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Drinkin' Those 88's

michel schlumberger chardonnay Not being a big fan of California wines these days, I did not expect much when I pulled the cork, but the wine soon converted me. It was certainly rich and full-flavored, but there was an underlying structure and a lot more to grab your attention than simple fruit. This was a damn good cabernet as it was very varietal and had personality, but best of all, the second glass was even more interesting and enjoyable to drink than the first. My instincts led me to check out the pointy rankings awarded this wine by the major critics. Sure enough, I was right as the point rankings hovered in the high 80's with the top wines hitting that magic number 88.

The reality is that many (if not most) of the wines that are really wonderful to drink with food are rated in the high eighty point range by The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator and other major wine publications. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for this service as their reviews are keeping high alcohol, oaky, over-extracted wines designed for pointy reviewers instead of dinner at the highest prices, while the very best wines are held to more reasonable price points. While those suckers are out there taking out second mortgages to grab the latest Screaming Eagle, we can grab up cases of wonderful wine for what they pay for bottles. The dangers of buying these highly rated wines with scores as high as their pH can be found in this previous post.

Somehow we need to shift our concept that the very first sip of a wine tells you more about its character than the second glass. Considering that's not likely to happen in a Wine Spectator world, we'll just have to save money and enjoy the fact that many of the best wines don't make it into the hallowed 90 point range. The point about these points is clear to anyone who knows anything about statistics. That is while there is statistically no difference between a 90 point wine and a 88 point wine, there almost certainly will be a difference in price.

These particular 88's came from the Dry Creek Estate Vineyards of Michel-Schlumberger, a brand name that must cause their marketing director migraines and proves that naming a winery after yourself is not always a great idea. I first visited this estate years ago when it was simply Domaine Michel, but with the arrival of current owner Jacques Schlumberger, of the famous Alsatian winemaking family, the name morphed into its current hyphenated form. However, this is bonus points for frugal consumers as the combination of a clumsy name with under 90 points reviews is a positive boon when the wines are this good.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Deux Terres, Estate Bottled, Dry Creek Valley, 2004 - A lovely structure with great balance and well integrated tannins. While it will improve for years, this wine is approachable now. I found my nose drawn to the glass again and again as I tried to identify each refined nuance. While decidedly a California wine, this is a wine made by someone who loves great Bordeaux.
  • Merlot, , Estate Bottled, Dry Creek Valley, 2004 - Here is a wine that reminds how good a merlot can be. Fragrant and soft while maintaining an edge that keeps the wine alive and delivers a long, complex finish.
  • Syrah, Estate Bottled, Dry Creek Valley, 2005 - Appropriately big, but not over the top.  You won’t confuse this syrah with grape concentrate. Meaty and oaky with a firm structure and more than enough fruit to carry the alcohol. I liked this wine quite a bit as it’s so hard to find a California wine that knows how to be big with dignity.
  • Chardonnay, La Brume, Estate Bottled, Dry Creek Valley, 2005 - Loaded with rich fruit, yeasty lees, mineral and light toasty oak aromas and flavors all tied together in a tight package. You have to wonder why more California chardonnay does not taste like this. Proof that chardonnay can be both rich and structured.