Great food and spectacular wines make for a wonderful charity dinner.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers March 19, 2008
The format is simple: Invite some generous friends to a great restaurant that will include the corkage in the price of the meal. Send out the menu beforehand so everyone can select appropriate wines to bring. The guests not only pay for their meal, but also make a donation to a charity the organizer selects. The inevitable result is a nearly guilt-free evening of excellent food, wine and conversation – followed quickly by plans for the next one.
Our most recent wine dinner was held at D.C.’s Equinox, where chef-owner Todd Gray created an inspired menu that moved participants to reach deep into their cellars. The first wines were recent vintages of Grand Cru Alsatian Rieslings and white Burgundies. As the meal progressed, the wines were older, including some with nearly mystic pedigrees.
Currently, most wines are meant to be consumed within three to five years. Other wines are created to age and when properly stored, will develop more integrated flavors, softer structure and remarkable finesse. Timing is important. Drink too soon and the wines are harsh; drink too late, and they are tired and unbalanced, with poor fruit flavors and insufficient body to accompany fine food.
Fortunately, almost all the older wines that evening were drinking beautifully. Matured red Burgundies develop characteristics that can be profound. The Philippe Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin Combe Au Moine 1985 wraps around you like a favorite sweater, with warm strawberry, cherry, earth and smoke flavors.
The Turley Moore ‘‘Earthquake” Zinfandel 1994 should put to rest any thought that Zinfandels cannot age. Fragrant spicy black fruit aromas flowed into smooth blackberry, licorice and spice notes with a lingering finish.
With the release of the initial Insignia in 1978, Joseph Phelps became the first Californian to market a proprietary wine crafted as a Bordeaux type blend. Comprised of 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot and 2 percent Cabernet Franc, the medium-bodied Joseph Phelps Insignia 1994 was gorgeous, with cedar and anise aromas along with rich deep spicy red fruit, mocha and blackberry flavors. Also excellent was the last release from this particular single vineyard: the Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Bonny’s Vineyard 1991. Chocolate and blackberry aromas and flavors predominated, along with hints of cherries, tea and dill. Aged in 100 percent new oak, the La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon 11th Anniversary Release 1992 was remarkable. Its vanilla and floral scents progressed into cassis, blackberry and mineral notes with a persistent finish.
The Bordeaux were next, and it is difficult to believe that the superb Chateau Palmer 1970 was really 38 years old; it still had distinctive red fruit, cassis and mushroom flavors, fine balance and bit of tar and anise at the end. From a legendary vintage, the silky smooth Chateau Calon-Segur 1982 had herbal, coffee, cherry and black currant flavors, while the Chateau Cos-d’Estournel 1983 showed attractive spicy currant, black cherry and vanilla notes.
Two vintages of Chateau Lynch-Bages were poured. The full-bodied 1990 exhibited currant, licorice and prune flavors. The Chateau Lynch-Bages 1989 had voluptuous black cherry and coffee notes, and some mild spice in the velvet finish.
Our meal ended with two Sauternes. The first was a surprisingly delicious wine from an undistinguished vintage. With honey and spice aromas, the Chateau La Tour Blanche Sauternes 1972 had elegant honey, apricot and pear flavors, good acidity and a longish ending. The better regarded Chateau D’Arche Sauternes 1986 was more fragrant; it had delightful orange, honey, apricot and coconut notes, crisp balance and a long-lasting finish.