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Straight from the Vine -- Archives : classic wines

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    Vin de Constance

    Historic dessert wine from Constantia in South Africa. Brilliant! 
          Muscat highlights in a nose balanced between floral and ripe white peach. Yellow green color with no browning whatsoever.  Dense flavors with refreshing acid finish.  Perfect for a lemon custard cake. Tasted in Fine Wines of the Southern Hemisphere class at Fort Mason.

          Even with the attention lavished on South Africa by the World Cup soccer matches, few people realize how accomplished the South African wine producers are. Founded at a time when New York City was still called New Amsterdam, the wine industry at the Cape of Good Hope flourished while Californios were still fermenting in cowhide bags. Sweet wines from Constantia were the toast of the Russian court during the late 1800’s, where they competed quite favorably with France’s Ch. d’Yquem and with the best Ri...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Jul 6 2010 5:19PM | 0 comments

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    Expensive viticulture, ribald personality. Can wines truly reflect both?  Does Pinot Noir really need to improve over 8 years in bottle?

            Gary Pisoni is a wonderful incarnation of a colorful, eccentric lineage of wine personalities in California. They go back a long way, and they’re legendary. Agoston Harazthy, who claimed to be a Hungarian Count, and reputedly died in Nicaragua while trying to cross a crocodile-infested stream on a small tree limb. Paul Masson, who delighted in hosting sparkling wine baths for actresses at his Saratoga mountain winery during the waning years of the Victorian age. His successor, Martin Ray, who sold shares in his winery (Mount Eden) to investors, then denied them access to the property, while pricing his wines at three times more than any other examples on the market. Dr. David Bruce (a...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Mar 11 2010 12:33PM | 0 comments

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    1998 Wynns John Riddoch Cab

    Shaded canopy begats a very strong herbaceous nose. Bottle-age gives great complexity, which plays out against an evergreen background. Serve with flank steak and Chimichurri sauce.
            1998 Wynn’s ‘John Riddoch’ Cabernet Sauvignon is from Coonawarra in the state of South Australia. Many people consider Coonawarra to be Australia’s finest Cabernet district. It is about a day’s drive south of Adelaide, and perhaps two day’s drive west of Melbourne. In short, it is way-the-hell-and-gone away from civilization. The first time I visited, in 1980, the only pub in town was still divided into separate men’s and women’s sections ~ smoke in either. Of course that was nearly two generations ago. The point is Australia has a very mea...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Feb 26 2010 1:55AM | 0 comments

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    Beaulieu Private Reserve Cab

    Class comparison of 1994 and 1995 vintages. Clear advantage to 1995. Better acid, much more distinct bouquet. Steak house wine.

           Beaulieu ‘Georges de Latour’ Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic of the American landscape, and has been for a very long time. Originally crafted by the legendary Andre Tchelischeff, from grapes grown on Napa Valley’s Rutherford Bench, the wine was famously aged in 100% American oak. That gave the wine a considerable relationship with Bourbon ~ also aged in American oak, as is Australia’s most expensive wine, Penfold’s Grange Hermitage.  What more could any cowboy want? Big slab of corn-fed beefsteak, and to wash it down, a drink that smelled like Whisky Sour and pipe tobacco. Made in America, like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Modestly expensive, but not rare. For a long time, Beaulieu made 25,000 cases of the ‘Private R...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Feb 23 2010 8:31PM | 0 comments

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    Madrona 1996 Riesling

    High elevation. Great natural acid. Super at age twelve. Very long. Nose of honey and Babcock peach. Match this wine to spicy tuna roll with sweet mustard and tempura flakes.

    California can do world-class Riesling. Not many, and not every year. Still, a handful of producers have proved the potential over decades. The hardship is their best examples are better with six or seven years of bottle age. And consumers just don’t get that concept. The result is a cohort of soda-like, eminently forgettable Rieslings from the rest of the CA pack aimed at the mass market. Riesling should not be a mass market wine. Let the masses drink Pepsi. Or Arbor Mist.

    Wine Tasting Class
           The 1996 Madroña Riesling (winery owned by Stanford Alum, Dick Bush) was tasted in a Varietal Series class, which are held the second Friday evening of each month in Nevada City, CA (see

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Feb 16 2010 3:15PM | 0 comments

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    No longer a bargain, but damn the best ones do taste great. Merle Haggard could drink Zinfandel, and still have credibility. Serve w/ pork. No utensils; sleeve napkin. Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleadings I denied…

             Zinfandel prices have risen dramatically since the early 1990’s when the first one costing double figures appeared. Higher prices mean more expense can be lavished on artistic production. That means better barrels, but it also affords the opportunity to harvest by hand with several passes through the vineyard.
             Zinfandel has large clusters, and it is notorious for ripening unevenly. Many people believe the grapes need to get past 24ºBrix to exhibit the variety’s signature boysenberry aroma. But that much sugar pretty much guarantees alcohol in the high 15’s, and acid that will require a considerable sup...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Feb 4 2010 4:36PM | 0 comments

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    2006 Marquis d Angerville 1st cru Volnay (Les Cailleret)

    From the Côte de Beaune. Modest color, but tightly refined nose w/ floral highlights. Beautiful oolong-like finish. Good value for around $80. Duck leg confit in a salad with pomegranate seeds.
          Both Volnay and Montelie can represent pretty good bargains in a Burgundy market which seems to be continuously hyperventilating. This wine from an under-hyped vintage, nevertheless comes from a very highly-regarded 1st Cru vineyard, and perhaps Volnay’s most illustrious producer. Like a tall, slim woman on a Parisian boulevard, this wine is both elegantly understated and eye-catching at the very same time. It makes you feel grown up, at a young adult price.

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Jan 8 2010 3:20PM | 0 comments

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    1996 Ramonet 1st Chassagne-Montrachet (Caillerets)

           Older bottles of prestige White Burgundy can be risky; this one was sublime – a memory like a night on the rug in front of the fireplace with a lover you’ll never see again.

           About $225 in a retail store. Tasted in a class at Fort Mason comparing quality levels of Burgundy.
           Employing older White Burgundies in class is always an adventure. They are very expensive, and most American consumers have never tasted an aged Chardonnay. So even if the wine is in impeccable condition, which is by no means guaranteed, chances are good a large portion of the audience is going to find it ‘strange.’ And then individual personality kicks in. Some percentage of the audience is going to naturally define ‘strange’ as negative.
           Personally I’ve always been a big fan of Chardonnays picked a litt...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Dec 24 2009 1:13PM | 0 comments

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    2006 Vougeraie Savigny-les-Beaune (Marconnets)

    Bio-dynamic since 2001. Wild yeast. Attractive feral nose with black cherry robe. Minced squab and plum sauce.

           At speaking engagements, British wine writer Clive Coates likes to joke about Burgundian vintners, “You know, they’re all peasants.” Clive is not being disparaging. He is colorfully illustrating the manner in which Burgundians are yoked to the land. Wealthy, well-educated, well-traveled vintners from Burgundy still spend months of every year in their vineyards pruning, pulling leaves, replanting, and harvesting. This close relationship to the soil may help explain why Burgundy has so many organic and bio-dynamic vineyards. Heaven knows, organic grape growing is not easy when rain is likely to fall at any time during the Summer.

           Domaine de la Vougeraie was organized by Jean-Charles Boisset and his sister Nathalie in the 1990’s to consolidat...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Dec 22 2009 12:08PM | 0 comments

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    2002 F. Magnien Chambolle-Musigny (Charmes)

    Truly great red Burgundy is delightful, in no small part because it is so hard to find. About $95 in a retail store.

             I always find buying red Burgundies to be something of a dice roll. There is no argument that the wines can be brilliant on occasion, but they are also very expensive, and a big price point is no guarantee of quality.
             Frederic Magnien is rapidly becoming a favorite producer of mine. This wine comes from one of the two best premier cru vineyards in the commune (out of 24 total). It has a chalky substrate over a rocky base, so yields are typically very small ~ a little over one ton per acre, which is about one-third of what is allowed under appellation of origin regulations. This tiny production serves to accentuate the commune’s famously ...

    Find the remainder of this post in the Top Wine Reviews section

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Nov 22 2009 1:56PM | 0 comments

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    94 Erben-Loosen Urzig Wurzgrtn Spat.

    Beguiling combo - crispness w/ peachy aromatics. Still tight. Light color w/ grn tint. Shrimp dim sum.

          Riesling has never been much favored in the U.S.  Perhaps white and fragrant makes it seem too girly. But Riesling is the quality centerpiece in the homeland of our CA Governor, a man known as the Austrian Oak in his body-building days. And I doubt many 80-yr-olds today would describe the German army during WWII as sissies. So why would German Riesling not be adequately macho for Americans today?

    Bottle-aging German Rieslings, especially Spätlesen from the Mosel.
           At about fifty degrees of latitude, the Mosel Valley has a much shorter growing season than California does at 32 to 38 degrees. Getting grapes ripe consistently in the Mosel involves several tricks, most notably planting one’s vineyard on a south-facing slope ov...

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    Posted by Mr. Bruce Cass on Oct 30 2009 12:08PM | 2 comments