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Californians & Italians: Ridge, Kistler, Peter Michael, Solengo, Tignanello, Pian Delle Vigne…

April 23, 2011

These are brief notes from a Non-Professorial Dinner on 21 February 2011 at Bedrock Grill & Bar. Their steak is, indeed, succulent and can hold its own against the very best, but the whole place is just a bit too smoky for proper wine tasting (it took me a while to realise that the “smokiness” in the wines came instead from the open grill).  

We began with a pairing of Californian chardonnay. The 2008 Kistler Parmalee Hill Vineyard (courtesy of KP) was pale golden with a firm body of citrus, lime and melons, topped with complementary notes of cream and butter. Excellent on its own, but  rather tight and reserved, balanced but less exuberant compared with the 2005 Peter Michael Belle Cote chardonnay (courtesy of David). This was livelier with a fuller body of lime and citrus, loaded with greater minerality and crisp acidity, giving it greater immediacy. It opened up further with time, becoming broader and more layered, with emerging notes of pomelo that added further depth. Very inviting. More in the mould of a Chablis (from Kieron, I agree). I’ll swear that, if blinded, it would have been quite impossible to tell apart from a Chablis Grand Cru. Superb, as always, from this producer.

The first pair of reds featured a 2007 Umberto Cesare Liano, a blend of cabernet sauvignon-sangiovese (courtesy of Ben). Glorious deep, bright red, peppery with a slight pungent barnyard note that blew off to reveal flavours of red fruits and cherries that carried well onto the palate. Medium-full with surprisingly good depth, balance and suppleness for such a young wine, rounded at the edges, superbly defined, finishing with sexy tannins. Almost Burgundian, just a shade heavier. In contrast, the 2004 Hestan Vineyards cabernet sauvignon (courtesy of Hiok) was, expectedly, a huge monster of a wine. Deep, dark, impenetrable red. Dense (thick, in fact) with a powerful herbal and medicinal note, suffused with licorice. Hedonistic but supremely balanced and controlled, although it can’t hide the fact that it is oversized. Only for aficionados of such style.

The 1999 Solengo (courtesy of Chris) was more memorable on the nose than on the palate – dark red and layered with a deep lovely glow. Medium-bodied, soft and accessible with emerging secondary nuances though without much layering. But it’s drinking very well, which was really what matters. Next to this, the 2002 Beringer Private Reserve has no difficulty establishing itself as a New World. Predictably deep dark red. Made in a big, fruit forward style with dried leaves and herbs bringing up the rear with plenty of plums and bright cherries on mid-palate, tightly structured. It opened up over time but still remained far too dense, lacking in layering and palpable complexity.

We ended with a menage-a-trois of iconic Italian and Californian reds. The 1990  (courtesy of Edward) is the oldest Tignanello I’ve ever had.  A much more evolved red with a darkish core, from which leapt out a lovely glow of plummy sangiovese, medium-full but richly layered with a liquered finish within a pliant cabernet frame. Amazingly, I feel this has yet to peak. The 1997 Ridge Monte Bello (courtesy of Kieron) is obviously more youthful, but its style could not have been more contrasting. Still dark red and restrained on the nose, but there was plenty of glycerin and red fruits  on the palate, slightly forward, with a great deal of depth and density that hasn’t quite unraveled. Needs to be left alone. And, finally, a grandstand finish in the form of a 2001 Pian Delle Vigne (courtesy of Vic), displaying a beautiful deep ruby, loaded with red and dark berries supported by a lovely deep spine of wonderful complexity, soft at the edges but layered with superb definition all the way to its long and lasting finish. Truly outstanding. No prizes for guessing where my preference lay for this evening’s tasting. In future, we should stop doing Italians side-by-side with Californians. Make no mistake, the latter is also excellent, but I prefer to appreciate the Old and New Worlds separately, as far as I can.

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