Robert Parker Gala Dinner #1

  • Robert M. Parker, Jr.

  • 29 May 2008 | Events

For anyone visiting Korea, Hotel Shilla is a must stop, a remarkable venue sitting high on a bluff with views in all directions. All of the hotel’s restaurants, including the world-beating buffet breakfast, and their French, Japanese, and Chinese-themed restaurants (interestingly, there is no Korean venue), boast world-class service and quality. This meal, prepared in conjunction with the educational effort I was doing on behalf of the holders of Samsung’s credit card, was a collective effort of all the restaurant’s chefs given the size of the crowd. We decided for the first of two dinners to do a vertical (pictured below) of one of California’s legendary Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, the Joseph Phelps Insignia, one of the first of the proprietary or meritage reds (their first vintage was 1974). We began with two terrific Champagnes from Bollinger, which seems to be the Champagne of choice (aside from Dom Pérignon) just about everywhere in China and Korea. One can’t argue. The Bollinger Special Cuvée is always one of the finest of the non-vintage blends. It is a forceful, fuller-bodied style for a non-vintage, which is very much in keeping with the Bollinger style. The 1999 Grande Année is a seriously rich, still young effort that has another 10-20 years of life ahead of it.

Continuing a string of sensational meals I had throughout my Asian tour, the food was brilliant. We started with wonderfully fresh, pure Osetra caviar, followed by a delicious lobster and foie gras terrine paired with the 2002 Insignia. This classic vintage exhibits Napa’s ripe, opulent, exuberantly fruity style. For me, it was one of the two finest Insignias on the table (the 1997 was even better, but it had the advantage of additional bottle age). One of my favorite courses over my three-week trip was the truffle flavored white asparagus soufflé, which was amazing. Asparagus is a difficult food to match with wine, but whatever the chef did with this truffle-infused creation worked beautifully with the chunky, full-bodied 2003 Insignia. Although more monolithic, and not as seamless and perfectly balanced as the 2002, it is a mouthfilling, full-bodied, beautifully textured Insignia. The 2002 should last 25 more years, and the 2003 is best drunk over the next 10-15. With the beautiful Red Tile fish, which looked like a French Rouget or a Florida Red Snapper, delicately wrapped in potato skin with a stunning saffron and mustard emulsion, we had the 2000 Insignia. Not a strong vintage by Napa standards, the 2000 is much lighter than either the 2002 or 2003, and came across as very Bordeaux-like in its finesse and elegance. I was struck by how well this wine performed, as did the 1998 Insignia, also from a so-called “off” year. For me, off years in California are more like Bordeaux vintages in that the wines are not as powerful as they are in the great Napa years. Readers who prefer more European-styled, lower alcohol, less forceful expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon would probably prefer an “off” year to a “great” vintage.  I must be careful when eating sweetbreads as it is one of those provocative foods that can serve as a catalyst for a gout attack, so I bypassed the sweetbreads and only enjoyed the spinach ragout that accompanied them. We then enjoyed a perfectly cooked, beautiful rack of lamb with a nice Charlotte of eggplant slices. The nearly perfect 1997 Insignia is an extraordinary expression of this great cuvée. It offers sumptuous notes of crème de cassis, charcoal, espresso roast, incense, and forest floor followed by full-bodied, opulent flavors, and superb freshness, purity, and richness. It reveals more complexity than the younger vintages.  We finished the evening with the exuberant, flamboyant 2004 Insignia, which is cut from the same mold as the 2002, but without as much power, depth, and aging potential. It is a showy vintage for Insignia. By the way, as a matter of technical information, the 2002 Insignia is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec. The 2003 Insignia is a combination of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, and the rest Malbec and Merlot. The 2000 is a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec. The 1998 is composed of 78%Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot, and the 1997 is made from 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot. The 2004 Insignia is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec.

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