the Vineyard With Steve In
the Cellar With Dan On
the Road With Dan
ON THE ROAD WITH DAN
ON THE ROAD WITH DAN - ALASKA: COME FOR THE MOUNTAINS, STAY FOR THE PEOPLE (AND THE WINE'S NOT SO BAD EITHER)
Any sincere human endeavor; whether making, selling and drinking wine or anything else, is not primarily about the practical results of that pursuit but about love; love of people, craft, experience, effort, earth, creativity; love of life. Sounds like pretty flakey stuff maybe, but I'm continuously reminded of this belief every time I'm involved in anything that really strikes at my heart. My recent wonderful excursion to Alaska is such an experience.
The trip was primarily a mountaineering venture with my son Jamie - an exploit to be expressed elsewhere - but I was lucky enough to be in Anchorage for the 75th birthday celebration for our good friend, and broker, Hans Kruger. Alaska is an amazing and varied physical environment, but whenever I visit I come away being struck even more by the hospitality, friendship and camaraderie that I find with the people there. Clearly, Alaska is a place of characters - folks who enjoy and respect individuality in others as well as in themselves; and at the same time truly take the time to share community and support.
At the risk of forgetting someone wonderful and obvious, I need to at least scroll through some of the notables in the august group gathered for the event before I describe the wines. It's the who's who of Anchorage restaurateurs and chefs, along with some old friend connoisseurs and of course the wonderful wine peddlers who keep the machine moving. Picture a party in a dungeon (sorry Hans and Dan) - the great downstairs space that is the Corsair - starting at 11:30 am, going until about six, featuring 6 beautifully crafted food courses, 27 wines, deteriorating tributes and Danish "Hazaas". The all day frat bash finally progressed to a blinking group emerging into the endless Alaska sunshine for a fried chicken run to support further drinking on Hans' communally raised deck (another Alaskan escapade to be described at another juncture). Thankfully, we had a sober 16 year old to do the driving.
There's Hans, our German born hero who opened one of the first great restaurants in Anchorage in the '60s (The Corsair), his colleague Van, a inspired chef at Marx Bros. Cafe) who has been his competitor in business and great friend in life for just as long. Hans' son Christophe even came in from Seattle for the event, but of course his wife and sister (who was in from France) needed to stay home as this was, as 16 year old Jamie put it, "a good old Alaskan sausage-fest". Can't forget big Jens, originally from Denmark who in the '60s cooked on the north slope, has long since run Jens' Restaurant and just exudes energy; then little Jens - who still refers to himself as the young guy (sorry dude, not so young anymore) who owns Southside Bistro and parties as hard (and effectively) as he works (maybe it's a Norwegian attribute). Dan who took over at the Corsair - quiet in the group - a guy who would do anything to help you out at any time - the host of this wonderful event, and somehow married to a saint; Al - debonair celebrity chef - remembered best (by me anyway) for his awesome breakfasts for a bunch of hungover waste cases on ski trip mornings - amazing as he clearly was as bad off as anyone the night before. Bob - another of the ski bunch, who actually skis, and an old retail friend in Anchorage. Justin, proprietor of the iconic Double Musky down in Girdwood - the young guy extreme skier who always pays attention to the wines and everything else. Can't forget Otis ("This is your town!") - Goofball by night, seriously hardworking good guy by day; a guy who loves everybody and visa versa, except for a particular waitress from Underwood Bar and Bistro. And what can you say about Bill Adint - tries to be gruff, but his generosity and warmth always comes through in spite of himself. I look forward to Jamie being ring bearer at his and Otis' ceremony. The notable civilians were Colin who always seems to show up with the surprise wine of an evening, Dr. Greg, gregarious and hugely knowledgeable local dentist, and Leonard - a super interesting guy to talk with who seems almost too normal for this bunch (think of the beautiful daughter on "The Munsters"). Then there's the absent Grasse, who had the audacity to miss this day for his own father's 80th in Michigan - bad choice buddy - read on and weep.
Herewith are my notes on the wines - I'm sure I missed a few (and stopped taking notes by the time we got back to Hans' place) - I'd love to hear opinions and additions from the other esteemed tasters.
1. 1928 Ch. Calon-Segur: Unbelievable wine - clearly one of the stars. I guessed it as well preserved '59. Still luscious pomegranate fruit - sweet/soft old lady - plummy, gorgeous. What a wonderful surprise of a wine (brought by Dr. Greg). Certainly one of the wines of the night.
2. 1928 Montrose: Much more licorice than the Calon. Bit of funk at first (maybe Bret 75 years ago), but still raspberry fruit and not dried out - a darker impression than the Calon. Not up to that wine, but spectacular and surprisingly youthful (like Hans).
3. 2006 Puligny, Les Clavoillon from 3 Lit. : Nice, flinty, fresh cradle-robbing palate freshener. White grape in the nose (methyl anthranelate), surprisingly tropical (touch of mango). Moderately rich in the mouth - will certainly become more so with the time it won't have in the bottle. Very nice combination of solidity and roundness with what I think as the classic lemon sourball of the region. This was a the warm up along with the following.
4. 1990 Bollinger Grand Anee (from magnum): Toasty / biscuity in nose, lemon creme. Good acid in mouth - again lemon - a bit nutty, fine but not quite ebullient enough mousse for its age - good but not great champagne.
5. 1957 Moulin a Vent, Grand Clos de Rochegres, Avery's: Maybe the great surprise of the day (brought by Colin, of course): Incredible - spicy - still great ruby color. A touch of earth on the nose, but still strawberry fruit with a trace of tarragon. In the mouth rich cherry fruit is totally supported by the creamy mouthfeel. After � hr. in the glass the herbal notes rise in the nose along with blackberry, spice and weight in the mouth.
6. 1993 Williams Selyem, Cohen Vineyard (from Magnum): A bit of earth and dirt on nose at first, with orange peel/potpourri/strawberry. High acid in mouth (true to vintage), fruit pretty depleted but still some nice spice.
7. 1997 Williams Selyem, Hirsch Vineyard (from Magnum): Great ruby color. Lots of coconut and black cherry on the nose - very dense aromatically (wood still shows). Super sweet and lush in mouth still - cherry vanilla, plum and prune whip. Very nice.
8. 1978 Romanee Conti: Super high aroma volume - unctuous and delicate at the same time - notes of smoked meat, orange peel, lots of forest floor and mushroom - spice central. Quite solid still in the mouth - delicate, detailed and nuanced with layers of orange peel, forest floor, persimmon and spice - crystalline and delicate - wonderful creamy elegance and focus - not a touch dried out.
9. 1978 La Tache: What can I say? I couldn't imagine topping the RC until I stuck my nose into this wine. It might (and should) be controversial, but I'd have to give the nod to this beauty - a bit more fruit left than the RC, with more deep cherry and incredible layers of spice/cinnamon/clove, and even hint of apple on the nose (with time a lemon peel element even emerged). Seemingly a touch more acid - wonderfully dense and rich in the mouth, classic Burgundy silk in tannin structure - spice/pomegranate/delicate cherry - a particularly lingering elegant finish. Graceful power.
10. 1988 Nuits St. George, Aux Boudots, Leroy: High coconut in nose, low tone fruit, a touch of iodide character - some red apple, cinnamon spice. The wonderful nose opens with time, yielding great more complexity and red fruits- a youngster after the 78's. Solid tannin still - pomegranate and red apple fruit - very sweet presentation. Round and unctuous, but delicate at the same time.
11. 1991 Richebourg, Leroy: Some iodide on nose, young yet. Cardamom and cinnamon, fruit a bit muted right now. Not the complexity of the NSG and a bit tannic. Solid, sweet cherry fruit in the mouth.
12. 1995 Puligny Montrachet, Druid: Nose - Butter and apricot, solid but not complex. Solid in mouth. Buttercream and apricot - could it have been heated at some time?
13. 1996 Echezeaux, DRC: Spicy cinnamon, tarragon, pomegranate on nose. Solid and silky in mouth. Beyond its baby fat, but not yet delicate - Very nice wine, just ridiculous company.
14. 1981 Lynch Bages (Magnum): One of the wines of the night for me - Perfect ruby color - amazingly seamless combination of raspberry and bell pepper on the nose - fantastic clarity and brightness. Wonderful sweet cherry cream, with berry/spice/veg in mouth, and flawlessly satin mouthfeel - you could almost convince me to become a Bordeaux fanatic.
15. 1996 Beaucastel: Leather, a bit of sweat socks - some bing cherry. A bit acidic for me. Maybe the afterglow of the '81 Lynch Bages diverted my focus.
16. 1989 (90?) Lynch Bages: Sweet, focused cherry, some leather and cigar box/bell pepper on nose - lots of concentration and breadth. Super concentrated in the mouth again, silky, but still tight. Fantastic potential, but not yet open and showing it like the '81.
17. 1996 Opus (Mag.): Showing nicely - deep berry fruit and leather, very smooth in front, but a bit grippy on the finish. Clearly some Bret influence. Pomegranate and leather in mouth. Nice, but not popping in this company.
18. 2007 Devil's Gulch Pinot Noir: Perfect palate pick up timing for this wine (in full disclosure - the author of this piece might be slightly biased on this wine). Like a blueberry sorbet intermezzo between the fois gras and the Rack of lamb at a banquet. Blackberry and blueberry fruit, creamy and lush, especially for its young age in this lineup. All I know is that 2 bottles splashed in a large decanter disappeared very quickly (though that might not necessarily be a compliment in this crowd).
19. 1987 Chave Hermitage: Bing cherry and leather on the nose. A bit drying in the mouth.
20. 1988 Chave Hermitage: Superior to the 1987. Round and sweet in both the nose and mouth, with lots of cherry fruit - a touch of Bret and earth. Very nice.
21. 1998 Chareau d'Ampuis Cote Rotie, Guigal: A bit of rubber on the nose along with lots of cherry. Deep, but crystalline in character. Seemingly a bit too young. Tight still in the mouth, but focused cherry fruit and tremendous clarity. Great wine - way too young.
22. 1992 Dominus (Mag.): Pomegranate and cassis high tones in mouth - some peat/tar/lead pencil. Not as lush as I might hope in nose, but quite rich and silky in mouth. Solid cherry fruit, no veg and excellent focus.
23. 1998 Mouton: This taster might be fading just a bit (or maybe completely baked). Camphor and cherry in nose, great structure - a packed baby.
24. 1990 (?) Lynch Bages (Mag.): Granite and cherry on the nose; great concentration - young and super dense. Concentrated cherry and cassis syrup in mouth with lots of mineral element. Like a porn movie - robbing the cradle for a bunch of wasted old guys.
25. 1970 Taylor Vintage Port: Sweet berry and toffee on nose - a bit sweet in the mouth for me. Some nice cherry fruit. Sugar to fruit ratio a bit high for me without more tannin, but soft and lush.
26. 1977 Taylor Vintage Port: Step up from '70 - really nice cherry and spice on nose - very pretty - holding up very well. Juicy syrup in mouth.
Well - that's what I recall, or have notes for. It was clearly a day to remember. It's fun to think of the amazing array of wines and their contribution to an amazing party, but in the end it's only about the people. I'm tremendously grateful to have been included with such a special group at a momentous occasion.