Charity Tasting and Meal

  • Robert M. Parker, Jr.

  • 01 May 2005 | Events

This was an extraordinary meal prepared by Chef Daniel Boulud. The first five courses were all sensational, but my two favorites were the amazing Alaskan king salmon cooked in clay, which gave it amazing sweetness and intensity, and one of the greatest fish dishes I have enjoyed in several years, a grouper encrusted with bone marrow that was to die for. Those courses were followed by a magnificent ballotine of rabbit porchetta that was loaded with flavor. The only disappointing course (a rare occurrence at Daniel) was the Jameson Farm whole roasted saddle of lamb. For some reason, Daniel Boulud likes this farm for lamb a lot better than I do. For me, this dish had very little lamb flavor, and was unusually tough and chewy. However, the braised kale and cranberry beans were fabulous.

The wines began with a crisp, lovely 1995 Dom Pérignon (a gorgeous effort that has been overshadowed by its younger sibling, the magnificent 1996). We then had a flight that included a good, but uninspiring 2002 Drouhin Montrachet, a corked bottle of Marcassin 1997 Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard, and a promising, still tight, but rich, full-throttle 1994 Leroy Puligny Montrachet Les Folatières that had much more texture, richness, and upside potential than the Drouhin Montrachet. The next mini-flight included a corked bottle of 1997 Kistler Chardonnay Dutton Ranch, a wonderfully exotic, tropical fruit-dominated, youthful, intact 1995 Peter Michael Chardonnay Cuvée Indigène, and a brilliant bottle of a still young 1989 Latour Corton Charlemagne that exhibited good acidity and plenty of minerality. A mini-flight of Côte Rôties included a Burgundian-tasting 1985 René Rostaing Côte Rôtie Côte Blonde. Most of the guests loved this wine, but I enjoyed it more three or four wines ago. However, the 1995 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Turque is still on an upswing. This magnificent Côte Rôtie is dark as midnight. It offers wonderfully smoky, bacon fat, crème de cassis notes along with beautiful minerality and floral characteristics. We then moved to a small flight of Châteauneuf du Papes from a somewhat firm and closed vintage, 1995. One of the great successes of that year is Roger Sabon's Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Prestige. This wine was on fire, confirming my belief that it is one of the top wines of the vintage. It is drinking spectacularly well at present. The 1995 Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin (which is dominated by Mourvèdre, whereas Sabon's wine is primarily old vine Grenache) was more backward and closed, but extraordinarily promising as well as deeply colored.

We next moved to California, beginning with the 2001 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, which still tasted like a barrel sample. That was followed by the beautiful 1999 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select, a candidate for wine of the vintage. The mini-vertical concluded with a brilliant bottle of the 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia. Next came a flight that included a young, vigorous, youthful 1997 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon, which revealed wonderful cassis, smoke, and earth characteristics, a fabulous, Pauillac-like, still-too-young-to-drink 1997 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon, and a virile, powerful, young 1995 Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The only controversial wine among the first seven California Cabernet Sauvignons was the 1996 Colgin, which revealed an extraordinarily flamboyant nose of dill and spring flowers, wonderful texture and richness, and a great finish. Next came a fabulous bottle of fully mature 1994 Dominus, a wine that is capable of lasting another decade. The backward but magnificent bottle of 1994 La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon Anniversary Selection was the finest performance yet by this beauty. The quality at La Jota has declined considerably since the winery was sold, but this was a stunning effort made during that estate's heyday. We ended with a crisp, rich, firmly structured, compact 1985 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard. From my cellar, this 1985 remains youthful, but like many of its peers, it has never really blossomed.

As a postscript, any doubts about the mid-ninety vintages of California Cabernet Sauvignon falling apart seem completely bogus as every tasting I have recently done of the finest 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 Cabernets has revealed young, promising wines with several decades of life ahead of them.

One of the guests at the lunch, Ed Milstein, is a great collector as well as the new owner of Burgundy's Domaine Remoissenet. Every time he comes to one of my events, he brings better wines than I provide. At this dinner, he donated a perfect bottle of 1976 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Mouline. I told him the last time I had this wine was several years ago at the conclusion of a tasting Chez Guigal. That bottle, from the estate's cellar, seemed tired and over the hill, but Milstein's bottle was in fabulous condition. We also had an unusual bottle of 1990 Chave Hermitage Cuvée Cathelin, a wine that seemed much narrower in texture as well as slightly more herbal and vegetal than previous bottles. It was undoubtedly an off bottle. That was redeemed by a magnificent magnum of 1961 L'Evangile. Regretfully, I had to gulp my glass so I wouldn't be late for the car service taking me back to Maryland. I kept thinking on the drive home that I should have taken a glass with me. I only smelled and took a quick sip of the last wine, the 1985 Quinta do Noval Nacional, but it sure was compelling.

All in all, it was a great night for a deserving charity, New York's Meals on Wheels. Thanks to the great Daniel Boulud, who donated the food. The wines were donated from my cellar. Thanks also to the extraordinary generosity of both the purchasers of the dinner and guest Ed Milstein.

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