Jacques Cacheux & Fils Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas 2006

It’s probably not the best idea to taste wine while you’re baking a cake, but as Philip White wrote recently in defense of mixing fragrance and wine: as if wine was always meant to be drunk in sterilised rooms. In fact, the smells of baking are stimulating my appetite in the most gluttonous manner, and I’d like to think this provides an

Knappstein Enterprise Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

We bought this bottle on holiday at the winery back in October 2002; it was one of the few bottles that wasn’t stolen when our car was broken into in Melbourne a few weeks later. It’s survived two moves – to Washington and back to California – and here it is on a warm Spring afternoon in San Diego. It’s survived and then some.Still somewhat youthfully purple in color with only the faintest hints of aging, the nose is still redolent of warm, dark berries, rich, smooth cedar, and just-cooled vanilla custard. It’s all blackberry jam and custard, served in a Haida bent cedar box (or it could be a Japanese hinoki sake cup, I’m not entirely sure about that).The initial impression is surprise that it hasn’t aged, but then it moves fairly quickly towards a somewhat tannic, disjointed, acidic finish. Hm, strange. Let’s try this again, shall we? The second time around is a winner, with brightly tart cherry fruit straining – and succeeding, to a point – to make itself heard about the maelstrom of decay that’s the base of the wine. The impression is nearly that of a lavender licorice Sweet Tart; it is at fairly complex and mostly still hanging in there just fine, thank you. However, there’s a certain puckery assault on the gums that happens that I’m not a fan of, and the finish is more something I’d expect at a Tijuana dentist’s than a leather-upholstered steakhouse.So: was this wine better when we bought it? Perhaps, but I’m not convinced. Some of the haptics of this wine (if I’m even allowed to use that word!) are disconcerting and unwelcome, but there’s still enough beauty and pleasure here to save it for me. On some level, though, I probably shouldn’t have waited quite so long, dang it.Update: After sitting with this wine for another half an hour, I’m thinking that the problem isn’t age, but cork taint. With some air, it seems more likely that there’s low level TCA contamination here which is causing problems – and that’s a real shame, because I’d guess that a good bottle of this wine would be a wonderful thing indeed 11 years on. Oh well. 🙁Knappstein
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Toasted Head Chardonnay 2007

I haven’t had a glass of this wine in a decade; it still has one of my favorite labels in the state (a fire-breathing bear), but I rarely shop at the places where you’d ordinarily see this (either Costco or dining-experience-style restaurants). Having a look at the bottle just now, it sure looks like the brand has gone walkabout over the last ten years: the address on the back is Woodbridge, which seems wrong; this was originally a R. H. Phillips wine, and the last time I remember researching them, they’d just completed an IPO and were (alongside Mondavi) one of the few California wineries that was publicly held.It looks like Constellation Brands now owns R. H. Phillips; strangely, Toasted Head seems to have been divorced from that brand entirely and is now a brand of its own. They own Mondavi now as well, and I’m guessing they’re now making this stuff in bulk out of the old Mondavi facilities in Woodbridge, hence the address change on the back of the bottle. So, finally, what we have here is a case of a small family winery having done well in the 90’s – and wound up as a virtual label with no real sense of place in the ’00s. Strange.So how is the wine? The nose is agreeably simple, smelling largely of cashew, white peach, and a little bit of banana. Fat and a little unwieldy in the mouth, it heads towards a bananas Foster finish with just a hint of oak propping it all up like a vinuous underwire bra. That being said, it isn’t really perceptibly sweet, which is good, and it does taste good enough to finish the bottle. I suppose what this is is your basic, standard-quality California chardonnay with buttery, oaky fruit and no distracting flavors (read: subtlety or nuance) to get in the way of your enjoyment. To be honest, this is strikes me as a cut-rate Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve chardonnay: if you like that, you’ll like this just as well – and not only is the bottle more beautiful, it’ll cost you a few dollars less. This really is exceptional value.Toasted Head
Price: $7
Closure: Cork

Petaluma Riesling 1999

Unbelievably, it’s taken me two years to realize that so-called sunny California isn’t always. Sure, there were those few 90 degree days in January, but then bupkus until last weekend, so that huge stash of Aussie riesling malingering in my cellar hasn’t dwindled at all. Thankfully, it’s warming up in the evenings – finally – and now it’s time to get a move on.Thanks, Julian, for this wine; this is the bottle that survived the flight back to Seattle after visiting you in Adelaide and Sydney a few years back. It’s survived well, having colormorphosed into a watery Benedictine of sorts, very much a color I’d associated with cheap, flabby California chardonnay. Of course this isn’t that: one sniff and holy cow, I don’t think you could possibly mistake this for a North American wine. It smells of children’s paste, strangely enough, but only faintly; it’s more of a curious mix that calls up bitter orange, neroli, lemon, bergamot, lavender: all of those things you’d associate with a traditional men’s cologne. There’s also the faintest trace of oxidation here, far from unpleasant, and not so much of the stereotypical diesel or kero you’d expect with something this old. The closest comparison I can think of is with Scottish heather honey that’s being produced near a peat-burning Scotch distillery; it’s sweet, floral, a little bit smoky.All over the place in the mouth, it’s hard to pin down the taste or sense of this wine. Moments after swalloing, I’m reminded of artificially flavored fruit gums, so let me back up a moment. It begins in a somewhat austere fashion, all minerals, straw, and wet stone; then, it reveals a fairly full mid-palate, not so much in body but in fruit, of which there’s still quite a bit a decade on. Acidity is very much kept in check – this won’t frighten Grandma – and there’s a lingering sense of sweetness that’s a lovely counterbalance to all of the aged bottle character this wine displays. That kero note does appear, but briefly, and it all finishes on a fairly smooth, fruity, and yet doggedly dry note that seems much less artificial after the first few sips. If anything, it reminds me of quince paste and jasmine flowers. Phenomenal stuff, in short, and far from dead yet. I wonder how long this thing is going to last? This is only bottle of the ’99, but there’s a near-case of the 2002 yet to be drunk…Petaluma
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Teusner The Riebke Northern Barossa Shiraz 2008

The nose is a riot of licorice allsorts, intense fresh plums, baking spices and marzipan. There’s a vibrancy to the fruit character that is startling in its clarity and directness. It’s the kind of aroma that playfully invades your nostrils before you’ve made a concerted effort to inhale. Quite voluminous, primary and delicious.

Innocent Bystander Moscato 2008

I’m a bit late to the Moscato bandwagon, not often craving this style of wine. But tonight, after a rather odd weekend, I felt like an uncomplicated drinking experience, so here we are. Certainly, the packaging makes me smile. Crown seals are quite snazzy-looking in their way, and the pink of this wine reminds me of rouge on the cheeks of an old china doll. So far so good.

A nose that is moderately expressive, fresh and, most of all, grapey. It’s grapey in the manner of overripe table grapes, with a couple of raisins thrown in for good measure. No great complexity worth pulling apart, so one is free to enjoy what is a straightforward aroma profile. Very much more of the same on the palate, with grapiness taken up a notch and accompanied by well balanced fizz, light acidity and enough savouriness to cut through the residual sugar. In fact, there’s a lovely clean after palate here, very much on the savoury side, that reminds me of high quality confectionery. A clean finish that somehow echoes orange juice.

Henschke Keyneton Estate Euphonium 2006

Travel for reasons other than leisure is surely one of the loneliest pastimes. I’m currently away from home and, to relieve the tedium yesterday evening, wandered about looking for something moderately interesting to eat and drink. The idea of dining alone in a restaurant didn’t hold much appeal, so I rocked up to a local wine and cheese shop hoping for a solution. Half bottles are ideal in such situations and, fortunately, a small range was on offer, including this wine. A few minutes after spotting it, I was on my way back to the hotel, also equipt with

J. K. Carriere Glass 2008

This is the second vintage of this wine I’d had the chance to drink, and you know what? I just don’t get it. I love pink wine, I love JK Carriere’s pinot noir and chardonnay, and this wine? Let’s just say that anyone who likes this wine presumably really, really loves this wine; to me, it’s kind of like reading Pravda: it’s still recognizably a newspaper, but it sure doesn’t read like one, at least not to me.So what is this wine like? It’s impossibly pale in the glass, more pale than any other pink wine I know. The smell, such as it is, is faint, fragile; it reminds me of traditional English summer drinks such as elderflower-scented water, potentially even rose-and-cucumber water. The acidity is lively, there’s just a hint of carbonation – OK, not really, more the suggestion of spritzig-ness – but on the whole it feels empty, strangely lacking to me. I suppose it’s just missing some ephemeral complementary foodstuff that I haven’t figured out yet – my friend Mark was thinking maybe goat cheese? – but on it’s own it’s very much an enigma, at least to me. J. K. Carriere
Price: $20
Closure: Cork