Here's the thing about a wine dinner: The wine comes at you with the constancy of fireflies on a summer night. As my evening began with a '96 Krug Champagne and ended with an '88 Château d'Yquem, with countless California Chardonnays and Cabernets, Oregon Pinot Noir, Burgundies and Grand Cru Bordeaux in between, all I could think of as I headed home at midnight, happy but sodden, were these lines from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited: "It was neither the quality nor the quantity that was at fault. It was the mixture. Grasp that, and you have the root of the matter." Ah, yes, the root of the matter.
We fortunate few gathered in a private dining room at Charlie Palmer Steak for a dinner kicking off the American Heart Association's four-day wine extravaganza, "Heart's Delight," which is expected to raise a net of $1 million for the organization. The dinner was only 50 people at six round tables, all world-class collectors, makers, and professionals of wine. On my right was Leo Fox, CEO of Tenacity Solutions in Reston, a collector with 2,000 bottles in his cellar. On my left was J. France Posener, the marketing and sales manager for Opus One. Also at the table was Scott Greenberg, a Washington-area wine expert who oversees "Heart's Delight" with Heidi Arnold. Between them they knew everyone in the room, and well. Greenberg served as the auctioneer at an earlier live auction, at which Fox had scored the winning bid--$1,400--for a magnum of Posener's '05 Opus. That was the high watermark for a single bottle, but the runners-up fetched impressive prices, too.
It can be tough to get wine people to sit down and eat, and Wednesday night was no different. It was a BYOB evening, and the bottles were gems from the guests' private collections. Attendees table-hopped, bottles and magnums in hand, eager to pour samples into large balloon- and chimney-shaped glassware. At one point I had five glasses of red wine in front of me, crowding the area around my plate, which held a very good grilled sirloin steak with fava beans and braised potatoes. The earlier courses were soft-shell crab followed by braised-short-rib agnolotti. But the wines were the stars. Sip here, sip there, and more and more sips. A 2000 Trefethen Estate Chardonnay, a 1982 Chateau Malartic-Lagravière, a 1996 Château Ducru Beaucaillou, a 2002 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Cuvee Louise, a 1966 Chateau Latour, a 2005 Wedding Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2001 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, the 2005 Opus One, the 2007 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet.
The talk at the tables was about collections, what was selling and what was not (though the opinion was that selling is returning to pre-recession levels), and the fact that if makers of world-class wines wanted to, they could sell their whole annual production to Japan and China, because the demand for haute wines in those countries is that strong and buyers will pay whatever the price might be. Speaking of the stock-market crash, France Posener of Opus One shared that ironically, her company's '08 vintage, the year of the crash, was one of its best and has sold out.
The winemakers in the room included many from California and Oregon-- Janet Trefethen of Trefethen, Cameron Fisher of Fisher Vineyards, Justin Stephens of D.R. Stephens Estate, Lindsay Woodard of Retour Wines, and Jason Alexander of Meteor Vineyards. From Middleburg, Virginia's Boxwood Vineyard there was Rachel Martin, and from France, Jean-Jacques Bonnie of Chateau Malartic-Lagravière. Stephen Parry, the owner of Parry Cellars, interestingly is not a stranger to Washington. Before becoming a winemaker he worked for six years in Fish and Wildlife division of the Department of the Interior. He likes to return to Washington to visit restaurants that carry his wines, but he's quite content with his life in St. Helena, California.
Scott Greenberg surveyed the room, happy with the flow of the dinner, the camaraderie of the connoisseurs, and the bottles of rare wine being generously passed from table to table. He said he got involved with the American Heart Association after his son was born with a hole in his heart and his brother died young from a heart attack. He was not going to miss this evening. "I gave up four Caps tickets on the glass to be here tonight," he said. Who did he give them to? His wife and sons, so at least he kept it in the family.
The "Heart's Delight" wine extravaganza continues through Saturday with a series of dinners and wine auctions.