Lisa's and my recent decision to pull some Hollywood/Washington style accounting legerdemain on our ever-growing mountain of tuition debt (we've declared it 'off budget' and are going to pretend it doesn't exist) freed up a good chunk of cash for frivolous discretionary spending; i.e., wine and leathergoods. Thus we've managed to momentarily raise the bar above our $15 Cheap Crap limit and spend money we don't have on the wonderfully overpriced stuff that we all crave, even if we don't realize it yet.

Sure, it means a few sacrifices, but we're good at belt-tightening: no more quarter-gobbling washing machines for us, for example, now that we've found how much can be saved by doing laundry by foot in the bathtub. And the cat hasn't needed any extravagant store-bought food since we're just let her eat what she can catch around the apartment instead of always taking it away from her. Everyone's happy!

Plus, we've taken the padlock off the storage unit, found some dusty bottles behind the radiator, etc. Here's what they are. Please don't hate us because we drink this well; instead I suggest you channel that anger into trying to live vicariously through our wide-ranging experiences.


Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004 ($25). Very grapefruity, white grapefruit and limeskin with a hint of green chile and a light creaminess. Quite surprisingly zippy-tart, vividly brisk acidity, edgily grapefruity. A fine bright wine, pleasantly zingy and other z words. Good stuff, simple and tritonally intense.

Lemelson Vineyards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Tikka's Run 2004 ($20). Smells prettily whitefloral, pear and gardenia hints, sweetly and calmly aromatic, soothing to smell. Tastes soothing as well, with a touch of lemondrop citricity to add tang to the midpalate. Not the most complex or vivid pinot gris (oxymaroon?), but well-balanced and appealingly flavorful, nice stuff.

Müller-Catoir Scheurebe Haardter Mandelring Spätlese 2001 ($30). Pale straw-tan color. Boisterous smellies, stony pineapple, grapefruit, lipstick, yellow flowers. Bright, rich and vibrant-smelling, a cheerful noseful. Tastes like it smells, lively and bright and rich, with just a touch of overt sweetness intertwining with crisp acidity and smoothly plasticized heft in the middle. Finishes surprisingly low-key, with a low lemon-tea buzz. Not so gonzo as in some vintages--just bright, pretty and smile-inducing.

Domaine de Roally M‰con-Montbellet Cuvée Tradition 2002 ($20). Sweet ripe bosc pear-juice aromatics, yellow apple and yellow flowers. Medium-framed and rather contained, taut at the core with some creamy skin wrapped around. Crisp, balanced and flavorful chardonnay, that rarest of beasts outside of Chablis.


Franck Peillot Vin de Bugey Mondeuse 2004 ($20). Medium garnet color, violet at the rim. Smells of warm plum compote and hot gravel, touch of lavender perfume. Pure, honest and rather soft, a medium-lightweight wine with great expressiveness and purity but without a lot of scope, like a really really good basic Bourgogne. More lavender on the finish, which is long and charming. Nice wine, very nice smallscale wine.

Jo‘l Taluau St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes 2002 ($20). Here's a wine that's taken a five-year hiatus in these parts--the last vintage anyone remembers being on the shelves was the 1997, and that only in a three stores in rural Connecticut. Smells the same, tobacco leaf and iron filings, quiet cran-cherry fruit, gentle minerality, hint of pine needles. A sip, and it's oddly flaccid--smoother and riper than previous vintages I've tried, medium-bodied and very gentle, flavorful, but where's the focus? If I didn't know better I'd think this a 2003. Honest wine all right, but lacking in mouthgrapple. Very curious, leaves me unsatisfied and vaguely unsettled.

Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1996 ($36). Smells very funky, barnyard and baked yam, mud and red raspberry. Nice, but very funkified. Tastes round and smooth and fleshy, warm dirtberry flavors, with a minerally talc streak emerging on the finish. Get down, get funky. Won't you take me to. Funkytown. Bring in da noise... oh, you get the point.

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2001 ($35). Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Dark blackfruity aromatics--smoky cedar and graphite, tobacco and blackberry. With a bit of swirling a plummy-clovey streak emerges. A sip, and it's a substantial wine, chewily textured and happily tangy, with gently biting acidity. Finishes tarry-licoricey, with some rough-edged tannins. The aromatics become more muted and reticent with air, but the midpalate remains well honed for such a big wine. A rather intense youngster much in the mold of the 2000, although a bit more intense and aromatic. Really impressive young Bordeaux.

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2002 ($32). Smells nice but restrained; tobacco, muted cassis and oregano notes shiver slightly, as if in a draft. Lots of structure, hard acidity, rather understuffed, or perhaps just fetal. No, actually it does seem understuffed in the mold of the '99, just a bit short on guts and long on structure and wood and other stuff. Very, very young, but not the most promising of young Sociandos. Still, if history teaches us anything, it's wait and see; those who forget the wine are condemned to repeat it.

Château Simard St. Emilion 1990 ($30). Medium ruby color, bricking slightly at the rim. Lightly herba-metal nose, flashes of oregano and quonset hut over muted cedar-cherry redfruit. Seems a bit watery, but decent enough, if on the lean side. A day of air turns it into a slightly more respectable figure of a wine. It's acquired a bit more heft, the greenmetal notes have faded well into the background, altogether more cohesive. Still nothing much to write home about, though.

Maréchal Savigny-les-Beaune Les Lavières 2002 ($39). Spicy, flickery aromatics, dark cran-cherry and beet laced with horehound, cola and dark truffliness. Medium acidity, enough structure but there's a velvety fleshiness to the mouthfeel, a gentleness that I find unusual in the usually very well-honed Maréchal wines. Sweetly ripe middle, spicy, layered finish. Is it short on structure? Maybe it is, but I like its combination of composed complexity and soothing juiciness. Very nice, dreamy sort of wine.

Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin 2002 ($22). Gently spicy--sandalwood, cherry, rootbeer, whispery aromatics that take a bit of coaxing. A sip, and it's a softish little pinot with lightly buoyant acidity, a lithe wine, lean and friendly. Soothing cherry-talc flavors swirl up in the midpalate but turn diffuse until they come together again on the finish. Apart from that watery middle it's a pretty, easygoing little wine but not one that leaves a strong impression, no edges, all gentle cottony curves.


Cuvaison Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 2002 ($20). Quiet nose, vague red spiciness that, with swirling, resolves into soft clove and plum-cherry, hint of orange rind & moss. Medium framed and squishily plush, a fleshy little pinot that just kind of burbles away inconsequentially on the finish. Soft and vague, there's flavor and flesh here but not enough structure to keep it erect.

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 2002 ($27) (84% zin, 12 carignane, 4% petite sirah). Medium dark purply-garnet color. Velvety blackcherry-raspberry aromatics, coconut husk, toasted vanilla. Middleweight Geyserville, well composed and zinnier-seeming than in some years, smoother and redder around the edges, generously laced with the usual creamy vanilla-coconut oak 'Draper Aftershave.' Absent the blackfruitiness that I enjoy in some of the less zinny releases, but I can live with that once in awhile. Medium to medium-low acidity, gentle fleshiness mingles with aggressive tannins on the finish. Doesn't seem like one for the cellar, more of a medium-term drinker while I wait for the more studly versions to come around.

Bogle Vineyards California 'Phantom' 2000 (50% petite sirah, 40% zin, 10% mourvedre) ($22). Dark garnet color. Peppery-briary nose, red raspberry and blackberry with a good whack of toasty vanillin oakiness. Tastes dense and shiny, more red and black berry fruit with tarry-smoky undercurrents and a bit of a burn on the finish. A robust, brawny wine whose doofus-level oakiness bothers me more in theory than in my glass. Yeah, it's a big whacking woody thing, but what would you expect?

Lava Cap Petite Sirah El Dorado 1996 ($30). Dark garnet color. Smells of blackberry-cassis, hints of plaster and tar down deep. Hasn't budged much, but what it has is encouraging, a bit more muted and less glossy. Deep and dark, some roughness on the finish, seems to be aging glacially. I don't care what Callahan says, this is some ugly-cool shit, brambly-chewy and dirty, tasting of crude oil and blackberries.

Stags' Leap Petite Sirah Napa Valley 2002 ($37). Dark garnet-black color. Intense blackberry-plum-smoke aromatics, vivid-smelling, dark and gravelly. A sip, and there's blackberry and pomegranate flavors and a subtle underlying stoniness, intense without being overbearing, dark and taut and brooding. Medium-firm acidity, lots of chewy flesh hanging on the substantial spine. Very tannic, tongue-dryingly so, which adds a semipleasant raspiness to the finish. Impressive wine, if a bit monolithic in the manner of young PS. This wine is often mentioned as a benchmark for the variety, I can see why.

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1981 ($75). Leafy, old tobacco aromas. Faded red fruit and tea flavors, watery old cassis and muted brick. DOA, no pulse here. Call it, Doctor Lisa.

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1991 (??). Medium-dark garnet-black color. First whiffage brings a blast of big cassis-berry fruit and high-toast spicy wood. A wood-and-oak bomb, Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Trevi–o-Boyd pours this for me blind, and my first reaction is: "What the hell is this, Screaming Harlan Family?" That only gets me a smile and a cryptic shake of the head, so I sit down to listen... At first, big whacking red fruit and big new-French-oak woodiness. Tastes rich, thick and gobbified; a big, broadbeamed thing, something Cal-culty all the way. But with twenty minutes' air things begin to change, the wine turns very tobaccoey, a light oregano streak emerges and I start to suspect I'm being played with. Is this some kind of ripe-vintage gobby-oaky Bordeaux? The texture is glossy and dark, there's good acidity and some fine drying tannins. After half an hour my thoughts have switched from Cal cult to ripe-year pointy-gobby Bordeaux--my final guess: '89 Clinet.


Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Waipara 2002 ($40). Very clovey-spicy nose, plum and clove, warm-smelling and gently ripe. Tastes smooth and velvety, supple and with a flash of surprising focus in the midpalate that doesn't last but is pretty cool anyway. Dark plum-cherry fruit, lots of rich texture, easy and satiny pinot that seems to be all upfront fruit and soft spiciness but I find myself enjoying nonetheless. It's far from Burgundy, but there's a languor and an easygoing intensity that I find happymaking.

Costers del Siurano Priorat Clos de l'Obac 1996 ($42). Smells dark and minerally, berry-cassis laced with hot gravel, hints of spiced vanilla and tree bark. Tastes taut and hardbodied, an initial wave of stony red-black fruit turns compact and coiled in the middle, hard acidity keeping it in line. There's a generous level of spicy wood, but it seems well contained, infused nicely into the rockberry midpalate. Lots of good material here, closed down now, give it time.

v Sadie Family Swartland 'Columella' 2002 ($55). A generous local retailer who shall remain nameless found me moping around his shop on my birthday and cut me a deal on this, my very first superexpensive South African syrah (thanks, Greg!). Expressively vibrant aromatics--smoky raspberry and African violets, toast, licorice. Tastes ripe and generously wooded but there's good composure--a taut acidic core and gravel-road tannins on the finish give the dark smoky fruit some decent mouthgrab. An impressive wine in the mold of a new-wave Hermitage on steroids, it's a superb match with grilled porterhouse. Good on the South Africans! Well, except the price thing. But still, real nice wine if you're up for something muscular but not too overdone.


Château de Fargues Sauternes 1985 ($35/.375). Medium gold color. Slight burnt-sugar hints to the honeyed orange-rind/creme brulŽe nose. Thick and a bit unsupported in the mouth, seems like it's showing its age. Slightly burnt-sugarish tasting. Weighty, vanilla-honey-orange rind, crisp but not unctuous. Very decent, still not Yquem.

Château Rieussec Sauternes 1997 ($25/.375). Light gold color. Aromatically shy: cream and butterscotchy hints, orange rind flecks, vanilla, not much botrytis, if any. Quite sweet and big for a Rieussec, a robust, boisterously rich wine that hits three notes pretty well but isn't a patch on the '88-90 trio or the slightly wacky '01.

Le Dauphin de Guiraud Sauternes 2000 ($20/.500). Light straw-gold color. Quiet smellies, paraffin, lemon, vanilla, maybe just a hint of botrytis. A sip, and it's a slender lemon-creamy wine, medium-sweet and nicely crisp. Decent, flavorful, bit of roughness on the finish. No great shakes but not bad either, a light, small wine that has the decency to stay within itself.

Château Suduiraut Sauternes 2001 ($25/.375). Woof--heaps o' lemon-pineapple, hay and vanilla just swarm my nostrils; resistance is useless! Very big--creamy-sweet and viscous, bordering on syrupy, maybe a bit much, although there's a firm acidic spine under there somewhere struggling mightily to keep things on track. The wine is botrytisy, but not botrytis-soaked like a few other '01s I've had lately. It veers towards over-the-topness, only veering away from the cliff's edge at the last minute in a tropical-vanilla dust cloud. I like it, but it needs some time to calm down, I think. Or fall apart, who knows, its so topheavy. A curious Suduiraut, lots of complexity, lots of sugar, lots of flavor, rather goofy: a clown car of a wine.

That's all for now, kiddies. See you next time for some more budget-busting fun!

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