Wine Rating: 95
Saturday – Dinner Party
Several times a year, a friend invites me to a dinner party that he hosts at his stunning home, for an evening of bountiful eats. This review reflects on that night.
The gathering that kicked off in the late afternoon and consisted of endless trays of lobster tails, crab legs, coconut shrimp, and waiting on a nearby table, were countless sides that went perfectly with shellfish. I contributed to the evening’s bounty by bringing 10 pounds of my tasty homemade baked ziti, which was a big hit.
Our host for the night was my friend Tom, who I’ve known since junior high school. He’s a good friend and we’ve done many things together over the last 30 years. Tom’s a no bullshit person, who just wants to enjoy life and surround himself with good people. He’s that guy who ‘knows everyone’ and when I say everyone, I mean everyone. When we go to lunch in our childhood city of Belmont Shore (Long Beach), it’s quite an experience. Throughout our lunch, people come up to him, shake his hand, give him their business card or do the ‘call me’ hand signal, from across the room. It’s like lunching with the POTUS, minus the secret service.
It’s quite a turnout of ‘who’s who’ types, which show up for Tom’s feast. How I fit into such a crowd is still, beyond me. I was an English major and most days I like to just to keep to myself. I find solace in quiet, dark, lovely fine dining restaurants that I enjoy bringing my wife to, where we’ll knowingly (and preferably) not be bothered. My wife, Shawn-Marie, can hold her own in any conversation, large or small. As a speaker and business strategist, she talks to groups of professionals, entrepreneurs, and creatives for a living, as where I sit with my dogs in my home-office and type at a keyboard. I also talk to myself all day.
As it usually happens at social gatherings, small talk begins. The pleasant handshake, the “How are you doing?” and “Oh, do you know so and so?” You get the picture. After some niceties, you can usually find me diving into the wine that I brought. Yes. That’s correct. No matter where I go, if wine is part of the festivities, I always bring my own. I don’t do it to be a snob or ungrateful; I’m just unapologetically particular about the types of wine I like to drink, and it’s rare (if ever) that such wines are served.
Inevitably, the question of, “What do you do for a living?”, comes up. This is where I pause, look the person right in the eyes and say, “I’m a writer. I research and drink wines that I love, then share my experience of them with the world, in a simple and sometimes humorist storytelling way.” Well, that’s not really true. I just tell them, “I write about wine.” which usually leads to a few questions, which sound something like this: “Do you make a living doing that?”, “Are you drinking something you’ve written about?” and, “What are you drinking?” My answer to the first question is, “No. I don’t make a living as a wine writer, but I do get free wine, although not as much as I’d like, to sample and review.” There is often a follow-up question to that, which is, “Then, what do you do for a living?” That’s when I tell them that I’m the Director of Marketing for one of the largest sex toy companies in the world, which takes the whole damn conversation in an entirely new direction when what I’d rather talk about is my passion and my love of the grape. But alas, we end up talking about dildos and butt plugs.
After a few humorous quips about the toys my company makes and that I sell and bring to market, the conversation (thankfully) turns to the second question, “Are you drinking something you’ve written about?” That answer is likely to be, “Yes I am.” or “I will be.” And finally the last question, “What ‘are’ you drinking?” Ahhh… my preferred topic for discussion. Depending on the wine I brought with me, the small talk can be a snappy, fact-based repartee or an all out dissertation, whether they want to hear it or not. I’ve been known to hold court a time or two, and when it comes to the topic of wine, it’s an easy thing to do. I’ll pull out the bottle, pour them a taste, and then explain to them what they are drinking. At Tom’s party, I brought a ‘very hard to find’ 2006 Molly Dooker Goose Bumps. A sparkling Syrah from Australia. A wine that some might say is an acquired taste. It’s certainly not for everyone. I however love, love, love it! The dense fruit, the tart finish. There is so much to like about it. The second bottle I brought along for the ride was the 2011 Schrader, LPV Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon. A tad young, but I didn’t care. I wanted a powerhouse red, and that’s exactly what she was.
From the very start, Schrader has made damn good wine. Fred Schrader has always hired people who are at the top of their game. It began for him when he and his then-wife, Ann Colgin, started Colgin-Schrader Cellars, a cult cab producer much like Bryant Family and Screaming Eagle. The couple divorced around 1996, and today, Ann owns Colgin Cellars in St. Helena and produces some of the world best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. This is in large part due to her hiring Helen Turley shortly after her launch. I’ve written extensively about Helen Turley in my article about Marcassin Wine.
Once a high-end art and antique dealer and being far from done with the wine world, in 2000 Fred Schrader founded Schrader Cellars, also in St. Helena. Wanting to source from the very best California had to offer, Schrader decided to partner with W. Andrew Beckstoffer from the legendary Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, for his grapes. The next step was to find a winemaker who could create the type of Cabernet that Schrader wanted to bottle and would eventually become famous for.
Schreader remembered meeting a young winemaker who at the time, worked at a local wine store in Calistoga. Schrader paid him a visit and convinced Thomas River Brown to join him at his new winery. The only problem was that Brown had only ever made Zinfandel and knew nothing about Cabernet, but Schrader took a gamble on the recent South Carolina transplant and well, the rest is Napa Valley history. By 2006, Schrader was producing what Robert M. Parker called ‘utter perfection’ and rated the 2006 Schrader CCS Cabernet Sauvignon a 100.
Schrader produces what I call New World wine, and as I’ve often written, those are my favorite. New World wine is big fruit, high alcohol and definitely, not a favorite of Old World wine drinkers. They prefer to stick with their Bordeaux styled wines. Thick tannins, low alcohol and mild fruit. We are on opposite ends on this one. I like my wine to slap me in the face and then put me to bed. The New World wines I love, from Pinot Noirs to Chardonnays, are a fruit bomb in your mouth, followed by a high heat alcohol finish. That’s how I like them.
The 2011 Schrader, LPV could have used another five years in the cellar, but I was happy not to wait. The tannin was supple and the berry fruit, which was slightly tart, did mellow after an hour decanting. What I enjoy about the St. Helena terrior, is the forest notes you find in the top produced wines of the area.
At the party, I dive into a plate of lobster tails, crab legs, and a very dense baked ziti. With my heavy pour of Schrader in hand, I toast with my wife and take in the heavy red. Feeling incredibly relaxed, sitting in a sun chair on the 2nd story patio deck, taking in the marina view of the city I still love (and where I probably belong), I watch all size boats, sail and motor from here to there. The cool evening breeze brings a reminiscent musty salty scent that makes me a tad meloncholy. An older gentleman and his younger pretty wife sit down next to my prettier wife and me. This man introduces himself and remarks on the beautiful view. I pull my glance away from the water and ask him how he knows our host, Tom. He tells me he is a commercial realtor and has sold property to Tom’s family for many years.
We all sit in silence. The wind picks up and feels fantastic on my cheeks. I look at my wife, smile, and pour her another glass of Schrader. The man looks at the Schrader, then at me and remarks on the exceptional wine that I brought. He tells me that he has been on their exclusive mailing list for years and has magnums that he needs to start opening. I tell him if he needs any help to let me know. He looks at the bottle and says, “A 2011 LPV. Nice choice.” I remark that it’s a tad young, but I was in the mood for that nubile tartness to go with the seafood. “Las Piedras Vineyard is never a wrong choice.” He says. I offer him a glass and pour him the last of the bottle. He takes a sip and rolls it around his mouth, “You can taste where this will be in five or so years.” I nod, take a sip myself and let it just sit on my tongue for a few seconds. He puts the glass down and asks me what I do for a living. I look at my wife, give her a little wink and say, “I’m a writer, a wine storyteller.” He picks up his glass, points it towards me and says, “That beats the hell out of selling property any day.” I couldn’t agree more.
2011 Schrader LPV Beckstoffer
Las Piedras Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Produced by: Schrader
Winemaker: Thomas Rivers Brown
City: St. Helena
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Appearance (Color): Deep red
Aroma (Complexity): Blackcurrant and forest dew
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Dark berry fruit, sage and cherry
Finish (What lingers): Sandalwood