MoCool 2003: California Dreamin' MoCool Friday Dinner, "Hang Ten with Madeline"
Aug. 22, 2003

Madeline at Morels
Madeline Triffon describes a flight of wines. Listening at foreground table, from left: Bob H., Russ Sprouse, and the back of Julia B.'s head
The 12th annual MoCool - "California Dreamin'" - got off to the usual classy start last night with dinner at Morels, A Michigan Bistro, in Bingham Farms in north suburban Detroit. About 80 revelers enjoyed an excellent meal fashioned by Chef Jim Barnett with California wines selected by Madeline Triffon, M.S., who's been the guiding light of the MoCool Friday dinners since somewhere back around MoCool 3.

In my effort to enjoy the California wine theme and not be merely gratuitiously picky despite my Europhile leanings, Madeline was a big help, as most of these wines were really interesting and a few outstanding. She went out of her way to tickle our palates, choosing not a single Chardonnay while adding to the interest level by seeking mostly unusual and uncommon wines that veer well away from the stereotypical "industrial wine" and usual-suspect varieties of the Golden State.

Before the meal, partipants strolled through the dining room and the stunning atrium garden of Morels, grazing on cheeses and hors d'oeuvres and sampling an intriguing group of Madeline's selections, many chosen consciously for their unexpected varieties:

Beckmen 2000 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Marsanne - Pale brass. Smokey white fruit, full body. Fine summer aperitif, nice alternative to Chardonnay.

Fife 2001 Redhead Mendocino Ros´ - Bright strawberry color. Lots of simple, sweetish fruit and a hint of Syrah pepper, but bizarrely high alcohol for a rosé 14.2 percent, puts it out of whack for me.

Martin & Weyrich 1999 Paso Robles "Il Vecchio" Nebbiolo - Clear ruby color. Shy, black fruit scent doesn't promise much, but the flavor excels, big red fruit backed by crisp acidity in a full, structured wine, with that attractive bitter-almond quality that gives it a real Italian accent.

Clos du Bois 1999 Alexander Valley Reserve Tempranillo - Ruby color; sweet and simple wild-cherry flavor.

Atavistic Thrill 2000 Lagomarsino Vineyard California Carmine (A Jim Clendenen wine)- Dark ruby. Green. vegetal, funky; a hint of barnyard in the nose and twang on the palate reveals a distinctly non-Californian dose of "brett." Intriguing, but almost too bretty even for me. (Carmine, by the way, is a rather rare Cabernet Sauvignon X Carignane cross.)

Terra d'Oro by Montevina 1999 Amador County "SHR" Zinfandel Field Blend - An old-fashioned Amador Zin, huge mixed-berry fruit and earth on a big, hot structure, 15.5% alcohol claimed. Adds a bitg of Petite Sirah and Barbera to 80% Zinfandel in a field blend from School House Ranch.

Dinner then featured four flights of California wines, one flight percourse, with Madeline and the group discussing each briefly before the wines were identified. (It should be noted that Joel Goldberg distinguished himself by nailing, or nearly nailing, about four of them.)

A bubbly and a white with wild mushroom tart with eggplant caviar, smoked tomato vinaigrette and crispy potato tuile:

Gloria Ferrer 1993 Carneros Sparkling Wine. Yeasty, toasty, prickly, very dry and tart, surprisingly fresh at 10 years of age. "European" in style, though not Champagne, it could have passed for a better Spanish cava ... which seems reasonable, considering its Spanish heritage.

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2001 Paso Robles "Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc" - The Perrin-Kacher collaboration from Paso Robles, it's a clear straw color with hints of gold. Faint but attractive aroma, floral and spicy, a bit stemmy and green. Fine texture and body, nice bitter-almond quality in the finish. Pleasant Rhone-style white, more aromatic than its French cousins (I think there's both Viognier and Albariño in it), good stuff but hard to justify a $30-plus price tag. Joel nails this one by name and vintage, to everyone's amazement ...

Three "Rhone Rangers" with pan-roasted duck breast with foie gras ravioli, baby root vegetables and natural jus lie:

Edmunds Saint John 2000 Wylie-Fenaughty El Dorado County Syrah - Dark color. Smoky, peppery black fruit aromas; a blast of fragrant black pepper on the palate, good acidity and soft tannins. The peppery Syrah character makes this best of the trio with the duck for me.

Ridge 1993 York Creek Spring Mountain Petite Sirah. Very dark garnet. Blueberry and plum, some herbal notes, sweet fruit, a whiff of leather ... an all-too-rare example of what quality Petite Sirah can do with bottle age.

Bonny Doon 2000 California Old Telegram. All-Mourvèdre, showing how different this variety becomes from the benchmark Bandol style under California sun. Clear garnet. Smoke and berries, fruity and tart; significantly tannic.

Also, a BYO wine passed during this course:

Kistler 1995 Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay - Golden, butterscotch, soft, fat, oak still dominant. A bit past it, but worth note that it's the only Chardonnay during an extensive evening of California wines!

Two quite different-style CalCabs to accompany charcoal-grilled prime flat iron steak with fingerling potatoes, cipollini and red-wine reduction sauce:

Rockledge 1999 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Very dark reddish-purple. Plummy black fruit and a surprising amount of horsey, barnyardy character reveals a touch of brett that the profs at UC Davis would never abide, but I like it. Tart, tannic and well-structured.

Fellom Ranch 1995 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark purple, bronze edge. Oaky dill dominant, black fruit behind it. Way, way too oaky for my personal tastes, but well-built and structured. I like it much better with the steak, in which context the oakiness falls back to a pleasant spice.

Another BYO: I noticed John Wolf wandering around the room with this familiar bottle in hand and was lucky enough, through extended whingeing, to get a taste:

Ridge 1985 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon - Ruby. Leather, coffee and delicious black fruit. Still showing tannins, but soft and smooth. A classic.

With dessert, a fresh peach and cherry clafouti topped with tart-sweet ginger ice milk:

"Bricco Buon Natale" 2000 Santa Maria Valley Orange Muscat (Jim Clendenen). Pale gold. Fresh apricot scent and a luscious flavor, sweet as nectar with good balancing acidity.

BYO'd wines also passed around during dessert:

Ridge 1993 California Zinfandel Essence - Opaque blackish purple. Jammy berry fruit and a pleasantly herbaceous hint of hay. Intense, sweet, jam-like flavor, clean and long.

Domaine Charbay n-v Charbay Dessert Wine - An oddity that I arranged to have shipped a while back from the producer, a tiny artisanal distillery near St. Helena that makes primarily brandies and other liquors. This item is a fortified wine of sorts, a Chardonnay laced to 18% alcohol with Charbay's hand-distilled alambic brandy liqueur. Clear gold in color, it shows oxidized hazelnut and white fruit aromas with some presence of wood and a "rancio" quality akin to a dry Madeira. Unctuous and barely sweet, nutty and rich, good acidic balance.

MoCool 2003 Saturday Picnic, "We're Goin' to Wine City!"

MoCool 2003 Sunday Brunch, "Fire on the Mountain - Mountaintop Verticals"

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