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james laube's wine flights

Whirlwind Wine Scene L.A. Style

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 16, 2007 5:56pm ET

Friday the 13th proved anything but unlucky for a wide-open wine weekend in windswept Los Angeles.

The occasion: My good friend Greg Gorman closed one of his photo studios in Hollywood on Saturday night, with 600 of his closest friends, among them Raquel Welch, Ricki Lake, Macy Gray, Eva Mendes, Audrey Wells, Katherine Bigelow and Wolfgang Puck. Dinner was catered by the charming and talented Bruno Serato of The Anaheim White House, and Jack Sheldon’s 20-piece orchestra was blasting away as we ate.

On Friday night, Greg hosted a smaller sit-down dinner at home. As is always the case, we poured through lots of great wines over a six-hour stretch. The warm-up bottle was the 2004 Grace Family Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet, which we enjoyed on Greg’s rooftop patio as the sun set over the glimmering orange- and gray-hued City of Angels. Super rich yet impeccably balanced, this is another classy Grace, which was a tough but not impossible act to follow for an earthier, tighter 1996 Mauro Vannucci Carmignano Piaggio Riserva. Then came a dense, chewy 2004 C Beck Napa Valley Petite Sirah, a 1999 Deutz Champagne Rose and a deliciously refreshing and vibrant 2005 Years Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

We moved off the roof and into another of Greg’s studios for dinner, which began with one of several of Peter and Rebecca Work's Ampelos wines: A crisp, vibrant 2006 Viognier from Santa Ynez that has never seen the inside of an oak barrel, and later the couples’ 2005 Santa Rita Hills Pinot, which was delicate and supple. Their 2004 Syrah, also from their Santa Rita Hills vineyard, was tight and focused. (The next day we drank an Ampelos Syrache, which is a fruit-friendly blend of Syrah and Grenache).

Then in what seemed like rapid sequence, we tasted a sleek 2005 Bjornstad Sonoma Coast Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay and a citrus-infused 2005 Envy Napa Valley. We tried a new Sauvignon from Mark Carter, who was at the dinner, and one of Carter’s Cabernets, the 2004 Revolo Napa Valley.

We quickly dispensed with a magnum of 2004 Schrader Napa Valley To-Kalon Beckstoffer, also known as “Old Sparky.” Young and rich, it is amazingly graceful and harmonious, well oaked but with a seamless mix of currant and loamy earthy flavors.

Next came a magnum of 1997 Spottswoode Cabernet, which, oddly enough, was the only wine that struggled that night. Most of the time when you taste this many wines over several courses and hours of conversation, a few wines fail to inspire. But all of the wines held their own except Spottswoode, which was slightly oxidized, sadly.

While this dinner had its share of wine-geeky moments, there were plenty of sober wine insights. Brian Larky, the importer of Casanova de Neri, showed off that winery’s new Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2004 Pietradonice, another great effort from this Tuscan estate. Stephen Wilkes signed copies of his newest work, Ellis Island, Ghosts of Freedom (W.W. Norton, 2006).

The most heartening line of the night—and one many winemakers should take to heart—belonged to Katherine Strange, as she talked about her 2003 Strange (but good) Syrah. She’s a young L.A.-based distributor, who owns (naturally) Strange Wine Co. “I like to make wines that under-promise and over-deliver.”

That's worth remembering, whether you’re a buyer or seller.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 16, 2007 10:27pm ET
Gasp!!! "Under-promise and over-deliver" was the mantra of our executive staff a few years back. They said it so often, and then their lemmings picked up on it.... It was enough to make a guy puke. I'm glad you like the saying, but I just hope you don't have to hear it a few thousand times like I did.

Nice wine experience though!
Bob Erickson
April 16, 2007 10:55pm ET
Jim, after tasting so many incredible wines, how could there be plenty of "sober" wine insights. You are one lucky guy. Cheers!
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  April 17, 2007 8:57pm ET
Peter and Rebecca Work (AMPELOS) are two of my favorite people in the industry. I think the world of them and know that great things are happening in their vineyard. They only have one row of Viognier - so you were lucky to taste it. Peter is as passionate as I've ever seen anyone and I am overjoyed to see that you enjoyed their wines as much as my staff and I do.

Was the Year Sauvignon Blanc blended with a little Semillon? I remember the wine to have a definitive Bordelaise character.

See you in VEGAS!!!

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