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Six of us gathered at Press last night for a pre-holiday dinner at Leslie Rudd’s new chophouse next door to Dean & Deluca in St. Helena. I've heard many good things about this place and it was time to find out for myself. I carried along a bottle of J Lassalle Brut Rose Reserve and an 01 Sloan. A bottle of our 02 Amicus Special Blend, a bottle of Shafer HSS and a Girard Zin were ordered from the list. We initially ordered an 02 Grace, but they were out.

The Brut Rose started us off and worked very nicely as a palate cleanser to get us warmed up for the big reds. Apps were ordered individually but we all managed to share some of everything. I ordered the tartare, which was seasoned to perfection with a raw egg resting in the middle and accompanied with a spicy Dijon, Tabasco and Worsticire. Jen ordered the lamb rillette which was my favorite app for the evening. While very tasty, I still prefer the duck rillette from Bistro Jeanty. I also tasted the pumpkin soup that was also done very well.

We were served a relish plate between the apps and dinner that prepared us for the big hunks of meat to follow.

I ordered the 24 oz, bone-in-ribeye to share with Jen. The temp was a perfect medium rare. A béarnaise and cabernet sauce were our chosen accompaniments along with fresh frites, onion strings, roasted vegetables and beets. At this point we had the Sloan and Shafer next each other for the big taste off of the stars of the 01 vintage. (Both were decanted about 15 mins after seating so they each had a 1.5-2 hours in the decanter) What surprised me was the feminine quality that the Shafer showed while the Sloan was the big monster. The Shafer was showing a grapey element along with the huge nose of red fruits. The oak was very well integrated. The Sloan was on the other end of the spectrum showing copious amounts of black fruit with a touch of mint, tar and earth. This really surprised me considering the "Rutherford" appelation. I always think of Rutherford as pretty red fruit but this isn't you typical valley floor offering. Strangely, the colors of these wines almost resembled their style. The Sloan was a dark black/purple with a slight brown tinge on the rim while the Shafer was a brilliant, dense red throughout. On the palate these two wines were worlds apart as well. The Sloan was thick, offering layer after layer on the palate. I made a comment that it was like going to Chuck-e-Cheese and playing the game where the little heads pop up and you try to smash them down. Flavors would jump out all over the place for minutes after swallowing and trying to pinpoint them was just as challenging. The Shafer was seamless in the mouth. The description of iron fist/velvet glove was going around the table. Red fruits were everywhere in this wine. It was very layered and deep with a finish that just sang like a choir. What surprised me was how approachable these wines seemed. The tannins were are in check and very well balanced with food. It wasn't until our plates were removed that I realized how big these guys really were. Prime, dry-aged meat cut through any harshness these brutes had. Without food they were so tannic and packed, I have no idea how anyone could evaluate them at this stage of development. Both wines were beautiful and have many years of development ahead of them. Be very happy if you have some of either in your cellar.

On to dessert. We had two cookie plates and the pumpkin fritters. Jen didn't care for the fritters but I quite enjoyed them, as they were not your typical sweet ending. I ordered the Girard Zin to go with our selections, as I wanted a more structured Zin to follow the brutes of Cabernet’s that preceded our last selections. The nose soared off this guy showing a nice pepper, herb, red fruit and slight barnyard note on the nose. The palate was very refined, not showing any trace of being over-ripe. Very well balanced and not very reminiscent of what today’s Zin’s are trying to achieve. This paired perfectly with the pumpkin fritters and provided a nice end to the evening.

If you are going to St Helena any time in the near future and are craving some hunks of beef, make sure to head into Press. It was a very memorable evening. Ask ttpepper if you don't believe me, he seemed to be enjoying his evening as well. Wink

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