May was a fun month with an amazing Fortification Tour and some stellar tastings and then a few great local events. The beginning of a new month and more and more wine events continue to unfold.
This past weekend turned into a food and wine fest, with some of our best friends coming down from Vancouver to spend a few days with us. The first night was a fairly light rendition, but we still managed to enjoy a warm and sunny early evening which turned into a late night party with some good tunes, great food and interesting wines.
What, no Port?
We began with a bottle of 2007 Kopke Douro white wine which showed really well and kept us sated through our cheese course and early conversation. We then enjoyed a mixed grill of pork loin chops and marinated strips of sirloin, served atop some quinoa and surrounded by grilled vegetables.
To capture the flavors I popped a magnum of 1998 Chateau Musar Rouge. I really love the 1995 lately, but this youngster in large format was the real deal. Personally, this was clearly infanticide for a wine already at 11 years of age … but the potential is for another 10-15 years especially in this format. The meaty aromatics and smooth presence was a nice fit with both pork and beef. My friend Blair wanted to see if his girlfriend Bronwyn, could even guess what country this came from … but she likes Musar which is why I offered up this bottle.
She sniffed it and swirled and said, “This isn’t the 1998 Musar is it?” I kid you not. She had not yet even taken a sip and I am positive my wife had not leaked a word to her, as they were on opposite corners of the table. I jokingly asked if she was kidding with that guess, to see if it was just a total fluke … not yet indicating that she was right. My wife who knew what it was, sat very quietly although very happy to see a woman pull this off. “Brony” as we fondly refer to her, was not to be rattled and stuck to her guns. I bowed deeply and kissed her on the head, literally blown away by her mastery.
Speaking of infanticide, Blair had brought along a 1999 Quintarelli Valpolicella which was rocking. Maybe not in the same class as the 1996/1997 duo, but it exhibited great breeding and a smattering of prune and roasted flavors and although not a perfect fit with the food, in tandem with the Musar … it really hit my pleasure zone. Quintarelli is my all-time favorite producer of Italian wine, so anyone visiting who wonders what to bring along, you will never disappoint by bringing a Valp or Amarone, with that name on it. There was a nice sliver of a moon out, actually a perfect crescent and the dark Washington country sky highlighted the big dipper which was directly over the table on our deck where we spent the entire time. My wife was going to be doing a great dessert the next night when we added another couple to the mix and my daughter was a bit disappointed that there was nothing sweet for her to enjoy, so she went inside to watch a movie.
Out came the dessert wine. First was a scintillating bottle of 1983 Ch. Rieussec Sauternes. I have a bunch of these still and don’t pull them out all that often anymore. I love the vintage and have several other producers too, but this was going to be just fine at 26 years of age. It had remained in the high 60 degree range that evening outside and we just sat and talked for hours, slowly sipping until every last drop of this nectar was gone. Gorgeous acidity and flavors of dried apricots, coconut and nectarine were enhanced by the cut and length of this wine’s structure. It showed just enough aged characteristics that it was at a really nice stage in its evolution.
But it was only 11 p.m. and we were still thirsty and not yet tired. As Bronwyn had hit the jackpot with her Musar deduction, I asked her to decide what wine we should drink next. I was pretty sure she would ask for Madeira … which we all drink together, early and often when I am up in Vancouver, but surprisingly she said, “another Rieussec, please.” I got a good laugh and headed down to the cellar.
Wanting to try something different, as I’ve had the 1996 and 1997 fairly recently, I reached for another 750 … but this time, it was the 1998 version, although I did consider a 1989 for a moment. But I wanted to show a very different side of the Rieussec. The 1998 Rieussec was every bit as solid as the 1983 which I had anointed with 94 points. I probably would be a point, maybe two lower with the '98, as I am a big fan of aged Sauternes, but I must say the 1998 is better than it is given credit for. In fact it was not only more weighty than the sexy ’83, but the flavor intensity was revved up every bit as high and it was a smooth and lush example of what Rieussec can achieve. The longer this sat in the glass, the more difficult it was to choose a favorite between young and old. I think the ’98 … if it ages as well as the ’83 … might have even more penetrating and concentrated flavors. That is saying a mouthful as I have always been a huge fan of the older vintage, as mentioned.
A couple more hours passed and it was time to get some sleep for “The Big Night” was on Saturday. Our other friends drove up from the South Puget Sound and it was their first time coming to our home for dinner. It had reached close to 80 degrees and was just starting to head back down to the mid-70s which most of us were pretty happy with.
Megan and Chris arrived and the festivities began. We all headed out to the deck after a short while inside to see the Port area downstairs and check out the cellar. I was parched and looking forward to whetting the whistle after spending several hours prepping in the kitchen. Megan is the more serious wine lover in the family and she does some work for one of WA’s top wineries in her spare time. Chris certainly likes and “gets” wine and he is willing to try anything, so this was going to be a fun night for all.
We again began with a simple cheese assortment of a half dozen yummy and creamy offerings, along with items like aged smoked Gouda and some rockin’ blues too. We started off with the crisp 2007 Crasto Douro White which was a point with its zippy acidity and light citrus zest flavors that complemented and did not overpower the various cheese selections.
My first course was a scallop, kalamata and sun-dried tomato concoction all encapsulated by prosciutto which I came up with that afternoon, as I love to experiment on company. Megan and Chris’ bottle of 1990 Pol Roger Chardonnay (identical to a Blanc de Blanc, not sure why it was called Chard?) presented the perfect pairing. This bottle showed a slightly oxidized profile and the nuttiness actually really caught the sun-dried tomato flavors and took those nuances to a different level in the dish. Great character and a fine mousse and a much appreciated offering!
The second course was what I like to call “Mezzaluna” because it starts off in a half moon shape. It is virtually a Caprese salad that is pan-seared inside a flour tortilla with buffalo mozzarella, vine ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, EVOO and again, some delish prosciutto. This needed something a tad bigger than the prior two light and crisp whites and Blair had a fun Chard he had picked up that afternoon from a producer I’d never heard of. It was a 2006 Licoco Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast and actually was able to stand up to the hand-held moonies without dominating the flavors. Medim-bodied and creamy without too much oak influence, I enjoyed this one and will seek it out again. I believe it is available at Whole Foods.
Appetites sated for the moment, I could fully enjoy the next course. So much for appetizers and lighter fare, meaning white wine. It was time to break out some of the interesting reds that I was looking forward to. We began with a 1974 Louis Martini “Special Select” Cabernet Sauvignon. What a quaint old label too. The fill level was still into the neck and the color looked great. I’ve had this bottle forever and it was the perfect time to share it with good friends. Actually, I knew Megan had never had a domestic Cab with this much age on it and I was really hoping that her first experience with one of this age, would be a memorable one. Fortunately, the cork came out in one piece and this smelled better than I could have expected right from the get go. Still plenty of dark red fruits, some animalistic characteristics, leather and tobacco. This was one smooth operator and I was very pleased by the sublime flavor profile and was smiling with how well this showed at 35 years after the harvest. No doubt about it, 1974 was truly one of the greatest CA Cab years, as practically every bottle I’ve had from this vintage has been a "wow" experience. I am sure this was probably less than $10 when it first hit the market and may have even been closer to $5, who knows?
Next up was a bottle of 1999 Domaine de Remizieres “Cuvee Emily” Hermitage which Blair had selected from his cellar for this evening of eclectic offerings. Meaty and with just the slightest hint of Brett, this screamed out for food, but we were still a little while from being hungry for the main course, and the red wine kept our attention. This was showing some nice complex layers on the mid-palate and with a soft finish with a really long aftertaste. I liked this a lot and was sorry when the last sip was over.
The charcoal was just about ready for cooking on and I had been marinating a leg of lamb which I had butchered earlier in the day. But first on the grill were some farm fresh asparagus with Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Quinta de Vargellas and Portuguese sea salt. Next to be grilled were the Portabello mushrooms which had been soaking in Merlot all afternoon. Cooked up tender and held warm, waiting for the lamb brochettes and sweet potatoes, this was going to be quite the feast.
The wines chosen to accompany the lamb with fixings, was a 1995 Phelps Insignia, which was par for the course and drinking like a fine five to ten year old bottle and not showing 14 years of age. That said, what’s not to love. Although not as profound, but possibly the better pairing with our lamb was a really beautiful showing by South African born, 2004 Warwick's Three Cape Ladies. I was really glad they joined us in the glass, because it was an excellent counterpoint poured beside the Insignia … even though it appeared to be the older of the two in terms of evolution. For those of you that don’t know this exciting red wine made by Warwick … I am a huge fan and the 2002 is even greater today, but the 2004 did the trick. We sat and slowly made our way through these two bottles while picking at the plate in front of each of us.
My daughter was in heaven as although she does not particularly care for asparagus, she loves lamb and sweet potatoes too. The Insignia really opened up and showed focus and dark purple fruits and very round tannins but was still quite primary considering its age. Not really too surprising from Insignia which can age for 2-3 decades with great aplomb. The Three Cape Ladies was far more about earthy character and had a smoky nature which appealed to me and coaxed the lamb flavors. I looked around the table and all glasses and both bottles were empty. Whoa, this is a serious sextet of wine lovers.
I had a real treat in mind and it was something that I knew Blair and my wife would love and that Megan and Chris would never have experienced. I came back from the cellar and quickly decanted a bottle of 1983 Hanzell Pinot Noir. This was the way to finish off a fine dinner of lamb. It was still a bit cool initially from the cellar and we let it warm up a drop although honestly, it was not easy letting it do so as it was already offering massive sous bois notes that I knew would make the Portabella mushrooms sing. Easily the best texture of any wine on the night, it was drinking like a 1990 Romanee St. Vivant and that is saying a heck of a lot from No. CA Pinot Noir. In fact, this wine’s best days are still ahead.
My wife brought out her fresh raspberry tart and homemade cream and it was time to enjoy the “stickies.” First up was my last bottle of 2001 de Trafford “Straw Wine” which is actually a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc that I hand-carried back from Stellenbosch upon release. I love this wine and am very sad to see it go, but I must say … it did itself proud on this night and all of us were pretty happy with its profile and precision.
Next came a 375 of 1990 Quinta do Vesuvio marked “Cask Sample” and it too was a very fine bottle of sweet berry filled goodness. Formal tasting notes will be launched at the appropriate time. The 11th and final bottle of the night and was a 2007 Offley “cask sample” which l had thoroughly tasted through in Gaia. What an extraordinary night in that the only replication of wine stylistically were the two Ports at the end of the night.
I have always liked eclectic tastings though, and while some would say they lack focus, it is a fun way to approach wine as long as they make sense in pairing with the food. Thanks Blair and Bronwyn, Megan and Chris … it was a true pleasure sharing such a wonderful evening with you all.
This is getting much longer than I like for a typical blog entry, so I will end with just a quick note. Two nights later, one of my tasting groups got together and we enjoyed 10 very fine Pinot Noirs from CA. My personal favorite that night (new to me) was one of the least expensive ones. It was the 2006 Alesia, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which is the "2nd label" of PN from Rhys. This was a real beauty and we had some very high end Pinots in the lineup including two Rhys, Rochioli, Flowers, Radio Couteau and others of note. If you really enjoy Pinot, look around for this, which I've heard is typically only $30 and sometimes less.