Top US wines: Togni, Laurel Glen, Quilceda Creek

A very nice selection of top wines, mostly Californian, from quality estates. This included a few old favourites I’d tasted in previous vintages as well as some new wines to me, some of which were very impressive. One general comment is that, as a group, these wine displayed good balance and restraint – quite “Old World” in style by-and-large, with good fruit, moderate tannins and plenty of acidity. Prices in pounds sterling. This was a double-blind tasting. We were informed there were two non-USA “ringers” thrown in.

Forman (Napa Valley) Chardonnay 1996 – £16.99
Pale, even gold/green. Toasted-oak, whiskey-barrel nose. Deeply nutty, leesy aromas. Complex notes of liquorice, citrus, kumquats and pears. A very nice Californian Chardonnay. Palate has lots of dry, elegant fruit flavours – orchard fruits, plenty of weight, plenty of alcohol. Quite sharp lemony acidity. A little hot in the finish, some spicy oak, but excellent length. Very good.
I tasted this six months ago and this confirms it as a high quality, balanced wine.

Landmark (Sonoma) “Damaris” Chardonnay 1996 – £19.99
Deep yellow colour. Oily nose – strangely oily, with notes of tinned sardines, seaweed and iodine. Aromatic too, with liquorice, honey and vanilla. Palate has plenty of weight and tastes rather neutral, though hints of melon and more luscious fruit. Swamped by alcohol and pithy acidity at present. A little hot and alcoholic in the finish. I think this is Chardonnay?
I tasted this in the previous vintage. This isn’t as good and seems a bit disjointed.

Edmunds St John “Les Côtes Sauvages” 1996 – £12.99
Dark purple/crimson colour. Very sweet mulberry fruit with leafy, vegetal notes. Nutty. Some high, violet scents too. Syrah? Palate is high in tannins and acidity. There is some cherry fruit, but very drying and quite tart at the moment and a little hollow on the mid-palate.
This is basically a Southern Rhône blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsaut.

Fetzer Vineyards (Mendocino) Bonterra Sangiovese 1995 – £11.99
Quite a pale ruby/pink. Sweet fruit on the nose, light and fragrant, raspberry, red-cherries and background oak. Slightly stalky too and a hint of an unpleasant, rubbery note. Quite creamy on the palate, but a great hollow in the middle. Quite high acidity but still seems flabby on the finish. I think this is the Bonterra Sangiovese.
I tasted this last week and really disliked it it. This was nicer on the nose, but still woeful on the palate. At the end of the night I had another taste from the open bottle and there was a little more sweetness and elegance about the fruit. An odd one.

Masi (Italy) “Osar” Rosso di Veronese 1995 – £16.99
Very dark, dense, crimson colour. Warm berry fruits on the nose and a nice caramel edge. Dense and full, slightly minty, but muted. Palate has initial cool, summer-berry fruits and is dense and chocolaty, but tannins are overpowering at present and a real jolt of lemony acidity kicks in on the finish. Very interesting wine – don’t know what it is, and maybe lacks a little freshness, but good.

Ravenswood “Old Vine” Zinfandel (Sonoma) 1996 – £11.99
Pale crimson, pink on rim. Lovely nose. Earthy and roasted. Sweet blackberry fruit, crunchy and creamy. Some white pepper too. Nicely balanced wine with good levels of ripe blackberry fruit. Syrah? Good level of tannins also, integrated and with adequate acidity. Finish is long with pepper and spice, but great purity. Very good.
Also tasted and enjoyed in a previous vintage, an excellent wine at a good price. I should have known it was Zinfandel – my tasting note has all the classic Zinfandel descriptions!

Marietta Cellars (Sonoma) Zinfandel 1996 – £10.99
Much darker and denser crimson/black. Sweet, Port-like nose. Ripe, minty, estery, cool fruit. Extracted with high alcohol that is adding sweetness. Good weight and velvet texture, chewy, dense and leathery. Some harsh edges of acidity, but a lovely quality of earthiness whilst retaining pure fruit into a long finish. A little more foursquare than the previous wine.
This was my “Wine of the Week” recently – very nice indeed, though the Ravenswood maybe has slightly better balance.

Edmunds St John Syrah 1996 – £11.99
Quite a dark, warm ruby colour. Really charred, nutty, dark, old-wood and varnish nose. Quite barnyardy with roasted coffee-bean notes. Syrah or Syrah/Mourvedre? Weighty on the palate with velvet-soft texture. This is chewy, savoury and dense with some sweetness of fruit, but mostly secondary flavours. Notable tannins and high acidity in the finish. Not bad.

Tria (Monterey) Syrah 1996 – £13.99
Dark, dense, purple/black. Sweet, polished, berry fruit on the nose. Intense and quite jammy black fruits and raspberry on the palate. lemony acidity too. This tastes a wee bit thin and harsh to me – needs rounding out with more substantial fruit.

Wing Canyon (Mount Veeder) Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 – £18.99
Opaque crimson/black. Slightly dank, vegetal nose. Leafy blackcurrant fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon. Toasty oak too, tastes expensive. Palate has ripe black fruits and a touch of savoury, cedar-wood flavour. Well balanced, though prominent acidity dominating for now, but integrated tannins are ripe and there is a core of blackcurrant fruit that persists into a long finish. Nicely sour and chewy, this shows promise and probably needs 5 years.
I have tasted this in the ’92, ’93 and ’94 vintages. An extremely consistent style and an excellent wine.

Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis, Médoc) 1994 – £17.99.
Slightly warmer, older, ruby red with orange on rim. Charcoal on the nose, light cherry and berry fruit. Faintly medicinal. A bit raw and hollow on the palate too with high acidity and very firm tannins. There seems to be a lack of fruit. Slightly under-ripe green notes. Decent length, but awkward. Conditions were maybe a little unfair on this – it was literally “straight off the back of a lorry” having suffered a long motorway journey on the eve of the tasting.

Laurel Glen (Napa) “Counterpoint” Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 – £13.99
Very deep, dark, purple/black. Beautifully rich seam of blackcurrant fruit. Cool and creamy, but quite monolithic. Palate has a great wedge of ripe blackcurrant fruit that pushes through high acidity. Good tannins underpin all the fruit, but it does stay rather one-dimensional. Sweet vanillin oak in the finish which is long and pure. Good.

Quilceda Creek (Washington State) Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 – £29.99
Another extremely dark, dense crimson/purple. Lovely blackcurranty fruit, vanilla and a plummy depth – maybe some Merlot in with the Cabernet? Chewy texture with medium weight. Ripe berry flavours and a depth of chocolaty richness. Cracked black pepper and spice. High acidity again and needs some time, but this has balance and a set of complex flavours that are very promising. Very good.

Philip Togni (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 – £41.99
Opaque, black, some crimson on rim. Asonishingly intense, earthy, deep, animal nose. Lovely, lush, leafy Cabernet Sauvignon with charred qualities and lots of enveloping roasted fruit aromas. Beautifully ripe and sweet fruit on the palate: mulberries, blackcurrants with notes of cloves, cinammon and spice. Complex nuances of earth, minerals and gravel. Really immense concentration, complexity and balance. Acidity and tannins are in harmony. Lovely and will develop further.
I last tasted the ’93 vintage of this. It’s now very expensive, but has tremendous quality. The star of the tasting without a doubt.