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Written by Nikitas Magel   

The room of "Rich White" wines" true to its name, featured fuller bodied whites heavily represented by Chardonnay, ranging from the leaner and minerally Chablis to more fruit-obvious examples from the New World.  Head and shoulders among them was the exquisite 2005 Puligny-Montrachet (Les Pucelles) by Domaine Leflaive ($212).  And while I haven't a point of reference to indicate how it compares to other wines of the region — being that it's the first Premier Cru white Burgundy I've had the good fortune to taste — I can safely state that it was nothing short of sublime.   In a very different style was the 2004 Reeves Point Chardonnay by Jacob's Creek, a producer known for its value-priced wines, but which nevertheless demonstrated its ability to bring to the market a wine of unique character and quality.  Additional standouts came in the form of other varietals, including Brundlmayer's 2002 Kamptal Alte Reben Gruner Veltliner and Tahbilk's value-driven 2006 Nagambie Lakes Marsanne.  Different styles of Pinot Gris were also showcased, with a fine example in Marcel Deiss's 2004 Beblenheim, hailing from Alsace, along with King Estate's unctuous 2006 Vin Glace from Oregon, where the varietal has comfortably made a second home for itself.  And finally, the standout deserving of very special mention was the extraodinarily seductive 2002 Venezia Giulia Bianco Breg Anfora by Gravner ($110), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling, whose innocuous start on the palate belies what ultimately amounts to a gorgeously balanced elixir of subtlety and power that just about knocked my socks off.   To pair with these and the other rich white wines represented, Local Restaurant & Wine Merchant presented a few preparations: Roquefort Cheese with Caramalized Pear; Walnuts with a Black Pepper Gastric; Goat Cheese Profiteroles (Cheese Puffs); and Hard Boiled Egg and Shrimp Sandwich with a Cucumber, Lemon, Dill, & Mustard Aioli.

The room of "Austrian, Italian, Iberian" wines featured red and primarily full-bodied examples from those regions.  Presenting themselves as fine ambassadors of their Austrian homeland were Feiler-Artinger's delicious 2005 Burgenland Umriss Blaufrankisch ($40) and the somewhat more value-driven 2005 Mittelburgenland Hochacker Blaufrankisch ($20) by Weninger.   Standing out among the handful of powerhouses from Tuscany and Piedmont were the breathtaking 2005 Bolgheri Paleo by Le Macchiole (with a retail value to match, of $110) and the fantastic 2004 Barbaresco Sori Rio Sordo by Ca' Rome' di Romano Marengo ($35).  Iberian XXX.  Alongside these wines SPQR featured Fresh Ricotta with Winter Squash Sott'olio: a small crostini, topped with some fresh ricotta and a mix of roasted, marinated butternut squash and red onion that is seasoned with red wine vinegar and chile flake.

In the room of "Rhône Family" wines were a wide range of styles, all involving Syrah.  True to its origin in the northern Rhône, E. Guigal's 2004 Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis presented with an arresting profile of smokey and peppery notes overlaying its sweaty aromas and savory flavors.  Hailing from the warmer southern Rhône was the richly black-fruit-driven, plummy, and herbaceous 2005 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Perrin et Fils.  Showcasing the deeper and more expressive fruit-driven style of this noble Rhône varietal were the New World winners, the standouts of which for me were Penfolds' powerful 2004 Barossa Valley RWT Shiraz and Qupé's sumptuous 2005 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah.  Beautifully balancing the bold fruit and spicy flavors of these wines were the Duck Rillettes with Balsamic Glaze on Grilled Crostini, prepared by Wood Tavern.

Bringing up the end of the Top 100 tour was a strong showing of New World Cabernet Sauvignon as showcased in the "Cabernet Family" room.  Standouts hailing from Chile's Maipo Valley were Vina Pérez Cruz's 2005 Liguai ($40) and Santa Rita's 2004 Casa Real ($60), both intense and spicy with lush blackcurrant fruit and the signature hints of mint that make Chilean Cabernets a personal favorite of mine.  Not suprisingly, Napa had more than its share of winning powerhouse wines present, presenting the rare opportunity to taste some very special Cabernets.  The highlights among those, for me: Beaulieu Vineyard's 2004 Georges de Latour ($95) with black pepper and licorice underlying its rich dark fruit; Diamond Creek's 2004 Red Rock Terrace ($175), with more of the vibrant blackcurrant and mint flavors I so admire, along with delightfully smooth tannins; and Storybook Mountain's 2004 Seps Estate, a truly exemplary wine performing well above its retail value ($65).  Showcasing a softer, somewhat prettier interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon, typical of the Walla Walla Valley from which they hailed, were the standouts by L'Ecole No. 41 ($50) and Pepper Bridge ($55), with their respective 2005 vintages.  And finally, a final standout from a personal favorite among Australian regions, Coonawarra, was Yalumba's 2004 The Menzies ($40).



 

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