“Some of the greatest bottles of wines I have ever had have come from relatively humble origins,” says one of the country’s most respected wine writers. It’s true.
Some 20 years ago, in the first week of May, about a dozen winemakers, wine journalists, wine retailers, and a mix of others who were truly among the most astute palates on wine in the country, began meeting for dinner in Redlands, Calif., near Riverside, at a place called Joe Greensleeves, which is little known outside its setting on the eastern fringe of the vast Los Angeles basin.
The group included such names as Daryl Groom, the winemaker at Geyser Peak; Nick Goldschmidt, of Simi Winery (at that time); Joe Hart, of Hart Vineyards in Temecula; Don Galleano, of Galleano Vineyards; Bob Small, director of the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition; Michael Martini, winemaker at his family’s Louis M. Martini Winery; Marco Cappelli, winemaker at Swanson in Napa who made its famous merlot and other wines.
The reason this trek to the Inland Empire, as they call it out there, was to experience one of the finest, most elegant, and balanced white wines ever made in California paired to absolute perfect pitch with food. Across the five or six years of this onetime annual dinner, the wine was always that year’s new release of Navarro’s Unfiltered Dry Gewürztraminer.
The dish that matched it so perfectly was Joe Greensleeve’s “Green Sleeve,” a roasted Anaheim chile stuffed with venison and Sonoma goat cheese with smoked corn sauce and diced tomatoes.
The balance and seamlessness between the Navarro and the spice of the chile, the slightly tangy and gamy flavor of the meat, the full softness and restraint of the goat cheese, the sweetness of the smoky corn, and the tart-sweet tomato, all blended magically with the delicate hints of rose-petal aromas and litchi flavors and perfect acidity of the wine.
The group would sit around a table in silence, slowly savoring a bite of the pepper and then a sip of the Gewürztraminer before someone would emerge from the fog and say, “wow” or “amazing.” Then they would order another round of Green Sleeves and try them with another wine. But none ever matched like the Navarro.
By the third year of this ritual, Navarro Gewürz-traminer was the only wine brought to the dinner. Different vintages were tried and, as a general rule, the freshest vintage seems always to be the best.
As the years went on, a bottle or two from previous years would appear to see how they compared. At the time, Navarro Gewürztraminer sold for about $13 a bottle.
Over the years, the group disbanded. Lives changed; people moved away.
A good 20 years on, the memory of that match remains strong and one of the great wine-and-food experiences in many of their lives. And Navarro’s Dry Gewürztraminer remains one of the finest wines made in this country, and it still sells for a reasonable price. The current release is about $19 — if you can find it.