TASTERS GUILD DINNER
Bottles of 2004 Bordeaux in Standing in Formation, Awaiting Dinner
Last night, I joined Roger Schagrin and the Washington Tasters Guild for their February Dinner. Twenty-four of us gathered in a quiet private room at Wolfgang Puck's The Source. For a variety of reasons, I had not been able to attend any of the recent Tasters Guild events, but I have enjoyed their dinners in the past. The theme of this dinner was 2004 Bordeaux, which is rounding into maturity at the ten-year point. 2004 was a solid, but not celebrated, vintage in Bordeaux. The Left Bank did better than the Right Bank due to September rain that diluted much of the merlot. The later ripening cab had time to recover in the fall sunshine. All but one of last night's wines was from the Left Bank. There were eleven wines. And one of the obvious values of a dinner like this is the opportunity to taste that kind of diversity. I've had a few of these 2004s…but less than half--and not at one sitting where I could compare. So that was valuable. But as I thought about it, other values might be less obvious. For example, Chef Scott Drewno created last night's menu specifically to match these wines. None of the dishes came from the restaurant's regular menu. To have a top chef create a menu tailored to the evening's wines is a special treat. Great pairings take both hard work and talent…I know. I put in the work. Sometimes I do well…sometimes, I do adequately. But rarely do I achieve the kind of synergy that Scott Drewno did last night…or that the team at The Ashby Inn achieves with their wine dinners. That alone makes events like this worthwhile. Another subtle value of dinners like last night's is the opportunity to share the evening with people who really enjoy wine and food. Several wine professionals and a former chef plus a couple of serious collectors were within chatting distance at the Tasters Guild event. "How did you enjoy that flight?" was not just an idle question at the table. The wines served before dinner with appetizers were whites from Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Befitting the theme, the 2004 was first up. I've had it a number of times, including earlier this year, and always enjoyed it. Last night was no exception--but it's reaching the end of its run. The nutty, toffee flavors from bottle age oxidation are starting to overtake the fruit. That point was emphasized as the more youthful 2006 followed. Then as we sat, it was on to the 2004 reds. The first course featured one of those "who would have thunk it" pairings. Three reds--one merlot-driven from Pomerol and two cab-driven from Pessac Leognan--with Bouillabaisse! And it worked. The savory saffron broth was likely key to the pairing's success. My sense was that the wines that worked best were the ones with solid acidity…particularly the Smith Haut Lafiitte red. No big surprise. The Bon Pasteur had nice plummy fruit and was enjoyable to sip, but didn't pair as well. Then north to St. Julien. The second course was a rich cassoulet, with lots of duck confit along with beans and sausage. Somewhere in the dictionary, next to the phrase "comfort food" I think there's a picture of cassoulet. The first wine was Clos du Marquis--the second wine of Chateau Leoville Las Cases. Also in the flight was its neighbor, Chateau Leoville Poyferre--the two vineyards directly adjoin. The third was Chateau Branaire Ducru. To me, the star of the flight was the Leoville Poyferre. Nicely balanced, with good length…and it paired well with the cassoulet. Then beef two ways: a lovely chunk of rose-red dry aged steak joined with braised short ribs. Classic foils for big reds--and the final three wines fit the bill. Chateau Pontet-Canet from Pauillac and Chateau Montrose and Chateau Cos d'Estournel from St. Estephe were significantly bigger than the earlier wines. All performed well, but the depth and complexity of the Pontet-Canet made it my choice for wine of the night. Hopefully, that wasn't influenced by the fact that it's the one I have the most of! Good food and good wine--well matched--and nice people. Makes for a lovely evening.