In the deepest recesses of a restaurant in Tiburon California, after work, the GM, Fritz, said to me, ” Jack, it’s time for you to try a red Burgundy from France.” I will set the mood…this was the Private dining room at the Caprice which featured a rock fireplace carved out of the California coastline, wood wine cases from expensive French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines that acted as the fascia over the existing ceiling.
To further add ambience to this most beautiful space was a bar, crafted out of redwood, adorned with a nautical bell, and other sea fairing memorabilia. Two final touches made this a world class space.
First there were the port holes from the USS Texas dotting the southern wall facing San Francisco Bay. As the waves would crash against the side of the building washing the building with salt water, the remaining sea water would proceed under the structure to cool the wine in the cellar to a perfect 59 degrees.
Keep in mind that day in 1972 I didn’t know a red Burgundy from a Cabernet. I was just happy to be taken under the wing by Fritz whom was well versed in all aspects of beverages. That night in 1972 I tried a Chateau Corton, red Burgundy, in the proper glass, as God intended. I was completely blown away. That was the start of my love for wine and specifically, red Burgundy.
Today I will speak of my three favorite red wines. If I broke down each red varietal available, this blog would read like War and Peace. The three wines I refer to are as follows:
- Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir was Napoleon’s favorite wine. Specifically, the wines of Chambertin. He used to carry a barrel full of Chambertin wine in a wagon wherever he would travel along the French countryside. His favorite vineyard was “Clos de Beze”.
So I’m telling you the former Emperor of France, Napoleon, in the country for centuries revered as the greatest producer of wine, had only one favorite, and that wine was Pinot Noir.
I won’t detail the complexities of the vineyard designations, but when Nancy and I viewed this area of France… it was a dream come true. Grape vines cropped short, beautifully cascading up and down the hills of Burgundy with a gentle mist adding mystery to magnificence.
The flagship of Burgundy are the Domaine Romanee-Conti (DRC), Grand Cru vineyards. The production consists of 5,000 bottles per year. It is simply not possible to produce anymore and maintain the high quality because the vineyard is only 1.8 hectares.
This domain produces a total of eight different wines, from eight plots. Each plot has Grand Cru status ( the grandest of wines, both red and white account for less than 1% of the region’s production) . These eight are located in the Vosne Romanee. However, in 2008 another vineyard was added, the only vineyard in the Cote de Beaune, Corton.
To best illustrate its magnificence I have chosen the 1990 LaTache red Burgundy, agreed by many to be an amazing representation of this region. This ’90 La Tache is tasting better than all other La Tache wines tasted to this point. This wine has an explosive nose of lovely raspberries, some charred oak with great intensity and length. An experience by which all others would be judged.
Pinot noir is very difficult to produce. When you try the subtle earth first flavors (old world) followed by raspberry, blackberry, cherry, spices, and a whisper of oak, you will drift to the sublime. The DRC pinot noir is the purest, most aristocratic and most intense example of pinot noir you could possible imagine. Not only nectar; a yardstick with which to judge all other Burgundies.
Pairing pinot noir with food involves the simple expression of the product prepared from farm to table. Lamb, Veal, Chateaubriand, are all great choices. The simplicity of preparation will add value to the quality of the pairing.
Next is Cabernet, again available in many different countries. The best examples are from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Washington State. Napa Valley cabernet was put on the map in 1976 (The Famous Paris Judgement) when it entered the 1973 Cask 23 Stags Leap Cabernet (and won) against the finest representations from the Bordeaux region of France. This included the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, and a 1970 Chateau Montrose from Saint-Estephe.
Today’s Cask 23 Stags Leap, 2019, combines the signature perfume notes of Fay vineyard with structure and dark fruit. Fragrant fresh aromas of red and black currant, black tea, anise and nutmeg fill the nose. The wine has a vibrant mouthfeel with savory and velvety tannins along with blackberry and currant flavors. As an important side note, new world wines are fruit forward and old world wines are earth first. The Napa Valley represents a punch in the palate as the blackberry and current explode in your mouth.
The first growth Bordeaux wines are a blend of five different varietals. This blend tones down the bigger varietals and gives the old world, earth first signature another layer of expression.
Another region that produces fine Cabernet, is Washington State. This state produces a Cabernet that has exploded on the scene over the last twenty years and has captured more 100 point Wine Spectator recognition awards than any other winery in the United States.
The winery I refer to is Quilceda Creek located in the Columbia Valley, Washington State. The 2021 Quilceda Creek Cabernet uses 100% French oak and grapes from the Champoux, and the Mach One vineyards. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon combines power with finesse. Paul Golitzin, the winemaker, comes from a great pedigree of winemakers that traces their roots back to the original Beaulieu Vineyard winery in the Napa Valley.
That original winemaker at BV was the famous Andre Tchelistcheff, “the Maestro”. His nephew, Alex Golitzin, launched Quilceda Creek. Pairing this wine crafted by this genus with game meats, salmon, or hand-crafted pasta dishes would be a magical mystery tour of textures greeting grapes.
The last wine I will discuss is Syrah, the King of southern France and specifically the Rhone valley. Some of the most famous Syrah wines come from the appellations in Northern Rhone: Cote-Rotie. The vineyards are unique because of the steep slopes facing the river and their stone walls. Cote Rotie can be translated in English to “the roasted slope” and refers to the long hours of sunlight that these slopes receive.
The wines featuring Syrah also contain up to 20% Viognier, a white grape used for its aroma. If Viognier is used it must be fermented at the same time, a process known as “co-fermentation”.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous AOC (Appellation d’ Origine Controlee) in the Rhone Valley. Within the Rhone Valley Chateauneuf -du- Pape is an historic appellation as it is the very first in France and therefore in Europe. The gratification of this wine is both intellectual and hedonistic in nature. The flavors mimic a Provence marketplace with its flavors, and wide array of aromas, rich and round, sumptuous and opulent.
As with Pinot Noir the only place to truly enjoy this wine is from the Rhone Valley in France. However, if your vacation would limit you to the US, then the obvious choice would be Paso Robles, and the Herman Story Winery. A Boutique winery that features only Rhone varietals and blends of said varietals.
Russel P. is the winemaker at Herman Story and provides the most entertaining and substantive experience in all of Paso Robles. The wine produced by this winery represent the best in full-bodied, rich, deep fruit, and oriental spice on the market today.
Pairing Syrah is simple. Go out and shoot something, grill it, oven roast it, or barbecue it, and you will find the richness of the wine will enhance the flavors of the game.
Syrah is a complex wine with an intense ruby color, deeply-rich, with blackberry, boysenberry, and pomegranate. The fruit on the nose is complemented with allspice, pepper, and tobacco.
I hope you enjoyed the excursion into my favorite red varietals and remember… life is too short to drink cheap wine.