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ON WINE

Where East Meets West : A Vertical Tasting of Jordan Cabernets at the Orient Express

May 03, 1987|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

Recently, my good friends Lew and Louise Mitchell, who were just named "Restaurateurs of the Year 1986" by the California Restaurant Writers Assn., invited me, along with a few friends, to an informal dinner at their Orient Express restaurant on the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles.

"I think it's time," Lew had said, "to do a vertical tasting of Jordan Cabernets. And while we're at it, Louise will dazzle us with some dynamite Chinese chow."

Ever since Lew Mitchell opened the restaurant in 1980, the Orient Express has been known for its marvelous Chinese food. But Mitchell has complemented his Oriental cuisine with outstanding California wines, saying, "I've tried to select wines that have great value, which means good taste and a moderate price structure."

For that evening's vertical tasting--the expression "vertical tasting" indicates the tasting of successive vintages of the same wine--Mitchell selected Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vintages of 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981. At its launching, the 1976--Jordan's first release--had been called "a pleasant little claret with good drinkability but probably not much future." Everyone agreed that it was a wine to drink right away. Wrong! I blind-tasted it in 1984, and the wine had such a new and enchanting "personna" that I thought it perhaps a 1978 Pauillac. At Mitchell's table in 1987, this 11-year-old wine was even more stellar, with no sign that it will not last another five years at its peak.

The Jordan 1977--deep, dark, with depths suggesting Chateau Latour--needs, like that famous French claret, more time. The 1978 made us all pause. I had tasted it years earlier with Tom Jordan and remembered him saying, "This is the wine we wanted to make." It had been a synthesis of all their grapes and skills, the vines in sixth leaf. Now it had lyrical style, gentleness and balance. The 1980 and 1981 had the same Cabernet-Merlot breed and balance, but from warm, abundant harvests, and both obviously need more time to mature.

Not on our list that evening was the current Jordan release, the 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17), but I tasted it with wine maker Rob Davis a few months ago. With its blend of 10% Merlot, it is a treasure to acquire now and hold, if you can manage to stay away from it. Taste one bottle and make notes. Wait six months or a year before you taste another bottle, and again make notes.

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