Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pauillac vs Napa Valley, Akron Edition

The stage was set.  Fourth of July at my buddy Than's place.  Every year Than throws an epic, orgiastic fete at his Copley farmhouse.  The usual suspects were on hand: Lisa, Dave, Lawson and Suzanne.  Good company, good food and wine, wine, wine.  We missed last year's celebration and a chance to rub elbows with and be repulsed by a former congressman.  This year, we vowed not to repeat that mistake.

Good thing, because the ante was upped this time around. Sushi, steak and sea bass cooked for about 300 hours in a sous vide oven. Suzanne presented a plate of fine cheeses and one hell of a godamned great wine to enjoy with dinner.  Gone was the oily politician, replaced by an infinitely less offensive pair of bottles from the Bordeaux region, the centerpiece of our holiday meal, procured by Than for what to Warren Buffett would have been a modest expense.  Indeed, Chateau Latour and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild are two of the six Bordeaux estates classified as representing the highest possible quality of Bordeaux winemaking. Here they are, ready and willing to make us drunk and happy:

Before drinking, let's back up to 1976 for a minute, the year that Paris-based wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a blind tasting of French and Napa Valley wines.  In the red wine category, Napa's Stag's Leap Wine Cellars emerged triumphant.  Also competing was the Ridge Winery.  Alex and I brought a bottle of each for our evening.  After all, why not turn a pleasant night of sipping fine wine into a no holds barred cage match between heavyweights?  Only problem, what I brought was not from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, but Stags' Leap Winery.  To be fair to me, though, having two Napa wineries named Stags' Leap is way dumb.

No matter.  Blissfully ignorant of my gaffe, we proceeded.  Than started by decanting the Latour.  After letting it breathe for about an hour, we raised our glasses and swirled the inky elixir.  Sometimes a bottle of wine that comes with such high expectations can leave one wondering what the big deal is.  That didn't apply in this case.  This was a wine of many layers, but for me what stood out was a perfect balance of dark berry fruit, plum and smoky vanilla from oak casks.  Latour is velvet on the tongue, without a hint of hotness, nor any puckery astringency.  Than, in an enraptured state of stupefaction, declared he had just tasted the best wine of his life.  I was inclined to agree.  This killed anything Carlo Rossi ever jugged in his life.

Next up was the Mouton-Rothschild.  When Napoleon III requested in 1855 that Bordeaux wines be classified in an exclusive system, five Chateaux were chosen as the best: Latour, Lafite, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Yquem.  Relegated to second place was Mouton, an ignominy that the winery never accepted until 1971, when, after years of lobbying, it was elevated to the top tier.  And that's where it belongs, because for my (Than's) money, Mouton was instantly the pinnacle of my wine drinking career.  Exhibiting many similar dark berry notes, what separated Mouton for me were the yeasty, bready, funky-ass cheese and barnyard characters.  Though perhaps not as smooth as the Latour, I found the brief smack of tartness quite pleasant.

After draining our glasses with a final, rapturous sip, it was time to bring on my 'assassins,' as Than dubbed them.  I confess I was fearing for the Napa contingency.  We decanted the Stags' leap for a time and tasted.  Bam!  Napa proved its worth at once against the titans.  The thing that jumped out for me with these wines was their endless depth.  I could have kept my nose in that glass of Merlot for days, inhaling the dried blackberry and cherry working in combination with leather and beef broth.  So maybe this Stags' Leap didn't make the trip to Paris in '76; I'd stand it up against anything you can throw at me, bitches.

Things took a decided downward turn for us with the next wine, and this spot would have been an obituary for the Ridge, if not for the fact that it was Alex's second favorite of the evening, rating just behind the Latour.  I dunno, maybe I was reeling after all the decadence, but this very solid wine seemed slightly underwhelming by comparison.

Here's how I'd rate 'em:

1) Mouton

2) Latour

3) Stags' Leap

10) Ridge

Clearly, Bordeaux won this round.  It did get about a 2,000 year head start on Napa, though.  Just sayin'.

Thanks to everyone involved for a true hedonist's delight, and a special nod to our host, who is, incidentally, the foremost marine aquarist in the tri-state area.  Need some coral?  Tidal Gardens is the place.



Hampers said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
StevenLink said...

If one could be drunk with envy, that one would be me.

McBone said...

Spammers get chucked in the trash where they belong.


McBone said...


Words are futile to describe these wines, but thanks for reading them anyway.


Suze said...

What a lovely entry! So glad we were there.

Darin said...

Nancy & I just watched Bottle Shock, a decent indie film about the 1976 Paris competition. It focuses on the white winner, Chateau Montelena. It's a decent film that you would probably enjoy.