A few months ago, I received a politely-worded invitation to visit the George Town Club in Washington, D.C., to speak about my book, The House of Mondavi. The organizer of the evening, club board member Jane-Scott Cantus, was also hoping I might stay to join members of the club for a dinner featuring wines from the Mondavi family.These lucky few at the George Town club were the first on the East coast to sip the latest Mondavi creation -- the coveted Continuum.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I climbed the few steps towards a modest-seeming townhouse (actually, several townhouses joined together), passing under a navy blue awning and through the door, I entered a world far removed from the sweltering streets of the nation’s capital. I entered a late 18th century tavern-turned-private dining club, with rich carpets on the floors, dark wood paneling, and the unmistakable air of exclusivity. Membership is by invitation only and senators and ambassadors are members.
My first thought was deep regret that I’d worn open-toed sandals (though, in my fashion defense, the temperature was in the mid-90s all day). My second was a sense of relief and gratitude for the iced ginger ale that a club waiter brought to me, and the dark cool of the club itself. For although the club is just a few blocks north of the Potomac River in Georgetown, there was scant relief from the oppressive heat in its leafy neighborhood. Just like other northern California natives (such as coast live oaks and redwood trees) I seem to thrive in the cool and wilt in the heat.
My book talk went well and I got several thought-provoking and unexpected questions. Perhaps the most challenging was whether there was anything I now regretted for putting in the book. (The answer: Yes. I quoted someone saying something very unkind about someone else and now wish I had struck out that sentence.) But the highlight of the evening for me was the dinner afterwards and the chance to taste Timothy Mondavi’s new wine, Continuum, for the first time.
How my hosts managed to acquire three bottles of the stuff is a story in itself. Jane-Scott (known as Scotty) and her father, Hollister Cantus, the retired head of Lockheed’s Washington office and a Chevalier de Tastevin, knew that Continuum would be released sometime this spring, but weren’t sure exactly when.
They ended up reaching Carissa, one of Timothy’s daughters working with him in the new wine venture, and she agreed to put Hollister on the allocation list, allowing them to purchase three bottles. The snag was that Continuum wasn’t officially being released to East coast buyers until later in the year.
So Hollister got in touch with the folks at Vintrust, a San Francisco-based company that manages the wine cellars of wealthy collectors. Someone from Vintrust collected the three bottles and arranged for them to be shipped to Washington, D.C., in time for the dinner. Hollister joyfully proclaimed to our table of 14 in one of the club’s private dining rooms: “We are the first people on the East coast to try it!” His remarks came just as a lightning storm lit up the windows of the club for a few seconds in just the same way that the imagineers at Disney lit up the Haunted Mansion ride. Spooky!
So how was the wine? Absolutely delicious. As the sommelier for the club described, this 2005 Bordeaux-style blend, made of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the rest equal parts Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, exhibits “a dense ruby/purple color followed by a beautiful nose of lead pencil shavings intermixed with crème de cassis, subtle wood smoke, and hints of bay leaves as well as spring flowers.”
I didn’t “get” the pencil shavings in my glass – as an oenophile might put it -- but I did enjoy it thoroughly, particularly with the tenderloin with red onion jam and port wine sauce that the chef prepared to accompany it. I’m not a wine expert, but I can certainly see why Robert Parker gave it 95 points and Wine Spectator awarded it 93. And it will only get better over time.
If possible, the conversation was just as enjoyable as the wine. The subject of the James Beard Awards ceremony came up and I described how Grant Achatz, who is breaking new ground with his experimental food at his restaurant Alinea in Chicago, was awarded outstanding chef of the year. As described in a recent New Yorker article, Grant is battling oral cancer – and both the disease and the treatments are affecting his taste buds.
Hollister wondered how Achatz could have won the best chef award if he couldn’t fully taste his own food. Scotty countered that Beethoven managed to compose some of his most profound works when he was deaf. And Monet was nearly blind when he painted the water lilies at Giverney.
Standing outside the club after her parents had headed home, Scotty was quite proud of the neat counterpoint she supplied to her father’s argument. “That never happens,” she said, explaining that usually, toward the end of dinner parties with lots of wine, those types of “let’s stir it up” discussions usually last much longer.
“I must have been inspired by Bacchus – or perhaps Continuum,” she said.
Here is the dinner menu, with wine pairings, for the evening:
- Petit Micro Greens with Seared Ahi Tuna, Anise Hyssop Coulis
Paired with Reserve Fume Blanc, Mondavi, 2005
- Rabbit & Pistachio Terrine, Ginger & Apple Relish
Paired with Pinot Noir, Charles Krug, Carneros, 2005
- Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Red Onion Jam, Port Wine Sauce, Goat Cheese Stuffed Potatoes, Summer Vegetable Medley
Paired with Continuum, Mondavi, Oakville Red Blend, 2005
- Mirabelle Plum Souffle with Passion Fruit Parfait
Paired with Mondavi Moscato d’Oro