High & Low: Dinner w/ Mike Officer + 25 Carlisles (and 2 "co

High & Low, the early 60s crime drama, was the first Kurosawa movie that I ever saw and it remains my favorite. Hard to believe, I know; it is akin to preferring some minor Van Gogh watercolor to Starry Night. But I loved its black and white grittiness, its emotional starkness, its hyper-realism.

So when David Lewin decided that the theme of our annual Dinner with Mike (Officer) was going to be a comparison between vintages of Mike’s premium syrahs and zins and his entry level syrahs and zins, for some reason, the Kurosawa movie came immediately to mind. And I really don’t know why. It is not like I associate Mike Officer with a fairly obscure Japanese movie, although seeing Mike in full samurai gear (a la Seven Samurai, not like the disgruntled porn actor who went all Samurai at his former place of employment in the Valley last week) chasing the buck which ate all of his Rossi Vineyard zin grapes in 2005 would be quite the sight. I guess that it is just one of those funny mental association games that the mind plays on its own. Of course, it is similarly possible that I just wanted to show my cultural superiority by not only referencing Japanese cinema, but also by choosing one of Kurosawa’s lesser known works. Or perhaps I am merely seeking redemption for titling my last dinner notes “Kick Ass Cough Syrup”.

Eleven of us got together at Chez Melange in Redondo Beach to break bread with Mike Officer, who graciously sandwiched us in between several days with the family at Disneyland and several days with the family on the Strand in Hermosa Beach. With one exception (Aaron Malo), everyone at the dinner last night had attended prior Dinners with Mike and all of us are enthusiastic supporters of Carlisle (and lucky holders of spots on his cherished mailing list—Mike indicated that his waiting list is still thousands deep). Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, a few former dinner stalwarts had to drop out this year, but that meant that the rest of us got bigger pours and there was more Mike per person to go around.

As I indicated above, the PT Barnum for the dinner, David Lewin, chose a comparison of Mike’s entry level syrahs (the Sonoma County or the RRV if no Sonoma County was produced) with a premium Carlisle syrah (the Pelkan) and a comparison of Mike’s entry level zins (again the Somona County) with a premium Carlisle zin (the Rossi, except in 2005 when the aforementioned buck ate the grapes and thus the Carlo’s). Vintages were 2003 through 2008 (although the 2008 Sonoma Coast zin did not make it to the dinner as a result of communication confusion), which would mean 24 bottles of kick ass cough syrup (plus two starter Germans) for the originally scheduled 12 people. But Mike, being the Iron Man of wine consumption (and also realizing that he could spend the entire next day looking at the waves crashing onshore as opposed to working), decided that this was not enough (or as he said, “This will just not do, damnit!”). So since the 2004 Rossi and the 2004 Pelkan were shipped during the infamous November heat wave in Southern CA several years ago, Mike thought that it would be fascinating to compare these “heat treated” wines against pristine versions that he had kept in his library collection and to taste these four bottles blind. “Sure, why not” was my response to Mike’s suggestion; I am not sure if Mr. Lewin was quite so sanguine about two more bottles, but then he had 35-40 mile drive home after the event. So with one Sunday afternoon drop-out, we had 27 bottles of wine for 11 people. I know I must be getting old, because in the early days of wine dinners, that ratio would seem normal or a bit teetotalerish, but it seemed like a ton of wine last night.

“Wench, bring me more mead!”

When I am at Chez Melange for these Carlisle dinners, I always feel like I have transported back to Middle Ages England, where the libations are overflowing and huge slabs of some previously running in the primordial forest animal are on my plate. I am a swashbuckling hero having what may be my last meal before Agincourt. Well, come to think of it, dying of the bloody flux (see, I not only watch Japanese film but also The Tudors) or being gutted like a pig on a French battlefield doesn’t enthrall me, so let’s get back to modern days. Back to Chez Melange. No one could reasonably complain that we have never gotten enough food at Chez Melange and last night was no exception. We had tons of big-sized and generally delicious vittles to accompany gallons of big-sized and generally delicious wine in a nice private room with excellent service. From a food consistency standpoint, this may have been Chez Melange’s best wine dinner.

While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, we started, as has been our tradition at these dinners, with a palate cleansing German or two, in this case 2007 Selbach Oster Bernkasteler Badstude Kabinett and the 2004 Muller Catoir Mussbacher Eselshaut Kabinett. These wines carried over for our first flight, three very large shrimp with fennel in a Riesling reduction. I preferred the crispness of the Selbach over the Muller, which seemed almost to be of spaetlese weight and was lacking a bit in palate cleansing acidity. In any case, both of these wines lulled our palates into false senses of security as the oral onslaught was just about to commence.

We divided the 26 (actually 25) Carlisles into four flights—older syrahs, younger syrahs, older zins and finishing up with younger zins. There is no one right way to arrange the order of the flights, but discussions among David, Mike and myself yielded the following order—2003-2005 syrahs; 2006-2008 syrahs; 2003-2005 zins and finish up with 2006-2008 zins. We normally end with a couple of dessert wines, but even I thought that would be overkill here.

Older syrahs (2003-2005 Pelkan (including the heat treated 2004 tasted blind against the pristine 2004) vs. 2003 RRV, 2004 and 2005 Sonoma County): These wines were served with a Moroccan lamb burger with feta and harissa ketchup and Chez’s famous fries. While there was not a complete consensus of the group, I feel that most of us preferred the Pelkans to the RRV/SC syrahs and this flight was no exception. While they were drinking well, I felt that both of the 2003s were overshadowed by the 2004s. I think of the 2003s as in the more subdued style and perhaps they would show better in something other than a competitive setting. Although it was clean on the nose as far as I could tell, the 2005 Sonoma Coast had what I can best describe as burnt match aftertaste. Mike indicated that this was the most reduced of any of his wines and while the reduction will blow off, it requires at least a day of air or a very vigorous decant. He did indicate that this was one of the better examples of the 2005 SC. I find some of Mike’s 2005s in serious need of time and the 2005 Pelkan is no exception. Everything is in place for this wine so I imagine that it has a long life ahead, but frankly, I feel that the 2005 Pelkan needs several more years before it should be opened. Don’t be surprised to be drinking the Pelkan when it is old enough for a driver’s license and still happy with the wine. The 2004 Sonoma Coast was not as good as the 2004 Pelkan, but it was still quite delicious—dark berry flavors, with the telltale Carlisle mouthfeel and the telltale Carlisle balance (as Mike indicated, it used to be about the mouthfeel and now it is about the balance). Sooner after release of this wine, I had noticed the syrah component to the wine, but last night it was seemless. Both 2004 Pelkans stepped it up a bit from the Sonoma Coast. Bottle A and Bottle B of the 2004 Pelkans were very similar—rich and jammy but not overbearing or leadened, with a smooth finish and no heat. Of the two bottles, I slightly preferred Bottle B, as I felt that it was slightly rounder/smoother than Bottle A (slightly better mouthfeel). Of the group, half couldn’t pick a favorite, a couple preferred Bottle A and 4 preferred Bottle B. The result—Bottle B was shipped during extreme heat and Bottle A had resided in Mike’s cellars until this week.

Younger syrahs (2006-2008 Pelkan vs. 2006 Sonoma County, 2007 RRV and 2008 Sonoma County): These wines were served with duck confit. Like the 2005, the 2007 Pelkan needs more time—there were still some mouth drying tannins on the finish. I really liked both 2008s, with my preference going to the Pelkan. Both the 2006 Pelkan and the 2008 Pelkan were more subdued than the 2004, lacking some of the jamminess of the 2004, but nonetheless probably still too rich to be in Eric Azimov’s wheelhouse. These are both powerful and dense wines (that mouthfeel thing again) but with a smoothness and sophistication (that balance thing again) that great syrahs can achieve. Even though both are drinking quite well now, I imagine that you would be safe holding onto them for at least another five to seven years. When discussing the entry level syrahs, it seemed that pretty much everyone preferred the Pelkans in this flight (although I feel that the 2007 RRV is more accessible currently than the 2007 Pelkan). And of course the conversation got absurd—“But are the Pelkans worth a 50% premium over the Sonoma Counties?” This once again shows how one can lie with statistics. Sure a 50% premium sounds huge (“Granted, car x is a great car, but is it really worth 50% more than car y?”), but when that premium translates into about ten bucks, it doesn’t seem all that meaningful. All in all, the 2006 and 2008 SC syrahs were very good—great pizza and burger wines and absurdly good values—but, for me, the Pelkan is worth the premium.

Older zins (2003, 2004 Rossi (both heat treated and pristine examples), 2005 Carlos vs. 2003-2005 Sonoma County): The food here was pork belly and this flight included stage two of our heat shipped vs. pristine bottles comparison. Just as a footnote, the 2004 Rossi (heat treated) in this case was my bottle and not only did my bottles get shipped during the freak heatwave, but my particular bottles rode around in a UPS truck until late afternoon as my offsite storage (where my wines are delivered) wasn’t opened earlier in the day when delivery was first attempted (and I remember it being stinking hot, even at the beach that day). That said, many of the bottles of the 2004 Rossi that I have opened have been among the best Carlisle zins that I have had (and hence among the best zins that I have had). While I thought that the 2003 Rossi was drinking very well, I actually preferred the 2003 Sonoma County—it just seemed more complete, a bit fleshier and all of its edges well smoothed. I mentioned this to Mike who responded, “Well, the 2003 Sonoma County is pretty much Pietro’s.” Although I found the 2005 syrahs in need of more time to be best enjoyed, the same cannot be said of the 2005 zins. The 2005 Sonoma County was quite nice, but the 2005 Carlo’s was superb, with a roundness and minerality complementing its density and abundance of fruit. Fortunately I still have a handful of these left. Now onto the 2004 Rossi’s. Once again, it was very close. I preferred Bottle B at first, but I felt that Bottle A improved with time in the glass and I started to sense a little heat on the finish with Bottle B after time (although the world’s biggest Carlisle consumer vehemently disagreed with me on this point). But like the 2004 Pelkans, these wines were incredibly similar, with just a scintilla of difference between them and you might get that between two bottles similarly shipped and stored. Once again, at least half of us couldn’t pick a favorite and of those that could it was equally divided between A and B. I was probably in the “Cannot pick a favorite” category, although if forced to choose, I would have gone with Bottle A. Bottle A was the pristine bottle and Bottle B was my heat shipped bottle.

Younger zins (2006-2008 Rossi vs. 2006-2007 Sonoma County): These were served with a huge chunk of rare roast beast and sliced ribeye. Around this point in the evening, I am saying to myself, “Why did Traub have to drop out? There is no way that I can do the notes on these wines.” So what follows are very impressionistic interpretations of the wines. I approached the 2006s with some trepidation as they shared the vintage with the 2006 Montafi, which with time has become my least favorite Carlisle zin because of the residual sugar in it. However, there was no reason for such fears; both the 2006 SC and the 2006 Rossi were quite good, with the nod going to the Rossi. I will let someone else chime in about the 2007 SC—in this setting and after all of these wines, it neither astounded me nor disappointed me sufficiently to leave an imprint. However, the 2007 and 2008 Rossi’s did. As much as I loved the older zins, these two Rossi’s were perhaps the best zins of the night. One would expect young Carlisles to be intense and powerful and of course they are but they are drinking exceptionally well and don’t need the several year’s rest that I usually put most of my Carlisle zins through. I imagine that they will improve over time and drink well for at least a handful of years, but you don’t need to be bashful with them now.

It appears that the exposure to heat did not have a material effect on the wine, even for wines that can no longer be called young (I think that it is safe to call a 2004 zin “middle aged” and a 2004 CA syrah is no longer adolescent). The differences between the bottles were minor at best and you are just as likely to have equally or more significant differences simply as a result of bottle variation. Granted this is not a controlled experiment and it was statistically insignificant, but the results are the results. Perhaps if this experiment was performed in another five years with the two Pelkans, you might find a more discernible trend, but at this point you cannot assert that the heat adversely affected the two bottles we had last night.

Riffing on something that Aaron Malo said earlier this morning, I told the group from last night that as much as I loved Mike’s syrahs, he is truly a national treasure (think Mt Rushmore, not Nicholas Cage) when it comes to zins. Twenty plus years ago, my love affair with wine started with zins and I find that I have come full circle. I love a fairly wide variety of red wines, but give me a really good bottle of Carlisle zin (which almost all of them are) and I am happy.

Thanks Mike for taking the time out of your vacation to hang with a bunch of wine nerds. However, next time that you come down here, please don’t bring another earthquake—I really never got back to sleep after the one last night. And I don’t want to start calling you “Harbinger of Doom.”

“My heart is black and my lips are cold–cities on flame with rock and roll.
3000 guitars, they seem to cry. My ears will melt and then my eyes.”

Nice read- but didnt you retire from writing notes? neener

Well, there was the Mike Officer exception, but I had planned on taking a break after the Lillian dinner in Feb, but I was the only alternative for this dinner with Bennett Traub dropping out, so I stepped up (as I did with our pizza and SQNs dinner hosted by Brother Malo a month ago).

Walter – I know how long notes like these take to write, so thank you. And as a Carlisle lover, thank you again.

This was a great dinner. Thanks a bunch to Walter and David for organizing it, to Mike for sharing his wine and insight, and to all the regular Dinner with Mike participants who could come up with no one better than me to fill a vacant spot. It was a tremendous night, with the only real disappointment being the Lakers. But Walter’s notes nearly make up for the pathetic showing made by the guys in purple and gold.

Speaking of purple – and I do mean dark, dark, dark purple – the wines were wonderful on Sunday. Walter mentioned my comments in his comprehensive post, but to reiterate: The Carlisle wines are tremendous. Even though I was pretty worn out by a cross-country flight earlier that day, it was very apparent to me that Mike’s syrahs are fabulous, and his zins are even better. This is great juice – good mouthfeel, nice density, great dark fruit notes, and enough structure to hold things together in balance. Just top notch stuff by any objective assessment.

Perhaps it is a function of the years I spent living in a fraternity house, but I’ve always enjoyed analogizing wine to women. And for me the ideal woman is elegant, intelligent and beautiful, but with a little streak of unpredictability to her – someone you can take home to meet the parents without concern, but also a person you will also be very excited to take home to your place (for example, the fair Mrs. Malo). If wine were women, Mike’s wines would be right in my wheelhouse – incredibly well put together and lots of fun, with all the strength and power you need to both put a smile on your face and keep it there for a good long time. For me, the standouts/starlets of the night were the 2005 Carlo, the 2003 and 2005 Sonoma Coast, and the 2007 and 2008 Rossi – but I’d be happy to drink again pretty much everything we drank Sunday night.

And before I sign off, another word of thanks to the guys at Chez Melange. That is such a wine-friendly restaurant run by such generous guys that all of us on this board should do all we can to support them. The food was, as always, excessive, delicious and reasonably priced.

As noted above, this was my virgin experience with the annual South Bay Carlisle dinner. I’d heard much about these gatherings in the past, but never particpated. I assure everyone out there that has heard of these dinners but not yet attended, they’re actually better than you’ve heard. And to bring my wine/woman analogy full circle, I hereby share with you the same message that I very nearly scribbled on the men’s room wall Sunday night at Chez Melange – FOR A GOOD TIME CALL (707) 566-7700.

Sounds like another great evening, though I am disappointed that Walter didn’t call me to fill in one of the spots! (seeing as we share the same offsite storage facility and all…).

Coincidentally, my wife and I had dinner at Chez on Saturday…though Michael never mentioned the big dinner coming up on Sunday so I’ve got a bone to pick with him as well. [snort.gif]

Thanks for the notes though Walter…and remember I respond quickly to last minute PMs and emails!

Walter, epic notes, even by your standards, all the more remarkable as you don’t take any notes during the tastings. Thanks for your chronicles of these events.

When I proposed the theme, I was thinking mostly of the low end (i.e., Sonoma) vs. high end (Pelkan and Rossi) aspect. As we came closer to the dinner, I also started to focus on the opportunity to see how these wines age, and to compare my appreciation for the two varietals, as previous tastings had let me to tweak my purchases by increasing my ordering of the Zinfandels (and Two Acres) at the expense of the Syrahs. As for the comparison of the heat-affected vs. pristine bottles, once Mike agreed to not do any shipments in August —regardless of how the comparisons turned out— I lost interest.

I can’t add much, if anything, to your descriptions of the wines. My favorite wines: the 2004 Sonoma and 2007 Rossi Zinfandels, followed by the 2003 Sonoma Zinfandel and 2007 Pelkan Syrah. My observations: I thought there was a larger gap in quality between the Pelkan and Sonoma Syrahs than the Rossi and Sonoma Zins and will be asking for extras of the Sonoma Zins on future orders. I liked the older Zins largely better than the younger ones, but the newer Syrahs better than the older vintages. I think 2007 will prove to be one of Mike’s best vintages.

Previously, I had lumped 2005 and 2007 together as vintages with which would require lots of age, while 2004 and 2006 were the earlier drinking, friendlier vintages. I’m still a big fan of 2004, my second favorite Carlisle vintage (after 2001) with it’s lush, hedonistic qualities. I don’t think I’ll enjoy the 2006’s as much, although I’m sure I will be happy drinking them while I’m waiting for the 2005’s and 2007’s. As for those two vintages, for my tannin-phobic tastes, the 2005’s continue to require lots of age. The 2007’s, on the other hand, are drinkable (and very impressive) now, although they should develop with several more years of age. I won’t be surprised if I drink them before the 2005’s. In addition to the four 2007’s at this dinner, I had the 2007 Papera and Carlisle Vineyard Zinfandels at a tasting last week, and they had the stuffing and quality of the Rossi, but were drinkable now. After the dinner I went home and added a year or two to my plans to drink all of the wines (from 2005 on) we had on Monday, except the 2006 Sonoma Syrah which is still on tap for the end of the year. I suspect that the drinkability chart on the Carlisle website will have a few extensions.

Lastly, a huge thanks to Mike Officer. As I’ve said before, there is no bigger critic of the Carlisle wines than Mike, and we all appreciate him subjecting himself to these tastings. He is not usually eager to taste some of the earlier vintages, although I think he may admit they have turned out really well.

Walter; Great notes as usual…I still don’t believe you really do have a day job. [rofl.gif] A large thank you to David L. as well for his last minute invite. I am sorry I could not make it as I was attending " A Taste of LA" sponsored by Share Our Strength. Kudos as well to the boys at Chez Melange…can you throw in any other dinner notes ? David mentioned a riff on the “Gelb-burger.” flirtysmile

I haver been lucky enough to be a “sub” at other Carlisle dinners and they are truly special events.

Marshall [cheers.gif]

the Moroccan Lamb burger was the riff on the Gelbburger.

Walter: great movie, great wine, great notes. Enjoyed your post.

Awesome Walter!