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WTN: '96 Abreu, '96 Solaia, '97 Solengo, '97 Viade

geo t.

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We got together with our friends Mark Schreier and Margaret Marchak for dinner recently, and drank some pretty snazzy wines. We were also joined by Mark and Margaret's friends Ron Hughes, Gerard Mantese and Cathy Morris. The place was lousy with lawyers, and we didn't mess around with no stinkin' whites, we just charged right into the big reds to accompany the hors d' oeuvres, which included Sicilian potato salad, jumbo Ecuadorian white shrimp dressed with parmesan shavings and nestled on a bed of arugula, white bean hummus and pita chips and Euro sticks with goat cheese.

1996 Abreu Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch, 13.2% alc.: This dark garnet colored Cabernet really set the tone for the evening's wines, and would ultimately prove to be my favorite of the lot. Rich, concentrated, opulent and impeccably balanced, it exudes beautiful sea air, aquarium, cassis and black raspberry aromatics that follow through on the palate, picking up little hints of tobacco, cocoa and herbs as it opens. One of the best Cabernets I've ever had the pleasure to taste from anywhere, very food friendly and perhaps best of all, as well as it's drinking now, it has yet to reach its peak. Many, many thanks to Greg Ellis aka Vin Pays Doc for his generosity in gifting this beauty to Kim and this taster.

1996 Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 13.5% alc.: Margaret picked up this and the Solengo in Italy some years back, at a price that would probably piss off a lot of American wine collectors, and she thought it was about time to try it. Dark garnet in color, with black currant, cassis, black cherry, a note of tobacco, a bit of chocolate and a kiss of sweet oak in both flavor and aroma, this is another very well balanced, ultra - smooth red, with silky tannins and marvelous presence. Margaret agreed with me that if it has a drawback, it's that it finishes a bit shorter than one would expect from a wine of this stature (Cathy quipped, "Short on the finish, like my ex - husband..."), but that's a minor complaint in the overall scope of things.

1995 Paleo Bolgheri Rosso Superiore DOC, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Franc, 13% alc.: Ron brought this dark garnet along; it fit the varietal profile of the Tuscans being tasted, and he was curious as to what it was all about. Thick, rich and intense, it shows an earthy black currant, licorice, sour cherry and bitter chocolate character. The most "Italian" of the Italians at this tasting, this is a big wine, with excellent structure, fine balance and a nice finish. Give it at least a few more years in the cellar; it's still on the way up.

By the time we were ready to sit down to dinner, there were still two wines left to try, and they were more than up to the food (grilled lamb chops, polenta and pan roasted asparagus) and the competition.

1997 Argiano Solengo Toscana IGT, 13% alc.: We all noted a bit of the barnyard on the nose of this deep, dark garnet at first whiff, and Kim commented that she found it jammy, adding, "I was expecting something more tannic." It offers black currant and black cherry flavors and aromas, with a little chocolate on the nose, and a subtle earthiness underneath it all. It's a little thicker than the Abreu and Solaia, with more obvious structure, but it's not quite as elegant as either of those wines. Nevertheless, it is excellent; give it at least a few more years to show its best.

1995 Viader, 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Cabernet Franc, 13.5% alc.: Showing a fine balance in style between Napa and Bordeaux, this dark garnet blend features black currant, cassis, tobacco, earth and ash on the nose, with undertones of forest floor, all of which echo and expand on the palate with fine tannins, balanced acidity and a long finish. The rich fruit vies with the earthy character for dominance, but they never clash, and while it's great now, like everything else tasted on this occasion, it has yet to peak.

After dinner, Margaret wondered if anyone would be up to something sweet to drink along with the delectable caramel topped vanilla cheese cake she was serving for dessert, and when no one objected, she uncorked the next not - so - little number.

1998 Turley Napa Zinfandel "Delinquent," 19% alc.: Not quite inky, but certainly deep and dark in its garnet color, this shows its alcohol on both the nose and in the mouth, though it does lose some of its bite with air. It's like drinking chocolate covered cherries and black raspberries, and of course, it has the signature Turley dose of oak, which has never really bothered me. While not "sappy" sweet, it's definitely ultra rich, but never quite loses that heat, which is a little bothersome. Still, once it opens some, it pairs well enough with some yummy cheesecake.

It was a grand evening. No one left the table hungry or without a rosy glow, and the food and wines were simply brilliant. Many thanks to Marchak, Schreier and Associates for hosting a most superlative soirée.

- From Four Morels & Mo' Better Reds

Reporting from Day-twah,

geo t.

George Heritier aka geo t.

The Gang of Pour

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