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A Bash at Schramsberg

NOTE: This article is really more of a personal thank-you note to a friend for organizing a memorable anniversary dinner for my wife and I. I'm putting it here so those who attended can read the notes. If you're interested too, feel free to share.

(March 26, 1999) Our friend Di was being so mysterious. "Just reserve this date the week you’re in Napa Valley," she said. "You won’t be sorry."

     So we did. And that was it. Not a word for the longest time.

     I get curious. "So what’s going on?"

     "You’ll see," she says.

     Then Phylis starts working on her. Nope. Won’t budge.

     "I’ll send you word by snail mail," says Di. But no mail arrives.

     Time passes. We get to Napa Valley. We’re still wondering what’s going on. Not a word. Then -- two days before the date -- a fax arrives at our B&B.

     "Be at Schramsberg at 6:30. Further instructions when you arrive."

     On the appointed hour we pull up the long, twisting drive from highway 29 to the Schramsberg property. Di’s out in front. "Come in," she says. We do.

     And there, in the dining room just off the entrance to the historic caves...

     SURPRISE! A gathering of West Coast wine-buddies, an incredible dinner...and (need I mention?) the table is crammed full of fabulous wines.

     What a bash! We have everything to ourselves. We explore the miles of spooky caves, while sipping nectar-like *+1988 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc from magnum.


Then we sit down to a feast featuring all of Phylis’ favorite wine-friendly foods (I like them too), great conversation, and the following wines. (Forgive me if the notes are brief; I was too busy having fun.)

     First the WHITES:

**+ 1990 Dom Perignon. Full, complete, long, and so tight it deserved an evening’s worth of slow contemplation, which of course it did not receive. My personal choice for New Year’s Eve 1999.

*+ 1997 Araujo Sauvignon Blanc. Thick texture. Replete with melon flavors. Seemingly low in acid, yet excellent with the cream of carrot and lemon soup.

**1995 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay. Very leesy and sexy in a distinctly California way...at first. Yet as it airs, vivid Chardonnay flavors stand out, the finish steals the show from the yeasty attack, and it becomes increasingly similar to the white of the evening...

***1991 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. Earthy, nutty, endless. The mature notes dominate at first. Then, as the hours wear on, it seems to walk back in time, and the hazelnuts are joined by tangy papaya flavors. Fascinating wine and WHITE OF THE EVENING.

*+1992 Kistler California Chardonnay. Youthful, fruity, creamy. Strong showing, but maybe my attention was taken by the LeFlaive.

*+1996 L. Carillon et Fils Puligny-Montrachet "Les Perrieres." No note, I’m afraid, but I did score it well, so I guess it was pretty darned good.

*+1992 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay. This was Phylis’ choice for white of the evening. I thought it had powerful fruit and good length, but the very spicy oak obscured some of the character. Perhaps the oak is winning the battle with this wine.

     Then onto the PINOT NOIRS:

***1994 Williams and Selyem Hirsch. Very dark, powerful aromas of black cherry, following through on the palate with more cherry and hints of cola. Lots of structure, but the flavors pump through.

**1995 Williams and Selyem Hirsch. Very similar to the above but a tad less intense. How cool to have them side by side.

1985 Alain Voegli Gevrey-Chambertin. Strawberry, metal and...major poop! The brettanomyces flavors soon dominate it. On to the next...

*+1996 Lynmar Quail Hill Vineyard. Whoever brought this wine is hip! Not quite as deep as the WS, but very comparable in flavor and varietal character.

*1993 Ici/La Bas La Cagoule. Stands apart from the Californians. Bright raspberry and cola notes.

     And the MAIN EVENT:

1937 Latour. Mental drum roll as it’s opened. And here it is...nail polish remover! Aw nuts. I hand it to Phylis. "You want to know what wine geeks mean when they talk about VA? Here we are!"

***1994 Forman. I was expecting a good hand but this is all aces. Big hit of violets on the nose and black currant delight on the palate. Finishes the same way, long, and gets better as the night wears on. Yep, this guy knows how to grow and make wine. Against some pretty stiff competition, it wins my vote for WINE OF THE EVENING.

**+1994 Colgin. A "pants wetter" as the gentleman on my right subtly puts it. Blueberry, cherry, surprisingly soft-seeming, with no astringency on the finish. Then, about a half hour later, someone asks "does anyone taste dill on this wine?" I sip. Yes, there it is, isn’t it? Was any American oak used to age this wine? Still an enormously satisfying glass, but tonight the Forman outclasses it.

**1989 Chateau Meyney. I have liked this wine since release, but never dared pair it with the kind of company it received tonight. Well, friends, don’t be afraid. Notably different from the big fruity Cabs with its lead pencil, herb and earthy notes, but carries its own and then some. Nice going, Meyney.

*1992 Spottswoode. Seems downright elegant in comparison to all the above. Complete and satisfying, but overpowered.

*1994 Opus. Ditto. Polite and delicious, but can’t make me forget the Forman.

1982 Dunn. A cipher. Big tar, spice, mint, all the signs of an enormous and c-l-o-s-e-d Cabernet.

1981 Heitz Napa. Earthy, minty, and may have seen better days.

**+1992 Chateau Montelena. Classic, pure Cab like the Forman -- blackberry that smacks you like a fist in a velvet glove, and you say hit me again! My second-favorite red of the evening.

     The bash wound down with a rarely tasted Shramsberg Cremant (didn’t note the year!), softly bubbly with sweet nutty flavors.

   We thank you, Di. And special thanks to Fred, Karen and all the others at Schramsberg!

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