Charleston - The Wine Advocate Staff Dinner/Meeting

Chef Cindy Wolf prepared a superb meal as the staff of The Wine Advocate (16 people) took over the wine room at the Charleston restaurant on the waterfront in downtown Baltimore. I chose a lot of Chef Wolf’s signature dishes for the menu, as every one of them is about as good as they can be. Plus, they matched up well with all the red wines we had. They were the perfect foils for the bluefin tuna tartare, the striped bass and the Beef Wellington.

We started with two white wines. The 2009 Pape Clément Blanc appears to have shut down since I had it several months ago. It is still a remarkable white Graves, but most readers probably do not realize that these wines can last 30 or more years without changing significantly. In many cases, they can outlive their red counterparts, which is almost heresy in the wine world. This is one of the most fragrant and full-bodied 2009 whites, but it was closed, tight and reserved at this dinner compared to the Montrachet-like 2003 Chapoutier l’Ermite Hermitage Blanc. Record-setting heat waves in July and August, 2003 (but not in September) fried many vineyards planted in sandy and gravelly soils. However, l’Ermite sits on pure decomposed granite at the top of the Hermitage appellation and the fruit was picked earlier than normal. This wine, which Michel Chapoutier told me had virtually no acidity, survives on pure extract, of which it has a level that is beyond belief. Incredibly fresh, full and unctuously textured, it may be controversial for some readers who are not used to rich, multidimensional, profound dry whites, and who prefer much lighter styles. There is nothing heavy about the wine despite the fact it has no acidity, which makes the ancient 100% Marsanne vines from which it is made spring to life in this amazing white.

All the red wines as well as the dessert offering, the 1989 Huet Vouvray Moelleux, were in magnum. We started with a wine I thought might be too young, and in fact was by far the youngest, most backward wine of the flight, the 2005 Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin. It exhibits a dense purple color along with Mourvèdre characteristics of beef blood, new saddle leather, black and blue fruits, truffles and incense. The tannins are enormous in this full-bodied, massive, monster-like wine. It needs to be forgotten (especially from magnum) for another decade at least. The next four Châteauneuf du Papes could all have been given perfect scores, as they were off the charts in complexity, richness and both intellectual and hedonistic appeal. The magnificent 2001 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf du Pape Reine des Bois boasts a beautiful black/purple color and a gorgeous perfume of acacia flowers, black raspberry jam, cassis, blueberries, lavender and pepper with a subtle hint of toasty oak in the background. Its opulence and richness suggest this may turn out to be the “Châteauneuf du Pape of the vintage” in 2001. Although still an adolescent and not yet at its plateau of maturity, it is certainly accessible. The 2005 Barroche Châteauneuf du Pape Pure is a treat to drink whether from a regular bottle or a magnum. It has been one of the most consistent 100-point wines I have ever tasted. Made from 100% Grenache grown in sandy soils, not far from the famous Château Rayas, the 2005 Pure reveals a dark ruby/plum/purple color, although it is not as intense as the Mordorée, St.-Préfert or Clos St.-Jean that followed. Its purity and notes of strawberries, kirsch, raspberries, loamy soil, truffles and spring flowers are to die for. This velvety textured, opulent wine has changed very little during its sojourn in the bottle. Full-bodied with 15% plus alcohol, this profound effort is one of the all-time great Châteauneuf du Papes I have ever drunk. However, I do not think it will be particularly long-lived, so lucky owners are advised to enjoy it now. We then moved to an inky/blue/purple-colored wine made from 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre, with the latter component aged in oak demi-muids, the 2007 St.-Préfert Châteauneuf du Pape Collection Charles Giraud. Another perfect, utterly sublime Châteauneuf du Pape, it exhibits abundant, complex aromas of beef blood, truffles, licorice, garrigue, blue and black fruits, and lavender. Revealing a full-bodied, super-rich mouthfeel without a hard edge to be found, this multidimensional, textured, pure wine is a great example of this vintage as well as the winemaking skills of Isabel Ferrando, the proprietress of this estate. The 2007 Clos St.-Jean Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous, dominated by Grenache with a small amount of Cinsault in the blend, offers an intriguing bouquet of spring flowers, graphite, licorice, Asian plum sauce, blueberries and raspberries. Full-bodied, dark, dense and not as complex aromatically as the St.-Préfert or as velvety textured as the Barroche, it is another beauty with massive richness, full-bodied power, and a long, long finish.

At this point in the evening we were ready to taste something slightly older. The 2003 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is a blend of 80% Grenache and the rest Syrah and Mourvèdre (the latter two components aged in small new oak). One of the top three or four Châteauneuf du Papes of the vintage, this 2003 has been drinking well since its release. It continues to perform brilliantly and, for my tastes, is fully mature, although the color remains a healthy dark ruby/purple. Full-bodied and rich with lots of Provençal herb, spring flower, and black and blue fruit notes, this opulent, beautifully pure, low acid wine should be consumed over the next 5-10 years. The 2003 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée da Capo displayed Châteauneuf du Pape’s more animal side. Dominated by Grenache (90% of the blend), it exhibits notes of aged beef, charcuterie, Peking duck, Asian soy, pepper and a touch of brett as well as monster flavor concentration, a full-bodied, dense, multilayered mouthfeel and a stunning finish. A classic, old style, traditional Châteauneuf du Pape, it should drink well for two more decades.

While going through my cellar, I discovered a wine I did not realize I still had, the 1990 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape, which I had previously drunk with enormous pleasure. However, this magnum was clearly past its prime and was beginning to show some maderized, raisiny notes in the nose, and was disjointed on the palate. This is a perfect example of waiting too long (or in my case, having forgotten I had any) and catching the wine during its descent. It suffered in comparison with the other wines, but it would probably have been the wine of the evening if it had been drunk five to eight years ago.

We finished with a remarkably young, vibrant 1989 Huet Vouvray Moelleux. Lots of apricot and peach marmalade notes intermixed with notions of flowers and crushed rocks emerged from this rich, intensely fat and flavorful wine. There was plenty of acidity to balance out the residual sweetness and honeyed character. From magnum, it is still a baby and has another 50 years of upside to it.

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