Ever since I quasi-retired and became a freelance wine-and-other-stuff scribe in 2014, I haven’t had anything but good weeks. Well, there was the one where a quack podiatrist said he needed to cut off my big toe, but we salvaged the week and the digit.
Some weeks are better than others, of course. And occasionally one of them will be spectacular. Last week was one of those, bookended by two stupendous wine experiences.
I started the week in Sonoma, judging the San Francisco Chronicle competition. At a party Monday night, someone brought a magnum of 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. It actually took a bit of time to “open up,” but after a few swirls. not only did the predictable leather, herb and tobacco notes assert themselves on the nose and palate, but some seriously pretty red fruit peaked through. It tasted like old wine, but unlike so much old wine in which varietal/regional character is lost, this tasted like a Bordeaux. And a stellar one at that.
Also noteworthy that evening were several wines from Flowers, where our hostess, Alexandra, serves as director. The pinot noirs and chardonnay were as wonderful as billed, but the revelation was a varietal I had no idea they make: pinot meunier, packed with wild fruit and spices. Yum.
Three days of judging followed, 90 to 110 wines a day. Yes, it’s work, but my panel was collegial and sharp. I learned something interesting from first-time judge Joy Merrilees, director of winemaking and production at the outstanding Shannon Ridge winery: Napa vintners like to buy Lake County grapes for reasons beyond economics. “They like that Lake County red fruit character to blend with Napa black fruit.”
At Friday’s sweepstakes (that’s the estimable SF Chronicle wine columnist Esther Mobley at left with some fat guy), we assessed more than 50 best-of-class winers to determine the very best wines in five categories.
As it turned out, my favorites were the winners in three realms: Breathless Sonoma Valley Blanc de Noirs in the sparkling category, the 2016 deLorimier 2016 Crazy Creek Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve among reds and the 2017 Ferrante Winery (Ohio) Grand River Valley Vidal Blanc Ice Wine in “specialty” wines. I didn’t care much for the white-wine winner, the $6 (!) Trader Moon Wine Company’s 2018 California Honey Moon Viognier, but I did rather like the rosé champ, Ferrari-Carano’s 2019 Sonoma County Dry Sangiovese Rosé.
That would have been enough to make for a fabulous week, but perhaps the best was yet to come.
On Saturday back in Turdraland, my ridiculously generous friend Larry had invited us and a half-dozen others for an afternoon repast of the semi-rare Nantucket Bay scallops. They more than met our grand expectations, but the wines almost stole the show. We started with hip-hop stars’ favorite, Cristal Champagne, and lemme just say that the 1996 vintage is a megastar in its own right.
With the scallops and pasta, a simple preparation because fantabulous ingredients should be treated that way, we had a range of whites from Burgundy, including insanely tasty 2012 Louis Jadot “Les Demoiselles” Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet and 2008 Bonneau de Martray Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne.
I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had those sublime wines before, and I know for sure that the dessert course brought a first-time bottle, a 1993 Chateau Pajzos Esszencia (on the right at left). Produced only in the best vintages, this is considered by many to be Hungary’s finest Takaji. It’s fermented from raisins but tastes like much richer fruits such as apricots and pears, with butterscotch notes and a spot-on harmony between fruit and acid as a wine can have.
Can you say “Holy Red Foley,” boys and girls? I can and will every time I think about that wondrous week.