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Bob's Your Vintner! (April 11, 2001)

A group of California wineries has come up with a different way to promote themselves - and they do it with a sense of humour. They call themselves BOB, an acronym for Best of the Best. Originally a loose association of wineries - Ridge, Silver Oak, Jordan, Grgich Hills, Schramsberg and Trefethen (who all shared the same distributor) - they now work independently of distributors and invite other prestigious Californian and Oregon wineries to join them in tastings tours.

At the risk of being thought elitist and self-serving they have tempered their claim of being "Best of the Best" by inventing a mascot called Julius Caesar Robericus - Bob for short. An engraving of Bob decorates the cover of their invitations (a muscular, barely clad Roman bacchanalian whose efforts to pour wine into a kylix from a small amphora are frustrated by his obvious inebriation).

Six members of the group represented by their sales managers and marketing people visited Toronto last week, the first time they had travelled en masse outside the Pacific North West. Here are the wines we tasted at lunch in Toronto's famous steak house, Hy's, followed by those we sampled upstairs at a table-top tasting: (All prices in US$)

1998 Argyle Reserve Chardonnay (Oregon): bright, deep straw colour; ripe tangerine and nectarine bouquet with a vanilla note. Spicy, rich, nutty fruit with a lovely mouth feel, full-bodied with great length. ($21 - 92 points)

1997 Montelena Chardonnay (Napa): golden straw colour; spicy hay, pineapple with a barnyard note; apple, peach and vanilla on the nose; full-bodied, firm yet elegant with tropical fruit flavours. ($33 - 91 points)

1994 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma) (15 per cent Merlot): deep ruby colour; tobacco, rich cedar, vanilla, smoke with an earthy note; well structured with lively acidity and soft tannins, medium-bodied with a warm red berry flavour, very Bordeaux-like in style. ($45 - 89 points)

1997 Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: ruby colour; vanilla and coconut from the American oak (half new), cinnamon, black fruits with a floral grace note; firm, beautifully structured with rich damson, blackcurrant and bitter chocolate flavours ($60 - 90 points)

1998 Swanson Alexis (Napa) (an unusual blend for California of 55 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 per cent Syrah and 3 per cent Cabernet Franc, first produced to honour the Swansons' eldest daughter at her wedding in 1996. In fact, the first Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend made in California): dense purple colour; blackberry, coffee bean, vanilla on the nose; smoked meat, spicy, earthy, peppery; sweet fruit, soft tannins with a gutsy, gamey, smoky-spicy finish. ($50 - 89 points)

1999 Ridge Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) (70 per cent Zinfandel. 17 per cent Petite Sirah, 10 per cent Carignan, 3 per cent Mataro (Mourvedre) - a field blend that contains some Zin and Carignan vines that date back 109 years!): dense purple colour that stains the glass; ripe blackberry with a floral note; sweet and juicy, full-bodied, very forward, almost jammy with gushing fruit. Soft and forward like a slice of Christmas cake in a glass. ($30 - 91 points)

Upstairs tasting:

1997 Argyle Brut (75 per cent Chardonnay, 25 per cent Pinot Noir): barrel-fermented - pale straw colour; toasty, biscuity nose; lively pear and apple flavours that linger on the palate, quite soft and creamy with a dry finish. ($21.50 - 88 points)

1989 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut (60 per cent Pinot Noir, 40 per cent Chardonnay): Disgorged after 10 years on the lees. Old gold colour, tiny bubbles; creamy vanilla, raspberry notes,; sweetish cooked peach flavour, well balanced and mouth-filling melon and peach flavours, finishes firmly. (89 points)

1999 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir (aged in oak, 10 per cent new Vosges): fermented on wild yeast "grown in a controlled environment." Light ruby colour, raspberry, beetroot and vanilla notes; ripe fruit, firmly structured with sweet fruit, soft tannins and good length. ($30 - 88 points)

1999 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir (named for Oregon’s hazelnut harvest - aged in 20 per cent new Vosges oak): ruby colour, spicy, smoky black raspberry and vanilla on the nose; concentrated fruit flavour with a sweet core, soft tannins, great balance and a long sweet finish. ($40 - 90 points)

1998 Jordan Chardonnay (fruit from Russian River, Mendocino, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley): barrel-fermented in 100 per cent new French oak, 30 per cent malolactic, extended lees contact: medium straw colour; creamy vanilla nose, tropical fruit flavour with a lively acidic spine - orange, pineapple in the mid-palate, with a definite spicy note, good length. Very Burgundian. (90 points)

1997 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma and Mendocino fruit, 22 per cent Merlot. Stainless steel fermentation, four months in large oak cooperage until malolactic complete, then twelve months in a mix of French (62 per cent) and American (38 per cent) small oak barrels and then an additional six months in large oak. Held at the winery for fourteen months before release): bright ruby colour; vanilla, cedar nose with fine red berry fruit. Red currant, raspberry sand plum flavours with a suggestion of oyster shell (very much in Graves style), medium bodied. (89 points)

1998 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon ("Our village wine" - 85 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 per cent Merlot which spends 12-14 months in neutral oak, 10 per cent new): ruby colour; vanilla, blueberry, currants and cedar on the nose; sweet fruit, quite forward, very soft tannins, easy drinking with a green pepper note on the finish. ($33 - 87 points)

1998 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (2 per cent Cabernet Franc): dense ruby, cedar, cassis on the nose; medium-bodied, firmly structured with an earthy black currant taste and pliant tannins. ($75 - 89 points)

1997 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (1-2 per cent Cabernet Franc): good solid ruby; spicy vanilla, pencil lead and sweet fruit on the nose; lovely balance, elegant focussed berry fruit, ripe and fleshy, ripe tannins too and good length. ($125 - 91 points)

1998 Swanson Syrah (purportedly the oldest Syrah in the Napa Valley - 40 years; aged in 100 per cent French oak): deep purple-ruby; smoky, spicy blackberry bouquet; sweet plum and blackberry flavour, full-bodied, firmly structured. ($45 - 89 points)

1996 Silver Oak Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (91 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 per cent Cabernet Franc, 2 per cent Petit Verdot and Merlot, aged in 100 per cent American oak, medium toast): ruby red; sweet vanilla, tobacco, ripe berry fruit with a floral note; sweet, firm, focussed, very elegant plum and blackberry flavours with obvious oak but well integrated; soft, supple tannins. ($85 - 90 points)

1998 Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains: deep golden straw colour; intense, concentrated spicy barnyard nose with vanilla and tropical fruit notes; full-bodied, caramel and citrus flavour, good length. 14.6 per cent alcohol. ($30 - 89 points)

1998 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains (88 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 per cent Merlot, 5 per cent Petit Verdot, 2 per cent Cabernet Franc - aged 18 months in American oak. Paul Draper is a great believer in American oak): purple with a crimson edge; floral, vanilla, black fruits on the nose; sweet, ethereal spicy plum flavour with edgy tannins. This wine needs a couple of years of cellaring. ($30 - 89 points at the moment, will improve)

1999 Ridge California Zinfandel Lytton Station (84 per cent Zinfandel, 7 per cent Petite Sirah, 6 per cent Grenache, 3 per cent Carignan): purple-ruby colour; spicy plum nose; sweet jammy fruit, lively acidity and firm tannic finish. (89 points)

1999 Ridge California Geyserville (68 per cent Zinfandel, 16 per cent Carignan (120 years old), 16 per cent Petite Sirah): deeply coloured ruby crimson; vanilla, blackberry, pepper; mouth-filling sweet blackberry, jammy, firm and well structured with great length. (90 points)




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