M. Chevallier  Sparkling Wine, Spain, Carte Noir, NV/1996, $4  G+

This sparkling wine had more qualifiers on it than the back of a book cover, including ``Brut'', and ``Methode Traditionnelle''. The grapes come from the Cava region of Spain. This was one of the best sparklings I've ever had, but that's not saying much. It's fizz didn't go to my head, and the dryness was offset by a tasteful fruitiness, something like apples.

Topolos  Merlot, Russian River, 1990, $??  G

This winery is distinguished for its organic wines, particularly it's deliciously concentrated Zinfandel. This Merlot was something of a disappointment, but much better than we first felt. The wine was very light, a cranberry red. It's flavor, too, was somewhat thin and acidic, and tasted nothing like a Merlot. It reminded of a Beaujolais. However, after a few sips, the pleasures of the wine began to show through.

Kirkwood  Merlot, Comrat, Maldolva, 1994, $3  G+

This wine is produced by Hugh Ryman Wines in partnership wwith Comrat Winery in the new Republic of Maldolva. Hugh Ryman is an English winemaker. This wine had a lovely color and was quite delicious, loaded with fruit. It is not particularly full-bodied or complex, and only stands up moderately to food, but it was very enjoyable. A great bargain for the money.

My second tasting of this wine was a severe disappointment. I wonder if the bottle was corked. It was thin, very un-Merlot like, and had almost no flavor with slightly unpleasant sharpness. Being a Trader Joe's selection, it may have undergone significant abuse. I have a few more bottles, so we'll find out soon enough.

Stonehedge  Merlot, CA, Winemakers Reserve, 1995, $5  G

I recently saw a great review for Stonehedge's Chardonnay, so I thought I'd give this a try. The fact that it cost half the price of the Chard did give me pause, but I was looking for a good bargain. The wine was light and grapey in color for a Merlot, and tasted much more like a Zinfandel than a Merlot, but without the body. Still, an accessible wine that proved to me that not all good instances of a varietal need to be similar.

Black Mountain  Cabernet Sauvignon, CA, Fat Cat, 1993, $5  G+

This wine was surprisingly delicious. A very fruity, uncomplex wine, with oak and black cherries. It had only the slightest hint of something unpleasant, like the cherries tasting wrong. A great bargain.

Nathonson  Chard, CA, 1995, $12 (rest.)  G-

We had a glass of this at Thai Spice in La Jolla. It is a little on the thick side without the flavor to back it up. Perhaps too sweet. I'll pass.

Barton & Guestier  Merlot, France, Vin De Pays D'Oc, 1995, $4  G

This is not at all like an American Merlot. It lacked the softness of an American Merlot, showing bits of tannins, fruit, etc. I kind of look forward to the softness of a Merlot, so this was something of a disappointment, although this wine had plenty to offer in its place. And don't forget this cost only $4.

Caves des Papes  Red, Cotes du Rhone, 1993, $6  G

This is pretty typical of Sirah's I've had lately: peppery, corky. However, this is the best I've had lately amongst this sad selection. Neither the pepper nor cork were offensive, but rather, attractive. However, I think I'm something of a fruit freak, and this wine had little of that, and nothing really to replace it. This wine is from Chateauneauf-de-Pape, and Caves is apparently the oldest cellar in the area. If I'm not mistaken, Caves is a ``Negociant'', a broker that buys young wine or grapes and then ages it in their own barrels.

Jaffelin  Nouveau, Beaujolais, 1996, $8  G-

My second drinking of this wine was only slightly better than my '96 tasting. We chilled this one, which gave it needed structure, but it was still bitter.

Concannon  Petite Sirah, CA?, 1994, $?  G

This was a much better Sirah than I expected, given what I'd had lately. The Concannon was smooth and fruity, and fairly concentrated. In that concentration, though, there was an unpleasant dark flavor. Not strong, but lingering enough to lessen the pleasure.

Niebaum-Coppola  CF, Napa, 1994, $14 ``F C Family Wines''  Exc-

Wow! I've never had a Cabernet Franc varietal. This one showed tremendous concentration, fruit, and pleasant tannins. It definitely is reminiscent of a Cabernet Sauvignon, but it has its own pleasant character, a little less fruity, tanniny, something darker, more like chocolate there. Frankly, I never thought I could like a young red this much. Yum! I bet this would age well, not so much for the tannins, but for the concentration of flavor.

Lindemans  Merlot, Australia, Bin 40, 1995, $18 (r)  VG

We drank this with Indian food in Hillcrest with Verity. I was worried that it wouldn't stand up to the spicy food, but it did the job. It was nicely concentrated and had some distinctive fruity flavors behind the prototypical softness of a Merlot. The Wine Spectator rated it an 81, citing lack of fruit to balance the spice, but I would place it above that, at least with Indian food! I saw it priced at Cost Plus for $8.

Corbett Canyon  Merlot, San Luis Obispo, 1995, $3 ``Coastal Classic''  Fair+

Kind of sharp and empty. Better than my recent tasting of the Kirkwood, though. Not very Merlot-like.

Concannon  Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore V., Library Res., 1987, $9  VG

Full of fruit with subdued tannins. Not as soft as I expected, but it was an excellent complement to Maureen's ginger-scallion salmon. A very pleasant surprise and every sip a delight.

Paul Jaboulet Aine  Red Rhone, Crozes Hermitage, Les Jalets, 1994, $12  VG+

This wine came at the recommendation of the proprietor of the San Diego Wine Company. The Wine Spectator rated it 91 points in tastings, which is extraordinary for a wine of this price. It was a lovely, soft, fruity wine, with nice ``hidden'' flavors beneath the fruity surface. This is a 100% Syrah wine. I normally expect some astringent, peppery concoction, so I was absolutely delighted. We drank this with Beth and Sean as part of a pasta and spinach dinner. A very nice match. I would place this wine above the Concannon, but below the Neibaum-Coppola. A real bargain. Jaboulet is a negociant. Our latest tasting in mid-October was very different. The wine's lovely fruit has diminished, and the tannins are showing much more aggressively (even with grilled lamb). On the other hand, some nice complexity has emerged as well. I think the remaining bottles should not be drunk until 2000 or later, after the tannins have diminished some.

Wild Hog  Pinot Noir, CA, 1993, $10  VG-

I bought this wine at Brix after trying it at lunch with Danny. We drank it over at Suzanne and Steve's with an Italian torte. It was a light, bright red. Very drinkable, but lacking the concentration of flavor found in heartier California reds. The fruit was very nice. Maybe a slight chilling would have helped. Probably not a match for the Husch 91 Pinot Noir, though.

Geyser Peak  Merlot, CA, 1994, $5.25/glass  G+

I've had this wine twice now at Aesop's Tables. It is a very full-bodied, fruity Merlot. It has this wonderful Cassis accent that makes you think you might be drinking a liquer. Yum!

Niebaum-Coppola  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, Gustave Niebaum Commemorative Claret, 1991, $10  VG

They've done it again! Although not as concentrated and balanced as the Cabernet Franc, this is a wonderal wine. It is delightfully concentrated and fruity. The tannins are quite discernable, but not offensive. Maureen says that she'd prefer something a little softer, so I think I'll age the second bottle a few years. Another San Diego Wine Company recommendation.

Well, we drank the second bottle sooner than we thought. The second drinking confirmed our first impressions, although it seemed a bit less concentrated in contrast to the first bottle of the evening, the King Estate Pinot Noir.

Chateau Ste. Michelle  Merlot, WA, Columbia V., 1993?, $5.75/glass  VG

This was a full-bodied, fruity Merlot with hints of chocolate. A really fun bouquet, too. Perhaps better than the '92 we had last year. Tried it at F.P. Changs China Bistro. I'm unsure of the year because I didn't get a look at the bottle, but Wine Spectator reviewed the '93 in June, so the '94 probably isn't out yet.

Delheim  Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa, Grand Reserve, 1991, $27  VG+

I drank this at Raku in Vancouver with a bunch of UBC CS people and Joe. The meal was a remarkable selection of appetizers mixing all sorts of Asian and Western cuisines. The wine was full-bodied, fruity, and smooth, but not yet soft. A really admirable wine.

Lindemans  Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia, bin 45, 1994, $4/gl.  G+

I drank this budget wine with a steak aged 28 days, again in Vancouver. The wine had a lot of potential, but I felt it was over oaked, compromising it's fruit and making it a tad bitter. For steak, something less oaky probably would have been better, but I didn't want to risk the local Merlot!

Markham  Merlot, Napa, 1994, $12  VG+

Yum! This Merlot was showed beautiful fruit, especially cherries. Tannins were present but not obtrusive at all. This came highly recommended from the San Diego Wine Company, and they were right on the mark. Wine Spectator rated it an 89, but suggested holding it until 1999 or 2001, calling it ``tightly wound.'' We disagree. Although it would certainly become softer in a few years, it might lose that wonderful fruit.

Cline  ``Rhone'', CA, Cotes D'Oakley, 1995, $5  G+

A rather typical budget wine in its lack of depth and balance, but also pleasant in its fruitiness and interest pepper flavors. This is a blend of a wide variety of Rhone grapes: Carignane, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Alicante Bouschet. And these are 75-100 year old vines. Whoa! For all that I would have expected a better wine. But this is a Rhone with Syrah tenendcies, so aging is probably in store, and indeed, the bottle says ``Drink now, or cellar 3 to 5 years.'' I believe it! Another San Diego Wine Company recommendation. Definitely a bargain for $5, but no match for a more expensive SDWC recommendation, just as Tom claimed!

King Estate  Pinot Noir, Eugene Oregon, 1994, $14  VG+

Another fine San Diego Wine Company recommendation. The owner touted this as a more balanced (though not necessarily more enjoyable) Pinot than some of the California selections, although fruit and concentration were not lacking. It *is* very well balanced, with little showing in tannins and no discernable flaws. Probably wouldn't age well.

Our second tasting of this wine confirms the previous rating, although my personal preference might be for more concentation, at least with a hearty wild Copper River salmon, as this one was drunk with.

Saintsbury  Pinot Noir, Carneros Napa, 1995, $18 (list)  VG

This wine was highly recommended by Wine Spectator (88) and was carried by the San Diego Wine Company. I found it to be slighly less balanced and pleasant than the King Estate, but that could well be that it's a year younger and could withstand some cellaring. Paris (SDWC) also said that the '94s are a bit richer. I'm having a hard time with the distinction between VG and VG+ these days.

Beautour (BV)  Red Table Wine, Napa, 1992, $?  G

Certainly an unoffensive wine, clearly based on the Cabernet grape. Has some tannins and plenty of flavor. It could even improve in the next few years.

Seghisio  Zinfandel, Sonoma, 1995, $8  G+

The typical pepper flavors of this Zin make this less desirable than the Beaulieu.

Cotes de Sonoma  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 1995, $8  G+

This was unusual, but not in the most pleasant way.

Estancia  Meritage, CA?, 1994, $14 ($33 rest.)  Exc-

This is a rich, balanced wine with plenty of fruit. It has the edge over the Benzizer (below), but perhaps just barely. Like the Benziger, it is a Bordeaux blend, favoring CS at 66% over Merlot and CF. I've got two bottles aging. We'll see how long I can wait!

Our second tasting of this wine came at Piatti's when Madge and Dad visited. Wow! I instantly upgraded this from a VG+ to and Exc-. This may be the best wine I've had this year, tied with the Niebaum-Coppola CF. Exceptional dark fruit, tame tannins, lovely concentration, and balance to die for. On the finish I sensed something resembling chocolate--a first for me. Unlike a straight Cab, whose rough edges can beg for food, this could be drunk all on its own. I don't think I'll be aging this wine after all!

David Bruce  Petite Sirah, San Luis Obispo, 1995, $10  VG+

This is a dazzling wine. I tend to prefer Sirah's that hide the trademark peppery notes, but this has the concentration and fruit to make it a whole package. We tasted this at the SDWC, but waited a couple of weeks to buy a bottle because we couldn't figure out what to drink it with. It's just so powerful!

We finally decided to drink when Dad and Madge visited, with grilled lamb shoulder chops, herbed with dried Rosemary. It was a good choice. Although the wine showed some unruliness on the first sip, it quickly settled down and made itself a first class citizen of the meal. It has some edgy tannins, but I think they were tamed by the lamb (as were the peppery notes).

Marietta  Old Vine Red, CA, Lot #19, NV/1997, $7  VG

Mmmm. This is probably the best wine that I've ever had for $7. There is absolutely no flaw in this wine, and it shows balance, fullness, and dark fruit to enjoy. Unnoticeable tannins. I would actually give the edge to this wine over the Niebaum-Coppola Claret for its balance. The Niebaum could be better in a few years, though. A San Diego Wine Company recommendation. This is actually a combination of several grape varieties; the label suggests Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay. I never would have guessed. Many of these are grapes that I struggle with. I guess the blending and ``old vines'' make a big difference. Compare to the Cline above, which on the surface is a similar wine.

My second tasting of this at Gary Shiffman's confirms the earlier tasting. Just a lovely wine. My third tasting was less memorable. I had just bought a case that day and I think the wine was slightly traumatized. Disappointing, since it was our first use of our new Reidel glasses. These glasses did show a pleasant but reserved bouquet. My fourth tasting revived my love for this wine. The dark fruit take some time to open up in the glass.

BTW, I glanced at Parker's guide (and the side of the Marietta wine box), and the Lot 12, 13, 14, 15, and 18 are amongst his favorite wines, consistenty rating them 89-90. Parker suggests that Zin may be the dominant grape.

Morgan Lake  Pinot Noir, Willamette V., 1993, $4  G

Considering the price, this wine is just fine. It is light and very much a Pinot. A bit of an edge, but not at all offensive with food. Stood up to the moderately spicey Thai food we had. Maureen said it was the best wine she ever had for $4.

Chateau Souverain  Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander V., 1993, $23 (rest.)  VG+

This was a somewhat random pick from The Gastronome's (Idyllwild) wine list. The most prevalent flavor is oak. Almost too much, but really well balanced by substantive cab flavors like chocolate and ripe fruit. Basically, we loved it and I'd drink it again. After our first sip, we realized we had to order red meat--that's a first for us--so we chose to split a rack of lamb. Excellent choice. The wine and lamb blended to form a splendid combination. The oak was simply too forward to go with fish.

Sutter Home  Chard, CA?, 1995, $?  G

This is a simple, slightly sweet (semi-dry?) Chardonnay. Nothing to write home about. I'll stick with the R. W. Morris for cheap Chard.

Beaulieu  Zinfandel, Napa, 1995, $9  VG+

Yum! I read about this in the Wine Spectator (91) and the SDWC's April flyer, and then raced over there to try it and buy a couple of bottles. I rated it a VG+ at the time, and I think I'll stick to that. It's basically a flawless wine with lots of fruit and spice, without that annoying pepperiness that less balanced Zins have. We drank it as an pre-dinner wine over at Steve's Passover Seder.

A second bottle of this wine revealed an odd (but not unpleasant) corky flavor that may have been induced by drinking Chardonnay first. The Chard's tartness may have (de)sensitized me in some odd way.

Our third bottle, with Dad and Madge during appetizers, was excellent. No corkiness, just fruit and some pepper notes. Excellent concentration.

Kendall-Jackson  Cabernet Sauvignon, CA, Vintner's Res., 1994, $?  VG-

My first impressions of K-J were very positive. I've now come to believe (after tasting this wine and following the wine press) that they can make some good wines but are simply too big and expanding too aggressively to consistently produce quality. The fact that they called this a Reserve without it being particularly special is just another indicator. This wine was a Cab, but it did not exhibit any special qualities, delightful fruit, oak, concentration, etc. On the other hand, the tannins and the creme fraische mustard sauce in Steve's chicken dish did complement each other. No match for the Zin earlier in the evening.

Estancia  Chard, Monterey C., 1992, $?  VG

To me, this is what Chardonnay is all about. Buttery, metallic, maybe oakey, positively refreshing, and deep yellow. At this age, it has had some time to develop some complexity. I've probably had only a couple of Chard's that are better than this one, and maybe not. This came late in the evening after two reds, but it did not pale at all. This might be a VG+. Jay Moody brought this wine to the Seder.

J. W. Morris  Chardonnay, CA, 1995, $3.49  G+

This wine is unbeatable for the price. Dry, clear, steely, and sharp, this wine is extremely refreshing. It's not a complex, wine, though. I rated their 94 last year at G+, too.

Benziger  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, Five Bordeaux Varietals, 1994, $10  VG+

This wine rated a 90 in the Wine Spectator, and I can see why! It's fruity and balanced, with pleasant tannins. The grapes of the five varietals are Cab, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec. Other varieties may be used to balance any particular bottling. Well, they succeeded. Although this wine was delicious on its own, it really opened up with the grilled Salmon that we were serving. My guess is that the tannins and fat of the fish blended to seduce me.

Ficklin  Port, CA, NV/1996, $8  Fair

This wine was a terrible disappointment, especially being from the SDWC. The wine had a light color, insubstantial bouquet, and showed sicky sweetness with little flavor. A slight pepperiness didn't help.

La Playa  Merlot, Maipo Chile, 1995?, $4  G+

Definitely the leading ``cheap'' Chilean Merlot. SDWC has it for about $4. We drank this at the Athenaeum Music Library in La Jolla for the opening of Ernie's show. Definitely a safe wine.

Bolla  Merlot, Italy, ``Table Wine of Venice'' (trns.), 1995, $?  Fair

Very thin with a dominating acid flavor (due to other flavors being missing). The color was pale in contrast to the Marietta.

Concha y Toro  Merlot, Chile, 1995, $?  G-

Had a peculiar ``turned'' flavor with a zip of pepper in it. Intriguing but not pleasant.

Santa Catalina  Merlot, Chile, 1995, $?  G-

Less distinctive and less offensive than the Concha y Toro. Pepper makes a slight note here, too.

Pine Ridge  Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 1994, $15  VG

Showing bright fruit with a tannic edge. Could stand some cellaring, although perhaps lacking the concentration for long-term cellaring. Might be ready in a few years.

Clos Pegase  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $16  VG

More balanced than the Pine Ridge, with a nice bouquet. Again, doesn't taste ready to drink or that cellar-worthy.

Kara's Vineyard  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $18  VG+

Very unusual in contrast to the other 1994's. It has quite an herbal quality, but it has the concentration to balance it. The guy next to me at SDWC thought the wine was corked, but he was overreacting. I think this wine could develop nicely in the cellar, although the loss of fruit could be detrimental against the herbal flavors. This rating is purely provisional. Could be really good with a heavily seasoned red meat.

Venezia  Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander, 1994, $17  VG+

Very approachable, unoffensive, showing modest tannins. Maybe should be cellared.

Groth  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $22  VG

Showing the typical Cabernet fruit and tannins, but with a bitter(?) finish.

Pride Mtn  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $22  VG+

A delicious wine, quite heavy with solid fruit and tannins. Cellar-worthy.

Fischer  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, Coach Insignia, 1994, $19  VG+

A very nice C. Franc-ish Cab. Quite distinctive in contrast to most of the other 94's, and ready to drink now, although it could be cellared.

Rutz  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $20  VG

Lacks the flavor of some of the other 94's. Compare, perhaps, to the Pine Ridge.

Staglin  Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 1994, $30  Exc-

A very substantial wine, with concentration, fruit, and tannins to spare, although not that offensive. A stand-out, but hey, it costs more, too.

Hardy's  Tawny Port, Australia, 1994?, $10 ``Whisker Blake''  VG

Obviously a great wine, just not my cup of tea. Tawny's lack fruit, and it's fruit I like.

Preston  Faux, Sonoma, Rhone Style, 1995, $7  G+

A bright, grapey wine with some tannins. Lacks the concentration or darkness to really tame the tannins. This was recommended by SDWC to replace the Marietta. Not quite, unfortunately, but still a delicious wine.

Villa Mt. Eden  Merlot, Napa, Grand Reserve, 1994, $14  VG-

This wine was somewhat disappointing. It showed snappy fruit and tannins, grapey bouquet, and lacked the trademark softness of a Merlot. Moreover, it took a while for the wine to open up, and never developed a finish. Very closed. Given this price and reserve status, no doubt they intended me to drink this closer to 2000. My mistake, I suppose, for not waiting. I should have learned more about it.

Napa Ridge  Pinot Noir, CA, North Coast, 1995, $7  VG-

This Pinot is modestly light with some tannins, but definitely has enough flavor to provide a reasonably balanced experience. Fine, grapey bouquet. No match for the King Estate, though, which was showed less tannins, more flavor, and superior balance. This might actually improve for another year.

My second tasting of this wine was quite revealing. It was almost magic with grilled turkey burgers, but unremarkable on its own. Not surprisingly, it didn't stand up to bleu cheese, either. I'd actually rate this a Very Good with simple foods. My latest tasting at SDWC in early October confirms previous tastings. Fair body and nice flavors, this time showing a pleasant sweetness, perhaps because of my low-carb diet.

Newton  Claret, Napa, 1994, $32 (rest.)  VG

Very balanced, as might be expected from a Claret. Showing fine fruit, and pleasant tannins. Had this and the next two and Dakota Grill.

Beaulieu  Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 1994, $10  VG-

Coming on the heals of the more expensive Newton ($6 vs. $8 a glass), this was very impressive. Bright fruit, lush, and subdued tannins, but not to the point of blandness.

Tasting this a second time at home left a slightly different impression. It is somewhat lighter than the other Cabs I've had recently, but some nice spicey notes. I'm revising downward to VG-, although I give the edge to the Columbia Crest for its chocolate flavors and greater concentration.

Presidio  Merlot, CA, 1995?, $24 (rest.)  G

Bland and unremarkable, but not embarassing. My perceptions could have been influenced by drinking the Newton before tryingn it.

St. Francis  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 1995, $8  VG-

Tom of SDWC recommended this when I went to pick up a couple of bottles of the Beaulieu, saying he thought the St. Francis was a match for it. He's right, although to me it may not be as fruity and shows more tannins. But hey, this is a '95, $2 cheaper, and those tannins are not necessarily bad, especially in a year. It went very well with the lamb chops I grilled. Interestingly, St. Francis uses a synthetic cork that preserves much of the aesthetics of real cork, but doesn't suffer from ``corking'' problems.

Our second bottle of this wine while camping near Big Sur was very nice. I think the simplicity of the wine blended well with the rusticity of the surroundings and the white bean and sausage pasta that Chris and Kim cooked.

Cachao  Vintage Port, Portugal, 1983, $?  G+

This port was rich in flavor despite its light color (due to aging I suspect). It had a bit of an edge--maybe tannins, I'm not sure--but it was actually pleasant. Some of these characteristics could be due to the fact that the wine had been opened for a while. We tried it at Jeanne and Larry's.

St. Supery  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, Dollarhide Ranches, 1994, $10  VG

This is another recommendation of Tom's of SDWC. He thought this was head-and-shoulders above the Beaulieu for the same price. The fruit is somewhat darker/riper than the St. Francis and Beaulieu. It took quite a while to open up, but it was worth the wait. Could cellar reasonably well for a couple of years.

Our second bottle was served with grilled shark. It was just as delicious. It didn't take long to open this time, showing dark fruit and enticing earthy flavors. More interesting than the St Francis and Beaulieu.

Rutherford Vineyards  Merlot, CA, 1995, $6  VG-

We drank this last year in the desert on the Solctice, and did it again this year completely by accident. This wine is really good--fine bright fruit, body, and balance. It's got an edge, but it is not offensive. It does not taste a lot like a Merlot, which is typical of the lower priced ones. I'll bet there is a fair bit of Cab in there, which is OK by me.

Santa Rita  Cabernet Sauvignon, Rapel V. Chile, 1995, $??  G

Basically unoffensive, but lacks anything truly enjoyable. Goes down without notice, with virtually no finish.

La Caumette  Merlot, France, Vin de Pays D'Oc, 1994, $5  G

This wine was interesting for its steeliness, so unlike our fruity, soft Merlots.

Vino de Eyzaguirre  Cabernet Sauvignon, San Fran. de Mostazal, Cachapoal Va. Chile., 1993, $4?  G

A recommendation as a good cheap wine by SDWC. This wine had a kind of syrupy taste that reminded me of a port, and not showing any of the typical flavors of a Cab. Showed more character than the Santa Rita. I'm sticking with La Playa.

Estancia  Cabernet Sauvignon, CA, 1994, $9  G+

This is a fine inexpensive Cab. Nice fruit, a pleasant bouquet, unoffensive tannins, but lacking on concentration and balance.

Fonseca  Port, Oporto, Bin No. 27, NV, $11  G+

Tom of SDWC pushed this after I expressed my disappointment over the Ficklin Port from California. This is definitely a move in the right direction, although it is not head-and-shoulders above the other cheap ports I've tried. It's a tad cloying and syrupy. I know it's a port, but I think I'm looking for something a little more refined.

Cosentino  Merlot, Napa, Unfined, 1994, $29 (rest.)  VG+

This was recommended by the waiter at Trattoria Acqua in lieu of the Estancia Meritage, since I had just had it earlier in the week. It is a limited production Merlot made in the French style. Indeed, it had elements that reminded me of the La Caumette Merlot, but with significantly more fruit and concentration. I would say, however, that this wine did not successfully integrate the steely flavors with the ample fruit. Regardless, it was an outstanding wine and a unique experience.

Husch  Pinot Noir, Alexander V., Library Reserve, 1991, $10  VG

Six months after my first bottle of this, I had a second bottle. I'm downgrading my rating to VG, as the wine's spiciness is not adequately balanced by fruit or concentration of other flavors. On the other hand, this is a fine wine, with ample interesting flavors and a bit of a bite. Drank with wild Alaskan King Salmon on the day of getting our new gas grill. I note, also, that this wine is apparently 1 dollar cheaper than last winter. Could it be that this wine is now fading? I did notice that this wine is quite light and even showing some browning at the edge of the glass.

Carneros Alambic Distillery  Mistel de Soleil, CA, NV, $12  VG

This is a white dessert wine, but it is made from an old technique in which the fortification is accomplished by adding 25% brandy. This gave the wine a beautiful caramel color and flavor. I drank it over ice and complemented it with salty foods such as cheeses. Very refreshing. The bottle did not actually say Carneros Alambic Distillery in Napa, but rather RSN Vineyards. Also, I brought this wine to Scott's, so I'm not sure I'm recalling the name of the wine propery.

Calloway  Chard, Temecula, Calla Lees, 1996, $7  G+

This is not your typical Chard, but then Temecula is not your typical wine district. This wine has grassy and lemony notes, with a bit of snap that makes it quite refreshing on a hot afternoon.

Columbia Crest  Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, 1994, $7|$2/187ml  VG

Full bodied chocolate flavors dominate this wine, making it an easy wine to drink. Tannins are modest and pleasant. Perhaps a little on the cloying side, but nothing to be ashamed of. Later: Pleasant flavors of chocolate and fruit. Soft tannins. Simple and friendly. We drank this on several of our hikes in the Sierras. Earlier rating was a G+, but perhaps a little age brought it up.

Domaine Clavel  Les Garrigues, Coteaux du Languedoc, Terrior de la Mejanelle, 1995, $7  VG-

This wine is very French--supposedly very much like a Chateauneuf du Pape. The wine has a very pleasant forward fruit, with a steely, lean finish. On its own, there is a cloying sweetness that dominates the fruit, but with food--and particularly with the grilled salmon we had--it was the complete wine, blending perfectly with our meal. Its balance is achieved in part by an equal mix of Syrah and Grenache Noir. It is imported by Jeffery Davies, who is supposed to be the next hot thing in French import wines. Recommended by Paris of SDWC.

Domaine Champault  White Sancerre, Sancerre, 1995, $14  VG-

This wine was sweet and crisp, reminding me of a German Reisling.

Domain de Goussergues  Chardonnay, Vin du Pays, 1996, $6  G

Very dry without the fruit to support it.

Domaine Olivier Leflaire Freres  White, Rully 1st Cru, Grand Vin de Bourgogne, 1994, $16  VG+

A lovely, buttery wine with a lingering metallic finish. Leflaire operates out of Puligny-Montrachet in the Cote d'Or, but has fields in Rully as well. My second tasting, in mid-October at home with cheese and pate was a much different experience, although still pleasant. It was very crisp, showing fine acidity and a lot less butteriness. My guess is that the heat has taken the bloom off the fruit. The other bottle probably shouldn't be opened until 2000.

Schoffit  Pinot Blanc, Vin D'Alsace, Auxerrois, 1995, $12  VG

A sweet, lush, lovely white reminiscent of German wines, but much more substantial and flavorful than the Champault.

Paul Jaboulet Aine  Parallele 45, Cotes du Rhone, 1995, $6  G+

This wine is no match for the Les Jalets, but it is very interesting. A red bursting with pepper and fruit, with earthy notes. Slightly cloying, but would probably tamer with food, especially strong cheese or lamb. Parker gave it an 89, but I can't agree.

Chateau de Campuget  Red Nimes, Costieres de Nimes, 1996, $6  G+

Similar to the Parallele 45, but much restrained, especially in the cloying fruit and earth tones. Another Parker 89. Composed of Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet from 50 year old vines.

Chateau Mandagot  Montpeyroux, Coteaux du Languedoc, 1995, $7  G+

Dry and somewhat metallic.

Chateau La Brunette  Red Bordeaux, Bordeaux, 1995, $8  G+

Dry, acidic, tannic, and lacking fruit.

Domaine Durand  Syrah, Coteaux de Lezignan, 1995, $7  G+

Earthy and unusual. Judy said it reminded her of baby aspirin.

Domaine de Andezon  Red Rhone, Cotes du Rhone, 1996, $8  G

Musty, vegetal, peppery. An Eric Solomon selection. My second tasting of this was more favorable, but still earthy, peppery, and rather dry. I'm upgrading from below good to good.

Dom. Canet Valette  White, Saint Chinian, 1995, $10  G+

Yet another fruity, peppery French wine.

Domaine Clavel  La Copa Santa, Coteaux du Languedoc, 1995, $14  VG

Sweet fruit, peppery, with a nice bouquet. Parker gave it a 93.

Chateau Lavabre  Pic San Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, 1995, $12  VG+

Fruity, chalky.

Domaine de la Janasse  Red, Chateauneuf du Pape, Cuvee Chaupin, 1995, $20  VG

Fruit and pepper. Parker gave it a 90-92.

Domaine de Baruel  Red, France, 1994, $12  VG

A very nice red, with very forward fruit and pepper. Perhaps a match for the Lavabre given some time to age. Composed for Syrah and Cabernet. Vega Sauco  Crianza, Toro, 1994, $9  VG-

Given the Parker rating of 90 and called the future Caymus of Spain, I was expecting more. However, the fruit was really pleasant and it went nicely with grilled turkey burgers. Maybe too subtle for a party at Kathleen Hancock's.

Joseph Phelps Vin du Mistral  Pastiche, CA, 1995, $6  G+

Another Rhone-style blend from California. This one is much like the Preston, bright fruit and relatively simple flavors, but more balanced and refined.

Chalk Hill  Sauvignon Blanc, C.H. Sonoma, 1994, $?  VG-

Grassy, but lush, this wine was very satisfying with bread and goat cheese down at La Jolla Shores to celebrate Judy's successful PhD defense. For style, I'd put it between the staid, pristine Robert Mondavi and the wild, grassy Kenwood.

Chateau de Campuget  Red, Costieres de Nimes, 1996, $6  VG-

This is a classic peppery Rhone, no doubt heavily Syrah. There is enough fruit to make this wine palatable, and the earthy notes definitely make for interesting drinking. Best with strong flavors. We drank it as an appetizer wine at Steve's with chips and such. A later drinking of this came at home with Mexican food. It is flavor-packed, full of earth and fruit (the fruit a definite second). An interesting wine to spend some real time with.

Guenoc  Petit Verdot, Napa, 1993, $14  VG

This wine is an explosion of ripe fruit and earthy flavors like vanilla. A very unique wine indeed. The Petit Verdot is one of the five Bordeaux varietals, and is only made as a California varietal by three wineries. Perhaps a little too unique for chicken fajitas at Steve's. We drank this wine to celebrate Maureen changing her chair to be Arendt Lipjart. Could be a VG+; might be worth trying again with steak or lamb, but its unique character was too distracting with the fajitas. I thought the spiciness would be a good match.

Orfila  Sangiovese, San Diego, di Collina, 1995, $12  VG

Fruity, lush, with spice and oak flavors. Lightly colored, but still bursting with flavor. The French oak did seem to clash a little with the Italian ancestory, or rather may have unduly accented the spicy flavors already there, but the fruit was dark and full enough to make for a very, very pleasant experience. We drank this at La Taverna in La Jolla, a little Parma Italian place we like. I thought it went especially well with my pasta and mushrooms dish, which had dark flavors and tomato accents. Close to a VG+.

Rutherford Vintners  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 1995, $6  G

This is actually the folks who used to be called Rutherford Vineyards, but lost a law suit that their name fooled buyers into thinking the wine was from the Rutherford appellation. Oh, well. Anyway, this wine is something of a disappointment. It lacked depth, fruit, and varietal character, allowing the acidic and tannic components to dampen the experience. No match for their '95 Merlot, which I haven't seen recently.

My second tasting of the same bottle two weeks later was quite a different experience. The fruit was more tangible, and the tannic elements seemed to be tamed. My guess is that the long exposure to the air allowed the wine to open up a bit. Still no match for the Merlot.

Dom. de Pouy  Ugni Blanc, Cotes de Gascogne, 1996, $5  G+

This is a Robert Kacher selection, supposedly the mark of an affordable quality wine. Indeed, this sweet fruity white rates well. Jim and Judy's ``house white''.

Duck Pond  Merlot, Columbia Valley WA, 1995, $18 (rest.)  G+

Not what I expected on the heals of fine Merlots from Chateau St. Michelle. This was light, acidic, and maybe tannic. It did open up over time.

Murphy Goode  SB, Sonoma, 1996, $15 (rest.)  VG-

This pristine white is almost clear with crisp refreshing acidity. I was hoping for more body and character, even grassiness, for the oysters and grilled salmon that I was eating. Rated 88 by Wine Spectator. Guess I should have held out for their '95 reserve, which had more body and character.

Baron Phillipe Rothschild Mouton Cadet  Bordeaux, 1990, $6.50/hf (rest.)  VG-

I wasn't expecting much from this wine, but knew it had to be better than anything else on the menu at Cascade Pizza Inn in Bellingham. I was shocked to see it was a '90; it must have been lying around since the place opened. 1990 was a great year for Bordeaux's, and seven years of aging couldn't be bad. In fact, it was very good. It was soft, but still had fruit and had developed real character including mineral tones. It had a nice finish with a hint of licorice. And the price was reasonable, too!

Hedges  CS/Merlot, WA, 1995?, $5/glass  G

Excessively fruity, even sweet. I would guess that this wine had been pumped up with sugar to aid fermentation, resulting in a one-dimensional wine. To its credit, the Merlot came through nicely, with a little pepper.

Merryvale  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1995, $14  VG

To say the least, I've had mixed results of this wine. My first tasting at San Diego Wine Company was heaven--memories of the Estancia '94 Meritage. My second try was at Mike's in Vancouver, where its bouquet was outstanding, but tannins and acid were a little on the strong side. The warmth also seemed to enhance the alcoholic flavor. Our third try was at Jim and Judy's, which came with some trepidation. Indeed, it was no match for the Altamura Sangiovese that we tasted side by side, especially with the spicy Mexican food that followed. It was simply too light. Is it my palate, or is it bottle variation? Is it the choice of food? I don't know. But I've got four more bottles to find out. Aging could help it, but the last bottle was light enough to worry me in this regard. My third tasting was much more positive. It had nice, firm fruit, tannins, and body.

Fazi Battaglia's Castelpliano  Sangiovese, 1995, $21 (rest.)  VG-

Mike, Linda, Maureen and I drank this at a cute little Italian restaurant in Vancouver's Gas Town. Quite a pleasant surprise after the failures of Bellingham. It had the classic peppery fruit of Sangiovese, but may have been a bit more concentrated than the domestic Orfila. I felt it was not a match for the Merryvale earlier in the evening.

Paul Thomas  Merlot, WA, 1995, $19 (rest.)  G+

Soft, with chocolaty fruit. Sweet and one dimensional like the Hedges.

Heitz Cellars  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Martha's Vineyard, 1980, $15-$150  VG+

This unusual wine was a gift to Judy from her brother-in-law Jerry for her successful defense. It was awash in all sorts of flavors, including menthol, traditional Cab fruit, blue cheese, and earth. It still had bright color (with a little orange fringing) and lots of fruit, despite 17 years of aging. A very unique experience, but not a great wine.

Teofilo Reyes  Red, Riera Del Duero, Spain, 1994, $22  VG+

A very enjoyable wine, although our palettes had probably been considerably turned around by the Heitz. It was a lovely combination of earth and fruit, with nice concentration. Jim claims it has an aged quality--I would call it balance or smoothness. More enjoyable than the Heitz, although not a comparable experience in any realistice sense.

Sierra Cantabria  Red, Rioja, 1990, $10  G

Jim was very excited by this wine, but after the Teofilo Reyes, it was a a disappointment. It was comparatively light--not surprising given its seven years of aging and lower price--putting it at a significant disadvantage.

Taylor Fladgate  Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal, 1991, $12  VG-

Finally, a Port that I can get along with! After the bomb of the Ficklin and the small disappointment of the Fonseca, I enjoyed this Port without reservation. I'm still looking forward to trying the Captain Whidbey's again.

Altamura  Sangiovese, Napa, 1994, $19  VG+

This was my favorite wine of our trip to the Northwest. It showed beautiful dark fruit and oak, was smooth and balanced but had a little earth. Best of all (to my mind), it lacked the peppery tones of the Orfila and Castelpliano. Jim thought this Teofilo Reyes was better, but I would have to disagree. However, they were tasted under disimilar conditions, so only a side-by-side tasting would prove it out.

Niebaum-Coppola  Gustave Niebaum Commemorative Claret, Napa, Black Label, 1993, $10  VG-

Jim, Judy and I drank this after the Altamura, so it was no surprise that it seemed a little light. However, it fared better than the Merryvale, perhaps because the Mexican food and the Altamura were actually gone. Still shows a reasonable amount of tannins and acid, so aging won't hurt it.

Machiavelli  Red, Chianti Classico, Riserva, 1991, $34 (rest.)  VG-

We drank this at La Dolce Vita in downtown La Jolla. Probably a $10-17 wine based on the markups on the wine menu. Chianti Riservas must spend 4 years in Oak barrels, making for very aromatic, oakey wines. Indeed, this was a powerful wine, by my tastes a little too acidic. However, over time the oak softened and the wine was enjoyable throughout, showing robust fruit and some typical Chianti peppery flavors. Stood up to my grilled gorganzola chicken and Maureen's flavorful ravioli in pink champagne cream sauce.

Gabbiano  Red, Chianti Classico, 1994, $11  VG-

Not a match in body with the Machiavelli, but it proved to be a pleasant appetizer wine with Gorganzola, roasted garlic, and Maureen's bruchetta. Light, fruity, with subdued oak and peppery tones. Too acidic to be drunk on its own. '94 was supposed to be a signature year for Chianti, which likely explains this wine's success.

Ch. Lavabre  Red, Languedoc, Pic Saint-Loup, 1995, $12  VG

This wine was not as full-bodied and concentrated as I remembered, but what really delighted me were the fruity blackberry and blueberry flavors in a typically French but subdued earthy mineral background. An Eric Soloman selection.

David Bruce  Petite Syrah, San Luis Obispo, 1993, $6  G

Tom of SDWC was quite excited by this wine, although honest in admitting it was no match for the '95. This wine was bright and grapey, and lacked the concentration and earth that distinguished the '95. I've finally decided that this is just not my style of wine. I like dark, ripe fruit.

On our second tasting a few days later from the same bottle, the wine's fruit was much darker and riper, bringing the wine tino G+ range. This is the second time I've experienced this. It seems that wines that are served too young may benefit from significant exposure to the air. The way these wines are stored is at room temperature with a VacuVin cork. There probably isn't much air in these bottles, but after 5-10 days, there can be significant exposure.

David Bruce  Petite Syrah, Paso Robles, Reserve, 1995, $16  VG+

This is one blockbuster of a wine. Explosive fruit, reminiscent of black raspberry sorbet, with exceptional balance and concentration. Another winning recommendation from SDWC. This wine is actually made entirely by grapes from the Shell Creek Vineyard. It would age well, but why wait?! To prepare this wine in the late Summer heat, I cooled the bottle in chilled water. Because it was young, I decanted it about an hour before we drank it, still chilling the decanter. It quickly warmed in the glass, ready to drink. I might give the edge to the Altamura for its earthy flavors, but the fruit of this wine is unmatched in my mind.

Our second tasting of this wine was a little disappointing. We drank it at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite with Duck L'Orange and Lamb Loin. It never really opened up. Perhaps decanting would have helped, or the travel had damaged it a little.

Estancia  Chard, Monterey, Pinnacles, 1995, $7  G+

A little sweeter than I would have liked, but still refreshing and enjoying to drink.

Columbia Crest  Merlot, Columbia Valley, 1994, $6.50/$10  VG-

The first tasting at a restaurant revealed a wine that was pleasant, soft, fruity, and full-bodied. My second tasting of this wine at home was even better, showing subtle but delightful chocolate flavors, with a bit of finesse. Could be very good.

Prodducto del Barbaresco  Red, Barbaresco, 1990, $?  VG

This wine is produced by a commune of some sort. It is a typical Italian wine--bright fruit, pleasant peppery notes, balanced with oak. Definitely more body than a typical Chianti, but not so unlike the '91 Machiavelli Chianti Riserva.

Fleur de Carneros  Pinot Noir, Napa Carneros, 1995, $8  VG

A spicy, sweet Pinot. Very pleasant.

Mendoza Ridge  Merlot, Argentina, 1996, $3.70  G

Peppery, sweet and spicy, with a dry finish. Not much like a Merlot in character; reminds me of the Chilean Merlots.

Jensen  Zinfandel, Sonoma, 1995, $6  G+

Nothing special to my tastebuds.

Marietta  Old Vine Red, California, Lot #20, NV, $7  VG-

The most notable thing about thing about this new release is the lovely bouquet. Otherwise, it tasted very young, showing some fruit and tannins. More like a Zinfandel than the previous release. Might need to rest in the bottle. My second tasting at SDWC was very similar to the first. Given its concentration, I think it has potential, which is reflected in the rating.

Vega Sauco  Red, Toro, Spain, 1996, $6  VG-

To my tastebuds, this was better than the more expensive Vega Sauco Crianza. Gorgeous in color, full fruit, with some pepper in the nose.

Vega Sindoa  CS-Tempranillo, Spain, 1995, $6  G

Dry and earthy.

Acacia  Pinot Noir, Carneros Napa, 1995, $14  VG

Spicy and fruity. Very pleasant, but not very concentrated.

Conde de Valdemar  Cosecha, Rioja, 1994, $6.50  VG

A mix of earth and fruit. Very Spanish in character. My second tasting of this at Pat's was *very* different. Although tasting earth and fruit, the wine showed much more concentration and balance, and had a much more French character. I'm upgrading from a Good+ to a VG. My third drinking may place this inbetween. We drank this at Margie's Merry-Go-Round in Lone Pine with steak. It took a while to open up, but it was a great complement to the Bleu Cheese dressing in the salad, and stood up to the steak. Peculiarly, the rich, earthy flavors seemed to bounce in and out, but very enjoyable overall.

Monsanto  Red, Chianti Classico, Riserva, 1993, $13  G-

Very light in color, but shows refinement. Typical oak, pepper, and fruit flavors. My second tasting of this with a nice Italian meal at La Taverna was disappointing. I was expecting the food would help, but it did not, even when served at the right temperature. It still tasted light and acidic, and the fruit did not really hold up.

Benziger  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 5 Bordeaux Varietals, 1995, $10  VG

Not as balanced as last year, but it has a nice bouquet, with flavors of chocolate, pepper, and fruit. My second tasting was consistent with the first, the fruit has a pleasant darkness to it.

Arrowood  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 1994, $29  Exc-

Simply put, this is a perfect specimen of Cabernet Sauvignon. This rating is reflecting its current state, but I think it has even more potential.

David Bruce  Pinot Noir, Sonoma, 1995, $13  VG+

Yum! Recommended by Tom of SDWC over the King Estate '94, a favorite of ours. Has nice concentration and fruit, with pleasant tannins. An excellent complement to our food--crab-stuff mushrooms, salad, filet mignon, and grilled halibut. The was a complete chameleon: perfect with every food, but tasting very different. Drank at The Gateway in Three Rivers. Our second tasting at Thanksgiving with Madge and Dad, with astounding results. The wine was exploding with dark fruit, slightly overpowering some of the flavors at the table, but oh what a wine.

Bogle  Merlot, CA?, 1995?, $4.25/glass  VG-

Soft, fruity, and pleasant. Drank with pizza at Curry Village in Yosemite. My previous Bogle had been an exceptionally dry (and undrinkable) Petite Sirah, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Bogle  Cabernet Sauvignon, CA?, 1995?, $4.25/glass  G

Not nearly as pleasant as the Merlot. Acidic and unbalanced. But not as bad as that first Petite Sirah.

Warres  Port, Portugal, 1984, $13/glass  VG+

Powerful, smooth, full-bodied, with pleasant tannins. No doubt the nicest glass of Port I've ever had, although it came at a premium at the Ahwahnee. This is a non-vintage port, and carried Warres' standard single vineyard designation for its non-vintage years (although I cannot recall the vineyard).

Benziger  Merlot, Sonoma, 1995, $12  G+

Has potential, but it seemed closed and had a gaping hole in its flavor: Possessed tannins and softness but not enough fruit and body to make a complete package. Drank with steak at Buck Meadows Lodge near Yosemite.

David Bruce  Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mtns, Reserve, 1994, $15  VG

Yummy! Unusual for a Cab, with dark fruit and very soft. Zinnish without the pepper? There was something vaguely unpleasant hiding in its depths, but easily ignored. Ate with roast leg of lamb at Nicely's in Lee Vining.

Vendange  Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle Centrale, Chile, NV, $2.59/187ml  G

Kind of thin, allowing acids and tannins to dominate, but fruit was fine. Drank in Olancha CA at Ranchhouse Cafe with pork chops.

Estancia  Pinot Noir, CA, 1996, $5.50/glass  G+

Classic Pinot flavors, some fruit, not too light. Very pleasant.

Tommasi  Valpolicella, Vigneto del Campo, Rafael, Classico Superiore, 1993, $9  VG

Very Italian. In my first tasting, it came across thin and peppery, but nice fruit, too. In my second tasting, if this is in fact the same wine (I did not record the vineyard the second time), I got a very different impression. In spite of its age, the wine has up-front fruit and a little pepper. Nice body. My third experience now--with food--is more reminiscient of the first experience, but still much better than my first impressions. My feeling is that this wine benefits from a lot of breathing--my second tasting was in three in the afternoon, 4-5 hours after SDWC opened the bottle.

Blackstone  Merlot, CA, 1996, $9  G+

Fruity, but not very soft. It's missing something. My second tasting was better. It lacks varietal character, but the fruit has a pleasant darkness and explosiveness.

Paso Robles  Zinfindel, Paso Robles, 1993, $14  VG

Very full-bodied, classic Zin.

Icon  Red, Sonoma, 1994/NV?, $16  VG+

Outstanding concentration and flavor. Has some Zin-like qualities, but it is actually a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Produced by Ravenswood.

Altamura  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $30  Exc-

Absolutely outstanding. A classic Cab. Reminded me of the '94 Arrowood, but perhaps more perceptible flavors. Might be over the top in a few years.

Thumbs Up  White Reisling, Santa Barbara, 1994, $12/half  VG

Very sweet and flavorful. Beautiful golden color.

Talus  Chardonnay, CA, 1996?, $?  G-

Heavy and syrupy, with some fruit and varietal character, but refreshing only in its sweetness and serving temperature.

Brucher  Pinot Noir, S. Barbara, Bien Nacido, 1994, $15?  VG-

Very flavorful, but not particularly soft. Perhaps acid and tannins. Certainly very enjoyable. Ate with roasted peppers and roasted chicken at Kathleen Hancock's.

Domaine des Romarins  Red, Cotes du Rhone, 1996, $8  VG-

Yum! 100% French, with lots of earth and balancing fruit. More harmonious than the cheaper Campuget, for sure, although aging could do it well due to the tannins. What a value! The second bottle was much more tannic than the first. The third bottle was even more disappointing, being somewhat acidic and thin on the fruit, so I'll down grade it. However, it did some interesting things with the Thai spices and coconut milke that seasoned the chicken. The thin, acidic flavors were replaced by a deep smokiness.

Robert Mondavi  Pinot Noir, Napa?, 1995, $7/glass  VG-

A fine glass of wine. Stood up pretty well to spicy Chinese food, although it lost some of its fruit. Showed nice spice without being bitter. Light in comparison to the Brucher. Could be very good overall.

Fattoria dei Barbi  Brusco dei Barbi, Tuscany, 1994, $9  G+

Light and very Italian. Not particularly special. Probably better with Italian food; we drank it with Mexican. It stood up to the spice, however. Owned and produced by the Colombini Cinelli family.

Ponzi  Pinot Noir, Willamette V., 1995, $14  G-

For the price, not much of a wine. Very light with peppery tones. The belief (stated by Paris) is that all the concentration went into their 25th anniversary wine. Also, '95 was a bad year for Oregon Pinot's because of the weather. This is not even a match for the Napa Ridge, which is half the price.

Beaulieu  Merlot, Napa, 1994, $12  G+

The Wine Spectator liked this--Beaulieu's first Merlot release--but I wasn't impressed. It lacked varietal character, softness, and wasn't that fruity (perhaps because it came after the Blackstone).

J. Fritz  Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Old Vine Zinfandel, 1995, $16  VG+

A really wonderful Zinfandel, with concentrated fruit and well-integrated pepper. Classic.

Monticello  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, Jefferson Cuvee, 1994?, $14  VG

A very interesting Cab, with dark fruit, interesting flavor twists, with a little pepper. Tom at SDWC was saying that all the juice for their Reserve went into this wine instead.

Markham  Petite Sirah, Napa, 1993, $10  VG-

Purple black in color, this wine had little flavor to speak of after trying the Monticello. Still, after a little wait, some pleasant grapey flavors finally made their way through in a classic Sirah style. This rating is provisional, until I get a whole bottle at dinner. My second tasting is consistent: the wine is lacking in flavor. Perhaps it needs time in the bottle. I'm downgrading a third of a grade.

Columbia Crest  Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, 1995, $7  VG-

Like the '94, it has very pleasant dark, chocolate fruit. However, this is somewhat lighter, and so some of the pleasure is lost. Does not match as well with Gorganzola. Some cinnamon flavors came through on one of the tastes with it, though.

Tarapaca  Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile, Reserve, 1993, $6  VG-

Yum! What a surprise for 6 bucks. Soft, with reserved fruit. Really improves with food. A stealth Pinot? Our second tasting with Gorganzola and later Mexican food was impressive. It held up moderately well to the cheese, but did really well with the cheese, showing new flavors in spite of the spice.

Cetamura  Red, Chianti, 1995, $6  G

Another light Chianti, but this was a more earthy and interesting than the Monsanto.

Villa Borghetti  Amarone(?), Valpolicella Classico, Pasqua, 1992, $?  VG-

This is one of the best Italian wines I've had in a while. It had real substance, with earth and mineral tones. Pat brought this back from Italy, which might explain the anomaly

Mottura  White, Lazio, Italy, Late Harvest, 1992, $?  VG-

Very interesting. Just a little sweet, really, and not very alcoholic. A very light, mild flavor. A beautiful golden color. Had a cute picture of a porcupine on the label. Another wine that Pat brought back from Italy.

Santa Amelia  Merlot, Conchagua, Chile, 1995, $4  G

Tom at SDWC says this is better than the La Playa Merlot. Not better than I remember, but he could be talking about a newer La Playa release. Not possessing a lot of varietal character or concentration, it nonetheless is pleasant to drink, although it kind of had an alcoholic character to it.

Moris Farms  Morellino, Scansano, Italy, 1995, $7  VG-

This ``Morellino di Scansano'' is the best Italian wine we've had in a long time. It is a Eric Solomon Selection, so it is not that surprising. Interestingly, it is very similar to the other Solomon wines we've had: A powerful combination of fruit and earth, apparently with minimal processing. In fact, this wine tastes a little too ``French'' to me, although in fact the earthiness is a little different. Regardless, a bargain.

Karly  Zinfandel, Pokerville, Amador Co., 1996, $7  VG

This wine explodes in your mouth, filling it with jammy fruit. What a bargain! In our first tasting at home, I was delighted. It drank well on its own, requiring no cheese or bread for balance. The fruit was spectacular, actually reminiscent of (but much more intense than) the Marietta OVR #20, especially in its scintilating sweetness. My second bottle of this was much less satisfying--did I decant it like the first?--but the third bottle was all that I remembered of the first.

La Casenove  Red, Cotes de Rousillon, 1995, $9  G+

Thick and syrupy fruit. Something is missing here. Acid and tannins?

Angel's View  Merlot, Santa Ynez, 1995, $10  VG-

Nice varietal character, but astringent and peppery on the finish.

Blockheadia Rignosii  Zinfandel, Napa, 1996, $20  VG

Shows some refinement, but not a lot of concentration. Fruity but dry.

Jaffurs  Matilija Cuvee (Red), Santa Barbara, 1995, $14  VG-

This Zin'ish red is a combination of Mouvedre, Syrah, and Cab. Somewhat dry and astringent.

Joseph Phelps  Le Mistral, CA, 1995, $14  VG+

This Rhone blend is a giant, with intriguing thick, jammy flavors. It came across as monolothic, but I bet that good things will happen with food, in particular red meat. (SDWC wine tasting.)

Another blockbuster wine worth every penny. Intense, dark fruit flavors with classic Rhone varietal flavors, even a bit of earth! We ate this at Dad and Madge's the day after Thanksgiving with turkey burritos that had been flavored with chili powder. No problems with spice there! My second tasting was with rack of lamb, a much spicier affair. This time, only a month later, the pepper and structure were much more noticeable. However, this is in contrast to the Ravenswood Icon, which costs another 2 dollars. Also, given a little time in the glass, this wine began to settle down. But it tasted nothing like the first time, which lacked most of those pepper flavors. Coming back to the same bottle 24 hours later, the pepper flavors have moved into the background and the dark fruit flavors have reasserted themselves. Still not as good as the Ravenswood Icon, but still a fabulous wine.

Scotland Craig  Pinot Noir, CA?, 1995, $8.50/glass  VG

I had just a taste, but it had lots of fruit and some interesting spice.

Heitz  Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha's Vineyard, Napa, 1992, $19/glass  Exc-

Inky, smooth fruit, unobtrusive tannins, and minty finish. Better than the '80 in my opinion--less funky.

Kathryn Kennedy  Meritage, CA?, Lateral, 1995, $10/glass  VG-

A funky wine, for sure. The server said that in addition to the normal varietals, this also has some Gamay. Hmmm. The result is a rather forward, spicy wine.

Climens  Sauternes, Bordeaux, 1988, $15/glass  VG+

For my first Sauternes, I was pleased. Thick texture, delightful tangerine flavors, not unlike a Muscat. Sweet but not at all cloying.

River Run  Late Harvest Zinfandel, CA, 1995?, $12?  VG-

This was just a free taste from the server. Port-like like thickness and sweetness, with some hints of Zinfandel. Perhaps a little more cloying than I like, but satisfying nonetheless.

Whidbeys  Port, WA, 1994, $12  VG

A great Port for the dollar. Not cloying or possessing of unpleasant flavors.

Emeades  Zinfandel, Mendocino Co., 1995, $26 (rest.)  VG

This Zin is blended with Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Carignane. Indeed, it showed some interesting spice flavors in addition to the typical Zin fruit.

Sanford  Chardonnay, S. Barbara Co., 1996, $24  VG-

Dry, not abundant in fruit or especially complex. A bit of grass on the finish.

Bedford Thompson  Cabernet Franc, S. Barbara Co., 1994, $19  VG-

Cab-like in structure, but showing darker flavors than a Cab, including a little chocolate. Responds interestingly to foods. Went especially well with a slightly sweet whole wheat bread.

Firestone  Late Harvest Reisling, S. Barbara Co., 1995, $5/gl.  G+

Slightly cloying and simple, lacking spice or interesting fruit character.

Santa Ynez  Old College Red, S. Barbara Co., 1994, $??  G

Light in color, with slight pepper and fruit. A Cab blend.

Stern Warf  Merlot, S. Barbara Co., 1996, $??  G+

Lacked varietal character. Nothing special.

Stern Warf  Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, 1994, $??  G+

Funky fruit, non-varietal character.

Santa Vittoria  CS/Sangiovese, Sonoma, 1995, $29  VG

This organic wine is 70% Cab and 30% Sangiovese. It had nice concentration and beautiful color. Too expensive for the quality.

Folie a Deux  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1994, $??  G+

Thin in contrast to the Santa Vittoria.

Folie a Deux  Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1995, $29  VG+

This is a really, really nice wine. Excellent concentration, varietal character, the whole shebang. But it costs as much as the Arrowood, which is a much finer wine.

Santa Ynez  CS Port, S. Barbara Co., 1994, $24  VG

Definitely enjoyable, but not worth the price. In the same class as the Taylor Fladgate LBV Port, maybe better, but it's twice the price! This Port is fortified with 186 proof Brandy, a wine-making technique that I enjoy.

Ridge  Zinfandel, CA, Vintner's Blend, 1995, $16/rest.  VG-

This is an inexpensive Ridge wine that builds quality through blending from a variety of vineyards. Very successful, although lacking the fruit and intensity of the Karly, which is not so concentrated itself.

Forest Ville  Merlot, CA, 1996, $4  VG-

Not much of a wine for the first half hour, this became a very interesting. First scents of tobacco emerged from the glass, adequately balanced by the fruit. Later sweeter flavors emerged with our grilled chicken, and then even hints of varietal character. I really enjoyed this, and it's dirt cheap!

Lauder-Lang Hungary Red 1993 $3? Fair- Bull's Blood of Eger

Dry, woody, with little fruit. This is made from a hodge-podge of grapes.

Acacia  Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa, 1995, $14  VG+

This was a tough wine to judge after drinking the David Bruce PN first at Thanksgiving dinner. At first it seemed hollow and acidic, but with a little time marvelous fruit flavors and typical Pinot nuances emerged. Lighter than the David Bruce, it showed more subtlety. Bravo!

Dow  Port, Portugal, Malvedos, 1984, $8/glass  VG+

A delightful balance of rich fruit and tannins.

Barton & Gustier  Merlot, France, Vin du Pays, 1996, $5  G+

Pleasant mineral and fruit flavors.

Walnut Crest  Merlot, Rapel Valley, 1997, $4  G+

Of course, Chile harvests six months before the Northern Hemisphere, so it is just barely possible to have a '97 release. The wine has a marvelous purple inky character. The flavor is nothing special.

Glass Mountain  Cabernet Sauvignon, CA, Quarry, 1994, $8  G+

Possesses an orangish tinge that seems premature for a young Cab. Pleasant enough.

Domaine Deshenrys  Red, Languedoc, Eleve en futs de Chene, 1994?, $8  G+

Classic French flavors.

Rosemount  Shiraz, S.E. Australia, 1996, $12?  VG-

Powerful fruit, but there's just something about the Aussie wines that disagree with my palate. The fruit is just a little odd.

Chateau Malecasse  Red, Haut Medoc, Bordeaux, 1995, $13  VG-

Typical chalk and fruit flavors, rather dry to my taste.

Les Cailloux  Red, Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994?, $19  VG

This is an Andre Bruel selection. This wine possesses heavy doses of earth, fruit, pepper, and minerals. This wine needs time in the bottle or is not quite my taste; I can't tell which.

Ferrari Carano  Siena, Sonoma, 1995, $22  VG-

This Cab blend is not what I hoped for. It has forward acid tones, but is otherwise balanced. Probably needs more fruit.

Beaulieu Vineyards  Tapestry, Napa, 1994, $16  VG

This Bordeaux-style blend is at least very good, perhaps better. It got a 91 from the Wine Spectator, but I wouldn't place it in the same class as the Arrowood and Altamura Cabs. Although nicely balanced, I prefer darker, more concentrated fruit flavors.

Domaine Chapault  Red, Sancerre, 1996, $14  VG

This Eric Soloman selection has a lot going for it. Pretty fruit and mineral flavors, pleasantly fresh and dry.

Domaine du Pesquiere  Red, Gigondas, Fr, 1989, $7  G+

Age has not treated this Rhone as well as one would hope. Although full-flavored, the age seems to have put an oxidized character into the wine. Not exactly unpleasant, but it hasn't helped as far as I can tell.

McDowell  Syrah, Mendocino, 1996, $7  G+

Not bad, but a bit dry for my tastes. Not like those Australian Syrahs!

San Filipo  Red, Rosso di Montalcino, 1994, $9  G+

Very typical Italian red. I can take it or leave it.

Kiona  Merlot, Columbia Valley, 1995, $15  VG+

Yum! Rich and deep varietal flavors complemented by dark chocolate.

Beaulieu Vineyards  Zinfandel, Napa, 1996, $9  VG-

The guys at SDWC didn't like this wine a couple of weeks ago, but they agree that's coming together in the bottle now. Indeed. I think I should buy some, but it's hard with the Karly two dollars less. The fruit on the BV is somewhat darker, but the finish has a little bite. That could change in the next month or so.

Delas Freres  Red Rhone, Crozes Hermitage, Les Launes, 1994, $10  VG

Not as fruity as the Jaboulet released last year, but full of all sorts of interesting flavors: pepper, earth, minerals, and chalk on the finish. One can only hope that this will continue to get better, although I can't predict how it will evolve. It is sufficiently dry that it could become somewhat inaccessible, at least for a while.

Beringer  Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, 1994, $?  VG-

Classically styled, with reserved fruit and crisp acidity. Very clean on the palate, with hints of interesting flavors far in the background.

Taylor Fladgate  Port, Portugal, Quinta de Vargellas, 1995, $32  VG

Although not rated a vintage year, I was expecting a religious experience, given the 90-95 rating from the Wine Spectator. What I got was a very delicious glass of dessert wine. No component is overbearing, with nice fruit and tannins. A little rough on the finish; wine professionals call it ``backward''. Unlike any other port I've had, I detect spicy aromas of pepper and earth, maybe tobacco. With a second bottle in the ``cellar'', it will be interesting to see how this one turns out in 10-20 years.

Rutherford Vintners  Merlot, Stanislaus, CA, 1996, $6  G-

Nothing like what I expected, but surprisingly like the Forest Ville, although the fruit never emerged. Pepper and tobacco dominate without being overwhelming.

Seavey  Merlot, Napa, 1994, $24  VG

A little tight at first, this wine opened up with nice chocolate flavors, very soft, but not especially fruity. This was tasted side-by-side with the Azalea Springs with Judy and Jim. The Seavey gets the clear edge.

Azalea Springs  Merlot, Napa, 1994, $19  VG

This was very tight at first, and took a long time to get going. It probably won't really be ready for a year or two. It has an explosive, fruity nose, and a fair amount of fruit when it hits the tongue. Its tightness was expressed as a hollowness in the core of the flavor. This filled in by the end, and even had hints of varietal character, but not like the Seavey.

Bacio Divino  Cab Blend, Napa, 1994, $30?  VG+

Boom! This wine wasn't a whole lot of fun out of the bottle, coming across more like a Chianti (e.g., light, acidic) than I'd prefer. But it opened up over an hour and evolved into s splendid wine. Most noticeable to me were the Petite Sirah flavors on the finish, reserved but very smooth and well integrated. I also occasionally sensed a hint of citrus and marzipan. Will definitely be showing well over the next couple of years, probably longer.

Dow  Port, Portugal, 1995, $??  VG-

A little rough, but nice fruit.

Smith Woodhouse  Port, Portugal, 1994, $27  VG+

Lovely, smooth, with a long, fine finish. This rated only a 90 by Parker!

Smith Woodhouse  Port, Portugal, 1995, $32  VG-

Rough, especially on the finish. No match for the '94.

Rocha  Port, Portugal, 1995, $??  VG-

Rough, but with substantial fruit.

Rocha  Tawny Port, Portugal, 20 year, $30  VG

A beautiful golden color, like Cognac. Sweet nutty and caramel flavors. A little rough on the finish.

Barroca  Tawny Port, Portugal, 1977, $32  VG

Rocha  Tawny Port, Portugal, 1977, $32  VG

A little darker and richer than the 20 year, with a smoother finish.

Fonseca  Port, Portugal, 1995, $32  VG+

Amazingly smooth and well integrated. The fruit was dark and rich. Nice, long finish. Wow.

Trader Joe's French Market  Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays D'Oc, 1996, $3  G-

Thin, dry, and acidic, but not without some varietal character and typical French mineral flavors.

Rosemount  Chardonnay, SE Australia, 1996?, $8  VG-

Full-bodied, fruity, with ``round'' flavors.

Calloway  Chardonnay, Temecula, Vintner's Select, 1996, $?  VG-

Focused, citrus-like fruit flavors, with crisp, refreshing acidity. Complemented by fresh, grassy flavors.

Ravenswood  Icon, Sonoma, 1995, $16  VG+/Exc-

This Rhone-style red represents the best in California wine: depth, complexity, refinement, balance. Woo, hoo! Beautiful fruit, with wonderful hints of earth and mineral flavors. I give the edge to this over the Phelps Le Mistral, although the Le Mistral is styled after a different part of the Rhone (i.e., perhaps this is styled after Crozes Hermitage, whereas the Le Mistral is styled after the Cotes du Rhone). The Ravenswood consists of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache, in that order.

Santa Margherita  Pinot Grigio, Italy, 1996?, $33 (rest.)  VG

I'm not a huge PG fan, so this is good as it's going to get. Crisp, fruity, with nice mineral flavors. Stood up to my meaty and flavorful cassoulet, which is quite a feat. Drank at Trattoria Acqua.

Warres  Vintage? Port, Portugal, 1977, $14/glass  VG-

Delicious, if somewhat disappointing. The rich fruit was compromised by roughness and what tasted like oxidation. I also felt some heat in the finish. I have to question how long the bottle was open and how well the open bottle was treated.