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Mark Squires' E-Zine on Wine

Articles, January/February, 1997


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Notes from the 1997 Boston Wine Expo

Click for Boston Wine Expo Notes from 1994/95 (including Dominus and Beaucastel Verticals)

This year's Expo was marred in a bit in the opinion of many by the overcrowding in the Saturday session. They sold LOTS of tickets. By mid-afternoon you could barely find tables because of the crowds around some of them covering up the signs with the winery names. They offered a map with table numbers, but the names associated with the numbers were hard to find, too. Also, it was more difficult than ever this year to hold a conversation with the winemakers and wine owners who appeared. That's a key part of the charm of an event like this, and it was elusive at best this year. If the Expo continues in this direction, despite the great exhibitions it has, it is going to lose some appeal. There are simply too many exhibitors crowded into too small a place mobbed by too many people.

That said, there were still some of the things that bring me here: Jean Trimbach pouring his wines; Steve Edmunds pouring his; Doug Shafer conducting a vertical of Shafer Hillside Select, new discoveries and revelations.

Some highlights (representing a small percentage of what I tasted): The dessert wines stole the show, in my view. Gorgeous late harvests, eisweins, ports and more. Swanson, Shafer, Edmunds St. John and Iron Horse all came with great lineups and Bedford Thompson produced some revelations.

I resolved to take this in an organized fashion. But instead I stumbled early into representatives from the negociant Louis Latour who were pouring 1994 Corton-Charlemagne, and, well, the best laid plans... The wine is very hard to taste now. The acidity seems too high, there is too little flavor evident, and the wine is disjointed. It certainly received some oak treatment, given the tannic bite, but the oak doesn't seem to add any flavor, nor is there much evidence of lees flavoring. This wine is at an awkward stage. I'd like to taste it again in a year or so.

Joseph Phelps seems to make an awful lot of fine red wines that get lost amongst higher profile wines. I can't say why. The 1994 Cabernet was purple, youthful, pulpy, soft and sweet. Look for this to close up and tighten up a bit. It's not going to become a tannic monster, certainly, but it does have some structure. The 1993 Insignia is a different animal. More tannic, more structure, up front acidity, I suspect this has already closed up a bit. It lacks a little velvet and a good mouthfeel to me at the moment, but I suspect this will round into form with some cellaring for about three years. This doesn't strike me as a great Insignia, but a A-.

Sangiovese hits California?

One of the things to which the French can point to as proof of their place in the wine universe is the number of people using the grapes they made famous and/or imitating their styles. Suddenly, we're getting sangiovese and nebbiolo in California, too. The 1994 Silverado Sangiovese ($20) was grapey, Beaujolais-esque, lacking noticeable structure but sweet and tasty. If this were $10 it would be a great buy. At $20, it seems too simple, and certainly it's hard to think of any Italian sangiovese that tastes this way. In my opinion, this was blown away by the 1994 Shafer Firebreak (a blend of 87% sangiovese and the rest cabernet). It, too, provided lots of sweet fruit, but it had more structure and delineation. The addition of cabernet, in the fashion of Super Tuscans, aided the sangiovese greatly in my opinion. This is a big winner. The third sangiovese I found was from Atlas Peak, a "reserve." It was tighter and more tannic than the Firebreak, and a lot less flavorful than the Silverado. It was, perhaps, closer to Italian style. It uses the Sangiovese Grosso grape (Brunello). All three of these are useful wines in their own right, but the one I'd want to cellar would be the Atlas Peak and the one I'd actually want to drink regularly would be the Shafer.

Major revelation?

Speaking of Shafer, they poured no cabs! Those of us who chose the port seminar over the Shafer seminar can only hiss. (G) But Doug Shafer did pour his 1995 Chardonnay "Red Shoulder", and this is going to be a major player on the chardonnay front. Oaky, but also leesy, and fat and buttery, too, this concentrated, ripe mouthful of fruit was one of the stars of the event. Every year, here, I get a couple revelations. Last time I went it was the Edmunds St. John "Durrell" Syrah. This was one of the big ones this year.

The Best Table

The best table at the event in my opinion belonged to

Swanson.

They showed their 1994 Syrah, 1994 Merlot and new Aussie styled 1994 Alexis (55% cab, 40% Syrah, 5% merlot). The 1994 Syrah didn't seem anywhere near as massive as the 1992 Syrah, but it would blow most other wines away still. The tannins were more supple, the wine more approachable. The 1994 is another terrific Syrah from Swanson. The 1994 Merlot opened with a tannic burst and showed structure and backbone. Gasp. A California merlot with structure. Underneath the tannins was plenty of velvety fruit. This is top rank merlot that can stand a couple of years of cellaring. The Alexis was a success, too. Now we have the New World winemakers imitating each other instead of Europe. Why not? The sweet oak and velvety fruit made this seem a lot like an Aussie shiraz/cab blend, delicious, soft and hedonistic.

The deepest, most varied, most special wines presented....

The most interesting single thing at the event? Dessert wines in my view. Even apart from the special port presentation, there were plenty of sweet things on the floor, and some of them were gorgeous, rare and amazing. There's never been so much variety in stickies. Look at these:

NOW let's talk Port.

Zins....

I was a little irked by the ZAP belief that we should all be willing to contribute $5 to have zinfandel declared, more or less, part of our national heritage. Gosh. I should pay THEM for a button I should wear advertising their product and helping their marketing. Hmm. What's wrong with this picture?

Anywayyyyyyy, there were quite a few nice zins and zin people there, but mostly along traditional lines. That is, I got what I expected.

Rhones 'n' Clones

Rhones and Rhone clones were well represented. I've already mentioned Swanson's great Syrah. Also noteworthy: