineries of California, and although Joe Swan is no longer with us, his son-in-law Rod Berglund carries on his tradition most admirably. These are wines that are made to age gracefully and enjoy with food, rather than win tastings and garner 90+ point ratings. That’s not to say that they aren’t worthy of high ratings, it’s just not their intent. We’ve enjoyed some of these in the past, and when I sampled the following two at a recent tasting, I was so impressed, I just had to get another couple of each to get to know them a little better, and I’m glad that I did.

2005 Joseph Swan Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Trenton View Vineyard, 13.9% alc., $36:
Slightly murky smoky garnet in color, with an earthy cherry and mushroom nose; the rich flavors echo and expand, showing some added forest floor and rhubarb over a ripe core of fruit. Medium full bodied, with silky tannins and balanced acidity, and while obviously youthful, with its best days well ahead of it, it is already drinking pretty well, especially with a Thanksgiving turkey roulade. This wine takes me back to those Pinot Noirs that first captured my imagination back in the early ‘90s (Kalin Cellars sticks out in my mind for good reason), with their mushroom-like character, and if ever a Left Coast specimen could be described as “Burgundian,” this would have to be a prime candidate. Find this wine

2001 Joseph Swan Russian River Valley Zinfandel Mancini Ranch, 14.4% alc., $22.99:
Ruby red in color, with a dust red raspberry and cherry nose; these impressions follow through on the palate with a pretty core of rich fruit laced with a subtle undertone of earthy mushroom, not unlike the ’05 Swan Trenton View Pinot Noir. Full bodied without excessive weight or extraction, this is graced with balanced tannins and acids and nice length on the finish, making for a distinctive Zinfandel made much more in the style of the ‘70s and ‘80s than those of the steroidal ‘90s and beyond, and that’s a plus in my book. Find this wine

Speaking of Zinfandel, we’ve been going through something of a revival of interest in them lately, after looking to southern France for the bulk of our red wine drinking over the past few years, and for the most part, we’ve enjoyed what we’ve been tasting.

2005 Ridge Geyserville Sonoma2005 Ridge Geyserville Sonoma, 77% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 14.6% alc., $30:
Good color, if not as dark as Geyserville usually is, with a mélange of Draper perfume, briar-bramble, raspberry and cherry on the moderately expressive nose. The like flavors pick things up nicely with a solid core of typically ripe fruit, and the wine is full bodied, yet sleek, deceptively structured with silky tannins and good acids. Not the biggest Geyserville, nor is it the best, but it’s certainly a very good one, and Kim agrees, describing it as “eminently drinkable” and “very cherry.” As one might expect, it gets better with a few hours of air, and a few years in the cellar should do this 40th Anniversary edition even better. Find this wine

2005 Ridge Sonoma Zinfandel Pagani Ranch, 96% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sira, 1% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Mataro (Mourvedre), 14.2% alc., $31.20:
Ruby garnet color, dark, but not too dark; not the Ridge Pagani that we remember from the early to mid-90s, in fact surprisingly middleweight in character and intensity. The reticent nose only hints at the toasty, mildly spicy raspberry and black raspberry flavors, and there’s little “Draper perfume” to speak of. Medium full bodied at most and almost claret-like in personality, with moderate tannins, good acidity and decent length on the finish. A nice enough Zin for around $20, but overpriced for what’s in the bottle.  Find this wine

2005 Elyse Napa Zinfandel Korte Ranch2005 Elyse Napa Zinfandel Korte Ranch, 15.8% alc., $29.36:
Showing an attractive dark color, this doesn’t give much more on the nose than what Kim describes as “red dust.” However, it explodes in the mouth with big, strapping coffee, smoke, bramble-briar and black fruit flavors, the coffee and smoke really setting the tone for the personality of the wine. Full bodied, rich and concentrated, but not over-extracted, this is well structured and really opens up with about 30 minutes of air, so give it a little time in a decanter before pouring a glass. Find this wine

2005 Elyse Napa Zinfandel Morisoli, 15.8% alc., $32.36:
Deeply colored, not quite opaque, this gives big coffee and toast on the nose, and these impressions follow through on the palate with some briar-bramble, earthy undertones and hints of cola-root beer, all over a rich core of “zinberry” fruit. Full bodied, well structured and finely balanced, this is a testament to winemaker Ray Courson’s fine touch, and a pleasure to drink now and over the next few years. Find this wine

2003 Haywood Sonoma Zinfandel Los Chamizal, 14.5% alc., $22.99:
Showing good rich color that’s pleasing to the eye, this claret-style Zinfandel offers appealing black raspberry and blackberry flavors and aromas shaded with some subtle earth, dusty cocoa and hints of briar and bramble. Rich and satisfying, well structured and balanced without excessive weight or alcohol, this has a well-mannered personality that I can cozy right up to. Very nice indeed! Find this wine

2004 Pietra Santa Cienega Valley Zinfandel2004 Pietra Santa Cienega Valley Zinfandel, 15.8% alc., $15.99:
Dark garnet color, with lots happening on the nose, including sweet oak, mint, coffee, toast, tobacco and briar/bramble, all over deep dark black raspberry and black cherry. These impressions echo and expand on the palate, and both of us commented on the solid core of fruit being more black than red, especially in comparison to the previously noted 2005 Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Zinfandel. There’s good structure here, with ample tannins and acids to hold and improve for at least a few more years, but why wait? More old school than new (and that’s just fine with us), this drinks quite well already, and improves with aeration, so pull the cork on one of these tonight and enjoy! Find this wine

2004 Hendry Napa Zinfandel Block 28, 15.3% alc., $30:
Clean garnet color, with spicy red raspberry flavors and aromas graced with a kiss of well-integrated oak; sweet and ripe, but not excessively so, and there’s a subtle briary streak underneath. Medium full to full bodied, nicely balanced and well structured. Pure, rich and honest, this is a very good Zinfandel. Find this wine

2005 Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Zinfandel, 14.5% alc., $14.99:
Rich dark color, fading at the rim; aromatics are dominated but not overwhelmed by toasy oak and a bit of dill, with raspberry and black raspberry in support. The like flavors emphasize the spicy berry character more, gaining some briar and bramble, but never losing the oak and dill. Medium full to full bodied, with rich, creamy fruit, good tannic structure and zippy acids that want some food to play with, like barbecue, burgers or any variety of grilled meats. Nice balance to this one, and if I’d like a little less oak, at least it’s not enough to gag you. Find this wine

2005 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, 15.2% alc., $18.99:
Good dark color, clean and not at all opaque; this shows a good deal of oak and dill on the nose (more than I care for), and with air, some dusty berry makes its presence known. Lots of spicy raspberry helps to offset some the excess oak on the palate, and there’s good structure and concentration to this, but while it’s a perennial favorite with the critics, it’s overrated in my book. Find this wine

Red Wings and Red Zins?!

It was more Zinfandel at a recent get together at the home of our friends Errol and Patty Kovich, with pizza hot out of the oven (white anchovies, please!) and a hot Detroit Red Wings team on the big screen. Yes, we eschewed our usual red Rhônes, but perhaps the boys were still drawing on some of the residual mojo from the last 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape tasting. Whatever the case, the guests of honor were the Koviches good friends Mike and Vicki Peterson, who are in the process of relocating to the parched landscape of Atlanta, GA, so we pulled some corks, ate some pie and rooted the Wings on to victory over Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes. We got things started with a few whites, and all impressions that follow are necessarily of the snapshot variety.

2001 Fiano di Avellino dei Fuedi di San Gregorio, 13% alc.:
Medium gold color, with lovely floral apple and pear flavors and aromas laced with just a hint of sherried character. Very well balanced and harmonious, and worthy of a short second and third pour. Find this wine

2006 Modus Operandi Napa Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford:
Pale straw color, and easily the grassiest Sauvignon I’ve had in quite some time (not that I or anyone else seemed to mind), rounded out with a good dose of boxwood (do I have to call it cat pee?!) and grapefruit, all kept moving along with good acids and intensity. Find this wine

2001 Lamborn Family Napa Zinfandel Howell Mountain “The Cork Report”2001 Lamborn Family Napa Zinfandel Howell Mountain “The Cork Report,” 15.8% alc.:
The only negative impressions mentioned with regard to this otherwise excellent smoky garnet colored Zin were of some excess heat, voiced by both Kim and Errol. I found a pretty smoky black raspberry nose adorned with a perfect kiss of oak, following through on the palate with a certain claret-like character and lovely balance. Maybe I missed some of the heat due to the anchovies? A later pour did nothing to change my opinion. Does anybody out there know what “The Cork Report” refers to? Find this wine

1997 Ridge Geyserville; 74 % Zinfandel, 15 % Carignane, 10 % Petite Sirah, 1 % Mataro, 14.9% alc.:
Still showing good dark color, this 10-year old blend has once and for all shed the excess oak that beset it during its early years, now offering the obligatory Draper perfume over delicious raspberry and mulberry. There’s still a rich core of fruit here, with no secondary characteristics as of yet; a wine of great balance and drinking beautifully right now.  Great Geyserville! Find this wine

1999 Ridge Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley, 70% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane, 3% Mataro, $30, 14.5% alc.:
This pales somewhat to the ’97 Geyserville; it doesn’t show quite the depth of fruit, nor does it display the perfumed character. It does exhibit good dark color, with earthy briar and bramble over black raspberry flavors and aromas. This may well be in some kind of intermediate stage right now (although I’ve never had or heard of a shut-down Mr. Ridge Zin), so I’ll be interested in tasting the next one of these a year or two down the road. Find this wine

1997 Ravenswood Sonoma Zinfandel Russian River Valley Belloni, 14.7% alc.:
Corked. Bummer. Errol tried the Saran trick and in fact the glass poured an hour or so later showed rather less of the musty wet cardboard TCA funk (yes, we compared a glass of the “before” and “after”), but the plastic could not revive the dulled fruit, which didn’t surprise me in the least. Find this wine

2005 Martinelli Sonoma Zinfandel Russian River Valley Giuseppi & Luisa, 16.9% alc.:
Good dark color, with an extracted nose of intense raspberry jam that carries over onto the palate with some heat and no real complexity. A one-dimensional fruit bomb, not really a horrid wine, but certainly not in a style that I care for. Reminds me of a Turley, which is not exactly a big thumbs up. Find this wine

2002 Vieux-Os Napa Zinfandel Ira Carter Vineyard2002 Vieux-Os Napa Zinfandel Ira Carter Vineyard, 15.5% alc.:
Good dark color, with raspberry compote flavors and aromas that are nice enough, although some heat does distract. Too much like the Martinelli for my liking. Find this wine

2001 Joseph Swan Sonoma Zinfandel Russian River Valley Mancini Ranch, 14.4% alc.:
Already noted above when tasted on its own, this comes off rather lighter in character in this mix, not surprisingly showing a somewhat Pinot Noir-like character. Still, it’s well received by all for just those reasons, perhaps proving that Zinfandel doesn’t have to be steroidal to be worthwhile or appreciated. Find this wine

1993 Ridge Lytton Springs, 85% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Grenache, 14.5% alc.:
Now showing some secondary character, the rich core of fruit has toned down considerably from the last time we tried one. Rather claret-like in character, or as one taster commented, “very mellow.” It’s seen it’s best days, but it’s not a dud, offering slightly musty, leathery toned down red fruit flavors and aromas. These were pretty from the get-go, and while they weren’t as concentrated as the ’90-’92 Ridge LS that preceded it, they held out well over 10 years and beyond, but this one suggests it it’s starting on the downward slope. Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,


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The 2007 Geyser Peak Reserve Challenge

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17 Organic Wines From The Left Coast

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Chateau Grand Traverse: Where Riesling is King

A Mess o' Reds

A Bunch O' Whites (& One Pinky)

Left Foot Charley

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© George Heritier December, 2007