This tasting took place on 29 November 2011 and was presented by Amy Hemphill, who sourced some of the following wines which were unavailable in Ireland during a recent trip to the US. (Apologies no photos.)

(1) Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2005 (Calistoga, Napa) 13.2% €40
90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. This one is imported by California Wine Imports and it showed really good pétillance, which unfortunately faded from my glass fairly quickly. The flavours were quite fruity with fruity strawberry and some yeast and brioche aromas. On the palate the flavours were again quite fruity with creamy mouthfeel, a long length and a lemon and green apple finish. Probably ideal for people who find Champagne too acidic, as it’s quite a different wine to Champagne, having significantly less acidity and much more ripe fruit flavours and aromas and a creamy texture (partial malolactic?) which is not an indicator for Champagne.

(2) Littorai Chardonnay 2008 (Sonoma) 13.5%
Medium gold in colour with developing ripe peach and honeyed aromas. Rounded acidity with weighty textured mouthfeel of ripe melon, red apple and peach, with well-integrated vanilla and some yeasty component. Alcohol felt a little on the high side but certainly not overpowering. Oak flavours were well meshed with the wine. Long length with a ripe fruit and very slightly alcoholic finish.

(3) Ch. Montelena Chardonnay 2009 (Napa) 13.6% US$50
This was one of the winners in the famous Judgement of Paris tasting, which very much changed international perceptions of Californian wines and about 14,000 cases of this are now made annually. The wine was a nice lemon-gold colour with quite youthful, predominantly lemon aromas with other developing notes in the background. On tasting the wine it showed a clean, well-defined, youthful, citrussy melon and lemon fruit profile with some well-integrated spice from barrel ageing. The acidity was also youthfully high and the wine had a moderate body with slightly high alcohol. Overall very youthful with balance between the well-integrated oak and alcohol.

(4) Kistler Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 (Carneros) €125
We were looking forward to this one, but unfortunately it was slightly oxidised.

(5) Ortman Pinot Noir 2006 (Santa Rita Hills, San Luis Obispo) 14.2% €60
This wine is aged in 40% new French oak. It had a colour consistent with Pinot Noir but in my book that was were the similarities ended. The wine had the most unusual nose (for Pinot Noir) of sweet ripe cranberries and  cherry and some people got a whiff of nail varnish. On the palate it was ripe red cherry with a sort of herbal note, very smooth tannins and, although the alcohol was high, it was masked by the sheer weight of ripe red fruits. Nice long length. Overall quite a strange nose and flavours.

(6) Schafer Merlot 2004 (Napa) 14.9% €50
75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby colour with developed, complex red fruit, spice and other tertiary notes indicative of a seven-year-old wine. On the palate it had moderate acidity, ample blackberry fruit with spicy vanilla and coconut flavours and good body but – feel the alcohol burn! Quite unbalanced due to the alcohol.

(7) Ridge Geyserville 2008 (Alexander Valley) 14.5%
72% Zinfandel, 20% Carignan with Petite Sirah and Mourvèdre making up the balance. Deep ruby with youthful blackcurrant and blackberry, Christmas spice and cinnamon nose. Good acidity with raisin, sultana, Christmas spice and vanilla cake flavours, quite smooth tannin with warming alcohol. Long length with sweetened red fruits and vanilla finish. A great wine to have when snuggling up to a warm fire for the night.

(8) Orin Swift The Prisoner 2007 ( Napa) 15.2%
A smorgasborg of grapes: 50% Zinfandel, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah, 2% Charbono, 1 % Grenache. It was an opaque deep ruby colour with developing red and black fruit aromas, moderate acidity, quite smooth, well-integrated tannin and very ripe red and black fruit flavours. Although the alcohol was high, it was not hot, as the sheer weight of the fruit balanced it somewhat. Good long length too, but probably a wine to share and not drink on your own!

(9) Ch. Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Napa) 13.7% US$55
86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc with 18 months in barrel. Developing very ripe blackberry fruit with spicy overtones. Good acidity with complex flavours of blackberry, plum and spice, fine-grained tannin with highish alcohol, good weighty mouthfeel with fine integration of oak. The only question was regarding the alcohol (a) its potential to improve due to the alcohol and (b) was it balanced? Pushed for an answer, it would be drink now and slightly out of balance.

(10) Stags Leap Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Napa), 14.5% US$95
100% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged for 24 months in 70% new French oak. It showed youthful (for 2005!) ripe blackberry and spicy cedar notes, On the palate the flavours were similar but also with an exotic spice and sightly (what someone called a) medicinal component. Very smooth tannin with long length and hot finish. Very well-made wine, well structured but alcohol just a bit overpowering.

(11) Joseph Phelps Insignia 2005 (Napa) 14.5% US$210
92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 1 % Merlot with 24 months in 60-gallon barrels. Very fragrant blackcurrant aroma with a deep ruby colour. Ripe blackberry and plummy fruit flavours with very smooth and well-integrated tannin and well-balanced alcohol showing the skill of the winemaker here in creating this structure, as there is great balance between the complex fruits and the alcohol.


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