May 31, 2008

Dinner at Alba Osteria

Elevage readers will likely know the names Carolyn and Marshall Manning. They host the annual Manning's March Magnum Madness soiree, and otherwise regularly open their home and their cellar to friends and strangers alike who enjoy good wine.

For Carolyn's recent....significant birthday, they topped themselves by hosting a dinner at one of their favorite restaurants here in Portland, Alba Osteria. They only asked that guests bring a special bottle of wine, or as Marshall clarifed for me, something you wonder "when am I going to open that?"

The evening was perfect. There are many accurate reports out there about how good and authentic Alba's cooking is, but this night seemed even better than ever. Add in a nice mix of people and a highly unusual Portland lightning storm, and of course some excellent wines, and it was truly a night to remember. Thanks to the hosts for their example of generosity, yet again.

For starters, we enjoyed the 1998 J. Lasalle Champagne Special Club, with its biscuity aroma and focused, long flavors. Then the 2005 Francois Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnes, fresh and piercing sauvignon that was predictably nice with oyster fritters.

The 2007 Tempier Bandol Rosé was very pale, with a simply beautiful rosé aroma with strong mineral flavors and wonderful length. Too bad that the bottle price has soared to the mid-$40s, though if any rosé is worth it, this really might be. It's fine wine, plain and simple.

The first red was the 1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, youthful but not young, finely tannic but open and long. I was surprised how well this showed for being just a ’95, which is early yet for a wine that should last for decades.

A decanter came around with the 1988 Tempier Bandol Tourtine, a bit farmy and tight, not my favorite Tempier and actually, the more I think about it, the more I find that many Tempiers red are like this for me. Hardly bad, but just very good, if that’s damning. Is it just too young yet?

Then we tried the lone Burgundy, the 1998 Rousseau Clos de la Roche. And wow, this definitely showed itself as Grand Cru. Medium translucent ruby color, sweet fruit and lovely floral and old wood aromas, silky and long in the mouth with some tannin on the finish, but nothing obtrusive. If you want someone to know what Grand Cru is all about, just give them a glass of this.

I didn't pay too much attention to the 1995 Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reserve, but it was really nice grenachey Chateauneuf, with a worsted texture with fine tannin that still needs time to resolve. It was tasty but will hold a while yet.

I also only had a quick taste of the 1990 Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo Riserva, which is still fairly tannic but nice if not a stand out tonight. Instead, I paid more attention to the 1958 Borgono Barolo Riserva, a relic in my wife’s words, but in a good way. Pale almost pink color, old yet fresh aroma and a light bodied but silky and flavory in the mouth. My wife later commented that it was like an old guy who’s well dressed and well kept, but still elderly. A treat. Thanks Mark.

Then a trio of dessert wines. First the 1988 Sudiraut Sauternes, which was nicer than I remember this one, more golden than ever with good sweetness and not the bitterness I remember from its youth. Then the 1995 Champalou Vouvray Tris des Vendanges, which was very sweet and fat, simply delicious but not so light on its feet.

But the true surprise amid this excess was the 1983 Argyros Vin Santo, what is apparently a legendary wine from Greece. Thick and rich, it was very full bodied with maple notes and all kinds of complexity, really tasty and a revelation about what might be out there from Greece that I’ve never even tried or thought existed.

The meal itself was long and delicious at every turn. I'll spare those details, but if you find yourself at Alba, simply order Tajarin and let the rest fill itself in. Alba makes and serves perhaps the best pasta in Portland, enough said.

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