Potpourri with Patrick
Campbell is an affable, intelligent and very modest gentleman with a graduate degree in philosophy, who got into wine making almost by accident during the 1970s after a youthful migration to California that included a stay in a mountaintop Zen Buddhist community and eventually inspired him to plant a vineyard, sell grapes and, inexorably, make his own wine. Laurel Glen's first commercial vintage was 1981, and over the years, its Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon has become one of California's sought-after wines.
Remarkably, despite its near-cult status, Laurel Glen Cabernet remains fairly priced (at $40 or so upon release, and about $75 for the "Reserve") in a niche filled with competitors at three-figure prices. Campbell laughs this off, observing that he hasn't raised the price in the past dozen years, and adding, "I make my money on the cheap stuff."
That may be, but Laurel Glen's "cheap stuff" shows exceptional value for the price, too, from its most basic bottlings (REDS, a California red blend, and Terra Rosa, a line of South American wines, featured in Friday's Wine Advisor), to Sonoma Mountain "Counterpoint," Laurel Glen's $25ish "second label" and a first-rate Cabernet in its own right. Other Laurel Glen labels include the upscale Argentinian "Vale de Pena" old-vines Mendoza Malbec and the hulking "ZaZin" old-vines Lodi Zinfandel.
Campbell didn't come to dinner to talk about his wines, though, but simply to unwind with a friendly group after a long flight over from San Francisco (via Chicago) highlighted by a cancelled commuter flight and a cabbie who had no idea where the restaurant was.
Dinner from the 211 Clover Lane menu was excellent, and so were the wines, a diverse and eclectic potpourri that combined bottles brought by participants with a few selections from the restaurant's list and, of course, three first-rate Cabernets from Laurel Glen.
Let's wrap up today's edition with quick notes on the evening's 12 wines, with the usual caveat that these are casual notes jotted in a social setting, and thus may fall short of the usual careful analysis.
Aperitifs, served with fresh peach slices topped with fromage blanc and honey, and tart apple slices topped with Capriole Indiana goat cheese and pink peppercorns.
Hugel 2002 Alsace Gentil - Pale straw. Aromatic, grapefruit and litchees, Muscat evident. Soft, gently sweet, with sufficient acidity for balance.
Rochioli 2003 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc - Overt oak overwhelms snappy citric frult. Way too much wood for my taste.
With a complimentary first course, mussels simmered in white wine on a slice of pain grillé.
Peter Michael 2002 "L'Aprè-Midi" Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc - Citric aromas, grapefruit and lemon-lime. Full and surprisingly buttery. Too much oak, again, yields a Chardonnay-style Sauvignon Blanc.
With a silken, creamy golden beet vichyssoise.
Papapietro 2001 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - Dark ruby. Red frult, tomato skin, cherry cola, fat and ripe and almost carrying an edge of sweetness. A very Californian Pinot Noir, not likely to be mistaken for a Burgundy, but why should it be? I like it.
With grilled rare hanger steak and pommes frites.
Catherine et Pierre Breton 1999 Chinon "Les Picasses" - My contribution to the evening's deliberations and the first distinct break from "New World" wine styles. Dark garnet. Strawberries and earth and a distinct note of "barnyard." Black fruit flavors, full and ripe, big body and structure. This one inspires a couple of "wine geek" discussions, one regarding the role of "brettanomyces" wild-yeast character in wine and whether it's always a flaw or if a little bit is all right; and whether a Loire red with this much body, structure and power could possibly be all Cabernet Franc or if some Cabernet Sauvignon has sneaked into the blend ... and whether this would be permissible under the Chinon regulations.
The tech talk soon ends, however, as we move on to the Laurel Glens before the main courses are gone.
Laurel Glen 2000 Counterpoint Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - This may be the "second label," but it's a fine red table wine in its own right. Very dark reddish-purple in color, it shows ripe Cabernet cassis and fresh herbs on the nose, and good structure, black fruit and acid on the palate, with soft tannins that don't interfere with its immediate enjoyment.
Laurel Glen 1999 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - My second tasting of this wine in a week (it was featured in the current Wine Advisor Premium Edition) with consistent observations. Inky dark in color. Ripe black fruit and "sweet" leather aromas with accent notes of roses and mint. Big fruit flavors with good balancing acidity and ample but smooth tannins. As in my more analytical tasting, this youthful wine needs plenty of "breathing" time to come into its own if you drink it now.
Laurel Glen 1992 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark ruby in color, with complex aromas focused on ripe frult and earthy leather with a discreet but distinct nuance of "barnyard." Elegant palate impression, black fruit and dark chocolate, well balanced with fresh-fruit acidity. Perceptible tannins remain in a wine that's maturing, moving toward its peak but with plenty of life remaining.
With a dessert sampler including chocolate pots de crèmes, Mariposa plum crème brûlée and fresh Mission fig ice cream.
Royal Tokaji Co. 1990 Tokaji 5 Puttonyos - Presented this wine "blind," our group of serious wine geeks missed it completely, guessing as wildly as Pineau de Charentes and obscure Italian, Spanish or even Austrian dessert wines. In fairness, it was awfully lightweight and a bit funky for characteristic Tokaji. Clear amber in color, with aromas of golden raisins framed by distinct volatile acidity; good sugar-acid balance but a rather light texture on the palate.
After dessert and espresso, one last "orphan" bottle remained, demanding tasting.
Torbreck 1999 Barossa Valley "The Steadings" Grenache (60%) Mataro (20%) Shiraz (20%) - Opaque. Black, plummy fruit aromas and flavors, peppery, earthy and full, showing a surprising amount of "horsey" and "barnyard" character for an Australian wine. Very Rhone-like, it would have been easy to mistake it for a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Finally, full and happy but still up for wine analysis thanks to having made good use of "dump buckets" to keep consumption moderate despite the variety of wines on the table, nothing would do but that we chauffeur Patrick over to the L&N Wine Bar with its 100-plus-bottle wine-by-the-glass selection. I took advantage of one-ounce pours to end the evening with a side-by-side comparison of Ports from a favorite producer.
Niepoort 10 Year Tawny Port - Amber-orange. Brown sugar and bitter orange; rich sweetness nicely framed by crisp acidity in a balanced flavor best described as "mellow."
Niepoort 1986 Colheita - Pale amber. Orange peel and vinous aromas. Very rich and smooth in flavor; almost soft at first, but steely acidity brings balance on the mid-palate in a wine that seems a bit more overtly alcoholic and acid than the easy-sipping Tawny.
WEB LINKS FOR LAUREL GLEN AND ITS WINES:
To locate retail vendors for Laurel Glen wines, check the databases at Wine-Searcher.com,
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Wednesday, July 28, 2004