>California Cult Wine Dinner

>This past Tuesday, Santa Rosa Fine Wine hosted a wine dinner with local friends at Estate Restaurant in Sonoma. The theme was California Cult Wines from the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s with a few Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrown in for good measure! With the exception of a few curiosity wines added to the mix, it was a collection of some amazing, and very highly rated wines. Estate Restaurant prepared an awesome six course meal to pair with the wines.

Having hosted and attended numerous wine dinners, continue to think that 8 people max is the best size group to seriously evaluate wines as a group. Such was the case for this dinner. For one, a 750ml bottle will give everyone a reasonable pour, and often times, give a few folks a chance to revisit the wine. Second, you get a chance to talk with everyone at the table, discussing both the wines, and various other topics. It is often highly insightful and educational to get the opinion of 8 people sharing the same group of wines at a single table.

White Wine of the Night: 2004 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne
Red Wine of the Night: 1994 Shafer Hillside Select

Chardonnay Flight

1987 Chalone Reserve Chardonnay – Opened more as a curiosity than anything, the 1987 was showing its age. On the tail end of maturity, it had a very funky nose up front, which in time, blew off. Noted butterscotch, baked citrus, and bread with some acidity. Improved considerably with air, but overall a wine that will never get better with age.

2002 Marcassin Three Sisters Chardonnay – In contrast to the Chalone, the Marcassin was surprisingly sweet and floral, with creme brulee notes. Usually associate Marcassin Chardonnay with more stony and mineral notes, this was a gorgeous fruit forward wine consistent more with a good Peter Michael Chardonnay. Set a glass aside, and it was consistent tasting over time.

2004 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne – Poured the Bouchard blind for the group to see what everyone thought? Interesting enough, the majority immediately called it out as Burgundy, and one person correctly identified it as 2004! Noted diesel, citrus, floral, mineral, firm acidity, overall was just a perfect wine to enjoy slowly over a long evening and see how it evolves!

Pinot Noir Flight

1982 Chalone Pinot Noir – The best Pinot initially, it was gorgeous, youthful, and rich, with cola, dark baked cherries and earth. Immediately showed excellent structure and depth. Unfortunately, it faded over a relatively short period of time, while the Calera kept getting better! That said, it was still a very good experience and wine.

1986 Calera Jensen Pinot Noir – Started out a little light and closed, with notes of plum, and a little brett, the wine put on considerable weight, becoming far more ripe, meaty and complex in time. Started off thinking the Chalone was the better Pinot, but this wine just kept getting better with air and think the trend would have continued, had we had more of the wine.

1980’s Cult Wine Flight

1985 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour – The second wine that was opened more for curiousity than anything, showed mushrooms, asian spices, initially had good balance, but declined quickly. Having enjoyed so many 70’sand 80’s BV Georges de Latour in the past, was not up to expectations, and hopefully just bottle variation.

1985 Heitz Martha’s – First time tasting the 1985, is was classic Heitz Martha with distinct mint, eucalyptus, and fresh cut grass. Relative to other Heitz Martha opened, it was more full bodied than normal, still had good tannin and balance, but overall mature and ready for drinking. The 1985 Heitz Martha was not as rich and thick as the 1974 opened at a previous dinner. It was a lovely wine and showed well.

1987 Chateau Montelena – Having had the 87 Montelena 4 or 5 times now, this was the youngest drinking example of the wine tasted to date. It took well over an hour to move just a little and reveal blackberry, earth, minerals, and game. With little doubt, consider this a legendary California Cabernet, the best wine Montelena has ever made.

1990’s Cult Wine Flight

1993 Harlan Estate – Was not sure what to expect of this wine before opening, but on the initial taste, noted it as toasty, dark chocolate, earthy, stewed fruits, and spice, a wow wine. Initially thought this might be the wine of the flight, but it slowly faded in time. All in all, a solid showing and enjoyable wine.

1994 Bryant Family – One of the best Cabernets I have tasted in the past, was fun to revisit the 94 Bryant. As before, it was had lush blueberry fruit, and a gorgeous long finish. This bottle was slightly less concentrated than the last time opened several years ago. It is mature right now, and will still drink well for many years to come. Simply beautiful!

1994 Shafer Hillside Select – Complex beyond belief, all over the map, but all in harmony, this was an amazing exotic, youthful and gorgeous wine. Raspberry, cassis, barnyard, sweet, oak, dark berries, spice, all perfectly integrated in a compact concentrated wine with an amazing nose, and super long finish, what great Cabernet is all about!

2000’s Cult Wine Flight

2002 Shafer Hillside Select – Having had this wine before as well, found it extremely extracted in relation to last time. The fruit was candied, particularly on the finish with notable oak. The wine was significantly concentrated and ripe, dominated by bright red fruits. Given how intense the wine was, it really should be aged considerably longer before opening.

2005 Hundred Acre Ark – Found this wine strikingly similar to the 02 Shafer Hillside Select, thought lighter in style, brighter fruit and perhaps a little more ready to drink. The last time tasting this wine, was far more closed with firm tannin. This bottle in contrast was more open knit and easy drinking. One of the better Hundred Acres made.

Dessert Wine

1986 Rieussec – After all the wine above, do not recall a thing about this wine other than it was good! Sometimes the generosity to share good wine with friends exceeds our ability to appreciate the wine itself, as was the case here!


DUNGENESS CRAB – Green Garlic Flan, Saffron Aioli, Fennel Pollen.

DUCK CONFIT WILD MUSHROOM ROULADE – Caramelised Salsify, Porcini Ragout.

SQUAB BREAST LEG CONFIT – Parsnip Puree, Bacon Lardons, Wild Ramps, Squab Jus.

RED WINE BRAISED WILD BOAR SHOULDER – Saffron Risotto, Collard Greens.

WOOD FIRED LAMB TOP ROUND ROASTED – Baby Spring Vegetables, Red Wine Reduction.


An amazing evening for sure! Cheers to California Cults!

Nick Wittman
Santa Rosa Fine Wine

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