Ravenswood Zinfandel, California, Vintner's Blend, 1997, $7 G+
Spicey with bright fruit, but not especially interesting or balanced. Might take some time to come together in the bottle [1/16].
Wellington Zinfandel, Russian River, 1996, $9 G+
Syrupy, spicy, with the fruit displaying a slightly turned flavor. I wasn't impressed [1/16].
Seghisio Zinfandel, Sonoma, 1997, $9 VG
Lots of chocolate and vanilla in the nose, with the expected oak following through on the palate, but plenty of fruit to produce a pleasing balance in the David Bruce style [1/16]. Spicey, with ripe blackberry fruit, and a little hot because of the 14.1% alcohol level. Took a half-hour to open up, but then was a remarkable pleasure [1/18]. A couple of weeks later, it took even longer to open up, initially showing little fruit, just dry oak flavors [2/6]. The following night, it was all one could hope for in an inexpensive Zin in terms of fruit and balance, although still showing little bouquet [2/7].
Vigil Zinfandel, Lodi, Mohr-Fry Ranch Old Vines, 1997, $13 VG
A downright intriguing Zin on the tasting bar--showing silkiness, spice, chocolate and vanilla--it disappointed with dinner, with excessive vanilla flavors indicative of overoaking, but at least there is fruit to match [1/16]. A month later, it balanced out considerably, with equal amounts fruit and vanilla [2/14].
Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek, 1996, $13 VG+
A solid Cab with nice varietal fruit and spice [1/16]. Has come together in the last few months, with the fruit moving forward and making for nice sipping [7/10].
Terra d'Algi Red, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 1994, G-
Dry, oakey, and lacking in fruit [1/16].
Da Vinci Late Harvest Riesling, Sierra Foothills, 1987, $5/half VG+
That's right, five dollars for a 1987 late-harvest Riesling, and a fine one it is. Thick texture, sweetness, varietal Riesling fruit, and hints of orange. None of the ``turned'' flavors that often appear in late-harvest Rieslings or other dessert wines [1/16]. After having another bottle, I discovered that I tried this last year and was a bit turned off by burnt rubber flavors. This one was a bit in between--it possessed some bitterness that I didn't detect in the previous bottle, but not burnt rubber [3/12].
Lockwood Chardonnay, Monterey, 1997, $10 VG
More enjoyable than the '96, but still a little funky. Buttery oak, but maybe a bit much, racy acidity, and a little tar in the finish. Definitely an interesting quaff [1/23].
Villa Mt. Eden Chardonnay, Santa Maria, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Grand Reserve, 1997, $13 VG+
This brings back memories of some of my favorites last year, with big fruit fully complemented by buttery oak. Low in acidity, this favors savoring on its own, or maybe with salmon or the like. 14.2% alcohol. Yeah [1/23]. Lush Chard fruit in fat buttery oak. As good as last year's? I don't know, but it's outstanding [6/5]. By Christmas, this had lost some of the forward oak and had come somewhat racier [12/26].
Chasse Cellars Zinfandel, California, 1994, $6 G+
Light varietal fruit and spice and a touch acidic on its own. I didn't like it as much as my tastings last year, but even then I highly preferred this basically sound wine with food [1/23].
Tobin James Sangiovese, Paso Robles, Outlaw, 1997, $14 VG
Forward, spicy fruit with modest concentration and typical Sangiovese acidity that'll make it a joy with food. I'll take this over most any Chianti [1/23]. With a meal, the first impression was excessive grapiness, although once combined with food it became more restrained and complemented the food well. Not as assertive with food as I would have liked; is it under-oaked [2/5]?
Qupe Syrah, Central Coast, 1997, $12 VG+
Complex. Rich fruit with spiciness and a bit of tar that give this wine vibrance. It seems to be a bit more polished than it was a couple of months ago. A bargain for quality Syrah [1/23].
Greenwood Ridge Merlot, Mendocino Ridge, 1996, $18 VG-
Why is it that all the really good Merlots, and some that aren't so good, are always $18? This one has nice varietal fruit, but it lacks the balance of the Swanson, and came across as slightly acidic [1/23]. A bit grassy [1/29].
Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 1996, $12 VG
Exceptional balance for a wine in this price range, with smooth varietal fruit, vanilla, and chocolate flavors [1/23]. With a meal, I found it a bit restrained and rough, but still quite enjoyable [3/27].
Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 1996, $10 VG
Dark varietal fruit mixed with tar; very unusual but strangely compelling in the way the fruit and tar form a seamless presentation. I give the Benziger the edge on quality, the Strong the edge on character [1/23].
Chappelet Cabernet Franc, Napa, 1996, $20 VG
This drinks like a Cab containing a good dose of Cab Franc. Cab Sauv fruit with the dusty fullness and leathery mouthfeel of Cab Franc. I give the Gehrs the edge at half the price, but this one could be special in a few years [1/23].
Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma, 1997, $7 VG-
Unusual, even for a Kenwood Sauv Blanc. Typically grassy, this one is a bit sweet with pretty lemon and grass flavors. Might make a nice lunch or dessert wine, or be matched with a fruit course [1/23].
Pirramimma Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia, 1996, $16 VG+
I've been shying away from affordable Australian Syrahs because of their grapey fruit and lack of structure and acidity. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up this rather expensive (for me) Shiraz based on a recommendation from a friendly customer at San Diego Wine Company. Upon opening it I knew that I didn't have a grapey fading flower, but the wine was dusty and restrained, the only immediate pleasure being the pretty nose. A half-hour later, though, opulent boysenberry fruit and hints of Eucalyptus were making things interesting. This is very much an Australian wine, the earth flavors are unlike those of France or the US. I think this wine will be quite fine in a few years and drinks well now with some time to open up [1/23].
Morgan Chardonnay, Monterey, 1997, VG
Lean and flinty with pretty fruit containing a touch of sweetness and hints of lemon and butter. In short, French-styled [1/29].
Pine Ridge Chardonnay, Carneros, Dijon Clones, 1997, Exc-
Buttery and toasty with mineral flavors. Slightly lean with a touch of citrus. An enticing cross between a French and California Chard [1/29].
Martin Ray Chardonnay, California, Mariage, 1995, VG+
Wild, gamey and rich, with grass, butter and spice flavors. Very unusual for a California Chard [1/29].
Landmark Chardonnay, Sonoma, Damaris, 1996, Exc-
Fat and buttery with very low acidity. An oversized Landmark Overlook [1/29].
Greenwood Zinfandel, Sonoma, 1997, $16 VG
Explosive forward fruit, zesty spice and citrus [1/29]. Not as much fun as some Zin's costing less [2/20].
Sausal Zinfandel, Alexander, Century Vines, 1996, $18 VG-
Rich flavor, but slightly turned [1/29].
Groth Chardonnay, Napa, 1997, $16 VG+
Rich fruit, acidic backbone, with restrained butter and oak [1/29].