This was a terrific evening of incredible wines and food at Aria Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. This small, intimate restaurant is run by chef Gerry Klaskala and the food and service were impeccable. I selected and presented the wines throughout the evening and the theme was Great Regions, Great Producers, and Benchmark Vintages. All in all, I’d say we ate and drank pretty well!

We started the evening with a bevy of appetizers and terrific bottles of Taittinger’s 2006 Comtes de Champagne. This is a rich, full-flavored Champagne that has lots of creaminess and toasty notes yet is beautifully balanced. You can safely drink this beauty today or cellar it for a few decades. The 2006 Champagnes appear to be similar in style to 2002, with ripe, concentrated personalities.

We started the meal with a flight of Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave paired with Smoked Wild Salmon with Crème Fraiche and Smoked Bacon. The smokiness worked wonderfully with the Hermitages. I had selected these vintages to show how the estate characterizes vintages between “Granite” years and “Sun” years. While there’s some correlation, this isn’t about the climate/weather and more about how the wines show; while 1998 and 2005 were both sunny, hot years, these wines couldn’t be more different. The 1998 Hermitage is the granite influenced vintage and offered an ethereal, elegant, almost Burgundian style in its dried earth, mineral, and sweet cherry and currant-scented personality. It’s fully mature and as elegant and seamless as it gets. The 2005 Hermitage is a much bigger, richer, more powerful wine that’s just now starting to round the corner towards its plateau of prime drinking. It certainly shows a sunnier personality with its fruit front and center, but needs another 3-4 years. It’s going to be incredibly long-lived.

From there we moved south to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and I was thrilled to present the wines of Isabel Ferrando’s Saint-Préfert. While she makes a number of cuvees, I consider her Collection Charles Giraud the top cuvee and it’s always a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre. In addition, I always love to show the 2007 and 2010 vintages side by side as well as they’re both incredible years, yet very different in style. This flight was paired with a Crisped Duck Confit with Leeks and Cannellini Beans, and the pairing worked perfectly. The 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud was simply singing and was pure perfection in the glass. It was also most guests’ favorite wine of the night. While it’s fully mature and offers a heavenly bouquet of garrigue, sweet kirsch, incense, lavender and assorted meatiness, as well as a huge palate, it’s going to continue drinking beautifully for another decade. The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud was more elegant and classic in style, yet still packs incredible amounts of fruit, texture, exuberance, and sex appeal. It too is drinking beautifully but needs 3-4 years to hit full maturity, where it will stay for another decade.

After the Rhône Valley tour, we switched gears and moved to two flights of Bordeaux variety blends. Starting with a benchmark estate in Bordeaux, the 2000 Haut Brion was as elegant and finesse driven as they come. This was even more apparent following the exuberant Châteauneuf-du-Pape flight. While still youthful, this beauty is starting to show the classic roasted herb, tobacco, and earthy minerality it’s known for. Deep, rich and layered, yet graceful, it might well have been the star of the show if not for the 2005 Haut Brion. A monumental wine in the making, it was the one wine I poured a second full glass of at the end of the evening. Incredibly perfumed, layered, and nuanced,  yet powerful and long, it has everything you could ask of a bottle of wine. You can safely drink it anytime over the coming two to three decades. Both wines worked beautifully with a Pasta dish covered in Black Truffles, but truthfully, wines of this caliber work with anything.

We finished the evening with a dish of Braised Wagyu Short Ribs and one of the greats from Napa Valley; the wines of David Abreu. Their estate Madrona Ranch Vineyard is located just outside of St. Helena, at the base of Spring Mountain, and of the four single vineyard cuvees they make, it’s always the most powerful and structured. The blend is close to equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (and small amounts of other varieties) and the 2005 Madrona Ranch was deep, massive, and incredibly concentrated, if not lacking a touch of the elegance and weightlessness found in the 2012. It’s in the early stages of maturity and will keep for decades. The 2012 Madrona Ranch was on another level and is up with the greatest wines I’ve ever drunk. Showing the sexiness and opulence of the 2012 vintage, it offers huge aromatics, full-bodied richness and an intense, opulent, yet weightless style that needs to be tasted to be believed. This is what great, great wine is all about and hats off to winemaker Brad Grimes for this incredible achievement.

All in all, it was a spectacular evening with incredible wines, food, and wine lovers!