Nice dense concentration to the nose here, with dark cherry fruit buttressed by warm clay and leather aromas: Very appealing as soon as you pour it in the glass. On the palate, however, it needs some air to really show its potential: This is a wine that will age nicely for 5 - 7+ years, and a stint in the glass or the decanter will do it wonders for short-term enjoyment. The fruit here is just as concentrated as the nose implies, but far brighter, lifted by very zippy acidity and a tannic structure that holds great promise for its longevity. There’s a minor floral quality to the palate, with raspberries, pomegranate, cocoa powder, and spice filling it out. Very well-crafted: This is a wine for the cellar, or a great meal right now.
Luce della Vite 2001, Toscana (375ml)
This smells like an Italian version of an excellent, fully-evolved Bordeaux, with more than a passing resemblance to Mouton in its maturity: A nose of mint, leather, tea, and a hint of sandalwood, which turns, on the palate, to a gorgeously aromatic mix of mint, brown spices (cardamom, clove, etc.), leather, and black fruit that nods in the direction of something approaching balsamic in its finely detailed acidity. With some more air, caramelized sugar and hoisin sauce, as well as the delicious, savory flavor of truffles and decay make themselves known: Mysterious and wonderful. The tannins have melted, the fruit is fading yet still retains a distinct identity, and the texture is like dusty silk. Drink this now: With the fruit still hanging on, and the bottle-age characteristics on full display, this is a wine at its peak.
Apricot and oak spice define the nose initially here, with a warmth to the aromas that’s appealing off the bat. On the palate, baking spices and something almost yeast-like is balanced by bright acidity and the bitterness of grapefruit and lemon pith, as well as the slightest intimation of warmed honey. A bass-note of pie crust comes through on the mid-palate, too, and lingers on through the finish, which itself is tinged with white cherries and grapefruit. Balanced, and with intriguing details. Drink now - 2 years.
Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley
Inky color, like particularly dark cherry juice. This turns out to be a harbinger of the experience of the wine itself, which smells of dark cherry, licorice, and oak that still needs time to be absorbed and integrated. This doesn’t come off as heavy-handed in any way, however: It’s more a perfume than anything, and a lovely one at that. The palate is where this wine is really appealing right now, with sweet dark cherry and plum fruit, kirsch, dark chocolate, spicy cigar tobacco, and fresh flowers fluttering around the edges. With a bit more air, peppercorn and cedar flavors also come out, and these linger through on the cedar-, tea-, and vanilla-tinged finish. For all its size and the expressivity of the fruit here, this is a wine that promises to evolve for another 10 years. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent opening it right now: It’s drinking beautifully as is.
Pali Wine Co. Pinot Noir “Summit” 2008, Monterey (55%) and Santa Barbara County (45%)
There’s a sun-warmed clay note to the nose here, and a roasted quality to the berry fruit that, with some air, diminishes and allows the sweet transparency of the raspberries and cherries to come through, as well as a strain of minerality. The oak is still apparent on the palate, though with some age it will integrate very nicely into the rest of the wine. There are still a number of moving parts here, but I expect they will come together beautifully, the tea, spice, sweet-tart cherry, birch bark, and Dr. Pepper-like cola notes promising a wine of finesse, complexity, and power. Very nice. Drink 1 - 6 years.
Pali Wine Co. Cabernet Sauvignon (Blend) "Highlands" 2007, Napa Valley
Lots of rich red and black fruit on the nose, with standout performances by the blackberry and blueberry notes. These are edged with violets and chocolate: Like some sort of perfect Provençal dessert. Those lush aromas come through on the polished palate, but are here lifted by an unexpected brightness, as well as by a seam of graphite running down the wine’s spine. The mid-palate shows lots of cabernet character, with cedar, a bit of tobacco, and a spicy note that linger through the finish alongside distinct flavors of oolong tea. This, then, is what you hope for from Napa Valley cab-based wines: Concentration, expressive fruit balanced out by minerality, and compulsive drinkability. Excellent structure, and just as nice on its own as it will be with food. Drink now - 5 years. 87% cabernet sauvignon, 6% malbec, 4% cabernet franc, 3% merlot.
Spirit of the Week: I’ve been tasting more and more spirits lately, and many of them have both charmed and surprised me. I’ll be including a spirit of the week from now on whenever I’ve tasted something I can strongly recommend.
This week it’s a super-premium vodka (actually, Stoli refers to it as an “ultra-luxury vodka”) that actually lives up to its promise: Elit by Stolichnaya. I’m often skeptical of the claims made by the distillers of vodka, but this one, with its silkiness on the palate, its utter lack of rough edges, and its whisper of lemon pith and rind on the nose and hint of sweetness on the palate, is a supremely clean, pure expression of vodka--one I’ve been enjoying on its own, sipped after a big meal. It needs no mixer.