Board Tasting Notes
Buys Coups de Coeur
Philadelphia Wine Wine Books Wine Quotes Events Basics Links Photos Kudos Wine audio
Mark Squires' E-Zine on Wine
As the Northeast USA sunk beneath the worst blizzard in memory (beating in Philadelphia, the old record snowfall by over nine inches), I remembered how much more fun the last major storm we had was. Fate works in strange ways.
I had an awesome wine tasting planned in 1992 at a restaurant that had closed due to
advancing age of the owner's mother, who did the cooking. Their cooking was always
ethereal and they were authentic Milanese. After considerable effort, I got them to open
just for a small group of 12 old customers that night. Then came the worst Nor'easter in
20 years in this part of the country. Expressways closed. The Ben Franklin Bridge
connecting many guests to Philadelphia closed due a church steeple tottering in the wind.
New York reported floods and closed roads. Indeed, my own apartment had water coming in
the windows. When closed. I had to cancel.
At the last moment, I decided to go alone since no one else was could get there (after all, they were charging cancellation fees.) It was even better than originally planned. Oh, the wines weren't as good (I was all alone and downsized the wines, and the guests with 78 Chambertin and 69 Echezeaux didn't show), but the food was just as good as remembered and the company was (sorry, wine group) better.....
Mario, the owner, wasn't there at first. Mamma told me he is now a movie director working on an American Indian film. After having eaten there so often I finally found out some personal information for the first time. His mother was wooed at the age of 15 by his father during WWII. She was in Montenegro; he was an Italian soldier. He took her away and into Italy. They've been married for 50 years. Today, I guess this would be called child abuse. But it worked rather well for them. All this I found out that night after years of being a customer.
They first served a course of ravioli stuffed with red snapper in a baby clam sauce, my old favorite. I don't know how she does it. The ravioli literally seem to melt in your mouth. How can pasta be this tender? I started with a 1985 Val di Suga Brunello that was surprisingly accessible and like many sangiovese-based wines, soft on the edges with a core of nice, user-friendly fruit in the middle.
Then, Mario came in. He regaled us with tales of recent exploits in Rome where he drank, with a friend up to 7 bottles in an evening. He also noted that he found a cellar in Italy where the new proprietor wanted into a different line of work and sold off to Mario '61 Barolos for 2 dollars; '45 Mouton Rothschild for $4. Yes, that's what he said.
I proceeded onto tortellini stuffed with veal in a red sauce that was, well, almost but not quite as good as the ravioli. This is NOT damning with faint praise.
Around now I opened a bottle of 1990 Ridge Lytton Springs Zin. To those who think this is ready to drink [Note: this was originally written in December, 1992], may I just utter one word: Wrong. The wine has incredible extract, so much so that the first impression is of a Beaujolais carbonic maceration wine. With air, its true pedigree is revealed. Admittedly, the tannins are soft, but that's not all there is to maturing wine. This will come into balance, and the simple (albeit delicious) fruit will turn into elegant wine. Jan., 1996 note: I just had another bottle of this a month ago (that's three years later) and my opinion is only reinforced. The wine is now starting to mellow and open, after a period of being closed, the fruit is apparent and sweet, and the tannins have moderated. Depending on how this was stored, it will hit peak in a year or so, but it's delicious now.
Then, they served another old favorite, veal in port wine sauce. Don't forget the portobello mushrooms.
By now, I didn't need any liquor, although mamma, papa, Mario and his middle son even helped out. Nonetheless, how could one not uncork a dessert wine? (I'm a civilized person you know.) To go with the special, prepared rosato peach and canoli, I took out some Bonny Doon 1988 Muscat. They were amazed at how my wine bag seemed to carry everything essential for an evening's fun. I was amazed at how much fun I could have in the middle of a natural disaster.
Cappucino. Finito. Mille grazie. Ciao, Mamma, Pappa, and Mario.....
Remembrance of storms from the past, as I suffer through the Winter of 1996.
Friday night, the end seemed in sight. The second wave of storms ended with a dud, and off we went into the night in search of wine dinners.
I warmed up Friday the 12th [back to the future, 1996 now!] by pulling some benchmark cabs, the 85 Mondavi Reserve and the 85 BV Reserve, to go with a small dinner party. I've never been more impressed with either wine. The BV seemed very young at first. Grapey, fruity, pure cassis and classic cab. Some half hour later, fine soft tannins emerged and the wine kept on improving. The Mondavi opened tight and seemingly closed, a little earthier, seemingly less advanced. But I'm not sure this is true or if there was just less fruit to give. I tend to think the latter. Both wines had lots of fans and I liked them both more than I ever have (although I'm making a note to drink up the Mondavi), which is fortunate, since I have a lot of them both....(g) I've read somewhat critical comments on the BV btw, and based on this bottle from my own well stored stash I'd have to say I strongly disagree.
Now the real fun in January begins....
Typical Madness at a Prodigy Offline: Ron Kramer (r.) is VERY excited over the wines brought by Steve Ein (L.). Steve wishes Ron weren't so excitable.
was the gracious host for the pre-event to Dilworthtown II Saturday night. He popped a vertical of his rare (the 94 had only 40 cases...) Philip Roth Vineyard Chardonnay, 1989 through 1995 (in barrel), plus samples of his 1995 Merican (a meritage type wine) and his Chambourcin. With apologies to Eric, who I know is always honest about his own wines, ONLY three of the six bottled PRs were terrific. (g) I know that will disappoint him. (g)....
So, here we are in Pennsylvania. TWO of these are superstars than anyone would be proud to present. A third (the 91) is just a notch behind. Pennsylvania? You bet.
with ambience to die for. Show up one night and sit in the bar by the fireplace with a date sipping Port and see what I mean. Don't be surprised if Thomas Jefferson comes in and orders some of his 1787 Lafite. It's that kind of place.
I didn't get to taste everything. No one did. I missed the Grange (which I've had many times), I was at the wrong moment in time to taste the Pride, and missed the Malescot that some claimed was an unsung hero. I kept wanting the Figeac and never quite got around to it somehow. Either no glass was available or I got diverted.
wine of the night was the
The Stag's Leap was very interesting. I'd hold this a few years and see what happens. With reservations, I'd rank the other wines above ahead of it, though. Great showing by the California cabs, though.
What else? Those were just the stars. Without them, there were plenty of other things
worth drinking. The Roederer Estate champagne was absolutely wonderful for its
price range ($15 or so). Not a Brut, but toasty, rich and creamy. My next house champagne.
The 86 Shafer Hillside Select reminded me a bit of the Stag's Leap in character, although
it was not as closed, I think. The older Bordeaux, the 66 Ducru and 62 Latour, both
were a bit tired, but had enough left to provide a lot of pleasure. The 62 Latour was
typical of a lot of 62s these days in turning slightly sweet, but one would expect a bit
more from Latour. The Ducru I've had before and this was not its best showing. This wine
has shown more intensity in this vintage to me before, but like the Latour, it had enough
left to be interesting. Had a earthy component, too.
The 70 Mondavi was in better shape than both, I thought, but needed to be drunk
quickly. With air it didn't improve, and it too started to show that slightly oxidized
sweet quality of aging wines going just a tad over. I've heard so much of the Beringer
Chabot....it was disappointing this night. None of the rich mouth feel that I've come to
know and love in 84s. The 84 BV reserve, actually, I liked much better. It too has lost
the baby fat of the vintage, but this was the perfect night to drink it. It's ready, and
won't get any better. Impeccably balanced and classic cab.
You can never have enough port, you know? The 63 Sandeman's was
average. It was blown away by a 1963 Warre's that I had just a couple of
weeks ago. The Sandeman tasted a bit tired by comparison. The 1977
Fonseca, well, I've always thought this was
one of the ports of the
vintage. I love the house. I love the sweet fruit. It's actually
drinkable, but way too young nonetheless.
It is not 77 Taylor, but on this night it no doubt drinks far better. The ringer was the 31 Guedes in an odd bottle. On tasting this, I guessed it
was a tawny, but whatever, not a true vintage port. Doug, who brought it, didn't know
either but did say it was kept in barrel for a couple of decades before bottling, which
would tend to confirm that theory. Held well, and actually didn't taste any more tired
than the Sandeman's... An interesting experiment.
As you can see, that left a ton a wines I never got to. 37 people can't drink from one
bottle too easily. And I'd popped up and down cruising the table often enough so that I
was happy when I achieved a lineup in front of me of an ounce or two each of the Caymus,
Stag's Leap, 85 Latour and 83 Margaux. I sat and ate my venison and drank my wine. Then, I
went back for tastes of whatever was left. A good use of a Saturday night.
(c) Mark Squires, 1996