Seeking a Pinot Noir for dinner at Harvest Table, chef Charlie Palmer's terrific new Napa Valley restaurant, several favorites jumped out at me from the list, including Failla and ZD. Another wine was a secret, indicated only by an asterisk. "From the coolest climate for Pinot Noir, 2012," it read.
Another teased, "old-school producer, authentic clos wine from the slope of gold, 2012." Among Rieslings, "there have been battles for centuries over this area, 2013."
About one in eight wines on the mostly Napa list fall under the anonymous category of the "Blind Vine" program. They arrive wrapped in foil to hide the producer or region, a classic double-blind tasting. The title page notes cheekily, "If you're not drinking Napa, you're drinking blind."
I decided to take a chance on the "coolest-climate" Pinot (a reasonable $44). The twist-off cap suggested New Zealand, but the tall, slender bottle signified a Riesling-centric region. The server poured a taste, and my dining partner and I agreed it was worth drinking. Soft and juicy, it offered distinct currant and cherry fruit, an earthy note lending depth to a long finish.
We liked it with "Crispy Pork Head," an appetizer patty of braised meat, fried and served with a classic sauce gribiche. It sang with pan-roasted wild king salmon, a succulent fillet, pink in the center and served with Castelvetrano olives and shellfish broth. A perfectly grilled pork chop, dressed with vibrantly fresh english peas, morels and parmesan-infused polenta, was a seamless match.
Most of the vegetables for these dishes came from five garden plots on the property, added along with the restaurant when Palmer bought the two decade–old Harvest Inn in St. Helena.
"Blind Vine" is the brainchild of Steve Geddes, Palmer's corporate director of operations, who has been both a chef and a sommelier. He was responsible for the innovative list at Palmer's Aureole Las Vegas, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner in 2001, the first presented on a tablet computer.
"Charlie has an all-Sonoma list at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and he wanted an all-Napa list at Harvest Table," Geddes said. "I convinced Charlie that local people also love to try wines from all over the world."
Originally it was to be known only by word-of-mouth, like In-N-Out Burger's secret menu. But then, hearing his wife (also an accomplished sommelier) describe blind tastings she had organized for Master Sommelier candidates, Geddes came up with making all non-Napa wines blind. Locals he polled liked the idea, and Palmer signed off on it.
At least six foil-covered bottles sat within sight of our table, a common occurrence, according to the serving staff. "Winemakers come in with a bottle, and order a blind wine for fun," Geddes said. "We thought about having some nice bags made, but I like the rawness of the foil." The bottle stays on the table, and one can remove the foil any time.
After we finished one glass, I exposed the label: August Kesseler Spätburgunder 2012 from the Pfalz, in Germany. Wine Spectator has not reviewed this vintage, but previous years have routinely scored 88 to 90 points. Not a bad deal at all.
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