When a good friend asked a couple of months back if I'd like to help out with a wine dinner at which he'd be cooking I just shrugged and said, "Sure." I figured it would be a good opportunity to hang out and pitch in with a little help. As it turned out, I was able to help more than just him. In discussing details prior to the event this weekend, I learned that I'd signed on to donate my services as sommelier for a private wine dinner benefiting Meals On Wheels Delaware. Why not? Meals On Wheels is a great cause. I've been involved with their Evening With The Masters event in the past via my day job, but that's a large, grand tasting gala and wine auction. This was an intimate dinner for 20, held at the home of the event's hosts and featuring wines donated from their private cellar.
My duties for the evening - extracting old corks, decanting, pouring, tending to guests’ needs, etc. - prevented me from taking notes. However, I did manage, discretely I hope, to snap a few photos at the end of the evening. And I tried my best to retain some rudimentary impressions of the wines.
Champagne "Dom Perignon," Moët et Chandon 1990
All bottles were consistently fresh and in fine shape, with excellent mousse retention. Cremini mushroom, lightly toasted croissant and a whiff of sulfur on the nose. Sweet front palate attack, followed by lime flesh, melon and honeysuckle notes. Drinking well. 12.5% alcohol.
Napa Valley Chardonnay "Library Selection," Trefethen Vineyards 1985
Trefethen often holds back some of their estate wines for later release, allowing the wines to develop some bottle age before reaching their customers. The 1985 Chardonnay was re-released as a “Library Selection” in 1992. The five bottles I opened had been resting in our hosts’ cellar ever since. One was corked, one was madeirized but the other three were in great shape – still fresh and alive, reflecting the relatively minimalist approach in the Trefethen cellars. It’s not that the wine was terribly complex, more that it was eye opening for so many of the guests to taste a 22 year-old California white that was still in great shape. Slightly coppery robe. Quarzite minerality, crisp Bartlett pear fruit and still crunchy acidity. 13% alcohol.
Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru, Domaine Rossignol-Trapet 1990 and Chambertin Grand Cru "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes," Domaine Rossignol-Trapet 1990
In a stacked field, these were the wines of the night. The Latricières was the planned pour. As I opened the wines, I was focused more on gentle handling and dealing with the uniformly crumbly corks. So it wasn’t until I taste tested each bottle that I noticed that one was significantly different. The Latricières was lacy and perfumed with dried wild red berry fruit and feminine sous-bois aromas. Lightly silky tannins and well-balanced acidity carried the same flavors through to the mouth. When I got to bottle three, suddenly there was black fruit, darker, richer earth and much more substantial tannic structure – not tight but muscular – along with a much more noticeable oak influence. I looked down and realized there was a stray bottle of Chambertin “Vieilles Vignes” in the mix. I wasn’t complaining about the little complication it added to service, as both wines were rare treats to taste and, in spite of the tired corks, in solid condition. Both 13% alcohol.
Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, Château Cheval Blanc 1983 (from Imperial)
The Crown Royal cradle (in the picture, at left) came in handy for getting this six-liter baby started into decanters. Lovely, developed Cabernet Franc driven nose, with sweet red currant fruit dancing with loamy, decaying leaves. Very supple, with elegant, restrained tannins. Lots of bottle bouquet and drinking perfectly, helped along no doubt by the super-sized format. Classic old school labeling: 11-14% alcohol. I’d put it at 12.5-13 based on tasting.
Pessac-Léognan, Château La Mission Haut Brion 1989
As tightly wound and ungiving as 18 year-old wine gets. Muted aromatics are clearly of Left Bank cab, with a gravelly, sinewy black cassis and graphite profile. But this is still as clamped down as a closed bear trap. A decent foil to the beef course with which it was paired but, compared to the rest of the wines of the evening, nowhere near ready to drink. Maybe it will be interesting in another 18 years but its total reticence now makes me wonder. 13% alcohol.
Sauternes Premier Cru Classé, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1990
Still very young but drinking quite nicely, with typical metallic, apricot and bittersweet orange marmalade notes allied to solid concentration and steely acidity. Hides its alcohol well. A lovely showing and fitting end to the evening. 14.5% alcohol.