A few months ago, Oregon winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry called with an idea that went right to my heart. A charity auction he was involved in wanted to offer a weekend in San Francisco that would include two performances at the San Francisco Opera and dinner at Jardinière. Would I be willing to join them at one performance and dinner? It would be an incentive to bidders, he thought.
Peterson-Nedry knows I love opera, so it didn't take me long to agree. Last weekend I joined the winning bidders, David and Brenda Boyd, who own Boyd's Coffee in Portland, for dinner with some outstanding wines, preceded by a matinee performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. As it happens, I know the star soprano, Patricia Racette, who some years ago had purchased a Syrah tasting I had donated to another charity auction. When she heard that there would be many Pinot Noirs at dinner, she enthusiastically agreed to meet us backstage after the performance and then join us for the evening.
Peterson-Nedry lined up some stellar wines, his own and those of co-contributors Bill Stoller of Stoller Vineyard in Oregon and Dave Lattin of Kuleto Estate and CL Wines in California. (Pat Kuleto owns Jardinière with chef Tracy des Jardins.)
Any time you're dealing in Pinot Noir, especially if the wines have some age, some will be good and others awful. This bunch was no exception. The good ones were really good. The bad ones, which were few, made us happy we had the good ones on the table.
Peterson-Nedry and his wife, Cheryl, brought along a couple of Burgundies from their cellar, the better of which was Lafarge Volnay 1996, which had impeccable balance and lovely cherry, earth and balsa flavors. A companion Clos Vougeot 1996 had way too much brett for my taste, making me thankful that the Lafarge went so seamlessly with chef Robbie Lewis' roasted King salmon with morel mushrooms and roasted fennel.
Racette and her partner, the mezzo soprano Beth Clayton, were cooing over a couple of older Chehalem Pinots, the 1993 Ridgecrest Vineyard and 1996 Rion Reserve, which showed beautifully with Lewis' pillowy gnocchi and local porcini mushrooms. The '93 displayed real delicacy, with strawberry and raspberry fruit still prominent, but the '96 surpassed it, its smoky cherry and plum flavors holding on for great length and refinement. These wines suggest how well Oregon Pinots can age. Stoller's 2003 was charming, but the older wines held the floor.
The California wines came up for the next two courses: Pinots with Sonoma squab over red wine onion compote and Tulare cherries, a Cab and a Zin with slow-braised short ribs. The Kuleto 2003 and 2004 estate Pinots, made in very small quantities, showed polish and a sense of sweetness, but I preferred the upright stature of Lattin's CL Pinot Noir 2004 from the Sonoma Coast.
Good as those Pinots were, the Kuleto Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 and Zinfandel 2003 were better. The Cabernet was plush, with an unexpected sense of refinement, and the Zin delivered an old-fashioned rush of fruit without the heavy alcoholic bite we have come to expect from high-end California Zins. I loved the Zin with the short ribs.
Good as the wines were, I was warmed by the conversation and good feeling around the table even more. At the performance, the winemakers had been moved to tears by what Racette, in my opinion the best Cio-Cio-San of the current generation, had done on the opera stage. Racette and Clayton seemed to appreciate their wines just as much. I enjoyed that as much as I did the wines and the food.
Saintsbury — June 11, 2006 12:49pm ET
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