This was a delicious meal with friends at Baltimore's outstanding Charleston restaurant. Chef Cindy Wolf consistently receives accolades as the top chef in Baltimore, and her partner, Tony Foreman, continues to be a brilliant restaurant administrator, running with impeccable attention to detail and professionalism nearly a half dozen excellent eating establishments. Foreman assembles a terrific staff that cares about the clientele, as well as innovative and high-quality wine lists. Baltimore is lucky to have both Chef Wolf and Foreman committed to the city. As usual, the meal was stunningly good. I can never get enough of Chef Wolf's cornmeal-crusted deep-fried oysters, and her wild octopus salad, a new item on the menu, was delicious. A terrific piece of poultry, the luscious Amish grilled chicken was full of flavor.

As for the wines, we started off with a comparison between a beautifully vibrant, fresh yet mature 1996 Marcassin Chardonnay from the Lorenzo Vineyard, a source where owners John Wetlaufer and Helen Turley purchased fruit during that era from this cool-climate vineyard. It is a beautifully honeyed white offering hints of tangerine oil, lemon zest and wet rocks. Still remarkably fresh with a color that has changed little during its 18 years in bottle, this is a fully mature Chardonnay. From a challenging vintage in Burgundy, the 1998 Corton Charlemagnefrom Coche Dury was outstanding. It exhibited a deeper color than the Marcassin, and was more evolved, even though it was two years younger. Nevertheless, it reveals good chalky minerality, a medium-bodied, fleshy mouthfeel, and hints of citrus oil, delicate pineapple and smoky, earthy undertones.

We then moved to four Châteauneuf du Papes, one of which was eliminated as it was badly corked (the first corked bottle I have had from this winery, the 2003 Clos St.-Jean Châteauneuf du Pape Deus Ex Machina. Normally, this is a brilliant blend of 60% old vine Grenache and 40% old vine Mourvèdre. We started with the last great wine made by Jacques Reynaud, who passed away in the winter of 1997, the 1995 Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape. Still remarkably youthful at nearly 20 years of age, it is the most Burgundian of all Châteauneuf du Papes. It offers up notes of dusty, loamy soil undertones interwoven with kirsch liqueur, licorice and black currants. Vibrant and full-bodied with good acidity, it admirably conceals its 15+% alcohol under abundant fruit and structure. This 1995 has another decade of evolution ahead of it. The 1998 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf du Pape La Reine des Bois is strutting its stuff. Fully mature, but showing no signs of aging or falling apart, this dense plum/ruby/purple-colored wine gave up aromas of acacia flowers interwoven with black raspberries, blackberries, licorice and a touch of truffles. Full-bodied and beautifully pure with silky tannins, this stunning wine should continue to drink beautifully for another 5-10 years.. Lastly, the 1990 Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin (the second vintage produced of this cuvée) is still a baby. Dominated by its Mourvèdre component with small quantities of Grenache, Counoise, Syrah and a few other grapes, it exhibits a dense plum/purple color along with notes of blueberries, roasted meats, beef blood, Provençal garrigue and pepper. Full-bodied and rich as well as firm and structured, it should continue to evolve for another 20-25 years.

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