You can’t tell it’s late summer in Napa Valley by the maturity of the grapes or tomatoes – everything is about three weeks late this year.
So it was good that the Milliken family sent me an invitation to attend their Spottswoode Late Summer Garden Party. This favorite-of-mine, end-of-summer party is just about the only way anyone would know we’ve reached the end of August; by appearance, much of the valley’s hanging fruit thinks it’s still mid-July.
The annual Spottswoode affair, held on the front lawn of the family’s stately, 128-year-old, Victorian home is always a sophisticated, casual event.
It fact, the party has always reminded me of the fine parties I once attended at Wimbledon, during the tennis finals. The difference being that the wine and food at Spottswoode has Wimbledon parties beat by a score of something on the magnitude of 1 million - Love.
This year, the headline wine of the party was the stunning 2007 Spottswoode Cabernet, described by wine writer Robert Parker as potentially being “the finest Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted from Spottswoode.”
Parker ascribed 99 points to the wine. Why in the world he couldn’t nudge the score to 100 is beyond me. Because that is what this silky, complex, balanced, beverage deserves. Nothing less.
The 2007 Spottswoode Cabernet shoots out of the gate with hints of bright birch beer (from the young oak tannins), then turns into a sensual stream of ripe berries and sunburned, dark fruits on the palate. “Luscious” only begins to describe this wine, and I wrote this word twice in the column of my tasting notes.
Another favorite wine of the event was the 2008 Spottswoode Cabernet, unveiled publicly here for the first time. “The wine was only bottled two weeks ago,” says Jennifer Williams, the winery’s talented winemaker. “It will be released next February or March.”
This wine has a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc than any previous vintage, which I can recall – 7.5 percent. This makes the wine a bit livelier and a bit more peppery than any Spottswoode Cab, which I have tasted at this bottle age. But it’s delicious, nonetheless. Easily a 94 or 95-pointer, and maybe more; it’s hard to tell with a wine that has just been bottled.
The bread, cheese, nut and fruit table
This year, the only rival to the exceptional line-up of eye-popping wines was the exceptional line-up of eye-popping food, specifically selected to complement the wines.
And who’s surprised at how good the catered fare is once we learn that it was prepared and served by panevino, the St. Helena food firm meticulously managed by the husband/wife team David Katz and Mimi Martin Katz.
Mimi Martin Katz and David Katz, catering chefs at the Spottswoode affair. Their food selections complemented the wines in flavor, balance, and finesse.
When David is not catering one of 200 local parties he plans each year, he is an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), for whom he created the curriculum, and where he teaches, America’s foremost wine-&-food paring educational class.
David says that the only cheese, which pairs brilliantly with a young California Cabernet is the bandage-wrapped, Fiscalini Farms Cheddar from Modesto. So I bellied up to the bread and cheese table to try the pairing.
It was one of those “Eureka!” moments when you will forever associate a place with an event. I will now never forget that I was at the Spottswoode garden party when I discovered my new favorite cheese. The bandage-wrapped Fiscalini Cheddar is nothing short of a showstopper. And David is right – it pairs with every single Spottswoode Cab with which I tried it.
For today’s event, Mimi prepared plates of perfectly cooked, toothsome, carnaroli risotto flavored with house-cured pancetta, heirloom tomatoes, and five-year-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. I haven’t had a risotto this good since I was in Piedmont last fall.
The oldest wine of six served on the front lawn tasting was the 2000 Spottswoode Cabernet, last rolled out for one of these garden parties in August, 2007. At that time, I noted:
“The 2000 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, made and poured by Rosemary Cakebread; this vintage Cab was for me, far and away, the single best wine of the party. Even better than the 1997, also made by Rosemary. Lots of up-front fruit, a gorgeous harmony of fruit and wood. The wine has a poetic mouthfeel, bordering on seductive. Oh how I loved this wine! 94 points.”
At this year’s party, the 2000 Cab was poured from a double magnum and while one would suspect the wine would taste relatively young from such a large format bottle, it actually tasted fully mature, already at its peak.
“It’s totally at its peak,” says Beth Novak Milliken, winery president. “I think it will hold its edge for three or four years, but it is time to drink up this vintage.’
My comments about the wine today: “Gorgeous, mature, like a perfectly aged first growth Bordeaux with a light veil of sexy fruit, which the Bordelais only wish they could impart to their wines.” I scored it 95 points, which is consistent with my notes of three summers ago.
As I was trying out a new full-frame Canon 5D Mark II camera for the first time, here are some shots of guests and servers at the event:
Only "Spott On!" members are invited to the Annual Spottswoode Garden Party. To become a member, you must purchase at least six bottles of Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon in the previous year.
For details, or to join, phone 707-963-0134,