Drink the Allocation Party

The Lineup

A few weeks back, I mentioned the madness of the spring mailer season.  In order to make some room for the new incoming stuff, we decided to have our wine geek friends (there are about a dozen of us in the hard core group) over to drink some of the stuff that was already here.  Invitations went out a month or so ago, which is when our menu planning started. 

The first decision was on what and how much to pour.  I always use the same basic math to tell me how much, and then use whatever is divisible by a whole number to narrow down the number of choices. Knowing this crowd, I figure roughly 2/3 bottle per person.  With twelve of us, that makes 8 bottles, so the only reasonable number of choices was four.  I wanted to do some representative spread of what we get, which is fairly narrow in scope, so I chose:

  • 2008 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Southing
  • 2008 Martinelli Pinot Noir Moonshine Ranch
  • 2005 Quilceda Creek Red Wine Columbia Valley
  • 2009 Martinelli Zinfandel Giuseppe & Luisa

Glasses Ready for Action

I picked the Sea Smoke and Martinelli because although they’re both California Pinots, they’re quite different in style.  I chose the Quilceda Creek because it’s the only non-California allocation we get (and it’s ridiculously good).  The Giuseppe & Luisa is one of The Rocket Scientist’s favorites and we knew exactly what we wanted to pair with it from the get-go.

After deciding what we wanted to drink, we set about the task of thinking up dishes to go with them.  We wanted light appetizers, and things that accentuated the character of the wine.  We also wanted one-bite items that our friends could either put on a little plate or just grab from the dish and consume without utensils.  Our first draft included:

  • Sea Smoke:  “BLT” Gougeres with pancetta, cream cheese, sun-dried tomato, and chive
  • Martinelli Pinot:  Goat-cheese and roasted red pepper stuffed baby bellas topped with smoked paprika and pine nuts
  • Quilceda Creek:  Cheese plate
  • Martinelli Zin:  Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Dark Chocolate Corks

The gougeres idea was the only thing we hadn’t actually made before, so we did a test run the previous week.  Fortunately, we figured out then (instead of when guests ate them) that it simply didn’t work.  To make a long story modestly short, the Emmentaler in the gougere mix clashed terribly with the cream cheese.  We had created a little monstrosity. 

Gouda Robusto, Purple Haze, and Quadrello di Bufala

We sat and went back to the drawing board, focusing on what character to draw out of the wine.  I find Pinot Noir to be an excellent food wine, because the scope of things you can pair with it is broad.  We worked our way around to smoked meats (which I find especially good with the rich, sweet fruit of the Cali Pinots), root vegetables, and dark green herbs (like rosemary or tarragon), and we were off to the races.  We riffed an Ina Garten recipe for celery root remoulade, and there we were.  We made a version of the remoulade and got a smoked turkey breast from Honeybaked Ham (next time, I’ll have them leave off the glaze).  We stuffed a little into each slice of turkey, divided with toothpicks, and sliced in half. 

The cheese plate felt a little naked, so we dressed it up.  The final list looked like this: 

  • Sea Smoke:  Smoked turkey rolls stuffed with celeriac remoulade
  • Martinelli Pinot:  Goat-cheese and roasted red pepper stuffed baby bellas topped with smoked paprika and pine nuts
  • Quilceda Creek:  Cheese plate with almonds, quince paste, honeycomb, and Castelvetrano olives with homemade parm and rosemary crackers
  • Martinelli Zin:  Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Dark Chocolate Corks

Putting everything together and laying it out was easy.  I’ll have recipes for the remoulade, stuffed mushrooms, and homemade crackers in the upcoming days.  This event, however, was all about the wine.  The Quilceda Creek and the Martinelli Zin were showing quite a bit of sediment in the bottles, so I decanted them.  There are few worse wine experiences (or subsequent headaches) than chewing on some sediment.

I suggested that folks taste them in the order above.  I don’t believe that a tasting is just a bunch of bottles laid out.  A tasting is an orchestrated symphony, with one movement flowing into another.  Get to the crescendo too early, and what follows dulls in comparison.  My basic idea is to go from lighter to heavier or less fruit to more.  That way the earlier tastes don’t get washed out by the later.  I’m always a little careful when I’m serving a high-octane Zin because it can be a complete palate-killer.  A tasty, tasty palate-killer.

Going in, I was actually a little worried that the Sea Smoke, a very delicate representation of California Pinot, was going to get overwhelmed by the other three.  I’ve likened it before to stealing a kiss from the prom queen, while the Martinelli is like picking up two naughty flight attendants in the airport bar.  It turns out that my fears were unfounded.

The Sea Smoke was the gang’s favorite.  It showed the classic Pinot berry character, with a wonderful floral element, and a delicate mouthfeel.  It was all class and elegance, a fine example of what a California winemaker can do with Pinot without having to go so far over the top.  There were a number of suggestions that we should drink more of this and sooner rather than later.

2008 Martinelli Pinot Noir Moonshine Ranch

The Martinelli Pinot was the exact opposite.  It was rich and undeniable.  It had a darkness that the Sea Smoke didn’t, as well as a plethora of spices on both the nose and palate.     The fruit was front-and-center, mouth coating, and long.  I imagine the experts could write volumes on the hows and whys of the contrast between these two wines, made from the same grape, grown not terribly far from each other (Martinelli in the Russian River Valley, Sea Smoke in the Santa Rita Hills). 

Quilceda Creek, decanted

The Quilceda Creek is my kind of juice:  Big, bold, expressive Cab blended with a healthy dose of Cabernet Franc.  Plush tannins and rich fruit with notes of cigar box and spices led me to repeat my supposition that some of the best Cab in this country is being made in Washington State, specifically in the Columbia Valley, and even more specifically at Quilceda Creek.  The fact that the blend is made with their declassified grapes amazes me.  If this is their second-best stuff, I can’t wait until the four (so far) vintages of their signature Cab that I have mature.

2009 Martinelli Zinfandel Giuseppe & Luisa

The Guiseppe & Luisa was a powerful finisher.  Pairing it with dark chocolate has become a bit of a habit around here, whether that’s something cakey like the corks (which I’ll confess that although we mostly make them from the scratch recipe, this time we picked up the mix at Williams-Sonoma) or very simply a brick of something high quality.  As we were discussing the wines, everyone kept referring to the Zin as “The Rocket Fuel,” which is certainly was, coming in at 16.5% alcohol.  Being high-octane didn’t detract from the ripe fruit, powerful tannic structure, and rich flavors.  I think Robert Parker described it as “hedonistic,” which is certainly spot-on. 

The Sea Smoke was the clear winner, with the Quilceda Creek and the Zin tying for second place, divided simply on lines of preference.  The Martinelli Pinot brought up the rear, but not by much.  Everyone was quick to point out that were were talking about tiny gradations, and that all the wines were extremely well-made.  On a 100-point scale, they all got somewhere between 91-93 points, and everyone noted they’d be happy to drink any one of them again.  I know this is true since every bottle was bone dry by evening’s end despite the fact that two of the original twelve had to cancel.  Eight bottles for ten people is a successful night indeed. 


About sheldonmenery

Sheldon Menery is a self-taught food and wine aficionado who has circled the globe in search of the riches it has to offer. He's wined and dined at some of the best (and worst) places in the world.
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4 Responses to Drink the Allocation Party

  1. Jamey says:

    Geez, I wish you still lived nearby. This is my kind of party!!

  2. Jamey says:

    Oh and I will be writing every single one of these down to do my own tasting. Maybe even all by myself. lol! Thanks for all the suggestions.

  3. Pingback: Lobster and Risotto Dinner for Two | Discoveries in Food and Wine

  4. Pingback: Formatting Sunday Brunch | Discoveries in Food and Wine

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