Reunions are always happy events, and even happier so after 6 years of absence. We’d last broken bread and shared wine with Allan Bree aka califusa in 2003, so when it was announced that he would be assisting Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan in the kitchen at this year’s MoCool festivities, we extended to him the use of our spare bedroom during his stay.
We enjoyed a number of fine wines and some excellent food during Bree’s visit, but the highlight was undoubtedly the 6-course wine dinner he prepared, with a more-than-able assist from Kim. Allan had brought along 6 different 1999 Rochioli Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs to pair with different courses, and I’m happy to report that both the victuals and the vino were sublime. The participants included Messrs. Bree and Kerr, Cousin Larry Meehan, the enigmatic Madame Mystery and of course, Kim and this taster.
I must confess to enjoying everyone’s company so much that I neglected my note-taking, but fortunately, Larry was no such slacker. We offer team coverage of the Rochioli dinner, with both Larry’s notes and comments, and Bree’s thoughts on the evening’s repast as well. Also included are my notes on other wines we enjoyed with Allan and a fever dream version of the events leading up to our most welcome and joyous reunion.
10 Years After Dinner Reunion - notes by Larry Meehan
2007 Domaine de la Fruitiere Chardonnay (Jon David Headrick Selections) – While Kim and Allan completed the prep for the evening’s festivities, George and I popped over to Cloverleaf. This was my first trip to its new incarnation, and I must say this it has an attractive layout and a hip vibe! Knowing my appetite for Dressner-like wines (you know – “real wine”), proprietor Tom pointed out this Loire white… at $10-11
I was happy to try it. Find this wine
There is no time like the present, so I opened it as an aperitif before the night’s scheduled libations. It was pleasantly lean and crisp at the outset, full of chalk, stone and lime skin. It showed more green apple in flavor and fragrance as it warmed. It became more broad through the center as the minutes passed, now featuring a tangy citrus presence… crisp and full of minerals as it wrapped up. It was impressive and delicious for relatively few dollars. The group seemed to give it a unanimous thumbs up!
1st Course - Cucumber Shooter with Kafir Lime, Mint and Crème Fraiche
2002 Luneau – Papin “Terroir de Schistes” Excelsior – Sweet smelling summer fruits and post- storm ozone rose from the glass….lemons and peppermint followed along. Soft and ultra smooth textures quickly broadened like a pane of glass. Passion fruit and ripe apricot were surprising initial tastes, but inviting and appealing all the while. The 2nd course – Crispy Housemade Pork Belly with Michigan Cherries and Cherry Gastrique accentuated the ripe, lush flavors, but the salty counterpoints forged a fine synthesis with the well formed zing of acid and subtle mineral crunch. It had a good, long resonance leaving the assembled contemplative and content. Find this wine
Ten or fifteen years ago, I really looked at Rochioli Pinot Noir as the best California had to offer. In the era, I was dutiful purchaser and enthusiastic imbiber of not just Rochioli, but many of the Russian River’s best. Times change, as do palate preferences, alcohol levels, and prices — so even if I have not been buying these in recent years, I was still quite interested in the wines and looked forward to trying well cellared versions from a vintage I initially admired.
Rochioli Pinots — All from the 1999 Vintage
3rd Course served with Poached Wild Salmon on Fava Bean Puree with Tarragon Beurre Blanc and Herb Salad
1999 Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir – George noted bell pepper scents which I too registered along with an initial spice, toasty oak and alcoholic warmth The palate was broad, and wide open….seeming sweet with ripe plum at the outset, then trailing off towards green, leafy elements. The edgy spice and alcohol were again prominent in the finish. Find this wine
When in doubt, eat some rich and intense fava beans — they fixed everything! Madame Mystery was seemingly amazed at how much more complete she found the wine. True ‘dat — the density and depth improved with a bite of fava and fine fish. The alcohol and wooden notes that perplexed me earlier were no longer a bother. The wine seemed harmonious, light and delicate.
Bree called it a good reminder of how food creates differences in our perception of wines. As a long time “needs food” apologist, I heartily agree. That said, it was time, or perhaps a bit past, to drink this Pinot.
1999 Rochioli River Block Pinot Noir – Alan Kerr noted beet salad. I love a good beet salad, so that descriptor alone had me interested. I found the wine intensely perfumed, penetrating and somewhat exotic with sandalwood and liturgical incense (still lingering in my mind from altar boy days). I did not find Mr. Kerr’s promised beet salad, but did eventually discover his later reference to cardamom. Black coffee and clove, were splashed together with dark fruit flavors to forge some real midpalate density…turning buttery and sweet as it lingered — eventually meeting a good bit of tannin.
Where the food course lifted up the Estate version, I found the results more mixed with the Riverblock. Though tannins were certainly tamed, an already rich wine was made all the more so with the salmon, et al. Madame Mystery noted that the wine seemed to give greater emphasis to the tarragon in the dish.
The River Block was far more vital and substantial than the Estate, but seemed in many ways overdone, and perhaps a bit clumsy in comparison. 1999 was the first vintage for the River Block Pinot Noir. Find this wine
4th course – Mushroom Consommé with Chanterelle Crostini
1999 Rochioli Three Corner Vineyard Pinot Noir- Again it was Alan Kerr who was first to comment – anise seed. I could locate that. “Bell pepper” was uttered somewhere in the room, and was met with a few yes, and a few no retorts. For me, the fragrances were centered around sweet and buttery maple syrup. The barrel left its mark. Like the nose, the palate was syrupy and rich, even if a bit short and simple. Mushrooms can be magic, and in this case, a bite of crostini goes a long way to conjuring up some earthy nuance. The Three Corner instantly became a good bit more interesting. That said, the wine is well into middle age, with perhaps its best days gone. Find this wine
1999 Rochioli West Block Pinot Noir- “Bee’s knees” indeed, Mr. Bree. “So forward, so bright…”, said he. As the conversation was lobbed back and forth, a notion emerged somewhere that this wine was a far more visceral experience than a cerebral one. I’ll not be so silly as to quibble as to if whimsy is cerebral…the point was clear — this was one of those sexy beasts! Madame Mystery offered her confirmation of just that, calling it ‘ethereal, sexy, and primal.’ Find this wine
Oh yes, it was a sultry, silky , red raspberry dripping, long flowing haired, bare-chested romance novel in a bottle, but more than that — perhaps a little Tom Robbins, too (cerebral whimsy if I’ve ever seen it!). The consommé (of which I could have easily imbibed a quart) and crostini both focused my attention on the complex web of spice and earthy goodness that lies beneath the fruit. West Block was delightful, delicious and tons of fun to drink, but that sells it short. This wine is as good as any gets in this style — never over done, continually compelling, and perpetually a pleasure.
5th course – Pan Roasted Lamb Medallions with Wild Rice, Melted Leeks and Lamb Reduction
1999 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir - This Pinot had a different dynamic than the West Block and East Block, seeming almost subdued in comparison, but oh so grand. Alan Kerr again noted the beet salad fragrances, on which I agreed, even if dominated in olfactory prowess by the sandalwood and Asian spice aromas. Rich and juicy red fruits fueled the palate, showing great concentration, rather than density. The flavors were presented with smooth, glassy textures and surprising acidic sparkle. The tannic strength of this wine has remained, but it has fashioned a fine
synthesis with the other elements. The wine was complete, complex, and very satisfying with its resolve. Kerr summed up by calling it ‘beautifully balanced and exciting.’ Find this wine
1999 Rochioli East Block Pinot Noir – One sniff led me to — Whoa — lots of oak on this one! Bree noted right away a thrilling intensity. Madame Mystery seemed dubious, perhaps woozy from the wooden wind that struck her in the nose. Yes, there was a great deal of vanilla, and high toned spice when initially sniffed, but with time we desensitized it, it moved on…. but there was so much more to this package. The prodigious black currants and berries sprung, vaulted and sometimes soared through this pinot tent, with their inherent concentration riding a surprising thrill ride of acids. The sturdy, yet pliable tannins kept the whole thing on the rails. This was another complete package, but so different than the West Block and Little Hill before it. I’ll agree with Bree — it was thrilling….and many miles to go before it sleeps. Find this wine
An after dinner Burgundy
1993 Pousse D’Or Santenay 1er Cru Clos Tavannes – This was a big change of pace from the bigger boned Rochioli lineup, but was well received all the same. Kim mentioned some tire rubber fragrances, where I mostly noted high toned floral and then earthy elements. Sweet red flavors were delicate and persistent. The acids were vibrant and refreshing. Alan Kerr casually offered — “lovely isn’t it?”. Indeed, a gorgeous wine in a peak window for my enjoyment. Find this wine
6th course – Apple Fig Tarte with Creme Fraiche
1989 Inniskillin Ice Wine Braeburn Estate – Kerr noted that this wine more or less put Canada ice wine of the map when it won a Double Gold rating at Vin Expo nearly twenty years previous. Mr. Bree mentioned notes of wisteria and acacia…the floral tones were nice, but it also had a distinct green/vegetal note. Once sipped, it struck me more like a Vidal, than the riesling of which it was largely composed, but no ice wine expert am I. Rich, ripe, prune and fig were the principal flavors, with a distinct match stick element in the finish. It was an interesting wine but not especially compelling to me. The Tarte, however, was very compelling all on its own. Find this wine
1999 Daniel Lenko Select Late Harvest Vidal – ‘Tight, tight, tight!’, said Bree. I’d certainly say it was not particularly giving at this stage. Trace amounts of green apple and spice were washed under in a swirl of acids. “Not there yet,” said Mr. Kerr. No worries about this after a spectacular night of wines and food in a great gathering of friends! Find this wine