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New Year's Eve @ Lalime's in Berkeley, CA (lots of wine!)

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Nine of us (Lou & BettyLu Kessler, Hoke Roxie Harden, Lise Jeantet and her friend Helmut, Robin Moorad, along with Lynn and myself) gathered at Lalime’s (http://www.lalimes.com) in Berkeley for our annual New Year’s Eve dinner celebration.

Lalime’s has been around – well, seemingly forever -- at least 20 years, and Chef Steve Jaramillo has been creating some of the most extraordinary dining experiences I’ve ever had in Berkeley. This evening was no exception. The prix fixe menu served up eight different courses, with choice of entrée, and – at $100 – was as big a value as it was a memorable meal. (For those with modest cellars, or none at all, I should mention that a wine pairing menu was offered for an additional $40.

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Chef Jaramillo, who has been known to appear on Mark Squires’ board and Chowhound, started off the evening’s feast with an Amuse-Gueule of concentrated Pheasant stock finished with a touch of Sherry.

We began our side of the evening’s festivities by started with a bottle of

n.v. Champagne Veuve Fourny et Fils Brut Rosé Premier Cru (Champagne, France): This is a new producer for me; I’ve never heard of Fourny before. Imported by Kermit Lynch, his December 2006 newsletter mentions that the Fourny family established their domaine in Vertus in 1856, so I think I’m a bit overdue for tasting their wines. Beautiful rose-salmon color, clear and brilliant to the eye with a fine mousse and a persistent, fine bead; the bouquet is filled with fresh raspberries and cherries, combined with a touch of green apples, light yeasty notes and chalky accents; medium-bodied on the palate, the wine is bright, very dry, tart and very flavorful, with a crisp, clean finish. Absolutely delicious.

Time for white wines, and, with a delightful Oyster velouté, we opened . . .

1999 Chablis Premier Cru “Côte de Leshet,” Domaine du Vieux Château, Daniel-Etienne Defaix (Chablis, France): Straw-gold in color, the bouquet is a mixture of leesy notes and burnt rubber . . . me thinks it’s dirty winemaking, hydrogen sulfide edging towards mercaptans. Clearly, not at its best.

We moved onto the next course, which was a deceivingly simple-looking salad composed of roasted baby red and golden beets, fresh sections of mandarin orange, a delicious portion of chève with a drizzle of aged Balsamic. This was one of those dishes that, when served, the entire table falls silent, as we all savor this amazing dish. Truly fantastic!

The next course consisted of handmade ravioli stuffed with fresh Dungeness crab, sweet and succulent, and served with a sauce Nantua. OMG! To accompany this amazing course, we shifted to

2001 Weingut Prager Riesling Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein (Wachau, Austria): Pale straw, almost transparent, in color, clean and brilliant to the eye; the bouquet is classic Riesling, with floral notes, peaches, mineral notes, wet limestone, petrol and so much more, it’s easy to get lost in the aroma alone; on the palate, the wine is crisp and youthful (more like a 2005 than a 2001; I had to double-check the label!) on the palate; medium-light in body (despite it’s rather surprising 13 percent alcohol), very flavorful but with crisp acidity and laser-like focus; the finish is crisp, yet lingering. Outstanding.

OK, we actually poured the Riesling a little bit before the crab ravioli arrived, so we moved on the next white.

2001 Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, Nicholas Joly (Loire, France): From the tiny appellation d’origine contrôllée of Savennières-Coulée de Serrant, which covers a mere seven hectares, and a single estate, Monsieur Joly is one of the leading proponents of biodynamie. This is, no doubt, a double-edged sword, for while I have had some excellent wines from M. Joly, this was a mixed bag at best. While there was some intriguing Chenin character in both the nose and mouth, this wine was far more mature than I would have expected, number one,. Number two, it displays significant signs of (premature) oxidation. OK, red wines are good . . .

1982 Hanzell Pinot Noir, Estate (Sonoma Valley AVA, California): This was a wonderful surprise, and a gift from Roy Hersh (thank you, Roy!). Dusty red in color, clean and clear, shifting to brick at the rim; the bouquet was initially more earth and mushrooms, with some subdued fruit; however, as it sat in the glass, it continued to evolve and open up, showing much more generous fruit than I would expect from a wine that is 24 years of age, with rose petal, cherries and hints of red raspberries to accompany the earth and mushroom notes; medium-bodied, initially, the wine was a bit drying and slightly tannic on the palate but, again, as it opened, more fruit appears and the drying texture was replaced by a more silky one; the finish was long and flavorful. Very fine.

Next came an amazing palate cleanser – the most delicious, light yet intense, refreshing sorbet I think I’ve ever had. Made from Clementine mandarins, it was exceptionally good!

There was a choice of four entrées, and each was well represented among the nine of us:
• Truffled soufflé with a mélange of Porcini, Hedgehog and other mushrooms;
• Grilled Liberty duck breast au jus with seared foie gras and a grilled potato cake;
• Grilled Wagyu beef with a truffled potato tortino of fresh winter vegetables;
• And a Maine lobster “navarin.”
This is the point where words fail me. I had the duck, personally, but each of these entrées was something special and I would have been experiencing “food-gasms” with any of these options.

As for the wines, well it was New Year’s, right?

1981 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage, Bin 95 (South Australia, Australia): Produced from 89 percent Shiraz (Syrah) and 11 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and aged in new American oak fro 18 months, this wine was certainly not one of the “big Aussie monsters” – not at only 12.7 percent alcohol – but it is, nonetheless, an in-your-face sort of wine. Dusty red in color with some brick at the rim; the bouquet is dominated by lots of American oak, with smoky, leathery, spices notes following; at 25 years of age, this wine is still showing its youth – not a baby, certainly, but perhaps a teen preparing to enter adulthood, this wine could still go for another 5-10 years (and hope the oak marries into the wine with the additional bottle age), the wine is medium-bodied, with lots of spice, leather, and a touch of plum -- a classic Barossa Shiraz, a classic Grange, and a marvelous wine . . . if you can handle the oak.

1991 Harlan Estate Red Table Wine (Napa Valley AVA, California): Is there perfection in California? Perhaps. Deep, dark garnet-hued, almost opaque; the nose is thick, rich and redolent with currants, cassis, green tea, sweet cream, vanilla, oak and more – but all seamlessly married together, with no one component ahead of another; this seamlessness is also evident in the mouth, with a rich, fullness and abundance of flavor, but retaining a sense of balance and grace, all lingering through the long, flavorful finish. Extraordinary wine.

Everyone was practically speechless over the Harlan, until the next wine was poured.

1990 Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin, Grand Cru (Burgundy, France): A beautiful match-up in contrast. While the Harlan was all about rich, unctuous “restrained excess,” this is Burgundy. The wine is much lighter than the Harlan, but we’re talking Pinot Noir – it’s a light cherry-red, clear and bright; the bouquet is that of a dying rose, of cherries, light earth, spice, and that added dimension that separates a truly great Grand Cru from not only other Burgundies, but other Grands Crus; on the palate, there is abundant flavor, depth, richness and complexity to be found in this surprisingly youthful, medium-bodied wine with a firm inner core and years of life ahead. Also extraordinary, and my choice for “Wine of the Night.”

Next came the evening’s cheese course – a plate of perfectly ripened Roquefort accompanied by portions of Idiazábal and Tomme de Grand-mère – and we opened

1990 Niepoort Colheita Porto, bottled in 2004 (Douro, Portugal): Pale tawny-hued garnet with brick at the rim, clear and brilliant; the bouquet is a fragrant mixture of plums and cherries, hazelnut, walnut, spice, light tar and more – very complex; on the palate, this is light-bodied but very rich and flavorful, with moderate sweetness, zero heat, and a super-long finish. Excellent.

Finally, we came to the dessert course, an individual, delectable chocolate tart with a bourbon caramel and a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, and to accompany this, we opened a bottle of

1975 Château Rieussec, Premier Cru Sauternes (Bordeaux, France): Striking golden-honeyed color, clear and bright; the bouquet is filed with honey, honeysuckle, apricot, peach, toffee, caramel, light stone and spice; on the palate, the wine is round and supple, sweet but with good acidity (not cloying at all), and a long, lush, lingering finish. Wonderful.

And as midnight approached, we opened a second bottle of the Veuve Fourny Brut Rosé and toasted the arrival of 2007!

Happy New Year,
Jason

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