Dinner at Home (Part 2)

Honoring Park B. Smith and Philippe Cambie

With my wife’s homemade Clams Casino (the best I’ve ever tasted) and my spaghetti and meatballs (I’ll be quite egotistical here and say they’re as good as it gets), we had an incredible array of Châteauneuf du Papes. The only wine that was somewhat of a disappointment was the 1978 Fortia. About 25% of the bottle was sediment, and I have had better bottles. The wine was still intact, but it was overwhelmed by everything else we tasted.

The focus was largely on 1990. This vintage in Châteauneuf du Pape was very hot, very wet at times, the crop size was very large, the alcohol levels set modern-day records (not even eclipsed in vintages such as 2000, 2003, 2005, or 2007), and the wines, when I first tasted them before bottling, were very opulent, almost defectively low in acidity, but loaded with incredibly ripe fruit bordering on over-ripe. If anything, I thought the wines were glorious but probably best drunk in their first 10-15 years of life. Well, the wines have shed their baby fat for the most part, taken on more structure and freshness, and at age 20, the best of them are remarkable wines, not  only some of the greatest wines in my cellar but some of the greatest I have ever drunk. The outliers of the tasting were, of course, the 1981 Pégaü Cuvée Réservée and the aforementioned 1978 Fortia, but everything else was 1990.

I now prefer the 1990 Beaucastel to the 1989. (The latter vintage seems to be taking forever to come around, and additionally there are quite a number of bottles that either have leaky corks or are clearly “corked” wines.) The 1990 seems much more consistent, displaying plenty of leather, herbs, blue and black fruits, tar, smoke, licorice, and lavender. It is complex, full-bodied, sumptuous, and certainly fully mature. In total contrast, the 1990 Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin is pure perfection but needs another decade of cellaring. Dense purple-colored with an extraordinary nose of camphor, blueberry, acacia flowers, pepper, and spice, the wine is super-dense, rich, but still structured, very tannic, yet remarkably fresh and lively. This wine tasted as if it were 3 or 4 years old rather than 20. I drank almost all of it up way too young, with no regrets, but this bottle was a reminder that I should perhaps have had more patience. The1990 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire may be the best Centenaire ever made. I know proprietor André Brunel probably disagrees, thinking 2005 or 2007, or perhaps even 2001 is superior, but I’ll vote every time for the 1990. It is an amazing wine that seems to have gotten younger as it has aged, rather than older. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more to drink, and I suspect most other people have also consumed theirs. If you have any, you’re very lucky. The biggest surprise, perhaps, was the brilliance of the 1990 Clos du Mont Olivet Cuvée Papet. Of course, I had purchased it with high hopes, but this is by far the best example of this cuvée ever made, and I don’t think the 1989 or the 2007 will ever reach such heights. An absolutely amazing wine, seemingly fully mature, with lots of garrigue, licorice, pepper, meat juices, and a boatload of kirsch liqueur and raspberries, this is an amazing wine that I would drink over the next 3-4 years.

We also had the two top bottlings from Henri Bonneau. The 1990 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape Réserve des Céléstins may be the single greatest wine I have ever tasted that has some maturity. It is certainly the single greatest wine I have ever tasted from the Southern Rhône. It is an amazing wine, with notes of barbecue smoke, beef blood, aged rare prime steak, licorice, pepper, and incense, as well as extraordinary body, flavor, depth, and a mind-blowing finish. One could say it is fully mature, but this wine seems capable of lasting another two decades. Because the 1990 Cuvée Spéciale from Henri Bonneau was bottled with about 6% residual sugar, it never fermented totally dry, so it was a rather unusual wine that most people loved, but I thought it was a bit over the top. Even though it now tastes relatively fresh and much drier than it did in its youth, it doesn’t have the complexity of the Réserve des Céléstins, but perhaps I’ve failed to understand this wine, and that’s going to emerge with further bottle age.

The 1990 Marcoux Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes from the same case has been one of those mysteries that is impossible to solve. Some bottles are raisiny, oxidized, and nearly undrinkable, and others flirt with perfection. Fortunately, this was one of the good ones. Dense ruby/bluish/purple, with notes of blueberry liqueur intermixed with acacia flowers, licorice, truffle, and incense, the wine is full-bodied, opulent, and fully mature. It needs to be drunk up as well. Lastly, and actually quite young although delicious, was the Fonsalette 1990 Côtes du Rhône. I have drunk a lot of this over the years and found a few bottles that I thought I had consumed, so it was served. It’s a beauty and a good example of why smart money buys Côtes du Rhônes in great vintages. Most of them should be drunk in their first 3-4 years of life, but some can age for 20 years, as this one has.

Altogether, a great weekend with extraordinary wines and great company.

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