Got a call from Brian, our pal at Christie's, saying "What are you and Lisa doing in forty-five minutes--wanna go to a tasting of 'California's Finest Chardonnays'?"

Well, not being a big Golden State chardonnay-lover, I saw it as a welcome chance to try some wines that I would never buy myself, thereby expanding my vinous horizons. Besides, it was either that or 'Friends' reruns, so off we went...

All wines served blind, natch, in three flights:

Flight One

Wine One: Lightest of flight, straw-yellow; butter & pear, bit of spritzy minerality; in the mouth viscous and honeydewish, round mouthfeel, minor acidity, then a major flash of alcoholic heat. Not too bad, but lacks backbone & too hot for this wino. (Newton 'Unfiltered' Napa 1996)

Wine Two: Deepest color of this flight; odd, slightly funky nose, some kind of sulfur/animal thing going on over the fruit. Sulfur animal? Buttery/caramel in the mouth, REALLY round & flabby, tongue-coating glyceriney feel--oak for days. Also a bit hot, but not as nakedly hot as wine one. (Kistler 'Kistler Vineyard' Sonoma 1996)

Wine Three: Okay, finally a bit of backbone... butter, lemon, melon nose; this one has some acidity, anyway, and probably couldn't be used to oil ball bearings... slight sharp tang after the initial fruit. Wood. Not much of an impression. (Mount Eden Vineyards 'Estate' Santa Cruz Mountains 1996)

Wine Four: Phew, corked as all get out. Boy, if I, who have the highest tolerance for TCA of anybody I know, find it corked, you KNOW it's corked. Anyway, a fresh bottle is found, and it seems nice: lightest nose of this flight, yes, butter and caramel, but more acidity, crisper and lighter-bodied. Favorite of the flight for atypicity. (Landmark Lorenzo Vineyard, Russian River Valley 1996)

Flight Two: By this time I stopped trying to focus on individual descriptors (what's the point in writing 'buttery' over and over again?) and focused more on balance & feel...

Wine Five: Ever so slightly cloudy yellow-tan; surprisingly crisp & tangy at first, but watery immediately thereafter--the wine just goes a bit flat after an initial zing. (Chasseur Dutton Vineyard, Russian River Valley 1996)

Wine Six: Thought this might have been corked at first, but initial musty wet-squirrel odors blow off fairly quickly; medium-crisp wine, medium-weight pear & fruit syrup flavors, fairly round, but enough acidity to give a pleasant feel on the palate. (Marcassin Lorenzo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast 1996)

Wine Seven: Also fairly cloudy, slightly amber-yellow; tight nose--I swirl and swirl and get not much more than light caramel & hints of vague apple-y fruit. Fairly crisp, but kind of chunky and again, there's that burn on the finish. (Hansel Family Vineyards, Russian River Valley 1997)

Wine Eight: Pretty crystal-clear wine; tropical-fruity nose, pear, pineapple--nicest nose of the flight; fresh, crisp & fruity up front, but sadly the fruit melts away quickly, leaving our old friends vanilla & buttery oakiness behind. Still, two-thirds of a very nice wine, and my favorite of the flight. (Mer Soleil, Central Coast 1996)

Flight Three: For some reason this flight came in frosty-cold, so perhaps that affected the aromatics a bit, as they seemed a bit tight generally.

Wine Nine: Flinty, minerally-est nose so far, with hints of buttered toast; in the mouth a kind of odd disjointedness--bit tart, slightly nutty, butterscotchy; decent, but fairly generic. (Stonestreet 'Upper Barn,' Alexander Valley 1996)

Wine Ten: Light, soft, fruity nose--bright, tangy & simple, pleasant intergration of fruit, acidity & oak--zippy & spritzy & minerally (called 'Riesling-like' by others, which fits the bill very well). (Peter Michael 'Belle Cote' Sonoma 1997)

Wine Eleven: Cloudy wine. Is there any nose at all? Seems aromatically closed, very soft traces of... nope, gone. Bit of lemon? Maybe. Much nicer in the mouth, smooth, maybe a bit too round, and there's that heat again. (Pahlmeyer Napa 1997)

Wine Twelve: Crystal-clear & pretty. Favorite of the evening at first sip. Another very light nose-closed up. Light pear & vanilla--beautifully balanced, crisp, concentrated fruit, smooth & complete--total package. (Qupe Bien Nacido Reserve, Santa Barbara 1997)

In the voting afterwards the Qupe won in a total landslide--there were about thirty people present, and it got eighteen first-place votes, ending up with 84 pts., with second and third places going to the Mer Soleil with 29 and the Peter Michael and Marcassin, both with 24. I had the Qupe as my favorite, then the Mer Soleil, then the Landmark.

Well, a very interesting tasting--I may even pick up some of the Qupe, which apparently runs about $35, as it was very tasty indeed, but on the whole it reminded me why we choose to spend the potential kids' college funds on wines other than CalChards. Too much heat, too little balance, too much oak, too little acidity, waaaaayyyy too overpriced.

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