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Articles, November/December, 1996


Cyberspace Comedy in Three Parts

The greatest event deriving from Wine in Cyberspace, ever!

Add these events to the 1989 Burgundy Horizontal (next article), all of which took place in six days, and it was some week. I forgive those who were betting I wouldn't survive.

The following article has tasting notes on a Monday Night Warm-up, a Tuesday Night Prelude, the Wednesday Main Event, and two addendums, "The Bitter Aftermath" and a tabulation of scores.

To those who know only Robert Parker the writer, the myth, and the often put-upon target of unfathomably virulent tirades from those who object to something he once said or haven't achieved his success, may I say that there's another Robert Parker? This is the story of the guy who hosted a bunch of old cyberspace pals (16 in all) and opened up zillions of fine wines from his own cellar. And didn't ask anyone for a dime.

It all started on Prodigy, where a bunch of us have hung out for many years. Parker, if you recall those days, was often perceived by the California wine industry as unfairly hostile. Ironically, then, the genesis of these events began with a Prodigy member, we'll call him "RC," who vehemently insisted that more recent, favorable reviews by Parker were not only wrong, but ridiculous. California, this subscriber insisted, just wasn't getting the job done. You could fill in the blanks for his reviews of California wine: "The finish of ___ is short. ____ is unbalanced. ____ is atypical and odd tasting." Etc. Those were the nice things. One day he added a take-no-prisoners assault on 1994 Beaux Freres. Around this same time, Mr. P was thinking, he says, that he owed long time Prodigy subscribers a big event. So, one day Mr. P said, more or less, "Ok. I'm going to host a tasting, invite a lot of the guys around here, and we'll do it blind. At my expense. Lunch at The Milton Inn, heralded wines. You pick 'em out, California or France." After an initial refusal and apparent qualms, the naysayer accepted, a bunch of us went along and the event snowballed to mythic proportions, with discussions on multiple services, reporters calling and so on. People on Prodigy flew in from all over the country, blowing off, so far as I can see, the better part of a week of work. That led not only to The Main Event, but several preludes to boot, all noted below. Being ornery has its rewards, I guess. From RP's standpoint, the only problem with this is that now everyone will be attacking even more in the hopes of getting invited to lunch. Hmmmm. (g)

The events I attended (there were more!), including the Main Event, went like this:

Warm-up: Monday Night

Part of the California contingent came in early and we met in Philadelphia at Philly's best new restaurant, Tony Clark's. Keep in mind this was just one guy, his daughter and a couple of us locals. Nonetheless, we killed

This is hardly worth writing about, a mere warm-up in the grand scheme of things. Still, if you're interested.....

The Kistlers: The 1990 Kistler Durrell was the loser of the chards. It was flat, lacked flavor and distinctiveness. Hardly a great wine, at least from this bottle. The 1992 Vine Hill was cheaper and better, showing some oak, some lees, medium body. It was not exceptional in any respect but was a good middle of the road chardonnay. The older Kistlers, contary to expectation, showed much better. The 1990 was ready. At first, it showed a hint of tannins, crisp acidity, a pretty, nutty nose. And then it improved with air. Very nice performance, good balance between oak and fruit. Was the 1989 Kistler Estate even better? On opening it was too acidic, but had lovely, mature flavors of chardonnay integrated with oak. With air, the acidity came into balance, the well-delineated flavors faded a bit, but the whole was very attractive. These last two were fine wines, and were likely even better a little younger.

The Syrahs: The Elderton was drenched in new oak. The fruit was thick, ripe, forward and jammy, the concentration level phenomenal, but for sure the predominant taste was oak, which, with air, became an imbalance even more obvious. Frankly, on this night, after the first few minutes, it bordered on undrinkable in some respects. Still, I think this wine will improve with age. It needs it, and may profit immensely from it. Could be a close call, though. It's rare that oak really bothers me, but the amount of it in this wine, particularly as the fruit calmed down with air, was annoying. The ESJ Durrell, which two years ago was itself a flamboyant fruit bomb, seemed restrained, balanced and elegant in contrast. For the $14 for which it came into Pennsylvania, it was a great deal. Admittedly, the ESJ lacks the concentration of the Elderton, and seemed like basic syrah by contrast, but it was a lot easier to drink tonight, was identified blind as French and was a wine that showed even better at the Main Event on Wednesday (below). The 1981 Grange opened musty. The mustiness blew off, the fruit seemed muted and restrained compared to the aggressive, youthful Elderton. You could still, 15 years later, taste the new oak, but Grange has never seemed so balanced and elegant. I should drink it with Elderton all the time. (g) Still, some fifteen years out, let's be clear: the 1981 is not in the same league as the 1982, fine wine though it is.

The last red, wholly atypical, was the 1993 Saddleback Zinfandel, which I liked a lot. This Nils Venge wine shows medium body, some balance and restraint, but all of the flavor of fine zins and enough flamboyance to appeal to fruit fanatics like me. This showed surprisingly well. I'd like some! The Dow seemed a bit corked, but this is serious wine and TCA has trouble showing through all this fruit and alcohol. Intense, youthful, tannic, suffused with sweet fruit. A fine Port that has miles to go before it sleeps.

Prelude: The Undercard, Tuesday Night

The Wines: for the Undercard
Click to see 24k image of the group at the Chaddsford pre-event and 13k image of me looking quizzical(I'm in the tie, importer Harmon Skurnik on the right) and interested, 13k.
1992 Volnay Clos des Chenes (Lafarge) 1992 Nuits St. Georges "Clos de l'Arlot" (Arlot) 1991 Charmes-Chambertin (Geantet-Pansiot)
1989 Chablis "Butteaux" (Ravenau) 1983 Cos d'Estournel 1990 Vin de Paille (Chapoutier)
1989, 1983 and 1991 Cote Rotie (Jamet) 1993 Gevrey-Chambertin "Lavaux St. Jacques" (Raphet) 1992 and 1993 Beaux Freres Pinot Noirs
1990 Brunello di Montalcino (Siro Pacenti) 1993 Auxey-Duress "Les Boutonniers" (Leroy) 1994 Foxen " Tinaquaic" Chardonnay
1991 Dominus 1995 Condrieu Vielles Vignes "Les Chaillets" (Cuilleron) 1995 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc Reserve
1994 Phelps Ovation Chardonnay 1989 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Pegau) 1991Gary Farrell "Allen Vineyard" Pinot Noir
1994 Rochioli Reserve "Three Corners" Pinot Noir 1994 Dehlinger Reserve Pinot Noir 1983 Torcolato (Maculan)
1983 Van Zellers Port 1993 KMV Noble Late Harvest (South Africa) 1992 Eiswein "Hochheim" (Kuntsler)

These minor little pre-event dinners are a chore, aren't they? Too few wines, not much interesting. (g) Some of these wines (like the Beaux Freres, the Arlot) I've posted on recently and didn't retaste or won't post notes on again so soon, and some of them flew by too fast for me to feel like I got a good read on them, but here are a few notes from what was supposed to be a simple, light, pre-event dinner that would feature routine wines, and merely provide a chance for people from around the country to eat and meet. Yeah, right. NOT with this group.

Some whites:

The Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc 95 was a melon-flavored, somewhat odd Sauvignon that doesn't exactly remind anyone of a Loire, but this is a good thing from my view. The wine was a tasty little aperitif, sweet and lovely, but hard to match with foods in my view and rather atypical in many respects. The 94 Phelps Ovation Chard was oaky, but showed good fruit, good structure, toast and tightness. I liked it quite a lot, although some thought it a touch too oaky. The 93 Leroy Auxey-Duress was a solid wine in every respect yet somehow underwhelming. Acidic, leesy, good body, but just a few steps short of a great white Burg. Buy if the price is right. The two big stars of the evening for the whites were the 1995 Condrieu and the Ravenau Chablis. The Condrieu was an unusual one, over $50, that was redolent of orange rinds and had a remarkable amount of weight and depth for the varietal. This tastes just great now, I'm not sure how it will age, and if I had any, I wouldn't wait to find out. Let's be clear here. I can't keep my hands off it, and it's the best Condrieu I've ever had. The Ravenau, from, hands down, the best producer in Chablis, was smoky, unctuous, different and fascinating. It didn't necessarily remind me of classic white Burgundy, but it was something special all on its own. This is a wine nearing the end of its useful life, but it's providing a lot of pleasure at the moment. The Foxen Chard was a pretty little wine of medium body, with a nice little tang. At $25 it's a bit pricey. This wine does nothing wrong, but nothing spectacularly. Take $8 to $10 off the price, and it would be strongly recommended.

SOME REDS

The Pinots generally showed well.

I was unimpressed, though, with a very ordinary 1994 Rochioli Reserve "Three Corners." Unexceptional in every respect, yet very pricey. With air, it not only didn't improve, but thinned out and became unpleasantly acidic. A vote here for worst pinot of the evening. I also disliked the Farrell "Allen." It seemed a bit bizarre, candied and too thin. Pretty pricey for this performance. After that, prospects brightened considerably. The 1994 Dehlinger Reserve was tannic, tighter, richer, and crisper than the Farrell. It was better wine in all respects. I'd never had Dehlinger Reserve before,but I plan to again.

The 1993 Raphet premier cru, a producer I'd never heard of, was a pleasant wine, not exceptional, but flavorful with good aging potential. I'd like to know the price. The wine showed good balance, was a bit too tannic at the moment, but the fruit and weight were good, and about two years cellaring should bring this into good balance. It's not a big wine, it will never be a superstar. Buying it depends on the price. Both of the Beaux Freres showed well. I have heard some say the 92 will hold well, but until I saw the way it showed Wednesday at the Main Event, I just didn't see it.. This wine shows soft and fragrant, seemingly calming down from its heyday, and I was sure it would never age. The next day, it was included blind in the Main Event, and aerated for a couple of hours to boot. It showed rich, tannic, and revealed structure I'd never seen before. It's drinking beautifully now, and apparently will from Day 1 to the day it's declared dead. The 1993 always presented itself as more tannic, and firmer, and more closed than the 1992. It's just about fully open now and drinking pretty well. I find this a dead ringer for Burgundy. (I didn't used to think that about the 92, but the way it showed Wednesday changed my mind a little.) A pretty, well balanced wine. The 1991 Charmes-Chambertin seemed to me to be closed. It's going to be a fine wine, impeccable balance, maybe a bit short of sweet fruit. But I wasn't getting a lot from it tonight, and preferred both Beaux Freres.

I dunno what's wrong with this crowd, but there were but two cab based wines, 1991 Dominus and 1983 Cos d'Estournel. The Dominus is simply great wine. Ironically, this was also included blind Wednesday and was a superstar then, too. Concentrated, seemingly closing down, well balanced considering its depth and concentration, seemingly lacking nothing. A tour de force wine. The Cos showed a bit older than its vintage, and was stored a bit on the warm side in its youth. Better stored bottles should still be pristine. Still, although it didn't last as long as it should have, it showed nice glycerine and velvet in the mouth, plenty of fruit flavor and good body. It was thinning just a bit at first, actually gained in weight for awhile. Its key flaw was a bit of oxidation on the finish.

Then, the red Rhones.

This was because a lot of guys there were Rhone fanatics. The Jamets were a mixed bag. The 83 Cote Rotie was so bretty that I simply poured it out. Storage, spoilage, whatever, it was undrinkable. The 89 seemed to have a bit of that gout de merde, and it might well resemble the 83 in time, but at least on this night the brett was in control and the fruit seemed smoky and sweet. The real winner was the 91, with a rich mouth feel, delicate perfume and delicious sweet fruit. The only one I'd buy. The 1989 Pegau Reservee Chateauneuf, was rich, tannic, pure and powerful. I liked it a lot.

Finally, the dessert wines.

The 1983 Torcolato (Maculan) from Italy was over the hill as far as I was concerned, and any good aspects about it were eliminated by its dying fruit and some maderization. The KMV from South Africa was interesting. Excellent, well delineated botrytis flavors, medium body, perhaps not unctuous enough to be a real dessert wine, but close for some things, and at under $10 a half, an excellent buy. The 1983 Van Zellers Port, a bottle bought for a mere $9, was a steal. No, it wasn't 77 Fonseca, but it had a lot of oomph and flavor and at $9 on release was amazing. Finally, my vote for the best dessert wines, the 1992 Eiswein Riesling from Kunstler, sweet, unctuous, showing some good botrytis, and simply needs a few more years of age to acquire weight and power, and the later opened Vin de Paille... excellent, but too young. I can just see this becoming even more unctuous and syrupy. I wish I had some with which to experiment.

.

Having concluded this evening with endless courses of food, and those simple wines, what I really need at this point is a diet and a day off. Instead.....I reluctantly admit this was just another warm-up and at noon tomorrow, high noon, Mr. P. himself said, it starts all over again. Except, with MORE food and MORE wine. Lord have mercy.

THE MAIN EVENT

The event was, if anything, even better than anticipated. The food was wonderful. Robert Parker was a gracious, funny and charming host. The wines were wonderful. The educational experience of finding unheralded wines standing up, say, to La Landonne, was intriguing. In terms of outright winners, French wines won two flights (89 L'Angelus taking the cab/merlot flight and 91 Coche-Dury Meursault-Perrieres taking the Chard flight) and USA wines won two (92 Swanson edging out 92 ESJ Durell in the Syrah flight and 94 Beaux Freres edging out its sister, the 92 in the Pinots). The cherry on top to the week was a bunch of friends, new and old, flying in from around the country and blowing off most of a week of work to attend. Cyberspace may never be the same.

all.jpg 32.4 KThe group after the event. Still able to stand!

THE WINES:

All wines decanted and opened for a couple of hours before consuming and served double blind, listed here in order of service. The numbers here are also the numbers used to identify these wines that were originally served blind.


First Flight: Chardonnays

1. 1991 Meursault Perrieres (Coche-Dury)
2. 1991 Chalone Reserve Chardonnay
3. 1991 Leroy Puligny-Montrachet "Les Folatieres"
4. 1992 Mt Eden Estate Chardonnay
5. 1993 Marcassin Hudson Chardonnay
6. 1989 Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet "Vergers"
7. 1990 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne
8. 1994 Peter Michael Cuvee Indigene Chardonnay


Second Flight: Pinot Noirs

1. 1992 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Estate
2. 1990 Claude Dugat Charmes-Chambertin
3. 1991 Leroy Clos de La Roche
4. 1994 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Estate
5. 1990 Lecheneault Clos de La Roche
6. 1991 Ponsot Clos de La Roche Vieilles Vignes


Third Flight: Cabernets/Merlots

1. 1984 Ridge Monte Bello
2. 1984 Hess Collection Reserve - Napa
3. 1983 Chateau Margaux
4. 1990 Tertre Roteboeuf (Mag)
5. 1989 L'Angelus (Mag)
6. 1990 Conn Valley Vineyard
7. 1991 Robert Mondavi Reserve - Napa
8. 1991 Dominus Napanook Vinyard - Napa


Fourth Flight: Syrahs

1. 1993 Rockland Petite Sirah - Napa
2. 1991 Guigal Cote Rotie "La Landonne"
3. 1992 Edmunds St John Syrah "Durell Vinyard"
4. 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chapelle"
5. 1991 Chapoutier Ermitage Pavillon
6. 1992 Swanson Syrah - Napa
7. 1991 Gerin Cote Rotie "Les Grandes Places"
8. 1994 La Jota Petite Sirah - Napa

1955 Taylor Vintage Port - not rated nor blind

AND HERE'S HOW IT WENT.....

P.s: For the full names of the wines, and their number order in each flight, where necessary, refer to the list above.

FLIGHT ONE CHARDS

Rank: The group gave wine #1 (1991 Coche Dury Meursault-Perrieres) got eight 1st place votes, three 2ds, and three 3ds. This tally doesn't include RC, the guest of honor, or Robert Parker, so virtually everyone had it in the top 3. It wins this flight easily. The #2 wine was the 1992 Mt. Eden Estate . I thought this was a travesty myself, a little sweet, very nice, a little odd, albeit tasty, but #2 in the flight? Four 1sts, three 2ds, five 3ds. Don't misunderstand...I like this wine a lot and it's a fine wine in its own right, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in a flight designed to pick out Burgundian-styled wines and doesn't necessarily satisfy a craving for white Burgundy. (The group correctly tagged it as Californian, 11 to 4.) Other than the Coche Dury (#1) and the Mt. Eden (#4) nothing else was a contender.

Summary of Flight One:

First place votes:

Coche Dury: 8 (identified 9 to 6 as French by the group)
Marcassin: 2 votes (and identified as 13 to 2, Calif.)
Mt Eden: 4 (identified 11 to 4 as Californian)
Louis Latour: 2 votes (identified as Californian 9 to 6)

Second Place Votes:
Coche Dury Meursault-Perrieres: 3
Mt. Eden: 3
Leroy "Les Folatieres": 3 votes (identified as French 12 to 3)
Peter Michael Cuvee Indigene: 3 votes (identified as Californian, 13 to 2)
Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne: 4

Third Place Votes:
Neillon 89 Chassagne Vergets: 2 (French, 12 to 3)
Marcassin: 2
Mt. Eden: 5
91 Chalone Res.: 2 votes (identified as French, 8 to 7)
Coche Dury: 3
Leroy: 1
Peter Michael C.I. : 1

As for RC, the naysaying guest of honor and supposed object of this event, he proclaimed he didn't like anything in this flight. In fact, in the first two flights, pinots and chards, he said he actually liked just one wine, the 90 Dugat. This, at least, sounded familiar to us on Prodigy, and in many ways was the most revealing part of the tasting by a long way. His top wines, not included in the above tallies, were the Mt. Eden Estate and the Cuvee Indigene. He is not a noted Peter Michael admirer. His tally: re: Calif. v. France, 3 of 8 right. He identified the Cuvee Indigene as California correctly, amongst his top wines, but pegged the Mt. Eden as French and the Niellon and Coche- Dury as Californian, the Leroy as "?." This was RC's worst flight. He had bright moments ahead, though. If you're wondering, I got 6 of 8 of this flight, missing (I'm ashamed) the Coche Dury (although I wasn't sure of this one and finally flipped a mental coin) and the Louis Latour. Don't ask. I have no answer. Maybe the intense wood. It was still 6 of 8.

Regarding my personal picks, more importantly, I liked the Coche Dury Meursault Perrieres best by a big margin. This to my mind was the wine of the flight and nothing else was close. Buttery, oaky, nice acidity, a ripe, round, smooth mouth feel, and leesy nose plus surprising balance made this a fine wine. Naming the sweet, friendly Mt. Eden as the #2, as the group did, I thought was silly. Sorry. I know some good people liked it a lot, but while it was and is a delightful wine that is pleasant and sweet, perhaps even with a touch of residual sugar, and user friendly, it is not what I look for in a Burgundian-styled chards. I may like this wine a lot (and I do) but it doesn't fill the role of Burgundy substitute for me. My #2 was the 1990 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne. This was controversial as some disliked the heavy oak. It worked for me, and I thought it improved a lot with aeration, too. I thought it was heavy in the mouth, had a little tar, a big wine. My #3 was the Niellon, which not too many others seemed to like much. It seemed like it had the most interesting nose to me, dark, unusual, smoky flavors, and I liked it a lot. I formally ranked no others, but had excellent notes on the Cuvee Indigene and to a lesser extent, the Leroy Folatieres after that, although I note that it was "good, not exciting."

FLIGHT TWO: PINOTS

Rankings: A virtual dead heat between wines #4 (the 1994 Beaux Freres) and #1 (which happened to be the 1992 Beaux Freres). To those who recently claimed the huge 1994 was undrinkable, ahem, and you know who you are, the two BFs paced the field, beating, among others, a 1990 Dugat Charmes-Chambertin, a 1991 Leroy Clos de la Roche, and a 1991 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vielles Vignes in stunning fashion.

FIRST PLACE VOTES
Wine #1 (1992 Beaux Freres): 6 votes (pegged as Calif. 13 to 2)
Wine #4 (94 BF): 7 votes (pegged as French, 11 to 4)
Wine #3 (91 Leroy Clos de la Roche): 2 votes (French, 12 to 3)
NOTHING else garnered a first place vote! A really stunning result, if you think about it. These wines were aerated a long time, which is not the way many of us have drunk them before, and the structure in the 92 BF showed better than I'd ever seen it, and the 94 seemed more evolved than the last couple of tastes I'd had, though my note still reads "tight" as well as flavorful .

SECOND PLACE VOTES
Wine #5 (Lecheneault 1990 Clos de la Roche): 1 (11 to 4, French)
Wine #2: (1990 Dugat Clos de la Roche): 1 (8 to 7, French)
Wine #1 (1992 BF): 5 votes
Wine #6 (Ponsot 91 Clos de la Roche VV): 2 votes (9 to 5, Calif.)
WIne #4: (1994 BF): 5
Say, a slight edge to the 94 BF, the 92 right behind, and nothing else in contention in this flight?

How did RC do? RC nominated wines #2 (the 90 Dugat) and #4 (the 94 Beaux Freres) as his best wines. In terms of California/Ore. vs. France, he got 3 of 6, identifying the 1994 BF as French (the group agreed 11 to 4), and labelling the Ponsot as a Californian (group agreed, 9 to 5 and I lost that one, too.) RC claimed the Beauxs weren't supposed to be included and thus were ringers in a sense, although I recall RP specifically refusing to guarantee the pinots were all Oregon. Be that as it may, it's not such a startling thing to get country of origin wrong. Ringers or not, though, much more revealing and interesting was the ranking of the Beaux Freres as a top wine, considering that it was completely trashed by the same taster not too long back. I find this much more to the point, along with comments that he liked but one wine of the first fourteen. He says now he didn't actually like it that much. But he also admitted it showed a lot better here.

For my part, My #1 was the 92 BF, my number 2 was the 94 BF, and my number 3 was the Dugat. With aeration, I've never seen the 92 Beaux Freres show so much structure and power. It has always been sweet and seductive. The 1994 seemed more closed and tight, but a also crammed full of flavorful fruit. The Dugat was elegant and restrained, but it handled itself so well, had so much perfume and balance, that I liked it a lot. I disliked the Lecheneault at first, thought it improved in the glass, and the 91 Leroy I thought was a dog. I wasn't thrilled with the boring, medium bodied Ponsot either. If you care, I also got only 3 of 6 on this flight, and labelled the 1992 BF as a French wine. OK, I'm incompetent but honest and was not swayed by the overwhelming vote of the group 13-2 to the contrary on that one. (g)

FLIGHT THREE: CABS/MERLOTS

For some reason, we never got around to voting as a group on California/France in this flight.

In terms of preferences, the winner was wine #5 (1989 L'Angelus from magnum) in what I thought was the strongest flight of the night.There were a lot of scattered votes thereafter. Rather than interpret, here's the tally:

FIRST PLACE VOTES
Wine #5 (L'Angelus): 7 votes incl. RP
Wine #1 (1984 Ridge Montebello): 5 votes
Wine #8 (1991 Dominus): 1 vote
Wine #3 (1983 Margaux): 1 vote
WIne #7 (1991 Mondavi Res.) 1 vote

SECOND PLACE VOTES
Wine #5 (1989 L'Angelus): 4 votes
Wine #8 (1991 Dominus): 5 votes incl. RP
Wine #4 (1990 Tertre Roteboeuf): 4 votes
Wine #7 (1991 Mondavi Reserve): 2 votes
Wine #1 (1984 Ridge Montebello): 1 vote

THIRD PLACE VOTES
Wine #4: 4 votes incl. RP
Wine #3 (1983 Margaux): 3 votes
Wine #8: 2 votes
Wine #1: 4 votes
Wine #5: 1 vote
Wine #7: 2 votes

RC's picks: 1991 Dominus, 1989 L'Angelus and 1984 Hess Reserve (the only vote for that more restrained, elegant wine). Gasp. Once again, California wines intrude into his top picks despite the presence of many French heavy hitters. This was a good identification flight for many. RC got 7 of 8 (and so did I) re: California vs. France, but as I say, I find much more revealing whichwines were picked as top ones.

My top wines: Hands down favorites were the 1991 Dominus and the 1989 L'Angelus. I picked 'em 1-2, and it could've been the other way around. It doesn't much matter. The L'Angelus was inky black, showing more cassis flavors than most merlot-dominated wines, some mouth drying tannins on the finish and a rich, ripe concentration of fruit that was hard to believe. The 1991 Dominus I thought was closing down a bit, just based on last night's tasting. With the decanting and aeration, this wine showed everything it had, and oh my, what a lot it has. Unbelievable intensity and concentration, some astringent tannins just on the finish, but surrounded by so much voluptuous fruit you hardly noticed. RC and I were both dead certain this beauty was French. We missed big time. My #3 was the 1990 Tertre Roteboeuf, more tannic than the Dominus and L'Angelus, and not quite as seductive tonight, but a wonderfully concentrated wine that improved dramatically in the glass all day long. This flight was so wonderful, let me add that I'd pick right behind it the 1984 Ridge Montebello, dark color, obvious American oak, perfumed and fragrant, flavorful and balanced, and the 1983 Margaux, a beautiful, elegant wine showing subtle intensity, in any order. I was losing interest in the game at this point. The wines were too good. Trailing slightly but surely was the 91 Mondavi Reserve, which my notes nonetheless call "delicious, balanced, but overshadowed." The one wine that was clearly not in contention in this flight was the 1990 Conn Valley. Let me say though, although this was a definite last in the flight, it showed well, nobody thought it was totally out of its league, and for THAT wine to show so well in this company was remarkable.

FLIGHT FOUR: SYRAHS

As I'm going down these lists, I'm not repeating names for every numbered wine every time. I'm doing it often enough so you don't have to scroll up to the top for every reference, though. Also, somehow, we missed some group tallies on some of these, so not all wines are listed by group vote.

Another strong flight with some big surprises. There were a lot of scattered votes in this flight, and the strongest wines would appear to be the 1992 Edmunds St. John Durell Syrah and the 1992 Swanson. Lots of support for that Guigal guy and La Jota Petite Sirah, but what a startling flight.

FIRST PLACE VOTES

Wine #3 (ESJ 1992 Durrell Syrah): 7 votes (12 to 3 French)
Wine #6 (92 Swanson): 5 votes (incl. RP)(9 to 6, French)
Wine #8 (1994 La Jota Petite Sirah): 1 vote
Wine #2 (1991 Guigal La Landonne): 3 votes

NO other firsts, shutting out 90 La Chapelle (that some thought was a bit off) and 91 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon among others.

SECOND PLACE VOTES
WIne #2 (La Landonne): 5 votes (good second choice Guigal showing)
Wine #8 (La Jota): 3 votes
Wine #6: 4 votes (Swanson still going strong and probably winning this flight based on lots of second place votes..)
Wine #4 (90 La Chapelle): 2 votes (8 to 7, French)
Wine #7 (Gerin, Cote Roties Les Grandes Places): 3 votes (12 to 3, French)

THIRD PLACE VOTES:
Wine #5 (Chapoutier Ermitage): 1 vote (8 to 7, French)
Wine #4: 1 vote
Wine #3 : 3 votes (incl. RP)
Wine #7: 3 votes
Wine #2 2 votes
Wine #1 (93 Rockland Petite Sirah) 3 votes (14 to 1, Calif.)
Wine #8 1 vote
Wine #6 2 votes

RC's picks: the ESJ Durell 92 (I made everyone I know buy this after the Boston Wine Expo awhile back (g)); the bretty Gerin Cote Rotie (we were all SURE that one was French); and the Swanson Syrah. Looks like everyone thought the Swanson was stunning. I wonder if RC would've rated it so highly--beating La Landonne--with the bag off. Perhaps a good question for us all. Calif. vs. France: he scored 4 of 8, identifying the ESJ as French (as did I and many of us, given the group vote of 12 to 3 in favor of it being French), picked the 90 La Chapelle as Californian, the 91 Chapoutier as Californian, the Swanson as French. Well, I can't be too hard on RC as this was my toughest flight, too (scoring 4 of 8 also) with a lot of wines I'd never had and in a couple of cases never heard of.

My top wines in this flight: The Swanson 92, first of all. Yep. You read right. RP made his point with this one. At least with me. (Parker, after everyone else voted, named it his number 1 of the flight, too, although he knew what it was and it was not blind to him.) Very tannic after airing, not as overtly fruity as the Durell, Rockland or Guigal, this wine presented itself as an amazingly concentrated masterpiece. The 91 Guigal La Landonne at #2 (you can save a lot of money there!(g). I liked this a lot. At last. Normalcy returns to the world. Some candied and gorgeous blueberry fruit, very sweet, tannins popped out with air in the glass. Excellent wine. My number 3 was the Rockland Petite Sirah. Another amazing performance by a beautiful, fragrant wine, unctuous and ripe, and inexpensive. If I had to pick a 4 and 5, since this was a strong flight, I'd tag the ESJ Durell, which I had excellent notes on, and the 90 La Chapelle. The Gerin was too bretty, the La Jota too ordinary for the company.

Conclusion

To me, in many respects, the California vs. France issue wasn't so much the issue when you came right down to it. The rankings were far more revealing of what we really thought about the wines. The guest of honor's picks as top wines were more interesting than how many California vs. France picks (17 of 30) were correct. It was easy to misidentify a country of origin and on a couple of occasions the group guessed wrong by wide margins, and on many others the vote was very close, but hopefully we don't laud blind what we trash when we see the label, and vice versa. That's not impossible, either, to be sure, and the good company some of these wines kept may have changed their evaluations at times. Still, when you pick as RC did (and many others) the 1991 Dominus (and he also tagged the 1984 Hess Reserve) as top wines in a flight that included Margaux, Tertre Roteboeuf and L'Angelus, you can't say California isn't doing well, or that they stood out in weak, laid back company. By his own admission, RC writes the most negative reviews on California wines of anyone we know. The rankings seem to prove whatever point Robert Parker had in mind, for all of us, not just RC, far more than the country of origin issue.

Did the results change RC's mind about anything? Apparently not. He says he's more impressed with the 1992 ESJ Durrell now, but basically he liked only 1 wine in the first fourteen, and found nothing else new and particularly interesting, nor has changed any previously held views.

There was a second point, too. Namely, we just had fun. RC was on the hot seat by definition, but was a good sport. The rest wasn't too intimidating, I hope, and the crowd was pretty friendly and in a good mood. We got a tremendous excuse to party throughout most of the week, drink great wines at Mr. Parker's expense, socialize and have fine food. Cyberspace wine may never be the same again.

Addendum #1: The Bitter Aftermath

Along the lines of "no good deed goes unpunished," this formidable event left a sour taste in some mouths, and that was exploited in certain quarters, to boot, by a yellow journalist in particular.

RC felt targeted and put upon. Perhaps in his place we would have felt the same, which understanding does not endorse his point of view. He had many complaints to explain his relatively poor showing, prime amongst them that Parker deceived him by including the two Beaux Freres. This "Parker lied" and "deception" complaint was in my view grossly overblown and offensive. When one examines the context of what occurred, even if Parker did lie, and I am convinced he did not, the bitter demonization is simply misplaced and unnecessary.

In his defense, RC pointed to an email message from Parker which ended with a statement that RC shouldn't worry, because Parker wasn't going to "inflict" the Beaux Freres on him at the tasting.

There are several points to be made here. First, that email message was dated August 28. The tasting was December 4. Second, the "inflict" comment was obviously sarcastic and a throwaway line at the end of a message sent at a time when no planning for the wines had taken place. Parker was out of the country for a good bit of time thereafter. It may well be that he did not even remember this message, sent in sarcasm in the first place rather than as a well thought out "planning" tool.

Third, one has to remember how this tasting started and what its real point was. The event kicked off when RC lambasted the 1994 Beaux Freres in the most volatile, insulting terms possible, the last in a long line of similar notes he posted regarding West Coast wines. One can get a little too carried away toting up a score on correct picks of California vs. France. Query: what's more important----someone who posts a tasting note identical to what he tasted earlier, but erroneously decides the wine is French; or someone who correctly identifies the country of origin but likes the wine a lot more now that he doesn't know what it is? This has an obvious answer. If one assumes Parker did go to extraordinary lengths to insert the Beaux Freres without anyone knowing it, all I could say is, "good for him." I sure would have. Concealing its presence would have been the only clear way of determining whether RC's review of the wine was consistent when he didn't know its identity and had no prejudices. Basically, all this did was ensure that there was a double blind tasting, which is indeed how the event was supposed to go. Blind tastings are famed for curve balls. Turning this into some sort of demonization of Parker, equivalent to accusing him of being a liar and of "deception," and being out to get someone, etc., is so far overblown, it is simply offensive.

Fourth, most importantly, and finally, Parker loudly announced on several occasions at this event that he was not guaranteeing the composition of any flight. (Apart from the Beaux Freres issue, RC claimed that he was told the flights would be evenly divided between California and France.) One of his statements to that effect came in response to a question from one of the other tasters who asked if any Oregon Pinots were included. Parker said he could only refer to the flight as "New World" wines. On another occasion he said that the wines could be all French, or vice versa; he was not making any guarantees. If, on this basis, and ignoring any justification for deception, Parker is to be branded a liar and cheat, all I can say is some people take things too seriously and go too far.

Yellow Journalism

Elsewhere on the WEB, a guy who runs a page, and has never been especially fond of Parker, smelled an opportunity for some sensationalistic journalism. He took only RC's point of view, and ran with it. First, he appeared on CompuServe with the "Parker's a cheat" theory. I read every post in those threads, and for the most part, the participants there told him, in effect, to get a life, and they didn't see what the fuss was about---even based on the slanted facts presented. Then, he appeared on Prodigy on a temporary ID pretending to "investigate." Later, on his WEB page, under a pseudonym, he posted a flamboyant article on "Parker's Deception" and quoted some of the notes he had seen in the Prodigy threads regarding the tasting. All the quotes, except RC's, were routine. What he didn't post, quote or even refer to was any of the facts I have set out above. Imagine writing an article on "Parker Deception" and not bothering to mention that Parker expressly stated at the event that he would not term the pinot flight all Californian. Imagine ..... well you get the point. He pulled what he wanted to pull, slanted the facts, ignored any of the multitude of comments on Prodigy (just about everyone's except RC) that disagreed with his world view, and then wrote a coy WEB page article that succeeded in conveying very little of what occurred but sensationalizing it to the maximum extent. This article is posted on a page supposedly devoted to wine "journalism." I guess if by journalism you mean National Enquirer rather than New York Times, he's accurately described himself. We're entitled to treat such nonsense with the same skepticism we use when reading articles on Martians impregnating earth women, though.

So, no good deed goes unpunished. But the bitter aftertaste doesn't diminish the remarkable amount of fun had by just about everyone who attended.

Addendum #2: RC's picks, if you care....

CHARDS

1: Cal 2 said didn't know, but would guess FR 3 said didn't know 4 FR 5 CA 6 CA 7 FR 8 CA

PINOTS

1 ca 2 fr 3 fr 4 fr 5 ca 6 ca

CABS

1 ca 2 ca 3 fr 4 fr 5 fr 6 ca 7 ca 8 fr

SYRAH

1 ca 2 fr 3 fr 4 ca 5 ca 6 fr 7 fr 8 ca

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Horizontal Tasting of 1989 Burgundies: 40 Wines

This tasting was part of an annual event staged by the Burgundy Wine Company in Manhattan, one of the better Burgundy retailers IMHO in the US. (I don't know them; I have no financial interest in them; I just like what they do.) Many of the wines were brought over from the cellars in Burgundy, and all seemed to be in pristine condition. This event featured some Burgundians as well, like Jean-Pierre Smet of Domaine de l'Arlot and Jacques Seyss of Dujac presenting and lecturing on forty 1989 Burgundies, in what turned out to be an uneven but nonetheless excellent horizontal tasting.

Since all of these are 1989s and since the captions on the FLIGHTS below state the village, I omit both where appropriate in listing each wine to avoid redundancy.

Flight One: VOLNAY

En Champans, Marquis d'Angerville Caillerets "Cuvée Carnot" Bouchard
Caillerets "Soixante d'ouvrées," Pousse d'Or Caillerets, d'Angerville
Clos des Ducs, d'Angerville Clos des Chenes, Comtes Lafon

All of these are premier crus, and the Caillerets were served blind as to producer. My picks in this group, a relatively weak flight that seemed to lack much flavor and distinction considering the rest of the tasting, were the Clos des Ducs (d'Angerville), Clos des Chenes (Lafon) and Caillerets (d'Angerville). The Clos des Ducs was firm, with cherry fruit, a good mid-palate that some of the early wines in the flight lacked, good weight, elegant, not perhaps as much glycerine and velvet as I'd like. The Lafon seemed more open, the fruit also redolent of cherries, but obvious, some game on the nose and palate, excellent balance and a bit of firmness. These two paced the field this night and neither showed the fineness of what was to come. The third place wine was the Caillerets from d'Angerville, which was the most tannic of the group, showed little on the nose, seemed somewhat closed and unbalanced, but may eventually develop well and surpass the others.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the other wines. The Champans had a big body, opened with air after presenting itself as closed and tight, but seemed to have a touch of volatile acidity. It never developed a lot of flavor. The Caillerets from Bouchard had a pretty berry nose, but was thinner, unexciting and seemed dull on the finish. The Pousse d'Or had some game on the nose and palate, seemed to have a touch of volatile acidity on the finish and wasn't particularly exceptional in any way. I can't say, as you see, that I was particularly excited by this flight, and I was hoping better things were on the way. They were. There was nothing I'd care to spend much money on in the Volnays, but there were a lot of subsequent wines I wish I had.

POMMARD

Les Fremiers, Courcel Clos des Epenaux, Comte Armand

I would take either of these over anything in the Volnay flight. The Courcel showed pretty, forward cherry fruit, a beautiful cherry nose, some delicacy and finesse without seeming thin and light. It was fragrant and I liked it. (If this tasting was supposed to prove a terroir point, well, here's a Pommard that sounds a lot like a theoretical description of a Volnay.....) The Comte Armand was firmer, more structured, had supple tannins, but faded with air. We were told that because of the concentration level of this wine, it was decanted an hour ahead. I'm not so sure that was all that good an idea, but I liked the wine. At least tonight, I liked the Courcel better, but both of these were a relief after the Volnays. These were both premiers crus.

BEAUNES

Clos des Ursules, Jadot Greves, LaFarge
Greves, "L'Enfant Jesus" Bouchard Greves, Tollot-Beaut
Clos du Roi, Tollot-Beaut Savigny-le-Beaune, "Guettes," S. Bize

There were a lot of things here I liked a lot, but the revelation was the Simon Bize. This was a Savigny that stole this flight. I can't quite give it the gold, the Lafarge or Tollot-Beaut MIGHT have been a notch better, (and maybe not) but it may have been, dollar for dollar, the best wine in the tasting. Delicious strawberry fruit, good weight, as much flavor as anything we'd had to that point, amazing for a Savigny in fact, enough tannins to provide structure and aging potential still. This, I guess, is what happens when you have a pristine bottle from a fine producer out to make a point with his best vineyard in Savigny. I liked this a lot. Consider it hors classe.

The Beaunes showed well, too. I ranked the Greves (Lafarge), Clos du Roi (Tollot-Beaut) and Greves (Bouchard) 1-2-3. The Lafarge had some sweetness on the finish, but some mouth-drying tannins on the finish, too. It seemed easy to drink yet not quite as forward at the same time. Not quite as much glycerine as I'd like, but fragrant and perfumed, and doing most other things right. The Tollot-Beaut Clos du Roi could've been #1--it was a tossup as far as I'm concerned. This showed lots of sweet raspberry fruit, excellent weight and mouth feel, and it gained weight in the glass. A fine peformance. The Bouchard was sweet and easy, redolent of strawberries, a little flat, served from magnum. It did most things well, but I thought after the top two wines there was a noticeable dropoff. Honorable mention to the Jadot....sweet, a bit too thin, not enough glycerine and weight, it was still supple, fragrant and delightful to drink tonight. Not a great wine, but a fun wine. The Tollot-Beaut Greves, surprisingly, was my least favorite. Too acidic, tannins outweighing the fruit, not much flavor noticeable at the moment. Maybe in 8 years. But not now, and my guess is, this just isn't going to be an interesting Burgundy. But this was a fine flight.

CORTON

Corton-Bressandes, Tollot-Beaut Clos des Cortons, Faiveley

The Corton-Bressandes from Tollot-Beaut in magnum and the Clos des Cortons from Faiveley were both wonderful wines, clear nod to the Tollot-Beaut in my view, but you'd be happy with either. The Tollot-Beaut (this was their best wine of what was presented here tonight) was superb. Crisp acidity, beautiful raspberry flavors, amazing amounts of sweet fruit, a star in this tasting. This wine will also develop brilliantly. The Faiveley had a tough act to follow and almost did. Pretty cherry flavors, smooth and delicious in the mouth, but not quite the quality or amount of fruit of the Tollot-Beaut in my opinion. If you disagree, neither of us will be disappointed with either wine.

NUITS ST. GEORGES

Clos de l'Arlot Clos des Forets Saint-Georges (Arlot)
Les Hauts Pruliers, Rion Les Pruliers, Gouges
Aux Chaignots, Chevillon END OF MORNING SESSION

My picks: the Chevillon, the Rion and the Gouges. To my mind, the Chevillon was the star of this flight and no question in my mind about it. Gorgeous strawberry fruit, so user friendly, so "on" this afternoon....I liked it a lot. (Can you tell?) The Rion was tighter, more tannic, opened a little bitter, but blossomed quickly with air, and showed a touch of game on the finish (as a lot of Rions seem to these days) and had good weight. It kept developing with air, and in time this complex wine may well surpass the Chevillon, which tonight was too appealing to pass by. The Rion needs some cellaring. The Gouges was firm, but sweeter than the Rion, showed ripe, open strawberry fruit, some occasionally overbearing acidity that blew off and some mouthdrying tannins. Still, this is a wine that will repay cellaring and come into balance. It did a lot right, and I liked the quality of its fruit a lot. The Arlot Clos de l'Arlot was very ordinary, the weakest of the flight. Too little depth, oxidized strawberry notes. The Arlot Clos des Forets was firmer, deeper, more everything--tannic, concentrated, acidic. It opened nicely, became a pretty, elegant and charming wine, but lacked the depth or quality of the top three.

VOSNE ROMANÉE

Les Suchots, Giroud Les Beaumonts, Grivot
Richebourg, Grivot Clos de Vougeot, Grivot
Grands-Echezeaux, DRC  

My picks for wines of the flight centered on a struggle between the RIchebourg and the DRC. I give the nod to the RIchebourg, and note that you may differ as these wines are wildly different. The RIchebourg in many respects is everything I want in Burgundy. Oh, it could use a little more weight and concentration perhaps. Still....this wine shows beautiful strawberry fruit in deceptive layers, wonderful fragrance, it evolves in the glass like a chameleon, zigging and zagging, it had a long delicious finish, elegance, finese and always, great flavor. The DRC in a decade may surpass it, but I doubt it will ever get a note this good. The DRC has more weight, cherry fruit, is more tannic and closed. It will develop well, and become a fine wine but at the moment it seems clumsy next to the Richebourg. The Clos de Vougeot is my #3 pick, and it showed fine. On opening it seemed almost a match for the Richebourg, perfumed, with sharper raspberry fruit, more acidic and tannic, too, but showing good balance and plenty of flavor. But while the RIchebourg developed in countless wonderful ways in the glass, the Vougeot didn't and if anything faded a tad. The other two wines I wasn't so fond of. The Giroud showed some tangy fruit, candied and tight. Not a bad wine, but I don't think this will develop so well as to match the others. The Grivot Beaumonts I actively disliked. It did little exceptionally and had a funky nose which followed through on the palate. At first, I thought the mustiness might be TCA, perhaps spoilage. Whatever, I wasn't enamored of the wine.

Chambolle-Musigny

Chambolle-Musigny, Roumier Bonnes Mares, Jadot Bonnes Mares, Roumier
Musigny, Drouhin Musigny, J-F Mugnier Musigny Vielles Vignes, J-F. Mugnier

A great flight. Picking the top wines here was hard, and ranking them harder. I give the nod to the Roumier Bonnes Mares, followed by the Drouhin Musigny, and the Mugnier VV Musigny. But this wasn't easy. The village wine Roumier, first of all, a great benefit of this tasting, was sent over from Roumier's cellars. As such, it's condition was way better than some notes I have on this recently and it was sweet and beautiful, a tad thin, but a star in its own right. Drink up. Would that our Burgs were stored so well and were so pristine. (Keep in mind in that regard that my notes indicating freshness, needing age, tannins etc are in context of the superb condition of these bottles.) The Jadot Bonnes Mares was a little tight, had some subtle mouth-drying tannins, but also some flavorful raspberry overlay of fruit that I rather liked. A good wine, but the Roumier went it one better. A little more textured, fruit so intense that it seemed like a core of framboise at times, and superb in general. The Drouhin Musigny may well have been the best Drouhin I've ever had. Sweet, candied fruit, almost sugary in some respects, this wine is a fruit bomb. Nothing complicated going on here, folks, and if it's not your style, pass, but it's really appealing. Forward and flamboyant. The regular Musigny from Mugnier seemed like the most ordinary wine in this flight. Not a bad wine, but overshadowed and without enough flavor to compete with these very fragrant, very fruity Burgs. Finally, the old vines Musigny from Mugnier, was a triumph, my #2 of the night. This bottling had more glycerine, weight and texture than the regular bottling, and sweet, almost candied raspbery fruit. I wasn't as fond as the development in the glass and noted some gamey touches, which some may like.

Morey Saint-Denis

Morey-Saint-Denis, Dujac
Clos-Saint-Denis, Drouhin
Clos de la Roche, Dujac

The Morey was a fine village wine from Dujac, leathery, acidic, but with good fruit, firmness and depth. Not as interesting as the Roumier Chambolle, but good. The Drouhin showed the same sweet, candied fruit that the Musigny reviewed above did, hints of framboise, very pretty, but not as deep or concentrated. I liked this, but thought the Musigny superior. The clear winner of this flight was the raspberry fruit bomb from Dujac's Clos de la Roche. Plenty of acidity but focused fruit, sweet but not as candied as the Drouhin, excellent structure and with age the wine will come into perfect balance. A superb wine.

GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN

Gevrey-Chambertin, Burguet Clos Saint Jacques, A. Rousseau
Latrichières-Chambertin, Drouhin Mazis-Chambertin, Faiveley
Clos de Beze, A. Rousseau END OF EVENT

A rather disappointing flight, all things considered. The Clos de Beze was a hands down winner in my notes, with velvet in the mouth, sweet fruit, rich and ripe. This was a star of the tasting. After that, I can't say I'd run out to buy anything. The Faiveley Mazis was more or less second, but distantly. It seemed flat and lacked vibrant fruit. The Rousseau Clos St. Jacques was nice, sweet, but a little too acidic. This might come into balance, and I ranked it third with an "up" arrow. The Burguet was a village wine I disliked, a bit too tannic, too firm, very gamey, not much fruit on the palate that was obvious. The Drouhin seemed like a pale imitation of the house style he did so well in Morey and Chambolle. All of his wines seem alike, but wheras the others had lots of great fruit, this one was lighter and flatter and not as vibrant.

And that was the end of an all day event. The overall quality was superb. Even the wines that fell by the wayside had some good things to offer. Virtually nothing was what I'd call bad. And there were many stars. From Volnay, nothing; from Pommard and Beaune, many nice wines, but perhaps no superstars... a fine Courcel in Pommard; from Beaune, a nice Lafarge and Tollot-Beaut Clos du Roi. In Savigny, which I lumped with the Beaunes, a fantastic value from Simon Bize. Both Cortons were lovely, and the Bressandes was a superstar. In Nuits, not my favorite flight, the Chevillon was a clear star, the Rion not far behind. In Vosne-Romanee, my nod to the Grivot Richebourg as a superstar today, and a special mention to the DRC. Musigny may well have been the most consistent big flight. The Roumiers were all fine, the Drouhin a revelation, the vielles vignes from Mugnier terrific. In Morey, Drouhin came close to repeating his performance in Musigny and the Dujac Clos de la Roche was a star. In Gevrey, a poor flight, the Clos de Beze was nonetheless a great wine.

All of which puts a merciful end to the last six days. A lot of fun, food, wine and people. Too much of the food and wine too often. And my group's Xmas lunch is Friday. As I said once before on this page, Lord Have Mercy. (Yeah, but I enjoyed it.....you knew that!)



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