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The annual Hillside House Sunset Soirée fundraising dinner was held June 9, 2018 at the historic El Mirador Estate in Montecito, CA (to read an article about the event click here  [3]). It was a great success in all respects. The fundraiser was a record for Hillside House and the event was beautifully executed and the wine and food pairings were exceptional. A small group of us selected the food courses and then Jim Clendenen, the owner of Au Bon Climat winery, selected an Au Bon Climat wine to go with each course. The wines were delicious and each was a great complement to the food. Jim was present to talk about the wines and the history of Au Bon Climat in his early days when he was just learning about wine and I was involved in starting The Underground Wineletter. I have followed his career for all these years and his achievements are amazing. In its long history Au Bon Climat has been consistently recognized as one of the best wineries in America (to read about some of those awards click here [4] ). Au Bon Climat wines are beautifully crafted, delicious, and very age worthy. Jim also happens to be a wonderful person and his insights and generosity contributed greatly to the event. And, all of us involved in putting this event together are most appreciative.


The event began with the 2016 Clendenen Family Vineyards  Tocai Friulano. Up until recently this was the name of white wine made in the Northeastern part of Italy. A change in European law dictated that the wine made in Italy now be called Friulano. California Tocai Friulano is not widely known, but is very distinctive and delicious. This 2016 is elegant, lush, and finesseful with gorgeous tropical tinged fruit showing a faint exotic citrus undertone. It was a great match for the varied selection of tray-passed hors d’oeuvres.

Next was the 2009 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Sierra Madre Vineyard. Faintly exotic it is lush, round, and very flavorful with beautiful balance and a nice underlying crispness. Approaching 10 years of age it is fully mature and was a perfect match for the Parmesan Risotto with Pan Seared Shrimp. The 2009 vintage produced quite rich Chardonnay fruit and this wine has aged beautifully and should drink well for many years into the future.

2015 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Runway Vineyard
The first vintage for this wine was 2013. Some 16 acres of vines were planted near Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley. This Runway Vineyard Pinot Noir is a very distinctive Pinot Noir with loads of fruit and intensity and is beautifully balanced. It is delicious to drink now but holds the promise of great elegance and additional complexity with more bottle age. It matched perfectly with Portobello Mushroom Ravioli in a Sage Buerre Blanc sauce.

2012 Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo “Punta Exclamativa”
Nebbiolo is the name of the grape grown in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy which is responsible for Barolo and Barbaresco. It is not well known here as a varietal, but the grape does seem to have an affinity to Pinot Noir. This wine is dark in color and a has a deep perfume with lots of intensity and blackberry fruit on the palate. Rich and flavorful it is mouth filling and was a great complement to the Tenderloin of Beef with a Red Wine Mushroom Reduction.

2012 Clendenen Family Vuibeyards Viognier Late Harvest
This is a delicious dessert wine with a golden yellow color and an intense exotic fruit perfume. On the palate it is rich and lush with a balanced sweetness and lovely floral tinged exotic fruit flavors. It was a perfect match for a Seasonal Organic Fruit Crisp with Freshly Whipped Cream.


Jim also brought along a magnum of  1997 Au Bon Climat  Pinot Noir Talley Rosemary’s Vineyard which he served to us. This is a remarkable vineyard and this wine now at over 20 years old is really great. With a deep color it has a great berry perfume with floral notes and underlying hints of spice and mint with faint exotic fruit tinges. Rich and lush with lots of fruit and flavor the wine has impeccable balance and is long on the palate and very expressive. This is a classic California Pinot Noir that should continue to evolve for many years into the future.



At our house later that evening with Jim and his daughter Isabelle we opened a 1978 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir our cellar which we all enjoyed with some cheese. This is one of the greatest ever California Pinot Noirs which was made by the legendary Dick Graff. It was stunning from the very beginning. In a very early Underground Wineletter blind tasting with the greatest 1978 Burgundies (including Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Henri Jayer, Leroy, Comte de Vogue and many others) it was one of the top wines.

Here is what I had to say about this wine from an article published in 2015:

1978 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir Estate
This is an absolute classic Pinot Noir. Originally, I had 2 cases of the wine. Just after it was released some 35 years ago, in blind tastings with the best 1978 Burgundies, it always ranked at the very top. And, it has never failed to please. Remarkably consistent I have enjoyed this wine over a dozen times through the years and it is always flat out great! I still have quite a few bottles left and look forward to drinking them over many years into the future. The 1978 Chalone Pinot Noir is a truly amazing wine by any standard! And, yes, it is still in the league of many of the greatest 1978 Burgundies. (To read an earlier note on the wine as well as a great 1979 Pinot Noir and a great 1978 White Burgundy
click here [9]).

Deep in color with a faint amber edge, this Pinot Noir has a knock-out perfume of plums and berries with faint hints of exotic spice, beet root, and green olive. With gorgeous fruit and great intensity, the wine is lush and rounded with a long lingering finish. Impeccably balanced and like velvet on the palate, this is a true legend in the history of California Pinot Noir. It has been drinking beautifully for some 35 years and is now fully mature, but shows no sign of not being able to last for another decade or more – Extraordinary.

The bottle that we drank was as described above with great complexity, flavor, balance, and intensity. I have enjoyed many bottles of this wine over the years and they have been consistently superb.  And, I am sure that the bottles I still have in my cellar will age effortlessly for many, many years to come.

What a wonderful day – great food, great wine, great friends, and all for a great cause benefiting people who need help. I hope many of you will plan on being with us next year for another Hillside House Sunset Soirée fundraising dinner.
In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson