Dinner at Home with Friends

Some friends from France and New York City requested California wines when we entertained them in our home a while ago, and we were able to accommodate them with one exception. It was a magnificent showing for the California wines, which were all from magnum and were decanted 3 to 5 hours before being served. We started with Aubert’s 2009 Chardonnay Larry Hyde Vineyard, which was well-received by everyone for its notes of citrus oil, buttered pears and pineapples along with crisp acids and a full, tactile, impressively layered palate. This superb, fresh, lively white should continue to drink well for 5-7 years. With my wife’s delicious crab cakes we enjoyed Sine Qua Non’s 2007 Body and Soul, a nearly 500-case blend of 71% Roussanne and 29% Viognier primarily from their Eleven Confessions estate vineyard. It is one of only a handful of white wines made by Manfred Krankl that eliminated Chardonnay from the final blend. Gorgeous aromas of oranges, honeysuckle and fruit oils are wonderful. This wine has become more delineated over the last several years as some of its baby fat has fallen away. It displays lovely freshness and precision as well as a harmonious, elegant style.

We then moved to two of the finest Cabernet Sauvignons I have ever had from Napa matched with two spectacular Rhône Rangers. The 1994 Harlan Estate has always been one of the reference point wines for California. One of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignons ever made ... in the world ..., it is still in an adolescent stage, but with decanting, it displays abundant nuances and complexity. Tasting like a great Pauillac (with a nod to the scorched earth/charcoal characteristics of the Graves region as well), it boasts a dense ruby/purple color with little lightening at the edge as well as a stunning nose of cedarwood, black currants, licorice, incense and hints of camphor as well as spice box. With terrific intensity and a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel, this wine has become incredibly complex as the fat and grapiness have given way to a more nuanced style. Anyone who owns this beauty should consider drinking it now and over the next two decades or more. It was pure perfection. The 1997 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon has always been one of my choices for one of the most extravagantly rich, opulent, full-bodied, brilliant California Cabernets. At age 15, it appears to be shutting down ever so slightly. It revealed less exuberant aromatics than I remember (perhaps because this was a magnum?), but was stunningly rich with an unctuosity and thickness that reminded me of the old style 1947 and 1949 Bordeaux or some of the 1950 Pomerols. This 1997 still has an inky/purple color as well as thick, juicy flavors that ooze from the glass, but it seemed somewhat suppressed aromatically even though on the palate it was bursting with concentration, fruit and character. While this is unquestionably a great wine, it is much less developed than the Harlan. The Bryant has another 20-30 years of life left.

The 2007 Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon CCS Beckstoffer Vineyard had not changed since I gave it a perfect “100” several years ago. It is a future legend! The 2001 Sine Qua Non On Your Toes is 100% Syrah from three vineyard sources (White Hawk, Alban and Stolpman) aged 39 months in 100% new oak. Made by Sine Qua Non before they were able to get fruit from their estate Eleven Confessions Vineyard, this may be one of the most incredible wines I have had over the last several years. After decanting it, I served it blind to my wife about five hours later, and she said, “Wow! Côte Rôtie!” This is a dead ringer for Guigal’s single vineyard La Landonne. Notes of bacon fat, roasted meats, camphor, incense, licorice, blackberries, cassis and a forest floor-like character are followed by an opulent, voluptuously textured, super-rich wine with great balance, elegance, aromatics and complexity. This incredible wine reflects the genius of Manfred Krankl. It is also one of the first long-aged Syrahs that was kept for more than 18-24 months in oak. It has another 15-20 years of life ahead of it. The California wines finished with what I believe is the only wine that has been given a perfect score by both the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate, the 2007 Saxum James Berry Vineyard, from magnum no less. A blend of mostly Grenache, with the balance Syrah and Mourvèdre, it still seems grapy and unformed compared to the other wines in the tasting, but wow, what extraordinary purity, unctuosity, thickness, richness and potential it still has! I’m an addict for a great Grenache, and the two finest sources for that grape in California are Sine Qua Non and Saxon. This brilliant effort is a wine to love and caress over a long, cold evening.

We finished with the last bottles I have of the 1947 Huet Vouvray, which I purchased from the estate many years ago. The wine’s high acid has kept it fresh and lively. The color is a dark orange, and the wine reveals lots of mandarin, citrus and flowery notes, zesty acids, and two more decades of life.

The dinner my wife and I prepared had a New Orleans-like theme, with the exception of the Maryland crab cakes. Made from jumbo lump backfin crab meat, they were wonderfully sweet with very little binding material. We then moved to a delicious gumbo Phi Phi that I made with lots of crayfish, shrimp, and crab that I reduced over the course of several days. Spicy and rich, it was a perfect foil for red wine. The last course was deboned chickens stuffed with homemade cornbread and andouille, and my darling wife made a wonderfully reduced chicken sauce. While it was delicious, we were all pretty full by this point, and the wines took front and center stage from the food on this remarkable evening. We also had a cheesecake for dessert, but frankly, I don’t think I even tried it.

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