It was the best of times, spent with great friends -- although I am not one for big birthday celebrations except once a decade for the big one ending in "0" of course.
So this was a rather quiet celebration that began with our tasting group venturing into Rioja, white/red, old and young. Some mighty fine bottlings even though I typically tend towards the less elegant and more explosive style of Priorat, I do have some fine older bottlings of Rioja in the cellar for such occasions.
We began with a 1989 R. Lopez de Heredia Tondonia white wine - absolutely stunning although possibly a bit less extraordinary than the 1981 which I've had several times and love. This too truly took two hours before it showed the great complexity for which this producer's reputation has been built. The nose is exotic and is still bested by the layered flavors and great length.
Next up was a 1997 R. Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rosato which appeared more like a salmon-orange tinged color than a typical Rose. It offered very youthful notes and at the same time the impression of an older wine, an interesting dichotomy. I was honestly not all that impressed, especially next to the greatness of the 1989.
To cut to the chase, I'll just mention a few of the standouts in the lineup:
1995 Prado Enea Muga, Gran Reserva was one of the big surprises as this is a fairly inexpensive bottle and if you can find some … this is truly a beauty that I had rated 94 points. It appeared to be a decade older but drank like something from the early '90s and from the friend that had brought this along, it showed spot on with other previous bottles. Meaty, peppery and with some light Brett funk which I loved, this was as much about the texture as it was about the unique flavor profile.
A trio of R. Lopez de Heredia Riojas were educational and as it is my favorite Rioja producer, I was pleased to see both the Bosconia and Tondonia bottlings show so well. We had the 1981 Bosconia which at 28 years of age is still holding onto some fruit but it faded after about 45 minutes in the glass. Drink up and enjoy it. The 2000 Bosconia was even better 94 points, and showed a smoky, gamey character both on the nose and palate and exceptional fruit to acidity symmetry. The tannins and long finish show this has a ways to go yet and the upside is huge. I brought along the 1985 Tondonia, which I had purchased a few years ago in London in OWC and they've all shown so beautifully. This bottle, less so. Whereas it normally needs an hour or more to come around, this time I think we waited too long with it in decanter (two hours +) and it seemed very demure and withdrawn. A darn shame and I only have a couple left at this point. Wonderful and almost Burgundian when spot on.
The best was yet to come as I had a few couples coming over the next two nights and our friends were staying at our home. I had a lot of cooking to do and was prepared for the onslaught.
The first night we started with some of my favorite whites on earth … Meursault. Even at the Village level, the 2001 Domaine des Comtes Lafon "Clos de la Barre" really hit my sweet spot. I loved this one and it showed perfectly as it warmed up a bit having been refrigerated for our cheese course. Sleek, minerality and with ample acidity, this was up to par with many a 1er cru. 91 points
Then came the real white star: 2005 Domaine Latour-Giraud Meursault-Genevrieres 1er cru, was truly a Grand Vin. Delicious and exacting, with great delineation and complex aromas and the slightly oily viscous mouthfeel that always intrigues me with fine bottles of Meursault. The oak was well-integrated and added a creamy nuance which was cool and this was a real treat as the final starter while we sat around enjoying the conversation.
We had three wines with the enormous portions of one of my favorite dishes, eggplant parmesan, which always goes over well and pairs with a variety of Italian wines. We started with a 1999 Felsina Fontalloro which I bought a six pack of upon release, I have been buying this since the '93 vintage and they age beautifully. Interesting notes of sun-dried tomatoes, prune and dark cherry notes. Soft, smooth and with mild tannins, carried by crisp acidity and a sublime match for the eggplant. 92 points
Second in the lineup was my second go round with an IGT wine from the Umbria area of Italy. 1998 Scambia Winery Pinot Nero - (from the Antica Selva di Meana Estate near Orvieto in Allerona). The Pinot Nero (Italian for Pinot Noir) from the Poggio Barile parcel is something very special as vineyards go back over 700 years. The Scambia family took over the estate 32 years ago and is making some of the finest Pinot Nero in the entire country. Dark garnet color which belies its age. Kalamata and earthy scents along with generous strawberry and smoky black cherry fragrances. Really harmonious and remarkably young with a sexy mouthfeel and tons of textural pleasure. Ripe but round tannins promise that this will continue to seamlessly drink well for at least another decade. 94+ points
Last but not least was a truly fine Super Tuscan, the 2001 Sassicaia, Tenuta Guado al Tasso - possibly the finest version of this I have had except for the great 1985, which I always love. The nose is packed with scents of tobacco, dill, blood, creosote and earthy dark fruits. Great entry and complex layers of dark plum, truffles and tar in the mid-palate. Huge chalky tannins and very smooth in the mouth, this is a gentle giant with 15-20 years of drinking pleasure. 95 points
We had an assortment of 2007 Vintage Ports, all done blind … which disclosed days later turned out to be … Andresen, Ferreira and Quinta do Vesuvio. In order of preference: Vesuvio, Andresen and Ferreira all of which are worthy and quite tasty. Notes on all of these Ports will be coming in the August newsletter.
The last night of the celebrations had a far more diverse menu and a different wine theme that was very different than the Rioja and Italian wines. The evening's celebration began with a Douro white, the 2007 Kopke Douro white - showing pear and green apple notes. A hint of peach but mostly tart flavorful fruit and vibrant acidity carry this with a broad variety of cheeses. A fine and persistent aftertaste. 89 points
The next course was my famed Mezzaluna, a common app served in my home, virtually a Caprese salad inside a pan-seared tortilla. This was paired with a 2005 Gaisberg Riesling, an Austrian beauty Zeibing/Kamptal from "Hirsch." Soft and spicy, with nectarine, white peach and zippy acidity in a dry Kabinett-like style. Everyone loved this pairing. 91 points
I love to play around with scallop dishes and this time chose to do a really spicy, moderately hot version with some Pedro Jimizez (Malaga) and Thai red hot chili sauce. To cut through some of the spice so that we could possibly still taste the delectable scallops, I chose a 2001 J.J. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würtzgarten, Auslese Riesling - this had a marvelous sweetness which brought out the scallop flavor. Also a petrol savory nuance depicting candied apricots and apple compote. Luscious. 92 points
It was time to load up the grill with sirloin steaks and the red wine had been in decanter for a couple of hours. I had broken out a mini vertical of Clos du Val, Napa Cabernets and was anxious to see how these bottles had progressed over the years, with the vintages 1994 through 1997.
1997 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa - this wine showed very young. It was the most powerful and black fruited wine of the bunch. Big and chalky tannins with flavors of currants and cocoa powder. Perhaps the best of the four in terms of standing up to the steaks. 92 points
1996 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa - This was the most approachable and fully resolved of the lot. Offering some funky, Burg like sous bois notes on the nose, complex and earthy. This shows "old school" Napa Cab character with a nod to Bordeaux. Fantastic match with the Port-marinated portabello 'shrooms, silky on the palate and with a delicious mature and lengthy finish. 93 points
1995 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa - This bottle showed poorly and I won't waste your time.
1994 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa - At 15 this is a gorgeous wine and ready to go, yet it shows it has the stuffing to drink well for another full decade or more. Bordeaux like nose, with some tar, nutmeg, cedar and dark cherry/pomegranate notes. Near perfect integration, with excellent structural components and copious layers of earth, funk, cherries, plums and blackberry fruit. 94+ points
Time for dessert, peach pie and ice cream along with:
Kopke Rosé Port (cask sample) 375 ml - hot pink color, with aromas of orange rind and apple jolly rancher. Light in the acidity department although overall, the balance is ok. Medium-bodied. Fruity and forward. 84 points
Barros 10 Year Old White (cask sample) 375 ml - Nose of Marzipan and cedar with a nutty nuance. There's a roasted note and a variety of nut flavors and a simply marvelous mouthfeel. It was better slightly chilled than at room temperature. 90 points