Mike Brenton and Deb Cole held their annual Bring a Bottle of Your Best bash in the East Lansing, Michigan area on May 17th, and while Kim was unable to attend, I was more fortunate. We were blessed with almost perfect weather, allowing for grilling and swilling in the afternoon sun and evening shade. Many of the friends that we've made over the last several years at this event were in attendance, and as always, there was a generous spread that included a wide variety of victuals. And of course, there were some absolutely delightful wines to sample from all over the place; I'm sure I didn't even get to half of them...
2001 Commanderie de la Bargamone Coteaux d'Aix en Provence: This pale salmon rosé is a delightful starting point for a day like this, with pleasant strawberry and mineral flavors and aromas and a zippy acidity that makes it a fine match for picnic fare and/or hors d' oeuvres alike.
1997 Kynsi Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir Julia's Vineyard: I'm assuming that this medium full bodied ruby garnet came from Cambria's Julia's Vineyard site, since they're from the same appellation, and indeed, both are quite enjoyable wines. This one shows an enticing bouquet of black cherry and plum with a pretty kiss of well-integrated oak; the flavors echo nicely with an earthy edge, some tannins still to resolve and a nice finish. Good acidity makes for a food friendly wine, but I could sip this all by its lonesome as well. It's showing an attractive note of maturity, but will probably improve for another year or two.
1998 Domaine Bois de Boursan Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvee Felix: I made a mental note to get a taste of this as soon as I saw it, having enjoyed the '96 model during Game 5 of last year's Stanley Cup finals, but had to scramble to get a pour because it didn't last long at all. Ruby dark garnet in color, it isn't showing quite as much obvious oak as the '96, but there IS a nice spicy note and plenty of lovely, floral plum, red currant and blackberry flavors and aromas. A good dose of tannins won't keep you from enjoying this now with a good grilled haunch of beast, but it would be a shame not to give it 5-8 years so that it can really come into its own. It'll be well worth the wait.
2000 Xanadu Frankland River Margaret River Shiraz: It's been a little more than a year since we last tasted this Aussie dark garnet, so I was quite interested in finding out how it's coming along. Happily, it's drinking quite well; some toasty oak compliments rather than detracts from the spicy black cherry, plum and black raspberry fruit, and it's another one that's a good match for grilled meats. Despite some lingering tannins, I'm not sure I'd wait much longer to pull the trigger on this; the fruit might lose more than would be gained otherwise.
1996 Ridge Lytton Syrah ATP: This was the third time that I've tasted this, Ridge's first Lytton Syrah, since last November, and each bottle has been quite different, causing me to wonder where all the bottle variation is coming from. The one tasted last fall was an atrocity, all oak and coconut, and five big fans of Ridge just couldn't hack it at all. Upon hearing this, califusa opened one for me in January that showed little if any oak, and precious little of the typical characteristics that one usually finds in a wine from this producer; it was all deep, dark and mysterious black fruit, more like something you'd expect from the northern Rhone than the Dry Creek Valley. And now, THIS deep dark garnet shows up with some very nice Draper perfume over rich dark plum and blackberry flavors and aromas, being quite lovely, with some tannins still to resolve. A very nice wine that was very well received and didn't last all that long, but it begs the question: will the REAL '96 Ridge Lytton Syrah PLEASE stand up?!
1995 Harlan "The Maiden": This dark garnet was my first taste of any wine from the famous Harlan Estate, and I must say, it certainly doesn't disappoint. On the contrary, it shows lovely, rich, floral, perfumed red currant, plum and cassis character with big oak, but it's so well integrated; the aromatics are enormous, and Alan Kerr rightly noted a "juniper berry" nuance that adds character and interest. Despite a good five years worth of tannins, I'd be very hard pressed to keep my hands off of this right now if I had any.
1993 Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: This may be a step or two down from "The Maiden," but that doesn't make it a bad wine by any means. A dark garnet with just the faintest hint of rust, it features sweet oak in perfect proportion to the cassis, black currant, dark chocolate and cedar bouquet that follows through on the palate with a good dose of tannins, good acidity and a long finish. It could use a few more years, and yet it's very nice now.
1996 Harlan "The Maiden": Yes, the obvious choice would have been to try the '96 right after the '95, except for the fact that this one wasn't yet uncorked, thus the intervening Mondavi. This one's a deep dark garnet in color, and while it's not quite as intense as the '95, it's still a big, perfumed, delicious glass of wine, with flavors and aromas reminiscent of aquarium, sweet oak, spice, cassis and red currant. Yes, it could use some time to be at its best, but it's still damned good already!
1988 Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l'Herault: This inky garnet is showing a hint of brick, and some called it their wine of the night. It was poured from a magnum, and exudes some funky barnyard at first, but that blows off with some swirlatude to reveal plenty of deep, rich black fruit that doesn't need any big oak to prove anything. Tannins are mostly resolved, and it smooths out and continues to open as long as there's some left in the glass. This was the only wine that I took a second pour of, which was fine with the small group of devotees who hijacked it to a side table!
1998 Clos Mimi Paso Robles Syrah Shell Creek Vineyard: Several tasters called this smoky dark garnet "floral," and it certainly IS aromatic with its big oak, chocolate, incense and plum nose that follows through onto the palate. This is a big, dense wine, with significant tannins, zippy acidity and a nice finish, and while I liked it, I'd take the Mas de Daumas Gassac any day.
1997 Domaine du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape: This old friend was poured from a magnum, and was very much as I remember from our most recent tasting last fall.
I also had a few other things poured for me while I was jamming on some original tunes with Ed Groves, including a '90 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and a '94 Phelps Insignia, both of which were very tasty, if somewhat dissimilar. I finished with a glass of '93 Kunde Sonoma Valley Century Vines Zinfandel, poured from a magnum; it's a fine, elegant 10-year-old wine that has plenty of fruit, proving yet again that this varietal just doesn't age…
As always, this was a wonderful affair, and many thanks go not only to Mike and Deb for their efforts to make it so, but also to all who attend and contribute such great food, wine and friendship. I'm already looking forward to next year!
Reporting from Day-twah,
© George Heritier June 2003