Second, study the restaurant's wine list. The more you know ahead of
time, the better. In a setting like this, I like to find wines I know
for a couple of reasons. Ordering wines I know gives me an idea of what
I'm getting. Moreover, a familiar vineyard gives me plenty to talk
about -- my experiences at the vineyard, what I know about the
winemaker, why I like it, what other wines come from the vineyard and
the like. Those stories led to stories from others about experiences at
similar vineyards and wines, many of which are now on my list to try.
Third, involve others. While you may not want your guests to pick
directly from the list if you are concerned about price, I decided to
ask the couple who just returned from Napa to talk about their
experiences and their favorite vineyard from the recent trip. One of
their favorites was Nickel & Nickel, so we sampled one of their
wines at our dinner.
Finally, enjoy the wine and dinner. I was amazed at how
engaged everyone became in the discussion about the wine. Moreover, I
was incredibly pleased that every guest seemed to enjoy the impromptu
wine seminar throughout the meal. In fact, one guest said dinner was
more like an adventure than just a meal.
Exactly what I was hoping for.
The Wines of the Evening
With a red-meat dinner ahead, we were more focused on bold reds this
evening than on whites. But we did start the night with a very tasty
The Plumpjack Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 2000 is a simple
yet buttery white wine that has just enough hint of fruit to make it
fun to drink. It should sell for around $35 a bottle in your local wine
We tasted four reds this evening, all of which I knew well,
which helped me pitch the wines to my dining companions. We began the
evening with the Dominus Estate Napa Valley 1998. A cabernet sauvignon
blend, with a bit of merlot, petite verdot and cabernet franc, the wine
is an often overlooked vintage as it is sandwiched between two great
years, 1997 and 1999. However, it is a solid blend that, while not as
bold as earlier vintages, is very smooth and quite approachable. It's
available in upper-end wine shops for about $80 a bottle.
For the second red, we stepped out a bit and took a chance on the 1987
-- yes that's 17 years ago -- Spring Mountain Estate. Mostly cabernet
with just a touch of merlot for blend, this wine is a solid drinking
wine, very smooth to the palate. Very dark in color and, after 15
minutes in a decanter, this Spring Mountain offering is indicative of
this vineyard's ability to produce wines with long shelf lives. The
wine was very approachable, with good fruit flavor and a hint of oak.
Interestingly, this wine was the first production for what was a new
vineyard planting for the winery. With its age, it's a difficult wine
to find, but should be about $70 if you can track it down.
Our third wine was the Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Rock Cairn
Vineyard 2000. The single vineyard offering from the founders of Far
Niente is a more earthy Cabernet that pairs well with beef. Earthy and
full-bodied, the wine is best when paired with food. Overall, Nickel
& Nickel is one of the most unique vineyards in the Napa Valley and
should be visited by any wine enthusiast that wants to learn more about
the subtleties of wine making. You can expect to pay about $70 for this
bottle at most retailers.
We finished the evening with one my favorites, Merryvale's
Profile Napa Valley 2000. While not the best of the Profile vintage,
such as the 1999, it nonetheless is enjoyable. Very earthy and complex,
it will be fine in your cellar for another year or two, but the petit
verdot, cabernet franc and merlot blend isn't meant to be cellared much
longer. You should be able to find this in most retail stores and some
discount stores for around $60 a bottle.
Now, it's your turn. I want to hear about your wine
experiences and interests. As I continue to write about wine, let me
know what's on your mind. I'd very much like to make this column as
much an exchange of ideas as a one-sided conversation. After all, wine
is a lot more enjoyable if you have someone to enjoy with.
Please, send me an email
with your wine questions, stories, experiences or anything else that
seems relevant to this magical beverage. I'll use your ideas as the
foundation for future columns as well as answer your questions as best