Recently I was invited to attend a Napa Wine Pairing Dinner at the Tarrytown Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse hosted by Treasury Wine Estates. It was a five course meal where each course was paired and complemented by a wine in the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio (click on the link to see their brands). I had not been to one of these Ruth’s Chris wine dinners in a while and I forgot how well they pull this off. Upon arrival a glass of wine, usually the first one featured as part of the pairing, is offered to get the festivities under way…a nice touch indeed.
The dinner then started which included an appetizer, a soup, a pasta, the main entree (steak of course), 2 sides, and a desert all served with appropriately selected wines enhancing each dish. The steak offered was Filet Mignon (usually not my favorite cut but it was cooked perfectly) and it was paired with the 2009 Stag’s Leap Winery Napa Cab, a big gun just screaming for this bloody, charred red beef! Some other wine highlights included the 2010 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir, the 2010 St. Clement Napa Chardonnay and with desert they served the Beringer Nightingale Dessert wine (a Sauternes blend that was more Tokaji in style) which was a perfect way to end the meal. Pretty impressive arsenal of juice all around.
I asked someone what they had paid for this wine dinner, as it was a work function for me so I had no idea (I know…it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it!). When they told me it was $90 a head, I cringed a bit thinking that was pretty steep! But after the sticker shock I started breaking it down. A meal for 2 at a high end steakhouse can easily run $300 a couple factoring in 2 apps, 2 entrees, sides, dessert, coffee, a good bottle of red and maybe a glass of white or a cocktail before dinner. So while you didn’t have the choice of selecting your own dishes, for about $100 less per couple you were offered an additional course, a wide array of different wines (and plenty of it) and a nice presentation on some of the wines you were drinking and why they worked well with each dish. Not to mention the food was surprisingly very impressive.
Moreover, the atmosphere was warm and friendly as I met some folks at my table who were really enjoying their experience. One couple frequented these wine dinners quite often while the other couple were first timers. It can be fun to meet people who you know are interested in food and wine (otherwise they wouldn’t pay to be there) if you are a bit of a social person. If not… this may not be the format for you. But at the end of the day, these Ruth’s Chris wine dinners are a serious bang for the buck and they have the formula down pat so you are almost guaranteed both a delicious meal as well as a top quality dining experience.
Tasting Notes: This Il Fauno has easily become my new favorite Italian wine under $25. When I first tasted this gem I had it pegged as a $50 Super Tuscan, so at half the price this is just a tremendous value. Black cherry and blackberry fruit cascade over the brown spice and chalky tones. Firm tannins, lively acidity, a discernible mineral character and a silky smooth finish make this something to enjoy now but will also age for the next 3-7 years or so. Simply a delight…
More info on Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 IGT Toscana, Tenuta di Arceno:
The Jess Jackson family purchased the Arceno estate in 1994. Located in he southeast corner of Chianti Classico, it has 223 acres of vines. But unlike most estates in the region the grapes are all Bordeaux varietals; Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an ideal showcase for the remarkably talented Pierre Seillan, winemaker for the Jackson’s Veritas wines as well as his Grand Cru Chateau Lassegue in St. Emilion. Here, Seillan blends 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Caberent Franc. The grapes for this wine come from a warmer, well-exposed section of the estate, where the grapes get well ripened and take on a voluptuous quality. Il Fauno is aged for 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
Below are my tasting notes on the Taurasi DOCG 2008 Donnachiara, just love this wine…
This has to be one of the most well-structured and balanced wines at this price point. The complex dark fruit is delicately layered over both clove and dark brown spices while maintaining the earthy undertone. The acid is present and the tannins are firm yet supple giving it just a beautiful mouthfeel. It finishes dry and long leaving behind the fruit dusted with hints of bitter dark chocolate.
Taurasi is one of Italy’s great wines and yet it is still undiscovered by many wine lovers. Only a handful of wineries produce this high altitude red, and Donnachiara is one of the newest. The vineyards are family owned and have been for five generations but the brand new, very modern winery was just established in 2005. Aglianico vineyards slope down the steep hillsides in this mountainous region of Southern Italy.
Campania, where Taurasi is located is drenched in sunlight but the high altitude tempers the climate and extends the growing season, allowing the grapes to develop ideal balance of sugars, acids and tannins as well as take on complex flavors.The wine must be aged for three years before release by DOC law and Donnachiara ages this 100% Aglianico Taurasi in French oak barriques for 12 months adding layers of flavor and dimension.
Well, obviously not. But this has all the traits of a quality Napa Cab without the high price tag… Check out my tasting notes below.
Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza:
Better known for their arsenal of Malbecs, this High Mountain Cab from Catena is some pretty serious juice! The nose is super aromatic showing black currant, cola, plum and tobacco notes. It’s a big and coating wine on the palate displaying its youth. Yet the tannins are fairly smooth and the finish is long and dry. The best review I can give is that my wife thought this was a pretty expensive Napa Cab…and she knows her Napa Cabs!
More on this wine:
From Bodegas Catena Zapata comes this rich, dense 100% Caberent Sauvignon that they call “High Mountain Vines.” The grapes are sourced from three of their vineyards at very high elevations; La Piramide Vineyard, 3,117 feet, Domingo Vineyard, 3,675 feet and Adrianna Vineyard, 4,757. The high altitude means brilliant sunlight for ripening and cool temperatures at night for slow, even development of flavors and complexity. The Catena family has been producing outstanding Argentine wines for four generations and they have learned the best methods for handling these grapes. No cold fermentation and a 12-16 day maceration followed by 16 months of aging in French and American oak about 30% new.
Recently I had the opportunity to taste some of the “best” wines that come out of Chile. Many Chilean wineries will produce a high end Carmenere red blend that usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and possibly some Petit Verdot, Malbec or Syrah. Caremenere was one of the original grapes allowed in the production of Bordeaux wines, but after falling out of favor in France it has found a new home in Chile. It can exude the softness of Merlot, but is typically a little more rustic and spicy. The inexpensive Carmenere wines tend to be dirty and chewy while the high end wines can be super smooth and lush carrying just a pleasant hint of that earthiness.
After tasting a variety of these top tier Chilean reds (such as the Montes Purple Angel, Vina la Rosa Ossa, Errazuriz Kai, Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta and a handful of others) I am left with one reaction… Meh. For you Simpons fans, I need not say more. For the non Simpsons fans, Meh is a feeling of indifference or boredom…a verbal shoulder shrug if you will. Aside from the Clos Apalta, these wines were all just OK. They were rich, smooth and good expressions of the Chilean terroir (a word that encapsulates soil, climate and location), but they also tend to be super expensive! These wines can range anywhere from around $50 to over $100…so for them to just elicit a Meh reaction is frankly not good enough.
For a $50-100 wine I want to be wowed, I want to be excited, I want my taste buds to dance and sing and to praise me for having put something so delicious into my mouth. But most of all I want to feel like I am getting my money’s worth, and at the end of the day I don’t think that’s the case. Granted, I didn’t actually buy theses wines… but if I did I am fairly certain I’d be more than a little pissed off. Having shared some of these bottles with friends and family, most people thought these wines were in the $20-25 range. So to rationalize price tags 2 to 4 times that amount is just not realistic.
So aside from the Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, which is probably Chile’s finest juice, stick with the value reds from Chile. For $15-20 you can grab some great Cabernet and Carmenere wines from these same wineries that are not that far off from the quality level of their top tier offerings. Some of my favorites right now are The Seeker Cab, Veramonte Primus, the Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre line, Santa Ema’s Reserve & Ampus lines and the Santa Rita Medalla Real line of wines. Remember, just because a wine is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily great, just that it was intended to be.