I recently hosted a dinner to highlight some Californian wines of ‘middle age’ that I hadn’t tasted since release. The theme was Autumn, so you’ll see lots of mushrooms and squash.

With duck foie gras, white bean and walnut and back olive tapenade on bruschetta, I served:

Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvee de la Pompadour – this pinot noir/chardonnay blend was a nice pale pink colour, and had a nose of strawberry and lime with hints of yeast. It came across initially as rather like Champagne (it is made by Taittinger) but as it opened up it became more obviously new world. It showed some dry clean acidity and had medium length. Decent.

With kabocha squash and coconut soup, I served:

2010 Ridge Santa Cruz Chardonnay – colour is now slightly darkening straw, and the nose showed a nice nuttiness with some pear and citrus notes. It worked well with the soup.

With the next course I commenced the main theme, serving pairs of wines, all cabernets, blind.

The first course was a cold BBQ quail salad with herbed lentils and bacon.

1993 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon – well structured medium dark red wine with a slightly dusty plummy nose, and hints of both eucalyptus and dark chocolate. Surprisingly good.

1993 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks – bit of bricking, ripish nose of blackberry, missing the house mintiness, with more ripeness on palate but finishing with good acidity

With chanterelle cream in pastry shells:

1992 Joseph Phelps Insignia – deep colour, still bright at the edges, and a lovely nose of black cassis and spice, lots of depth on palate with richness and sweetness and complexity and a lengthy finish. Wine of the night for me.

1992 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – mocha and berry nose, good fruit levels and medium length. Not as complex as the Insignia but very decent.

With pepper steak with a Port, Zinfandel and mushroom sauce, served with gratin Dauphinois and sesame carrots:

1991 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection – now for something completely different! A wine in a style that certainly has a lot of followers – brash, big oaky and smoky nose, big flavours, not complex, and a slightly angular finish. I had the 1994 regular bottling and it was much more to my taste.

1991 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve – nose not dissimilar to the Caymus, smooth in the mouth, with some nice black fruit, smooth and long. Very good.

With cheese, as I am all out of Quady (or Ficklin), I elected to serve another dry red wine:

1978 Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – almost claret like with a bit of mustiness overlying a nose featuring old wood and old fruit, clearly at the end of life but with some virtue – earthiness and a dry finish. It did fade a bit in the glass with time. Reminded me of some 1978 clarets.

With a butternut squash flan (not sweet) with pumpkin cinnamon ice cream (sweet):

1988 Chateau St. Jean Johannisberg Riesling Special Select Late Harvest Alexander Valley
– I love these wines! This one was a mahogany brown (something I have noted in old American Rieslings as opposed to German examples that tend to go dark amber). Sweet ripe botrytis nose, quite sweet on palate, with 13% RS (only half what the legendary 1978 Robert Young TBA has). Good balance and a dessert on its own.