Cindy Wolf's Charleston Restaurant - Les Oenarchs Dinner

Chef Cindy Wolf prepared another sumptuous meal, with every course hitting high notes. The Champagne flight was disappointing, with a decrepit bottle of 1982 Dom Pérignon followed by a tart, green, sharp 1990 Nicholas Feuillatte. Even the gorgeous 1990 Taittinger Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blancs was not quite as perfect as this wine can be.

The first flight, an intriguing flight of whites, included an off-bottle of the 1999 Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes. The other whites all performed well. The most unusual offering was the 1998 Sine Qua Non Backward and Forward, a Roussanne/Viognier blend from this terrific Santa Barbara winery. At first it appeared completely oxidized, perhaps even defective, but an amazing transformation took place over the next 20 minutes when it exploded from the glass, offering scents of exotic tropical fruits and orange marmalade. The 1997 Sine Qua Non Twisted and Bent tied with the 2000 Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes for top wine of the flight. All of the wines were intense and concentrated, and, except for the Twisted and Bent, not revealing any notions of oak.

The second flight was marred by a corked bottle of Arrowood's 1994 Syrah Sara Lee's Vineyard. That wine was replaced by a fabulous bottle of 1998 Ojai Roll Ranch Syrah. The stars of the tasting were the 1996 Kongsgaard Syrah, the 2001 Red Car Stranger, and a fabulous bottle of 1999 Lagier Meredith Syrah. The 1992 Sean Thackrey1994 Swanson, and 1994 Edmunds St. John were all fully mature, and are not likely to improve. I made a mental note that I would have enjoyed them more several years ago.

The third flight included some bruising Syrahs from Sine Qua Non. These are full-throttle, dense purple-colored wines offering gorgeous aromas and flavors of licorice, blackberries, graphite, and white flowers in their intense personalities. The only exception was the 1998 Sine Qua Non The Antagonist (a Grenache cuvée). Two bottles of the 1999 Icarus were corked, but the other Sine Qua Non offerings were sensational. The 1999 Carlisle Syrah and 1999 Alban Vineyards Syrah Lorraine were also very impressive. Interestingly, all of the wines in this flight seemed extraordinarily young, with tremendous upside potential. In contrast, the older wines in Flight II appeared fully mature, and beginning to decline.

There is a belief that New World American Syrah has not yet proven its potential for positive evolution and longevity to the extent that New World Syrah from South Australia has demonstrated. Of course, there is not as much experience with the American offerings, but I have high hopes that the finest vintages of Ojai, Sine Qua Non, Alban, and other top producers will turn out Syrahs that can be drunk young, and will evolve gracefully as well as positively for 10-15 years, with certain vintages reaching age twenty with their fruit and complexity intact. The last flight seemed to suggest these wines have that potential. As always, time will offer the evidence.

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