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Chalk Talk: Caymus Vineyards Wine Dinner at Pappas Bros. Restaurant in Dallas

He went, he drank, he wrote. Go, Andrew.

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or if winemaking estates follow each other around doing wine dinners, but Dallas has been visited by some top people in the business lately. Last week we had Rutherford winemaking estate, Quintessa, in town and this week there was a big dog tasting of wines from another top line Rutherford estate, Caymus Vineyards. Coincidence or not, I hope this continues. These wines are great.

This time the location was Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Dallas. The tasting was sponsored by the restaurant and led by Wine Director, Barbara Werley. She is a Master Sommelier. Pappas wine cellar has 2,250 wine selections in an inventory of 30,000 bottles, so if you accidentally locked yourself inside you could live for several months. You would also be more liquid than most big banks.

Jump for fun.

Here is a picture of the cellar, where they seem to have run out of shelf space.

As an aperitif we started with 2008 Belle Glos “Yorkville Highlands” Mendocino County Pinot Noir Blanc. This is a rosé Pinot Noir from the cool climate Mendocino area. It is light, straightforward and ideal for hot summer days. It just happened to be 92º outside so this wine did the trick. It is named after founder Charlie Wagner’s wife, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner. They originally purchased the land and farmed the fruit orchards. In the 1960s they planted Pinot Noir, Johannisberg Riesling, and some Cabernet Sauvignon.

The large selection of grapes is explained by the fact that that was an era of great experimentation. Nobody knew what would grow best. Fortunately for Charlie, his Cabernet Sauvignon clone came from a famous viticulturalist, Nathan Fay. The Fay vineyard fruit was used in several top California Cabernet Sauvignons.

Eventually, they standardized on Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate vineyard, but over time grew or bought other grapes from elsewhere for wines like this Pinot Noir.

The first course was Lightly Smoked King Salmon. Mine was actually quite heavily smoked although I don’t say that as a negative. It was served with two Pinot Noirs made by Caymus labels: 2008 Belle Glos “Las Alturas” Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and 2007 Belle Glos “Clark & Telephone” Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. Apparently, a wine gets named “Clark & Telephone” when the vineyard is at the corner of roads with those names. It must also help in finding it if you have had a little too much to drink. These were both pleasant Pinot Noirs. Both were very Californian in their ripe, forward fruit, but the Clark & Telephone was my preference, on account of it being more tannic.

Our second course was Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Belly, Red Wine Fig Moustarda, Young Watercress. The pork belly was edged with a layer of fat that melted in the mouth. The outer layer was as crisp as a wafer. The interior just melted under the tongue. At the bottom the meat was soft and succulent, with vivid pork flavors. These results were obtained by cooking the pork belly sous vide, a method of food preparation that, when used for immediate service, involves cooking the ingredient (usually some type of protein) in a bag at its final serving temperature. It can produce flavors and textures unapproachable with other cooking techniques. Pork is considered to be one of its poster children. Chef Michael Gaspard cooked this belly for 12 hours at 143ºF. He explained that he and his brigade like cooking for wine dinners because it allows them to step outside the norm of steak and lobster. This is a great example of novel technique applied to the right ingredients.

With this we had two examples of Caymus’ ‘regular’ Cabernet sauvignon. The 2006 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 vintage of the same wine. The 2006 was open, fruit-forward, and ready to drink (although it could be kept for 5 years if you prefer an older style). The nose was of blackberries and full of charm. The soft tannins made this wine easy to drink. The 2007 (either because of its youth, or the weather that year) was closed and needed more time. However, it may eventually be the better wine.

The third course was Roasted Fillet of Beef, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Warm Bacon Vinaigrette. Again, the main protein was cooked sous vide (in this case, for two and a half hours at 138ºF). Why the shorter time? Fillet is an inherently tender cut. It just needs to be in the water bath long enough to reach its final temperature. No tenderization needed. This fillet was indeed soft and succulent. The tomatoes added the acid that lemon juice adds when used as a condiment and the bacon vinaigrette: well, bacon always works.

Despite the enduring pleasant memories of that steak, I still have to make the wine the star of the course. This was the course where we had the flagship of the Caymus wines, the one upon which the reputation of the winery hangs or falls. This was the course where they served the Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Special Selection is only produced in good years. It is made from estate grown grapes, and only from some of them. It is the only wine ever to win Wine of The Year from The Wine Spectator twice. We tasted 2007, 2000 and 1983. 1983 is so old it was produced before anybody knew that Jimmy Johnson would be appointed coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Before anybody had heard of Bill Clinton (except maybe Gennifer Flowers). Before that legendary piece of automotive engineering, the AMC Pacer, had exited the road. Unfortunately, it was on the downhill. Still pleasant and very drinkable, this wine would have been better a decade ago. Nonetheless, it was oaky, dusty Rutherford Cabernet at its most paradigmatic. It was a memorable experience to have tasted it. The 2000 and 2007 however were in great shape. My favorite, on account of its intensity, was the 2007, but I would keep it 10 years before trying it again.

Finally dessert. Roasted Peach Tart, Peach Gelato. Gelato made in-house. The wine was a Caymus property: 2004 Mer Soleil “Late” Santa Lucia Highlands Viognier. A heart-warming, but not mouth cloying, sweet wine.

Overall, this tasting was a grade A experience. The five examples of Caymus’ Cabernet Sauvignon gave us a real feel for what the winery can do. Barbara Werley circulated ready to answer questions about the wine. The chef is harder to pin down, but a Boston Crab will do the trick, then he talks freely and knowledgably. The food reached wider than just steak, and was prepared to a tee. Pappas does these kinds of wine dinners regularly. Fisher Vineyards is on July 9th ($175) and a more casual event “BBQ and Pool Wines” ($45) is on June 18th. There are 12 wines, and hors d’oeuvres. To sign up to be notified of future events go here.

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