© Copyright 1995 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
If you still believe that only cheap, sweet Gewurztraminer goes with Chinese food, I wish you could have joined the two dozen revelers who got together one rainy evening in April for a spectacular Cantonese Banquet at The Nice Restaurant on East Broadway in New York City's Chinatown.
Twenty-four net-wired wine lovers, many of whom had never met face to face before this event, enjoyed some 25 different wines -- not a Gewurz among them -- accompanying a full dozen courses of superb Cantonese banquet cuisine stretched out over more than four hours of fun. Who could ask for more?
The results demonstrated, as if more demonstration was needed, that the real key to wine enjoyment is simply relaxing and enjoying conviviality with friends. For the record, though, with minimal attention being paid to the primary ingredient in each entree and the essential style of each wine, traditional dry table wines in the European/California tradition do go well with even the most exotic non-European dishes.
Here's a quick survey of the bill of fare, with my brief tasting notes on the wines we enjoyed. The social, non-analytical setting certainly results in notes of less than rigorous science; but I'll stand behind 'em.
AperitifRoederer Estate NV Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine Pale greenish- gold. Yeasty bread dough and cooking-apple nose and a frothy mousse; apple- like, slightly sweet flavor, clean and fresh in a crisp finish.
Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin NV Champagne Bright gold color with a lasting fountain of tiny bubbles. Delicious "biscuity" aroma, rich and mouth-filling flavor. A delightful wine in perfect balance. Almost unfair to the Roederer, a decent enough California sparkler, to force it to stand comparison with this jewel.
Minced squab in lettuce leaves
Le Bernardin 1978 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Around the bend, sadly. Prunes and nuts, Sherry. Dead.
Dominus Estate 1987 Very dark garnet. Dusty, earthy, minty nose, some debate over whether it's "barnyard" or just Napanook "dust." Tannic and rich, much promise, too young.
Crispy seafood roll
Domaine Rene Leclerc 1985 Lavaux-St.-Jacques Gevery-Chambertin Brownish amber color. Earthy, leather, tomato-skin and currant notes. No youngster, but still plenty of life.
Yarden (Israel) 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon Dark garnet. Intriguing herbal note of rosemary over very berry fruit. Smooth and fruity on the palate, a bit on the soft side in acid balance.
Baked minced conch and seafood with coconut curry sauce in shell
Nalle 1992 Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Bright reddish- purple. Rich blackberry nose, jammy fruit flavor, warm and extracted. Good Sonoma Zin in the forward, fruity style.
Mitchelton 1991 "Print Label" Victoria (Australia) Shiraz Bright garnet color. Delicious minty and currant-jelly nose leads to a firm tannic structure for big but refined fruit. Outstanding Shiraz, leading to such observations as "Baby Grange."
Roast Peking duck in homemade pancakes
Justin 1988 Reserve Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (58%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Franc (12%) Very dark reddish purple. Perfumed, floral potpourri aroma, with lean, tart berry fruit flavor.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards 1981 Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (in magnum) Inky dark ruby color, with earthy, smokey, bacon-fat aroma notes and a chocolate-covered-cherry flavor. Still surprisingly youthful, one of the evening's best wines.
Callaghan 1992 Sonoita (Arizona) Cabernet Sauvignon, Buena Suerte Vineyard Medium ruby color. Herbal, chocolate, earth, nice! People around the table ask, "Arizona? Really? It's good!"
Grilled Tsing-Tao jumbo shrimp with scallions
Clos St. Ulrich 1990 Domaine Mittnacht-Klack Alsace Riesling Very pale brass color. Light perfumed fruit and tart, dry orange-blossom flavor. An exceptional Alsace Riesling and one of the evening's best wine-food matches.
House salt-baked chicken
Louis Latour 1992 Meursault Pale brass color. Light apples and unobjectionable (believe it or not) "cat urine" muskiness on the nose and palate; rich and full, with juicy apples and chestnuts in a long finish.
Edmond Vatan 1992 Sancerre Pinot Rouge a Chavignol I brought this rare Loire red, hoping that Chavignol's usual magic would pay off, but it was just a little too weird, at least in the evening's company. Pale old-rose color, with tree-bark and forest-floor organic qualities in the aroma and flavor, with a hint of Pinot black-cherry appearing as it opens in the glass.
Fillet of beef with broccoli in Capitol sauce
Chateau Gruaud-Larose 1986 St.-Julien Very dark purple. Cassis and morocco leather nose, ripe, extracted fruit flavor, still more than sufficient to override stiff and lasting tannins. Approachable, but needs a lot more time before it reaches its peak.
Chateau Pichon-Lalande 1985 Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac Dark garnet color, with the classic cigar-box and aromatic cedar aromas. Good fruit, drinking very well now, but no hurry.
Neil Ellis 1990 Stellenbosch (South Africa) Cabernet Sauvignon Bright reddish purple, peppery nose, quick burst of fruit flavor dies suddenly with little finish. Suffered from being served in such august company as the Bordeaux.
Sauteed salt and pepper frogs
The Eyrie Vineyards 1992 Willamette Valley Yamhill County (Oregon) Pinot Gris Clear, pale straw color. Rich musky melon nose and bright, piercing fruit flavor, a bit of buttery oak; clean and consistent in a long finish.
Baked pork chops Imperial style
Chateau Montalena 1992 Napa Valley Zinfandel Clear bright garnet. Claret-style Zin with an intriguing menthol-eucalyptus aroma note; huge extract, rich and full, heady with 14% alcohol.
Villa Antinori 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva Dark ruby, with full black-cherry oak and spicy oak aroma and flavor. Good, juicy fruit, a bit on the soft side for perfect balance.
House special smoked fish
Weingut Karlsmuhle 1990 Lorenzhafer Mauerchen (Mosel) Riesling Auslese Clear greenish-gold. Pleasant strawberry and tangerine aromas, with firm, steely acidity rendering the delicious fresh-fruit sweetness seemingly almost dry.
Bridgehampton 1990 Grand Vineyard Selection Long Island New York Chardonnay Bright brass color. Butter and oak dominate the smell and taste, unfortunately to the exclusion of any hint of fruit.
Rainbow fried rice
Wines: Same as previous course
Tapioca and melon in coconut soup
Ferrari-Carano 1989 Eldorado Gold Alexander Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Pale gold color, with lovely apricot, grapefruit and honey nose. Crisp and full fruit in such exceptional balance that it belies the statistics: 14.2% residual sugar by weight, 45 brix at harvest, 13.2 alcohol. Yummy!
Yalumba Museum Show Reserve NV Rutherglen (Australia) Muscat Clear, bright amber color. Nutty and raisiny fruit with bitter-orange notes. Syrupy sweet, but firm acidic grip maintains its balance. Reminds me more than a little of a Hungarian Tokay.
Campbells Old Rutherglen (Australia) Muscat Clear, very dark amber. Walnuts and dried stone fruit nose, smooth and intense, with a luscious and layered finish that seems to linger until dawn, prompting me to crack that it's the only wine I've ever seen with not only the surgeon general's warning but a dentist's emergency phone number on the label. Seriously, this classic "stickie," purportedly made from a 50-year-old solera, is a world- class dessert wine.
Public thanks are due to David Sit for making the arrangements, and to Yak and Dorit Shaya for visiting the U.S. from their home in Tel Aviv and giving us an excuse. It was a memorable evening indeed.