Carlitos Way is Cabernet bay-bee

viva%2Bvino.jpgCarlitos is a genuine LA character. From stuffing burritos at El Rey Taco for 60s and 70s era USC football greats at Fig & Vermont when he was a teenager to making the leather boots for the old PSA stews (i.e., flight attendants) to throwing my favorite Xmas party, the man is endlessly amusing and excellent company. We have a March Madness bet – most wins – and this year I nipped him by 2 games. So he had to buy dinner at his favorite local Italian joint, Giorgios, in Palos Verdes. Like Litos, Giorgios is classic right down to the plaster statues between the banquettes. The highlight of the meal, for me, was Chef Carlo serving us panne cota ora’nge for dessert. Carlos requested cherries jubilee (what else?) which Giorgio prepared at the table. The only thing missing was a Tony Bennett serenade.
Now the wines. Carlitos loves classic Napa cabernet. He has a garage full of it. This summer he is going to install an air conditioner in the garage because come Aug-Sep it can get warm-ish up on the PV hill (even though the afternoon of the dinner at 75F it was 20 degrees cooler than the West Valley). The cool ocean air allows him to keep the wines in reasonably good shape. I have never had one that turned, even the 1966 BV George de Latour he opened Dec 10. I always look forward to drinking wine with Carlos (and lovely Alice his keeper and charming muse) because it gives me a chance to try wines I have long abandoned – classic Napa cabs. The other cool thing is that I know most of the wines he opens from 2 decades past so it is lotsa fun to reach back and discuss some 80s vintages (the last Napa cab I recall buying was the 1990 Mondavi Reserve in double mag; still have it). This what we tasted on Carlitos Way the other night.
1996 McKenzie-Mueller Merlot (in mag): We had this in December as well. It is simply magnificent. MM%2Bvyd.jpg
This tells you everything you need to know about Bob Mueller’s winemaking talent. Forget merlot-bashing. Some folks actually make it memorable. Bob is one such. My wife bought a 1999 Wild Horse Merlot at the winery in 2005 (with the Constellation turnover they must have been clearing the cellars). Excellent. The M-M wine was fresh, voluptuous without being plump, full-bodied. Deep flavors. If the evening can be likened to The Magnificent Seven (on TV today) this wine is Chris (Yul Brynner’s leader). Straightforward, practical, daring, a winner.
1995 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon: See what I mean about Litos’ cellar? Who has these wines? Let me amend that…who bought these wines and held onto them a decade or more? This is the Steve McQueen character in M7. Sensible, classic, dependable, solid as a rock, nimble. Classic Napa cedar nose. Middle weight, tannins pretty settled in. Pure Napa cab balanced with fruit and wood, both appropriately mellowed and blended. If I could drink one wine on its own this would be the one.
1998 Phelps Insignia: Do you remember Horst Bucholz in M7? He is mistreated by Chris and the others. They think he does not belong. He is obviously insecure and wants to be one of the gang so badly it hurts him. Flashy. Full of stuff. Bombastic. JPinsig.jpgOh. Back to the wine. Phelps Insignia lacks nothing in terms of being included with the classic lineup of old guard Napa cabs. Maybe it was never BV de Latour, Heitz Marthas, Ridge Montebello, or Montelena. If there is any hint of “less than” maybe that is because it is a blend, I mean Meritage. The 1998 was 78% cab, 22% merlot. I always recall the 1985 Insignia, remembering it was so minty and eucalyptus-ilke. Turns out it had 15$ cab franc! This 98 was the big baby of the night (not crybaby, more like Glen Davis aka Baby Shaq). First, it was completely fresh like it was bottled last month. Living in Carlitos’ garage however many years did nothing to diminish this wine’s power. Like a smack in the face. Kick in the gut. Round, firm, full, powerful. Big fruit but not over-ripe at all. Even the bottle is kind of rugged and powerful. This was the wine to stand up to Chef Carlo’s chianti wine sauce with the slices of fresh garlic. This wine will keep another decade easily. I wonder if it will ever age? It is that huge. Do not misunderstand. It is not overblown. Just overwhelming. This is a wine to take to a blind tasting of monster Napa cabs. Put this in a bag with the other big names and let’s see who likes what.
Happy 4th.

1 Comment

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    Dionysus says:

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