Uncorked - If You Want to Try Good Wines Wrangle Dinner with a Winemaker

I think winemakers, as well as politicians, are entitled to private lives not subject to scrutiny. Except maybe their sipping habits. I constantly wonder what wines the pros and the pols drink at home. Rather than invoke the Freedom of Information Act, I try to cadge an invitation now and then to satisfy my more than idle curiosity. 

I did very well last week, dining with the winemaker Christopher Tracy and Larry Perrine, chief executive officer of Channing Daughters, along with Mr. Tracy's wife, Allison Dubin, the general manager, and Mr. Perrine's fiancŽe, Jacqui Smith, who is also involved with the winery. 

We started the evening nibbling on three delectable cheeses, Rochetta, Valtellina, and a truffled goat cheese, with some prosciutto di Parma and truffle mousse, accompanied by Channing Daughters 2004 Brick Kiln chardonnay ($20), a medium-priced and absolutely dependable wine, and their 2004 Clones ($29), a new wine composed mostly of chardonnay but mixed with interesting clonal varieties of four other grapes. Clones proved to be a successful winemaking experiment undertaken by Mr. Tracy. 

Once seated at the table, we moved on to a grilled shiitake soup with sautŽed chanterelles and lardons. The soup was accompanied by a flight of four chardonnay wines. (Wine professionals, it turns out, are comparative tasting junkies.) Each glass of wine was flawless - beautifully balanced, harmonious, expressive, and complex. And the perfect match for the accompanying soup. You could not say that one chardonnay was better than the next. The differences, rather, were stylistic. 

We drank two from Channing Daughters, L'Enfant Sauvage ($35), from 2001, their inaugural vintage of this chardonnay, and the newly bottled 2004 vintage ($35, available in March). I've written before about this extraordinary wine, which is slowly fermented using only natural, indigenous yeast. It is one of the most interesting wines produced on Long Island. 

The 2001 has richness and depth; the 2004 promises to be a real winner. Both stood up well, remarkably well, against the two world class and far more expensive chardonnays from France and California included in the flight. 

Kistler 2001 Dutton Ranch Vineyard from the Russian River Valley ($80) is a wine that demonstrates that California can produce chardonnay in a sophisticated New World style that does not overwhelm the palate with fruit or oak. Kistler is certainly among the best chardonnay made in this county. It's hard to find, so if you see it in your wine store, don't hesitate to buy it. 

A Corton-Charlemagne 2001 Grand Cru Maison Bertrand Amboise ($180) was an exemplar of the Burgundian approach to chardonnay: soft, ripe, dense, delicate, and nuanced. It is clearly a masterful stroke of winemaking, superlative in every sense. Less clear to me is whether, for a typical consumer, it is worth spending five times as much for this bottle as you would for the L'Enfant Sauvage. I suppose there is a time for each. 

With our main course of duck breast with rillettes and assorted vegetables, we had two full-bodied and rich, but not heavy red wines. Channing Daughters 2003 Mudd ($40) is a blend of 86-percent cabernet sauvignon with merlot and blaufrankisch. The combination is soft, velvety, and seamless. 

The second red, Sine Qua Non 1998 Veiled ($90), a pinot noir from Shea Vineyard in Oregon, but actually made in California, is a big, complex wine with earthy aromas, a silky palate, and long finish. It's a terrifically satisfying wine, and you know you're drinking something important. 

Madeira Boston Bual Special Reserve ($45) from the Rare Wine Company Historic Series, our dessert wine, was succulent, amber, and sweet, with enough crisp acidity to keep it clean. If you are not familiar with Madeira, give it a try. It was imported and drunk in our villages in Colonial times. 

If you know any winemakers, by all means drop a hint and get yourself invited to dinner. I can't guarantee all their dinners will be as ambitious as Mr. Tracy's. He trained and worked as a chef until leaving the kitchen for the cellar, and seems to have mastered both skills.