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Good Friends, Good Food, Good Wine

Sunday evening saw a gathering of friends for a monthly tasting group dinner. It was one of those nights when everything was in harmony. Maybe the lovely evening played a role. Maybe the lovely home. Certainly the friendships built over years were a factor. Whatever the combination, it was a special night.

All of the food was really good. All of the wine was really good. But it was the way it all came together that I remember best. The first course was Spring Onion Soup. It was a dish we first tasted at Blackberry Farm. I filled out a card asking for the recipe and they sent it to me. Those who get recipes from top restaurants probably already know this, but what they sent--while helpful--didn't exactly tell me everythng. Fortunately, I practiced a couple of times because my first attempt was onion-flavored sludge. But a little experimenting got me in the neighborhood. I spent some time thinking about a wine to pair with it--a bit challenging because the soup is largely just seasoned, purèed onions--big flavor. I picked a 2012 K Vintner Viognier, and it worked well. It had enough richness to stand up to the dish, and enough acidity to hold the pairing together. Besides tasting good, the name K Vintner always makes me laugh. Why is it called "K"...their primary production is syrah. The mind of a rock promoter turned vintner!

The main consisted of prime NY strips garnished with chanterelle mushrooms and a squash casserole (again, with a recipe from Blackberry Farm). The secrets to the casserole--very fresh squash, of course, plus more butter...more cheese...more butter...more cheese! It was a simple, but delicious dinner that offered freedom to try different pairings. I picked two syrahs--one mature, one young--and two blends.

First up was the 1997 Joseph Phelps Syrah. Phelps is best known for its Insignia proprietary blend and for its cabernet sauvignon. But in 1997--a great overall vintage for Napa--their syrah was outstanding. And 17 years of bottle age has added depth and complexity to the ripe fruit. It was elegant. Next up was the 2000 Viader--a blend of 63% cabernet sauvignon and 37% cabernet franc. Wonderful--beautifully balanced. It's about at its peak. I think it could last another five years, but I only have one more bottle and I think I'll drink it soon. It was so good, I don't want to risk it fading. In the mid/late-1990s, Viader was one of Napa's top wines--winning lots of accolades. During that period Charles Hendricks played a significant role in making the wine. Not long after the 2000 was released, Deila Viader started making the wine on her own...and my sense is that Hendricks' touch has been missed.

The next wine up was, for many of us, the wine of the night. The 2009 Piedrasassi Rim Rock Syrah was intense without being heavy. The pure, rich, spicy flavors just went on and on. This wine was an athlete--powerful but graceful and light on its feet. Piedrasassi is owned by Sashi Moorman--one of California's hottest winemakers--in partnership with his wife Melissa and their friends, DC restauranteurs Peter and Amy Pastan. The wine is made in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto--in this case, with fruit from the San Luis Obispo area. Production is tiny and most of it is sold directly from the winery. It's worth seeking.

And for those who like their wines closer to sledgehammer-size, we finished with a 2005 Lewis Alec's Blend. The blends vary a bit from year to year, but always include a significant portion of syrah. In 2005, the blend was 70% syrah and 30% cabernet sauvignon. There's not much subtle about this wine--that's not the Lewis style--but it was rich, powerful and delicious.

A fabulous peach shortcake topped the evening (another Blackberry Farm recipe).

Somehow, the evening all went together beautifully.

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