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August 25 is our wedding anniversary. This August was our 45th.  So Laurie and I decided to have a small celebration at our home. It so happened that a good friend, Tony Handler, had his 70th birthday a few days before, so we decided to combine the two and invited a few other friends for dinner. Laurie made the appetizers and the dessert. Chef par excellence, Roberto Cortez, prepared the rest of the food.  And, I chose wines from my cellar (Underground Wines). So we had yet another episode of food by Roberto Cortez and wine by the Underground (to read my earlier article click here) [1].


 First, the food.

The appetizers were served outside with Champagne and everyone was in a celebration mood!


Prosciutto and fresh figs with fresh mint

Asian guacamole on fried wonton rounds

Pesto hummus on almond crackers


After appetizers we moved inside to the dining room for dinner.


New Caprese Salad

Heirloom O Henry peaches, home grown heirloom tomatoes, Tuscan virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, burrata cheese, fresh basil and mint from the garden, sea salt, and cracked black pepper


Carnaroli risotto, pan seared sea scallops, tiger chili sauce.  lemon butter, and lemon zest



Wild shrimp and heirloom carrot salpicon crepe, creamy fire roasted poblano, pinenuts, fresh herbs



25 year aged black truffle Comte grilled cheese sandwich
Gouda, smoked bacon, caramelized onion, black truffle grilled cheese sandwich


Fresh heirloom O Henry peach and fresh Oregon blueberry crumble, oatmeal and toasted pecan topping with a dollop of McConnell’s Island Coconut ice cream.

Next, the wine – here’s the line up in order of service:

1995 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize (Magnum)
The year 1996 for Champagne gets most of the praise, but 1995 is amazingly good. Many 1995s will turn out to be better than the 1996s. This is a stunning wine that is amazingly youthful. My guess is that it will take 10-20 more years to reach full maturity. It is balanced and harmonious with finesse and flavor, but it also has a lot of zip with a gorgeous underlying core of mineral and citrus that is just now becoming integrated.


1992 Drappier Champagne Carte d’Or (Magnum)
The Underground “discovered” Drappier back in the 1980s. The Underground was the first publication in this country to write about Drappier Champagne. Drappier has a history dating back to 1808 so maybe it wasn’t that much of a discovery, but it was a first here. I have been buying and drinking Drappier Champagne ever since (to read more about Drappier click here [2]).

And, when it comes to vintages forget it when it comes to Drappier. Their Champagnes are simply amazing. I have them back to 1970 and have never had one that was in decline. Pick a year, any year. The wines are terrific. Even the 1977 (a so called “difficult” vintage), my son’s birth year, is great. We have been drinking that each year for over 15 years and it is still great today. I still have a case or two and it is consistently outstanding. This magnum of 1992 Carte d’Or was absolutely superb. The Carte d’ Or is made mostly with Pinot Noir. It is consistently great. This 1992 was rich and creamy with great balance and flavor. Honeyed nuances accented the underlying citrus notes and the finish was amazing. What a great Champagne!


1997 Fernand and Laurent Pillot Chassagne Montrachet Grandes Ruchottes  1er  Cru (Magnum)
I suspect that there are not too many Americans that know this producer or this wine. It is “Under the Radar”, but they along with another member of the Pillot family (Paul Pillot) can make some really fine wine and this is a great example. Note that once again this is from a year that is not renowned. So catch the theme here for a lot of wines in my cellar. I do not buy vintages, I buy producers. All the hype about new vintages often is just that – hype. The producer is what matters. Well made wines last and improve with age. End of story. This is an example. It is a delicious wine that is just now reaching maturity. With great finesse and excellent balance the wine is expressive and forthcoming. Subtle hints of spice are intermingled with floral citrus notes and a very faint underlying minerality. This is gorgeous and at the optimum age for drinking.


1991 Mt. Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled
This was bottle number 17,542 of 22,290 bottles. And, oh my, what a wine! I have said for over 30 years that Mt. Eden Vineyards is the most consistent and best of all California Chardonnay producers (to read my most recent article click here [3]).
Mt. Eden Vineyards makes wines that have balance and finesse with lots of flavor and are made to last. Jeffrey Patterson says he wants his wines to improve in the bottle and last for at least 20 years. This is tangible evidence of his success. And, I have bottles of Mt. Eden Chardonnay back into the 1970s and nearly all of the vintages from the late 70s into 2000. A number of years ago I donated 20 or so vintages of Mt. Eden Chardonnay to the Central Coast Wine Classic for a dinner. They were all stunning. The Mt. Eden Chardonnays are simply remarkable. I drink them regularly and have never had an over the hill bottle of any vintage of Mt. Eden Vineyards Chardonnay! Think about that. That covers a period dating back some 40 years. It is simply amazing. Can you think of any White Burgundy that can match this? I can think of very few and those would include Coche-Dury, Raveneau, and DRC. This is pretty rarified space when you talk about White Burgundies and Chardonnays aging for this long. I still have several bottles and magnums of the 1991 Mt. Eden Chardonnay as well as a double magnum or two. I have no doubt that it has at least 10 years of life ahead and maybe even more. An absolutely stunning wine, this 1991 has intensity and richness with gorgeous balance. The silkiness is accented by a faint underlying citrus note and the fruit is wonderfully pure and refined. The flavors are complex with tinges of spice and honey and a very slight tropical note. In short, this is a really great Chardonnay by any standard!

1998 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
I believe that the first time I tasted this wine after bottling was in 2009 at the Ridge Monte Bello dinner at the Four Seasons hotel in Santa Barbara. Laurie and I donated the wines from our cellar to the Central Coast Wine Classic (to read that article and other notes on Ridge Monte Bello click here [4]). I typically give Ridge Monte Bello around 10 years in the bottle before drinking them (to read my article on Ridge Vineyards click here [5]).  Since that time the 1998 has become one of my favorite Monte Bellos for current drinking along with the 1984 and 1985. The 1998 is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. The alcohol content is 12.4%. In March 2000 Paul Draper included the following note on the back label: “…this excellent wine is a match for the finest from an extraordinary decade. It will be approachable within a year of release and develop further depth and complexity with bottle age.”

The big numbers critics did not like the wine. With such low alcohol they found it light. In fact, for those of you that read the fine print, here’s a tip. I am told that one big numbers wine critic once told a wine maker in California that if his Cabernet did not have at least 15% alcohol it would never get a big number score. Hah! This is yet another reason for ignoring such nonsense and trusting your own palate. I buy Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello every year and have been doing so for over 30 years. I have every vintage they have ever made with just a few exceptions. And, in all this time, with all the different different vintages, I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed with any vintage of Ridge Monte Bello as it has evolved toward maturity!  Paul was absolutely correct in his assessment of this 1998 Monte Bello in March of 2000. With age the wine has developed more depth and complexity. It is also very elegant and has a wonderful texture and mouth feel along with the great flavors that are cedary and spice tinged. In short, it is a beautiful claret style wine that is delicious to drink now and is likely to remain so for at least 10-20 more years. You see the wine has what all Monte Bello’s have and that is balance. Balance is the primary element in the aging of any great wine. I simply love this 1998!


And, finally the marriage of the food and the wine:

Prosciutto and fresh figs with fresh mint & 1995 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize (Magnum)
Something that is savory and slightly salty combined with something sweet is a great start. This dish is light, but oh so flavorful and simple. The fresh mint provides a nice complement to the salt and sweet flavor components. Simple things are often the best and this is one example. The light freshness of the wonderful 1995 Jacquesson Blanc de Blancs served ice cold really stood out with this dish and got the celebration off to fast start.

Asian guacamole on fried wonton rounds & 1995 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize (Magnum)
Next a  was a guacamole with fresh Hass avocados and a bit of fresh Mexican lime juice, fresh ginger, fresh lemongrass, and a dash of toasted sesame oil. This dish is uniquely flavorful. The fried wonton rounds are thin and very crispy and are a great carrier. Once again, the delicate flavors and crispness of the 1995 Jacquesson Champagne Blanc de Blancs was a great match.

Pesto hummus on almond crackers & 1992 Drappier Champagne Carte d’Or (Magnum)
The hummus is home made, to which home made pesto sauce (fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, fresh garlic, and virgin olive oil) is added. It is creamy and very flavorful and has a wonderful freshness. The almond crackers are very thin and crisp. The crunchiness and slightly nutty flavor of the crackers is a great carrier and flavor accent to the pesto hummus. The richness and creaminess along with the honeyed citrus flavors of the 1992 Drappier were spot on with the flavor elements of this dish.

New Caprese Salad – Heirloom O Henry peaches, home grown heirloom tomatoes, Tuscan virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, burrata cheese, fresh basil and mint from the garden, sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper & 1992 Drappier Champagne Carte d’Or (Magnum)
This is a spectacular salad. The fresh peach and fresh tomatoes provide a wonderful contrast of flavors. Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar for some zip, a bit of virgin olive oil, fresh mint and basil for flavor and touch of sea salt and black pepper to bring it all together, and you have something really special. I normally would have chosen a rosé to serve with this, but because we had 2 magnums of Champagne and had a good amount of the 1992 Drappier left, that is what I served. And what’s not to like here? The creaminess and honeyed citrus flavors of the 1992 Drappier was a great match for the dish. Once again, this shows that Champagne can be matched beautifully with a wide variety of dishes.

Risotto – Carnaroli risotto, pan seared sea scallops, tiger chili sauce lemon butter, lemon zest & 1997 Fernand and Laurent Pillot Chassagne Montrachet Grandes Ruchottes  1er  Cru (Magnum)
This risotto is one of the best risottos ever. The special Carnaroli rice provides a texture and flavor that is unrivaled. Creamy and rich the risotto has great flavor and texture. On top, a pan seared sea scallop glazed with a spicy sweet Asian chili sauce added to a lemon butter sauce provided the perfect glaze of tart, sweet, buttery richness to accent the delicate flavor of the scallop. The flavors, texture, and crispness of the 1997 Fernand and Laurnet Pillot Chassagne Montrachet Grandes Ruchottes made this dish really sing. This wine and this risotto were the perfect complement.

Crepe – Wild shrimp and heirloom carrot salpicon crepe, creamy fire roasted poblano, roasted pinenuts, fresh herbs & 1991 Mt. Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled
This is a gorgeous complex dish that shows the flavors of the shrimp accented by the pinenuts and fresh herbs. The Poblano chili provide just a touch of heat and the crepe was soft and had a wonderful delicate carrot flavor that brought everything together. The 1991 Mt. Eden Vineyards Chardonnay provided the perfect complement of richness and intensity to complement and accent the dish.

Cheese – Grilled cheese sandwiches with 25 year aged black truffle and Comte cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches with Gouda, smoked bacon, and caramelized onion,  & 1998 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
There’s a story to the truffle which I will save for another day. But let’s just say that these black truffle Compte cheese sandwiches are a revelation. They are soft yet crispy with the pungent earthiness of the truffle and the nutty cream quality of the cheese. Likewise, smoky bacon and sweet caramelized onion with the creaminess of the Gouda cheese is really tasty as well. The softness and wonderful complex flavors of the 1998 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello was a gorgeous match.

Dessert – Fresh heirloom O Henry peach and fresh Oregon blueberry crumble, oatmeal and toasted pecan topping with a dollop of McConnell’s Island Coconut ice cream.
Here I had set aside a bottle of Moscato d’Asti to go with this fabulous dessert. Moscato d’Asti is an Italian dessert wine that is very low in alcohol, slightly fizzy, and tastes like a fresh muscat grape with a delicate exotic sweetness and a nice crispness. It is really refreshing and I often serve it with light desserts. But, this time I opted to just let the dessert stand on it’s own. O Henry peaches are my absolute favorite yellow peach. They have an intense peach flavor that is balanced by a subtle acidity. They are also very aromatic. Matched with the fresh Oregon blueberries, this is fruit heaven. The oatmeal and toasted pecan topping which is held together with a bit of brown sugar and butter gives a wonderful crispness and adds another flavor element. McConnell’s is a Santa Barbara based  company that makes what I think are the best packaged ice creams in the world http://www.mcconnells.com/ They are very pure and creamy, and the Island Coconut is just plain delicious, and added just the right amount of sweet exotic creaminess to the dessert. After all our food and wine, I felt this dessert could stand alone. And, boy did it ever!

So there you have it – The grand celebration dinner! And, as I am often lucky enough to say, I am absolutely sure that no other people anywhere in the world were enjoying the same food and wine as we were all fortunate enough to have that evening. This too is remarkable!


Add great friends to great food and wine and you have a recipe for a great celebration or in this case two!  Life is too short to not take every opportunity to celebrate. Cheers!