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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Dinner with the Britts - March, 2011

Way back in the early '90's, I tried a CraneCanyon Zin that I liked quite a bit. I wrote GardnerBritt how much I was impressed by it and it sparked a long-time friendship that has been dormant for the last few yrs. Last Fall, Gardner ran into MikeOfficer at a wine shipping place and Gardner asked him about me. Mike gave him my e-mail and we reconnected. Gardner suggested we get together for a pizza dinner next time I was in the area (Gardner has an outdoor wood-fired oven & is a huge pizza afficinado). So I set aside the Fri afore RhoneRangers for just that event.

Left Berkeley early in morning for the drive up to Napa and a must-stop at the FattedCalf. When it comes to pig parts, FattedCalf is one of the best around (after SalumiCuredMeats and Adesso). Picked up some chorizo and leaf lard to take home and some rillettes for dinner that night. Decided to go thru Calistoga for a visit with a very dear friend, MX at Enoteca. Then a stop at Siduri to pay my bill and the must-stop at BottleBarn.

Took a leasurily drive up into the BennettVlly and a short driving tour, as I'd not seen it in daylight
and not been there since my list dinner at Gardner's. It's a beautiful, if compact, valley. Some pretty great wines come out of there these days.

Then over to the Britt's. Gardner was finishing up his prep work in the kitchen. Alas, the rain meant no outdoor pizzas that night. As he went off to clean up, he handed me this 10-page bound menu of the night's festivities. I was dumbfounded. Eight courses, including 4 pizza courses (we wound up skipping 2 courses as the evening approached midnight). Clearly, as we say, "a passion run amok". It was an incredible culinary and vinous tour-de-force.

Joining Gardner & wife Debbie were special guests, Mike & Kendall Officer. In addition to their
daughter, Elise, home on spring break from UCLA, was their son, David, and his fiancee, Pany. When I was last there at the Britts in the mid-'90's, son David, then a teenager, expressed an interest in science (or SCIENCE as we do it at LosAlamos). To encourage David's interest in Science, I invited him and Gardner out for a visit, which they did a year later. I lined them up w/ talks from some of our people who do real Science here (unlike us code-weenies) and a tour of the LosAlamos Meson Physics Facilities. David swallowed this Science bait hook/line and sinker and went on to get his PhD at UCLA in Inorganic Chemistry and now works in the area of carbon
sequestration at LawrenceBerkeleyLaboratory...not far from where SteveEdmunds first made his wine. A pretty incredible cast of characters that ensured a rollicking discussion on food/wine/ Science/ kids/tattoos & body piercings and a mind-boggling array of topics well into the wee hours of the morning. Alas, none of the world's problems were solved that night. But we gave it our best shot...sorta. And, alas, no pre-Columbian whistle concerts by Gardner. When I'd had dinner at the Britt's some yrs ago & David was a teenager; towards the end of the evening Gardner serenaded us by playing some of his ancient whistles. Poor David was mortified & embarassed by his Dad's immature behavior and pleaded...."Awwwwwww, Dad...please"!! I think David has matured
sufficiently by now that he'd have just rolled his eyes and let it go.... Dad just being Dad.

I'll forgo a description of the incredible food other than say the pizzas were some of the best I've had. The Yin/Yang pizza, sculpted in that design, was amazingly inventive. Daughter Elise had to help Gardner w/ the Yin/Yang symbol, however. Too hard a task for scientist-types. One important take-away lesson I got: form and dress your pizzas on the pizza paddle atop a sheet of parchment paper. The paper is invisible to the pizza's crust and it easily slides, paper & all, right onto the pizza stone. It's like magic and no corn flour all over your oven and burning to a crisp.

The wines poured by the talented Somm were:

  1. PacherHof Val d'Isarco GrunerVeltliner 2009: Light yellow color; strong stoney/earthy/mineral very little fruit no obvious GV nose; full/rich bit tangy/grapefruity stoney/chalky/mineral flavor w/ a paucity of fruit; med.short stoney/steely/minerally little fruit finish; the AltoAdige terroir trumps any GV fruit that is lurking here; pleasant enough wine but nearly no GV character. $25.00
  2. Dom.Ostertag Fronholz Muscat 2008: Light yellow color; strong floral/muscatty bit mineral/valve oil lovely nose; tart very dry Muscatty/floral/flowery some mineral/valve oil complex flavor; med.long tart/dry/austere very floral/ muscatty slight valve oil finish; an absolutely lovely old-timey Alsatian Muscat.
  3. Dom.Tempier Bandol Rose 2009: Pale salmon color; rather earthy/cranberry bit mineral slight fruit nose; very tart/austere some tannic rather earthy/stoney little fruit flavor; med.long tart/dry/austere bit tannic stoney/wet pavement/earthy finish; terroir trumps any fruit; a very dry austere rose.
  4. Charles Joguet Chinon Rose 2009: Light salmon color; slight herbal/earthy some bright cherry fragrant nose; bit richer some buttery/ripe light herbal/earthy light tannic flavor; med.long light cherry/buttery some herbal/earthy finish w/ light tannins; nice Chinon Rose on the richer/lusher side.
  5. VieuxTelegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2008: Light gold color; bit honeyed strong earthy/stoney slight herbal/hay-mow classic CdPBlanc perfumed nose; tart rather stoney/earthy slight herbal/waxy light floral/appley bit hard flavor; long light waxy/beeswax rather stoney/earthy slight honeyed finish; pretty classic stoney CdPBlanc that should be great in 10 yrs.
  6. Jean-Marc Vincent Auxey-Duresses 'Les Hautes' 2006: Light yellow color;lovely complex ripe/melony/Chard some toasty/oak/butterscotch fragrant nose; fairly tart rich some toasty/charred/oak strong minerally/chalky/earthy light melony/Chard flavor; very long light toasty/charred/oak slight melony/Chard/lemony fairly stoney/mineral finish; still a young Chard but very attractive mineral/stoney character w/ fair amount of oak.
  7. Ballot-Millot Pommard-Rugiens 1987: Light slight browning color; lovely Burgundian/smokey/pencilly/ toasty/oak light fruit/floral/violets/cherry complex old-Burgundy nose; tart smokey/pencilly/oak/ Burgundian light floral/violets/cherry smooth/polished complex flavor w/ smooth/light tannins; very long smokey/pencilly/toasty/oak light violets/cherry finish w/ polished tannins; an elegant/regal old lady of an old-timey Burgundy thats slipping gracefully into the twilight of her years.
  8. JosephSwan PinotNoir Estate/RRV 1990: Med.color w/ some bricking; strong pencilly/cedary/toasty/ oak very Burgundian slight black cherry/earthy/floral rather complex nose; somewhat tart quite Burgundian/pencilly/cedary some earthy/black cherry/floral slightly dried out/tannic complex flavor; very long/lingering earthy/black cherry strong pencilly/cedary/oak fairly smooth finish; a classic fully-mature JoeSwan Pinot that has great Burgundian character; I thought it was starting to dry out a bit on the palate, but others didn't.
  9. Dom.Tempier Cabassaou 1988: Very dark color w/ little bricking; earthy/plummy/licorice quite intense bit rustic/rough nose; rather tannic/hard/rough intense plummy/licorice/earthy slight toasty/oak flavor; med.long very strong plummy/earthy/licorice/pungent fairly tannic/rough finish; some Mourv fruit but still young/rough/rustic; needs age.
  10. GardnerBritt Mourvedre OldVine SonomaVlly 1990: Dark color w/ no bricking; strong toasty/smokey/ oak intense licorice/chocolaty/plummy some complex nose; soft/round fairly toasty/oak/pungent strong plummy/licorice slight chocolaty/RCCola somewhat complex/pungent flavor; med.long strong toasty/oak plummy/licorice/RCCola some complex/pungent/tarry finish w/ light/smooth tannins; no signs of drying out, smooth/polished tannins and still in wonderful shape.
  11. Carlisle TwoAcres RRV (78 cs; 15.4%; 0.6 tons/acre) 1998: Very dark color; some toasty/oak/ smokey strong plummy/black cherry bit dusty/old vines quite fragrant/perfumed/pungent complex nose; soft/rich/lush plummy/licorice/black cherry some toasty/smokey/oak flavor w/ soft/plush tannins; rather long licorice/pungent/plummy/black cherry fairly toasty/smokey/oak smooth/polished fairly complex finish; can't really think of any wine to compare this with; in wonderful condition and no signs of drying out or going round the bend.
  12. Felsner Icon GrunerVeltliner Eiswein Kremstal 1999: Med.gold color; very strong/intense grapey/fruity quite spicy some honeyed/creme brulee very aromatic nose; quite sweet good acids intense fruity/ grapey/honeyed/ creme brulee somewhat spicy/nutmeg slight peach/peach syrup big/lush/intense flavor; very long/lingering honeyed/creme brulee/spicy/grapey quite sweet finish that goes on & on; more lively & bright and less ponderous than the Kracher Eisweins I've had; can't tell if there was botrytis or not; no obvious Gruner character to me; not showing a lot of evolution and should go on for yrs; beautiful Eiswein.

And the usual stuff from the BloodyPulpit:

1. Since MikeOfficer is a huge Gruner fan (made his first/tiny lot from SteinerVnyd last year), I knew I had to try this wine w/ him when I spied it at WineExpo the week before. The wine was pleasant enough, but spokely of the AltoAdige and had no Gruner character that I could ferret out. Not worth the $25. The dessert Gruner, however, was a whole nuther story; terrific.
2. The GardnerBritt Mourvedre was an interesting bit of history. This was Gardner's very first ho-made wine, made in his garage. It came from a very old vnyd in the SonomaVlly not far from PaganiRanch. Gardner had met the vnyd manager, Clarence, at a social function for doctors and Clarence offered him this old block of Mourv from the centre of this very old vnyd. Gardner took it and made his first wine w/ virtually no training. Came out pretty good, I must say. That old vnyd was purchased in 2005 by JoelPeterson and now is known as the BedrockVnyd. Small world. Mike and Morgan Twain-Peterson are both very passionate about these old vnyds and are now sharing many of the same grape sources.
3. At one time, Gardner had a pretty sizeable production level at CraneCanyon. Because of the sluggish nature of today's wine market and the effort it takes to do the marketing; he has scaled back considerably his current level of production; now made in his garage; focusing on small lots of special grapes he happens onto. We recently tasted some of his older Crane Canyon wines (www.grape-nutz.com/tomhill/11_Jan12.html; that were all doing quite well) and a few of the newer ones. He also make small lots under the Vitruvian and El Milagro label. 


[Additional Wine Reviews from Tom Hill]


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