Friday, November 25, 2005

Awesome Williams-Selyem Tasting in "the OC"

One of the more interesting wine tastings I attended was a massive vertical tasting of Williams-Selyem Pinot Noirs hosted by Rusty Gaffney, M.D. aka "The Prince of Pinot" in The OC, Fall 2004. Williams-Selyem has an almost cult-like following amongst lovers of the pinot grape. The magical Sonoma region, the garage-style of wine making, and the old-world, dare I say burgundian style of pinot they make, have all lent themselves to the mystique that is Williams-Selyem.

Rusty's crew gathered in the PDR at Mr Stox Restaurant, Anaheim, for what was to be a memorable tasting. The 4 vintages presented were 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995 from both the Allen and Olivet Lane vineyards. In addition, there was a bottle of 1995 Rochioli vineyard, which is the most highly prized of the stable of pinots produced. These represented the best vintages for Williams-Selyem in the 90s. Sadly, many diehard fans feel the wines have never been quite the same since the winery was sold in 1997.

The aperetif for the night was Araujo Sauvignon Blanc Eisele Vineyard 2003, served with Chilled Lobster Sevruga Cavier Canapes. The pinots were served in 2 flights of 4. Allen and Olivet Lane vineyard's 1991s and 1992s were served with Porcini Dusted Salmon with Greens and Red Beet Emulsion. From a wine and food pairing standpoint, the beets in particular were lovely together with pinot. 1994s and 1995s, together with 1995 Rochioli Vineyard were served with Veal Tenderloin with Grain rice, Carrot Puree, and Thyme reduction. By the chef's own admission, he was nervous planning the menu because of the age of the pinots, which ranged 9-13 years. All bottles were from Rusty's personal cellar except for Olivet Lane 1994, which was from Joe Carpello, a good buddy of his.

Flight #1 - My favorite wine of this flight was the Allen 91. Lovely ruby red color. Fantastic complexity on the nose of waxy, red fruit, farm and shrooms. Given the promise of the nose, the palate was disappointing. The nose however, was amazing. Even after my glass was empty, lovely aromas continued to emanate from it for over an hour. The 92 Allen was slightly more subdued with the acid coming on a bit strong for me, but otherwise much to be admired stylistically. In general, the 91 and 92 Olivets had more structure, with brighter and fresher fruits. Overall however, lacked the complexity and finesse of the Allen bottlings.

Flight #2 - Again my favorites were the Allens. 94 was better on me than 95. The 94 being essentially softer, elegant, exuding more class. The 95, more brawny, with the alcohol searing through a little. As for the Olivets, 94 was unfortunately corked. Of all the Olivets, the 95 had the best nose, and the fruit/acid/wood balance was near perfect, with a super long finish. Next was the vividly colored Rochioli 95. On the palate, a " fruit bomb" as my buddy, Reggie, would say. Tannins were fine and it had lovely bones. Unfortunately, it began to collapse quickly, and the balance became disjointed within a half hour.

Things I think after attending the tasting:

1. California pinot from the finest producers do age and gain complexity, but should probably be drunk within a 7 - 10 year time frame, tops.

2. Williams-Selyem pinots of this era would satisfy even the most hardened of old world pinot-philes. Served blind (especially the Allens), one would be hard put to tell it apart from a burgundy.

3. The pursuit of drinking great pinot noir requires deep pockets, excellent storage, and an incredible amount of patience.

4. This tasting was a treat and would probably be difficult to replicate.

5. It sucks that these are Rusty's last bottles of Williams-Selyem pinots from these great vintages.

6. When pinot noir is on song, it is one of life's most pleasurable experiences.


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