The nose was soft with scents I hadn’t quite picked up before. There was floral, definitely, and even some honey and citrus. I swirled the glass again and took another whiff. Earth. But not dank, musty earth. A fresh earth. Like a clean sea breeze blowing through an open hotel balcony overlooking the ocean. Or maybe the scent of dyer sheets like “fresh linen” meets “outdoor fresh”. Yes! That’s it. One more swirl revealed a backbone of vanilla and crème brulee. Was this really a Chardonnay? The label read Del Dotto 2010 Cinghiale Vineyard Chardonnay. The sip revealed tasting notes that mimicked the nose, but with an ever so slight oakiness. Not enough to leave that buttery aftertaste that I loathe in Chardonnays, but enough to bring the flavors to life in a subtle manner.
This is the first wine I sampled at a wine tasting party my parents’ friends invited us to over Christmas. The annual party is their Christmas gift to friends. Each year, Tom and Doty tour Napa Valley with their son (one of the geniuses behind Google+) and bring home a selection of wines to sample at their Holiday Wine Tasting Party. Many of the wines aren’t found outside of Napa Valley. And one special wine, Del Dotto Villa Del Lago, is simply unaffordable to most (I haven’t quite yet landed that publishing deal).
The tasting was thoughtfully crafted by Tom and Doty. High top tasting tables adorned with long white tablecloths were carefully setup in the family room, dinette, and sun room creating a thoroughfare of wine through the center of their house. Each table had anywhere from 3 to 5 bottles with tasting sheets printed on tan parchment paper scattered amidst the bottles. Tea candles added ambience in the low light and crackers were available to cleanse the palette between wines. Each guest was given a glass that was personally stenciled with their name and an “icon” based on their personal interests. As a blogger, I had a computer on the base adjacent to my name; my mother had a tennis racket.
I don’t know if this was intentional, but the selection of wines chosen allowed guests to notice differences across varietals but within them. For example, in addition to the Del Dotto Oaked Chardonnay above, I also sampled Alpha-Omega 2011 Un-oaked Chardonnay. I thought its notes of pear, honey, and citrus actually needed oak to bind everything together as Del Dotto did so brilliantly. The Mer Soleil Silver 2011 Un-oaked Chardonnay 2011 on the other hand stood alone without the oak. It was minerally, it was tropical, it was crisp, and it was perfect.
Guests were able to perform the same intra varietal experiment with a pair of Cabernet Sauvignons. Both of the same vintage (2009) and vineyard (Del Dotto), one was aged in American oak barrels and the other in French oak. I wish I had more notes on the differences, but I found this table towards the end of the night after sampling from an array of 23 unique wines. My palette was a bit fatigued and I was slightly inebriated. Still, I marked a noticeable difference. The American seemed almost harsh compared to the smoothness of the French.
There were also plenty of Pinot Noirs (my fave) to sample. The 2010 Del Dotto Sonoma Coast Cinghiale Vineyard was quite big compared to the Pinots I am accustomed to from the Russian River Valley and Willamette Valley. The color was a medium to heavy purple and the nose was reminiscent of dark cherry, plum, musty earth, and even mushrooms. None of this is what I would expect from my good friend Pinot Noir, but I enjoyed it as I would any wine that exhibits strong terroir. The taste was mellower than the abruptness of the nose bringing the wine back to the Pinot Noir family. The darker fruits turned into cherry cola and the terrior invited in spice to balance out the tongue. The 2009 version remained unopened and was sent home with yours truly as a gift (Thanks, Tom!). I look forward to comparing notes in the near future. I had a similar reaction to the Duckhorn Winery 2009 Goldeneye Pinot Noir. The color and nose came on stronger than anticipated but the wine smoothed out on the tongue – dark cherry, oak, and baking spices.
Of course, you can’t serve that much wine without offering food. To keep our stomach’s lined, Tom and Doty hired Chef Michael Wajda, a former pro-circuit motor cross racer turned celebrity chef. Okay, so he isn’t an actual celebrity chef, but he did work for (and lived to tell about it) Chef Gordon Ramsey. The spread one man prepared was amazing, but the highlights included the home smoked salmon bites topped with a leaf of cilantro and the salmon’s own skin dehydrated. It was smoky and fresh with a crisp texture from the skin. Absolutely freaking food brilliant. Chef Michael also prepared a bite of a bird’s nest of fried potato strings topped with crème fresh and chives. Think a sour cream potato chip – but real. I had more than my helping of both to round out a terrific evening.