A Celebration of Côte Rôtie for the American Hemophilia Association

As usual, Daniel Boulud was "in the house" for this charity dinner I hosted for some generous purchasers. I donated all the Côte Rôties except for a handful of vintages provided by good friend and restaurant owner, Steve Verlin. My guests also brought some pretty amazing wines, including the 2000 Pégaü Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Capo, a fabulously pristine bottle of 1961 Paul Jaboulet-Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle, and a brilliant, still young red Burgundy, the 1980 Ponsot Clos de la Roche. Sadly, the magnum of what could have been a perfect wine, the 1921 Cheval Blanc, was completely maderized.

The evening began with an extraordinary bottle of Champagne, the 1990 Bollinger R.D. That was followed by mixed performances by Chave, with a corked magnum of 1999 white Hermitage, and a slightly oxidized magnum of 1997 white Hermitage. However, Chave's reputation rebounded with a brilliant showing of the 1995 Hermitage blanc. Chapoutier's top cuvée, the Ermitage de l'Orée (which comes from the highest slopes of Hermitage's granite hillsides), was spectacular in 19991998, and 1997. The latter effort, which I thought might be beginning to close down, was velvety and unctuous. The guests who were unfamiliar with this wine were blown away by Chapoutier's white Hermitage. They thought it was every bit as great as a grand cru white Burgundy, but obviously different as it is made from 100% old vine Marsanne, not Chardonnay.

We then moved into an extraordinary (once in a lifetime) exhibition of Côte Rôties. Unquestionably 1998 is a top vintage for Guigal. His three La La's all revealed abundant tannin, muscle, and structure, but also a certain accessibility. As always, La Mouline is the most developed, forward, and sexy, La Landonne the most backward, and La Turque somewhere in between. The 1998s are brilliant, but 1999 is one of those prodigious vintages for Côte Rôtie, and all of the 1999s exhibited incredible richness, intensity, and length. All three of Guigal's 1999s are as great a wine as one could ever hope to taste. They were matched against Tardieu-Laurent's 1999 Côte Rôtie Cuvée Spéciale, a Burgundian-styled effort with loads of violet, white flower, raspberry, cassis, and fried bacon-like characteristics. The 1991s were all fully mature except for the Chapoutier Côte Rôtie La Mordorée, which seemed to be a decade behind the evolution of Guigal's single vineyard wines. After 1978, the three greatest vintages for Côte Rôtie are 1988, 1991, and 1999. The backward, young, vibrant 1988 single vineyard Guigals were all perfect wines, with tremendous intensity, extremely youthful personalities, and far less evolution than 1991. They are a bit more linear and structured than the 1999s, but not as ripe and jammy. The 1988s were matched against one of the great efforts from the now defunct Côte Rôtie firm of De Vallouit (who sold his vineyards to Guigal). The 1988 De Vallouit Côte Rôtie Les Roziers is a lustrous wine with more animal-like characteristics as well as more noticeable herbaceousness. It also reveals wonderfully sweet, concentrated fruit. Compared to the Guigal offerings, it was far more evolved and ready to drink.

We ended the Côte Rôtie flights with two fully mature, off-year vintages, the 1980 Guigal La Landonne (one of France's top wines of that vintage), and the strong, powerful, mineral-dominated 1979 Guigal La Landonne.

Just when I thought I'd had enough to eat and drink, my guests started pulling corks on some mystery wines. These included the sumptuous 2000 Pégaü Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée da Capo (pure liquid Viagra), a monumental bottle of 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle, and a brilliant, young, tour de force in winemaking, the 1980 Ponsot Clos de la Roche.

My spirits were already as high as could be when I saw what appeared to be a pristine magnum of 1921 Cheval Blanc, which I had only tasted once before in my life (and given it 100 points). All hopes were dashed when it was poured into a glass as it resembled Coca Cola rather than a red wine. It was completely maderized ... what a shame! However, the brilliance of Daniel Boulud's cooking, the greatness of so many Côte Rôties, particularly those from Guigal, and the extraordinary minerality and intensity of Chapoutier's top cuvée of white Hermitage, l'Orée, made for a fabulous night of wine and food.

As for the food, Daniel Boulud's cooking is, for my palate, the greatest French cuisine in the world. There was not a less than memorable course served, and several were as spectacular as I have ever had in my life. These included the roasted Turbot and Crayfish, the Tartine of Squab and Girolles en Salmis, and the remarkable Stuffed Pig Trotters with Lentils. I would repeat that menu anytime, anyplace, and would not think twice about what it cost. Daniel Boulud is a genius!

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