Christmas Eve Dinner

It is always interesting to taste white Hermitage, especially after it has had five to six years of bottle age, because you are never sure what stage it will be in. Many of these cuvées go through an oxidative period, which can last from three to five years before the wine seemingly becomes younger and fresh again. Most white Hermitages are made primarily from Marsanne, although some producers, such as Jaboulet and Ferraton, use a small percentage of Roussanne in the final blend. Chapoutier’s Cuvée de l’Orée (from 80-90-year old vines) is 100% Marsanne. It is one of the most concentrated and richest dry white wines in the world, and in some vintages has the potential to last 40-50 years. The stars of this quartet of Cuvée de l’Orées were the 20061999 and 1997, all of which were stunningly rich with lots of hazelnut, marmalade, acacia flowers and brioche characteristics as well as a buttery liquified mineral component. Perhaps the most interesting, but also the most controversial was the 2003. This vintage had virtually no acidity in either the white or red wines, but in the red wines, the tannins provided structure and definition. With the white wines, the only thing that providing structure is the pure, dry extract. Chapoutier’s 2003 is enormously concentrated and I’m sure the alcohols must be in excess of 15% (even though the wine is not hot given its super-dense style). Nevertheless, it is slightly ponderous. It will either collapse from its size over the next decade, or it will develop more delineation and become more civilized. None of these offerings had any oxidative issues, so we will just have to wait and see. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but there is so much fascinating potential in the 2003 that it will be a lesson in how freakish wines such as this develop in the bottle.

We then turned to larger format bottles of Châteauneuf du Pape with our dinner. The highlight of the meal was our initial experience with a turducken. Many years ago, I read about this Cajun speciality from Louisiana in an article by Calvin Trillen. It is a deboned turkey stuffed with deboned duck that is stuffed with deboned chicken. Herbert’s allows the buyer to pick their own blend of stuffing, and I chose primarily andouille sausage, which has a nice spicy bite to it. We had 14 guests and the 16 pound turducken was cooked for five hours. It was super-moist with the duck imparting the turkey with more moisture and flavor than is normally found in turkey. The chicken was somewhat lost, but the stuffing was sensational. My wife made the gravy from the pan drippings and it was stunning. The entire dish was a perfect foil for robust southern Rhônes. We had two double magnums, the 2003 Pégaü Cuvée Réservée and 2003 Clos des Papes. Both were sensational with silky textures, full body and loads of garrigue, herb, pepper, raspberry, black cherry and meaty/animal-like characteristics. I also opened a magnum of Roger Sabon’s 2003 Secret de Sabon as an homage to Jean-Jacques Sabon, who I had just learned had passed away at the age of 63 after a long battle with cancer. A true gentleman as well as a great vigneron, he will certainly be missed. Unfortunately, the bottle I opened on Christmas Eve was impenetrable ... too young, too dense and almost over-the-top in richness. I could not make any sense of it compared to the much more evolved and sexier Pégaü and classic Clos des Papes.

It was a memorable Christmas Eve and turducken is now going to be an annual feast at Chez Parker.

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