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Florida visit, October 1998

by Tom Cannavan

In September/October 1998 I grabbed a last minute flight to Orlando for a couple of weeks in Florida. With 90 degree temperatures this was more an occasion for cold beer than wine, but armed with names of some good restaurants I did taste several interesting wines, mostly from the USA, and a few of which I took some notes on.

Château St. Jean (Sonoma), Sonoma County Chardonnay 1996
Brilliant golden yellow colour. Wonderfully inviting nose of creamy peach, pear and a delicate, nutty note. In the mouth the wine is very fresh, delicious and full of ripe, soft peach and pure, tropical fruit. It's not at all over-blown; the oak adds a deft sheen of toastiness and the finish is lingering. A terrific wine that wasn't expensive.

Z.D. Winery (Napa), Chardonnay 1995
I had ordered a Chardonnay from Sonoma-Cutrer, but when it was out of stock the wine waiter suggested this as an alternative. Medium straw/gold colour. Nice bready nose of oatmeal and toast, with cool, melony fruit. Medium weight with clean, citrus and white fruit flavours and buttery roundness from prominent, but not overwhelming oak. Decent finish and a good food wine.

Murphy-Goode (Sonoma), Sonoma County Chardonnay 1996
Medium golden colour, this has some sweet, buttery oak on the nose as well as peach and clean pear and apple notes. On the palate there is more of that rather austere white fruit, but I found it wasn't very engaging and finished with a rather bitter, liquorice flavour.

Hogue Cellars (Washington State), Johannisberg Riesling 1995
This inexpensive wine has a very pale colour and quite an appealing nose of citrus and cool, peachy fruit. Definitely off-dry, it is pure and refreshing with a fair balance of green apple acidity, but it is pretty simple and a bit syrupy. Good summertime sipping wine with a bit of class.

R.H. Phillips (Sacramento Valley), Viognier EXP 1995
Pale straw colour and a slightly alcoholic edge to the nose which also shows some delicate apricot and honey notes. Very dry on the palate and I found it somewhat mean and lacking in fruit, finishing rather tartly.

Far Niente (Napa), "Dolce" Dessert wine 1994
Gorgeous, deep, golden colour. This is sensational. Very attractive, highly scented nose of buttered pecans, ripe ogen melon and honey. Luscious on the palate but also very light and clean. Brimming with soft, butterscotch flavour, some more melon and peach fruit and a clarity that made me think of spearmint in the finish. Delicious, unusual and quite something - though it is expensive (around $60 per half bottle retail I believe).

Antinori, Chianti Classico Riserva 1990
A classic nose of cherries, tobacco and earth leads to a fairly firm mouthful of bright cherry fruit. There is a certain smokiness and good, chewy tannins making for a supple and savoury wine. No great complexity, but good with food.

Sonoma Vineyards, Alexander's Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1978
For a 20 year old Cabernet this was surprisingly fresh, with a nose of blackcurrant, cedar and a little bit of tar. On the palate it is full of bright, cherry fruit, smooth background tannins and an almost sherbety finish. 20 year old Californian Cabernets are a bit of a novelty to me, and I'm not too sure what to make of this: though clean and pleasant to drink, it showed little sign of its 20 years maturity. It was quite unlike most Clarets I've tasted of a similar age which have have either developed depth and complexity, or have started to fade.

Guenoc Vineyards (Lake County) Beckstoffer Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1993
Medium/dark ruby colour. Inviting nose of punchy black cherry and ripe blackcurrant. On the palate it is medium bodied with a very vivid fruit profile of more black cherries, cassis and a little bit of plummy depth. Very pure and fruit driven, with some tannic backbone. Balanced and drinking well but lacking a little depth and complexity. Decent length.

Beaulieu Vineyards (Napa) Pinot Noir Carneros Reserve 1995
Gorgeous wood-smoke and tar nose with rich, red cherry fruit. On the palate quite lean, rangy and firm with good tannins, precise acidity and complex cassis, cherry and raspberry flavours. No real tertiary development, very brisk in style, but supple, delicious and multi-faceted. Velvety textured and with great length, this could be wonderful with a few more years in the cellar.