California Cabernet
at Backstreet Wine Salon, Phoenix (4/17/2008)

One of the great pleasures of Internet wine boards is being able to meet up with like-minded winos almost anywhere you travel. My trip to Phoenix last week was no exception. I made arrangements to meet up with Chris Adamson, Steve Lenzo, and their friends at Backstreet Wine Salon. In addition to Chris and Steve, Chae Hallet, Kerry & Cindy Weatherford, and Brad & Karen Senetza were able to join us. The theme was California Cab. The wines, the food, the location, the service, and most of all, the company were fabulous!

Before I get to the wines, I want to mention that Backstreet is a terrific place. It is owned by Jock Wulffson. [Sadly, Backstreet is no longer in business.] Even though he was forced to be in Paris during my visit, his hospitality could still be felt. The exceptional, wine-friendly service we received throughout the night was outstanding. They provided whatever we needed, but still respected the fact that we knew what we were doing with our wines. There was no corkage. The food at Backstreet is excellent and well-matched to the wine. Executive Chef Patrice Barry really knows what she is doing in the kitchen. I will describe my dishes along with the wines and photos.

Click on an image for a larger view of that image.

The foyer, wine shop, and art gallery.


Chris got the evening off to a warm start with a bottle of NV Mumm de Cramant Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Champagne, a delightful, toasty flavorful sparkling wine. Backstreet's Executive Chef Patrice Barry provided a simple and extraordinary accompaniment: Popcorn with White Truffle Butter. HFS! This was really good. Simple, tasty. It meant we didn't have to fuss with the menus right off the bat, and could focus getting to know each other, planning the order of the reds, and other things that often get a wine dinner off to a slow start. We were each provided with a small bowl of the truffle popcorn, but a punchbowl full of it was next to our table for refills.

Popcorn with Truffle Butter.

Next was a 2004 Kistler Chardonnay from Kistler Vineyard. White wine doesn't get too much better than this wine, which went even better with the truffle popcorn than the Champagne did. Wonderfully complex nose of toast, lemon custard, and an appealing hint of chickenshit. Thick, rich, and stunningly complex in the mouth. A tour de force! 95 points. (97 with the popcorn!)

Patrice Barry, Backstreet Executive Chef,
behind Kerry and Cindy Weatherford.

Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Flight

Chris proposed a little game here. As we poured each wine in this flight, we would go around the table and everyone would tell a story about their lives during that year. This was a terrific way to relax and get to know each other. (Even if it did make me feel old that I was in college in 1974, while another person had not be born yet!) Still, I highly recommend you try this at your next offline where some people have never met before.

The nose of the 1974 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet is absolutely incredible! There is no doubt that if this were served blind, I would have been sure it was a mature Left Bank Bordeaux with its nose of saddle leather, mulch, and currants. The palate does not quite match the nose. It's still very tannic, or perhaps the fruit has just faded on this bottle. If you have this wine, definitely give it a try. I think it is teetering on the edge. Still a joy to drink now. 93 points.

Warm Beet Root Salad with Stilton Cheese. Marvelous!

The 1987 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet has a very similar nose, but here the fruit dominates the mulch and saddle leather, so it doesn't have quite the ethereal quality of the nose of the 74. In the mouth, the wine is perfectly balanced between fruit and earth flavors. This wine is right at its peak, I believe. It has terrific length. (I actually wrote that twice in my handwritten notes.) If you have this, try it. Few Cali Cabs could eclipse the harmony and balance of this great wine. 96 points.

Once again, a very similar nose on the 1994 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet, but this one is much less giving. On the palate, the fruit and structure are dense. Clearly this is headed in the same direction as the 74 and the 87, and could use another 5-10 years (or a long decant) to fully show its stuff. 93–97 points.

Finally (for this flight), the 2004 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet is also cut from the same cloth as the 74 and 87, but now very young. The blackberry fruit is more like fruit concentrate, it is so intense. Made in a similar style, it is fairly drinkable now, but clearly will show more complexity in 10-15 years. 92–94 points.

Flight 2

The 1994 Dalla Valle Napa Cabernet is a rich juicy package of intense ripe red fruit. Still showing loads of ripe tannins which are well balanced with the intense fruit. The nose shows hints of tobacco and licorice. A delicious wine which shows more fruit intensity than any of the Mondavi reserves above. It also supports a very long finish. Very tasty today with red meat. Should get even better for 10-15 years. 94–96 points.

My main course: Grilled Sirloin, Rack of Lamb, and Toulouse Sausage. Seriously tasty!

The 1997 Pahlmeyer Propriety Red has a stunning nose with oodles of black and red fruits and hints of various exotic spices. The mouth contains loads of thick, rich, sweet black fruit. It is incredibly rich and extracted with a super-long finish. Might get better over the next 15–20 years, but why wait when such immense pleasure is available now? 97–98 points. WOTN!

Kerry standing behind Chris and Chae.

Brad and Karen Senetza.

Steve Lenzo and me.

As you can see, a good time was had by all!

Again, thanks to Chris and Steve and the whole gang for a terrific evening for this stranger in a strange land. Also, big thanks to Patrice and Jock and the staff at Backstreet!




All orignal content © Ken Vastola