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Expense Account Wines
By Ed McCarthy
Feb 5, 2008
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Economic times might be tough, but you might be one of those fortunate people whose job allows you the opportunity to order fine wines for your clients when entertaining them in restaurants.  In fact, this could be an important requisite of your job--but it's a challenge many professionals don't look forward to, because they're not wine geeks, and the often inscrutable wine list  might as well have been written in an unfathomable language.  Many view it with a combination of fear and dread.

If this applies to you, here is my advice.  First of all, I suggest that you confront the situation head-on; most good restaurants today have a sommelier or wine director who knows the wine list thoroughly.  Ask for assistance.  One tried-and-true method is to ask, 'What wines would you suggest with the food we're thinking of ordering?'  (I devote all of Chapter 7 in my book, Wine For Dummies, 4th edition, co-authored by Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW, to the often thorny problem of ordering wine in restaurants, by the way.)

To help you out, I've compiled a list of currently available wines that will impress your client (s) and that you will most probably enjoy as well.  All of the wines I list are red, because even though you might start dinner with Champagne or a white wine, usually the 'big splurge' wine of the luncheon or dinner is red.  I have chosen wines from all around the world, with an emphasis on French, Italian, and California reds.  Obviously, only a few of these wines might be available in any one restaurant , but your sommelier can usually direct you to substitutes which are similar to my choices.  I list the approximate restaurant  price of the wines, as well as the retail price:

Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) 2003 ($170, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines; approx. restaurant price, $400):  La Mission Haut-Brion, located just south of the city of Bordeaux, is the sister-Château of the famous First Growth, Château Haut-Brion, and rivals its prestigious sibling in most vintages--at one-third its price.  Whereas Haut-Brion's trademark is elegance and grace, La Mission is known for its power and depth.  In 2003 La Mission is a particularly massive wine, a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Perfect with steak or lamb.  93
Château Pichon-Lalande, Pauillac (Bordeaux, France) 2000  ( $290, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines; approx. restaurant price, $600):  Pichon-Lalande, from the village of Pauillac in the Haut-Médoc district of Bordeaux, is known in the wine world as a 'Super-Second' Growth because it really is on the same level as the five Bordeaux First Growths.  I have never experienced a bottle of Pichon-Lalande that I didn't love!  Its calling cards are velvety texture, aromas of cassis, and a long finish on the palate.  It is superb in the wonderful 2000 vintage.  Ask the sommelier to decant it.  96

Domaine Méo-Camuzet, Vosne-Romanée (Burgundy, France) Les Chaumes 2002 ($150, various importers; approx. restaurant price, $350):  Vosne-Romanée, a village in the Côte de Nuits part of the fabled Côte d'Or district, is my absolute favorite area in Burgundy.  Red Burgundies here are grands vins indeed; they are elegant, rich, and velvety.  Domaine Méo-Camuzet, one of the finest wineries in the region, made a particularly gorgeous premier cru, the Les Chaumes, in the splendid 2002 vintage.  If the 2002 is unavailable, go for the 2004, which is almost as good.  95
Domaine Joseph Drouhin, Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, France) Les Amoureuses 2004 ($130, Dreyfus-Ashby; approx. restaurant price, $275):  The venerable Burgundy firm, Joseph Drouhin, makes a number of good Burgundies, but its premier cru, Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses (which means 'the lovers'), is my clear favorite.  All finesse and elegance, with the captivating aromas of red fruits and a touch of woodsiness, the memory of Les Amoureuses will stay with you long after dinner.  And wiser to go with this premier cru rather than the Grand Cru, le Musigny, which is priced in the $1,000 range.  No sense spending all of the boss' money at one dinner!  95
E. Guigal, Côte Rôtie (Rhône Valley, France) La Mouline 2002 ($195, Monsieur Touton; approx. restaurant price, $475):  Marcel Guigal has almost singlehandedly put the Rhône Valley on the high-end wine map with his exquisite single-vineyard Côte Rôtie wines.  If you yearn to taste arguably the world's finest expression of the Syrah grape variety, you must try a Guigal Côte Rôtie, preferably his La Mouline.  Its aromas are beguiling: violets, raspberries, green olives, bacon, and underbrush.  The wine needs at least five years of aging.  The 2002 should be exquisite now.  94

Giacomo Conterno, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) 'Monfortino' 1998 ($265, Polaner Selections; approx. restaurant price, $600):  Made entirely from the Nebbiolo variety, Barolo is a massive wine, with incredible aromas of strawberries, tar, mint, eucalyptus, roses, spices, and white truffles when at its best.  The secret is to seek out a great producer.  Giacomo Conterno makes my favorite Barolos and Monfortino is its best--for me, the world's greatest Barolo.  Young Roberto Conterno took over from his father Giovanni, the 'king' of Barolo, who passed away a few years ago, and is doing a fantastic job.  The 1998 vintage in Piedmont is excellent.  Possibly the world's greatest red wine?  98

Angelo Gaja, Nebbiolo Langhe (Piedmont, Italy) Sorí Tildin 1999 ($350, Terlato Wines International; approx. restaurant price, $700):  No one has done more to promote Piedmontese wines, especially his native Barbaresco, than the dynamic Angelo Gaja.  Several years ago, Angelo made the decision to add about five percent Barbera to his single-vineyard Barbaresco wines.  And so, now that they're not 100% Nebbiolo, he no longer can call them Barbarescos. But no matter: genius is genius, by any name.  Gaja still makes some of the most exciting red wines in the world.  The 1999 Sorî Tildin is majestic, powerful and yet so elegant.  96

Tenuta San Guido (Tuscany, Italy) 'Sassicaia' 1999 ($200, Kobrand; approx. restaurant price, $425):  It was the inspiration of Tenuta San Guido, owned by a cousin of Chianti's Antinori family, to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the warm, coastal area of Tuscany, around the village of Bolgheri, back in the 1940s.  Marchese della Rochetta (the owner) believed that the terroir here was similar to Bordeaux's.  In 1968, he released the first Sassicaia, now known as the first Super-Tuscan wine.  Today, Sassicaia ranks with all the great Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignons of the world.  The 1999 Sassicaia is excellent; do have it decanted.  96

Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Tuscany, Italy) 'Masseto' 2003 ($300, Folio Fine Wine Partners; approx. restaurant price, $650):  What is the world's greatest Merlot?  Certainly the fabled Pomerol from Bordeaux, Château Petrus, is a strong contender.  But also in the running is the incredibly delicious Super-Tuscan, Masseto, which is 100% Merlot.  When you taste the 2003 Masseto, your first reaction might be, 'Can wine really taste this good'?  All luscious black fruits, especially plums, with a touch of dark chocolate and mocha.  A blockbuster of a wine.  It needs a large glass.  98

Casse Basse-Soldera (Tuscany, Italy) Brunello di Montalcino 1995 ($250, Palm Bay Imports; approx. restaurant price, $600):  Some wine lovers say that Barolo is Italy's greatest wine.  Others insist that it's Brunello di Montalcino.  But those who have tasted Gianfranco Soldera's wines from his Casse Basse estate invariably agree that Soldera makes the best Brunellos--and the most expensive and sought-after.  Words like 'monumental' and 'awesome' come to mind.  Made entirely from Sangiovese Grosso, Brunello (especially Soldera's) needs at least 10 years of aging. The 1995 Soldera, from a superb vintage, is just starting to show its greatness.  97

Bodegas Vega Sicilia (Ribera del Duero, Spain) 'Unico' 1995 ($300, Michael Skurnik Wines; approx. restaurant price, $650):  Not only Spain's greatest wine, but one of the classic red wines of the world, Vega Sicilia's Unico, made from 80% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, is so intense and concentrated that the winery ages it at least 10 years before releasing it.  Unico has enormous longevity and can easily age for 50 years or more; it's the world's finest expression of the Tempranillo variety.  The 1995 Unico (the current vintage) is complexly flavored and powerful yet elegant, on the level of the sublime 1994.  97

Penfolds, South Australia (Australia) 'Grange' 1999 ($275, Foster's Wine Estates; approx. restaurant price, $600):  If what you truly desire is a big, rich, voluptuous red with plenty of power, Grange is your wine.  Australia's most renowned wine, made from about 98% Shiraz (Syrah), it is redolent of black fruits, earth, and currants.  It has a fantastically long finish; you can still taste it for several minutes after swallowing.  The 1999 Grange is not the most recent release but remains available, and  these wines age forever, and so don't hesitate to order an older vintage, if available.  Try it with steak or grilled meats.  95

Opus One, Napa Valley (California), Proprietory Red 2003 ($165; approx. restaurant price, $350):  Opus One, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, is arguably California's most renowned wine.  A joint venture between the Robert Mondavi Winery and Château Mouton-Rothschild (and still half-owned by the latter), Opus One's first vintage was in 1979.  Today, it is better than ever.  Opus One's taste profile reveals both its Napa Valley ancestry in its opulence and power along with its Bordeaux lineage with its elegance and finesse.  Do have the 2003 Opus One decanted; it improves with aeration.  94

Harlan Estate, Napa Valley (California) Proprietory Red 2000 ($400; approx. restaurant price, $1,000):  Harlan Estate, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of the most sought-after wines in the U.S.  As the price of recent Harlan vintages has been rising, opt for an older vintage, if available.  Harlan Estate 2000 is still around in some restaurants; if you spot the fabulous 1999, jump on it!  Harlan Estate consistently receives 100-point ratings from major wine critics for good reason; it's the whole package: power; opulence; complex, rich flavors; and great finesse. A truly memorable wine.  95

Bryant Family Vineyard, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 ($490; approx. restaurant price, $950):  One of Napa Valley's most stunning Cabernet Sauvignons.  A small production wine, it can nevertheless be found in fine restaurants--especially those which emphasize California wines on their wine lists.  The 2001 Bryant Family Cab is simply outstanding; it has lush flavors, with notes of cinnamon and black fruits, and a long finish on the palate.  A wine such as this is what has made Napa Valley Cabernets famous worldwide.  Try it with grilled meats, and it will shine.  97