A Surprise Amongst the Lovely Wines at Little Saigon
Seven of us recently gathered for a wine dinner at Little Saigon down in Falls Church at the suggestion of David. Given the list of attendees David, Roland, Darryl, Nancy, Jeff, and Phil it came as no surprise to see many excellent bottles of wine. What did surprise me was how a bottle of wine from 1991 originally described by Robert Parker as “a competent, correct wine in what was a dreadful vintage. It is spicy and weedy…78 pts” became one of my favorite wines of the night. More on this wine later. Roland has been eating at Little Saigon in for a very long time. After following his suggestion to bring bottles of German, Alsatian, Rhone, or Burgundy wine it was easy enough to leave the ordering of the food in his hands.
Roland tried to manage successive waves of food since his typical waiter was absent. We ate such dishes as crispy shrimp wonton and vegetable spring rolls to fried chicken wings with garlic and crisp salted calamari. A plate of gigantic prawns gave no hint of what was to come. The pace increased to a frenzy as the kitchen prepared everything else at once. A whole rockfish with greens came out. This was quickly followed by dishes of seared pork, quail, and pan-seared steak cubes. It sounds like a crazy meal but in the end it was not. Roland avoided spicy dishes so I never once thought there was a clash between food and wine. In retrospect I believe the dinner would have been incomplete without so many dishes.
We sat at a large round table with a large lazy-susan in the middle. We brought boxes of our own stems and there were even decanters as well. Corkscrews and an Ah-So, a very nice Le Crueset model Jeff recently picked up in France, opened those bottles which had not been double-decanted. I suspect the lazy-Susan is typically used for food but we used it to hold our wine bottles. Both the dumpling sauce and the highly-coveted thin sauce resided here as well. The latter of which, the kitchen released only one bowl at a time. Perhaps it is like balsamic vinegar. The small platters of food were relegated to the table until the Sterno and rockfish arrived which were of a size requiring the lazy-Susan.
The 2008 De Conti, Anthologia Blanc offered an interesting start being a generous white wine from Bergerac. I thought the 2006 Prager, Riesling, Federspiel , Steinriegl and the 2008 Willi Schaefer, Riesling Kabinett, Graacher Himmelreich good in the beginning but ultimately a bit soft in the middle for my preference. In the form of a new producer for me, the 2004 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Spätlese, Winkeler Jesuitengarten provided my second favorite white wine of the night. It balanced mature flavors with verve and a seductive mouthfeel. Next came a pair of wines from Dönnhoff. The 2001 Dönnhoff, Riesling Spätlese, Norheimer Kirschheck was more mature, earthier, good but not exciting. This could be due to the 2002 Dönnhoff, Riesling Spätlese, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle which shined through everything else. While I thought the 2004 Weingut Spreitzer was good but the 2002 Dönnhoff was a league ahead.
We then turned to the red wines. Darryl had been holding back on opening the 1991 Domaine du Pégaü, Réservée assuming it would not last once opened. The bottle was in great shape as was the cork which was not even stained on the sides. It started off with a less attractive nose of medicine and band aids but this eventually blew off and the wine came alive after an hour of air. It was my second favorite red wine of the night being a lovely, mature Chateauneuf du Pape. Darryl quickly checked that he purchased this bottle last year for $29 from Cellar Raiders. Certainly the best buy of the evening. Next up was the 1997 Paolo Scavino, Bric dël Firsc which turned out to be a mess so I dumped it. The 1998 Domaine Santa Duc, Prestige des Haute Garrigues still had plenty of fresh fruit but was not in the same class as the 1991 Pegau. The 1998 Tardieu Laurent, Gigondas exhibited too much wood and while not bad, was just not interesting to drink.
We moved on to a pair of Chateauneuf du Pape from the hot 2003 vintage. These were polarizing for some. I actually enjoyed the 2003 Le Vieux Donjon which I spent time drinking with my food instead of thinking about it. I did not like the 2003 Pierre Usseglio et Fils, Cuvee du mon Aïeul for most of the evening. It was a sizeable wine with a significant prune and raisin component that I do not like very much. At Phil’s suggestion I tried the wine again at the end of the evening. It had changed to become clean, pure, and not so powerful. I am curious to hear other people experience with this wine. The last wine was my favorite red wine of the evening. The 2004 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage had been decanted many hours before dinner. I do not know what a mature Chave, Hermitage tastes like but the impeccable balance, sense of purity, and long finish lead me to believe this has a wonderful future ahead.
I was recovering from a sinus infection so please excuse the brief impressions below.
2008 De Conti, Anthologia Blanc, Bergerac
Imported by Elite Wines. Alcohol 14.5%. The color was a golden yellow. The nose was complex with candy and passion fruit aromas. In the mouth were rich flavors and fine textured wood notes. It was mildly unctuous with its ripe lemon flavors, integrated acidity, and minerals. Distinctive. ***
2006 Prager, Riesling, Federspiel , Steinriegl, Wachau
Imported by Vin Divino. This wine is 100% Riesling fermented and aged in stainless steel. Alcohol 12.5%. The wine started with textured, acidity driven flavors then it fell off to reveal a softer midpalate. It tasted like it was maturing. There was a minerally bit which mixed with some outgoing flavors. **
2008 Willi Schaefer, Riesling Kabinett, Graacher Himmelreich, Mosel
Imported by Michael Skurnik. Alcohol 7.5%. There was a lot of initial texture with some on the tongue tip before minerally softness came out. **
2004 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Spätlese, Winkeler Jesuitengarten, Rheingau
A Terry Theise selection imported by Michael Skurnik. Alcohol 7.7%. This wine had a rocking start followed by a creamy, tropical middle. There was a little petrol and expansive oily flavors. A beautiful wine which maintained its attractive mouthfeel. ***
2001 Dönnhoff, Riesling Spätlese, Norheimer Kirschheck, Nahe
Alcohol 9.0%. The color was a golden yellow. The soft nose bore an earthier hint. In the mouth the wine had plenty of mature notes. Perhaps drinking at its best. ***
2002 Dönnhoff, Riesling Spätlese, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Nahe
Imported by Premier Cru. Alcohol 8.5%. The color was slightly golden yellow. This was a lively, acidity driven wine with a lithe start, persistent flavors, and acidity which was spot on. Good mouthfeel. Plenty of life ahead but hard to resist now. ****
1991 Domaine du Pégaü, Réservée, Châteauneuf du Pape
Alcohol 13.5%. The color was a medium to dark garnet. It was aromatic from the beginning with aromas that stepped a bit out of the glass. The flavors were mature but in great shape, initially revealing a medical note and leaner flavors. After an hour it fleshed out to become very enjoyable and savory with black fruit, minerals, and a little savory bit. Still has life left. ****
1997 Paolo Scavino, Bric dël Firsc, Barolo
Imported by Vin Divino. Alcohol 14.5%. The color was almost brown garnet. The nose was minty fresh and finely articulated. In the mouth were lean flavors, minty with a spine of acidity driving it through. This was followed by heat and roughness through the finish. Kind of a mess.
1998 Domaine Santa Duc, Prestige des Haute Garrigues, Gigondas
Imported by Robert Kacher Selections. Alcohol 15%. There was a good nose followed by flavors of dark fruit, a little cedar box. The ripe fruit was still fresh with good depth and length with ripe tannins and good acidity. There was a leather note. Will last longer. ***
1998 Tardieu Laurent, Gigondas
Alcohol 14.5%. There were flavors of dark, firm fruit with steely acidity wrapped around a firm, drying, spicy tannic core. It developed a haunting, dark earthy note. It remained rugged with wood notes in the aftertaste. **
2003 Le Vieux Donjon, Châteauneuf du Pape
Imported by Calvert Woodley. The redder nose made way to approachable flavors of red and black fruit despite the firm, ripe tannins. ***
2003 Pierre Usseglio et Fils, Cuvee du mon Aïeul, Châteauneuf du Pape
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 95% Grenache and 5% Cinsault and Syrah sourced from very old vines. It was raised in epoxy-lined tanks and some oak. Alcohol 14.5%. The nose bore pruned and raisin fruit. In the mouth this was a blue fruit bomb with extract and raisin notes. The flavors built even bigger with lots of fine tannins in a structure that hit the back of the throat. Dense. Revisited at the end of the evening it had become more approachable with clean blue and black fruit. **(*)
2004 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. Alcohol 14%. The fine nose was of clean fruit. In the mouth were roundish flavors with a little earth and leather accenting the tart and cool, red fruit. There was salivating acidity in this well-knit wine with truly lovely red fruit. Precise and clean with impeccable balance and understated power which made for a long, engaging finish. ****(*)