I couldn't help but be a little skeptical when I learned of the Coppola wine dinner at Ruth's Chris recently. Many large production wineries with big name owners have gotten away from what's important; quality wine and wine making. Often times the celebrity of the owners in these cases trumps the wine and the quality of the product and by default the consumer then suffer. Others simply want to promote the owners own brand, not the wine and worse still are those who's celebrity owners meddle in the wine making process when in truth they know nothing about wine making and thus hurt the final product. However upon meeting the representatives from Coppola, in particular their wine maker of 15 years, Corey Beck, and sampling their wines, my reservations proved to be misplaced.
The first dinner course was a chilled shellfish salad topped with sliced tiger shrimp and lump crab meat, paired with the 2011 Diamond Chardonnay. Coppola sources fruit for their Chard from Monterey (2 different vineyards) and uses “split fermentation” prior to making the final blend of the wine for bottling; meaning half the fruit ferments in French Oak, the other half in stainless steel. Additionally the fruit that’s fermented in oak undergoes malolactic fermentation and the result in the bottle is exactly what you might expect from a true California Chardonnay- golden straw colors with big oaky, buttery and creamy flavors that paired nicely with the balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the salad. The wine has a light body and mild acidity and dominant creamy flavors of buttered popcorn with a little lemon to give it some zip for its long finish. This bottle retails for $16 and I would highly recommend it to all California Chard addicts, this is a fine example of the California style that so many have come to love and expect.
The wild mushroom risotto (which was the rock star dish of the evening, absolutely phenomenal- creamy with a touch of earthy flavors perhaps from beef stock topped off with fresh thyme and romano cheese, delicious!!) was paired with the 2011 Votre Sante Pinot Noir (which means to your health). This pinot was arguably my favorite wine of the evening, 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the cooler climates of Mendocino, Carneros and Monterey that spends 9 months in French oak. In my opinion Carneros is producing some of the finest Pinot from California and many of those are on a level that can stand up to the big boy Pinots from Oregon and Burgundy. And while the percentage of the fruit in this bottling from Carneros isn’t listed, its imprint is apparent. The oak barrels used to age the wine are neutral or aged having been used before, and they impart a nice light toasty flavor that doesn’t overpower the fruit. I tasted the telltale Carneros cherry and other dried red fruit flavors with a little cranberry finish. It has a nice alcohol warming on the finish along with its medium body, and shows very nice balance that you would expect to see in Pinots retailing at $30 and up, and is almost unexpected (pleasantly so) in the Votre Sante at $14 per bottle. The Votre Sante was delicious, and you will not find another Pinot at this price point that can touch it’s taste- most $14 Pinot is only good for rotting your teeth.
The high point of the meal was the petit filet and lobster tail Rockefeller. The steak was cooked exactly to my requested temperature and could almost be cut with my fork and the lobster was an excellent compliment to the filet; a perfect example of what Ruth’s Chris truly specializes in. The pairing was with the 2011 Diamond Claret, the flagship wine of Coppola and the bottle I was most interested to try. It did not disappoint. This Bordeaux style blend made principally of Cabernet Sauvignon mixes well with smaller parts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to give it a little muscle and backbone. It had a deep, dark ruby color in the glass that looked almost like ink. The nose was full of blue and red fruit with intense aromas that lingered after giving it a good swirl. I was pleasantly surprised to find the wine had a medium body, if it were full and heavy I’m not sure it would have worked with the filet and lobster, but its chocolate and cherry flavors worked well with both. This was an awesome wine, clear to see why it’s the flagship of the Coppola brand. There were several layers of flavor courtesy of Beck’s skilled wine making. The alcohol helped it to a warm long finish with a little vegetal character and coffee to contrast the sweeter flavors of cherry and blackberry helping to round this wine into excellent balance with a retail of $21.
I walked away from this dinner quite impressed with Coppola’s wines. Corey Beck knows his juice, and he is clearly a huge asset for Coppola. To be able to source grapes from all over California and expertly blend and care for them throughout the fermenting and aging processes yielding excellent wines at price points around or under $20 is nothing short of masterful. I was more than impressed with the Votre Sante Pinot and Diamond Claret as both are versatile wines that compliment red meat and seafood, could be great on their own, or enjoyed with a nice cigar. Don’t look at the big name on the bottle and move to the next wine on the shelf. Coppola Wines will please most pallets and all wallets and you will be happy that you’ve tried this world renowned film maker’s other hobby!