This week, got together with a few friends at Cafe Castagna in SF to open up some wine with the goal of pulling something rare or exceptional from our respective cellars. What was particularly interesting about this dinner was that we opened quite possibly the best California wine I have ever tasted, a 1974 Joseph Phelps Insignia. I have had this bottle in my cellar for a few years now waiting for a special occasion to open, and this was the night.Four of us attended the dinner allowing for very generous pours, and the opportunity to fully explore how the wine developed in the glass over time. All wines were served pop and pour. Wine tasting notes follow from this highly memorable dinner, sorted in order of personal preference by flight.
Grand Cru Chablis
2001 Raveneau Valmur – An awesome wine, immediately showed very tight and youthful. Acidity was prevalent, however well in check with the fruit. Some notable lemon citrus and subtle oyster shell, found the wine deep and complex. Over time, it very slowly opened up, and revisited the wine frequently over the approximately 4 to 5 hours tasted. One of the most reduced Raveneau I have tasted, could easily continue to age this wine for a significant period of time.
2001 Raveneau Blanchot – Floral, pretty, feminine nose, yet restrained on the palate initially. Had a highly interesting nutty quality to the wine, but not from oxidiation. After a little time in the glass, thought it mature, but hours into the tasting, kept giving up more power and complexity. When the wine hit its peak, noted a pleasant saline quality and custard like mouthfeel. Overall, the Blanchot was rounder, and perhaps flashier, but appreciated more the restrained power of the Valmur.
Rare California Cabernet
1974 Phelps Insignia – The best California Cabernet we have ever tasted! The color was deep, dark and youthful without any signs of bricking. On the nose and palate, a Bordeaux like quality of intense, silky, big dark fruits, mint and lightly floral. Clean and layered on the palate, had power without being overdone, and a stagging finish that was both seductive and structured. From first pour, through the end of the bottle, maintained a consistent style, yet gave layer after layer of complexity. A youthful wine that could be easily aged for decades. Wine of the night, and the most memorable California Cabernet experience I have ever had. A stellar absolutely perfect wine!
1978 Diamond Creek Volcanic – Similar to the Insignia, a very rare wine. Also like the Insignia, showed very Bordeaux like, though dryer and slightly more mature in contrast. It was served a touch warm which took away from the wine, but could still appreciate the underlying material. Also a dark fruit wine, more tart, and showed some bandaid brett, which was distracting to me, not as pronounced to others. Balance, structure and overall density of the wine was excellent. A very good wine!
Bordeaux from the 80’s
1986 Rausan Segla – Another gorgeous wine, showed far more gamey, barnyard and full bodied, with red raspberry fruit and a tomato paste like texture, without being vegital. Distinctly Bordeaux, had a consistent style throughout the bottle. No rush to open this wine, however if done, shows well immediately on opening. Enjoyed this wine slightly more than the Diamond Creek, but not as much as the Insignia.
1982 Lynch Bages – Expected a great deal more from the Lynch Bages. Relatively light bodied, with dry saddle leather, mineral, earth, and very firm acidity. The acidity seem to outweight the fruit, and did not come together in the time we drank through the bottle. The wine may have suffered being next to the Rausan Segla, as it was the most toned down wine of the evening. Based on this tasting, suspect the wine should not be opened for many more years to give it time to come together.
Mystery French Red
1986 Gruaud Larose – Served blind, clear it was a great Bordeaux. The Gruaud Larose had more in common styllistically with the Rausan Segla than the Lynch Bages. After the 1974 Insignia, the second most enjoyable bottle of the night. It was stunning, pencil lead, clean, yet big bold fruit, and forest floor, the wine was balanced, had plenty of depth and the complexity was exceptional. This was a youthful wine that opened up slowly in the glass, could easily age or enjoy in the near term.
This was both a fun and memorable wine dinner. Had everything we enjoy, a small group allowing ample pours, special wines you don’t drink or see everyday, excellent food, and of course, great company!
Santa Rosa Fine Wine