Last fall, I traveled to Orange County, more specifically Laguna Beach for this occasion, to enjoy an evening of fine food and wine with some of the OC wine aficionado contingency. This all started with friendly posts back and forth on the WineBerserker website over a span of a few years with mutual offers to share various wines. Thanks to Chris Seiber, we made it happen.
That experience was so stellar, it was a natural to repeat it and this time we convened in Newport Beach at the perfect venue, The Winery, located between PCH and the bay in the Balboa Peninsula.
One gets the restaurant`s commitment to wine when first entering and observing an entire refrigerated glass floor to high ceiling wall of individually named compartments for patrons to keep their private stash. What a cool idea and one that must ensure repetitive customer loyalty.
We were seated in a private upstairs dining room looking right down on a couple of yachts with numerous others in the background and the fog hidden sunset somewhere in the mix. Appropriate Riedel stemware was used and one of their somms helped to prepare, open and pour all of our wines. Also we were graced with friendly dedicated service from one of their best waitresses.
We ate and drank well and to make life easier on those of us who are diligent note takers, our organiser prepared a form with all but the late arrival wines listed in the order of the pre-selected flights.
The first flight of 2 champagnes:
2004 LOUIS ROEDERER BRUT CRISTAL- this was the first Prestige Cuvée ever, created in 1876 for Tsar Alexander II of Russia and is made of 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and aged for 6 years plus being held for 8 more months after disgorgement; our bottle was as good as the others I`ve had, if not better; it certainly expressed the royalty anticipated for this Grande Marque with its perfect balance and definitive precision, bright acidity and layers of fresh citrus fruit with accents of mild ginger, minerals and white pepper; it seemed to just expand across the palate as well as in the glass; Bravo.
We read off a code on the bottle, but when I ran it past Brad Baker to decipher it, the numbers we had were not valid.
2004 VILMART COEUR de CUVEE [“heart of the cuvée” ] BRUT- 1er Cru- 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir from the Blanches Voies Hautes in Rilly la Montagne; disgorged in December 2011; made from a cuvee that is comprised of 1400 litres instead of the usual 2050 litres; it is aged in 228-litre oak barrels for the first through third transfers and aged for a total of some 10 months before bottling without malolactic fermentation; then the wine ages on the lees in the bottle for around six years; had this been drunk on its own, it would have shined even brighter, but against the Cristal, one almost is relegated to making a comparison; I liked it a lot; it had nice acidity, refreshing citrus, apple, lemon and lime notes with an underlying streak of spice; one mentioned the dosage was about 8 g/l, but it seemed to be a bit more sweet to me, but not to a fault.
Second flight of 2 whites:
2015 JEAN-CLAUDE RAMONET la BOUDRIOTTE CHASSAGNA-MONTRACHET- 1er Cru; 13.5% abv,; this went through many changes in the glass, so much so, I`d decant it well in advance of serving again; initially the nose was somewhat muted and the taste profile was inclusive of mild, fresh citrus notes, but in time and with a little less chill, it gave mineral laced lemon zest and later on came orange, pear and white peach fruit with a dollop of toast from the yet to be fully integrated oak; it was medium+ bodied, bordering on being elegant and charming; the lsat taste was the best.
2015 DOMAINE BERNARD GRIPA le BERCEAU BLANC SAINT-JOSEPH- 100% Marsanne; as with the Ramonet, this grew over time in the glass and once it became more evolved, it gave up some nice treasures including lightly honeyed tropical fruit, pear, chalky mineralality; it was so easy on the palate and a real treat to taste the pure essence of Rhone made Marsanne.
Third flight of 3 reds:
2007 RIVERS-MARIE SUMMA VINEYARD SONOMA COAST PINOT NOIR- 14.1% abv.; aged in 100% new French oak; the fruit is sourced from one of my favourite vineyard designates by Burt Williams for his wines from 1988-1997; Summa was first planted in 1979 with additional acreage planted in 1998 [referred to as “young vines” vs. the original “old vines”] and in 2000; it is truly cool climate Pinot Noir being just 6 miles inland from the Pacific; Thomas Rivers Browne bought the 1979-2000 Summa Vineyard plantings in September 2010; this was my first taste of this wine and I found it to be very intriguing; it was full bodied, rich and very expressive of ripe cranberry, red cherry/ berry with a hint of spice and black pepper; the amazing thing about this wine for me was it seemed to be big, but it wasn’t; it certainly was more fruit forward and yet after the long fruity finish, it had elegance and finesse.
As an aside, the Williams Selyem 1991 Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir was offered to the mailing list at $100 a bottle, the first California Pinot Noir to sell for this lofty price. Burt figured that if people wouldn’t buy it, he and Ed would take it all home and drink it. Williams said about the wine’s price, “C-note or c-none.” The wine sold out in three days and I bought one bottle, long gone.
2008 RHYS SKYLINE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR- the initial nose and taste was extremely fruit forward and it struggled to get to a semblance of balance, briary wild cherry was most evident in the nose which continued on and was joined by some clove, spice and mint, the finish was of concentrated ripe fruit.
1967 MARCARINI BRUNATE BAROLO- decanted in advance, this was a real treat for me in that it had some viability demonstrated not only in its faded light red colour, but its red fruit profile; the nose initially had a little funk which blew off, but in a blind tasting would have been a dead giveaway for a wine with some age on it; the red cherry perfume continued on to the back end with staying power; it was light in weight as well as colour, I enjoyed it and its elegance.
The next flight of 3 Musar comes from Chris who graciously brought them although knowing they are best suited to be enjoyed over the course of a long evening to allow them to evolve:
1995 CHATEAU MUSAR BEKKA VALLEY ROUGE- I’ve been reading many threads and posts about Musar on Wine Talk and this was my first ever from this Lebanese producer as Chris knew and thusly brought especially for that reason; it is made with a variable blend of Cinsault, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon; for each vintage, the varietals are fermented separately in concrete vats, then spend up to 24 months in French oak barriques at which point the final blend is created depending on the development of each varietal; the wines are then bottled and stored in the cellars until their release after about 5 years; the light red purple colour was the lightest of the 3; the first nose was pretty inundated with Brett with a touch of spice; sweet cranberry, red cherry/ berry fruit was delivered in a smooth, medium+ body; with some time, the fruit profile expanded and made this much more pleasurable and the Brett component stayed front and centre.
1999 CHATEAU MUSAR BEKKA VALLEY ROUGE- with a bit more darker red purple colour, the Brett component existed in this one too; I got red and black raspberry along with the red cherry and cranberry notes and the nice streak of spice; as with the 95` it seemed to morph in the glass and as Chris had stated, it just needs time to evolve and for us to track it perhaps not only in one sitting, but over 2-3 days. I’m a believer.
2004 CHATEAU MUSAR BEKKA VALLEY ROUGE- my fav of the 3, this was the pure essence of the fruit blend, in perfect balance and devoid of the Brett factor to my perception; it had fresher and slightly sweeter expressions of red cherry, red currant, cranberry and black raspberry as well as some talc, sandalwood and spice accents; as with the other 2, this grew in the glass over time and improved markedly even though it started in a good place, it became even something better. I’m a fan.
The next flight of 3 reds:
2015 XAVIER GERARD COTE ROTIE- some research on this unknown producer to me states this wine is an assemblage of the estate’s finest parcels, a single Cote-Rotie cuvée sourced principally from the Mollard lieu-dit (65%) with the balance a mix of Font-Jean, Viallière, and La Landonne; the de-stemming regimen varies with vintage, though a significant part is generally left as whole clusters; in the nose, I got some bacon like syrupy notes; the taste was more redolent of violets, spicy and mildly peppered blueberry and blackberry fruit; it was easy on the palate and finished with more energy than it started with; I’m a fan of this too. I believe Charlie Fu wrote up this producer recently, but have not found the link.
2011 PROMONTORY RED WINE NAPA- another first time exposure, but one I`ve heard of, this comes from the latest winemaking venture from Bill Harlan, the entrepreneur and wine impresario who founded Harlan Estate in the late 1980s; it is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend made with grapes sourced from an Oakville vineyard a mile south of Harlan Estate; the first commercial release was the 2008 vintage; I believe it is mailing list only available; I do not know if this was decanted, but it would have benefitted immensely by being so many hours in advance as it is a huge wine with serious depth and complexity still in its infancy; the dark, inky colour denotes such; the nose is very inviting and suggestive of something quite profound and oak laden; true to the nose, it was majorly oaky with sweet blackberry and black currant fruit with vanilla, liquorice and dark chocolate accents.
2012 CARLISLE PAPA`S BLOCK RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY SYRAH- with its deep, dark purple colour, this was young and spry with lots of energy minimally restrained; it had nice, liquorice and tar accented sweet plum, black cherry and blackberry flavours with a wild streak in its midst; also it had bracing acidity, serious depth with layers upon layers unfolding and a long, satisfying finish which were all welcomed as well.
The final wine that I tasted:
2007 QUINTESSA CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA- the nose was as serious as the dark ruby purple with huge wafts of ripe dark fruit which translated on the palate as being blackberry, black cherry and black currant with a strong hit of oak spice coming in past middle; it was full bodied, layered and long, this would best be decanted for hours in advance of serving evidenced by its evolution over 30 minutes in the glass.
Prior to serving, I took photos of all of the wines on the table, but when I finished my notes, It appears there was a 2008 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountain Syrah that I missed; nonetheless, I was completely satiated as this was a very special evening inclusive of great wines, food, ambience and fellowship.
I`m very grateful for the opportunity to hang out with this group of guys. Each and every one has have a genuine, kind and gentle demeanour. I’m blessed to have a stellar lunch group, dinner group and blind tasting group in Santa Barbara and now an extension with this equally stellar contingency of the OC tribe.