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
With this issue, I've discontinued the practice of putting photos on every single monthly page in order to save download time. Photos are, of course, one of the hallmarks of this site and will remain on "standing" pages like "Best Buys." Frequent visitors to the site will have them cached. If photos are your thing, visit my Photo index, too.
Have you noticed that some of these Zins these days are REALLY big? I'll bet you have. Still, these wines have a lot of personality, a lot of flavor, and the massive amounts of fruit, when things work out right, cover up the alcohol and tannins, and provide some balance. Still, these are not what you would call shy wines, and won't be for everyone. Those who think the definition of great wine includes "without tannin" and "without fresh fruit" will be unamused. Others, may read on.
And we had a 91 Kistler McRea Chardonnay and a 1990 Greenwood Ridge Late Harvest Riesling. Those guys didn't make the lineup; they're just the witnesses to the carnage that followed.
A beautiful '90 Old Hill. Opened tannic and intense, a bit of licorice, at one point seemed to have faded, but gained new strength. Impressive performance.
Ravenswood Belloni 92: A cut below the OH but pretty good wine.... Gamey, roasted animal characteristics, atypical for Ravenswood, and faded faster and farther than the OH. Nice while it lasted.
1994 Ridge Lytton Springs: Sexy and seductive, it didn't take this little charmer long to open and it had more lush, accessible fruit than any wine tonight. If it holds and develops well, it's another Ridge beauty. Arguably the best wine of the night for current consumption, much lusher than the OH despite some rough edges.
The regular 94 Martinelli Jackass was tannic and astringent, and seemed not to be on the same level as the Jackass Hill. A good wine, but I wonder if the fruit will match the tannins? Not lush enough, clearly unready. May never be, but we'll find out. I'm not overly impressed.
The JACKASS HILL 94 was far more supple, with ripe tannins that integrated quickly with the fruit, and that incredibly concentrated fruit kept bubbling up all night long. Whew... A tour de force zin, if you like 'em big. If you don't, stop reading HERE. It may already be too late and you will have nightmares for some time. I take no responsibility for this.
The 1994 Turley Hayne was almost its twin brother, and actually opened a little lighter and a tad less concentrated the Jackass Hill. I saw the look of confusion on Larry Turley's face telepathically as he discovered he didn't have the biggest zin at the table. (g) Still, my notes on this are very similar to the Martinelli Jackass Hill except that the Hayne was more accessible and open from the get-go, lacked that initial, huge tannic burst (astringent on the Jackass, supple on the JH but nonetheless....) and seemed more approachable. Still would benefit from a little cellaring. Delicious and intense. Folks....cellar these big guys for a year or two.
For comic relief, we opened a 1988 Sky. Thin, tart, color looking like a pinot noir, I was wondering whether a good use would be salad dressing. But alas, we were on to dessert...
Speaking of which, the '90 Greenwood Ridge Late Harvest Riesling is ready to roll and simply delicious. Impeccably balanced, but sweet enough and thick enough to make even me happy...
And finally, a very kind word for the 1991 Kistler McCrea. Yes, oaky. If you don't like it, stop reading. But also rich and fat, sweet and delicious. It didn't develop in the glass as well as great white Burgundy does, but hey, it's 6 years old and in great shape. Not many Calif chards can say that......
So, there's the trend in Big Bad Zins. I find readers have two likely reactions. Some seem erotically inclined. "So much fruit. SO sweet. So voluptuous. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh." Etc. Others do a 180. "Aieeeeeeee. Port by any other name...... I woke up in a cold sweat." Well, this IS a free country. However, I would like to note that I can accept that some have nightmares. I can accept that others have favorable erotic reactions. BUT for those of you who have been combining the two and reporting erotic nightmares, hey!, I run a clean establishment here and keep the whips and chains to yourselves!
[Return to Top]
As the first spell of really hot, humid weather strikes my region, after a chilly Spring, thoughts turn to summer wines. Usually that means lighter wines, and wines that can be drunk chilled. True, with the advent of air conditioning, the issue is less important than ever before. Still, many summer events occur outside, not inside. (Can we say "Picnic"?) And, even when it is nice and cool inside, there is something viscerally appealing about a nice cold glass after dragging your body home through the humid soup of a summer day. So, let's talk summer wine.
The broadest categories tend to be whites and rosés. The former are obvious; the latter have a bad reputation and are grossly underrated. Let's talk rose first. The rosés have a bad reputation because of cloyingly sweet, cheap rosés one sometimes finds in France in regions like Provence and Anjou, and because of the white zinfandels in the USA. But that's like suggesting that all cabernets should be judged by what the Czech Republic turns out. rosés can be just about perfect choices. They meet all your summer needs, with the exception that, no matter how much you drink, you still have to apply suntan lotion.
Think about it. What do we want here? First, something cold. Second, something with enough oomph to stand up to things that might ordinarily cause us to crack a red wine. Third, something with flavor. Fourth, something that's not TOO subtle, since if it's drunk outside or with spicy foods (read: "barbecue") nothing subtle will be noticed. Fifth, maybe even something that keeps a confirmed red wine drinker from having withdrawal symptoms. Et voilà! The answer is: rosés! Just do this: make sure they're fresh. Ideally, a rose should be two years old; that is, buy 1995s in 1997. Nothing older than a 1994. (I've been known to keep some extras that I don't finish when the warm weather is upon me in the fridge until next summer in order to keep them from aging....but don't tell anyone.)
At the high end, some rosés seem to be big enough so that they are almost red wines that just aren't quite red and can be drunk chilled. In my view, the best rosés in the world come from Bandol, in the South of France, and the best producer there is Domaine Tempier. These wines are not your run of the mill rosés. Salmon colored, with body and weight, the wines have incredible versatility. Sure, drink them with chicken salad. But they also manage to hold up to grilled meats, too. Bone dry, with tight, focused flavors, these wines aren't exactly what you think about when someone dismisses "fruity little rosés." The only catch is that they are a bit pricey, running around $20, and hard to find. The Tempier is one of the few rosés I'm not afraid to hold for an extra year or so. Another name to look for in Bandol is Domaine Ott, which usually produces somewhat lighter wines than the Tempier.
The other, and perhaps even more traditional, fine rose region in France is Tavel, in the Rhone Valley. These wines tend to be fruitier than the Bandols, but are also completely dry in style (from most producers, at least). They're a lot cheaper as a rule, too. For instance, the 1995 Chateau d'Acqueria, a leading producer, runs around $10.95. This is a bargain, relatively speaking. Guigal of Cote Rotie fame makes a nice Tavel, too.
The South of France has become home to several fine rosés, in fact, notwithstanding the reputation Provence has for churning out mediocre, sweet pink concoctions. Another I like a lot is from Domaine Richeaume, a fine producer of reds, too. It runs around $10-$11, also.
America has gotten into the rose game as well. My perennial pick: Bonny Doon's Vin Gris de Cigare. This wine is on the fruitier side compared to the Tempier, still dry, and provides a great value. I've seen it available in California for as little as $7, and it's rarely more than $9. For that you get a relatively full bodied rose that is rich and delicious. In many respects, you get 75% of the Tempier for 33% of the price. I've liked rosés from Phelps and Saintsbury, among others, too.
Let us not forget the traditional refuge of summer wine drinkers, white wines. These are a little less versatile than the dry rosés as they don't hold up as well to spicier and stronger foods, but there are plenty of useful food matchups for them and they're often great just to sip, too.
I tend to drink lighter, or at least, easier, white wines in the summer, i.e., we're not talking about DRC "Le Montrachet" just because it's white. A demi-sec style with the whites seems to me to be just great in the summer. Sweetness seems less cloying with nice whites, I think, than with rosés. I don't know why; but I'm less willing to accept sweetness in rosés. Perhaps it is because sweetness in rosés is a tradition for the cheaper swill that gave rosés a bad name, and the better rosé producers tend to avoid it. Whatever. In whites, it is a different story and I find I like a touch of sweetness in the summer.
First, there are wines that are pure fun, not useful for much besides an aperitif, but just plain summer fun. One such I've liked a lot recently is Martin Brothers "Allegro" Moscato (around $10). Just a touch of sparkle, which blows off fast, and a bit sweet, the wine has delicious fruit with sufficient concentration to coat your mouth, and the fragrant moscato is a pleasure to drink. Ignore the funny bottle. Or, maybe you will like the tall, funny bottle. Either way, this is a great wine to take on a picnic, or, better yet, sit sippin' on the porch. Mondavi makes a nice Moscato, too, by the way.
Then, there are some more traditional wines that have a touch of sweetness, but are not so heavy as to be overwhelming. Two I've had recently along these lines that I've really liked are from a producer in Alsace, Barmès-Buecher. Their generic Riesling ($10) and their Pinot Auxerrois Vielles Vignes ($11) provide oodles of flavor in well balanced wines that never become cloying. Good enough to hold your attention without requiring it. I like Pierre Sparr's Pinot Gris a lot, too. Not quite as sweet, and with nice weight and body, pinot gris has to be one of the world's underrated wines, and Sparr is certainly one of the highest value Alsace producers. Since we're tossing these Germanic names around, this would probably be a good time to mention that demi- sec German whites are great summer wines, too. Their typical low alcohol content makes them a pleasure to drink. A good example is the gorgeous, just slightly sweet 1994 Riesling Spatlese Graacher Himmelreich (J.J. Prum) that coats your mouth with refreshing but lingering fruit.
Other popular choices are the Loire Valley wines like Muscadet and the sauvignon blanc based wines like Sancerre. The crispness and acidity can be refreshing, but personally I prefer the hint of sweetness in the other whites I've mentioned.
Are these all truly great wines? No, although some are pretty close and you'll be surprised at just how good some of them are. But true greatness is a not a summer event. There's no point drinking 1982 Mouton outside in 90 degree heat, as the bouquet wafts away and dissipates. You need some things to drink that will hold your interest, and pique your tastebuds without requiring you to obsess about them. Remember, too, context is everything. These wines will taste better in the summer than at any other time. I'll never forget that cheap $5 rosé I drank overlooking the beach on the first day I arrived at a topless beach in the South of France in 1984. (g) If the summer wines are easy drinking, they match the mellower atmosphere of summer events well. Drink the feel good wines, with the feel good food, on your feel good day off. You'll feel good!
So, there you have it. Broaden your horizons. Drink something different. Have a great summer!
[Return to Top]
Copyright Mark Squires, © 1997, all rights reserved.