It was a smaller group that gathered for our double blind tasting session at Suze on a late October evening. None of us really felt sorry for Sepi. We knew full well that he was enjoying some killer wines out in San Francisco. (He always does.) How # 4 made it, I don't know. He had emailed his 'full-time Dad' schedule of birthdays, hockey games, football games and somehow had already fitted in a tasting session before joining us. But he wasn't too late. He even claims he went to work.
There were no preliminaries tonight. We ordered some starters and went right to work. Scott brought the first wine. "White!" we exclaimed. Got that right. The rich amber hue (it was tough to see in the dim light) told us that the wine had some age. Notes of baked pear, burnt orange, butter scotch and toasted marshmallow finished with a touch of acid lift on the finish. We were hesitant to call Napa Chardonnay, because we remembered the old Sauvignon Blancs Scott had brought to the last tasting. Finally Dave went on a rant on the similarity to some old Patz & Hall Chardonnays and called the wine a 2007 Carneros Chardonnay from a high altitude vineyard like Hyde or Hudson. "No, the label said Napa," corrected Scott. Well, it could have been from the Napa section of Carneros, but it was a 2007 from Yountville. A tiny plot of the Gemstone vineyard planted with Meursault clones, a two barrel production by Phillipe Melka, Facets Estate Chardonnay, 2007.
John pulled out the second wine, ruby red with hints of orange around the edges, with a thick glistening rim between the glass and the edge of the color. Ripe but delicate flavors of raspberries, dried cherries and a hint of mint intertwined with silky tannins kissed by lush vanilla on the finish. Brad was quick, Napa Cabernet, 1996. We guessed producers until John pulled the bottle out of the bag. Altamura 1996. Lovely.
Next Brad poured a dark purple wine out of the bagged bottle. No bricking here (that we could see). Pools of black fruit were buried in the skeins of cedar and sage of the dark wine. It had the vibrance of youth with the elegance of age. Napa Cabernet for sure, but we guessed 2001 or 2002. No it was the 1996 Whitehall Lane Reserve, tasting like a youngster.
At this point we're remembering other 1996 wines the group has tasted: Cinq Cepages, Montelena and several Bordeaux. Some great wines!
By now the lamb is on the table and Dave brings out a massive wine. Opulent black fruits with dark hints of espresso and flowers. Fat black fruits and rich textures coat the palate in layers. There is enough acid to keep the wine from being too heavy and give elegance to the power. John immediate goes to Spain, then Italy. The elegance is very European, so it has to be South American. The smoky notes point to Malbec and Argentina. It's a Cabernet/Malbec blend, Cheval Blanc's Argentine project, Cheval des Andes, 2007.
Scott pours another dark wine with silky black fruit with hints of mocha. John has an obsession with this grape, it's Syrah, though this expression misses some of the characeristic peppery notes. It's fine-grained and elegant and does not overwhelm. The wine fights everything you think about syrah, yet it can't be anything else. Not a wine you see everyday, Araujo Eisele Vineyard Syrah, 2005.
One more. Are you kidding me? There's only four of us, but Brad brings out one more. The darn thing's open after all. More deep, rich dark fruit, lush yet light with a kiss of spicy tannin. (Oh please, just kill me like this, OK?) Napa? Yes. Cabernet? NO. Dave ponders for just a moment then calls it, "Paloma Merlot, 2004 or 2005." BOOM! Brad turns, stares and shakes its head. One of the quickest calls since John nailed the poor guy's Massetto a while back. He spent a lot to stump the group, we've never seen him since! The wine was delicious, by the way, as were all the wines this evening.
We ordered some desserts and "No, you didn't." "Yes, I did" A small bottle of dessert wine makes its appearance. Amber in color, the wine is redolent with honey and caramel, but with a drying almost salty finish. After a moments silence, John (or was it Brad) called out "South African Chenin Blanc." Half-right. 2003 Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux Layon St. Lambert. (Too bad the kitchen was out of cajeta for the crepes, they would have been perfect!)
And that was it. Another great evening with great food in a wine friendly restaurant. Chef Gilbert Garza came over and sat down with us we visited and revisited the wines with him. The room was empty when he walked us to the door. THANKS!