West Coast Cabernet Dinner Club
This was the second such evening in the PDR of Marcus Wareing, a most beautiful room where you are spoiled by the attentive, first rate service of their head sommelier (who has a never-ending supply of Zalto glasses and the impressive knack of pouring 16 even glasses from one bottle) and two-Michelin starred grub. The first dinner, back in July and just before I headed off on family holiday, was a Pinot & Chardonnay-themed occasion but with one key stipulation: they couldn’t come from Burgundy. Much like the bookie who offers up odds 'without the favourite’ we set off hoping to find quality runners, perhaps of better value, outside of the famed region. As it was, there was much to enjoy from Aubert’s Burgundy-styled 2014 Larry Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay (WOTN) to fully flavoured Chards from Hamilton-Russel, Antinori’s Cervaro and Catena Alta. In Pinot form we worked our way through a trio of wonderfully vibrant and lifted wines from Cristom (the 2013 Eileen is entering a wonderful place) and sampled the highly-rated Santa Barbara wines of Domaine de la Cote and Mail Road. We finished on single block wines from Felton Road and Tom Carson’s Yabby Lake. I had the pleasure to work with Tom, many moons ago, at Yering Station so it was a particular treat to sample his 2012 Block 1 Pinot, a wine famed for being the first Pinot in Australia to win the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy (not a hurdles race over 11 furlongs but the most prestigious wine award dished out down-under). It is a Pinot made in a powerful and mouth coating style but not lacking definition or balance. A most impressive wine that I’d like to taste again in 10 years. My favourite wine that night was a mature and gorgeous Champagne, 1999 Eric Rodez Empreintes de Terrior Chardonnay.
And so, to the evening in question, a most enjoyable dinner centred on three flights of West Coast Cabernet. To kick off proceedings (following some ludicrously expensive drinks in the Blue bar) we assembled for a couple of glasses of 1999 Cristal. The bar was set high.
The first flight, a quartet of Santa Cruz wines were a perfect match to quail & salt baked beetroot. A youthful duo from Domaine Eden were pitted against the famed Ridge Monte Bello (2012 & 1998) and were certainly not outplayed. I’d have huge respect for any blind taster who wouldn't pick these wines as Bordeaux, in particular the 1998 Ridge which shows a savoury edge with tobacco leaf and moderate cassis fruit. We were fortunate enough to have two bottles of 2012 Monte Bello, as this fine & floral beauty was worth addressing throughout the evening.
Napa provided the bulk of the evening’s wines, so we split these 10 wines into three flights, poured before, during and after the Veal main. The first four wines performed admirably, yet their inclusion worked, in part, to warm us up for the more mature wines to follow. The 2005 Frog’s Leap stood out for its freshness and purity against the more butch, dark and powerful Insignia. The Beringer Reserve was unmistakably Napa, a juicy and rich wine that I suppose didn’t quite have the class of the Insignia.
We tasted the the next wine blind. While the general consensus guessing was good - we felt the wine was older than 2005 and from a hot year - no-one came close to guessing the wine or winemaker. The Napa Valley Reserve, made by the Harlan Estate team, is sold only to its members, one of which presented the wine this evening. It turns out that 2003 was the last year produced from Harlan young vine fruit with subsequent vintages assembled from the Napa Valley Reserve estate. The wine had an extraordinary power and intensity, the first whiff made one guest quite emotional and had myself almost falling back off my chair. Very few wines can balance such power and, if I’m being critical, I’d ague this was almost too big. However, it worked extremely well with the veal and was undoubtedly a treat to sample.
The pair of 1994s made for an excellent comparison and once again, we were grateful for both the generosity and knowledge of the guest who bought them. It was suggested that the Caymus would have been nothing exceptional on release nor particularly expensive (they produced a superior Special Select in 1994) yet the quality of the fruit and vintage shone through and the wine was lovely to drink now, fully resolved, soft and with a sweet (but not cloying) finish. The Insignia was a big step up (for me at least) in quality. Ripe fruit again but more poise here with typical Cabernet notes - cassis, cedar & graphite. The wine also possessed better acidity and showed excellent overall balance.
I should/could write plenty about the next wine, which I simply adored. Our bottle of 1998 Harlan was not dense or powerful but bright, lifted (there was a touch of VA), graceful and long. Like other cult wines (with such a price tag) one perhaps is expecting more oomph but I felt a breeding here that I rarely find outside of Old World wines. The guest who bought the wine along admitted that he rarely drinks New World wines but has Harlan in his collection as his wife is a fan. I, for one, am delighted that she is! I’m told the 1997 and 1999 and better wines - if that’s the case I’d love to try them one day.
To finish the Napa marathon we had, from magnum, two modern greats - Tim Mondavi's 2014 Continuum (decanted 8 hours before serving) and a 2004 Hobbs from the first growth vineyard - To Kalon. The Hobbs had a high-toned, wild and herbal nose which was at once unusual but also rather pleasing. I suspect it needs another 10+ years in bottle as there is an energy and weightlessness to the palate which shows great promise. The surprisingly elegant Continuum is also a baby but is more classically formed. I predict a very, very bright future for the wine.
The final flight of the evening, drunk alongside an excellent cheese selection, was a most interesting and enjoyable journey up the coast in Washington State. It is common for such themed dinners to be exclusively Californian but to do so misses out some of the finer wines of America. Quilceda Creek has much, much to live up to as the estate’s wines are often cited as the region’s finest. On this occasion the delicious 2014 was overlooked in favour of the more mature wines from Leonetti and Andrew Wills. I’d not sampled these wines before but was impressed but their freshness and drinkability. It struck me that some of the earlier Napa wines may be ‘one glass wonders’ while I wouldn’t struggle to finish a bottle of any of these three Cabernet-dominated blends. If you don't have a few cases of Walla Walla Valley in the cellar, then I advise you to do so. At the very least, it's rather amusing saying Walla Walla.
We finished with a bit of fun, trying to guess the grape variety of the 2006 Leonetti Sangiovese. I’m appalled to say that no-one came close, even after dropping a variety of clues!
I’d like to thank the guests for their generosity and for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm.
1999 Cristal Champagne
2015 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
Santa Cruz Mountains
2014 Domaine Eden Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 Ridge Monte Bello
1998 Ridge Monte Bello
2008 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve
2005 Frog's Leap Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Joseph Phelps Insignia
2003 Napa Valley Reserve (shown blind)
1994 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia
1998 Harlan Estate
2004 Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Magnum
2014 Continuum Estate, Continuum Magnum
Walla Walla Valley, Washington State
2014 Quilceda Creek Vintners Palengat Vineyard
2006 Leonetti Cellar Reserve
2006 Andrew Will champoux
2007 Andrew Will Sorella
2006 Leonetti Sangiovese (shown blind)
Don't miss the next Dinner Club: see our upcoming dinners HERE.