1995-11 November Classic Newsletter

November 1995 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 211 Rejected: 195 Approved: 14 Selected: 2

Been rubbing my hands together all week. Just couldn't wait to get another Wine of the Month super scoop blockbuster out to you. Just two months ago we featured a beautifully aged Cab¬ernet Sauvignon in the 1986 Domaine Michel. You can't imagine how excited I was to find another perfectly-stored, super wine in the 1983 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon.

One reason we could get this is the perception of the 1983 vintage being hard and tannic. Unfortunately, too many areas in California get a bad rap when the "big guys," also known as Napa and Sonoma, have a rough year. Remember El Nino? Well, Monterey got less rain and more sun than did Napa and Sonoma. So, Monterey's grapes matured better than "the big guys" and they made one of their best wines ever. I've had this wine many times in the last 10 years and it has always been impressive. Never more than now.

I remember my dad, Paul, Sr., extol-ling the virtues of Anjou wines over 30 years ago when nobody knew what he was talking about. I guess most of them thought Anjou was a polite sneeze. Well, if I've heard it once, I've heard it a hun¬dred times, and I've probably said it a hundred times as well: The Loire is one of the most unique wine-making areas on Earth and Anjou is one the Loire's shining stars. While some domestic wines have emulated the great wines of Bordeaux and even Burgundy, I have never tasted one Chenin Blanc that could possibly be confused with its extraordi¬nary French counterparts. Taste for yourself. I feel you'll be amazed as well.

Domestic Selection

Kab-er NAY Soo-veen-YOWN

As was the case just a couple of months ago with the Domaine Michel, here is another perfect example of a well-struc¬tured Cabernet Sauvignon developing into a complex beauty with a few years of perfect storage under its foil.

The Smith horse ranch and the Hook cattle ranch, located in the Santa Lucia Highlands overlooking Monterey's Salinas Valley, were con¬verted to vineyards at the beginning of the great wine boom in 1974, and Smith & Hook Winery was born. Owned and operated by the Nicholas Hahn family (of Hahn Shopping Malls fame), Smith & Hook boasts about 1000 acres, most of which is Cabernet Sauvignon, with about 150 acres of Merlot and 75 acres of Cabernet Franc. Planted on the eastern slope of the range more than 1000 feet above the valley floor, the vines face the rising sun, affording maximum ripening power. When fog covers Salinas Val-ley, Smith & Hook is bathed in sun¬shine on the mountainside.

They sell the majority of their grapes to other wineries, but produce a fair amount of wine themselves, up¬wards of 12,000 cases per year. Since their first release, the 1979 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, they have pro¬duced quite a few exceptional Cabernets noted for their depth of fla¬vor and potential for aging. This month's selection certainly ranks among them.

In 1983, Smith & Hook harvested their first Cabernet Franc. Even though the wine contains less than 1% Cabernet Franc, it en- hances the final result. There is also 12% Merlot in this wine. These three grape varieties are the main grapes that go into red Bor¬deaux (France) wines. They are, in fact, ancient natives of France, which were introduced to California soil about 140 years ago.

Cabernet Sauvignon provides body, spiciness, intense fruitiness and age worthiness. Cabernet Franc adds its own spice, an earthiness and a dis¬tinctive green-olive element. Merlot gives a wine more body, while adding a velvety mellowness and its own plum-like fruitiness. This is the classic trio of grapes found in the famous Bordeaux region known as the Haute Medoc. This trio is not unlike a combination you might find in the famous Chateau Latour or Chateau Lafite.

Our selection gives a deep garnet color, with lighter hues showing at the edge revealing its 12 years of age. The nose is a complex amalgam of earth, fresh herbs, green olives and ripe Cab¬ernet fruit. The intense fruit is evident on the palate, as well. It's a mouthful of integrated dry, velvety, plumy, earthy fruit whose flavors linger. Best served at room temperature with a fla¬vorful meat dish and a rich sauce, like Chicken Livers Madeira (page 6).

Reviewed by Larry Tepper Cellaring Suggestions: Just about at its peak now. Should maintain this plateau for about two years.

Imported Selection

Ahn-JOO. Chateau deh Mon-gehr-AY

In the historic province of Anjou, located in the western reaches of France's beauteous Loire River valley, there are over 12,000 wine producers. This peaceful, green countryside is dotted with old manors and castles, relics of the days when the Plantagenet kings of England were also Counts of Anjou.

André Lacheteau was born to the wine trade, the son of a French wine merchant. In 1987, André and his wife Dominique purchased the beautiful Chateau de Montguéret in the Loire Valley. While the vineyards had a history and pedigree, the winery was run down and in need of repair. Known as a man of boundless energy, within a year André had fully modernized the winery at the estate and turned it into a first class facility. Their first vintage, prior to this construction, was accomplished "in vats just standing on the ground." Average yearly production now numbers over 50,000 cases. Where there's a will there's a way.

The Loire wines, as a whole, can best be described as "charming." They have a special style — a grace and gaiety —which makes them wonderfully refreshing. A broad spectrum of wines are produced: elegant, dry and fruity reds; light-hearted rosés; scathingly dry, bold whites; delightfully mellow, lissome, off-dry whites; incredibly rich, complex dessert wines; and quite a few remarkably-good sparkling wines.

Most of the reds and whites are meant to be consumed young, within a year or two of the harvest. On the other hand, some of the whites exhibit phenomenal staying power and are regarded as quite possibly the longest-lived white wines in the world. This is true, in particular, of the bold dry whites and luscious dessert wines made from Chenin Blanc grapes.

The Loire Valley is the ancestral home of Chenin Blanc. The grape seems to achieve its pinnacle there. Our selection is 100% Chenin Blanc. It is a pity that only a few California vintner put out the effort to make more than ordinary jug table wine from extraordinarily delicious and versatile grape. Anjou is probably best known for its spectacular rosés made from the Cabernet Franc grape. Little known, but no less spectacular, are the Chenin Blancs from this village which are as commanding as the more famous wines made in Vouvray.

This wine is textbook, the embodiment of Loire characteristics. It has a light golden hue, with a nose of peaches, guava, pineapple and other tropical flora. It is medium-rich in the mouth, with a smooth, floats-on-your-tongue character. The fruit flavors, with a hint of butterscotch and caramel prevail as it finishes almost dry. Your guests (if you are serving) or your hosts (if you are visiting) will flip when a sip of Anjou accompanies Tom Turkey and trimmings. The White Zinfandel crowd will never know what hit 'em.

Cellaring Suggestions: At its prime now. Should easily maintain this quality level for another year.

Visiting the Sonoma Mission Inn

For years, Paul, Jr. has been touting the Sonoma Mission Inn. "Larry, you've got to try it!" So, on our last three-day trek to the wine country, we did, and found superb satisfaction.

The history of the Sonoma Mission Inn dates back to the Native Americans who were the first to discover the natural underground mineral waters there. They considered the site a sacred healing ground and maintained a sweat house near the spring for generations.

In 1840, a San Francisco physician, Dr. T.M. Leavenworth, constructed a small bathhouse and tank on the site, developing the hotsprings into the nation's pioneer health resort. Living up to his reputation as an eccentric, however, he abruptly shut the whole operation down after an argument with his wife!

An enterprising Englishman, Captain H.E. Boyes, acquired the property in 1895. Within five years he had built the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel. Upscale San Franciscans began thronging there to "take the waters" at the finest hot mineral water resort in California. A disastrous fire unfortunately destroyed the hotel in 1923. The Sonoma Mission Inn, an architecturally accurate replica of a California mission, arose from the hotel ashes in 1927, an elegant tribute to simple comforts. For me, foremost of its many appeals, is its proximity to the vineyards.

On our way there, for instance, being in a celebratory mood, we stopped at the Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. What luck! They give a truly informative tour of their underground caves every hour! And the Champagne really hit the spot. Figuring I shouldn't press my luck, once settled, I phoned ahead and booked tour and/or tasting appointments at three vineyards. Most wineries really do appreciate it if you call ahead, so they're not caught short-staffed. DeLoach showed us their state-of-the-art crushing and fermenting equipment (plus we got to taste everything!). And Kenwood, where they usually allow only four tastes, tasted us on 19 wines. We had an appointment!

But the highlight of the trip had to be our private tasting with Chateau St. Jean's Winemaster, Don Van Staaveren. "You know, there's a bottle of wine I've got to taste, and I'd like you to taste it, too," he beckoned me and my wife, Mimi. We proceeded to a small room upstairs in the Chateau and sampled six wines. The last two were the '92 St. Jean Merlot and the mystery bottle: 1993 Chateau St. Jean Merlot. "We're nearly sold out of the '92. Marketing is very anxious to release the '93. It's strictly up to me to determine when it's ready. You two are the first 'civilians' to taste it." Showing markedly superior to the '92, but still young, we agreed that by the time it had traversed from winery to distributor, to retail shelf, to the consumer's table — maybe two or three months — it would provide eminent drinkability.

Bidding Don and St. Jean a fond adièu, I realized I had learned an important lessons: 1) Stay at the Sonoma Mission Inn whenever possible; and 2) Phone ahead to schedule winery tours and tastings. Salud! – L.T.

Adventures in Eating

There were a couple of years, about twenty-five years ago, when I cooked professionally at various New York restaurants. Everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to the most elegant omelets anyone ever imagined. I've still got the touch on the omelets. It's all in the wrist, a technique for moving the egg liquid around in the pan. It's not something that I can explain on paper. That would be like explaining how to hoola-hoop. I'd have to show it to you.

One simple, delicious dish I cooked frequently got committed to memory. What follows is for one (large) portion, the way it would be prepared fresh, to order, on Manhattan's chi-chi East Side.

10 to 13 oz. fresh chicken livers
3/4 cup sweet Portuguese Madeira
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 /2 cup sliced mushrooms
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp beef gravy (canned)

Heat a large, heavy fry pan very hot. Add a tablespoon of butter to one side of the pan. It will start to go brown almost immediately, so get those livers in there fast!
Tilt pan to keep livers right over the flame. You are searing the outside of the livers only, not cooking them through, so this whole step takes only about a minute.

Keep turning the livers (gently) to sear on all sides. Gently remove them immediately to the dinner plate you will be serving them on. Pop this plate into a warming oven, about 225°F, right away. The livers are done. You don't want to cook them any more, just keep them warm.

Lower heat and add a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Sauté onions and mushrooms together about a minute. Add Madeira wine and a tablespoon of canned beef gravy. Stir and reduce until the sugars in the wine begin to glaze. The sauce will actually become shiny. Remove livers from oven. They will have let out some liquid. Pour this into the sauce, stir briefly, toss in parsley, and spoon all the sauce over the livers. Serve hot.
Fantastic with aged California Cabernet or a merry old Bordeaux.

By Larry Tepper

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