Abouriou -- 'Early Burgundy'

Luddite Vineyards Abouriou Russian River Valley Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard Old Vines Dry Grown Natural Yeast 'Unspoofulated' 2002 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Medium dark purply-garnet color. Smells gently gamey, pomegranate & sweaty saddle laced with asphalty minerality and a dark note that calls India Ink to mind. Tastes purple-earthy, with lowish acidity. It's lightish right up front, then gently fleshy, roughish and a bit short. Interesting wine, funkily offbeat. My attention has been got. (3/06)

Luddite Vineyards Abouriou Russian River Valley Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard Old Vines Dry Grown Natural Yeast 'Unspoofulated' 2003 ($23) (Island Life): It's pretty dark, medium-dark garnet with a purply rim. Earthy-pomegranate aromatics, hint of wet dog animality. There's a candied quality right upfront that Camblor calls 'Flintstone Vitamin,' but just past that the texture grows chewy and abrasive, with sharp acidity and aggressive tannins. A tough wine, more concentrated and rougher than the 2002, lots of character but disjointed and difficult. (5/06)

Alicante Bouschet

Coturri Alicante Bouschet Sonoma Valley Uboldi Ranch 1994 ($15)(Wasted Hours): This wine is a deep purply-black color, with initial hints of the house's volatile style, a bit of VA, but just a hint, and it is soon lost in a spicy smelling cherry-grape jelly, smoke and black pepper nose; this seems to be one of those bottles from this producer that works out all right--as Mr. S____ puts it--"It's freakish; it actually smells like WINE." Big, chewy and rough, it's a meaty-purple wine, plenty of rough edges to the concentrated, slightly medicinal fruit, big and dark and rustic, but not bad if you're not looking for elegance or complexity. Still rough and young, this needs time. (7/15/00)

Baco Noir

Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Ontario 1998 (Walt Begs for Mercy): Darkly fruity nose, hints of plum and raspberry rapidly undermined by a vivid streak of compost heap. Tastes better than it smells, a crisp, tart wine with simple, slightly anemic berry-cassis flavors and the persistence of a cabbage moth. Still, it serves amply as a distraction and the moment of crisis passes. (5/01)


Lolonis Carignan Redwood Valley 1998 ($25)(Occult Wines): Medium garnet color, with sawdust and dark sour cherry-candy on the nose. Tastes tangy and crisp, there's decent balance, but the fruit is simple, tart and on the thin side, and the thinness is accentuated by the fact that the stuff smells like a sawmill. I used to buy a bunch of Lolonis's zins, but the last two wines of theirs I've had (this and the 97 Orpheus) have truly been wines only a termite could love. (5/15/00)

Peterson Winery California 'Zero Manipulation' California (78% Carignan from Tollini Vineyard Redwood County Mendocino, 14% Syrah from the Soon to Be Famous Gravity Flow Vineyard in Sonoma County, 8% Mourvedre from Norton Ranch in Dry Creek Valley) 2004 ($12) (Boatloads VIII): Medium dark purply-garnet color. Smells darkly earthy, grapey blackfruit with a shy gravelly undertone. A sip, and it's quite surprisingly crisp, vivid acidity supporting juicy-tart, slightly candied but stony-hard-at-the-core fruit. Fine glassy tannins on the medium-quick finish. A happy combination of juiciness and structure, very appealing California wine. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes, a couple more bottles right away.] (9/06)


Odfjell Vineyards Carmenère Valle del Maule (Chile) 'Armador' 2002 ($6) (Boatloads VI): Thin, grapey-herbal and quite unappealing, like overcropped weedy merlot with a dose of overcropped underripe syrah thrown in for backbone. Really, I want to like it because it's an odd duck of a grape variety, but it's abrasively tannic and green and grapey all at once, and it actually seems to suck donkeys. [Buy again? No no no.] (12/05)

Trileka Carménère Lontué Valley (Chile) 2003 ($6) (Boatloads II): Medium to medium-dark garnet color. Doesn't have much aroma, raspberry and cement hints, smells... clean. Clean and berried. Tastes ripe but sterile, pillowy redfruit, medium acidity, seems stripped. Nothing wrong, really, but no character at all, just loose ripe redfruit with a touch of tarriness that turns towards a medicinal flavor on the finish. Competently generic new world quaffer, poster child for overfiltration, all character gone. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)


Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca del Solo Charbono California La Farfalla 2001 ($13) (Boatloads I): Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Brambly blackberry/plum/tar aromatics. Tastes darkly grapey and rough-edged, rather monolithically blackberry-grapey. Medium acidity, enough structure to get by, some quiet glossy tannins. The overall effect is of generic rusticity, but the wine certainly packs a lot of flavor in. I don't know, maybe I'd buy it again. You could do worse. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Er... maybe.] (8/04)


Château Musar Lebanon 1990 (Adlers): Medium-light ruby color, slightly cloudy and browning lightly at the rim. Smells sweetly decayed, leathered red cran-raspberry fruit laced with fallen leaves and a strong whiff of vinegar. I normally don't mind volatility, but this is a little much, even for Musar. A sip, and feathery cherry-pit flavors spread out on my tongue, nibbly acidity rises in the middle and mingles with bricky plum-cherry flavors, then remains humming away brightly on the finish as the fruit flickers out. Medium-light bodied and loosely knit, this seems quite mature for a wine of its age, resolved and heading for the downslope. A antihero wine, difficult to either like or dislike. Rob claims the label says "Horrifying UC Davis Since 1966." I look, but fail to see that. (9/2/02)

Château Musar Lebanon 1991 (Foodies 2): Medium cloudy ruby color. There's a healthy dose of volatility, as per required Musar specifications, but underneath there's leathery cran-cherry smellies, crushed brick and hints of earth, sweet and spicy-smelling in the manner of an old leather satchel. A sip, and the muted red fruit spreads slowly outwards with a vanguard of forest floor and fallen leaves, layered and feathery and turning bricky-yamsterish on the finish. Elegant and on the light side, speaks in low soft tones but has a lot of interesting things to say. (2/03)

Château Musar Lebanon 1994 ($30)(Farewell My Lovely): Lush blackberry-cassis jam on the nose; fruit city, baby. Tastes equally jammy, even seems like there's a touch of sugar. There is acidity, but it gets lost in the wash of fleshily ripe, almost cough-syrupy fruit. Odd. A cinsault-cabernet sauvignon blend. (6/01)


La Chaille Cornalin Valais "Fully" 1998(September 15, 2001): Smells of candied strawberry-raspberry fruit with some dark shoe-polish undercurrents. Tastes light, decent and slightly jammy, not much concentration or complexity, just bright fruitiness and a light tarriness on the finish. Cornalin Nouveau? (9/15/01)

Franz-Joseph Mathier Cornalin de Salquenen Valais Mareotis 1999(September 15, 2001): This is next, and it's got more guts. Deeper strawberry-raspberry aromas underlaid with dark earth, crisp in the cakehole, nice balance, more heft and weight. Drops off entirely on the finish but is quite pleasant nonetheless. (9/15/01)


Belle Pente Winery Cuvée Contraire Rosé Willamette Valley 2002 ($14) (Oregon): A blend of gamay and pinot noir, a kind of Oregogne Passetoutgrain. It's labeled a ros, but it's a deeper, shinier color than many a cult pineau d'aunis or grolleau. Strawberries, cherries and dark dirt, lots of dirt. Rather rounded and supple, uncomplicatedly cheerful and juicy, a fine wine for a picnic; makes Lisa wriggle fetchingly. (5/04)

Belle Pente Winery Cuvée Contraire Rosé Willamette Valley 2002 ($14) (Subdued Festivization): Very matchsticky, that's all I can smell at first. At second and at third, too. An hour later it's a bit better, strawberry and burnt firecracker paper; still very odd, not at all like the fruit-juicy specimen at the winery. (6/13/04)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 1998 ($7)(Swedes Invade): Medium garnet. Light nose, cherry-strawberry fruit. Tart & juicy & simple. Okay, I guess, but doesn't ring my bell. (3/24/00)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2000 ($7) (Threesomes): Earthier, leaner, less flamboyant, more matte black-purple, less red and glossy. Not very aromatic in its youth, the dark strawberry-plum fruit is quiet and substantial but not flashy -- it wears earthtone lipstick and sensible shoes. I love just hanging out with this wine doing chores around the house or paying the bills; there are few more reassuring and undemanding companions. It has never yet lied to me; there isn't an ounce of falsehood in its body and although it won't win any bathing beauty contests it's a salt-of-the-earth charmer, the freckled girl in overalls who lives across the street and brings you zucchini bread every year. (2/02)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2001 ($10) (Summer Mishmash): Medium red, lavendering lightly at the rim. Quiet cherry-strawberry fruit, lightly perfumed and minerally underneath, touch of herbiness above. Looser at the core than the '00, trace of bitterness on the finish, but a pretty, unadorned wine whose lightness is soothing and deceptively straightforward. Nice stuff, if not exactly a true humdinger. I can see why they skipped bringing this vintage in (except for Andrew), but I like it nonetheless.

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003 ($11) (Misplaced Weekend I): Rushed to market to take advantage of the feeding frenzy surrounding the Cowanized '02, the latest release of the perennial cult wine is uncharacteristically ripe, the blowsiest CRB gamay I can remember. (The secret word is atypical.) Much rounder than usual, perhaps a bit short in the focus department but with plenty of juicily earthy strawberry-raspberry fruit. Probably not an ager, this is one to enjoy early while waiting for the '00s and '02s to come around (or the '01s, if you're Andrew Scott). Lightly gobby and soothing, another Kane gamay. Brad responds to it predictably, burbling enthusiastically that he's going to buy enough to put Joe's kids through college, despite the price having skyrocketed to $11. Dressner is troubled: if Kane likes it, that means he's lost his core constituency. (5/2/04)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003 ($11) (Steamed Steaks): Juicy, strawberry-jammy and utterly delicious. It's not a classic keeper-for-the-cellar style of CRB gamay like the '02, instead a straightforwardly juicy-soft wine with a pleasant tanginess in lieu of structure, and the lightness and forward-fruitiness to get away with it. Jill opines that it's both "like California wine" and "like fruit punch!" and, excepting the innate sense of balance and lack of clumsy overwooding, she's right. At the end of the evening this is the consensus wine of the night. (10/2/04)

Edmunds St. John Gamay Noir El Dorado County Witters Vineyard 'Bone-Jolly' 2003 ($18) (Fear and Braising in New Jersey): Pale garnet color. Smells light and spicy, peppery-floral strawberry aromatics. Tastes light and friendly, loose strawberry-plum flavors, quiet earthiness, a charmingly lightweight wine with a brief, shy finish. Very pleasant to drink. (10/04)

Konzelmann Gamay Noir Niagara Peninsula 1997 (Sitting Jeebis): Medium-light garnet, with tutti-frutti strawberry aromas over a light earthiness. Tastes a bit wan, lacks concentration. Seems serviceable, though, but turns towards bitterness on the finish. Still, I'm not sure I've had a better Canadian gamay. Or another Canadian gamay. (3/31/01)

Marionnet Gamay Touraine 'Vinifera' Non Greffées 2000 ($13) (Threesomes): The Marionnet is much more bodacious, curvaceously fruity, rich and concentrated but not at all dense--there's a silkysoft partygirl streak here that borders on the flamboyant. But wait, the initial strawberried forwardness pulls back in the midpalate, turns honed and works its way into a tangy humming cherry-pit finish with a trace of light glossy tannins. A devil-may-care wine, the redfruit dances with tipsy abandon, gets its dress tangled over its head as it attempts to skinnydip in the moonlight, then falls and sits giggling helplessly by the fire for a good five minutes. The juice of gamay grown on its own roots likes to party, take my word for it, but when some attention is paid it becomes clear that this is no airhead. (2/02)

Domaine de Peyra Cotes d'Auvergne Cuvée les Liens 1999(Cape Mayhem): A juicy-smelling wine, smoky strawberry-plummy gamay fruit bounds happily into my nostrils. Tastes fleshy and juicy, well fruited with a smoky undertone, very decent up until a slight tarry astringency on the finish. Simple enough, but rich and fun. (5/25/01)

Château Pierre-Bise Gamay Anjou 1995 (McNetta 2002): hand-carried from the domaine by the reclusive Andrew Munro Scott. I have been lucky enough to sample a few of the more recent vintages of this rare bird, but one with a few years of bottle age is a special treat. A hush falls over the room as the bottle is lovingly opened and poured. I only get an ounce or perhaps two, but it's enough. Smells peppery-spicy, deep purple berry-grape aromas over a base of minerals. It's not as big as the legendary '97, but it has better balance and completeness--a supple, rich wine of great finesse and length, drinking very smoothly now but with the structure and depth to go a long way yet. Superb stuff. (6/02)

Château Pierre-Bise Gamay Anjou 'Sûr Spilite' 1996 (Peach Tree Vines): Medium-dark garnet color, purpling at the rim. Ripe and rich and slightly gonzo, but hard as nails now, smoky purple glass. Needs time. Bob, enthusiastic, declares it "Californian." It's rather delightful to see Andrew and Joe turn pale and exchange stricken looks at this notion. I believe Bob means it as a compliment, but his grasp of the local winegeek dialect is tenuous at best. (4/03)

Château Pierre-Bise Spilite de Pierre-Bise Anjou Gamay 1997 ($10)(Loirenatics): Deep purply-red color; oh, man, an exuberant peppery purplefruity nose, just an aromatically happy wine--I have a sip, and there's lots of plum and berry flavor, just a big richly fruity gamay that has some good balance and finishes off with some surprising dry tannins. Kane, stopping the presses, declares that he's finally found a gamay he likes. Callahan observes that all that was needed to fill that niche was to find a gamay with 14.5% alcohol. (11/99)

Château de la Presle Gamay Touraine 2001 ($10) (Boatloads I): Medium-light garnet. Smells perfumed, cherry pits and strawberry juice with a light underlying earthiness. Tastes insubstantial but charming, tart fruitiness, reticent but spry acidity. A pleasant little gamay, on the thin side but straightforward and unassuming. No Clos Roche Blanche, but then again who is? [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Puzelat Gamay Le P'tit Tannique VdT 2003 ($15) (Misplaced Weekend II): A bit darker, mixes some blackberry into the strawberry flavors. More focus and guts than the CRB, although similarly ripe and almost as luscious. Very nice. (5/9/04)

Domaine des Sablonnettes/Christine et Joél Ménard Gamay Anjou 'les Copines Aussi' 2004 ($10) (Boatloads XI): Interesting, offbeat aromatics--touch of high-toned volatility, whiff of barnyard, lightly juicy plum & strawberry notes. Tastes soft and gentle, medium-lightbodied, loose and caressive. There's an odd sawdusty-cedar hint that flickers in and out in the middle before the finish turns towards plumminess. I find it weird at first, then warm to it, then aren't sure, then kind of dig it. There's a wanness that's charming at first, then less so, but there's a lot of character here, nice little offbeat funky gamay. [Buy again? I suppose.] (11/07)

Jean-Marc Villemaine Gamay Touraine 2003 ($8) (Boatloads VII): Friendly strawberry punch, hint of lilac in the nose, sufficient acidity, loosely wrapped and cheerful. Blowsy and utterly insubstantial, but my glass is drained quickly and I pour some more. Honest fruit punch wine, hard not to like. [Buy again? Surely.] (4/06)


Burge Family Old Vines Grenache Barossa Valley 1995 ($20): Medium-dark garnet; plum & raspberry compote on the nose, very dark, with white-peppery & toasty-coconut notes. Sharp-as-a-tack acidity right off the bat leads to a wave of tart dark plum/berry fruit, segues into dark bitter tarry quality. Slightly gritty tannins don't detract much, but sour-bitter edge to the fruit makes this rather unpleasant to drink. Okay, it's trite to Aussie-bash, but this is not good stuff. (2/29/00)

Clarendon Hills Old Vine Grenache Kangarilla Vineyard 1996: Medium garnet; very tight nose, doesn't give much, some dark candied cherry, some earthy notes; first taste-Tannins! Whoo-boy, this is tannic juice, gritty tannins just overwhelm the fruit and beat on the tongue till it squeaks.

D'Arenberg Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre McLaren Vale 'The Stump Jump' 2002 ($10) (Boatloads I): Medium-dark garnet. Smells confected, dark berry laced with cinnamon and pink cotton candy. Woosh, a wave of ripe redness passes over my palate and vanishes entirely. Medium bodied, gladhandedly friendly, but fakey-candied and hollow as a Jack o'lantern. Weird wine beverage product. [Buy again? Nope.] (8/04)

Scott-Clark Cellars Grenache-Syrah El Niño Central Coast 1999 ($18)(Premier Cru Jeebus): This old favorite seems to be showing a bit lean tonight, smelling angular and cranberry-earthy. Tastes of tart sour-cherry fruit mingled with an earthy undercurrent, with firm, hard acidity in the forefront at first while the fruit takes some time to spread and cushion it. With air and time it eases up enough to be hard but pleasant, with the cran-cherry fruit persisting nicely through the finish. A light, lean wine with the backbone of a greyhound. Kane would say it has "an acidity problem," meaning it has some. (9/31/00)

Scott-Clark Cellars Grenache-Syrah Central Coast El Niño Central Coast 2000 ($20)(Cape Mayhem): Scott-Clark's flagship wine is usually quite reliable and fresh, and this year is no exception. After the troubled chardonnay I breathe a sigh of relief upon nosing the bright sour-cherry-and-earth nose. There's nothing deep or dense about this wine, it's all pure light fruit with crisp acidity, unadorned and smile-inducing. Another "Minimal Process" wine, this is unmarked by oak and seems cheery and alive, a fine lively summer red. (5/26/01)

Scott-Clark Cellars El Niño Grenache-Syrah Central Coast 2000 (Adlers): Softly and sweetly aromatic, cran-raspberry hints with an underlying earthiness. Light bodied and cohesive, the 2000 is more pillowy than the racier 1999--not as concentrated, but it sacrifices nothing in the way of straightforward flavor and honesty. Silky, easygoing, "Ooh, what a nice little wine!" says Jay. It's not one to age (drink it while you're waiting for your '99s to come around), but it's drinking well right now, and right now is when I'm drinking it. Probably why Scott-Clark is one of the three mailing lists I'm still on (Turley and Marc Angeli being the other two). (9/2/02)

Twelve Staves Grenache Mclaren Vale 1997 (Nonoffensive Notes): Okay, any wine with a name like that is asking for bad oak jokes. In the interest of decorum and the feelings of vast masses of skittish lurkers I will refrain. Medium-dark garnet. Smoky, sweet vanilla-toast notes flit over dark cassis & raspberry fruit. Tangy, ripe and somewhat generic, although the dark red berry fruit rallies nicely on the finish and the acidity doesn't seem particularly pointy. Decent, nothing special. Wouldn't eight staves have been enough? (Sorry, sorry.) (3/20/00)


Altos Los Hormigas Malbec Mendoza 1999 ($9): It looks young and purpley in Andrew's standard-issue 1000-ml. Erlenmeyer flask decanter, richly colored, redolent of peppery cran-raspberry and smokiness. A few guesses come in... syrah? Nope. Petite sirah? Nope. Zin? Nope. Tastes meaty and crisp, with a pleasant tartness to the fruit and a nice acidic backbone. Coming into the finish, the fruit turns a bit dark (what Andrew calls a 'coffee-crunchy finish') and there are some gritty young tannins. Nice stuff for $8.99, plenty of character. Although no mind-blower, it offers serious bang for the buck. (1/00)

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Mendoza 2001 ($10) (Threesomes): The ALH is an old cheapie favorite burger wine, but this year's version seems to have let itself go. Initially dominated by yeasty-candy-blackfruit aromatics, the nose settles down a bit with some air time but turns towards tarriness and scorched blackberry. The wine seems vague, loosey-goosey and diffuse, still an easygoing simple burger wine but with more of an astringent woodpuckery streak coming out on the finish, which otherwise could hint at espresso beans. A plain, cherubic wine that knows it's not a stunner but tries to please, this could be a decent companion for a night at home in sweatpants and socks. After a few hours though, it becomes apparent that we don't have a lot to talk about. I haven't sat down with this for a few years, and either we've grown apart or it has grown slatternly. Or perhaps both. (2/02)

Altos las Hormigas Malbec Mendoza Reserva 'Vina Hormigas' 2004 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): The more expensive cousin of what is generally an agreeable cheapie, this tastes and smells like generic pointy shiraz--plummy and blackberried and suffused with toasty wood. Seems they've taken the regular stuff and applied the steroid treatment; the result is quite topheavy and jarringly unbalanced, although if you're a fan of Astralis this would be a perfectly acceptable substitute at one-twentieth the price: just save the bottle and refill with this, no one will know the difference. (3/06)

Casa Viacava Malbec Mendoza 2003 ($5). Very strange aromatics, there's the blackberry and coffee that I'd expect, but there's also a weird chemical/cumin streak that has me scratching my head. Grapey-blackberried and glossy tasting, there's a bitter vein that lingers a little too long in the middle, tastes a little wrung out, despite the candyfruity quality. Medium acidity, but the bitterness just won't go away. Not very good. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.] (12/05)

Catena Alta Malbec Mendoza Angelica Vineyard 1999 (Island Jeeb): Medium dark purply-garnet. Lots of sweet toasty oak to smell here, touch of horsiness to the ripe camphor-laced fruit. Big purple-black fruit, lots of toast and creaminess, woody but darkly fruit-bomby as well, finishing with a dark espresso-laced buzz. Simple and obvious but not unpleasant, with decent acidity and a limited sense of freakishness--the clumsy and overenthusiastic wooding is offset by the happily rough-hewn chunky fruit. A decent burger wine, goes moderately well with the Kal Bi (Korean-style shortribs). I would pay $8-$10 for this, he says, not knowing how much it really costs but suspecting it's a whole lot more. (3/23/03)

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza 'Alamos' (Argentina) 2004 ($8) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark garnet color. Big whiff of smoky oakfruit, red candyberry laced with a light horsiness. Ripe, smooth and rather monolithic, like a horsey petite sirah, with a hint of iodine emerging in the middle and coming out more in the finish. I don't know, nothing special, but an okay pizza wine. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Château de Cayrou Cahors 1985 (Iron Winegeeks): Medium garnet, with light browning at the rim, a bit of age here... muted dark raspberry fruit with leathery hints, I'm thinking France definitely, maybe mourvedre-based. The wine has very decent fruit, but is surprisingly tannic. There is some wondering about a pruniness that I don't really see, and there is a whimsical notion tossed out that it might be an old Amador zin. As it opens up it seems a bit more Bordeauxlike, which is where the consensus among the Iron Geeks is going (an 83 Pomerol is suggested), but I've got mourvedre in my head and finally vote for late-80s Southern France, which is as specific as I'm willing to be. (2/19/00)

Château de Cayrou Cahors 1990 (South of France): Muted cherry/earthy flavors; slightly round in the mouth, okay, I'm starting to see a theme developing here. Not much of an impression, I'm afraid. (6/14/99)

Clos Roche Blanche Côt Touraine 1998 ($11) (Passages): I brace myself for the initial lashings of the bottling that some wags used to refer to as 'Rough Cut,' and frankly I'm astonished. The formerly abrasive '98 has smoothed and calmed and acquired a breathtaking purity. The aromatics are calm and spicy, blackfruit and licorice suffused with earthiness. Medium bodied and composed, gently dark and restrained. A wonderfully focused wine, pure as a glacial runoff. Really lovely and meditative, wish I'd put some away. But no, I had to throw all my time and money into the Beringer-Chardonnay-Will-Age-Forever mania of the late '90s, more fool me. Anyone interested in purchasing some well stored '98 Private Reserve? (4/06)

Clos Roche Blanche Côt Touraine 1999 ($11) (Threesomes): An angular slab of obsidian, dark and lean and glassy-sharp, quiet on the nose, shivlike acidity slicing up into my soft parts with a rush of hard red-black fruit, promising delights then leaving me crumpled in the gutter and roaring off cackling in a cloud of rough tannins. This wine is Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, tightlipped with a cruel streak, needs twenty years to mellow, another ten to be approachable, five more to be safe to meet the parents. An imposing wine, not for the Kane of heart. Faint, I mean. Not for the faint of heart. (2/02)

Clos Roche Blanche Côt-Malbec Touraine 2004 (58% côt, 35% malbec, 2% petit verdot) ($18) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smells darkly redfruity, tar and black raspberry. Very crisp, honed to a purple-black obsidian purity. Taut and bright, medium bodied and vivid, only lightly tannic. Rather friendly for such a baby, but with lots of potential. (11/06)

Bodega Enrique Foster Malbec Mendoza 'Ique' 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IV): Ripe and dense-smelling, blackberries, violets and a dark earthiness, then plumskin and toast. Tastes dark and glossy, a shiny wine that's quite dense and just a smidge candied, the ripeness overwhelms the rather rough quality at the core and subsumes some toasty woodiness as well. Amiable, rich and ripe, with decent structure, calm but firm acidity and some roughneck tannins. Quite nice, a purple-black wall of fruit with just a bit of complexity and friendly richness, the zin treatment on malbec seems to work well at times, and this is one of them. Burger-friendly stuff. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes.] (6/05)

Finca Flitchman Malbec Mendoza Reserva 2004 ($12) (Boatloads V): Dark smoky coffee-blackberry aromatics, quiet and smoky-toasty, lightly candied. Ripe, dark and plush, but with a sense of well-honed composure. Purlpy-dark and simple, but broadly pleasant and vaguely reassuring, fine dark pizza wine without an iota of complexity. [Buy again? Sure.] (10/05)

Huarpe Wines Malbec Mendoza 'Lancatay' 2003 ($10) (Boatloads IX): Smells gently purple-coffeed, like a blend of blackberry-grape juice and espresso. Tastes loose and ripe and diffuse, with an unpleasant sourness on the finish. Mostly generic and inoffensive, except for that persistent sourness. Me no like. [Buy again? No.] (11/06)

Château Les Ifs Cahors Cuvée Prestige 1994 (South of France): Okay, finally some spine. Crisp earthy cherry/tobacco & bright lettuce-water notes; tart, toasty & slightly oaky, but good grip & firm tannins. (6/14/99)

Henry Lagarde Malbec Mendoza Reserve 2003 ($7) (Boatloads VI): Simple, broadly plummy-blackberried, smells dark and quietly plush. Tastes pretty much like it smells, some dark coffee-smoky flavors emerge in the middle and shoulder their way through some gritty tannins on the finish. Plain and fleshy, with a slightly gritty mouthfeel and some pleasant mouthrasp, has enough guts for steaks. Simple, but does the trick. [Buy again? Uh huh.] (12/05)

Bodega Jacques & Francois Lurton Malbec Mendoza 2002 ($7) (Boatloads III): Quiet, simple aromatics, plum and blackberry laced with black shoe polish, touch of iodine. Lean, earthier in the mouth than the nose would hint at, rather diffuse and short, with medium acidity and a loose fleshiness to the mouthfeel. Slightly grapey, has some flavorosity but not much focus or character, and the finish turns towards burntiness. It's so unassuming, however, that it's hard to dislike it, it seems to have such low expectations that you end up drinking it and thinking "Well, for a dilute, stripped-of-character, three-flavor little wine, it's not bad." [Buy again? No.] (2/05)

Morichetti Malbec Mendoza 2002 ($13) (Boatloads IV): Shiny purple wine, dark blackberry-plum-toast aromatics, hint of coral chips, kind of a briny note, that's odd, didn't expect that. Big, robust wine, taut and ripe and rather glossy-wooded, with rough blackfruity edges and sawdusty tannins. Bit too spoofulated for me, even for Mendoza Malbec. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.] (6/05)

Navarro Correas Malbec Mendoza Colección Privada 2003 ($11) (Boatloads V): Dark blackberry-earth aromatics, smoky-candy-vanilla hints, hint of prune, coffee. There's a candy coating to the wine, but it's simple and dark and coffee-juicy, medium bodied and possesed of buoyant acidity. Not bad at all, kind of a simple, juicy wine that is simple but balanced and likeable if you don't mind a bit of spoofulation. [Buy again? Sure, I guess.] (10/05)

Bodegas Norton Malbec Mendoza 1999 ($8) (Boatloads I): Interesting rootbeer-clove spiciness to the strangely delicate tea-laced darkly fruited aromatics. Whiff of volatility, tree bark-sasparilla hints down deep. Soft and fleshy, it's warm going down and spreads in pleasant matte layers on my tongue. Not bad at all, and surprisingly supple and restrained, not what I expected. Light and easy, medium-short finish, bit of earthy-grapiness and shoe polish, but all in all pretty good. A diffuse, unfocused wine, but a warm and pleasantly unobtrusive one as well. [Buy again? Yes.] (8/04)

Bodega No. A-72107 Malbec Argentina 'Teatro' NV ($8) (Boatloads III): Yes, this actually says "Produced by Bodega No. A-72107," and it appears to be non-vintage. Promising signs, yes? Smells grapey, blueberry and shoe polish hints. Tastes noticeably sweet, noticeably unpleasant, grapey and concocted. More Yellow Tail-style grape beverage product, at an inflated price. Blech. BLECH. [Buy again? Not on your life, mate.] (2/05)

Piazzolla Malbec Mendoza 2005 ($7). (Boatloads XI): The label is rather alarming. It's a drawing of either a Maenad or Isadora Duncan in dance ecstasy. Lisa looks puzzled: "Why is she so happy?" she worries. I don't know. I don't. Smells of raspberry jam and Coppertone. Soft and squishy, loosely wrapped and heavy-tasting, though not particularly dense. Candy-oaky, soupy and ponderous, while also surprisingly bland and hollow. Not highly recommended, despite Isadora's flushed cheeks. Rough tannins bite down on the finish. [Buy again? No.] (11/07)

Georges Vigouroux Cahors 1998 ($11) (Wasted Hours): Medium-light garnet color, smells very lightly of cherry-cassis and oregano, lightly herby. Tastes crisp but thin, a bit dilute and rather sterile, with some fine sandy tannins eventually strolling by. Mr. S____, who is now on hiatus and hence unable to respond to any possible misquotings, compares it to a cheap merlot, but I find it more like a cheap malbec, unfortunately not a particularly interesting one. (7/15/00)

Les Vigneaux (Andrew Rich) Malbec Columbia Valley 2002 ($23) (Oregon): At last, the legendary Oregonian Ct. Peppery blackberry-raspberry aromatics, smells dark and quietly spicy. A sip, and it's a mediumweight wine, blackfruity and smooth, turning towards plum and licorice on the finish. Rather indistinct, but pleasant enough. (5/04)


Ridge Vineyards Mataro California Bridgehead 1996 ($18): Medium-light purply color, lighter than most Ridge wines (all Ridge wines?). Sweet fruity-strawberry/raspberry/buttered-popcorn-flavored-jellybelly nose with some light sawdustiness about it as well. Crisp, tangy redfruit taste; bright acidity, dusty, earthy raspberry, very zingy & sharp, light tannins, a little thin. Not what I expect from Ridge's portfolio, but very simple & pleasant & bright. Worth the eighteen bucks? Hmmm... I'd probably pick up another Sonoma Station zin instead.

Ridge Vineyards Mataro California Evangelo Vineyard 1991 (Geyservillainy):. All right, here's a pleasant meaty-animal funkiness over leathery dark black fruit that turns truffley with air. Interesting, say I to myself, not at all what I myself would have expected from a ten year old California mourvedre. Light and silky in the piehole, elegant and earthily smooth, a wine with a tight core of reserved nimble fruit that blooms into a softly tanninless tuning-fork finish. Small in scale and sweetly decayed but very well built and cohesive--the word 'Burgundian' flits about the table, but to me and myself the funkiness is more reminiscent of an older Southern Rhône. Very nice, quite surprisingly elegant and nimble. (2/17/02)

Vinum Cellars Mourvedre El Dorado County 1999 ($14) (Misplaced Weekend II): to the last three jeebi, all of them corked up until now. Finally, paydirt. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells dark and smoky, rich black raspberry with a hint of horsiness and smoky undertones. Big and ripe, a sizeable wine with moderate acidity and a generous dose of toast, as well as a slight alcoholic burn on the finish. A chunky critter: the fruit has a candied edge, but is lush and dark and pleasingly straightforward, if a little on the creamy side. Pretty good for a Cal mourvedre, recognizable as such, but there's a slightly oversized quality, as well as a sense of disjointedness that is rather persistent. I'd drink up sooner rather than later. (5/9/04)

Miscellaneous Blends

Bogle Vineyards California 'Phantom' 2000 (50% petite sirah, 40% zin, 10% mourvedre) ($22) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): 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? (11/05)

Cline Cellars California 'Red Truck' 2002 ($8) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark purpley-garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells blueberry-plummy and ripe, warm wash of dark berry fruit, low acid and fatty-friendly, turns grapey in the middle, lightly tarry finish. A simple and warm quaffer, sturdy and fleshy-loose. Pretty good, for what it is, a fat little grapey thing, unmarred by overt winemaking tricks. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes.] (11/04)

Cult Wines California 'Big Moose Red' 2002 ($10) (Boatloads VI): I was prepared to dislike another dopey animal-label wine, but this nonspecific wine (the label just says it's a 'blend') is pretty decent. Smells dark and smoky-raspberried, simple and juicily aromatic. Tastes something along the lines of the Marietta Old Vine Red, petite sirah & zinnish. Pillowy and loosely wrapped, some slightly spiky acidity, but overall fairly amiable as a ripe, flavorful chugging wine. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Yup.] (12/05)

Francis Ford Coppola Presents California 'Rosso Classico' 2003 ($8) (Boatloads II): A zinfandel/cabernet sauvignon/syrah blend. Medium garnet. Black cherry-cassis aromatics, touch of smokiness. Tastes soft, darkly redfruity and simple, low-acid and gluggable. Nothing complex here, but plenty of juicy-dark fruit in a blowsy frame, decent barbeque/burger-type wine, relatively unspoofulated and straightforwardly California juicy-simple. [Buy again? Sure, why not.] (11/04)

Francis Ford Coppola Presents California 'Rosso Classico' (Zinfandel 51%, Syrah 29%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%) 2005 ($9) (Boatloads XI): Loose, ripe and friendly. Sure, it's a bit watery, but there's an amiably slurpy side to the low-acid fruitpunchiness. A bit of bitterness on the finish doesn't help matters, but this just squeaks by on friendly ripeness. [Buy again? Okay, yes.] (11/07)

Fairview South Africa 'Goats Do Roam In Villages' 2002 ($12) (Boatloads III): Medium-dark garnet. Smells ripe but has a pleasant complexity--leather and fresh-turned sod notes permeate the ripe plum-cassis aromatics. A sip, and the wine has a firm core of dark fruit and a nice sense of composure, crisp acidity and good balance. The midpalate has a touch of a candied quality, but that's offset by a well-integrated earthiness. There's a hint of underlying toastiness, but the wooding is subtle and innocuous. Maybe the jokey label threw me off, but I wasn't expecting this surprisingly straightforward, flavorful wine. FAKE CORK! GOAT ON THE LABEL! [Buy again? Yup.] (2/05)

Lost Vineyards Vino Tinto Bonarda (80%)/Malbec (20%) Argentina NV ($2) (Boatloads XI): Grapey-smelling, grape jelly laced with spearmint. Soft, lightly jammy and innocuous, grape Kool-Ade with a touch of Doublemint and a light licorice streak. Much like something you'd drink on an airplane, except it would cost five bucks for a .175 ml botlet. What's this 'bonarda' stuff, anyway? [Buy again? Yeah okay, but only because it's two bucks.] (11/07)

St. Francis Winery Sonoma County 'Red' 2002 ($10) (Boatloads VI): Generously candy-oaky nose, sawdust and toast and sweet black cherry-raspberry jam. Seems like a simple loose redfruity wine that's been infused with a whopping dose of Liquid Smoke-like wood flavoring. For my tastes it would have been better as a simple loose redfruity wine, but if you like mesquite jam, this one's for you. [Buy again? No.] (12/05)

Petite Sirah

Bogle Petite Sirah California 1997 ($10) started off with a distinct lack of nose. Swirl and swirl though I may, nothing would emerge. On the tongue it was nicely fruity and fairly dense, with the grapey quality that I'd noticed before in the very young Vin de Pays Syrah from France, with some plummy notes as well, and little of the darker, earthier qualities I'd expected from this varietal. Nice burst of strong tannins--bit of a "hairy-tongue"--and a surprisingly long finish made up for the somewhat one-dimensional quality of the fruit flavors. The general mouthfeel was silky and integrated--the tannins, though strong, didn't overwhelm the fruit, but it was fairly simple and not too exciting. Certainly good value for the money, but I'm not sure it was interesting enough to warrant buying more.

David Bruce Petite Sirah Central Coast 1999 ($17) (McNetta 2002): Ripe smoky blackberry-plumskin-tar nose. This is a dark, hard pool of grapey black fruit, plenty of stuffing but rather monolithic, well balanced and cohesive. The matte texture turns coarse in the midpalate, roughly tannic on the finish. A chewy-rich wine with that loveably PSish lack of subtlety, there is still a fine core of fruit and a feeling of restraint, of putting a tie and porkpie hat on the gorilla. If you like PS, this is a rich, honest version that doesn't go over the top, a nice match with Uncle Nguyen's famous blueberry pancakes. (6/02)

Castle Rock Petite Sirah Lodi 2004 ($10) (Boatloads IX): Deep saturated purply-red color. Dark pomegranate-black raspberry fruit infused with tar. Dark and monolithic, simple purplefruity PS, medium acidity and strangely nontannic, given the variety. A bit edgeless, like a PS for beginners, but I kind of like it. [Buy again? Okay, yeah.] (11/06)

Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah Napa Valley 1974 (MartyParty): Dark ruby-black color. Smells earthy and matte, blackberry and earth. There's a bit of mustiness at first that has my antennae twitching, but soon resolves into a dusty-mineral note. A hearty and dense core of dark blackberry-tarry flavor, surprising youth, almost an inviolate obsidian core, an impressive, broad-shouldered and utterly unsubtle wine that wins you over with a crusty coarseness. (2/28/04)

Guenoc Petite Sirah North Coast 2002 ($13) (Boatloads VIII): Big Duranteish nose--pomegranate and blackberry, sawdust, hot tar. Tastes rich, dense and coarse, a rough-edged wine. Medium acidity, matte mouthfeel, tangy purply-pomegranate finish. The wooding seems slathered on like whitewash, but apart from that the wine has a certain roguish charm, an unapologetic bad-boy appeal. Dig it. [Buy again? Who can resist a bad boy?]

Inniskillin Petite Sirah Kew Vineyard Niagara Peninsula 1992(Return to Kane Manor): Cloudy medium garnet color. Smells lightly leathery-pruney, with hints of brown blackberries. Tastes lean and soft, light earth and underripe, slighty chalky cherry notes. Anemic, a bit insipid, slightly stewed-cherry tasting, but then again, I understand 92 was a fairly weak year for PS in the Niagara Peninsula. More of a curiosity than a pleasure. No, on second thought perhaps more of an actual physical discomfort than a pleasure. (6/10/00)

Inniskillin Petite Sirah Kew Vineyard Niagara Peninsula 1993 (Return to Kane Manor): Medium garnet, no cloudiness here. Smells significantly riper, some lightly medicinal blackberry, cherry and grapey hints along with some mint and a streak of limestone. There's enough fruit so that you can sense the hollowness in the midpalate, as you couldn't in the 92, which was hollow through and through. (6/10/00)

Lava Cap Petite Sirah El Dorado 1996 ($24)--Bounteous purplefruit nose--notes of tar & coffee. DENSE juice--blackberry sweet-jam intense with layers of tobacco, coffee & blackberry again. Crisper than the LC zin, with a finish that goes on and on, buzzing and flashing, the flavors dissipating then regrouping. Color is almost black. Longest finish I've experienced in ages. A few dry tannins emerge from under blankets of fruit, then more & more. WOW. Interesting series of impressions--first sweet, almost overripe fruit, opulent, then darker, more bitter & complex tobacco, coffee, tar & earth notes, then flashing heat and tannins emerge, then tar & licorice with the fierce tannins on the finish, which really goes on for a full minute. I have a denuded fuzzy-mouth five minutes after my last sip. We paired it with a hearty, spicy beef goulash, which may have been one of a few foods that could avoid being overwhelmed by it. I'm glad I have five bottles left, because I sure am curious how this will age. Will the fruit survive the taming of the wild tannins? Will it fall apart? I can only think that it will get better, but I'm sure looking forward to finding out either way. The opulence and creaminess of this wine echo that of the Lava Cap zin. An over-the-top style, very tough to pair with food (in the case of the zin, imagine a glass of Chambord with dinner), but one that I love nonetheless on its own merits. (11/98)

Lava Cap Petite Sirah El Dorado 1996 ($30) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): 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. (11/05)

Lava Cap Petite Sirah El Dorado Granite Hill Reserve 1997 ($30): We pour some with a hearty beef stew, and it's a good match. The wine is inky-dark, an almost black purply-red color. With a swirl or three some notes of dark blackberry and band-aids appear, along with a hint of damp badger that I don't remember from before... seems a bit tighter aromatically than the '96 at a comparable age, at least so far.

Lisa, who needs less nosing time than I do, takes a sip and mutters "fierce."

I take a sip. It's fierce. Fiercely, densely blackberry-smoky-fruity, with a concentrated quality that is a bit startling at first, and a backbone of whiplike acidity and gritty, tongue-drying tannins that gives all that rich fruit something solid to hang on to. There's a slight pleasure/pain thing going on with a wine this young and aggressive, but the pleasure wins handily, and some air helps it out even more. A vivid wine, perhaps a shade less so than last year's, but another doozy nonetheless. A bit monolithic? Guilty. But great with stew on a chilly autumn evening.

Markham Vineyards Petite Sirah Napa Valley 1995 ($18): Deep purply-black in the glass, the purple being shot through with almost neon brightness; closed on the nose at first, soon opens up to reveal a medium-thick nose of blackberry & bandaids, with a touch of grapejuiciness about it; plummy & blackfruity on the palate, the fruit being fairly lush, but having a slightly bitter tangy quality that isn't at all displeasing. Real coarse mouthfeel--gritty. More character and fruit than the lower-priced Bogle, not nearly such a beast as the Lava Cap. Nice, full-flavored PS, and at a pretty decent price.

McManis Family Vineyards Petite Sirah California 2004 ($10) (Boatloads VIII): Dark blackberry-pomegranate and hot roofing tar, chewy-smelling, like blackberry-tar chewing gum. Tastes firm and composed, ripe but not particularly plush, more roughish-textured, with a certain surprising lightness in the middle. It's a little ungainly, a little abrasive, but for those of us who like a bit of a rough edge, it's a winner. Very nice, firm acidity, medium-length pomegranate-laced finish. A lot of wine for ten bucks. [Buy again? Sure thing.] (9/06)

Rockland Road Cellars Petite Sirah Napa Valley 'Rockland' 1999 ($35) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Deep saturated purply-garnet color. Smells vividly smoky-ripe, blackberry and pomegranate fruit, touch of eucalyptus up high, dark stony minerality down deep. Tastes dark and hard, firm acidity wraps around taut well-composed blackfruit. Seems oddly advanced, there are cracks in the facade of blackfruit, and the finish is almost tannin-free. Pretty impressive wine, on the elegant side for a PS, sleek and smoky and concentrated. A bit pricey, but only because it's PS. (11/06)

Rosenblum Petite Sirah Kenefick Ranch 1995 (Canadians Invade): medium-dark color; cherry vanilla and earth on the nose; fairly crisp, dense but straightforward cherry flavors, more cherry than I'd expect from a PS and less of the dark earthiness that I associate with the grape. Nicely crisp, with some gritty tannins sneaking in on the finish. Interesting PS, which I would never have spotted as PS were I tasting it blind. (8/27/99)

Stags' Leap Petite Sirah Napa Valley 2002 ($37) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): 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. (11/05)

Stonehedge Petite Sirah California 2001 ($8) (Boatloads III): Dark matte purply-garnet color. Dark ripe grapey-blackberry nose, hints of licorice & tar and a menthol high note. Medium-large bodied, a robust wine with a slightly candied feel to the coarse blackfruit: interesting effect, like shiny gravel. The wine is simple and broad but flavorful and moderately gutsy. There's decent if rather spiky acidity and a medium-short tarry-blackberried finish. Pretty decent if you're a fan of PS and aren't looking for subtlety or elegance. Pizza wine, good chewy-dark pizza wine. [Buy again? Sure.] (2/05)

Storr's Petite Sirah Santa Cruz Mountains 1991 (Lisa's Birthday): There is a brief moratorium on the mention of anyone who uses more than two names at once while we taste this wine, which is a deep muddy garnet-purple color. Plum, earth and grapiness on the nose, fairly reserved, dark, more earthiness. Tastes dark and silky, purple plumskin mingles with dark red berry in a fairly well-balanced earthy base, with some light tannins coming through on the finish. Not a lot of striations of flavors, but a very decent, balanced PS, and (as I said about the '96) if a PS can ever be called elegant, this is the one. (6/13/00)

Storr's Petite Sirah Santa Cruz Mountains 1996 (Elegant Americans): Deep garnet; purply-grapy-menthol on the nose, fairly lush & forward; tastes of simple cherry/black raspberry; medium-weight, not dense, somewhat monolithic, but smooth, with a nice crisp mouthfeel. Actually, this is just about as close as I've ever seen a PS come to being elegant. A pleasantly balanced wine. (9/99)

Trentadue Petite Sirah North Coast 2004 ($18) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Dark blackberry, pomegranate and tar aromatics, earthy purply-smelling PS. Rich and focused and rather weighty, good size and good heft, a real grilled steak wine, dark and smokily purplefruity. Medium acidity, with a certain softness at the core, there's a creamy gentleness, a lack of rough edges. It's velvety now, but I wouldn't age it. Still, nice rich PS. (11/06)

Turley Cellars Petite Syrah[sic] Napa Valley Rattlesnake Acres 1997 ($50): Dark inky purple. Odd nose, reticent at first, then yielding some bready/yeasty purplefruity aromas. A taste, and it's a rich, earthy purplefruity wine, dark and monolithically fruity, with a good crisp mouthfeel but some bracing tannins. Decent, I guess, but I don't find its wall of dark fruit very interesting, and I get annoyed with it because I almost choke to death trying the revolutionary new tasting-by-direct-inhalation-technique. Andrew and Lisa later say it eventually opens up nicely in the glass, but mine's long been ditched by then. (10/30/99)

Turley Cellars Petite Syrah[sic] Napa Valley Aïda Vineyard 1995 ($65) (Axis Wines): Black tar and purple jam on the nose. Dark, dark blackberry-asphalt flavors, weighty and deeply flavored. Medium acidity and still quite monolithic, a brooding, fiercely dense wine. This has lost the boisterousness of its younger days and is settling in nicely. Although it's still in need of years and years it no longer tastes like a barrel sample. A freaky wine, but a nice change of pace after so many decaying, brown-herby wines. vandergelder seems puzzled. "Tastes like... purple," he says. (11/3/02)

Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah Clarksburg Wilson Vineyards 'Pets' 2002 ($11) (Boatloads I): Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells blackberryish, high minty note, dark tarry undertones. Broad and rich, lightly candied coating over a roughish core. Not the greatest focus, but honest and straightforwardly robust. Big and broad and darkly ripe, a wine for steak or big meat. FAKE CORK! DOG ON THE LABEL! [Buy again? In bulk.] (8/04)

Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah Clarksburg Wilson Vineyards 'Pets' 2003 ($13) (Boatloads III): Well, the price has gone up a dollar since last year, but the wine is still exactly the same--dark, blackberry-blueberry-tar-laced fruit, ripe and dense and brawnily purple, no bruiser but a wine of substance. Rough-edged, tannic and borderline coarse, a strikingly flavorful wine that matches well with a grilled steak. Robust and slightly pomegranate-flavored on the finish. Good balance for a robust purplebody, the tannins are still coarse, there's good supporting acidity, could age for a bit. FAKE CORK! DOG ON THE LABEL! [Buy again? Many.] (2/05)

Petit Verdot

Marques de Griñon Dominio de Valdepusa Petit Verdot 1998 (Return of the Jeebi): Deep purply-red. Smells smoky and plummy, hints of baking chocolate and bread. Tastes round, richly and forwardly fruity, a bit unstructured. There's a lot of rich fruiternization here, but not much complexity or structure--a simple, dense wine that turns distractingly bitter on the finish--maybe it's the 'p' word, but its size, density and relative simplicity remind me of a several petite sirahs made in the fruitbuster style. I don't find it too bad at first, but coming back to it after tasting the other reds I am struck by the flaccidity and lack of structure. Still, at the very least it's the best varietal petit verdot I've had this year. (10/7/00)


Clos Malverne Pinotage Stellenbosch Basket Pressed 1999 ($20)(Horrifying the Newbies): This smells like diesel exhaust, and tastes as if it had been aged in old truck tires for fifteen months. Actively and surprisingly unpleasant, purple-smoky fruit, puckery-astringent and tongue-coatingly charred on the finish, there is something very wrong with this bottle. Is it cooked beyond recognition? It can't possibly be meant to taste like this, can it? Dressner opines that the winery must've had a fire during the vinification, as the grapes have clearly suffered fatal third-degree burns. (3/3/01)

Vriesenhof Stellenbosch Pinotage 1996 ($25)(Manuel and Josie): Deep purply-garnet; cherry-berry-smoky nose, plum & berry, with some bacony hints in there (were I blindfolded, I might guess this was a Village CdR). Very medium acidity, very medium mouthfeel, this wine kind of passes glossily through my mouth without leaving much of an impression. Seems clean and smooth, pleasant enough with decent fruit and balance, but a bit characterless. (4/23/00)


Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Poulsard 1993 ($16) (Asylum): Medium-pale shade of ruby, ambering a bit at the rim; smells flinty and funky, hints of baked yam, sweaty horse and brick dust. It's quite surprisingly light in body, crisp, earthy, developed. The earthy-animal quality becomes more pronounced than the light baked-cherry fruit as the wine moves from the mouth to the gullet, and some fine tannins make their presence known in a fairly unobtrusive fashion. (9/8/00)

Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Poulsard 2000 ($20) (Island Jeeb): Medium-light cloudy ruby-brownish color, like freshly-made iced tea. Leather, muted cherry and yam, a touch of spearmint up high, just a trace of light earthy-animal notes below. Bright, light and almost crisp, it's a charming wine but where's the funk? Without the richly horsey and animalish notes it seems a little inconsequential, a divertimento. Almost tanninless, the spine is only the light, feathery acidity; it seems like a red white wine, roséish tendencies are noted. (3/23/03)

Misc. Rhône & Rhône-Style Blends

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant California 1996 ($28): Medium garnet color; light tobacco & leather suggest themselves shyly over a base of muted, slightly candied black-raspberry redfruit. Tastes smooth and balanced, medium-rich and flavorful, but also seems a bit tight and monolithic right now, a little hard. Not sure what to make of it. Seems to have enough spine to develop a bit, but who the hell knows? (1/29/00)

Old Fart Côtes du Ventoux Grenache-Syrah 2000 ($8) (McNetta 2002): Medium light garnet color. Smells soft and quiet, light cherryberry, hints of cola, trace of mint. Small, balanced but on the dilute side, a wan little wine with decent fruity flavors, turning watermelony on the finish. Two-dimensional, light but flavorful-- entirely forgettable but not actively unpleasant. Shrug. Moderately poor. (6/02)

Joseph Swan Côtes du Rosa Russian River Valley 1996(Sitting Jeebis): Medium-dark garnet color, with jammy red-berry and plum aromas with a hint of eucalyptus singing high soprano. Quite ripe and meaty-textured, well balanced and correct, with a pleasantly rough mouthfeel. Dressner wakes up long enough to complain that it smells like "that yeast they all use in Côtes-du-Rhônes, that LC-201 stuff," but it's a pretty decent Côtes-du-Rhône imitator in the New World style, and would be a pretty good buy at $8 or $9. (3/31/01)

Tablas Creek Adalaida Hills Assemblage Rouge San Luis Obisbo County 1994($25)(Thoresa): Okay, you've got some matte cherry-raspberry fruit coming at you, some pleasantly complex dark leathery/pipe tobaccoey undertones emerge in the midpalate, but as the finish approaches everything is choked off by swarms of angry tannins. Air helps, but the killer tannins are too much. (10/7/01)

Tablas Creek Tablas Rouge Paso Robles 1997 ($35)(Manuel and Josie): Medium to medium-dark garnet color; smells nice, gravelly plum and raspberry and smoky notes. Medium rich and slightly pepper-spicy in the mouth, silky and pleasantly balanced, with an earthy brick-oven character. A shade on the soft, fleshy side, but that's no real knock, as the wine has a pliable mouthfeel. A pleasant enough little wine, and if that sounds like damning with faint praise I don't mean it that way; this is just that, a pleasant little wine with some decent character. (4/23/00)


Domaine Monte de Luz Tannat San Jose (Uruguay) 2005 ($6) (Boatloads VIII): Shy aromatics, grapey blackberry, light touch of earthy funk, dark tarriness down deep, but quite reserved, nosally speaking, not giving much. Crisp acidity, medium-lean and borderline racy, plum and blackberry flavors dissolve into a familiar tannic haze on the finish. Yup, it's tannat all right. This could be a baseline Madiran from a midlevel producer in a ripe year, although it's a bit plummier than you usually see there. Anyway, the syrah is more expressive but this has some interesting character and pleasant abrasiveness. Both the wines are quite firm and lean, surprisingly so to me, good food wines. [Buy again? Yup.] (9/06)

Tempranillo & Tempranillo Blends

Dominio IV Tempranillo Oregon 2002 ($25) (Oregon): Smells of ripe, creamy-dark red berry and gravelly minerality. More meatiness than I'd have expected from my somewhat limited experience with Pacific Northwest tempranillo, this is a rather chewy, berry-stony wine that edges towards a glossy, candied quality in the midpalate, then dodges away with some aggressive tannins on the finish. More like a merlot than any tempranillo I've had, but I suspect it's a crowd pleaser, as it's a robust wine with a lot of good chewy-ripe fruit. (5/04)

Bodegas de Santo Tomas Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon Baja California 1997 ($10)(Viva Mexico!): Smells like raspberry cotton candy. Tastes weird, jammy, glossy cherry-raspberry flavors. A puckery-tart streak pokes at my tongue from inside a flabby-fat candyfruity midpalate. Very unpleasant, not unlike cherry cough syrup spiked with Vitamin C tablets. (3/01)


Wild Horse Trousseau San Benito Siletto Ranch Vineyard 1998 (Misplaced Weekend I): Yes, it's yet another California trousseau. Medium-light ruby color, oranging very lightly at the rim. Interesting birch beer-sarsaparilla hints hover over a muted cherry-earthy base. Light bodied, this has a warmly decayed aged-pinot feel to it that I rather like. Feathery in the piehole, light, tart and earthy. I rather like it, but Connell feels it's not up to Jura standards, trousseauwise. (5/2/04)

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