A Wine Lovers' Discussion Group Massachusetts/New Hampshire/Connecticut Offline dinner was held on Wednesday, February 2 at Il Fiorentino in Woburn, MA, one of the few restaurants in the greater Boston area that allows BYOB with no corkage fees. As always, the company was great, and many people voiced the opinion that this offline had an even better lineup of wines than any of the prevous events. The food and service seemed better this time than in September (and it wasn't bad then), but the glassware at Il Fiorentino leaves much to be desired, so don't forget to bring good glasses if you're drinking good wine.
I don't rate wines at offline dinners, only writing up my tasting notes on each wine because, in my opinion, the atmosphere isn't ideal for critical evaluation of the wines.
Great Wall "National Famous Wine" Shacheng China NV-- Made from the famous, internationally acclaimed Dragon Eye grape (Has anyone ever heard of it before?), this wine bills itself as a "medium-sweet white wine". Tart apples and lots of acid on the nose and in the mouth. Short acidic finish. Not really "medium-sweet". As the wine sits in the bottle, maderized aromas and flavors come to the front. Simple and unappealing. The third-best Chinese grape wine I've had (out of three) -- the others were just insipid and neutral. I brought this as an educational experience, since I don't think most people in the group had ever seen a Chinese wine before, and I don't think this one will make anyone want to try another. Purchased for about US$9 in China, which is a horrible value given the prices of everything else there.
Clos des Blanches Menetou-Salon Morogues '98 -- Asparagus, grapefruit and lemon aromas and elegant flavors of herbs and citrus. Slightly tart finish, but a very nice wine.
H. Donhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spätlese '95 -- Light yellow with noticeable small bubbles when poured. It was a bit warm, but that didn't prevent me from tasting and noticing the very nice cola, mineral and apple aromas and flavors. Will be better in a couple of years, and a few degrees cooler.
Wolfberger Tokay Pinot Gris Hengst '93 -- Several people claimed this bottle was corked, but several others weren't so certain. I fall into the "not so certain" camp. I think something was wrong with it, but I didn't notice any TCA aromas or flavors. I did notice some alcoholic and ethyl acetate aromas, and the wine seemed quite dilute and lacking in flavor, so it is certainly possible that there was a low level of TCA.
Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc '96 -- Floral and candied fruit aromas with an undercurrant of cornmeal. In the mouth, the wine is quite different, with lots of oak, and some citrus and peach flavors. Tastes a bit flat and dilute. Someone suggested that this bottle may also have been off.
Zind Humbrecht Riesling Gueberschwihr '97 -- Surprisingly floral for a Riesling, but also has more typical peach and apple aromas. Slightly sweet, with more peach and apple flavors blended with a hint of toast. Interesting wine.
Ahlgren Vineyard Semillon Livermore '98 -- Slightly warm, and pretty much all I could get from the nose was alcohol with a little peach. Seemed a bit fat in the mouth, with peach and smoke flavors. I think this would have shown much better if it didn't come after all the high-acid, low-oak wines, and if it were a little cooler.
Zind Humbrecht Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling '97 -- An intense wine, with lots of apple and peach flavors and aromas. Seemed more acidic than the Gueberschwihr, and had a long, powerful finish.
La Chablisienne Chablis Grand Cru Bougros '95 -- More buttery than I expect from Chablis. Aromas and flavors of oak, spice, apple and popcorn. Complex and enjoyable, with a lively acid finish.
Bischofliches Priesterseminar Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese '75 -- Pulling ahead of the Zind Humbrecht in the race for the longest name, this bottle was also notable for its unusual (700ml) size. Light yellow color for such an old wine. Great old Riesling waxy and petrol notes on the nose. Somewhat sweet in the mouth with complex flavors and some primary peach fruit. Slightly tart apple finish shows that there's some acidity left.
Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg Turckheim Pinot Noir '93 -- A cry of "hot dogs" went up around the table when this was served. Later, the description was refined to "Kosher beef hot dogs". An unusual wine, with tobacco and mint aromas to go with the definite weiner notes. Lots of cherry, tobacco and smoke flavors, with a medium-intensity finish. The first Zind Humbrecht Pinot Noir I've seen, and while I didn't like it as much as their whites, it would make a good match with sausages.
Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche Grand Cru '87 -- Aromas of oak and earth dominate, leading to cherry, smoke and earthy flavors. I also found a slightly salty note on the finish.
Pilene Kommelle Beaune Premier Cru Cent Vignes '78 -- Very complex aged nose, with mossy and smoky notes. Layers of earthy, cherry and secondary complex flavors in the mouth. Some acidity is apparent on the full finish, along with a salty note. I could just sit and smell this one.
Domaine Monthelie Douhairet Volnay Premier Cru '93 -- Aroma seems odd, with plastic and earth. Some ethyl acetate is also apparent. Tart cherry flavors along with more earth and tobacco. Finishes on the lean side.
Domaine Leroy Corton Renardes Grand Cru '93 -- Slightly hazy appearance. Very earthy nose, which opens up with vigorous swirling. Earthy on the palate, too, and also has deep cherry and tobacco flavors. Very lush mouthfeel. Long tobacco and earth finish. I'd like to try this wine again in a few years (but I doubt I'll be able to find, or afford, it).
Mike Lawton's Mystery Wine (served blind) -- Decanted several hours before the dinner. Shows some unusual pine aromas along with lots of plum, cherry and menthol tobacco. Lush flavors of plum, cherry and tobacco; there was a lot more fruit hiding underneath, but this wine was obviously young and tight, despite the decanting. A short smoky cherry finish with definite acidity. This wine has definitely seen plenty of oak. It isn't particularly tannic, and the strong acidity had me thinking of Italy. My guess was a new, non-traditional producer from mid- or southern- Italy, or possibly Spain, using a mix of an indigenous grape and an international variety like Merlot. Other guesses around the table hit a wide range, from Zin to the Rhone. In fact, it was the Guado Al Tasso Tenuta Belvedere Bolgheri Superiore '96, a Tuscan blend of Cabernet and Merlot. I was in the right ballpark, but I would never have guessed about the Cabernet content, because it just didn't seem tannic enough.
Erik Banti Aquilaia Rosso Toscana IGT '97 -- A modest nose with an unusual floral note. Cherry and plum flavors and good acidity. I think this will be better in a couple of years.
Andrew Will Merlot Washington St. '95 -- This wine seemed to get lost in the shuffle, which is a shame. Earthy, meaty, plummy nose, with sweet plum and vanilla flavors complimenting the earthiness. Smooth and very enjoyable to drink now, and I'm not usually a fan of US Merlot.
Ogier Côte-Rôtie '89 -- Intense earth, plum, meat, tobacco and oak aromas lead to a complex plummy, gamy, earthy palate. Turns slightly tart at the end, but delivers a lot of pleasure. Needs food.
Elisabeth Chambellan Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes '98 -- The first Chateauneuf du Pape I've tasted from this much-hyped vintage. A definite floral note in the nose, along with some cherry. Blach cherry asserts itself in the mouth along with some earthiness. This young wine has a lush mouthfeel and only moderate tannins.
Ridge Geyserville Sonoma County '91 -- A blend of 50% Zinfandel, 30% Carignane and 20% Petite Sirah. A disturbing whiff of alcohol asserts itself when just opened but gives way to plum, berry and tobacco aromas. Sweet plum fruit, spice, and more complex flavors complement the trademark "Geyserville funk". Finishes strong with plum, berry, anise and a hint of menthol. I brought this wine, and I didn't think it was showing as well as the '92 I opened a couple of weeks earlier, but it also seemed less evolved.
La Rioja Alta Rioja Grand Reserva 904 '87 -- Great nose with intense old Rioja complex aromas. Sure, there's plenty of oak, but Rioja just seems to handle it better than many other wines. Complex flavors, with a mixture of some primary cherry fruit, along with some vanilla. For lovers of traditional Rioja, this is a very nice wine.
Ojai Syrah Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido Vineyard '95 -- Big meaty Syrah nose, with tobacco notes. A slight spritz in the mouth, with good black cherry and plum flavors leading to a lush finish of more fruit with a bit of menthol. Not for oak-phobes, but not overly oaked, either; lies somewhere in between the typical Rhône and Australian versions of Syrah.
Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford '96 -- A deep, dark wine showing tobacco, plum, currant and a bit of green pepper in the nose and mouth. Seems very tightly wound, with a lot of concentration. I think this will be much more enjoyable in a few years.
Nino Negri Sfursat Valtinella DOC '96 -- A wine made in the style of Amarone, but from different grapes (including Nebbiolo), and from a different region (Lombardy). At first, there is little evidence of a nose, but exposure to air improves things. Smooth, deep flavors and aromas of plum, black cherry and dried fruits (raisins, dried cherries) begin to assert themselves. Finishes with some acidity, with red cherry, tobacco and dried fruit flavors. Interesting and unusual, with less tannin than I might have thought.
Ralph Fowler Limestone Coast Shiraz '97 -- Definitely oaky nose, but there's also good plum fruit. Plum and tobacco flavors dominate this mouth-coating, rich wine. Intense, but not as complex as I would like.
Hugel Sélection Jean Hugel Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles '81 -- Impressive floral character to the nose; this wine seems much younger than its 19 years. Not overly sweet, with intense peach and floral notes in the mouth, leading to a pleasantly soft, harmonious finish. Given some time in the glass, the wine opens up more, and develops more complex flavors.
Justino Henriques Old Madeira (5 Years Old) NV -- Dark tawny color, with coffe, caramel and nut aromas and flavors. Definite Maderized character, with plenty of acidity showing up on a long, but not cloying finish.
Veritas Tokay Barossa Valley '90 -- While I'm a fan of Australian Liqueur Muscat and Tawnies, their Liqueur Tokay (made from Muscadelle, so there is no connection to the Tokay of Alsace or Tokaji of Hungary) has never excited me. However, this version is probably the best I've tried, and makes me believe that the style has potential. Coffee and maple aromas draw you in to surprisingly fruity flavors, with pinapple and peach notes along with the maple and coffee. Not as cloying as many Liqueur Tokays I've had, with definite caramel notes and more maple on the long finish.
If you're interested in attending a dinner like this, you might try visiting the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group to see if you can drum up interest in an offline in your area. Board participants hold offlines in many cities all over the world, and I have yet to hear of an unsuccessful one.
Email if you have questions, corrections or comments.
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