Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kesslers Cassoulet Dinner: The Overture


At last, the long awaited evening had arrived, and the Favored Few began to gather at Casa Kessler in the Napa Valley. It was, at long last and at long distance (why the hell else would I voluntarily drive from Portland to Napa?), the night of Cassoulet.

After we were warmly welcomed by our hosts, Lou and BettyLu, we all naturally gravitated to the wine bar, where Lou had arranged his choices of the evening as our aperitif wines.

What to taste, what to taste?

As usual, I'll start with a Gruner Veltliner. Lou pours a Weingut Knoll Loibner Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2001 from the bottle with one of the most lavishly beautiful labels in the business. The wine inside does easy justice to the label outside too. It has the nose-prickling aromas of celery salt and fresh, crisp spring green vegetables, that sensuous silky slide of Smaragd with the tight acids firmly supporting it, and just the right amount of weight and resonance on the palate.

Here's to the Green Lizard! It's a lovely way to begin the evening, and to prepare for what's ahead.





Since I'm already in Austria, it makes sense to stay there, so I move right over to the Franz Hirtzberger Singerriedl-Riesling Smarad 2001.

Smaragd Rules! Or Rocks! I'm never quite sure.

As lovely as the Gruner was, this Riesling has a definite snap to it; it commands attention, and rewards it as well. Pure, bright, piercing acids drive the tightly-wound flowers and fruits. This is, in the very essence of the phrase, a mouth-watering wine. The clarity, the richness-in-austerity, is amazing, and it is singularly difficult to put this wine down.

There are few things better than a Riesling when it is done right.

But I yield the space in my glass, because the next wine has
become, in a very short time, one of my favorites. The doughty Florida Jim turned me on to this originally with one of his tasting notes, and I first had it at Lou's house. Now I'm back again, and here's the Albarino Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas (Very Old Vines) 2007 from the Rias Baixas. There might be a better Albarino---I'm willing to allow that---but if there is, I've never had it.

I have never been to the Rias Baixas, but simply on the evidence of this gorgeous wine, I'd sure like to go. And I'd like to see these Cepas Vellas in person; they look so impressive in the pictures, and they turn out a wine that is complex, intriguing, and lush with flavor---while maintaining that firm core of acids that have become a requirement for me, and for what I love in my wines.

But there's more wine, and little time left, and while the constant supply of tiny bites go around, and the lively discussions reach a higher pitch from wine-loosened tongues, I venture the last two aperitif wines.

And those tiny bites? Let's not ignore them. BettyLu has prepared some delicious hors d'oeuvres for us...tiny cheese puffs with olives that are instantly habituating, sort of an Italianate gougeres; some canapes with the tang of walnuts and red peppers that perfectly play off the wines; sinfully rich chicken liver pate on croutons... There's never a shortage of good things to tantalize the palate when BettyLu's at the helm.

There's the Vatan Sancerre Clos de Neore 2006. It has become a standard for these dinners, and justly so---if for no other reason than Mark Anisman goes directly to it on arrival (Gee,what a surprise!). But, hey, if you've found a delicious, intensely aromatic, and richly flavored Chavignol Sancerre, why go anywhere else? This is Sauvignon Blanc in the classic style, from the classic area, and it still serves as a damned good argument for what Sauvignon Blanc should be.



Then, for the finish, there's the surprise Lou has in store...a charming Chenin Blanc from the legendary house of Huet, a Le Haut-Lieu Vouvrary Demi-Sec 2002!

This ripe melon, honey and soursop Chenin Blanc, with just a bit of sweetness balanced out to a sweet-sour with bracing acids, is lovely all by itself; it also does a great job bringing out the flavors of the appetizers, playing point and counterpoint effortlessly.

But I'm at the point of embarrassing myself with those appetizers---they are just too good to resist---and I have to slow down a little, because I know this is still the Overture, and I know what is to come, and I want to be ready for The Main Event.

But, um, could I possibly have just one more round of the little olive-y cheese puffs, please? I have a sip or two of the Vouvray left.

Oh oh! They're calling us to the table...

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