I took a friend and his wife to dinner at the Charleston restaurant accompanied by some favorite wines from my wine cellar. We started with the restaurant’s non-vintage Dom Ruinart Rosé Champagne, an excellent dry blend with lots of fruit (strawberries and cranberries) and terrific freshness. We then moved to a topnotch, fresh, medium-bodied 2005 Corton Charlemagne from Boillot. It shows no signs of premature oxidation, which is a positive given the widespread failure rate of white Burgundies these days.
The reds included a spectacular line-up of Guigal’s single vineyard Côte Rôties that I purchased when released and have stored impeccably ever since. These offerings are all different, becoming even more dissimilar as they age. My favorite tends to be Guigal’s first single vineyard offering (introduced in 1966), La Mouline. Made entirely from the sector of Côte Rôtie known as Côte Blonde (in contrast to the more masculine wines fashioned from the more northerly hillsides called Côte Brune), La Mouline includes around 11% co-fermented Viognier. La Landonne is 100% Syrah and La Turque is virtually all Syrah. Spectacular aromatics, great concentration and a youthful personality characterize the 1988 La Mouline. The color remains a healthy dark plum/garnet with only a slight lightening at the edge. The 42 months it (and its siblings) spends in 100% new François Frères barrels is not detectable in any of these wines (it never is after about 7-8 years of bottle age). Voluminous, broad, savory and rich, with some tannins still to be shed, this is a great vintage for Guigal, and the 1988 La Mouline still has 15-20 years of evolution ahead of it. Fully mature, the 1985 La Mouline’s aromatics are to die for. Notes of violets, forest floor, Asian plum sauce, cassis, raspberry confiture, pepper and spice jump from the glass of this 1985. Although revealing considerable lightening at the edge, it is velvety, full-bodied and opulent with sweet fruit as well as seamless integration of all its component parts. This stunning wine exhibits no signs of fading, and can be enjoyed over the next 5-6 years. The big 1983 La Mouline, from a relatively powerful, tannic vintage, is more masculine-styled than the usually feminine La Mouline tends to be. It is a gritty, full-throttle effort that can age for another 15 years, but I do not believe all the tannins will ever be fully assimilated, a problem it shares with many 1983 northern Rhônes. However, as the score indicates, it is exceptionally impressive. If the 1983 had not been preceded by two perfect wines, I suspect my rating could be slightly higher.
As for La Turque, which I always serve second in a series, I am increasingly convinced that it is neither as complex as La Mouline nor as impressive as La Landonne. Nevertheless, it is still a great wine on its own merits. The 1988 remains a young wine, and the 1985, the first vintage made from very young vines (three years of age), still reveals plenty of dark fruit, earth, spice, cedar, licorice and incense characteristics.
La Landonne is usually a 30- to 50-year wine depending on the vintage. Pure perfection, the 1989 La Landonne is close to full maturity exhibiting a dense plum/purple color in addition to copious notes of graphite, licorice, roasted meats, blackberries, tar and camphor intermixed with hints of truffles and bouquet garni. Full-bodied, flashy and even flamboyant (somewhat surprising given it is 100% Syrah), this 1989 was a fabulous match with the Colorado lamb. Made in a more monolithic style, the 1986 La Landonne is a big, thick, juicy effort, but it will never possess the complexity or hit the heights of any of the other wines in this tasting. Blame that on the vintage, not on Guigal. He certainly surpassed all expectations in a vintage that was relatively average in quality for Côte Rôtie.
As usual, the cuisine and service at Charleston were impeccable. The food dishes ranged from cornmeal-encrusted deep fried oysters (Chef Cindy Wolf is the master frier in the Baltimore/Washington DC area, perhaps even in the entire United States), to an extraordinary lobster bisque, local rockfish with wild mushrooms, and an amazing turbot dish with scalloped potatoes. One can argue whether Colorado or Sonoma lamb is the best in the country, but this was an intensely flavored, delicious lamb dish that worked well with these Côte Rôties.
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