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"Off-line" gathering in Los Angeles

by Tom Cannavan, 06/99

Another highly enjoyable and equally educational gathering at the fine 2117 Sawtelle restaurant in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. This was a meeting of a dozen or so southern Californian wine-lovers whom, once again, I've gotten to know through e-mail and the Internet. The wines brought along by the participants ranged from some rare Californian "limited release" bottlings, to oddities like the dry botrytis Semillon and sweet, late-harvest Californian Viognier. My thanks to Bruce L. for making all the arrangements.
The wines were not served blind. There were at least another 4 or 5 reds on the table, but I'm afraid I gave up writing notes for a while before catching a second wind when the dessert wines appeared!

White

Nicholson River Winery (Australia) Semillon "Dry Botrytis Style" 1990
A very unusual style, where botrytis-affected grapes are fully fermented so that the resulting wine is luscious and alcoholic, but has only moderate sweetness. The only other example I can recall off-hand is a Chardonnay released by Chile's Casablanca last year. In truth this wine has considerable sweetness. It is full and rich with vivid aromas apricot, nuts and honey. On the palate it is mouthfilling and almost oily, with lots of peachy fruit and a nice core of zesty lemon acidity.

Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace) Gewürztraminer Herrenweg 1994
Another very nice example of its type. Very powerful, concentrated spicy fruit on the nose, plenty of lychee and orange. The palate shows a thick, serious wine with a streak of grapefruity, pithy acidity providing backbone to luscious fruit. Just off dry, but firm and clean.

Reds

Geyser Peak (California) Cabernet/Shiraz "Winemaker's Selection" 1997
I believe this was a very limited release, sold only at auction. There is a super-ripe blueberry and kirsch nose, with very lifted aromatics of mint, spices and little flowery nuances. On the palate the Cabernet element is more noticeable, with a harder edge to the fruit, as well as a darker profile more reminiscent of blackcurrant and plum. Tannins are fine and supportive, giving a chewiness to the finish. Balanced and long, this was one of my favourite wines of the evening.

Sine Qua Non (California) "Against the Wall" 1996
Sine Qua Non is the micro-producer of what could only be described as "trophy" wines: wines that are sold on allocation and whose price instantly soars in the re-sale market - if you can find them at all. I had the good fortune to taste two from their range on my trip, this being a Syrah-based red. Nose of gorgeously deep and smoky blueberry, damson and bitter cherry fruit with plenty of pepper and spice and a complex, herbal, earthy quality. Delicious on the palate too with more firm-edged dark fruit and lots of savoury oak, juicy acidity and grippy tannins. This is a complex and multi-layered red that was my (dry) wine of the night.

Lazaridi (Greece) Amethystos Cava 1994
There's more of a sense of roundness to this wine than the '95 tasted recently: more integration, more pleasing texture, and a more solidly fruity core. The nose has cream, blackcurrant and warm berry fruit. The palate is soft and easy-going with a nice tannic sub-structure, but plenty of plum and berry fruit and vannilin oak. It is long and nicely focused, staying fruity and balanced.

Henschke (Australia) Keyneton Estate Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot 1995
This maybe suffered a little coming after the profound Sine Qua Non, but there was plenty of ripe fruit and a good long finish, however, I abandoned it for a second glass of the SQN with my rack of lamb....

Sweet

Baumard (Loire) Quarts de Chaume 1996
I have to say that this was a completely winning, ultra-seductive wine that easily over-powered the other dessert wines on show. And it's not just power, for this has terrific class too. A wonderfully rich, honeyed, limpidly pure nose of sweet pineapple, marmalade and apricot, wrapped in a cloak of vanilla and white chocolate. On the palate it fills the mouth with unctuous fruit, yet retains a core of minerals and lime acidity that draws it through to a long, long finish. Absolutely sensational - my wine of the night.

Dry River (New Zealand) Botrytis Riesling
This is a beautifully delineated wine, with a glacial quality to the nose and palate of pure lime fruit, sweetened by ripe tropical flavours of pineapple and ripe mango. As I say, overpowered by the sheer opulence of the Baumard, but lovely in its own right. At around £20/$35 per half bottle it is rather expensive compared to, for example, the equally delightful Mount Horrocks Cordon-cut Riesling from Australia at half the price.

Zaca Mesa (California) Late Harvest Viognier 1995
Rich and exotic aromatics of orange, grapefruit and peach. This was delicous too, but difficult to assess in this company. Good body and plenty of sweetness, much of it from alcohol, but a nice bitter acidity that does tend to leave it a little short.