Dinner at Home With Friends

At a dinner with friends, I decided to pull some older California Cabernet Sauvignons from my cellar to see how they were holding up. One of the guests brought two bottles of 2005 white Burgundies, both outstanding. The Remoissenet 2005 Meursault-Perrières was pure, crisp, medium to full-bodied, and young revealing good minerality, freshness, and depth. It should drink well for at least a decade. I had a slight preference for the Louis Jadot 2005 Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières, which possessed more honeysuckle in addition to obvious minerality, medium to full body, and, like the Remoissenet, no evidence of new oak. It, too, has a decade of life ahead of it.

The remaining wines were all California Cabernets, with one exception, a beautiful bottle of 1988 Woodward Canyon Carbonneau from Walla Walla, Washington. This beautiful blend from the early days of the Washington State wine industry came across as a classy Médoc-like offering. Its dark ruby color, which displayed only a hint of lightening at the edge, was followed by a dusty, earthy nose of roasted herbs, sweet cherries, black currants, licorice, and spice. Medium-bodied and still alive, it is currently at that beautiful point of full maturity, and offers persuasive evidence of the enormous potential that exists in this state.

Moving to the California wines, we started with some of the younger cuvées, including the 1991 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. One of my favorite wines since its release, it shows no signs of weakening. In fact, it is still in its pre-adolescent stage of development. The color is a dense, thick, ruby/purple to the rim, and the wine exhibits classic crème de cassis, graphite, incense, and cedar characteristics along with full-bodied power, and extraordinary purity, symmetry, and overall balance. There is not a hard edge to be found, and the finish is long. This beauty should continue to age magnificently for another two decades or more. Jumping back in time, the 1984 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard revealed subtle notes of eucalyptus and mint intermixed with copious quantities of red and black fruits, damp earth, forest floor, and spice. Opulent, medium to full-bodied, pure, and rich, it has still not reached full maturity after 24 years. The 1984 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve was made during a period when Nils Venge was producing the wines (a number of great Cabernets were fashioned from the early to mid-eighties at this estate). Initially, it exhibited a distinctive bell pepper aroma, but that quickly blew off to reveal more cedar and black currant scents along with a dense ruby/purple color, beautiful opulence, and a fresh, full-bodied finish. While it had more textural interest than actual complexity, it was a big hit with all my guests. The dense ruby/purple-hued 1984 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain was very approachable, but still quite young. Aromas of black fruits, cold steel, damp earth, and spice were followed by a full-bodied, powerful wine with another twenty years of life ahead of it. The 1985 Ridge Monte Bello did not perform well at this dinner. Its color was a healthy deep ruby/purple, but a charred, obvious American oak component was surprising, particularly as I am a huge fan of this wine. In the mouth, it was austere, green, and tannic. This bottle has been resting in my cellar since its release, and while there is plenty of upside left in the wine, its blatant oaky/vegetal side was off-putting.

Moving back to the decade of the seventies was rewarding. The 1977 Joseph Phelps Insignia displayed beautifully complex, cedary, roasted herb, and black currant fruit flavors, medium to full body, not the weight or richness of some of the other Cabernets, but an elegant Bordeaux character that would be hard to distinguish from a classified growth in a blind tasting. The 1978 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill was a dead-ringer for a powerful Latour. A classic Pauillac perfume of leather, walnuts, black currants, cedar, and tar soared from the glass of this dark plum/purple-colored 1978. A terrific example of a twenty-year old Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is explosively rich, opulent, dense, and has aged magnificently, yet it has another 15-20 years of life remaining. The 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon (brought by one of the guests), which can be a huge fruit bomb, did not appear to be a perfectly stored bottle. It revealed a touch of unreleased CO2 as well as a sort of soupiness that I have never seen in other bottles of this cuvée. This is another great Cabernet Sauvignon from a producer who is no longer making wines at this level. Even though this bottle was slightly off, there was plenty of interest in this wine. Although the 1974 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Georges Latour is at the end of its life, it is still drinkable. A light orange/amber color is accompanied by notes of sweet oak, cherries, currants, and caramel that quickly fade in the glass. A sign of the “good ole days” was the $7.99 price tag on the 1975 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon. Much more alive than the 1974 BV Private Reserve, the 1975 Phelps Cabernet exhibited a deep ruby color, plenty of attractive fruit, bit not a great deal of complexity. Still intact, it can be drunk with considerable pleasure.

As for the food, I was the chef, and with all modesty, I must say that no one makes better jumbo lump Maryland crab cakes. Moreover, I would put my homemade spaghetti and meatballs against the finest from New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Chicago’s Little Italy!

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