What Sarah thought was the "Viognier Battle" was actually a surprise birthday dinner, with her as the guest of honor. She had no idea. Instead of bringing a bottle of Viognier, guests who were in on the secret brought wines to pair with the multiple courses of the dinner. Wines were not served blind, and no points were awarded.
Trevor Jones Sparkling Shiraz Non-Vintage (South Australia). Not a wimpy sparkler at 13% alcohol, tasters noted flavors cherry cola, blackberries, vanilla, and black pepper. Very dark in color, showing hints of oak and a long, dry finish. Kristin described a tartness or bite to the finish. Sarah found it "beautiful", and David announced that this was one of the best examples of a sparkling Shiraz he has yet tasted. Ali and Andyís bottle. About $25.
Renwood Viognier "Select Series" 2003 (Lodi). Scents of lavender and flowers, that Kristin thought was overwhelming. Tasted like honeydew melon, red apple, white cranberries, and orange rind. Exhibited a definite spiciness, like cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg. Oak aging stood out too much as it warmed in the glass, which was too Chardonnay-like for some. Sarahís bottle. About $13.
Saintsbury Pinot Noir 2002 (Carneros). Tasters felt the nose evoked bubble gum, along with an earthy, loamy quality, not unlike "wet sock". David felt it had a "bright cherry nose". Slightly vegetal, with a bit of flowers and cloves. Deep red color. Medium to full-bodied, and weighty on the palate. Cola on the deep finish. David appreciated its overall balance and presence in the mouth. Andy and Ali loved this one, with Ali proclaiming, "itís everything I want in a Pinot". Stephenís bottle. About $30.
Matanzas Creek Merlot 1999 (Sonoma). Tart kiwi, raspberry, cranberry and apple scents. Slight oakiness, along with vanilla and tobacco. Jammy, with Ali suggesting a "black and red licorice blend". Served a bit too cool, this warmed to reveal more earthiness, leather and tannin. Andy felt that it was "quiet, and then crescendos", while Stephen noticed a "green tea nose". Hints of nutmeg and celery on the finish. David was slightly disappointed in it. Davidís bottle. About $40.
La Spinetta Moscato díAsti "Bricco Quaglia" 2003. Lightly bubbly, or "frizzante" as the Italians would call it, this was typically low in alcohol at 5.5%. Not overly sweet, and showed pineapple, honey, peaches and tangerine. Fresh and summery. Andy indicated flavors of "pez candy", while others noted lemon meringue and apricot. Ali and Andyís bottle. About $20.