Surprise Birthday Party for David Niederauer

The Plumed Horse Restaurant, Saratoga, California
Tasted Thursday, June 12, 2008 by Richard Jennings with 1,648 views


This was a memorable, blow-out, over-the-top celebration for our dear and generous friend David Niederauer. Jonathan Dinh organized it as a surprise, telling David he was going to introduce him to a group of foodies Jonathan knew, who tended to dress in black, and instead bringing him into the Chef's Table Room at Plumed Horse where were seated a group of David's usual tasting buddies, almost all dressed in black. At Jonathan's urging, we reached deep into our cellars for treats to honor David, so there was a real embarrassment of riches on hand, which got a little hard to properly take in, especially as we crept toward flights 11 and 12 of what turned out to be a 15-flight affair. All in all, these were amazing wines, some of which I'm sure I'll never have the opportunity to taste again, accompanied by creative and tasty treats from Chef Peter Armellino. WOTN for me, and apparently several others, was the stellar '66 DRC Echezeaux, showing as well as I imagine this wine ever will. In general, mature red Burgs were the stars of the evening, while some of our Rhones, which usually show so well, did not seem as strong to me as at prior events. My liver took a day or two to recover, as it was very difficult to spit as much of these great wines as I usually would knowing that we were tasting 30 or more wines. In sum, a great tribute to an extremely generous friend, and a fitting send off to the peripatetic Dinh, who claims he's relocating the locus of his OL activity to some other country or continent.
Toasting the birthday boy: image

Flight 1 - Champagne (2 Notes)

Lovely Champagnes for arrival, especially the unexpectedly good '76 Philipponnat. Our amuse bouche that went with this flight was a single Quilcene oyster.

Flight 2 - Foie Gras Wines (2 Notes)

The dish for this flight was a pan-seared foie gras on brioche toast, on top of Bing cherries with a cherry coulis and Riesling gastrique. The '75 Yquem was youthful and gorgeous.

  • 1975 Château d'Yquem 96 Points

    France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes

    Medium dark apricot color with clear meniscus; coconut and confectioner's sugar nose; unctuous, rich apricot and coconut palate with depth, very young yet; long finish

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  • 2000 Château Mouton Rothschild Aile D'Argent Blanc 93 Points

    France, Bordeaux

    Medium yellow color; creamy, light citrus and vanilla nose; tart, tight lemon grass and lime with a creamy texture and lots of minerality; medium-plus finish (took 20 minutes or so to really open up in the glass)

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Flight 3 - Montrachet neighbors (2 Notes)

This and the next flight went with a black pepper souffle with uni and dungeness crab fondue. The '04 Leflaive Batard-Montrachet was a real eye opener--a coiled, sleeping giant whose power kept growing during the hour or so that I kept in the glass.

Flight 4 - Corton-Charlemagne Flight (2 Notes)

Flight 5 - 1st Red Burg Flight (3 Notes)

The '95 Leroy Beaux Monts was, not surprisingly, gorgeous in this flight.


Flight 6 - 2nd Mature Pinot Flight (2 Notes)

A surprisingly strong and memorable 33-year-old California Pinot, along with a classic, traditional Dujac.

  • 1975 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma County 94 Points

    USA, California, Sonoma County

    Medium cherry red color with clear meniscus; mature tart red fruit and mushroom nose; youthful, concentrated, deep palate of ripe cherry and black cherry with caramel edges; medium-plus finish

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  • 1988 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche 95 Points

    France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru

    Medium brick red color with pale meniscus; mature tart strawberry, sous bois and roses nose; complex palate of tart strawberry, sous bois, mineral, roses and rose hips, with good acidity; long finish 95+ pts.

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Flight 7 - Faux DRC

David has tricked us on several occasions by putting amazing wines (e.g., Screaming Eagle) into lesser bottles (e.g., Turley Zin), or doing tricky triple blind tastings with double reveals, so this flight was intended as partial payback. Into 3 bottles of DRC La Tache, a couple of us put a mixture of new Cali Pinots. Pretty silly stuff, but it did occasion some good laughs, and "threats" by David to trick us in the future with some real La Tache. The flight was served with Plumed Horse's addictive "sliders": filet mignon w/onion and garlic aioli served with truffle jus on the side. image

Flight 8 - Richebourg Flight (2 Notes)

Lovely Richebourg, especially the very sexy Noellat. With this and the next flight, our course was a stunning-looking pot au feu of lobster, morel mushrooms and market vegetables.

  • 1974 Charles Noellat Richebourg 95 Points

    France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Richebourg Grand Cru

    Light medium brick red color; sexy caramel and raspberry nose with a touch of bacon fat; sexy, tart cherry, raspberry and sous bois palate; medium-plus finish

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  • 1969 Moillard Richebourg 93 Points

    France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Richebourg Grand Cru

    Slightly cloudy rapsberry red color; white chocolate, raspberry and berry nose; raspberry, berry, lots of fruit and sense of chaptalization; medium-plus finish

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Flight 9 - Les Echezeaux (2 Notes)

The DRC Echezeaux in this flight was so great, I hardly knew what to say. Best Echezeaux I've ever had, for sure. The Caves de la Busserole was very mature, but nonetheless intriguing.

Flight 10 - Beaucastel Smackdown (2 Notes)

Two of Jonathan's and my favorite wines: the '89 and '90 Beaucastel. Our '89 was the weakest '89 non-flawed Beau I've ever had, but the '90 was youthful and lovely. With this and the next flight, we had an onglet of beef course.

Flight 11 - Mature CdP (2 Notes)

These were two of the oldest Chateauneuf du Papes I've ever had. The '53 was a real treat, and quite tasty. The '78 was over the hill and rather disappointing for such a famed year.

Flight 12 (2 Notes)

We could, and perhaps should have, stopped with the flight above. By this point, the fine details of the wines were becoming harder to pick up. Nonetheless, I was a little underwhelmed by these two La Las compared to several other vintages I've had, although I know that others at the dinner found them very impressive. The lovely dish with this and the next flight was one that David inspired Peter to create for our Tax-Day Hobo dinner a couple months before: oxtail and bonemarrow marmelade with toast.

Flight 13 - Duo of Legends (2 Notes)

In retrospect, I wish I could have appreciated these two famous vintages of famed wines earlier in the evening. Perhaps it was all that had gone before and my general palate fatigue that kept these from being quite as impressive to me as I would have expected. Thanks, though, to those who generously provided such legendary wines.

  • 1974 Ridge Monte Bello 93 Points

    USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains

    Dark red violet color; cassis and plum nose; mature but deep palate of tart plum, berry, black cherry; medium-plus finish

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  • 1970 Bodegas Vega-Sicilia Ribera del Duero Único Flawed

    Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero

    Dark red violet color; smoky, tart currant nose with a touch of TCA; tart plum, currant and spice palate; medium-plus finish (I think the palate was impacted by the TCA as well, as I would have expected greater depth of flavor than this bottle was showing)

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Flight 14 - 1st Sweet Flight (2 Notes)

Apparently two of us had hunted for wines that were at least as old as David. ;-) The 1914 Massandra was an incredible treat, and joins a list of great Massandra memories for me. This one was all the more haunting for having been harvested in the year the world completely changed. Thanks to Mischa for sharing this jewel with us. My 1900 Barbeito Malvazia, which I've had a few times before, performed even better than when I've had it on other occasions. Our dish for this flight was a duo of dessert souffles.

Flight 15 - '76 Sweet Wines (2 Notes)

In somewhat of an anticlimax after all that had gone before, these two probably didn't impress as much as they might have if they hadn't followed the incredible sweet and palate covering yuzu sorbet. Lovely wines, nonetheless.


Great food, great friends, fabulous wines. The quantity--3.1 bottles per person--was clearly excessive in light of what these wines were. A lovely gesture, though, of appreciation to someone who has been incredibly generous to us.
David posing with his birthday ukelele