Well, it was supposed to rain, but it didn't. Instead the sunny afternoon found the crew at Taverna, a casual Italian restaurant opened by Alberto Lombardi, who has been at the forefront of Dallas Italian restaurants for 30 years. The long table was jam packed with a staggering array of brown bags. Nothing to do but take a deep breath and start tasting and taking notes!
1) The first wine (NOT in the above photo...) showed aromatics of lemon zest with brisk acidity and a dry minerally finish with a slightly bitter edge. Medium bodied with tons of flavor but a modicum of fruit, the wine had to be Italian. The weight pointed to Cortese and Gavi di Gavi it was. 2008 from Marchesi de Barolo.
2) Butterscotch and Meyer lemons with nicely integrated toast on the finish. The wine screamed California Chardonnay. John astutely picked up aging notes in the touch of darkness in the butterscotch. Brilliant acidity suggested Sta. Rita Hills. Indeed the wine was Gratis 2004 Chardonnay with fruit from the famed Seasmoke Vineyard.
3) Layers of citrus oils and rocks inform the aromatics and flavors of the next wine. John exclaims, "Pinot Bianco" and then "or Pinot Gris or Pinot Auxerrois or Riesling or one of those Alsatian..." If only he'd stopped with his first thought. Terlano Pinot Bianco 2008 from the rocky vineyards of Alto Adige. I guess nobody reads my blog.... check it out. Tasting the Rock at the Center at the Center of the Wine.
4) Whit introduces the next wine as just something fun they brought to stump the group. And stump us it did. Gorgeously floral and complex with both indescribable lightness and depth with a beautiful balance of acidity and minerality. Wow, I really enjoyed this wine. Turns out to be from young producers in Friuli. The main grape is Rondinella Bianca. The grape is normally red, but they found some trending to white in a corner of their Valpolicella vineyard and isolated and developed the clones. Hence the name, From Black to White, Il Bianco, 2008. From Zyme.
5) Poached pears, apples and hints of citrus. The fruit is sweet, the texture is rich, the finish is dry. Tasting with a fuzzy brain, instead of instinct, I kept trying to fit it into the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros, but no, the wine was French and NOT Chardonnay. If anyone said Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, it went unnoticed. Les Cailloux, 2008.
6) Finally a decanter of red wine is passed around and like a sprinter jumping from the blocks, the wine is mowed down. France, YES! Bordeaux, YES! Right Bank, YES! Pomerol, YES! 2000, YES! Vieux Chateau Certan, YES, YES, YES!!!! The wine is, in fact, quite spectacular and pretty damned perfect in my humble opinion. 2000 Vieux Chateau Certan. Pomerol. Thanks Will, and good luck in Charleston. We'll miss you, that's for sure!
7) One whiff and the cat's out of the bag on this wine as well. Napa Cabernet redolent with black fruit, a touch of smoke and dark chocolate, well-integrated fine grained tannins. Again, John calls for an older wine. And it was. 1996 Sullivan Estate Cabernet, in perfect condition. In a perfect state of transition, showing both primary and secondary fruit and only 13.2%
8) Dark purple in color, showing milk chocolate and dark black fruit with a structured smoky, toasty finish. The wine is pegged as South American, but every variety is called out except Merlot. Santa Ema 2007 Reserve Merlot.
9) An older wine. The aromatics perplexed some tasters. What's that smell? Hmm. Barnyard or brett, brett or barnyard? You gotta know the territory. Sweet dried fruits on a silky yet grippy finish. France? Most definitely. 1995 Chateau de Fonbel, Saint-Emilion.
10) Wow, cherries, chocolate, chocolate covered cherries. Giuseppe yells out "Brach's!" from the other end of the table. Long, lingering finish. Definitely grenache! 2005 Olivier Hillare Chateauneuf du Pape.
11) MORE cherries, this time with brilliant acidity, a long leathery finish and surprising tannic grip on the finish. I'm thinking Sangiovese, but I'm told to go west. Rioja, tempranillo, time in barrel. It all adds up. Marques de Murrieta Reserva Reserva, 2005.
12) Is my glass just stained with flavors? Am I really tasting more cherries? Yes. This time they turn dark and perfumed, rich and spicy. Pinot Noir? Yes it is! Is Pinot's long run started to fade? We've tasted 11 wines before the first Pinot Noir. The group pegs this wine. It's been at just about every one of these groups. 2007 En Route Pinot Noir.
13) More bright red fruit. The name Hermitage is kicked around, but this didn't taste like Syrah from the Northern Rhone, not enough meat, no bacon. Just clean red fruits with dark edged minerals. But Hermitage it is. Definitely not Australia and the acid's high for California. From Betts and Scholl, 2005.
14) "98 points Robert Parker," announces Giuseppe as he walks around the table with a decanter. Dense, dark, cloudy and opaque. Monolithic notes of licorice, violet, black and blue fruits overlay minerally asphaltics, underbrush and roasted meats with a dense structured finish. This wine didn't come within 100 feet of a filter. Glasses are stained with grit, but that doesn't compare to the sludge in the bottom of the decanter. 2001 Clos Mogador, Priorat. (Hmm. Someone needs to buy really expensive unsold wine. 98 Point Cellars. Make some real money!)
At this point, we start to become aware of the time. It's a large group and many people brought numerous wines and everyone's getting a little loud and rowdy. But we've got to be out of the restaurant before the evening crowd starts to arrive and we've still got 7 or 8 wines to go. So we pick up the pace and cut back on examination and conversation (such as it is at this point) about wines. Which is a real shame and not very fair to the people whose wines are at the end of the tasting. Wines are chose with a lot of thought and often at considerable expense and now they're not receiving reciprocal attention. Some great wines are going to be overlooked.
15) Case in point. The next wine was opened and double decanted around noon. (Maybe a little early, as John is very disappointed at how the wine is showing. We probably should have tasted it much earlier.) Still, it's magnificent wine, the fruits are a little muted, the aromatics are dried and dusty, but the perfumes are still delicate and beautiful. But the boisterous setting does the wine no favors. A treasure, 1994 Diamond Creek Cabernet. Volcanic Hill.
16) Spicy cherries, wild berries, brilliant acids, long complex finish. Gorgeous wine. Sounds like the theme of the day. Whit offers 5 bucks to anyone who gets close. Didn't matter. A hundred bucks wasn't going to get me any closer. Another wine from Alto Adige. Bressan Schioppettino, 2004 from the Bressan winery in Fruili. And yes, Schioppettino is the local name for the grape. You might know it as Ribolla Nero. I do now.
17) Hmm. Lush black fruit, hints of eucalytus and vanilla. Rich, full-bodied, integrated tannin. Balance and integration hint at some bottle age. Napa Cab anyone? Yes, by golly! Rudd Oakville Cabernet, 2001.
18) More big dark fruits, rich tannins and a kiss of barrique on the finish. California, NO. France, NO. Italy, YES. Super-Tuscan, YES. About as far as anyone gets. Will calls out Montpulciano and yes, it's Montepulciano, with Sangiovese, Marselan, and Alicante. Eneo, 2006 from Montepeloso.
19) Wow, another older Cabernet. Need more time for this wine as well. Structure is a little atypical for Napa, but it's a beautiful, well aged wine from a great producer in a much maligned vintage. 1998 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon.
20 & 21) A couple of 2006 Barbera's from Marchesi di Barolo, Ruvei 2006 and Maraia 2006. By this time, we were paying checks and people were starting to leave. No notes were taken.
So, 14 people, 21 bottles of wine. Not many empties. There's some left in a bottle I brought, but I put a pour restrictor on the bottle, which made the pours a little stingier.
These tastings started with a group that wanted to taste wines blind and try to reason through the wines as an interactive group. That requires a little self-discipline. Every glass, every bottle does not have to be consumed. There is nothing wrong with spitting or dumping (even the staggering high quality wines people have generously brought to share.) It's always fun to be able to go back and retaste favorites. OOPS. Sorry. Didn't mean to lecture, so please forgive this old man's rant.
We've had a great thing going, let's keep it.