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SAN DIEGO WINESPECTATOR.COM OFFLINE, 5/17/2014 - Grant Grill, U.S. Grant Hotel, San Diego (5/17/2014)

Mr. & Mrs. Seaquam, visiting from Vancouver, pulled me out of mothballs as retired offline scribe, to take notes for this marvelous gathering. How could I say no to the birthday boy? Eleven oenophiles philed their way through sixteen bottles of wine over this six-hour extravaganza. We met at Seaquam's luxe penthouse suite at the Hotel Palomar, where we sampled artisan cheeses, downed four bottles of vintage champagne, admired the views of downtown and the Coronado Bay Bridge, and shared stories of how we survived the recent wildfires.

Then we walked down the block to the U.S. Grant Hotel and were whisked into the private dining room at the Grant Grill. Chef Mark Kropczynski designed a four-course menu based around our wine list, all coordinated by SD-Wineaux. The consensus was that the cuisine has improved markedly since our last visit there, matched by top-notch service. The wait staff seemed to know their way around a decent bottle of wine; unfazed by fragile corks; knowing when, whether and how to decant; yet also knowing when to defer to their wine-nerd guests. Stemware was by Rona.

First course was sea scallops and Maine lobster with sweet corn, saffron and chorizo risotto, and roasted peppers. The scallops were perfectly cooked, with mild sweet flavor and only a trace of grit, difficult to avoid with this mollusc.

Second course was sweetbreads with caramelized yogurt, Satsuma tangerines, and coffee-roasted carrots. Not a fan of calf thymus, I opted for quail instead.

Third course was roasted and braised lamb loin with white asparagus, morel mushrooms, and wild onion bread pudding. And dessert was some sort of affair involving praline cream, chocolate wafers, and cassis-stewed local cherries.

Tasting notes are my own, with as many quotations from other tasters as I could hear and scribble down. Point scores are omitted. Rankings are by group vote in two categories -- white (including sparkling) and red.

White wines (including sparkling)
  • 1998 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut - France, Champagne
    Clear medium yellow with fine bead. Notes of pleasantly tart cider, white grapefruit, ginger and white flowers, with hints of blackboard chalk, mushrooms, quinine, and sweet hay. Do schools still use real blackboards and chalk? Showing at least as well as in our previous offline with Seaquam six months ago. My #1, group's FIRST PLACE in this flight.
  • 2011 Rudius Chardonnay Hyde - USA, California, Napa Valley
    14.5% alcohol. Clear light straw color. A big, hedonistic California chardonnay, overflowing with aromas and flavors of pear, lemon oil, smoky oak, and butter. Not overtly acidic, and might seem flabby alongside a white burgundy, but nevertheless seemed bright compared to the roussanne. Group's SECOND PLACE in this flight.
  • 2010 Stolpman Roussanne L'Avion - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    100% roussanne, 14.3% alcohol. Clear light yellow color. Unusual bouquet of vanilla-scented candle, white peach, clover, nougat. Seaquam described fruit cocktail, with a bit of acetone. Low apparent acidity. It will be interesting to see if this wine follows a similar aging path as a white Rhone wine.
  • 2008 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc De L'Orée - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    13.5% alcohol. Clear light straw yellow. Wonderful profile of white peach, fresh daisies, pummelo, quinine, golden kiwi, and beeswax. Pure and precise. Seaquam and I agreed that this wine is young, closed and tight, and will likely improve. My #2 in this flight.

Red wines
  • 2004 Dusky Goose Pinot Noir Dundee Hills - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    14.5% alcohol. Clear dark garnet color. Rich bouquet of black raspberries, cherries, licorice, roses, lilacs, herbs and earth. Similar on the palate, well balanced with nice finish. Thankfully free of the cola and animal musk often found in American pinot noir. This is one potent pinot -- as dark, tannic, and full-bodied as a cabernet. Outstanding.
  • 2006 Bressan Schioppettino - Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Venezia Giulia IGT
    Clear medium garnet-ruby red color. Striking bouquet of breath mints and exuberant, mouthwatering red cherries. Red Guy remarked about a note of anise, while Seaquam commented on a strong black pepper character. With time in the glass, this mellowed and harmonized considerably. At the table I reported that this was our group's third place in the flight, but on recounting the votes later (after sobering up), this wine in fact ranked fourth.
  • 1970 Bodegas Vega-Sicilia Ribera del Duero Único - Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero
    70% tempranillo, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot and malbec. Aged five years in large wooden "envases," another ten years in barriques, then bottled and cellared at the estate until release in 1995. Decanted gently about 30 minutes before tasting. Clear dark garnet-blood red color. Forgive me for waxing poetic with this wine. The act of leaning one's nose toward a glass of Unico is akin to leaning forward in one's seat in the concert hall, listening for the first notes of Massenet's opera Don Quixote. The first impression is sweet gun oil. Instantly I am transported through time and space to the Spanish countryside under Franco's rule, where I sit on a horse, carrying a pristine, freshly oiled antique hunting rifle with walnut stock. In my saddle bag, fresh red cherries and earthy black truffles for a picnic lunch. These are the aromas, flavors, sights and sounds I experienced with this wine. Seaquam offered a more conventional assessment, noting some qualities of mineral and lead pencil, and comparing the wine to a Lafite or Latour from a ripe vintage. A noble, profound wine, wearing the patina of age effortlessly, as it will for decades to come. My #2, group's SECOND PLACE in this flight.
  • 2001 Fanti (Tenuta San Filippo) Brunello di Montalcino - Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    14.5% alcohol. Decanted and served. Clear dark garnet-purple color. Aromas and flavors of boisterous, youthful fresh cherries, charcoal, stony soil, and new leather. Seaquam noted some coffee. Rich and generous, full body, lingering finish. Group's THIRD PLACE in this flight.
  • 2007 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    82% syrah, 13% mourvedre, 5% grenache. 15.7% alcohol. Opened, allowed to breathe in bottle, then decanted and re-bottled 4 hours before serving. Clear dark inky purple black color. Huge glorious bouquet of sweet boysenberry pie, jammy black fruit, bitter cocoa, sweet oak, vanilla and bourbon. Massively extracted yet balanced and structured. A 94 point bouquet with a 91 point palate.
  • 1967 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Roecioto Classico Superiore - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
    Recent library release from the estate. Fill level, capsule, and label condition are like new. Traditional blend of ancient corvina, rondinella and molinara varietals. Gently decanted and served. Heavenly bouquet of rosemary, Christmas relish, cherries and cranberries, tangerine peel, with notions of wintergreen and dressage saddle. Seaquam, who generously shared this bottle, noted some dry chocolate-covered raisins in the bouquet. I found this wine to be bright, fresh, invigorating, nothing pruney or sur-maturite about it. Brilliant purity and structure with endless complexity. Medium body with no hint of its labeled 15% alcohol. A sublime, truly memorable wine. My #1 and group's FIRST PLACE in this flight.
  • 1989 Château Malescot St. Exupéry - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
    Decanted 30 minutes before tasting. Clear deep blood-garnet color. Classic Bordeaux bouquet of bright fresh red cassis, cherries, cigar humidor, stony soil, dried rose petals, and black truffles. Similar on the palate, seamless and balanced, medium-full body with lingering finish. As enjoyable as 1989 Palmer (tasted in 2010) for less than half the price. My #3 in this flight.
  • 1992 Inglenook / Rubicon Estate / Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon - USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    Opened, allowed to breathe in bottle, then decanted and re-bottled four hours before tasting. The consensus was that this bottle was corked. A pity, since this was WOTN at one of our previous offlines. Still, there was some nice sour cherry and underbrush showing.
  • 2011 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Rimage - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Banyuls
    16% alcohol. Clear dark garnet color. Not very expressive on the nose. A bit of muted cough syrup or kirsch with coaxing. Maybe too young, or going through a dumb phase? Tasted like a young "port lite." A very nice treat with dessert.

The only regret was that the Unico and the Amarone couldn't share the throne tonight. Both were rare and unforgettable privileges to experience. Many thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Seaquam for hosting the pre-dinner reception at their hotel penthouse, for opening four bottles of vintage champagne (with two more bottles waiting in reserve), and for providing the impetus for the offline in the first place. This was the second consecutive offline in which they provided the top two wines of the night. Kudos also to SD-Wineaux for arranging the private dining room and the custom menu at Grant Grill. Thanks to all who attended and made the evening special. Seaquam, celebrating a milestone birthday this month, called this gathering "an embarrassment of riches." Looking forward to much future embarrassment with Mr. & Mrs. Seaquam and everyone else too. Cheers!
Posted from CellarTracker
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Great notes there, Java, although I understand why you've attempted to duck these duties. At our upcoming birthday celebration this summer, I'd suggest skipping the notes so you can more thoroughly enjoy the evening (although we'll still vote, right?). Smile

As others have said, it was a wonderful evening of friendship and shared interest in the fine wines we were privileged to enjoy. Many thanks to all who attended for their company and the wines that they shared.
Some random thoughts now that I have a few spare moments:

The pre-dinner reception was genius. It allowed everyone to meet or catch up in a quiet and casual atmosphere. With 11 people, it can be hard to get to talk with everyone when sitting around a large dinner table (unless you play musical chairs). Also, it was very generous of our hosts Mr. and Mrs Sequaum to provide the delicious Champagne and cheeses to start of off. Jen and I both send our gratitude. It was a pleasure meeting them both.

Grant Grill hit one out of the park tonight. The food and service were top notch. We had a quiet room that was ideal for tasting and conversation. In the dining room next to the back door of the room they had two tables that were completely filled with stemware for us to use. The food was wonderful. I especially enjoyed the lamb dish. Anything with morel mushrooms. The best thing was that I wasn't washing stems afterward!

Wines (from somewhat blurry memory):

98 Henriot: Great way to start your evening. I remember structure yet finesse.

11 Rudius Chard: No mistaking this as new world, but nothing overdone about it. I would drink more domestic chards if more were like this.

10 Stolpman: Suffered a little from being a tad too warm. Nonetheless, an outstanding wine that happened to suffer from the company it kept.

08 Chapoutier: If this is still in its upward trajectory, i would love to revisit this beauty at peak!

04 Dusky Goose: Starting to develop some secondary signs as this wine evolves from fruit to more savory and smoky notes. Still lovely texture/mouthfeel. Another demonstration of the patience required for some top notch OR pinots to fully come into their own.

06 Bressan: My first experience with Schioppettino and it was a good one. Nose of black pepper, anise and red fruits with the structure, mouthfeel and finish to back up the nose. This was the surprise of the night for me. I hope to source some soon.

70 Vega Sicillia: Simply put, a "Wow" wine. Everything was there. I agree with others that this wine had many of the attributes of a top flight Bordeaux, yet maintained that distinct Tempranillo quality.

01 Fanti Brunello: Another outstanding wine that was partially lost in the shuffle of an outstanding line-up. Food friendly.

07 Saxum: This one stuck out like a sore thumb - rich, extracted and unabashedley Paso. A wine I usually love somehow seemed out of place. Still outstanding.

67 Bertani: A true treat to try. An example of how an extracted higher alcohol wine can age with grace.

89 Malescot: Another wine that seemed to get lost in the shuffle for me. Again, another outstanding solid example of an 89 Bordeaux that is singing now and has legs left in it.

92 Inglenook: Corked Frown I was really looking forward to this one as 92 is one of my favorite CA cab vintages.

11 Banyuls: Ok, stick a fork in me at this point because I am done. Still a nice treat with dessert.

Aftermath: Let's just say that my daughter's soccer tournament the next day was not ideal after little sleep and lots of wine.

Judgement: Good food, great wine and even better people.

Last edited by redguyinabluestate

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