Thursday night, date night, and we had plans with our Beaune Imports rep Chuck Morris. We were heading over to Benley, our favorite Vietnamese place, the Pho is wicked, the fried cuttlefish perfectly seasoned and topped with a tangy sprinkling of lemon dressed herbs…served as the chef prefers, with no dipping sauce…just a dusting of course salt. The place has a very French lean, (so imagine why I love it) the food is simple, clean and very focused on fresh ingredients and is remarkably refined, one of the best restaurants in Long Beach for sure. Chuck was in charge of bubbles, Amy the white wine and Call-o and I were in charge of red…one bottle each just to be fair.
Call-o and I were the first to arrive and were broken hearted to see the restaurant nearly empty but were reassured by the chef that while things have been slow, they are doing okay, it was just an off night. With bubbles in mind we ordered the starters; fried cuttlefish, eggrolls, (they come with big leaves of basil and mint to wrap them in, yum) and fried shrimp with aioli. I asked our server if she wouldn’t mind opening both bottles of red that I had, “We will be starting with Champagne but I just want to taste these while we wait”.
I was living up to my end of the, “Let’s wreck our cellars” pact and had brought a bottle of 2003 Domaine De Montille Volnay 1er Cru Les Taillepieds and a bottle of 2006 Rhys Alpine Vineyards Pinot Noir. Yes you read me correctly….I brought a domestic Pinot Noir, a bottle sent to me by a friend that wanted to know if it would please my “Burgundian palate”. Always cringe when I hear that by the way, “Oh it tastes Burgundian” no it doesn’t, nor should it. Thankfully my friend had not stepped on that land mine, he just thought it might be a domestic Pinot that I would enjoy drinking.
I poured myself a taste of each and buried my nose in glass number one, ripe fruit, dusty minerals and a faint spicy note. Grabbed glass number two, took a sniff and…ripe fruit, dusty minerals and faint spicy note, “Um…which one is which?” I put the glass down, my eyes blinking rapidly while I retraced my steps and looked at the fill on each bottle, had I mistakenly poured the same wine twice? I pushed both glasses away from me and let them sit while I greeted Amy and Chuck and we cracked into the Champagne. Seemed that 2003 was a bit of a theme that night, Chuck brought the 2003 Agrapart Mineral for us to try. The Mineral was weightier than previous vintages but was still packed with tangy green apple, brown butter and fierce acidity…lovely and a damn fine match for the crunchy cuttlefish.
We opened Amy’s offering, a 2002 Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet, the wine was too cold to get much more than oak on the nose at first, besides I was dying to get back to my Pinots. I pulled my glasses close to me again, worried that my nose was not up to snuff, I had lost my voice earlier that day but was feeling fine and was able to pick out two corked wines from our tasting at The Wine Country that afternoon but... I spun the glass on my right and lowered my nose to the glass, the wine had been sitting for about 30 minutes and now it was clear that this was the domestic. The nose was more assertive had a bit of ripe plum, warmer fruit and I was getting some faint dill way in the back…a green note but not the same kind of stemmy green that I find in Burgundy. I then smelled the glass on the left and it too had settled and it was giving me more aromatics…thing was, they were pretty damn close. The one big tell for me was that sexy smoky thing in the Volnay which I had either missed when I first smelled the wines or wasn’t ready to show itself when we first popped them.
I went back and forth a few times, smelling, tasting and getting a feel for both wines. The Rhys was full of big flavors, big sultry flavors but was very restrained on the palate….seriously elegant, with minerality unlike any Pinot I have had from California, so not typical. The De Montille was from an “off” vintage and was not typical either, the fruit was a tad more cooked than usual, the texture was rounder, the layers were fewer and the acids were pretty soft. It was still delicious don’t get me wrong, still a great wine but….I preferred the Rhys. Now that, that’s so NOT typical!
The Volnay was still lovely and I love wines that speak of where they came from, wear that footprint of place AND vintage and I truly appreciate wines that are not mucked with to cover that. This was what the vines gave the estate that year and this was what a skilled winemaker was able to make from that. I loved it and appreciated it for all that it was, still dug the Rhys though.
We went back to the Chassagne-Montrachet which had warmed up and was now exploding with pears, caramel and browned butter, so sexy and weighty in the mouth, absolutely beautiful wine with a relentless finish. Chuck brought a 1997 Riesling, now I love Sherry and all but this was just dead…poor little thing. We finished dinner and I did something I have never done…I noticed there was about ¼ of a bottle of the Rhys left, I put the cork in it and took it with me…leaving the Burgundy behind. There was just something about that wine, it spoke to me and I wanted to taste it after it had been open overnight. Tasted it Friday morning when I got to work, damn what a wine. Even more complex, even sexier fruit and just seemed to whisper across the palate in the most beautiful way. I think I can safely say it was the most beautiful domestic Pinot Noir I have ever had, the best Pinot? Um, no sorry I have been blessed with some tremendous tasting opportunities in Burgundy and my palate is definitely French favoring but I would drink, buy and taste Rhys Pinots over and over again.
A domestic Pinot Noir trumping a Burgundy and me adding a California Pinot Noir to my list of “must have” wines…so not typical.