Wine is a living thing. It has a time of brash youthfulness, a span of optimal middle years, a graceful old age, and then is no more.
A wine dinner I attended recently was an excellent example of this progression. Held in a private home, the delicious menu was catered and served by Mumford’s Catering of Tinton Falls, with an eye to ideal pairings for the wines. Chef/owner Chris Mumford, working with his talented Chef Ethan, helped us create a unique dinner with much of the produce sourced directly from their own garden.
We opened with hors d’oeuvres: Oriental Vegetable Wontons, crunchy vegetables in pan-fried wonton skins and Asian dipping sauce; Roasted Eggplant Mini-Tarts with peppers, basil, and feta cheese; and Confit of Cherry Tomatoes on toasted garlic crostini – all served with 2004 Bouchard Corton Charlemagne, which had a pleasant nuttiness, but lighter weight than expected. 2010 B. Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet Le Champs Gain showed fresh stone-fruit flavors, with a reasonably long finish. Although these were intact, white Burgundy is never a sure thing. There have been a number of years in the early part of the last decade that saw many of those wines with premature oxidation, rendering them dark, funky, and old before their time.
A cool and refreshing Ceviche of Ahi Tuna and cucumber, shallots, parsley, lemon, avocado and sorrel was served with two Sauvignon/Semillon Blends. New World (Calif.) 2014 Arietta “On the White Keys,” and Old World (France) 2010 La Clarte de Haut Brion Blanc were an interesting contrast; the crisp acidity of the wines complemented the acidity of the dish.
Chilled Pureed Zucchini Soup, with a hint of cream, basil, pine nuts and EVOO, worked well with a briny, citrusy 2010 David Dublere Chablis Les Preuses, and my go-to producer for Chablis: William Fevre… in this case, his 2010 Chablis Les Preuses. He’s always a safe bet, and better priced than many lesser quality white Burgundies.
Pinot Noir is a classic pairing for Grilled/Roasted Salmon; time to take a chance with a pair of older California pinots from pioneers of that grape, and a reputation for their ability to age. 1987 Calera Jensen and 1995 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Allen Vineyard were poured with Cedar roasted Salmon, charred Jersey Yellow Corn, and tomato gazpacho. Not completely over the hill, with traces of residual fruit remaining, sadly, these were past their prime.
We gambled on! Roasted Red Pepper Spaghetti in a hazelnut/parsley pesto with Parmigiana Reggiano and fresh lemon, with a pair of risky, old Barolos: 1964 Minuto Barolo Riserva and 1971 Ceretto Barolo Riserva. Many times, tannic and primary in its youth, Barolo can age for decades, and then mature into Burgundian-like elegance, with light color and body, but great perfumed nose and complexity. Not so with these two bottles. Interesting from a historical perspective, but devoid of fruit and barely on life support.
Time for a safe bet. Chicken Thighs, glazed with Mumford’s own Black Mission Figs, pan seared, served with a medley of garden beans and blistered cherry tomatoes, and plated over creamy Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, was accompanied by the wine of the night… 1990 Chateau Margaux. A complete wine: rich, berried fruit, soft tannins, a trace of acidity, and a whisper of sweetness, it was memorable.
A pair of Italian merlots, 1998 Masseto and 2001 Messorio duked it out matched with Grilled Hanger Steak served over roasted beets, fennel, pearl onions, and chanterelle mushrooms and a tarragon-beef jus. The fragrant, plummy, excellent Messorio nosed out (pun intended) the very good Massetto, which is far more expensive.
Two Chateauneufs were served with the cheese course: 2004 St Jean Deus-Ex Machina, and 2007 Marcoux Vielle Vignes. Both deeply flavored with black fruits, pepper, and still youthful, their tannins were tamed by the fat in the cheeses.
Dessert was classic Grilled Peaches and whipped cream over pound cake, which allowed our sweet dessert wine to shine: 2008 Huet Vouvray “Le Haut Trie’ Moelluex… this Chenin Blanc based wine from France’s Loire Valley is a wonderful alternative with fruit-based desserts, in place of Sauternes. Sweet, but with good acidity to prevent it from being cloying, it has great complexity and can age for decades.
Even when you think you are reducing risk by serving younger vintages or more mainstream wines, it is not uncommon to find “off” bottles, due to poor shipping, storage, defects in wine making, or other fatal flaws. The risk of bad bottles is frequently greater with older wines, particularly those of unknown provenance, but the lure of opening an older bottle and finding it perfectly intact and delicious is a powerful draw that is hard to ignore. Sure, you can stay with the tried and true, and minimize the risk, but who wants to play it safe all the time?
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the Oct.5-12, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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