Dan Petroski: I am a winemaker in Napa Valley and a regular shopper on the Benchmark website. Over the years I have turned to Benchmark to fill out the lineup of my annual Bordeaux retrospective tasting in the Spring and my post-harvest Nebbiolo tasting in November. I have even secured a special birthyear bottle or two, sadly it’s not a great year around the world, but lest we forget a pair of 1973 Napa wines bested the French at their own game and won the judgment of Paris tasting – those wines were the ’73 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. You may not find those wines in the Benchmark inventory, or anywhere for that matter as they are some of the rarest wine treasures around. If anyone reading this has one, please let me know, I will be right over!

But seriously, as I have gotten to know the team at Benchmark, I was honored when they asked me to curate a list of some of my favorite wines that I can share with you all. Instead of saying XYZ, I thought we would course out a wine list for a dinner party over the next few weeks of e-mails. If you have dinner at my house, we pick the wine to drink first then we consider the meal to cook.

We’ll start today with some Champagne, next week we’ll roll into white wine, and then we’ll wrap up with a selection of red wines the last two weeks. Below this introductory hello you will see some of my selections from the Benchmark inventory as well as a broader look at the category.

The movement over the last decade or two to extract Champagne out of the hands of the celebratory moment has worked. We are all becoming more comfortable drinking Champagne any day of the week and Champagne has found its rightful place at the table. There has been more than one instance where Champagne not only started a meal at my house, but it carried it all the way to the finish.

Great dinner Champagnes are coming from big houses as well as a younger, edgier set of vignerons that have not only lowered the dosage (sweetness) of their bottlings, but also tempered the pressure (the captured CO2 that gives the famous drink its bubbles). This Champagne-style tends to be a little more vinous and great for food pairing. For an example or two, check out the stunning wines of Cedric Bouchard and Pascal Agrapart.

I am also a sucker for the OG of Grower Champagnes, the wines from Egly Ouriet and Vilmart. I first tasted bottlings of these two producers back in the early aughts and was blown away. The wines have only gotten better today, although I do miss Vilmart’s Cuvee Creation bottling, you can find some of the fruit for those vineyards in their Grand Cellier non vintage wine.

I know this might sound trite, but if money were no object, Philippponnat’s Clos des Goisses would be my house Champagne! Sorry Bolly and Dom Perignon (I know we share the same initials), Krug is always welcome at my house, as is Salon and the 2006 Comtes de Champagne (probably wine of the vintage IMO), but give me Goisses any day any hour and a little caviar maybe, and I will die happy!

White Wine
The first thing that you have to remember when serving white wines to guests is if you are serving white wine before red wine on the dinner table, then you really don’t want to go too fancy to impress your guests, or they are going to expect big things from you the rest of the evening. So, if you bought Bitcoin back in 2011, break out the Ramonet, Raveneau, or Roulot for your guests. If you didn’t and have a more modest budget, read on….

There is excellent Chardonnay all over Burgundy at less-than-mortgage prices. For example, I appreciate the Kermit Lynch import, Comtesse de Cherisey. They produce excellent Mersaults and Puligny Montrachets at a reasonable price, as does their neighbor in Puligny, Genot Boulanger, who has come on the scene of late and is getting better every vintage.

If you want to stay in the Chardonnay realm but wish to stay close to home, I would never pass up a glass of Aubert or HdV – see what I did there?

But in my household, it is likely that we are going to pour you some whites from Italy at some point in the evening. I love Friuli through and through, but I also reminisce about my time living under the shadows of Mt. Etna and drinking Carricante from the hands of Salvo Foti when he was consulting for the Benanti family. Foti continues to keep his hands in a bunch of projects throughout Sicily. Two notable ones are: a project with fellow winemakers called I Vigneri producing natural wines, and Foti has partnered with Kevin Harvey of Rhys in California to produce a Mt. Etna White Wine that is sold through the Rhys mailing list.

Heading back up north to Friuli – you will always find my cellar stocked with my favorite whites wines from Borgo del Tiglio, Ronco del Gnemiz, Miani, and Venica. I have this belief that Tocai Friulano is the greatest food pairing grape of all-time. It’s a white wine that can span categories from an aperitif paired with some Prosciutto and cheese, then head on to the table with salads and fish dishes and remain there all the way through a beef stew or pork-based dish. My favorite pairing was at my favorite restaurant in New York, Blue Hill; Massican Annia, a Tocai based wine, with venison. Buon appetite!

Red Wine
Let’s rewind to the beginning of harvest. Every year it’s a tradition (lots of traditions and superstitions in my world) to consume a bottle of Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato in August when harvest kicks off – this is inspiring wine for me. I believe there are a million great wines out there and better Barolo, but this wine gets me every time. Its perfume and midweight palate, coupled with flavors and textures I love, it is truly arresting. This is my desert island wine as well the wine at my last supper for sure.

Monprivato vineyard, in the commune of Castiglione Falletto, is almost in the dead center of Barolo and maybe the reason it is so close to my heart. But before we leave Castiglione, don’t forget about the wines of Cavallotto and Brovia. I really shouldn’t mention them (being selfish here) because they both produce incredibly beautiful wines and their prices have remained reasonable during this last decade when Nebbiolo pricing began to normalize itself with the great wines of the world.

For more great wines of Piemonte and Barolo in particular, my eyes always light up when I see a bottle of Conterno in my cellar. Like most Nebbiolo geeks, I went on a Cappellano binge for a number of years while I was buying and cellaring my Bartolo Mascarello wines. However, I will go against the grain here and say, young Bartolo is good Bartolo! I am finding more pleasure in drinking these wines in their youth (within ten years); there is an energy to the young wine in the glass that closely links to the winemaking philosophy that I appreciate.

That’s a lot of Nebbiolo talk, and we didn’t even dive into Sangiovese. As we know, Soldera is on another planet, but the great Montervertine Le Pergole Torte will bring you back to earth and show you how good Sangiovese can be. And a recent Chianti tasting with my tasting group informed me that I should be drinking more Rampolla Sammarco. La bella vita!Let’s rewind to the beginning of harvest. Every year it’s a tradition (lots of traditions and superstitions in my world) to consume a bottle of Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato in August when harvest kicks off – this is inspiring wine for me. I believe there are a million great wines out there and better Barolo, but this wine gets me every time. Its perfume and midweight palate, coupled with flavors and textures I love, it is truly arresting. This is my desert island wine as well the wine at my last supper for sure.


Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Merlot
I plan to break this down simply into Napa Valley and Bordeaux. I will start with Napa Valley, and although I could use a whole year of newsletters to walk us through a year of Napa Cabernet dinner parties, I will try and be as concise as possible; so, I am going to skip past Napa’s greatest hits and mention a couple of wines that may or may not be on your radar and are definitely some of my favorite food pairing red wines coming out of the Valley.

First is Drinkward Peschon, founded by Lisa Drinkward (Behrens & Hitchcock) and Francoise Peschon (ex-Araujo, Vine Hill Ranch, Matt Morris Wines). This is the epitome of the insider’s wine; impeccable quality, great vineyards, and the price point doesn’t break the bank.

The next insider wine is Ad Vivum, founded by Chris Phelps, Dominus’ winemaker for 12 years during its ascent in Napa Valley. Some would consider this wine, like Drinkward Peschon, to revel in Napa’s past, but I find both wineries have crafted a modern style of Bordeaux wines here in Napa, wines that are full of grace and elegance and hold a firm grasp on your palate.

The last Cabernet from Napa that I want to highlight here is Thomas Brown’s Rivers-Marie wines. Thomas put himself on the map, making other people’s Cabernet, but when he started Rivers-Marie with a focus on Pinot Noir, he soon shifted into a selection of single-vineyard Cabernet bottlings, which are pound-for-pound the best quality for the value of any Cabernet in Napa.

If Napa isn’t your thing, I understand and won’t be offended. But if you try any of the three wines above, give me a call and let me know what you think.

As for Bordeaux. When I open a bottle of Bordeaux in my house, it is usually a focus-point in the evening, and the table won’t be crowded with many other offerings to turn your attention away from the food, wine, and the conversation.

In my last e-mail, I said Giuseppe Mascarello’s Monprivato was my favorite Italian wine; if I had to state my favorite from France, that wine would be Haut-Brion. This probably stems from a singular moment of drinking this wine with Andy Smith, winemaker at DuMOL, at the 2006 DuMOL harvest dinner. It was nothing but a joyous evening at ZaZu restaurant in Santa Rosa, and that 1985 Haut-Brion has haunted me every day since.

Staying on the left bank, my next choice for dinner at home would be Leoville Las Cases or their neighboring sister winery, Clos du Marquis. Clos du Marquis was the first Bordeaux wine I ever purchased a “future” of, and it was the heralded 2000 vintage. I didn’t have a big budget for wine back then, and the wines were under $30 a bottle. It was a score to grab a case, and I am hanging on to one of my last bottles for a bit!

I must jump to the right bank for one recommendation before I bid you all adieu. Let’s go to Pomerol and the estate of Vieux Chateau Certan. This is a gem of a property flanked on both sides by glorious neighbors, Petrus and Le Pin (also owned by VCC’s family, the Thienpont’s). I find this wine to be more structural than its neighbors due to the levels of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet blended into the wine, as high as 25% in some vintages and therefore a greater compliment to food on the table.

– Adieu.

In Adam Gopnik’s phenomenal book, The Table Comes First, he quotes a conversation with another great British chef, Fergus Henderson, in which chef states when you find your new home, “the table comes first.” Meaning you purchase the dinner table first. It’s the center of your home, it’s the center of your experiences and conversations with family and friends. It’s the proper place to share a bottle of wine.

Established in 2002, Benchmark Wine Group is the leading source of fine and rare wine retailers, restaurants, and collectors around the world. Based in Napa Valley, we acquire the most sought-after wines from private individuals and professional contacts, but only when provenance can be verified by our team of acquisition professionals. Our staff draws on decades of industry experience and is dedicated to providing exceptional service to all of our clients. Benchmarkwine.com offers 24-hour access to our cellar, displaying inventory in real-time.