Five decades of world's great wines, with truffles! Benefit Dinner for Bing Harvest Moon Auction

For those not familiar with Bing, it is not just a cherry or a search engine. We first learned about Bing almost 3 years ago when Rona solicited preschool recommendations from our Crescent Park neighbors for our then new-born son. Located in Stanford and part of the university research program in child development, Bing is a cozy idyllic oasis of child happiness and learning that parents aspire to get their offspring to be immersed in. We're eager to get to know the Bing community as Evan is fast-approaching preschool age. So at the Bing Harvest Moon Auction last fall, we donated a rare wine tasting to be hosted at the Domaine du Chevsky (i.e. my home) in Palo Alto. As all proceeds from this event go to the Bing Scholarship Fund, we were super excited to put this great extravaganza together.

There are wine tastings.... And then there are IRON CHEVSKY wine tastings. The event was intended for a relatively small group, sized to sample several rarities without getting tipsy. We had 9 guests, plus Rona and I - a perfect number for 2oz. pours of 5 wines, just the right amount for a wine aficionado's experience of a lifetime. The theme - five great wines from around the world, spanning five decades. Food pairings featuring fresh truffles executed by my friend chef Dan-the-gour-man(d), aimed to highlight delicate flavors and aromas in these venerable wines. I led the presentation and the discussion throughout the three hour sit-down event.

Now, the wines!

Most old wines are just that - old, tired, fruitless, thin, funky... over the hill. Automatic expectation people have for old wine - is that older is better. In reality, that is not the case most of the time. While many wines can improve or at least plateau for a few years after release, very few will be better after 10 years, let alone 20, 30, or 50. Without the supporting anti-oxidative structure of tannin, acid, extract, and sometimes sugar, most wines simply fall apart after a while. But, some varieties produced in great vintages from venerable terroirs by capable winemakers, and stored under meticulous temperature-controlled conditions, can endow wines with incredible longevity. In those rare few cases, wines may gain complexity, convert the youthful fruitiness and intensity into suave secondary and tertiary flavors that are otherworldly, with soft textures enveloping your tongue like a warm blanket on a cold night... Enhanced by the right food, aimed to compliment not dominate the wines, this can be a rapturous experience. That is what we wished to create with this tasting event that took months of preparation.

Naturally wines of such caliber and rarity are not cheap. Considering that no self-respecting wine host would go without a backup bottle of each wine, valued at hundreds of $$ a bottle on today's market, was it worth it?! I say a resounding Yes!

Opening the '66 Montrose mag with the trusty "old cork" Durand corkscrew

To pick a fitting representation of world's great wines obviously is not an easy feat, if you only have room for five. I needed wines of tremendous pedigree from world-class regions and producers with long track records for age-worthiness. After much consideration, I settled on 1988 Veuve Cliquot Champagne (France), 1971 Barisone (Francesco Rinaldi) Barolo (Italy), 1993 Domaine Faiveley red Burgundy (France), 1966 Chateau Montrose Bordeaux (France), and 2003 Bond Napa Valley Cabernet (USA). The wines either came from my cellar or from highly reputable sources at least one month before the tasting, and rested sideways in my cellar to recover from any potential bottle shock. About a week prior to the event, I stood them all upright to get the sediment to collect at the bottom. Sediment is always expected in older wines, and getting it to shift to the bottom makes pouring clean liquid out of the bottle a lot easier.

Before sitting down for the formal tasting, guests were greeted with a glass of one of my favorite non-vintage Champagnes - Vilmart Grand Cellier.

NV Vilmart "Grand Cellier" Champagne Brut Premier Cru - I've stored this bottle for several years since release, and it was singing. Excellent NV Brut. Intense, full-bodied, zesty, refreshing. With few years of age, it has rounded out and put on weight. Great prelude to the '88 Veuve.

The formal tasting and food pairing followed.

1988 "Rare" Vintage Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut - pop and pour, no decanting. Late-disgorged in 2005, after 17 years in the Veuve Clicquot cellars, 2/3rd Pinot Noir, 1/3rd Chardonnay, I had enjoyed this wine multiple times over the past few years, and on this occasion it was firing on all cylinders - energetic, complex and full of classical mature champagne flavors of toast, brioche, almonds, honey, candied ginger, and distant oxidative notes. Perfection with butternut squash blitzes (mini-pancakes) topped with creme fraiche and a dollop of black caviar - the only dish I made myself, as the rest were Dan's masterpieces.

1993 Faiveley Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy - We happen to know Erwan Faiveley through a mutual friend. The 34 year old took over one of the largest domaines in Burgundy 7 years ago from his father Francois Faiveley as the 7th generation owner. Well educated, ambitious and capable, Erwan set out to raise the bar for Domaine Faiveley. Rona was impressed with the understated and easy-going young Frenchman, so she requested a Faiveley for the burgundy portion of this important tasting. I'm glad I obliged! I opened and let the bottle sit for 1.5 hours prior to tasting, no decanting. Gorgeously perfumey honeyed strawberries and red cherries, with classic forest floor, whiffs of truffle, subtle game and smoke notes, gentle spice and soft, elegant, inviting texture - the wine at its peak, paired fantastically with Dan's Parmesan "curl" with truffles, honey and smoked salt (in the photo below), as well as the second hors d'oeuvre - wild boar truffle salami over truffle spread on a baguette. Domaine Faiveley has sometimes been criticized for wines lacking refinement, particularly in their youth. Well, this 21 year old "grand cru" beauty was plenty refined for me, demonstrating with clarity what proper aging will do to a great wine! Latricieres-Chambertin grand cru vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin is one of the staples of the Faiveley portfolio, and while the vineyard has plots owned by many, Faiveley is one of the top producers of that grand terroir, along with Leroy. Erwan visited Domaine du Chevsky last year and personally advised about the '93 Latricieres as follows: "This wine is extremely perfumed and not very powerful. I am very excited: I get the impression 2013 will be just like 93 in Gevrey.... I am sure you will be blown away!"

1971 Barisone Barolo - (backup bottle, as the first one was oxidized) Opened and let the bottle sit for 2 hours prior to tasting, no decanting. Sweet tobacco and tea, woodsy tones, delicious compote of tart prunes, hints of dry cherries, baked raspberries and truffles... spectacular with Dan's truffle risotto. This Barolo was made in 1971 by the famous Francesco Rinaldi, and sold in demijohns to Osvaldo Barisone to his wine shop in Turin and subsequently bottled under his own label. Delicious and complex wine, hard to pick which one was more enjoyable - this or the '93 Faiveley Latricieres before it. For me personally, I slightly preferred the brighter, gentler red fruit of the Burgundy to the Barolo's woodsier, more tobaccoey overtones... but some other tasters preferred the Barolo, particularly the pairing with the truffle risotto.

Both reds melded with the food in a truffle orgy.

1966 Chateau Montrose Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux (2nd growth, St. Estephe) - out of a magnum, the backbone of the wine was still there with certain musculine angularity. After 3-4 hour decant, the wine got plusher. Fruit still alive, albeit somewhat leaner than I would prefer. Nuances of menthol, graphite, and grilled meat. Acidity sticking out just a bit... Very good, especially with Dan's spectacular rare "USDA prime filet mignon tail" steak, with truffle demi-glace, but not as epic as I'd hoped.

2003 Bond Estate (Harlan) Cabernet Sauvignon "Pluribus" - first vintage of this boutique wine from the Pluribus vineyard on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, bought on release, this wine is all the Napa Valley opulence one would expect from one of the New World's cultiest producers. Having visited and written about the highly exclusive Bond Estate in the past, their single-vineyard "Napa grand cru" philosophy, attention to quality and no-expense-spared pursuit of perfection are widely regarded. I had kept the wine in a decanter for 9 hours before we drank it, and it was still a monster (in a good way!) with richly supple but formidable tannins, loads of dense, intense, inky blue fruits, chocolate and graphite, covering every corner of the palate. We paired it with high-quality Belgian chocolate truffles, and it was a match made in heaven. Serious wine that will probably go for another 30 years. Try again in 10!

As if those weren't enough, I pulled a couple of bonus "post-dinner" bottles to enjoy with cheeses.

2006 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon - pop and pour, no decanting. Great wine, lighter and less extracted than Bond, olive tapenade, more acidity, very food friendly. Certainly would have been more enjoyable if drunk before the more powerful Bond. World-famous Ridge Vineyards is IMHO the greatest American winery that has secured its place atop the vinous Olympus of the New World with a glorious track record and adoration of wine lovers for the past 40+ years. While (thankfully) it doesn't seem to have the exclusivity or the stratospheric price tag of Napa Valley's top trophy cabs (many of which have been covered on the pages of this blog), the jewel of Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge Monte Bello estate achieves a remarkable combination of deep dark pure cool mountain fruit combined with great acidity and hints of olives, herbs, and eucalyptus, all in a relatively low-alcohol package. The Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is Ridge's top wine, but their entire wide range is of very high quality, and carries the familiar Ridge signature of beautifully intense, polished and characterful fruit, balanced by mouth-watering acidity across a number of wines made from a variety of different grapes. I've visited and written about them many times, and I cannot recommend their wines highly enough. The 2006 Monte Bello has been one of my favorites on prior occasions, although pretty much every vintage I ever tried (and I tried many) has been terrific.

2003 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet - pop and pour, no decanting. Bought on release, this was richer, sweeter, fruitier, more exotic and glycerous than Monte Bello, but definitely not a fruit bomb. Dark fruited and very good, and could easily go another 10+ years.

In the end, we were delighted the way the wines and food came out. The audience and the hosts got to know each other and the wines in an amazing evening, brought together by a good cause, that we will not soon forget.


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