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Californian Premium Wines

by Tom Cannavan, 06/97

The two white wines were served at close to room temperature which didn't flatter either, but may have been particularly unfair to the viognier. This was a double blind tasting with one non-Californian "ringer" thrown in. Notes are exactly as written, with the identy of the wines revealed only after tasting.

Landmark "Damaris" Chardonnay (Sonoma) 1995, £18.99
Medium golden yellow, tinge of green. Big, deep, butterscotch nose with plenty of new oak. Fat and rich on the palate too, big, buttery chardonnay that is round and rolling in the mouth. Lots of pineapple, tropical fruit. A little herbaceous edge and some sourness in the finish with good acidity keeps the oak in check. Rather good, but very in-your-face style of chardonnay.

La Jota Barrel Fermented Viognier (Howell Mountain) 1996, £19.99
Pale, straw colour. A little bit of pear-drop, high, acetone on the nose. Some hints of honeyed, figgy fruit. Rather thin and alcoholic with an unpleasant, orange-pith astringency that quickly swamps the fruit. Don't know what variety this is - semillon?? Don't like it much on this evidence - fruit too buried away.
I re-tasted this wine at the end of the evening and there was definitely more classic peachy, flowery fruit showing through. I think the ambient serving temperature did it no favours.

Edmunds St John "L'Enfant Terrible" Mourvedre 1995, £8.49
Quite a thin, blackish, brownish colour. Deep, dark, mocha-coffee scents. Truffley, undergrowth too with a little lemony twist. Pinot Noir? Smooth and quite rich on the palate with more dark, coffee flavours and some earthy, berry fruit and spice. Good acidity and some firm tannins in the finish. Good.

Tria "Labyrinth" 1994, £12.99
Deep ruby/purple colour but with light at rim. Berry scents, slightly peppery too. Some jammy fruit and a little bit sherried? Plenty of sweetness on the nose. Nice balance of dusty fruit, tannin and broad, soft acidity. Drinking well but not going anywhere. Quite good. Southern Rhone blend?

Ravenswood "Old Vine" Zinfandel (Sonoma) 1995, £11.99
A deep, blackish, purple colour, but relatively thin. Lovely plummy, rich, fruit-cake nose. Lots of plum fruit on the palate too, with a chocolate richness, a broad acid base and good, rich, spicy oak in the finish. Some tannins, but pretty easy to drink.

Flora Springs "Trilogy" (Napa) 1994, £19.99
Very deep ruby/purple, light on rim. High, leafy, blackcurrant and herbal notes on the nose. A peppery richness on the palate, with a very chewy, tannic, density. Medium to full bodied, some sweet black fruit and a long, blackcurrant finish showing good balance. Quite a serious cabernet/blended wine with enough structure to reward patience.

La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) 1995, £22.99
More dense, even, opaque purple/black. Richly blackcurrant scents emerge with coaxing. Sweet alcohol too and a darker, tobacco note. Very big, tannic cabernet with a creamy edge, nice dense mouthfeel and good fruit/oak balance. Good length too. Needs some time, but pretty good.

Pahlmeyer Merlot (Napa) 1995, £29.99
Very dense purple/black colour. Good fruit on the nose: dark berry scents giving way to deep, plummy fruit. Dominated by spicy American oak on the palate, but loaded with plummy, spicy, rich and classy fruit too. Good acid structure and mellow tannins in the finish. Good stuff. Merlot.

Château La Conseillante, Pomerol 1995, £44.99.
Solid, dark colour, just a hint of warmth at the rim. An extremely rich, inviting, classy nose of leafy blackcurrants and nuances of darker, almost stewed fruit. Great depth of flavour and complexity on the palate too with well integrated tannins. Young claret? Firm and classy finish which is still very tight and youthful. Needs time I think.

Orion old vines, Sean Thackrey (Napa), 1995. £34.99
Very deep, striking, cerise colour - straight out of a paint-box. This is Orion. That high, confected, mint-leaf, basil nose is unmistakable. Rather more lush on the palate than the last vintage, with that consistent confected top-note, but much better, more structured fruit beneath. Quite unctuous and chewy, with sour cherry and dusty, berry fruit and tannic backbone. This is better than the '94 and....I actually like it.

Mumm Cuvée Napa Sparkling Pinot Noir
Dark, dense colour. Steady, even stream of fine bubbles. Real earthy pinot nose which sits oddly with the soft, autolysis notes. Creamy character on the palate, with fine mousse and some firm structure supporting the ripe fruit. Unusual and quite enjoyable.