Charleston, Charity Dinner
Robert M. Parker
This was an enjoyable evening of terrific wines (from my cellar) and fine food prepared by Baltimore's most brilliant chef, Cindy Wolf,
at her beloved Charleston restaurant. A group from Charlotte, North Carolina flew in for this charity event that benefitted a well-known
hospice in that city. As always, Chef Wolf's food is as good as it gets, beginning with her world-class cornmeal fried oysters.
She also demonstrated her terrific talent as a sushi chef with her Irish salmon tartare and yellowfin tuna tartare with Ossetra caviar.
No one makes better soup than Charleston, and the cauliflower soup with pan-seared sea scallop was sensational, as was the pan-roasted
turbot. The quail dish was a whole quail cooked very rare, which few of the guests enjoyed. Cindy Wolf has a wonderful quail dish
that she often prepares, and I should have requested that one. I just don't enjoy bloody birds, and from what I heard at the table,
no one else did either. We finished strongly with one of Chef Wolf's great dishes, the pork confit with fried green tomatoes. While I
drank the dessert wine, I did not taste the almond butterscotch cake. In an attempt to keep my waistline in check
(no easy task given my hedonistic tendencies), I usually pass on dessert.
The wines began with the Bruno Paillard Brut Millésimé 1996 Assemblage, which is a very good, somewhat under-the-radar,
medium-bodied Champagne that is still fresh and lively with plenty of citrus. The flight of Chardonnays did not elicit as
many "wow's" as I expected. Everyone’s favorite was the Aubert 2004 Lauren, closely followed by the Marcassin 2004 Estate.
The latter wine was more closed and slightly earthier without the vivid fruit display of Aubert’s 2004 Lauren. The 2003 Peter
Michael Ma Belle Fille was outstanding, and the 1997 Marcassin Gauer Ranch-Upper Barn is still rich and vibrant. I had
had a much better bottle a few weeks earlier, but it is not unexpected to find some bottle variation with a 12 year old California
We then moved to a flight of one of my favorite white wines from the Central Coast, the limited production Sine Qua Non blends of
Roussanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay. The 2004 The Rejuvenators and 2006 Hoodoo Man were the two finest dry whites we had. Both
offered incredible aromatic displays of tropical fruits, honeysuckle, and marmalade along with great acidity, precision,
purity, and length. The 2002 Whisperin’ E, one of my favorite wines, was just a bad bottle. It was not corked, but just off and very
flat, which is completely at odds with every other bottle I have had.
The "theme" for this evening was "New World Wines," with the only exception being the Champagne. I pulled out some of the most limited
production, high quality Cabernet Sauvignons from my cellar, and finished with a knock-out vertical of the Sine Qua Non Syrah.
The first flight of reds was spectacular. Surprisingly, the weakest wine was the 2002 Peter Michael Les Pavots. This is a
gorgeous wine, so perhaps this was a slightly off bottle, but it seemed muted, in a closed, dumb, monolithic style. The 2001
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon did not perform as well as I would have expected based on my past tastings. It is an
outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was blown away by four other wines in that flight. The fabulous, inky/purple-tinged 2003
Sloan Cabernet Sauvignon boasts notes of roasted coffee, crème de cassis, toast, smoke, and earth. Full-bodied, rich,
sensationally pure, and packed and stacked, it is a young red displaying remarkable potential. It should evolve for another 20-30
years. Consistently one of California's most brilliant wines is the 2,000 case production of Shafer Vineyards' Hillside Select.
If the 2001 and 2002 are close to perfection, the 2003 is not far behind. This wine tasted like a great first-growth
Pauillac, but with more power and density of fruit. With a sensational purple color, superb aromatics, firm but silky tannins,
and a multilayered mouthfeel, this is an amazing wine. It is uncanny how the Shafer family can turn out such brilliant wines
year in and year out. What a shame production is not higher. The Bryant Family Vineyard is another grand cru site in Napa Valley
not far from Lake Hennessy. The 2003 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon is the first vintage where then winemaker Philippe
Melka controlled the viticulture and the winemaking. The result is a brilliant wine from a vintage that is probably
underrated coming after two monumental years for Napa Cabernet, 2002 and 2001. Extraordinary notes of blueberry liqueur intermixed
with acacia flowers, spice, and background oak are followed by a layered, full-bodied wine with amazing persistence, richness,
and length. The outlier in this flight was the Quilceda Creek 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington state ... and it
was the star of the flight. The fact that it is about one-third the price of the other Cabernets should send a strong
message to those who have access to it. A remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon of great purity, it offers beautiful crème de
cassis fruit, an earthy component, plenty of tannin and structure, and a freshness and delineation that are admirable.
Reprinted with prior written consent from The Wine Advocate, Inc.