||It appears 1997 was a weak vintage overall for the Central
Coast, especially so for pinot noir, the exception being grapes from Talley's
Rosemary and Rincon vineyards in Arroyo Grande. Both Talley and ABC made
excellent wines from the Talley grapes.
Au Bon Climat
Ici/La Bas offerings from Jim Clendenen
98 Pinot Blanc Bien Nacido Reserve is very good, a bit frizante
with jazzy elements. Good value though purists might prefer the real thing
from better Alsace producers.
98 Pinot Gris Bien Nacido Reserve is too soft and thin. Forgetable
97 Chardonnay Le Bouge d'a Cote is thin with cloying off-dry fruit.
97 Chardonnay Talley Reserve is soft with hints of lemon and melon.
97 Chardonnay Alban is thinnish and awkward. It's not surprising
John Alban doesn't bottle Chardonnay, just that he hasn't ripped out these
vines yet and replaced them with Marsanne.
97 Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict is very good, but not as good
as Sanford's Barrel Select.
97 Chardonnay Les Nuits Blanches is again the top offering. It was
closed up Saturday, but showed tropical flavors with a broader palate than
the 96 version, but less mineral driven. I actually preferred the tighter
structure in last year's version. The 97 probably shows more obvious ripeness
of the fruit.
97 La Bauge Au-Dessus Pinot Noir is light colored, closed
nose, fairly Burgundian, structured and tannic. From the Bien Nacido
Q Block, a bit atypical of the vineyard, perhaps reminiscent of a lighter
97 Sanford & Benedict PN was light colored and light wieght.
Very tight, tannic. At present the fruit is supressed. It may require
5-6 years to come out of its shell. Not a blockbuster, but could show refined
elegance at its peak.
97 Talley Rincon PN and Rosemary's PN blend shows better color,
cassis nose, round rich mouthfeel, lush flavors. Slightly stemmy now with
a very tannic finish. I actually prefer this to Talley Vineyard's
Rincon PN at this point. Needs a few years. The Talley Rosemary has generally
been my favorite PN in the portfolio. This release is a beauty. Gorgeous
nose, soft plum flavors, fairly high acid. It will all come around
in 3-4 years to be outstanding.
Isabelle Cuvee has a great nose. Sweet fruit, long fine finish,
it is a complete wine. Showing cherry, cassis. Really excellent,
I prefer it to the Rosemary.
97 Mendocino Elke Vineyard has a lovely nose. Sweet cherry flavors,
somewhat medicinal, but not in a bad way. It is high strung and needs time
to round out. As good as this is, at $40 pre-arrival, the QPR is low.
The traditional Ici offering of Oregon PN comes from the Montinore
Vineyard. It is closed up with simple fruit flavor and thin texture. Pass.
97 Sangiovese Eleven Oaks is still a bit fizzy from the bottle.
Sweet with an atypical nose. At $24 futures price I would not want to insult
my Italian friends by making any ridiculous claims about the caliber and
potential of Cal-Ital varietals a la Tom Hill. Though last years's version
is the best sangiovese I've had from CA, this year's is a complete mystery.
In previous years, Babcock's Grand Cuvee label has been exclusively for
their outstanding Chardonnay. This is the first time they've bottled a
Grand Cuvee PN with that designation. It has a lovely nose, rich
and suave. In the mouth it displays plummy, bit stemmy qualities. It could
be good in time, but at $32 I'll bid my money elsewhere.
97 Black Label Cuvee Syrah is very dark with a nose of black cherry
and tar. Sweet and dense, it has a rather unusual flavor profile for syrah,
and I don't really know what to make of it other than to suggest that it
is not Ojai or Qupe in quality or value.
98 Sauvignon Blanc Cuvee Nicholas is frizante, light, and without
pronounced flavor. Not one of the better Nicolas's.
OTOH, the 98 Sauvignon Blanc "Au Naturel" is compelling. Classy,
zippy, mineral and flint driven, it has a very long finish (I mean very
long!). This is competitive with Babcock's Eleven Oaks (not presented here)
as the best SB in SB County. Wonderful stuff, this is the white of
the day for me. Brander also poured the 98 High Density Cabernet Sauvignon.
High density refers to the vineyard practice of dense planting. This is
lush, ripe, tasty stuff that avoids the usual drawbacks of Santa Ynez Cab.
Worth a try for cab lovers.
I'd heard good things about the Clos Pepe Vineyard, how Wes Hagen is doing
all the right things growing the grapes. But Brewer-Clifton left me wondering
what went wrong with their 98 Chardonnay from Clos Pepe fruit. Simple
and uncomplicated, this does not make much of a case for chardonnay.
Di Bruno (as in Alphonse)
98 Alban Vineyard Viognier shows pinapple
and citrus. It is spunky with a gorgeous nose. Rather creamy in texture,
though, it is not as linearly structured as I prefer for this varietal.
1996 Late Harvest Viognier. Not extremely
sweet (Auslese level RS), this would make a nice aperitif. Good QPR at
Domaine Santa Barbara (another Brander project)
97 Sangiovese Stolpman Vineyard has an earthy, mushroomy nose. Sappy,
bright fruit, good acid. But rather odd sangiovese. See my comments on
98 Pinot Gris has a very Alsace nose. Some tropical, mineral flavors,
but lacking the acidity and stony quality, and concentration of the real
thing. Still, not bad for $13.
98 Mouvedre Rothberg Vineyard is closed and not very smelly for
the varietal. Big fruit, big tannic structure. Sweet candied fruit quality
and not very compelling considering what one can get from Tempier for the
98 Cuvee Jeanne Marie (60% syrah/ 40% mouvedre) has more of
the gamy element and a chewy texture. Still, not up to the quality of the
97 vintage released last year.
97 Tinaquaic Reserve (60% merlot/ 30% cab franc/ 10% malbec)
shows dense, dark, dirty oak, muddled flavors. Will it sort out? I wouldn't
risk buying it now, but it would be worth checking out again in 6-8 months
to see if it has sorted itself out.
97 Cabernet Sauvignon Ma Mere Vineyard has a lovely nose of
cassis. Concentrated, but a bit green and stemmy.
Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post
I only had the endurance to try one wine. After last year's excellent Highliner
PN, I wanted to see how the follow-up would be. Well the 97
Highliner PN just isn't so compelling. Fast pass and low QPR.
Craig Jaffurs '98 Stolpman Vineyard Syrah is the only offering
this year. It is pretty darn good. Big, integrated tannins. Black berry,
plum. Excellent. And at only $22, top notch QPR, in fact best of
the day QPR-wise. Only 50 cases, so don't tell Tom Hill or it'll all be
gone before you get any.
Jim Adelman's usually reliable 98 Pinot Blanc was unusually light
weight and unaromatic. Just an OK version but the price is under $10.
98 Carignane Lolonis Vineyard has an earthy nose, ripe jammy fruit,
but fairly low tannins. Pretty good stuff for $11, but not a keeper.
Unfortunately, by the time I had gotten to the Makor table, all the 98
Zin was gone. Last year's 97 Zin was the best ever from Makor. Oh well...
Now hitting stride, two relatively inexpensive Syrahs were poured.
97 Roasted Slope (aka Cote Rotie/5% viognier) is fairly good. Plummy
flavors, rather on the simple side, but good value at $15, though not as
good as Ojai's 97 California syrah.
A notch up in quality and only $16 is the 97 South Slope Syrah.
It has a more classic syrah nose. Sweet entry, lush. The finish is a bit
astringent and drying, but this will soften with time. Great QPR
98 Palmina Nebbiolo. A candied fruit flavor distinguishes this from
its old world ancesters. This one will be good, but it won't masquerade
as Italian. Too pricey at $28 to gamble with I'm afraid.
98 Viognier Roll Ranch has good fizziness, a little thin in the
middle. It is lighter in weight than the 97 and finishes a bit shorter.
Good but not worth the $27.
97 Pisoni PN is not as dense as the 95 and 96 versions. The
flavors are musty and the wine is too pricey at $45.
97 Bien Nacido Syrah is not bad at all, but it lacks the typical
Bien Nacido identity.
97 Roll Ranch Syrah has a candy apple, cherry nose. Not as big as
the 96 version it is a bit tart, tannic, astringent. It could come around
in 10-12 years. Why wait, though, when you could have...
97 Los Olivos Cuvee (50% syrah/ 37% mouvedre/ 13% grenache) is soft
and drinkable, but can age 2-4 years. Decent QPR at $15.
The next two syrahs return Qupe to its prominence at the top of the local
syrah scene. The 97 Bien Nacido Reserve Syrah has an excellent classy
BN nose, great fruit, flavor. A real bargain at $20.
97 Hillside Estate Syrah is the best since 94. Though the nose is
not too forward at present, the wine is dense, refined, structured.
The tannins are big and the QPR bigger. The price ($29) has even come down
slightly since the 94 vintage! I bought this one!
97 Barrel Select Pinot Noir is dense, jammy, ripe and tannic. One
of the better renditions of this always first rate PN.
98 Oliver's Vineyard Chardonnay was a barrel sample. Nice nose,
it was still undergoing fermentation. Too soon to evaluate.
97 Chardonnay from the Rosemary Vineyard is very good, showing minerals,
melon and a slightly bitter finish.
97 Chardonnay Rincon Vineyard is tropical, buttery, oaky.
97 Estate Pinot Noir is a blend of the next two vineyards. Also
a barrel sample, it has a fresh fruity nose, tannic, stemmy and green.
Clearly the better fruit went into the single vineyard offerings.
97 Rincon PN had been in bottle just a couple days. Lovely nose,
lush, tannic. It will be lovely in 3-4 years.
97 Rosemary PN was a barrel sample. A lovely nose of kirsch/cassis,
it is still a bit rough and needs more barrel time. This will be excellent,
though perhaps not as big and direct as the 96 version.
97 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot "I Acronicus" was unusual.
A bit tannic and stemmy, I guess I did not see any real charm here. At
$32 a risky proposition.
98 Mouvedre is clearly more fun than Foxen's. Good nose, sweet attack.
Dense, tannic, dry tannic finish. Could be really good in 5-8 years.