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Notes from America: 2002 Silver Oak, 2006 Dominus

July 3, 2011

I always make it a point to drink only American wines whenever I find myself in the States, such is the abundance of good wines made in the USA. My only gripe is that prices have risen over the past decade, and that the wine service in most American steakhouses, while efficient, lack refinement – don’t expect your wines to be automatically decanted, the pour level is way too high for each glass (but of course…so that the customer is obliged to open another bottle), the stemware highly variable. The following wines were all drunk off the restaurant list during a brief trip to San Diego, CA.

2007 Arrowhead Saralee’s vineyard viognier, at Blue Point restaurant, San Diego on 24 June 2011. Light golden. If I hadn’t been told, I’d have thought this to be a chardonnay, such was the expansive spread of stony, flinty minerality on the palate, rich with the floral fragrance of white flowers and tropical fruits, creamy and buttery, generously layered. The greener notes from the ripe viognier developed only much later, adding further depth to the wine. Quite superb.

2002 Silver Oak Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon, USD120 (before taxes) from the list at Blue Point restaurant, San Diego on 24 June 2011. Popped and poured. Deep red with generous notes of violets and red berries, supported by a bed of darker fruits, promising a big wine. Instead, what came across was highly elegant and supple with early secondary nuances emerging from its depths without any tannic or alcoholic astringency, ending in a mild spicy finish. Excellent.

2006 Dominus, at Chianti, San Diego, 25 June 2011. Priced almost at cost at USD175, the vintage listed was for the 2001. However, as the restaurant had run out of that, they offered us the 2006 with a 10% discount, which we gladly accepted. Popped and poured. Deep dark red, highly prodigious on the nose with red and dark berries as well as orange peel and kumquat along with a deeper note of soy, smoke and sweet incense, promising a great deal of complexity ahead. It certainly lived up to that on the palate, revealing excellent layering and depth, with a distinct sense of terroir seldom found in other run-of-the-mill Californian cabernet even at this primary stage of the wine. Excellent.

2009 Caymus Conundrum, at Truluck’s  (supposedly the best restaurant in San Diego, but the stemware is woeful), 26 June 2011. Made from a blend of various white grapes that are not identified at all on the label. Languid dull golden. Generous bouquet of sweet fragrance, the underlying greenish note reminding one of the fresh morning dew dripping off white flowers, with notes of vanilla and sweet melons, rather grassy but undoubtedly attractive. Impressive as well on the palate, fairly broad and expansive with an illusion of fizz, tapering to a peculiar finish of tropical fruits with a mild pungency, reminding me of durians. Made for easy drinking but much, much more substantial than your usual quaffer. Very good.

2008 Duckhorn merlot, at Truluck’s. Deep ruby red. Forward characters of red fruits coated with glycerin and vanilla, with a substantial degree of petroleum-like fullness in the mid-body. A bit four-square and straightforward but it’s drinking quite well. A good accompaniment to the outstanding centre-cut beef fillet.

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