Intimate wine-tasting event proves to be a winner for all
BY MARISA FINETTI
A brisk December night in Las Vegas warmed up with an intimate crowd of wine aficionados gathered inside Hakkasan’s second-floor private dining room. At the center of a long dinner table lined with glistening Bordeaux glasses was self-made millionaire and entrepreneur Christopher King, partner of the eponymous King of Clubs, a renowned Napa Valley cult wine. King, in his mid-30s, had a robust yet unassuming personality behind his impeccable threads and pronounced horn-rimmed glasses. Clearly, he was excited to introduce his wine, as he graciously greeted his guests upon their arrival.
The King of Clubs project was developed alongside his partners, winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr. and restaurateur Justin Anthony, in an effort to offer wine connoisseurs an extraordinary, world-class wine that would stand up to top-rated neighbors in Napa Valley.
While addressing his guests, King acknowledged that he is still on the winemaking learning curve, but that he tasted his share of world-class wines. Over the years, King has become keenly aware of what he likes and set out to develop a wine that suits his palate and that of the most discerning connoisseurs.
His guests were composed of well-heeled wine enthusiast – the kind who like to chase small amounts of wine from all around the world. Cult wines are like luxury goods and, as one would expect of such a commodity that’s rare and expensive, a liberal dose of high ratings go a long way to making these wines must-haves for collectors.
But King chose to forego any scrutiny from the wine-rating process. Instead, he impressed his audience by offering them the privilege of discovering King of Clubs through comparative blind tastings alongside highly esteemed wines.
As the sommeliers started pouring the garnet-hued juice into each glass, King said, “We never wanted people to think it’s just an expensive bottle because of fancy branding and made buy wealthy owners.”
Indeed it is pricey at $799 per bottle and rare with only 333 bottles from the 2010 vintage that have all been accounted for, except for the few bottles at this dinner.
And while King is a man of wealth, he truly believes that he and Mondavi – a name recognized among the greatest New World pioneers – developed a truly exquisite wine that is comparable to Mondavi’s grandfather’s Opus One.
“A lot of time and energy went into creating this wine, and it is such an honor to be here with these other ‘winemakers,’” King said as he gave a nod to the glasses on the table.
“As for the King of Clubs, I can’t give specifics, but it’s made with an 86 percent cabernet sauvignon from the upper eastern bench of Oakville, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley floor, and 4 percent petite sirah,” he added. “The wine has spent two years in 100 percent new French Oak.”
Besides King of Clubs, the first of the three fellow winemakers King had recognized earlier – present in the form of the wines themselves – was William Harlan of Harlan Estate, who set out to craft a wine that would equal Bordeaux’s firth growths.
The second was his winemaker Robert Levy of Bond Estates. Bond makes single vineyard wines of exceptional quality, expressing different terroirs, and in this case, it was St. Eden. The 2010 Harlan Estate had 100 “Parker points,” and Bond St. Eden had 200 points from Antonio Galloni. In the last glass was Christian Moueix’s Dominus Estate, also a 100-pointer from Parker. Son of a legendary Bordeaux merchant, Moueix adapted his French approach to California conditions, focusing on dry farming as both an ecological measure and as a means to produce grapes of the finest quality.
“We’re not here to bash or beat these winemakers,” said King. “We just want to hang with them.”
As guests tasted these sumptuous wines from glasses numbered one through four, plates of succulent protein, ranging from crispy foie gras rolls and baked lamb chops, to tea-smoked beef short ribs and grilled Wagyu beef studded with enoku mushrooms, were offered. Certainly, the food was integral to fully appreciating these legendary reds.
As is known, the best wines come from the most carefully chosen and cultivated land farmed with great attention and personal care. They also are developed from a wine ethic that truly honors the conditions and traditions of the site, as well as the effort to provide grapes that reflect its true character and sense of place.
So the glasses before us were a reflection of all the natural splendor that Napa Valley has to offer, denoting the special characteristics that geography, geology and climate bestow upon the land.
True expressions included St. Eden’s red, rocky soil located north of Oakville crossroad. This wine would be Bond Estates. It showed extreme opulence, with dry herbs and mineral tingling on the palate with chocolate cassis.
Fabled Oakville benchlands of Harlan Estate, with its sensuous, complex, compelling characteristics rich with dark fruit, tobacco and earth, also found its way into the glasses.
Just a bit south from Yountville and slightly cooler from maritime influence, the soils of ancient Pacific seabed came through in yet another wine glass. Senses were charged with violet, black cherries and plums, with savory and cedar being the dominant flavor profiles. This was the elegant Dominus, which perhaps exhibited the most Old World qualities of the four.