All wine lovers seem to be seeking that Holy Grail, the perfect wine. I suppose it’s inevitable, a condition of the Human Condition, that we constantly seek perfection, elusive as it may be.
Me? While I’m not looking for perfection, I’ll happily accept it when it arrives on my doorstep. And arrive it did, just the other night.
My wife and I were out with friends, a combination of old and new, local and travelers, oft seen and rarely seen. It was a happy occasion on a pleasant evening with excellent people in a lovely restaurant with great staff and good food. The stage was set; conditions were…well, perfect.
Since all of us were wine geeks, of course we all brought bulging winebags with a dazzling array of selections. The table soon filled with the cream skimmings from those bags. Did I mention it was No-Corkage-Fee Night at the restaurant? I told you the conditions were perfect.
Wine abounded, from a 1999 Leeuwin Art Series Riesling, Margaret River (passable, but not extraordinary) to a 2002 Dr. Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Kabinett (delicate and lacy, but perhaps not substantial enough to grip the imagination on this night), to a 2001 Hirtzberger Singerriedl Riesling (abundantly fragrant, nervy and quite flavorful of white pepper and spice and citrusy acidity).
Then with food in abundance (small plates, nicely done, with variety aplenty), we pulled the corks on the reds. First, a 1997 Williams-Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, still as firm and tight and exuberant as a much younger wine, but clearly in the older style of W-S, without the effusiveness of the more current and riper vintages. Sturdy, with black cherry in depth, and a nod towards the ancestral homeland of Burgundy (while still being true to its California roots) with the leathery and earthy components wrapped around the fruit-driven core. Lovely wine, dismissing the canard that wines from California don’t age well.
Another canard dismissal, and an even more forceful one, pops up with the next wine, a 1997 Dehlinger Russian River Valley Syrah, the type of wine that stops you dead in your tracks, suspends conversation, and requires intense focus on what’s in your glass. This is a gorgeous wine, lavish in its blueberry compote and black pepper fullness, bright with promise, but pleasant and rewarding now.
Our second and third Syrahs of the evening are opened. The third, a 1999 Jamet Cote-Rotie, lives up to its expectations, with powerful perfume of roasted meat and crushed violets dominating a complex blend of aromatics and flavors. Its only fault is that it drops off---just a bit---in the middle palate; a stutter-step, a hesitation, that mars the promise of the nose and the pleasure of the lingering finish.
But perhaps I am being too harsh (though I don’t think so), for the Jamet comes immediately after the perfect wine of the evening, the 2000 Edmunds St. John Syrah, Wylie-Fenaughty Vineyards.
Let me digress here and attempt to briefly define what I mean when I say “the perfect wine”. That would be a wine that is completely satisfying in the moment, on its own merits, how it pairs with the foods on the table, and how it fits the ambience of the evening. Perfection has to be more than aroma or taste or definable parameters; it has to involve thought, consideration, and deliberation, moving from a strict physical reaction to meditation. How’s that? Vague enough?
The Edmunds St. John achieves that perfection of the moment: it fits in seamlessly with the evening and the people; it generously responds to and accommodates the foods on the table, which tend to be full-flavored, aromatic and spicy; and it resonates far beyond the mere wine-in-the-glass situation. For that moment the Wylie-Fenaughty was the perfect wine, satisfying in all its forms and aspects, denying nothing.
And what were its aspects, you ask? Limitless depth, infinite nuance, and seamless structure. A nose of roasting meat, hot, dry brush (they call it garrigue in the Rhone), dried flowers and tightly bound black fruits, with the flavors following type and supported by an amazing acidic structure, opening slowly to reveal more depth and to unveil suffused spices. Then all aspects linger in perfect balance and slowly, slowly, slowly fade away to leave tantalizing hints of remembrance and the irresistible urge for the next sip. Superb. And with years to go before it approaches full maturity.
After the Syrahs, an impressive 1985 Giacosa Barbaresco San Stefano Reserva shows up. Unmistakably Nebbiolo, unmistakably Piemontese , its only failing that after its initial explosion of aroma and flavor it tended to dry up, fade away, and lose force and focus.
The unexpected late arrival of the last opened wine, a 2002 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne Blanc Grand Cru (Who delivers a closer of Chardonnay after a liquid feast of Syrah and Nebbiolo? We do, that’s who!) surprised everyone with its style and quality. Looks like Bouchard has been turned around, folks. This is gorgeous stuff, and were it not so pricey, it would be perfect for the I Don’t Really Care For Chardonnay set, alternately known as the THIS is Chardonnay??? Set when they taste this.
But the wine that remained, the wine that was forever embedded in the memory, the wine that will linger for a long, long time and feature in oft-told tales, was clearly the 2000 Edmunds St. John Wylie-Fenaughty Syrah.
It was perfect.