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Dec 4, 2001 11:49 AM

Chez Panisse wine recommendations

  • j

Hi all. My girlfriend and uncle and I are eating at Chez Panisse this Saturday night. I'd love to hear your wine recommendations for CP's Saturday menu [here is the dinner menu link -->
I'm interested in recommendations for a sparkling, a white and a red. Maybe you have separate recommendations for a great wine value and for a little splurge!

We love soft, balanced wines with lots of fruit. We shy away from wines with heavy oak or wines that are so big that they overwhelm, rather than complement, the food. We usually drink Italian and Spanish wines by choice and French wines occassionally (only because we don't know much about them). We prefer some California wines from Sonoma, and the Central and Mendocino coasts, but steer away from Napa wines as we find their style to be other than what we like.

The link below is to Chez Panisse' wine list.

Here's Cheers!


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  1. l

    I was just there the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and had the Green & Red Zinfandel. I believe that it was about $45. I am a true Zinfandel lover and was taken aback by this wine. It was truly delicious, full of fruit and very complex. Plus, Green & Red is a very small vineyard making this wine relatively difficult to find. Enjoy your meal.

    4 Replies
    1. re: LawTalkingGuy

      Yes, yes, yes! Agreed about Green & Red. From one true zin lover to another.

      Here's a secret - I just saw the stuff at Amphora wine merchants, and bought a half-case. Give them a call soon if you're interested - I don't think they had much.

      Let me ask, though - how long do you think the '99 will cellar??

      1. re: Fatemeh
        Melanie Wong

        If you have the Mill vineyard bottling from G&R, you can cellar it for a few years. But if you love it now, you might not like the more restrained and mellow character it will develop. Why not drink it over the next 18 months for its young and exuberant fruit?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Aaahh. I understand. Thanks, Melanie.

          I'll be going through it in the next year or so... Say, do you know anything about "Portfolo" wines? A husband/wife team up in Napa - apparently she was imported for the Opus One venture??

          They are now producing very small lots (like, 30 cases per year) of a Bordeaux-styled red. A friend won a bottle at auction last night for $70...

          1. re: Fatemeh
            Melanie Wong

            No, don't know the label. Be sure to tell us about it when you taste it. (g)

            Lots of small production Cabs coming out of Napa Valley. The smaller the production, the more astronomical the bottle price, it seems.

    2. My thoughts:

      The Lasalle Champagnes are good food wines - a little more acidic than I care for personally, but good nonetheless. However, on the list is one of my favorites (at least my favorite NV), and that is the Billecart Salmon Brut Rose - they have full and half bottles.

      None of the whites really attract me (at least in what you asked for - non-oaky, etc) although the Dehlinger, Littorai and Talley Chards can all be very good. I also am a fan of the Neyers chard.

      As for the reds, the only values left seem to be in the Rhones and there are 3 different stages available to you: The 95 Beaucastel CDP is a very nice bottle and that's not a bad price. The 95 Chave Hermitage is a fantastic wine - just great, but that might be a little expensive (you didnt give $$ parameters). The belle of the ball is the 90 Rayas CDP - sex in a glass! Hard price to swallow (pun intended), but an unforgettable wine. For all of these ask for decanting right away as they can take a little while to open and let loose their perfumes and fruit.

      Hope that helps.

      6 Replies
      1. re: srf1
        Melanie Wong

        The 95 Beaucastel is a nice bottle of wine. However, the handful of 95 Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines I've tried in the last year, including Beaucastel, are in deep slumber and not showing well. It won't express it's full glories any time soon.

        1. re: Melanie Wong
          Grog--LA, CA

          I couldn't agree more with Melanie, who by the way has excellent taste. The 95 Beaucastel should remain in storage at least another 5 years if not more. I have drank several bottles of the Brown Family zins--they are outstanding wines. Very concentrated and a wonderful expression of the rich fuit character of Napa zin. Since this wine list is somewhat overpriced, might I suggest another wine that is also noteworthy. The 99' Behrens & Hitchcock-Alder Springs merlot is wonderful. I have never been disapointed by anything I've tasted from B&H.

        2. re: srf1

          As much as I love all the rhones you mentioned, I must put in a plug for the Tablas Creek 98 ($60 on the list). I actually just tasted it this last week during a trip to the winery. For those who don't know, that winery is a joint effort from the Perrins (of Beaucastel) and Robert Haas of Vinyard Brands. They brought over the same clones from CNP and found soil and climate that matched. They use almost no new oak and aren't too aggresive with their extraction. The result is a pure expression of the grapes. We tried the 98's and 99's (as well as 00 white) and they were stellar! This from young vines! Red components in the barrel from 00 and whites from 01 are jumping out of the glass. Keep an eye on this winery. But back to the point, the '98 seems to fit the original description of the desired wine. Clean, feminine, good acid, and very light oak. Yum, yum.

          1. re: Detlef Chef
            Melanie Wong

            Having tasted several vintages and barrel samples with Robert Haas last year, I'm in complete agreement that Tablas Creek is a producer to watch. Part of the tasting to was to sample cuvees made from clonal material sourced in the US and those from clonal material imported from France and propagated here. The French clones were clearly superior, even though the vine age was younger. Wonderful fruit expression.

            At that time, I especially liked the whites. Haas commented that he and the Perrins felt that ultimately the white wine that could be produced in California would be superior to the Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This is because CdP regs prohibit use of Viognier in the blend whereas there is no such restriction here. The Viognier adds to the body, aromatics, mouthfeel and complexity of the wine enormously, even in very small quantities.

            My only complaint about Tablas Creek is that the prices are pretty high compared to the market.


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              The cost is a bit high, but frankly not too much so considering that pretty much everyone else is getting at least $25 for their Syrah/ Good Rhone Blends. When you consider all they went through to get those vineyards up and running, it justifies the price. In case you're interested, we actually visited a bunch of places down there this last week with Rhone style wines being the primary focus. Theirs and Steve Beckmen's Purisma Syrah (from Tablas clones and also $35 I might add) were hands down the best we sampled. Daniel Gehrs, Midnight Cellars, and Eberle ran close runner up but lacked the finesse. The Seven Peaks "Schoolhouse Reserve" showed that sort of clean, vibrant aussie style that's hard not to like, but somehow always strikes me as a little one dimensional. Tolosa in the Edna Valley made a very pretty, though rather light Syrah as well. Overall, what amazed me most about the overall high quality level was that that nearly all of them were from young vines. Even Beckmens 00 Grenache (in it's first vintage!) was extraodinary. I, for one, am pumped up about the future of the region as a whole.

              By the way, I got the message on helping out the site, my donation is on the way. I love this place.

              1. re: Detlef Chef
                Melanie Wong

                LOL! You've shown yourself to have a long attention span when it comes to wine. (g) Thanks so much for helping the site with content and cash. We all have to do our part to preserve our community.

                You're right, Tablas Creek did move heaven and hell to establish that vineyard. But we all know that cost has little to do with wine pricing. (g)

                I feel the same way about Eberle, still haven't had a wine from there that I felt expressed the potential of the fruit fully. Did you hear anything more about the initiative to split up the Paso Robles appellation?


        3. l

          I should have mentioned yesterday, that linked-to wine list is out of date, at least as of November 21, 2001.

          1. m
            Melanie Wong

            Lucky you! Using your link, the menu for Saturday is -

            Saturday, December 8 $75
            An aperitif
            Frito misto di frutti di mare: deep-fried shellfish with celery and artichokes
            Winter squash gnocchi with sage and brown butter
            Grilled Paine Farm squab marinated in zinfandel; with cotechino sausage, porcini, and Bob's purple turnips, and rapini
            Upside-down apple crostata

            Your preferred style of wine will fit well with this menu and fortunately, there's lots of nice choices on the wine list. Let me lay out what I'd order for myself, if I were dining at CP on Saturday, and then offer some alternatives.

            Billecart-Salmon Rose' champagne - I share Steven's enthusiasm for this wine. Delicate and crisp with beautiful floral and minerally notes. Refreshing for the soul and the perfect palate cleanser to prepare for the feast to come.

            99 "Vinnae" Jermann - Have not tasted this, but I love Jermann's other wines and I'd try it for curiousity's sake alone. Made from the indigenous grape Ribolla Gialla with some Riesling and Malvasia blended in. The Jermann style emphasizes aromatics and mouthfeel, I would expect this to be plump with fruit and exquisitely balanced. This Northern Italian will have good crisp acidity too to cut through the richness of the fritto misto.

            99 Mas de Daumas Gassac blanc in 1/2 bottle - Another esoteric white wine, this is from Southern France from one of the pioneers of fine wines in the Midi. This has a little bit of Chardonnay (too much in some vintages, be sure to ask) and many other aromatic varieties such as Viognier and Petit Manseng. The bouquet can be ravishing and almost overpowering with citrus, honey, melon and perfumey flowers and then lush and full-bodied on the palate. This would be rich piled on richness with the gnocchi, but why not live to excess?

            99 Brown Estate Zin - To make an interesting comparison, how about a red to contrast with the gnocchi too? I love stylish and fruity style of zins with winter squash and sage. This will also segue into the squab dish. The Brown Family vineyards are in Chiles Valley, the same area as Green & Red zin which others have mentioned. The style is a little richer, but still abundantly fruity and accessible similar to G&R. I'd choose this one over G&R just because the production is so small and bottles are very rare.

            94 J. L. Chave Hermitage in 1/2 bottle - The squab marinated in zin will go just fine with the young Brown zin. But for a taste of something with some age on it that is perfection with game meats and earthy mushrooms and root veggies, try the Chave. All Syrah, this is from my favorite producer in the Norther Rhone (France) region. While best with more bottle age (10-20 years), Chave also drinks well relatively young as the balance is impeccable. In half bottle format, this should be a bit more advanced in its development. Expect leathery notes, violets, exotic Asian spices, and deep plummy fruits.

            96 Suidiraut Sauternes in 1/2 bottle - To end with a kiss of honey on the lips, try this late harvest dessert wine from a very good vintage. The apricoty and pineappley fruit will wrap around the apple crostata for new heights of deliciousness.

            Other wines to consider on the list include,

            Agrapart Blanc de Blancs champagne - great value for a grower champagne. It's especially good out of magnum if you want to invite a few friends over for an opening toast. I'm not so sure about the 1/2 bottle as one of Champagne's little dirty secrets is that many producers transfer the bubbly into 1/2s after fermenting in bigger bottles. But I don't know what Agrapart's practice might be in this regard. If you're considering the Billecart-Salmon in 1/2s, I wouldn't worry, as the base wine is so well-crafted it would still be delicious even if it were completely flat and devoid of sparkle.

            00 Reverdy Sancerre - One of my favorites year in and year out, this is a mineral-laden Sauvignon blanc with oodles of gooseberry and good acid balance. Celery and artichokes can kill almost any wine, especially reds, but Sancerre can be complementary.

            98 Pieropan La Rocca Soave - Normally you'd drink Soave at a younger age, but the Pieropans can improve with some aging. Can't go wrong with a crisp Italian white for the fritto misto.

            99 Blockheadia Ringnosii Zin - We've been discussing this in another thread. Ebullient and light-hearted, quaff this one with the gnocchi.

            94 Ridge Geyserville (Zin) - From a great year for Zin in Sonoma County, the claret-like balance of Geyserville allows it to age gracefully and this one should just be coming into its own. I've tasted this bottling back to 1973 and they've all been wonderful. A good bridge for the gnocchi to the squab.

            99 Rafanelli Cabernet Sauvignon in 1/2 bottle - The best Cab that Dave Rafanelli has ever made, and he really proud of this one. Better known for Zinfandels, this one almost drinks like a zin with boatloads of jammy blackberry fruit. But it has Cab's power too and firm backbone.

            95 Tempier La Miguoa Bandol - I dream of Tempier and Provence! La Miguoa is the most feminine and idiosyncratic of the bottlings. Red fruited and high-toned with elements of spice cake, some vintages can also reek of enough barnyard to make the fainthearted run screaming from the room. Great with game birds.

            90 Guirard Sauternes - If you appreciate the glories of aged Sauternes, this one should deliver for a fair price. But perhaps best for sipping on it's own or with some cheese rather than with dessert.

            Glancing over the Spanish list, there was nothing that excited me. Too bad, as Rioja can be glorious with squab.

            I hope this helps. Please report back on your dinner and selections!

            P.S. Those of you who've read along this far must really love wine and winespeak. This is the only place on the web where I talk about wine. I much prefer conversations with chowhounds who understand deliciousness in all its forms to the pretension of wine snobs. It's been a great place to talk about wine as part of the bounty of the table. If you value the Chowhound site, the information and the community we've grown here, please sacrifice the price of one bottle of wine this week and make a donation to the site to keep the lights on. You can use the link below to do your part.