Vito’s Ristorante Italiano in Maryland (With My Informal Wine Group)

This was a wonderful get-together with my informal wine group at Vito’s Ristorante Italiano in Cockeysville, Maryland. We started with a flight of three Sauvignon Blancs, two of which emanated from Italy. The 2013 Rudd Sauvignon Blanc from Mt. Veeder is one of Northern California’s best Sauvignon Blancs, always showing considerable character with loads of caramelized grapefruit and honeysuckle in distinctive aromatics. But the favorite of the flight was the 2013 Gaja Sauvignon Blanc from Piedmont. This was beautiful 100% Sauvignon Blanc with a texture of a Chardonnay, subtle influence of toast, but beautiful, bright citrus elements intermixed with floral notes and wet gravel with plenty of texture and length. So-so was the 2013 Ornellaia Sauvignon Blanc.

After that flight we moved into Chardonnays, including two white Burgundies and the rest California Chardonnays. The 2013 Albert Bichot Corton-Charlemagne showed some dirtiness and skunkiness in the nose, with high acid in the mouth and was overall adequate, but not exciting in any way. The best of this duo was the 2007 Comtes Lafon Meursault-Charmes, which showed a nice buttery lemon zest, a touch of apple blossom, earth and hazelnut. It is medium-bodied and excellent. It should drink nicely for another 5-6 years. The stars emerged later, with three incredible Chardonnays. The 2012 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma was fabulous with plenty of tropical fruit, honeyed pineapple, citrus and a distinctive terroir element that was hard to articulate. Also sensational was the 2010 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, which was all tropical fruit, honeysuckle and lemon zest. Another terroir-driven, earthy, but big, rich, complex and well-balanced Chardonnay was the 2013 Varner Chardonnay Home Block from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Other Chardonnay included a strong effort from David Ramey in 2012 from the Platt Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, and a Chardonnay from an estate I am not terribly familiar with – the 2013 Lynmar Estate in Sonoma, which was tropical and exotic.

We finished up with two spectacular Chardonnays from Aubert. Mark Aubert seems to be one of the two or three finest practitioners of Chardonnay in California, and his 2012 Chardonnay Eastside Vineyard was off-the-charts great, but even better was the 2008 Chardonnay Lauren, which was from a magnum. It was amazing how quickly that magnum disappeared among a dozen or so wine enthusiasts.

The theme for the day was California Cabernets, with a few younger ones, but mostly older mature examples. We started with the 2012 Odette Cabernet Sauvignon, which remained one of my favorite wines of the day. It had a black ruby/purple color, with great graphite, truffle, blueberry and blackberry fruit, well-integrated wood and a long, concentrated, full-bodied finish. This wine has at least 20 or more years of life in it. From the limited-release program of Beringer (where some of the single-vineyards that go into their private reserve are bottled separately in small lots) we had Beringer’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Lampyridae Vineyard and the 2012 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Steinhauer Vineyard, the latter from Howell Mountain. Both of these were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, young, vibrant, concentrated and impressive. As I’ve written in The Wine Advocate so many times, it is always amazing that when you taste the single-vineyards, as good as they can be, the final blend of the different component parts, which ends up as their Private Reserve, always seems to turn out to be the best wine.

We then had an excellent 2004 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, but it was dominated by an absolutely spectacular 1987 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, which was one of my favorite 1987s and at nearly 30 years of age is still a young, quasi-adolescent wine with stunning upside and potential. It is a magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon and very much in Montelena’s restrained and classic Bordeaux style. The 2001 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain was monolithic, rich, concentrated and admirable, but not hitting all cylinders.

We then had a magnum of 1995 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from my cellar, which showed loads of blueberry and raspberry fruit, not quite the density of some of the other wines, but had beautiful perfume and seemed fully mature.

The last two flights were the ones that seemed to elicit all the “oohs and ahs.” In magnum, the 1991 Joseph Phelps Insignia was gorgeous, with plenty of rose petal, crème de cassis, cedar wood and graphite, but the wine of the day, for virtually everyone, was a magnum of 1991 Dominus Proprietary Red, that was simply extraordinary. This is a wine that was fabulous when released in the early 90s and has never really shut down or gone into an awkward state. It just seems to gain in richness and nuance – and this magnum was out of this world with a dense, plum/garnet color to the rim, incredible nose of cedar wood, Christmas fruitcake, blackcurrants, Chinese black tea and spices. The opulence, the full-bodied richness and incredible balance and purity, were just spectacular. What an amazing wine this is at 25 years of age! It has at least another decade of life in it.

An interesting taste comparison was between the 1990 Robert Mondavi Reserve and the 1991 Robert Mondavi Reserve. Both were spectacular vintages from Mondavi and both of these wines showed Bordeaux-like character, with cedar wood, blackcurrants, licorice, fruitcake notes and a touch of oak – with the 1990 slightly chunkier and the 1991 more delineated and possibly more nuanced.

We finished with two wines that were still holding onto life, the 1976 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon from a magnum was, obviously, fully mature, but showing a lot of cedar wood, herbs, loamy soil notes and sweet black and red currants. It had nice texture, no traces of oxidation, but clearly has seen its best days. Any owners of this wine should consume it. A wine that was one of the first efforts that was bottled under the single-vineyard of Milton Eisele at the time, but purchased by the Conn Creek Winery in a bankruptcy sale, was the 1974 Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard. This has always been a spectacular wine and, amazingly, at age 42, the wine is still beautifully fruited, with notes of camphor, a touch of underbrush, oodles of sweet black cherry and blackcurrant fruit, loamy/earthy terroir notes and a medium to full-bodied, long finish, with no desiccation or astringency. This has been an amazing wine that wasn’t even made at Conn Creek! (It was bought at a bankruptcy sale already sitting in tank.)

All in all, an interesting afternoon of wonderful wine, wine talk, etc. was enjoyed by all.

P.S. – If you don’t think the great California wines of the 90s, the first decade of the new millennium, and more recent wines are going to age 30-50 years, as the best examples will do easily, you need to have your head examined, as well as your palate.

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