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james laube's wine flights

Ad Hoc at the Last Minute

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Oct 16, 2006 3:09pm ET

On Friday, a friend called and invited me to join a group headed for an impromptu dinner at Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s new Napa Valley restaurant in Yountville, Calif.

Keller also owns notable restaurants such as French Laundry, also in Yountville, and Per Se in New York, and though Ad Hoc has only been open for a few weeks, it's already creating quite a buzz. (See Harvey Steiman's blog about Ad Hoc.)

The concept is quite simple—one four-course dinner each night, with a revolving menu.

The food was delicious—a green salad tossed with grilled onions and pine nuts, a tasty tri-tip steak with herbs and mushrooms, a cheese course and a dessert of chocolate cake with a melted chocolate center, topped with vanilla ice cream.

The courses are served family-style, that is, the food is put on the table and everyone helps themselves.

The interior was warm and friendly, as was the waitstaff.

The wine list was good, with a few surprises, though we didn't order off of it. Unbeknownst to me, my tablemates had brought a few bottles, several of which missed the mark.

The 1999 Peter Michael Belle Côte tasted oxidized, as if it had been poorly stored. Saddleback’s 2005 Napa Valley Chardonnay was delicate and refreshing, clean and fruity, with no oak showing.

We also had a 2004 Venge Napa Valley Sangiovese, which was smooth and supple.

A 1987 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard was corked! A huge disappointment.

I brought a bottle of 2003 Mueller Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (about $38), which is a wine I love. It’s fragrant, intense and delicate, with wild raspberry flavors.

Then came another new wine, Vine Haven Merlot Napa Valley 2004, also made by Nils Venge. It was ripe, dense and chewy, a solid effort in need of bottle age.

Finally, a 1960 Fonseca Port was poured. It was in great shape, with stewed plum and hints of prune, along with a good whiff of alcohol. I only took a teeny sip, opting instead for an espresso.


On a side note, I ran into a couple of winemakers at Ad Hoc that night, and they had awfully white hands! They're still waiting on the red grapes. 2006 is looking like it will be another tricky year for late-ripening red varieties, at least in Napa.

Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  October 17, 2006 12:53pm ET
James--Just curious, did you get charged corkage for each bottle?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 17, 2006 1:00pm ET
Yes, to the tune of $30 a bottle I think...I usually buy wines off the list but my friends had other wines in tow, so that's the way it went.
Paul F Tullier
Portland, Oregon —  December 1, 2014 1:47pm ET
Mr Laube,
You gave Saddleback Cabernet a 2004 a rating of 83. Have you tried any since then? If so what did you think of it?

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