Dinner at Home

Southern Rhône’s most influential and talented oenologist was on a tour of the East Coast, and since I have come to know him well over my many visits, in addition to my enormous respect for him, I invited him for dinner. We started with a sensational Aubert 2005 Chardonnay Reuling Vineyard from magnum. Extraordinary notes of bees wax, honey, nectarine, crushed rock, and white currant soared from the glass of this full-bodied yet remarkably fresh wine, which shows virtually no oak given its level of concentration and depth.

We then quickly segued into a bevy of Châteauneuf du Papes, as the focus of the entire weekend (this being the major dinner) was tasting both young and more mature Châteauneuf du Papes, mostly 1989s and 1990s although, as you can see, at this particular dinner there were many different vintages sampled. We started with a 1990 and a 1989 Rayas, the first time I have had them side by side in a number of years. Each bottle of 1990 now seems to be somewhat different, and this one was fabulous – fully mature, with classic flowery kirsch notes, some amber at the edge, nowhere near the color intensity of the 1989, but gloriously perfumed, full-bodied, opulent, and as good as Rayas can be. I think the wine has lost a little flavor intensity from four or five years ago, but it is still holding on to life at a very high level. The 1989makes a wonderful contrast, as the vintage couldn’t have been more different. Both were hot, drought years, but there was more beneficial rain in 1990, whereas in 1989 the grapes were smaller, the tannins harder, and the vintage has been very slow to emerge from its heavy cloak of tannin. This 1989 is still young, has a much denser, deeper color than the 1990, but there is no doubt it’s Rayas. It is loaded, and another 3-4 years of cellaring will probably be beneficial to those bottles that have been perfectly stored, as this bottle had been. We then moved onto the best showing ever of the Henri Bonneau 1988 Réserve des Céléstins from magnum. This was glorious Bonneau at his best. Notes of beef blood, roasted herbs, new saddle leather, some slight hints of brett and meat juices as well as barbecue smoke all emerge from this extraordinarily complex, celestial Châteauneuf du Pape which is just hitting its peak of maturity. This wine certainly has another 20 years left, especially from magnum. The 2000 La Vieille Julienne Réserve was a monster, again, from magnum. (I was never able to buy anything but magnums of this wine in the 2000 vintage.) The wine has a dense purple color, an extraordinarily deep, rich nose of kirsch liqueur and even hints of blueberry and sandalwood. Dense, still primary, and very unevolved, particularly for a rather fast moving vintage like 2000, this is a stunner that I will probably wait another 2-3 years to serve again. The 1990 Pégaü Cuvée Réservée Châteauneuf du Pape in magnum was sensational. One of the treasures of my cellar, this wine is fully mature but certainly is not going to fall off the table for at least another decade. Huge notes of garrigue, earth, spice box, herbs, meats, plums, and sweet black fruits and mushrooms jump from the glass of this wine, which makes an interesting and close comparison to the style of Henri Bonneau. Paul Féraud, who made this wine, and Henri Bonneau are the same age, and were classmates at the same school in Châteauneuf du Pape. Their philosophies are essentially identical, although Bonneau tends to bottle his wines slightly later than Paul Féraud did during this era. This is a sensational Châteauneuf du Pape, an old-style classic and a real jewel. We then turned to a much younger wine, one of the greatest young wines I have ever tasted in my life (although, unfortunately, there is virtually none of it available in the marketplace). The 2007 Clos St.-Jean Sanctus Sanctorum comes from nearly 100-year-old Grenache vines from Le Crau. Only made in magnum, it has a remarkable inky/purple color, which is rather amazing for a wine that is 100% Grenache. Stunning clarity, richness, precision, and freshness are all present in a wine of enormous concentration and depth. It is really a tour de force in winemaking.

Lastly, I cannot forget the utter perfection of Domaine Barroche 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape Pure, from magnum, no less. This is an exquisite wine, and the last magnum I had. Of course, it is probably 8-10 years away from full maturity, but I don’t have any regrets serving it or drinking it. It is an extraordinary wine, so why wait? It may not wait for you. We finished the night with a hand-carried bottle of 1947 Huët from that great estate in Vouvray. Orange marmalade, nectarine, honeysuckle, earth, and even a hint of white truffles jumped from the glass of this exquisite wine, which still has great acidity, freshness, and a full-bodied, powerful mouthfeel.

As for the food, it is hard to compliment one’s own cooking, but I had nothing to do with the Joselito Iberico Bellota, or the smoked Scottish salmon from Daniel Boulud, or the pastrami-smoked salmon from Russ and Daughters in New York. All of these were big hits, and they are frequent entries on my dinner table, as I just love them.

My wife and I take pride in having great sources for blue crab backfin jumbo lump. The key to the crabcakes is to put just enough filler so that it holds together without falling apart, then sauteeing in clarified butter. Cambie had requested them since he had them once before at my house, and they were sensational (although January is not the best time to buy crab meat, since it is not quite as sweet as it is during the warmer months). We then finished with a grilled assortment of 45-day dry-aged strip steaks and ribeyes from Bryan Flannery. It’s no secret what I think of him as a person, his great humanitarianism, but also as an exquisite purveyor of high quality beef from free-range California cattle never treated with antibiotics. The real debate here is which is the better cut, the ribeyes or the strip steaks. I tend to like the strips, only because they’re slightly less fatty, but there is no denying that his ribeyes are pretty special.

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