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Off-line gathering San Francisco

by Tom Cannavan, 10/99

This was a get together with northern California wine-lovers, all of whom I've gotten to know through e-mail and Internet. It was kindly organised by San Francisco-based Rob Adler and we met at Indigo, a terrific venue in SF (see my Travel section for a guide to this and other Californian restaurants). The wines were all brought along by the participants, and what a well-chosen and very generous selection they were.

White

Domaine Guy Amiot (Burgundy) Puligny-Montrachet Les Demoiselles 1992
Sherried nose suggests this is spoiled by oxidisation. Some lime and wax, but old parcel string aromas spoil the picture. Palate has some toasty oak, but fruit is gone and it tastes acidic and tired. Shame.

Wirra Wirra Vineyards (Australia) Scrubby Rise Semillion 1994
One of my contributions. Nose had hallmark quince, fig, honey and toast which I just love, but the palate was a little less fruity and juicy than usual. Whether this was due to travel-shock, or a slightly off bottle I don't know, but although there was plenty of toasty, buttery flavour on the palate it missed the clean, bracing burst of citrus fruit to balance. This was the 4th or 5th time I've tasted this normally stunning wine, so a minor disappointment.

Red

Maison Bigot (Burgundy) Chappelle Chambertin Grand Cru 1997
Alex Gambil, a Californian, is the négociant behind this label. He is buying young wines to mature, blend and bottle in Burgundy. This has a powerful nose of cherry fruit that is rather tight and ungiving. With coaxing, hints of violets and sage emerge. On the palate it is gripped by searing tannins and hard acidity. Chewy and dense, it is possible to detect the fruity promise of the nose, but despite the '97 vintage's reputation as forward, this needs considerable time. With patience you should be rewarded by something rather good.

Shafer (California) Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 1993
Dark, ripe, damson and blackberry fruit on the nose with a background of creamy oak and a spicy edge. Beautifully poised and supple in the mouth, there is a solid core of sweet, ripe black fruit, but a pleasant roughness that added structure and complexity. Tannins are fine and supple, acidity moderate. This wine has terrific structure and balance. A lovely fruit-driven yet savoury style.

Araujo (California) Eisle Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1994
I could hardly believe it when this legendary wine popped out of LK's bag: the Aurajo is the ultimate cult wine, available only on the strictest allocation and changing hands for a small fortune in the after-sales market. And it didn't disappoint: wonderfully seductive nose of super-sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit, dark chocolate and bitter coffee notes and fragrant nuances of exotic spices and perfume. The profile reminded me of Penfolds Grange a little, even more so on to the palate which is flooded by those concentrated, silky blue/black flavours and an amazing concentration. There are plenty of firm supporting tannins and sweet oak, but the fruit drives through them into a wonderfully long, pure finish. A dazzling, show-stopper of a wine. Over the top? Maybe, but wonderful.

Sweet

Schaefer (Germany, M-S-R) Graacher Dumprobst Riesling Kabinett 1997
Not really a dessert wine, but drunk just before the real sweeties. Very fine, crisp nose with scents of pear and tart raspberries, some summer flowers but very little wax or "petrol". Just off-dry palate has plenty of clean, refreshing orchard fruit and a dry, lemony finish. Beautiful wine that needs time.

Baumard (Loire) Coteaux du Layon Clos Sainte Catherine 1990
Oh I love this wine! Just a ravishing nose of crystaline, pure lime, lychee, honey and sweet pear and apple. Flowery highlights. On the palate it is beautifully refreshing though richly textured and opulent. There is more citrus fruit, with super-sweet top notes of pineapple and mango, but also some creamy depth. A beauty.

Niepoort Vintage Port 1997 (Barrel sample)
I've been lucky enough to taste several samples of the 1997 Ports and so far they have been most impressive. This is a notch up from Niepoort's Quinta do Passadoura '97 in terms of concentration, but shares that gloriously sweet and silky, fruit-packed character. There's terrific depth of violet and bitter-chocolate flavours and a raft of tannins that will surely clamp down to send this to sleep for a while? Very hedonistic.