I sure spit out a lot of wine every year. I probably taste 1000 wines a year or so, modest compared to a lot of people in the wine trade, and the only way to survive the mega-tasting is to spit. But sometimes you are actually supposed to swallow the stuff with your friends! What happens when you get a whole bunch of guys together that can cook and all collect wine? You end up with an epic bacchanal. A group of us opened a couple of dozen bottles on Saturday night, mostly from the 1990s, mostly Cabernet Sauvignons, and a few older surprises. For food, we started with two excellent fresh flatbreads with sage and onioins, then a pasta dish I made, inspired by this month's Saveur magazine: Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, cream, and a black truffle the size of a child's fist. Man, that was good. (My good friend's Father smuggled in a kilo of black truffles from france and he was kind enough to donate a goodly chunk for the cause). Then some meltingly tender short ribs braised in veal stock.
Through the twenty emails or so that led up to the event, we settled on mostly Cabs, and a lot of them were from the 1990s and early 2000s. I also donated some intesting whites. As usual, here were the standouts.
The Savory Whites:
2007 J. Rochioli Chardonnay, South River Vineyards
A great American Chardonnay, in the same league as Kistler and Staglin Family. Beautiful forest-floor and mushroom scents along with lemon peel and jasmine. This is like a full-bodied Meursault and could easily pass for a French Chardonnay with a good oaking. Balanced and lovely. Recommended.
2005 Chateau Haut-Bergey Blanc, Passac-Léognan
A stunning blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (usually 63%/37%) from the owners of Clos L'Eglise along with superstar consultants Michael Rolland and Jean-Luc Thunevin. At first whiff, you wonder where the cat is, but that dissipates quickly and subtle aromas of lime peel, beeswax, and grapefruit take over. Everyone really loved this wine and were disappointed when I said I bought the last bottle at the Wine House. Recommended.
1995 Chapoutier St. Joseph Blanc
Clearly this was reaching the end of its life for fruitiness, but the compelling aromas of honey, peach pit, and citrus keep my nose in the glass wanting more. The fruit has gone flabby, but this is one to keep sniffing all night. Interesting, but if you have any of this, drink up.
The Reds - in order of preference:
1994 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
At first this gave off some crazy gases that were frankly, a bit off-putting. But after a half hour or so in the glass, this turned into the hit of the night. The smell was like walking into a cigar store. Both elegant and powerful with toothy tannins and incredible lushness. Excellent now. Recommended.
2001 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Classic and flawless. This also had considerable tobacco scents, but was still fruit-front-and-center. Round and lush, soft but with great acid balance to give it a nice attack. Flavors lasted on the tongue forever. Delicious and recommended.
1996 Chateau Beychevelle, St. Julien
Very clean, almost to the point of a fault, really. Had some slight green flavors, but overall, delicious. This just drinks like a classic St. Julien with a little age on it. Powerful and extracted, though medium in body.
1996 Mas de Daumas Gassac, Languedoc-Roussillon
I threw this in as a blind-bag tasting and asked only where it was from. I had guesses from Chilean Cab to Napa Cab to Nebbiolo from Italy. The guys shouldn't feel so bad, good sommelier's have had a tough time figuring out that this is from Languedoc-Roussillon. Mas de Daumas Gassac is so earthy, chewy, and heady that few can believe it's from France's equivalent of the Central Valley. This isn't a brilliant year, kind of short-lived, so while this started off with a lot of power and character, as the night wore on, it's aromas didn't hold up to the rest of the Bordeaux and California Cabs. I have had 3 other vintages, most notably the incredible 1983, which I tasted blind from magnum, and I swore it was from Margaux. Seek this wine out, especially in years that the South of France had good seasons. Recommended.
Many of the others were notable, but those were my favorites.