Dinner with Friends

Columbus, OH

Tasted December 10, 2005 by psmith with 683 views


Jen and I got together last night with a couple of friends at one of the few BYO friendly restaurants in Columbus. We were looking for an excuse to open our one bottle of '94 Harlan and the season seemed like as good a reason as any. The Champagne and Maiden carried us through the amuse-bouche and appetizers while the Harlans were enjoyed with lamb shank and, afterwards, a cheese assortment. Great night!

Flight 1 (4 notes)

White - Sparkling
1990 Bollinger Champagne Vieilles Vignes Françaises France, Champagne
Bold and full bodied – keeps with the Bollinger style. Some yeasty freshly baked blueberry muffin and unusual, but really nice, darker berry and plum notes superimposed on the expected baking apples and the like. Expansive, complex, and very different. Still young, plenty of acid to balance but a lower acid Champagne overall. Creamy and nutty. Really good. ****/5
1997 Harlan Estate The Maiden USA, California, Napa Valley
Maturing minty green cab franc notes with some chocolate covered cherry on the really streamlined nose. Reminds me less of the super-ripe St. Emilion that some other vintages of this can taste like. Full and well balanced by fine Harlan tannins. A bit of heat on the finish but not the least bit offensive. As good as "second wine" as is made anywhere. ****-/5
1994 Harlan Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
Not quite the porty monster other vintages of this can be like. Still, like essence of Oakville/Rutherford Cabernet with supremely well-balanced cassis, red and black cherry, and sweet dark oak. Big, pure, and seamless on the palate. Plenty of extract and weight but still sufficiently light on its feet. Ultra fine tannins and no hard edges here. ****/5
1999 Harlan Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
Initially slightly offensive porty, almost cough-syrup on the nose, I thought this might have been a bit cooked. These rounded out after some time and the wine just seemed too young. Still very grapey on the nose; however, very Harlan on the palate with the same superfine tannins and pure cabernet notes. Beautifully textured, though perhaps comparatively monolithic at this point. ***+/5

Flight 2 (1 note)

Another table had an open bottle of '02 Clos St. Denis from the always great Dujac. We managed to get a taste - barely enough to evaluate a young Grand Cru Burg but nice either way.

2002 Domaine Dujac Clos St. Denis France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos St. Denis Grand Cru
Wonderful Dujac nose with sappy strawberry jam and some earth-driven nuances. More austere palate, plenty of acid for aging and more reticent fruit. Promising. ***+/5


For me Harlan is the quinessential California (or probably better put Oakville/Rutherford) Cabernet. The wine is perfect in every respect, utterly seamless, weighty yet light on its feet, and oh so tasty; however, I find the Maiden the more consistently interesting wine, one of the best that California has to offer. Both are supermodels to be sure, but while Harlan is statuesque and without flaws, it’s a bit like a Stepford Wife – there’s never anything ugly, unexpected, or particularly interesting there, a tasters natural reaction is “wow….enough said.” The Maiden may have a Cindy Crawfordesque mole, maybe a body part that’s a tiny bit out of proportion, or some other slight imperfection that provokes discussion and contemplation. For me, the latter is what separates the great wines from the pack.

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