Charleston Encore

Another sumptuous meal at Baltimore’s finest restaurant, Charleston, included Chef Cindy Wolf’s delicious pan-roasted wild rockfish with coco beans and garlic, her rabbit confit, and her legendary Beef Wellington, which is generously stuffed with foie gras. Somehow she always manages to serve it rare despite being encased in a puff pastry shell.

The wines consisted of five flights. We began with Louis Roederer’s 2004 Cristal Champagne, which is outstanding, but does not measure up to the 2002 version of this cuvée. Leflaive’s 2002 Bienvenue Bâtard Montrachet performed better at this dinner than it did several months earlier. I have had bad luck with oxidized bottles of the 1996 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet, but this bottle was excellent. This particular bottle was crisp with loads of citrus, minerality, full body and a youthful personality. As for the California Chardonnays, the top offering was the 2007 Aubert Ritchie Vineyard from magnum. It was stunningly leesy and earthy with lots of honeyed citrus intermixed with hints of pineapple and tropical fruits. The Ritchie Vineyard dominated both the 2004 Peter Michael Mon Plaisir, which was a beauty, and the youthful, earthy 2000 Marcassin Chardonnay Three Sisters.

The flight of Bordeaux consisted of an intriguing group of wines that I had also drunk a few months earlier at a charity event held on behalf of the United States Seal Foundation. They all performed exceptionally well, and once again the 1982 La Mission Haut Brion triumphed with its incredibly complex bouquet of scorched earth, charcoal, black currants, blueberries and loamy soil scents. A close second was the young, super-rich, concentrated 1982 Le Gay as well as the 1982 Léoville Poyferré, which was stunningly opulent and rich with lots of cedarwood and black currant characteristics presented in a full-bodied, flashy style. The 1982 Léoville Las Cases remains very youthful and changed the most (in a positive manner) with aeration. All of these wines had been decanted well in advance of serving. The 1982 Léoville Barton was tannic, backward and nearly impenetrable. One of the sexiest offerings was the fully mature, gorgeously plump and succulent 1982 La Lagune.

We then moved to a flight of primarily 2001 Châteauneuf du Papes that finished with a 2003 Pierre Usseglio Réserve des Deux Frères, an off bottle that had clearly been cooked in transit. The other wines included a magnificent 2001 Vieille Julienne Réserve Châteauneuf du Pape. Pure perfection, it is still young, rich, and locked and loaded with layers of kirsch liqueur, licorice, loamy soil, pepper and spring flowers. The 2001 Clos du Caillou Réserve and 2001 Mordorée Reine des Bois both performed brilliantly. Both are young, vibrant, full-bodied and close to passing through their adolescent stage of development. A perplexing wine, because of some ethyl acetate was the 2001 Les Cailloux Châteauneuf du Pape Centenaire. This wine seems to be potentially outstanding, but its flaws are likely to get worse rather than better.

We finished with a flight of magnificent offerings from Ojai, California’s Sine Qua Non winery. The first bottle, the 2003 L’il E Grenache, was corked. But the following four wines “rocked and Rhôned.” The 2004 Into the Dark Grenache was exquisite, revealing lots of kirsch, licorice, pepper and meaty, spicy characteristics. Rich, full-bodied and opulent, it is a prodigious example of Grenache from a winery that seems to get more out of this varietal in California than any other. The 2004 Syrah Poker Face was beautifully floral with abundant aromas of forest floor, blackberries and cassis. This was one of the finest bottles I have ever had of the remarkable 2002 Syrah Just for the Love of It. Pure perfection, it blew all of my guests away. We finished with an older Syrah, the 2001 Midnight Oil. While playing it closer to the vest, it was still young and vibrant with plenty of black fruit, camphor and foresty notes.

The dessert wine was the great 1990 Château D’Yquem, which exhibited copious amounts of honeysuckle and crème brûlée as well as a touch of toasty oak, an unctuous texture and terrific acidity and purity.

Another brilliant meal from Cindy Wolf, a fabulous selection of guests and plenty of top flight wines made for a nearly perfect night.

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