Del Frisco's Jessica Norris reveals splurge-worthy bottles to seek out for momentous occasions.

By Carson Demmond
Updated May 24, 2017
Jessica Norris, Del Frisco's
Credit: © Del Frisco's Restaurant Group

Think of a setting fit for a job promotion-celebration, and the first that comes to mind is the dark wood- and leather-trimmed interior of a classic American steakhouse. That timeless tradition of an indulgent steak dinner is usually paired with equally indulgent wine. It’s an occasion to shell out for the First Growths and cult Cabernets, the Cortons and prestige cuvée Champagnes. So it’s no surprise that those cellars hold stores of seriously epic bottles.

Just ask Jessica Norris, former wine director for Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in New York, who just received a promotion of her own: director of wine education for the entire Del Frisco’s Group. She oversaw an $8 million wine program at the flagship restaurant alone—and tasted some of the world’s finest wines in the process. F&W tapped her for her pick of 12 benchmark bottles worth splurging on to mark a career milestone.

“I usually celebrate with bubbles, so I popped a bottle of Jacques Selosses Exquise as soon as I heard the good news,” she said. “These are transcendental wines, and any one of them is celebration enough. If you have the budget to be able to do all twelve in succession—instead of one or two a year—well, that would be kind of amazing.”

Here, 12 splurge-worthy bottles to seek out:

1. 1996 Dom Pérignon Champagne Brut
“You can’t really go wrong with Dom, ever. 1996: classic vintage. It has retained its acidity, with that full flavor from bottle age. [Chef de Cave] Richard Geoffroy talks about how Champagne goes through different stages of aging and how at 20 years of age, you’ll get this enhanced expression and new wave of energy in the wine. It’s brioche-y, nutty, and sexy as heck. I love grower Champagne, but there’s something to be said for getting Champagne from a Grande Marque. It means celebration.”

2. 1989 Château Pichon Longueville Baron Pauillac
“I have a history with this particular bottle – it’s the one that made me want to become a somm. I tasted it and immediately understood what great wine was all about. I’ve since had several bottles, and it has aged really beautifully. Pichon Baron is one of the best estates on the Left Bank; it’s a historical, amazing property. And Iove the ’89 vintage in Bordeaux in general. It was a warm year, so there’s fruit-richness but also really great structure.”

3. 2002 Domaine Leflaive ‘Les Pucelles’ Puligny-Montrachet
“What can I say; Anne-Claude Leflaive was a trailblazer. She did so many great things for Burgundy and for women in the wine world everywhere. And the domaine is known for its ability to produce stunning, sexy wines. I had a bottle of 2012 Pucelles a few weeks ago, and it was gorgeous. Leflaive’s Puligny-Montrachets make you appreciate what white wine can do for a meal. But if I could pick any vintage, it would be ’02. It’s just one of the best in the last 15 years.”

4. 2012 Peter Michael ‘Ma Belle Fille’ Knights Valley Chardonnay
“Peter Michael wines are beautiful wines. Nobody can argue with that. So if I were to pick one Chardonnay out of all the Chardonnays in the United States, it would be this one. I like that the fruit is ripe, I like that there’s that kiss of oak, I like that there’s minerality… structure… It’s rich and round and decadent without feeling clunky. And it does age very nicely—although I never get to taste them old because we always sell out before I can even get the next vintage in. It’s that coveted.”

5. 2004 Marcassin ‘Blue Slide Ridge’ Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
“This was another one of my ah-ha wines. I got to taste the tail-end of a bottle from a gentleman who was dining by himself at Del Frisco’s in late 2008. And it’s a statement in and of itself that I remember exactly when that was. Until then, I didn’t know that a wine could taste that good. It was like wild strawberry compote wrapped in chocolate. My words to describe it then were insufficient. Just transcendental Pinot Noir. Helen Turley, the winemaker, is kind of a genius. She crafts amazing things.”

6. 2004 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape
“Rayas is one of the top estates in all of France—so inarguably sexy and exotic. And 2004 is the sort of vintage you want to look for in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s what I call a “Jackie O vintage”—not overly opulent (that would be a Marilyn Monroe vintage). Jackie was powerful but elegant, refined, sophisticated and all about attention to detail. Marilyn had as much power but was bombastic and sensual and out there. Great vintages for me always fall into one of those two categories.”

7. 1998 E. Guigal ‘La Landonne’ Côte-Rotie
“Guigal is a legend. Their La-Las are some of the most amazing wines in the world, but you have to be prepared to throw down if you’re going to order a bottle. I actually served this very vintage to the gentleman who runs Château Haut Brion in Bordeaux, who was dining with the Prince of Luxembourg. They went crazy over it. I mean, Syrah in its most elegant expression, with bottle age, fit for a prince. That’s splurge-worthy.”

8. 2001 Penfolds ‘Grange’ South Australia
“We hosted a Penfolds dinner a couple years ago, where they poured multiple vintages, and I kept going back to the 2001. It had this amazing texture and smoothness, but it also had this indefinable characteristic… It wasn’t minerality per se, and it wasn’t oak… It was a complexity that made the wine so much more than just fruit. Every time I would go back to the glass, I would find something new. It was so nuanced and layered and had so much depth.”

9. 2001 Vega Sicilia ‘Unico’ Ribera del Duero
“How do you describe Vega Sicilia? It’s like the Mouton-Rothschild of Spain. They age their wines for decades before releasing them. I mean, who else does that? It’s wanting to produce a quality product but also not wanting anyone to open it until it’s truly ready to be open. And what a great way to have history in a bottle.”

10. 1996 Poderi Aldo Conterno ‘Bussia Cicala’ Barolo
“The Conterno family is inextricably linked to the region, so if you’re going to have any one wine from Piedmont, this is it. It’s a Barolo lover’s Barolo. It might be a toss-up between the ’96 and ’97 vintages, since both were excellent years, but the ‘96 with that much age on it is practically perfect. I love it when those tannins smooth out and the flavor begins to develop into those earthy, secondary notes.”

11. 2010 Schrader ‘CCS’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
“Schrader is a favorite of mine because of the winemaker, Thomas Rivers Brown. In every project he works on, you can see the Rivers Brown stamp. His style just transcends all else. So when you pair that with amazing fruit… and we’re talking Beckstoffer fruit from the To Kalon vineyard… it’s like all the stars aligning. That Beckstoffer vineyard grows the most expensive Cabernet in the Valley. It’s so hard to come by, and those vineyard contracts have been going for years. It is arguably the best plot of land in Napa.”

12. 1995 Raveneau ‘Butteaux' Chablis Premier Cru
“You say the name Raveneau and your mouth starts to water. If you’re going to drink the best Chablis, it’s either Raveneau or Dauvissat, and Raveneau has just a bit more richness, roundness and fruit. But it also this laser-like minerality—all of these components that you don’t think could possibly exist together but they do. Then you can’t stop drinking it, and you get to the end of the bottle wishing you had more.”