There are occasions in everyone's lives when the choice of food and wine is of special importance. To cite an example, my Christmas dinner had great moments balanced with curious disappointments. Dinner began with a spinach salad, glisteningly dressed with a most wonderful and beguiling vinaigrette by chef Ivan Harrison of the Tam O' Shanter Inn in Los Angeles. It was even better than expected, but the wines set off an immediate excursion to alternate selections.
The first wine that had been chosen should have been superb, but a year had passed since the last tasting. Fourteen years is quite a long time for a Chardonnay wine to last, but the 1970 Meursault-Perrieres selection of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin in the Leroy collection, once a poem of perfection, had begun to show signs of age. So a substitution was made: a beautifully packaged, young California Chardonnay from Newton Vineyard, their 1982 Napa Valley release. Alas, it was in some kind of ugly-duckling period, not all together, its component parts of wood and grape in awkward, almost unpleasant disarray. From the same grab bag of current release samples, we chose another, hoping that the third selection would be a winner--and it was. The Fisher Vineyards 1983 Sonoma County Everyday Chardonnay was nothing short of stunning.
I telephoned vintner Fred Fisher, of the auto-body-making family, now a happy wine maker, to ask about the curious title of the wine. Why "Everyday Chardonnay"?
"Well," he said, "I didn't want it to be confused with our regular released Chardonnay, and I don't particularly like the idea of secondary labels to compete with our regular premium 1982 Chardonnay. The difference here is only that it is one lot that we felt was not quite as complex. It happens to come from a single Carneros vineyard. Our regular 1983 Chardonnay will not be released until next May at $14. The Everyday Chardonnay 1983 has been selling for about $8."
With a very moist and done-to-perfection roast turkey, we had a wine that I'd been saving for a most special time--Leroy Chapelle-Chambertin 1964, one of the few wines to which I had ever given an unequivocal 20 points for perfection. In my first tasting notes I had described it with the unrestrained comment: "And the angels sing!" It was, if possible, even more glorious than I had remembered. Its price one year ago was $109.16, and if your wine merchant has any, at any price, and you want to know the heights to which Pinot Noir can ascend, buy it.
With dessert--a Villa d'Este torta di ricotta with a crushed macadamia nut crust--I decided to try a bottle of golden wine that had been sent to me by John Parducci, who was most anxious for my reaction. The label reads: "Chateau Marjon (a deft combination of Margaret and John) 1982 Mendocino County Sauterne, Talmage Ranch / Premier Bottling."
On a Bordeaux bottle, perhaps it's being a bit picky to suggest that the correct spelling is Sauternes, with the final "s," but then, generic California sauterne was always spelled that way. The wine? I hadn't a clue as to its breed. There was botrytis faintly giving intrigue to the bouquet. The sweetness was balanced with good, healthy acidity, making it an ideal companion to the cheesecake.
Needless to say, I called Parducci to compliment him upon the wine and asked about its grape origins. "You know," he said, "it's 100% botrytised Chardonnay. It came in at 28.5 degrees Balling. I've been tasting and testing it at regular intervals, and it keeps changing. It has the exact analysis of a 1959 Chateau Suduiraut--12% residual and 1.2% total acidity--but it does not have the same richness of the French Sauternes. But it's changing. No one, you included, guessed it's pure Chardonnay." Robert L. Balzer welcomes letters from readers and will answer those of general interest in this column. He regrets that he cannot answer mail personally. Address your letters to Robert L. Balzer, Home magazine, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.