It seemed only fitting that even as a non-American I should at least mark the 242nd anniversary of US Independence by sampling a range of wines from one of the country’s most exciting winemakers. Although the occasion was enjoyed on British soil, the location was still auspicious, since CUT (Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant in Europe) hosts the biggest range of American wines in London. No surprises then that the team at CUT have embraced the mercurial talents of Orin Swift. Already a cult name in winemaking circles, these wines have become known partly for their labels. Like the wines themselves in some respects, the labels express both a sense of boldness and willingness to take risks combined with a meticulous sense of perfectionism and attention to detail. On a tasting journey that comprised two of the winery’s whites and five of its reds, not only did the prowess of Orin Swift emerge, but also the seamless way in which the wines can successfully be paired with food.
The night’s events began with the winery’s Sauvignon Blanc (‘Blank Stare’). Only in its first vintage the wine showed a mix of vegetal and more ripe melon notes with hints of lemon zest too. On the palate, a richer and creamier spectrum emerged, presumably the result of some ageing in French oak and the addition of 5% Sémillon to the blend. The slight salty taste at the end was provoking and allowed the wine to balance well with both a spicy tuna tartare hors d’ouevre as well as a bolder offering of spago-style pizza.
Onto wine two, Swift’s ‘Mannequin’ Chardonnay from 2015. That around 10,000 photos were taken of said dummies before the final shot was selected for the label speaks of the quest for perfection (as well as making for a good story). The wine did not disappoint either with this vintage comprising 90% Chardonnay as well as elements of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat too (the blend varies each year). The nose initially appeared somewhat shy, but then opened up. The back palate remains fresh, but there is also a wonderful richness. Lobster can be a notoriously hard food to pair, but the wine’s acidity balanced out against the beautifully presented crab and lobster cocktail produced by CUT.
The evening’s first red was Swift’s ‘Abstract’ with its notable collage label. Here, three varieties (Grenache, Syrah and Petite Syrah) are blended although the exact mix is again not shared. Undoubtedly, the Grenache dominates, with a mouth full of red fruit combined with elements of smoke and light spice. Somehow the wine manages to be both full-bodied and complex yet also very approachable. The slight sweet after-taste worked perfectly with the Chinese mustard vinaigrette that accompanied a second course of Chinese chicken salad and pickled ginger.
Steak is the main event at CUT and provided the opportunity to sample a trio of Swift reds, his ‘Palermo’, ‘Machete’ and ‘Papillon,’ all from 2015. Each has a story attached to it and a beautiful label too, with details glossed over here in the interests of brevity. For me the final wine was the stand-out, fashioned from all five Bordeaux blends (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Pt Verdot), aged for 16 months in French oak. The blend spoke of complexity, gaining fruitiness from the Merlot and structure from the Cab Franc. Menthol and herb notes on the end paired out superbly with a Filet Mignon steak.
Finally, room for dessert and Swift’s piece-de-resistance, the ‘Mercury Head.’ Only the best grapes go into this Cabernet-dominated wine. This was all about concentrated black fruit, mint and chocolate; a wine that was smooth with well-integrated tannins. What a pair for a dark chocolate pavlova. As with the previous wine, this can age for at least five years and probably more.
CUT has always impressed me in terms of food (first visited in December 2014) and with wines like this, there is little not to like. Caveat: we had the private dining room at CUT and I have struggled in the past somewhat with the atmosphere in the dining room downstairs. Nonetheless, grab some Orin Swift while you can. Only limited supplies here in the UK!