Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Evening of Excellence with The Duke

Had another delightful experience at an event by The Duke of Bourbon. The Duke is David and Judy Breitstein and their excellent staff, especially my pal, Steve. They have had a fine wine and spirits store on the corner of Roscoe and DeSoto in Canoga Park since 1967, and we were lucky to happen upon them thru a posting on Around 4 times a year, they host events at the Warner Center Marriott, featuring premium wines from California, Oregon, France, and other wine growing regions. For every winery's product poured, a representative - either the winemaker or owner - talk about how the wines are made, often getting down and geeky in their explanations. For your money - generally around $45 or $50 per person, you get generous tastes of more than a dozen wines, accompanied by 3 kinds of cheese, fruit, and lots of bread and water. And you get to mingle with like-minded wine lovers. It's a win-win.

When we arrived last night, we found our assigned table. Within a few minutes, a couple came and sat by us. Bob and Terry from Woodland Hills had been to one of the Duke's previous events. After talking for a while, it was clear that they had a good knowledge and appreciation of wine, so we had much in common.

As other folks arrived, we discovered to our delight, that serendipity had intervened and placed several wine friends of ours at our table! Judy B. does most of the seating arrangements, and had no idea that we knew Alf and Bob, and Jan and Sherry - whom we know thru LearnAboutWine. Small world! Alf and Bob are retired engineers from either Northrop or Lockheed or McDonnell Douglas. They both have huge wine cellars (Alf has 4200 bottles and Bob has around 7000), and they travel all over the world tasting and buying wines. Alf is also a partner in the McKeon-Phillips Winery in Santa Maria. Between Alf and Bob and Jan and Sherry (who have both worked for Ian at LAW), the wine world was well-represented!

Before the event officially started, Steve introduced us to Barr Smith of Barlow Vineyards. Barr and his family left Newport Beach in 1994 for the wilds of Calistoga, up at the top of the Silverado Trail. They have 50 acres of land, where they grow Bordeaux-style wines. Barlow supplies grapes to many wineries in Napa, but have been making their own for a few years now.

The evening started with the welcome wine: 'Lucy' - Rosé of Pinot Noir from wild man Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards. Lucy was a deep pink, with a grapy-rhubarbish nose. Very dry with lovely fruit. $1 of every bottle sold goes to breast cancer research.

Once the winemakers had been introduced - Mark Pighini of Far Niente Winery, Mark Neal of Neal Family Vineyards, Barr Smith of Barlow Vineyards, and Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Estate and Lucia Vineyards - the real pouring began.

In order of appearance:

2007 Chardonnay, Far Niente Winery - Perfumey nose, soft mild oak, some nice spice on the finish. 100% barrel-fermented, no malolactic, then aged in oak. Lovely.

2007 Lucia Pinot Noir, Garys' Vineyard
2007 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards
Both Pinots from Gary Pisoni are the same clone, but grown in different vineyards, about 10 miles apart. Gary (who is one of the 'Garys' of Garys' Vineyard) spoke about making his wines approachable. The grapes are picked cool, at night, and aged 10 - 12 months in 60% new French oak. He was right; the wines were very approachable. Delicious.

(Gary also got increasingly wound up as the evening progressed, telling stories and rooting for the Dodgers, and generally having a good time. He is the only winemaker I've met who made Jim Clendenen seem somewhat retiring. Steve later said that having Gary and Jim in the same room was both a terrifying and entertaining experience!)

2005 Merlot, Barlow Vineyards - Cherries on the nose, spice on the finish. Nice!

2007 Zinfandel, Neal Family Vineyards - JD and I found it nice on the nose - lots of fruit, but in the mouth it was piney and not that interesting.

2005 Barrouge, Barlow Vineyards - This is Barr's Bordeaux-style blend - 70% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Merlot/5% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot. Our favorite of the night. Beautiful fruit, big but well-balanced, with a charming cinnamon finish. It was the only wine we bought.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Barlow Vineyards - Big, fruity, not memorable but would probably go well with grilled meat.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Southern California Premier, Neal Family Vineyards
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Neal Family Vineyards
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Second Chance Vineyard, Neal Family Vineyards
The 3 Neal Cabs were poured at the same time. The 2006 was ready to drink, but had nice structure and fruit. The 2005 was a huge fruit bomb with something strange happening in the nose - eucaplytus? Not sure. It took a while to open, and then the nose dropped out entirely. The 2004 was GREAT. It was also twice the price of the other two, and I am not surprised. They make only a couple of hundred cases from grapes grown on Atlas Peak. Wonderful.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Far Niente Winery - Cherry mocha nose, deep blackcurrant fruit, really concentrated. Mark from FNW got into serious detail about how the wines are made. This wine is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 4% made from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Wonderful, but way out of my budget.

2007 Lucia Syrah, Susan's Vineyard, Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards
2007 Lucia Syrah, Garys' Vineyard, Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards
The 2 Lucia Syrahs are both cool climate vineyards, and honestly, after the Far Niente Cab, I just couldn't find anything special about these Syrahs. They didn't smell like Syrah to me - no smoke, no pepper, just huge jammy fruit bombs. Others at the table seemed to really enjoy them. Not my cup of tea. So to speak.

We finished with the 2005 Dolce from Far Niente Winery. David (the Duke) talked about how important this wine is, as it may be considered to be the American (Californian?) answer to the great Sauternes of France. It was delicious to be sure - 90% botryized Semillon/10% un-botrytized Sauvignon Blanc; 100% new French oak; slow fermentation from 4 - 8 months. Apricot and peach flavors in the mouth. Honestly, I found myself thinking about the WineShop at Home Ceres Late Harvest Dessert Wine (a blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Muscat with no botrytis, aged in 100% new oak barrels for an average age of 5 years, and at $25, is less than a third of the price of the Dolce.

The cheeses served were Fontina, Brie and Extra-sharp Cheddar.

All in all, it was a delightful evening, made even more so with the addition of our wine friends. Today we're off to the Mark Taper Forum to see 'Parade,' and tomorrow it's brunch with the girls and wine tasting at Silverlake Wine in the afternoon. Cheers!

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