On Saturday, I met one of my wine-collector friends for lunch. Lately, we've been focusing on Pinot Noir when we get together, and despite our fascination with Pinot from anywhere, he delights in tasting older wines.
His amazing cellar is stocked with plenty of handpicked trophy wines from Burgundy dating to the 1950s and California dating to the 1960s (think old Hanzell's). I, on the other hand, don't cellar any wines very long, and typically like mine on the younger side.
Anyway, I arrived late, but not too late to share a glass of an amazing 2002 Siduri Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills. This wine, which I introduced to my friend, is phenomenal (and he bought a case). It's dark, rich, deep and plush, with the signature blueberry, wild berry and fresh earth flavors that you often find in Pinots from this appellation. I rated it 94 on release, and on Saturday, it was pushing 97, unofficially.
Then my friend said, “Want to try the Kongsgaard Pinot?”
What? That caught me by surprise. I didn’t know Kongsgaard made a Pinot. I figured it might be one of those specialty bottlings you see a lot of in restaurants these days, at least in California, where a winery makes a small amount of wine, often just one barrel, that isn’t part of its main portfolio and sells it exclusively to an eatery or two.
He reached into his wine bag and pulled out the Kongsgaard. Only instead of a new Pinot from John Kongsgaard, who is known as the winemaker-proprietor of this label, this one was made by his dad, Thomas (though John often worked with his dad’s grapes and wines).
Some side notes:
Thomas Kongsgaard was a longtime Napa Superior Court judge whom I met in 1978 as a beat reporter for the Vallejo Times-Herald. My office on Coombs Street was just a block away from the courthouse, and the judge would often stop by on his way to lunch to pick up a free paper.
One day Judge K invited me to his home in Napa to see his winery in operation. It was a Saturday, bottling day, and I think he was putting the 1978 “Judge’s Zin” in bottle. I helped him and a few of his friends hand-cork and label the bottles and then box them up.
Judge K's wines were excellent, and the winery that he showed me back then still produces some of the Kongsgaard Chardonnay on the market today.
Another time, Judge K introduced me to the legendary Russia-born winemaker André Tchelistcheff, who lived down the street from him and his wife.
When Judge K retired, he was succeeded on the bench by none other than the Hon. W. Scott Snowden, who presided over the Napa court scene for 25 years. He too pursued wine, tapping his family’s vineyard in Rutherford, which dates to the 1950s, for Snowden Vineyards.
OK, back to lunch with my friend—and the wine. The Kongsgaard Vineyard Pinot Noir 1987 came from the family’s Stonecrest Vineyard, on a knoll east of the downtown Napa area. I doubted it would have any life left (remember, my friend likes old curiosities), and 1987 wasn’t a great year for Pinot.
The first whiff made us skeptical, but then to our delight and amazement, it opened up beautifully and showed like a grand cru Burgundy. Pale brick-red in color, it unfolded to offer ripe maraschino cherry, mushroom and earthen floor. It drank well for 90 minutes, revealing extra flavor nuances and keeping us fascinated by its character, vitality and depth.
We were totally blown away.