Lou’s Birthday dinner (1963, 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003)
I just turned 50. I’ve thought a lot over the past year or so about ways to appropriately celebrate. For the wine part of the celebration I’ve broken it into two parts. One, a trip to my favorite wine “destination,” Bern’s Steakhouse. Two, a dinner at home with friends celebrating each decade of my life. As I was born in 1963, I’ve been gathering wines from 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003 that I thought would work well. I had the luck to be born in a great Port year. In my early 20’s I had occasion to drink Dow, Graham, Taylor and others on multiple occasions. For my 40th birthday, my wife made sure I had a ’63 Port, but I haven’t had one since. So the plan for 1963 was easy. I sourced a 1963 Croft in beautiful condition. The other years I knew would be more challenging, as not all were great years. My final lineup:
1963 Croft. This was bottled by Croft & Co of London and imported by European Wine Resources. Broadbent said in 1990 ***(*) with a drinking window until 2000 and commented on some bottle variation.
1973 Coutet. This is an Alexis Lichine Selection imported by Somerset Wine Company. Not a great vintage. Broadbent gave the wine ** with a drink soon in 1981, but said “pleasing ripe semillion nose, more power than expected.”
1973 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. (4% Petite Sirah). A **** vintage in California but I couldn’t find notes on the wine. I’ve had a number of delicious older Ridge Zins over the years, including a very fine 1976 Paso Robles Zin about a year ago that was drinking beautifully. So, I had high hopes for this wine.
1983 Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel. (5% Petite Sirah). Again, no notes on this wine, but Broadbent had said about the ’83 Ridge Paso Robles Zin “dry, very flavoury, great length **(**).” Though a cold, wet vintage I had high hopes for this wine too.
1983 Faivleley Nuits St. Georges les Porets St. George. This was imported by Wines LTD of Silver Spring, MD. A variable vintage. I found one passing note on how well Faiveley had done in a somewhat challenging vintage. So, promising also.
1983 Robert Mondavi Cabernet. (14% Merlot, 9% Merlot). From Broadbent: “No sulphur used. In new French oak 24 months. Very spicy, minty, eucalyptus. **(*).
1983 William Hill Gold Label Cabernet. 1.5L. No notes found. I had very fond memories of the William Hill wines of the 70’s but don’t recall ever having those from the 80’s. A worthwhile gamble.
1983 Filhot 375ml. This was imported by Majestic Wine & Spirits. Aaron picked this up for me at MacArthur Beverages. See his notes from September 2012.
1993 du Glana (St.Julien). Again, no notes found on this one. A challenging vintage for red Bordeaux, with St. Julien being weaker than some. I didn’t hold out lots of hope for this wine.
2003 Diffonty Cuvee du Vatican Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine. This is a well thought of wine that I’ve enjoyed a couple of times. I always felt it was rich but had avoided the hot, raisiny quality I’ve had in some ’03 CdP.
Although it didn’t fit the “3” theme, my friend Kate and her husband Matt had a bottle of 1971 Dom Perignon that they found resting quietly on its side in their dark, cool basement still in its original box. We decided to add that in. 1971 was a very great vintage in Champagne. Broadbent said of the wine, “twist of lemon and straw nose…distinct sweetness, excellent flavor and considerable length. Refined. Certainly warranting its reputation *****.” Though that note was from 1990, I hoped this would show its brilliance (and I love older Champagne).
Since I was thin on 1993, my friend Jeff brought a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastel. A terrific addition to the lineup! Aaron also brought along a couple of surprise bottles: a 2003 Clos St. Jean Combe des Fous and a 1983 Harvey’s Port. This is actually Martinez Vintage Port bottled for Harvey’s of Bristol and imported by Heublein. See his note from January 2012.
I figured we’d start with a few Champagnes to start, then move through the wines with dinner. It was a crowd of 15 including me and Adrienne. A big crowd in terms of the pour size (especially as I knew we’d lose some to decanting), but I didn’t want to leave out anybody on the guest list. I had plans to follow the same theme for the background music, but that part didn’t work out as well as I wanted, primarily because I got too caught up with talking, eating and drinking. We got through two Beatles albums from ’63—Please Please Me and With the Beatles. Next came John Coltrane with Afro Blue Impressions. We did Dixie Chicken from Little Feat for ’73 and I was ready to move on to Quadrophenia, but I got distracted and that was the end of the music.
Aaron and I had decanted all the wines for sediment (except the NSG) about 90 minutes before dinner. We rinsed out the bottles, poured the wines back in and stuck them in the cellar.
As the guests started arriving, we started with Thibaut-Janisson Brut from Virginia with smoked salmon and mushroom tarts that Adrienne had made. The wine was bright and fresh, and paired well with the food. It paled next to the next wine however, the Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix. This 100% pinot noir Champagne had a pretty pale orange/pink color. It was big and a little yeasty, with some vague cherry/strawberry notes and a very clean, crisp finish. Next came the Paul Dethune Rose Grand Cru Champagne from Ambonnay (80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay). This was a nice wine, but a little big and clunky next to its predecessor. It had hints of oxidation, and more rounded fruit.
We moved on to dinner. Folks were still drinking Champagne as we moved into the first course, a roasted cauliflower soup with Chincoteague oysters, topped off with some sorrel and chive oil. I was having too much fun to pay as much attention as I should have, and the soup was a bit cold by the time we got out all 15 bowls, but was very good nonetheless.
We decanted the Faiveley and decided to pour it with the 73 Ridge. We poured most of the wines in pairs. The Faiveley NSG was a great start. A very pretty wine, it remained in good shape with tertiary notes of tea and light flowers, some remaining sweet fruit and a long finish. I wished I had more in my glass. The 73 Ridge Lytton Springs also showed very well. Although clearly still Zin, it had a Bordeaux like structure with sweet fruit, some cedar notes and nice structure. It was in great shape.
We moved on to a salad of kale, watercress and frisee topped with maple syrup roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, and shaved Parmesan Reggiano. It was a nice balance of a little sweetness with the bitter greens and the walnut oil vinaigrette. The 1983 Mondavi Cabernet came next with the 1983 William Hill magnum. We also started on a grilled beef tenderloin that I had marinated in garlic, olive oil, and handfuls of fresh herbs and served with a couple of sauces. Roasted potatoes were a nice accompaniment. The wines started moving more freely at that point, and I started taking less detailed mental notes and went with the flow. The company was great; friends gave me wondeful birthday toasts and everyone seemed to love the wines and food.
My notes on the other wines:
1983 Mondavi Cabernet. This was maybe the weakest wine of the evening. While not over the hill, it was dominated by mint and was a bit one-dimensional.
1983 William Hill Gold Label was the better of the two ’83 Cabs. Very California, but sweet Cabernet fruit obvious with resolved tannins and fair acidity to balance it out. It has aged well, but is not overly complex.
1983 Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel. I think not the wine that the 1973 Ridge is. While well preserved, it showed less complexity, but in no way a bad showing.
1993 du Glana St. Julien. This was a real surprise. This was in good shape and showed as a fully mature, well-made Bordeaux. There was a fleeting hint of a strange medicinal quality that blew off in a few minutes. I thought this wine was a treat and well beyond my expectations.
1993 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. This showed young. Immediate notes of Brett were followed by iodine and meaty notes. A really nice wine.
2003 Cuvee du Vatican Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine. This showed really well, with none of the overripe, roasted notes that I was worried about. Very well structured, with intense Grenache fruit, firm tannins and lots of complexity.
2003 Clos St. Jean La Combe des Fous. Another really nice 2003. This one is begging for more time. Garrigue, olives, kirsch and a little funk. Exciting wine.
We moved on to individual olive oil cakes infused with thyme and served with whipped cream and some raspberries.
1973 Coutet. A very nice wine. Hints of candied orange peel, mature botrytis and a tight acidity. Fully mature but not showing any risk of falling apart. I think Mr. Broadbent got this one wrong.
1983 Filhot (375ml). Consistent with Aaron’s previous note.
1963 Croft Port. The bottle was in great shape with a low neck level fill. I tried to put aside my emotion at tasting a wine about as old as I. It smelled of restrained spirits and some nuttiness and mature port notes. In the mouth there was remaining fruit with hints of sweetness. It was a really nice showing.
1983 Harvey’s Port. A house I’ve not drunk from in Port before. Very classically styled with lots of time ahead. Nice nose of heady spirits, earth and rich, sweet fruit in the mouth. Long finish.
By then it was late, and the crowd started to dissipate. Kate and Matt were among the stragglers, so we opened the 1971 Dom. Unfortunately past its prime, it did show hints of what it was. The bubbles were dissipated. There was clear oxidation, but an interesting note of hazelnuts and a vague herb note.
An excellent evening and everything I had hoped for !