Dominus, Grange, and the World’s Finest Comb-Over

| July 16, 2011

I took one sniff of each glass and said a quick prayer of thanks.  It went something along the lines of, “thank God they aren’t corked.”  It was May 21 of this year, and my father’s 60th birthday.  As the day began to wind down we sat side by side in a ludicrous honeymooners’ booth overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sipping a 1994 Dominus and a 1998 Grange, two of my best bottles.  After a half glass of each, that wonderful feeling of warmth ran through my body and I began to truly relax and look back on the day, and on one of the best trips of my life.

Our pilgrimage to Pebble Beach began with a red-eye flight from Dallas to San Jose so that we could get in 18 that same afternoon, after stopping by Gilroy, the Garlic Capital of the World, of course.  I suppose we smelled like hell, and didn’t play much better, but were eager to try the wines I had picked out for our trip.  We started our trip with a corked bottle of 1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia, followed by a faded 1997 Joseph Phelps Backus.  Needless to say, it was a poor showing from ole Joe Phelps.  If you see him, tell him I’m looking for him.  Our second evening involved a peculiar 2001 Marques de Vargas Pradolagar.  It is supposed to be a big tempranillo blend, but did not live up to expectations.  Considering I had seven three putts that same day, neither did my golf game.  Leading up to my Dad’s birthday and our round at Pebble, I could only hope things would take a turn for the better.

We began my Dad’s birthday by teeing off at Pebble Beach.  I will spare you the Jim Nantz play-by-play and just stick with a brief summary of the round.  I played lights-out, my Dad played like Carl Spackler would have in real life, not in Carl’s imagination, and our jolly Swedish playing partners pounded the ball as frequently as they did the airplane bottles of Grey Goose and Cuervo stashed in their bags.  To say the least, it was damned fun.  I took it as a sign that things were pulling a George Jefferson, and movin’ on up.

Since things were headed in the right direction, and since it was, after all, my Dad’s 60th, I figured I would help things along with the aforementioned 1994 Dominus and 1998 Grange.  I wanted to take advantage of the perfect weather and proximity to the ocean too, so I got us reservations at Pacific’s Edge Restaurant.  Zagat or some other hot-shot travel expert named it the best sunset experience in the United States.  How romantic.  Just what you want for a guy’s dinner with your Dad.  But, then again, the wine list was 62 pages long, so we decided to stick with it. 


I called ahead to notify the restaurant of the occasion but, unfortunately, my call must have been taken by a sadistic bastard with an exceptionally poor sense of humor.  When we arrived, the host immediately directed us to a miniscule two-person honeymooners’ booth.  Shoulder-to-shoulder booths are really wonderful for romantic dinners and snuggling.  But, since I had no desire to hold my old man’s hand and whisper sweet nothings into his ear, I decided to request a different table.  But a quick look around the restaurant killed the request.  From our awkward little table the view of the sunset was beautiful and, more importantly, why would you ever move from the best view of the worst comb-over in the history of hair?

My Dad and I plopped down next to each other into the one-sided booth and did what any two people on an awkward “date” would do:  We popped two bottles of wine and started drinking. 

The first, a 1994 Dominus, was absolutely explosive.  The nose was layered and undeniably complex.  Notes of drying sage, blackberry, currant, cedar, and tobacco and smoke wafted out of the glass.  The palate was similar, with hints of licorice as well.  It was almost impossible to comprehend the complexity of the wine.  It was drinking perfectly, and blew past my expectations, which were exceptionally high.  The second wine was a 1998 Grange.  It was about as young as a 13 year old wine can be, and as near to perfect as well.  It was massive compared to the Dominus.  The tannins were still gripping, but the layers of blackberry, blueberry, teriyaki beef jerky, licorice, and lavender made the wine incredibly pleasurable to drink.  It was almost impossible to say which was better.  Both wines were so good I almost asked them back to my place for a cup of coffee. 

Look, the wine was great.  It’s tough to imagine anything beating a 1994 Dominus and a ’98 Grange for two wine lovers like us, but that is exactly what the world’s greatest comb-over did.  It crushed the wines with its terrifying brilliance.  About four tables over was a gorgeous Asian woman sitting next to my newfound hero.  Anyone with a comb-over that can even hold a conversation with a good looking woman is a man who deserves respect.  This guy, though, was on another level.  He was arresting.  Not for his looks, mind you, but for the dead raven lying atop his head.  I thought Bill Murray’s hair in KingPin was bad.

But this guy rivaled even the beard-over. 

It was like he took a seal skin and stapled it to his left ear, then draped it over his entire head.  Again, despite his disability – and I think it qualified as such – this guy was dining with a gorgeous woman.   Either he was loaded, her brother, or she had a thing for dead pelts. 

More power to him.  His coif made our dining experience light, jovial, and even better than we had anticipated, so he has my thanks.  I think it is always nice to add a touch of levity to serious wine drinking, and that is exactly what the dead-raven-hairpiece provided.  I am only sad that, now two thousand miles away, I will see it nevermore, nevermore.

1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia:  Clearly corked.  Wet cement, cardboard, and nearly non-existent fruit, with dried cedar and abundant TCA basted tobacco.  I get more pleasure out of a stubbed toe.  Drinkable only if you tried very hard.  ??

1997 Joseph Phelps Backus:  Cedar dominated nose followed by dried black cherry and currant, pipe tobacco, and spice box.  Wood notes are overbearing.  I had another bottle of this wine four months prior, and it was delicious.  This bottle, though, was certainly not.  84.

2001 Marques de Vargas Rioja Hacienda Pradolagar:  I had high hopes for this acclaimed small lot Rioja blend.  It is 40% tempranillo mixed with various local grapes like mazuelo.  The nose was very nice, and loaded with blackberry, baking spices, savory oak notes, and mineral undertones.  It had fairly nice balance, and good concentration, but was not singing in my opinion.  While this wine was very good, it did not wow.  91.

1994 Dominus:  Explosive on the nose, with layer upon layer of aromas wafting out of the glass.  The wine smelled of sage, blackberry, currant, cedar, tobacco and smoke, with hints of licorice.  The palate was the same, and also had some pipe tobacco and black cherry flavors.  It reminded me of a very slightly less complex cross of a 1982 Pichon Lalande and a 1997 Harlan.  This is in its prime.  Don’t wait another 10 years.  99.

1998 Grange:  This was so massively endowed it made me insecure.  It exploded with blackberry, blueberry, teriyaki beef jerky, and lavender on the nose, followed by the same and significant licorice notes on the palate.  The tannins are beastly, but sweet and well hidden.  They come late and grab hold of your tongue, letting you know the wine is very young still, and will age into its 30s with ease.  This is worth hording if you have the cash.  If you do, buy some and call me.  98.

Category: Adventures in Life and Wine, Travel, Wine Humor

About the Author ()

John Kane is a father of two, a husband to one, and quite a sot to be seen, according to his wife. He first fell in love with wine before he could legally drink, after breaking into the fruits of his parents' first trip to Napa Valley. John quickly realized that 1995 Pride Mountain Reserve Cab was superior to the Ice House tallboys he was illegally obtaining from the local convenience store. In order to hunt down new sources of vinous pleasure, John began visiting Napa and Sonoma during his time at the University of Texas. Needing a source of revenue to fund his ever-increasing addiction to fine wine, John decided to become a lawyer. During law school summers, John worked as a clerk at a firm or government agency; and (more importantly!) at Lake Travis Wine Trader, where John was a sales rep and helped manage tasting events. In two years of wine retail, John netted a total of $0.00 of income, after spending literally every penny he earned on wine. John also acted as a wine consultant during law school, and directed the Wine Spectator award winning wine program at the Reluctant Panther Inn and Restaurant in Manchester, Vermont. John and his wife and children live in Dallas, and frequently travel to Napa, Sonoma, and Oregon in search of great wine and great memories. John is an avid taster and collector, and in a feat of unimaginable discipline, still manages to practice law.

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