Café Matisse is a small intimate space inspired by the Impressionist Henri Matisse. The whimsical theme is echoed in the visually appealing plates, unique pairings of fresh ingredients resulting in a dining experience that stimulates the senses. The menu format is what Peter calls “grazing”. Please are between appetizer and entrée size enabling, diners to graze the menu at their leisure with 3, 4 or 5 courses. Under the direction of Maitre’d Larry and his staff, this BYOB mecca provides world class food and wine service. Wine is decanted with a smile and there are always ample and appropriate glasses to match the wine.
Octopus and Tasso Ham Carpaccio
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe, Broccoli Rabe Pesto Linguini, Lemon Olive Oil Chili Pepper Flake Emulsion, with Manchego Cheese Shards
For wine I selected aged bottles of Lopez de Heredia, the legendary estate from Rioja, Spain. The estate was founded in 1877 by Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia. Today the estate and wine making is in the very capable hands of his great granddaughter Marie José Lopez de Heredia. In my opinion, Lopez de Heredia wines embody the essence of what great wine is all about. They are consistently delicious. For my money there is no better producer of traditionally made Spanish wines in all of Spain. The wines are aged a minimum of 4-6 years in 100 year old large oak barrels, followed by at least another 4 years in the bottle before being released (no wine is released before its tenth birthday). They last seemingly forever. Maria José does not recommend decanting any of her wines. “You will miss them if you do”, she says. In fact the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass.
I brought along wines from both the Tondonia and Bosconia vineyards. Both have similar soils, but it is the altitudes and exposures that are different. Says Maria José, “...Tondonia is a large plot so it has many different exposures, but in general the wines from Tondonia are riper owing to the lower altitude of the vines and the higher percentage of Garnacha. The Viña Bosconia is made from vines planted at a higher altitude and contains a larger percentage of Tempranillo. These two elements combine to produce wines that are more structured, with livelier color, higher acidity and greater aging potential. Because the fruit ripens later at Bosconia the harvest there typically takes place a week or two later than in Tondonia.”
Heeding the advice of Maria José, all the wines were opened at the restaurant as opposed to lengthy decanting. I was amazed that each of the reds, despite their age, still possesed a gorgeous translucent red hue and showed no browning at the edges at all (see photos below). I was ecstatic how all the wines showed. They all were endowed with great balance, complexity and elegance and paired beautifully with the food. This was truly a wining and dining experience.
1989 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Riserva. This magnificent white was a perfect way to begin the evening as we selected our courses. This is a full-bodied wine that is a blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. The wine possessed a lovely golden yellow hue, while the palate was fresh and displayed fantastic acidity and balance and finished with good length. 27 years old with no signs of slowing down.
1964 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva. Only 20,000 bottles of this incredible wine were made. A blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacho. Mazuelo and Graciano make up the remaining 5%. It as hard to believe that this wine is 52 years old as it drinks like a youngster. The wine begins with that translucent hue mentioned earlier, muted fruit bouquet and a dazzling complex and magnificently balanced palate and ends with a soft and elegant finish. A fantastic wine! My one complaint is that I only purchased 1 bottle 7 years ago. Since then the wine has more than tripled in price and is not in large supply.
1973 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Risera. 15,000 bottles of this were made. A blend of 75% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacho. Mazuelo and Graciano make up the remaining 5%. This was a sensational and perfect bottle of wine. I think for all it was the wine of the night. A big earthy bouquet filled the nose. I found the palate to be delicate and at the same time display wonderful depth and finesse. The wine absolutely soared from the glass with each sip evolving more than the previous one. This wine is a perfect example of the validity of Maria José’s comment “…the beauty of these wines is to experience them as they open and evolve in your glass.” The blockbuster finish made me wish that my glass would never run dry.
1978 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Riserva. And the hits just keep on coming. On a par with the ‘64 and ‘73 drunk prior, another example why the wines from the estate are held in such high regard. The ’78 vintage in Rioja was legendary with wines of great concentration and structure with the ability to age for many years to come. The only difference between this and the previous two was that it seemed to lack the evolution in the glass of the others. Perhaps it is still a bit young or perhaps we drank it too quickly and thus did not give it time to evolve.
1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva. Antonio Galloni classified the vintage as “another outstanding vintage, producing wines that were concentrated as well as elegant and that aged extremely well.” Only 5,000 bottles of this were produced. Like the wines before it had an enticing earthy bouquet, elegant and velvety texture with great depth,focus and purity and a long velvety finish. This should continue to age and drink beautifully for another 2 or 3 decades.
One of the interesting things about the estate is that despite the fact that they make a lot of wine across their different bottlings, quality is never sacrificed and all their wines can age for decades. The bad news is the wines tasted tonight will not be easy to find and will be a bit pricey if you can find them since their value increases dramatically over time. The good news is that their wines upon release average about $25 to $30 a bottle and thus represent tremendous value as well as good drinkability upon release. As time goes on their value will increase as well as the depth and complexity of the wine.