Benefit for the T. J. Martell Foundation

Michael Mina's Wit & Wisdom, Four Seasons Hotel

This was my second meal at Wit & Wisdom, an attractive restaurant in the relatively new Four Season Hotel right on the harbor in downtown Baltimore. The first meal was disappointing, but famed chef Michael Mina's group has been managing this site, and the chef has changed. Even though this was a limited lunch, everything was delicious, from excellent hors d'oeuvres (which were surprisingly impressive), to the Chesapeake Bay oysters (I'm not a fan of warmer-water oysters, but these were delicious) and classic southern-inspired, perfectly executed fried chicken. Other offerings on other guests' plates looked good, too. The meal was to benefit the T.J. Martell Foundation, a charity for aiding children with leukemia, cancer and other diseases. I have been supporting the foundation for more than 20 years, and will continue to do so.

All of the wines I provided from my cellar, and two of the VIP guests were famous Hall of Fame Baltimore Oriole baseball legend, great winelover and terrific guy, Eddie Murray, in addition to Howard Stern's long-time producer for more than 20 years, Robin Quivers, who, like me, is a University of Maryland graduate and, a knowledgeable wine enthusiast.

We started off with my current favorite vintage of Dom Pérignon, the still-youthful, vigorous and a great Dom Pérignon (certainly the best they have released in the 21st century), the 2002. This bottle was everything I had hoped it would be and just marvelous Dom Pérignon - full, crisp, with plenty of citrus, a touch of honey and very D.P.-ish. The second bottle was, amazingly, corked. Since Champagne corks are composites of many tiny pieces of cork compressed together, it is rare to get a corked bottle, but this certainly was. We then moved to a flight of three of the rarest and, what I consider, the finest Chardonnays being made in the New World, from Mark Aubert, Luc Morlet and the team of Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer. The wines were slightly too cold, and that may have kept my scores slightly conservative based on how I first reviewed them. Nevertheless, these were all fabulous wines, though the 2013 Aubert Ritchie Vineyard, from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines Mark Aubert works with, had plenty of honeysuckle, apple butter, candied citrus and underlying minerality. Perhaps the richest of the three Chardonnays, but also the most closed and Burgundian, was Luc Morlet's 2012 Chardonnay Coup de Coeur. This is an amazing wine, but I really think it behaves more like a red wine and even seems to have a structure that begs for more years of bottle age. Lastly, the 2009 Marcassin Chardonnay was everything one expects from this great duo who have left such an incredible legacy in California for high-quality wines. Honeysuckle, tangerine oil, orange marmalade, crushed rock and a leesy, earthy terroir-like character are all present in this big, rich, opulent Chardonnay.

We then moved to a magnificent flight of limited-production, for the most part, boutique Bordeaux-style reds, from some of the top producers anywhere in the world. Tom Futo's 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap goes from strength to strength. It is his newest project to complement his Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oakville hillsides. This is gorgeously perfumed, with notes of blueberry, black raspberry, licorice, camphor and incense. It is full-bodied, opulent, seamlessly constructed and a great, great wine. The 2008 Schrader Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon CCS was possibly the wine of the flight for Eddie Murray and Robin Quivers, but my nod went to the two oldest wines. This is still a great wine, with a tremendous upside (somewhat forgotten after the perfect 2007) but the 2008 just rocks. Its dense purple color, with loads of blueberry, blackberry and cassis fruit, licorice, graphite and full-bodied power make it a superb offering. It should drink well for at least another 20 years. The 2007 Kapcsándy Family Winery Roberta's Reserve, which is largely Merlot, shows much more toffee, caramel, black cherry, plum and licorice. It is an exciting wine, very elegant, but also powerful and rich. Of course, it is the most limited production cuvée of all of the Kapcsándy wines from their State Lane Vineyard in Yountville. What a beauty and a great example of this fabulous vintage in Napa. Absolutely sensational was the 2007 Sloan Proprietary Red, which was Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, but has small quantities of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in it. Always showing similar a Pessac-Leognan, with smoky barbecue notes, with scorched earth and volcanic components. The wine show charcoal, espresso, chocolate and plenty of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. It is full-bodied, dense, and clearly a wine that can be perfect on whatever occasion it is open. Another wine that at times can be perfect, and certainly one of their all-time great blends, is the 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia Proprietary Red. This is the biggest production cuvée in this tasting, as they can sometimes make well in excess of 10,000-15,000 cases of Insignia, and therefore the winemaking is remarkable, given this level of quality. This is a fabulous wine and it was certainly my favorite of the first six wines we had in the tasting. I scored it close to 100 points. It is full-bodied, extraordinarily pure, with notes of cedar wood, blackcurrants, blackberry, incense, graphite and forest floor. The 1996 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select is rich and full-bodied, but came across slightly more monolithic in this luncheon tasting than in previous events. Nevertheless, it's a beauty and another great example of this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged more than 30 months in new French oak.

To reiterate, my favorites were the last two wines, possibly because they had more age. It is hard to believe that the 1995 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is already 20 years old. This wine has a youthfulness and richness that is incredible. Spectacular purity, fabulous balance and a seamless integration of tannin, wood and alcohol that is amazing. Blackberry, cassis, spring flowers, licorice, forest floor, earth and spice are all present in this wine that is clearly a great classic of Napa. It still has another 20 or more years ahead of it. Lastly, and another youthful wine at age 22, is the 1993 Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch. I believe this was made probably before David Abreu and his assistant Brad Grimes were putting a lot of Cabernet Franc in the blends, but the wine certainly has held up beautifully. Notes of earth, spice, spring flowers, blueberries and blackberries soar from the glass of this still dense, opaque purple wine. It is rich and elegant, but at the same time powerful and rich. It is a sensational wine.

Isn't it time to bury the myth that the great California Cabernets of Napa that are ripe and concentrated don't age well? In fact, they are aging far better than even I had predicted, and I think most of the great vintages have 20-30 years of longevity built into them.

More articles from this author