An Historic Retrospective of Top’85 California North Coast Cabernets - by Peter Morrell **exclusively for Fermented Lifestyle
Bellevue means “a pretty view” in French; and that’s exactly what John Callaghan, proprietor of Bellevue Wines & Spirits in Newport Rhode Island, presented to a gathering of 24 wine lovers on Sunday, having reached into his cellar for a terrific, evening-long, celebratory wine tasting dinner to honor Bellevue’s 10th anniversary as a vintner. It was a review that time traveled into vinous California history! I was excited to be invited to attend.
Now 37 years of age, each of the ten 1985s John uncorked from his cave were also accompanied by a current vintage release of the same Cabernet, so we could compare “the evolved” with “the yet to evolve” , all very interesting.
John’s ten ’85 Cabernets were: Grgich Hills, Burgess Cellars, Silver Oak Alexander Valley, Jordan, Heitz, Chateau Montelena, both Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow and Red Rock Terrace, Clos du Val from magnum and Stags Leap Cask 23 from magnum .
As if ten ‘85s and ten current vintages weren’t enough, several guests brought additional‘85s from their cellars: Caymus Special Select ’85 and Phelps Insignia ’85, Groth Reserve ’85 and Forman ’85.
The seven course dinner was appropriately hosted at Fluke Wine Bar & Kitchen on Newport’s renowned Bowen’s Wharf by owners – John’s brother, Jeff Callaghan and his wife, Geremie, also in celebration of their 10th anniversary as a Newport top restaurateur.
The welcoming aperitif was a sensually delicate glass of Laurent Perrier Brut Rose Champagne, a favorite of mine, - so I had two glasses to accompany an equally sensually delicious amuse bouche of Crispy Wellfleet Oysters garnished by Mango Pepper Relish sitting in its shell with a lively splash of Red Chili Mayo.
I’m not going to bore you with all the details of this momentary, but historic, look back at a vintage that was, interestingly, equally great in Bordeaux, Burgundy and California, but here are the evening’s highlights:
Still young and vital after 37 years, with plenty of fruit left to carry them still further into their futures were: ’85 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace, Caymus Special Select, Clos du Val and Stags Leap Cask 23 (the last two showing added strength from their having aged in magnums.
Most complex and interesting (for me) was the ’85 Phelps Insignia, with woodsy aromatics, a fascinating gamey nose, nuance of orange rind and complex, long , lingering aftertaste.
Most flavor intense, richest and chewy still was the ’85 Stag’s Leap Cask 23 from magnum.
Most surprising in its handsome flavor profile, mouthfeel and overall charm were both the’85 Jordan and ’85 Clos du Val from magnum.
My preference for the finest young wine that - if I were younger - I would select for future long term ageing was Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2014, as it was particularly sensually tactile and stacked with fruit that expressed to me the rich extract of a chocolate cake.
Dinner was…well…extraordinary, as Fluke’s rly talented Chef and serving staff pulled out all stops while – I observed – - also juggling dinner orders from more than a dozen tables filled with what looked like both Newport locals and tourists.
A Roast Mushroom Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions in a Basalmic Glaze segued into a small portion of delicious Roasted Monkfish with Chorizo, Roasted Tomato in a Shellfish Broth followed by a superlative little bowl of Rabbit Orecchiette over a bed of Spinach, Celriac and Herbs sprinkled with Parmigiano. A single superb Grilled Lamb Chop with a delicate Citrus Honey Glaze was accompanied by a dollop of Herbed Mashed Potatoes and three spears of Grilled Asparagus. I honestly couldn’t finish the Chef’s final tour de force: his House Made Beef Cheek Ravioli with Parsnips and Golden Beets in a brilliant, reduced Veal Stock, but I rallied and devoured two tasty cheeses from Sheryl Callaghan’s Aquidneck Meat & Provisions: a brilliant, stinky Jasper Hill Farm, Spruce Wrapped Harbison that that I intend to order for my home table in quantity, and a fine aged Goat Gouda.
As the evening wound down, to assuage a new found thirst, I asked for - and received – a frosty cold beer of which I could only drink half .
Looking at my notes, I judged only one ’85 wine as corked and one (that I brought from my own cellar) as over the hill.
Kudos to Fluke Wine Bar’s Chef, to John and Sheryl, Geremie and Jeff Callaghan for a tasting dinner to remember. When next you visit Newport, I recommend “the four Callaghans” as your path to wine and gastronomic nirvana.