When I started planning this weekend, I went through my cellar and made a list of mature wines I have been saving for a special occasion. Then I contacted all the participants and asked what wines they would be willing to contribute to the proceedings. From the list of wines that we had at least two bottles or a magnum of, I cherry-picked the wines for the dinner we cooked on Saturday for the eight of us renting the house, plus six invited guests.
I took responsibility for the appetizers, a crudo course, and the first course of gnocchi with wild mushrooms. (Then I could sit down and enjoy the rest of the dinner un-pressured.) Mark, the most accomplished of the cooking guests, took the entrée, and his wife, Eileen, a terrific baker, got dessert. Aileen With an A took care of the salad. I did most of the shopping in San Francisco, and we all cooked together, helping each other out as needed.
For the starters, a visiting Aussie friend had sent ahead a magnum of Bollinger R.D. 1995, then arrived with a second mag of Cristal 1995. I topped cauliflower and avocado puree with hackleback sturgeon caviar, made scallop seviche, served both in Chinese soup spoons, and also topped kumamoto oysters with ginger-laced mignonette and salmon caviar.
I wrote about testing out the crudo last month in anticipation of this dinner, when I determined that a mature Chardonnay would indeed match up well. Mike, an invited guest whom I have known since college and who now lives in Napa Valley, contributed Stony Hill Chardonnay 1994. The wine, marked only sllghtly by oak and lively with acidity, was still fresh and bright, but it had that silky texture that comes with age. And it worked smoothly with the tai snapper, yellowtail and tuna toro.
I matched Gaja Barbaresco Sorì Tildin 1986 from my cellar with the gnocchi. The wine, a sensational array of violet-tinged berry, licorice and earth flavors, was great on its own and sailed over the earthy potato and mushroom.
Mark brought Château Clinet 1994 for his lamb osso buco, served with roasted acorn squash rings, borlotti beans and a deep, dark, black olive-laced sauce. Although one bottle was corked, the other had the delicate balance of earth and fruit that makes for exciting Merlot-based red. We threw in a late starter, Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 1991 from Clare Valley in Australia, a cult wine that is not sold in the United States. It was gorgeous, refined, supple, finishing with hidden reserves of power, and it outshone the Clinet on its own and with the food.
With the cheeses, three of my favorites made in the U.S. (Red Hawk, Vermont Shepherd and Vella Dry Jack Reserve), Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 1995 held its own beautifully, a mouthful of raspberry and earthy, slightly toasty nuances against the cheeses. Phil, who donated the Brunello, also took the assignment of sommelier for the evening. (Everyone else helped my wife, Carol, get the table and glassware in order.)
Keith proffered Eroica Riesling Single Berry Select 2001, a tröckenbeerenauslese-style wine that I have rated higher than any other Washington product, and Eileen baked individual pear and almond galettes for it. The warm pastry was a work of art in itself, and worked sensationally with the sweet, amber-colored wine. On its own, the wine had hints of quince and tangerine, and a massive wave of floral honey character that sailed on and on.
We had a great table of conversation, lots of ooh-ing and aah-ing over the food and wines, and, at the end of the evening, a Babette's Feast-like sense that we had shared something special. That's what we save those special wines for, and that's when the big effort is absolutely worth it.