Dinner at Home with Friends from New York

Friends from New York, in addition to Dr. Big J, who I hadn’t seen in quite a while, came to lunch, and so we pulled out all the stops. The food was pretty much our standard fare, just right when you want to eat well but don’t want to do too much cooking. The great jumbo lump backfin blue channel crab was still wonderfully sweet, although it was toward the end of season in Maryland. Bryan Flannery has branched out, bringing in some hormone-free, wonderfully aged, incredibly marbled wagyu beef from Oregon, and my God, are these sumptuous steaks! I still tend to like my steak very rare, char on the outside, but that technique doesn’t work with wagyu, so I am still playing around with the proper method of grilling it while cutting back on the heat.

The wines were sensational. My guest brought a bottle of the 1975 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque, which is just out of this world. The youthfulness of this 36-year-old Champagne, the freshness and the intensity of flavor are remarkable, and as I was commenting, Richard Geoffroy may well be the world’s greatest winemaker when you consider the quantities of Dom Pérignon that he is responsible for producing.

We then moved to a flight of white Burgundy, some of the best in my cellar, and we were three for four. The first bottle of oxidized Coche-Dury (and I drink a lot of Coche) I have ever had, the 1996 Meursault Rougeots, had a very good cork, terrific fill, but was completely shot, which I found disturbing. That said, the others showed well, including a very strong effort from Raveneau in the bizarre vintage of 2003. The 2003 Chablis Clos had great minerality and crispness, impressive acidity, none of the evolved, advanced character that one often finds in most whites from this vintage, and seemed to have plenty of life left in it. Coche Dury’s 1996 Corton-Charlemagne is legendary, and this bottle was spectacular, with plenty of buttered popcorn, honeysuckle, crushed rock, marmalade notes and great acidity, but wonderful freshness for such a big wine. We finished with what I thought was the best of the four white Burgundies, Lalou Bize-Leroy’s 1989 Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières. People forget what a great winemaker she is, not only because her wines are super-expensive, but she is not exactly the most accessible person (although it is hard not to have enormous respect for what she has accomplished, and this is the kind of wine she built her reputation on). The youngest wine of all four, and yet the oldest chronologically, this wine was stunningly rich, with notes of roasted hazelnuts, buttered citrus, orange peel, white currants and a flowery note. Sensationally full-bodied, rich and unctuous, yet very light in color, with terrific acidity, this is a striking white Burgundy that has at least another two decades of life left in it.

The red wines were all decanted about three to four hours in advance. All showed well, although the wine that put the 1990s in perspective was the perfect 1982 Lafleur. It has another gear, a level of concentration and complexity that transcends almost any wine I could possibly think of, with perhaps the one exception being the 1990 Beauséjour-Duffau. That great one hit wonder was still the youngest wine in the tasting, but showed incredible raspberry and blueberry notes along with crushed rock and spring flowers. The 1982 Lafleur tasted like a Bordeaux version of a great vintage of Château Rayas from Châteauneuf du Pape, all kirsch, raspberry and licorice but unctuous texture, great freshness, and still an amazing youthfulness for a wine that is going on 30 years of age. Fully mature (and I don’t think it’s going to get any better, although there’s no rush to drink it) is the 1990 Cheval Blanc. Wonderful notes of bay leaf, fresh mint, red and black fruits, forest floor, cedar and earth jump from the glass of this very aromatic wine. Voluptuously textured, full-bodied and luscious, it’s a beauty to drink over the next decade or more.

To reiterate, the 1990 Beauséjour-Duffau continues to live up to its monumental status and is certainly one of the wines I treasure the most in my cellar, even though I will probably end up consuming most of it before it ever hits full maturity. This wine seems to need at least another 5-10 years, although why wait (particularly when you’re in your sixties, because who knows what fate holds for you)? The 1990 Angélus was also very young and backward. It had the densest purple color and was more difficult to coax much from. Other bottles I have had recently were so much more striking and sexy, while this one was virile, masculine, full-bodied, rich, but quite young and hard to penetrate. But then, perhaps I didn’t try too hard, given how good the other four reds were. The 1990 Lafleur was backward as well and seemed somewhat monolithic compared to the 1982, but it was very rich and possessed the tell-tale kirsch, licorice and black raspberry notes, much more minerality, and a firm tannic structure.

The food/wine matchups were stunning, and it was my favorite time to eat and drink, starting at high noon and finishing around five o’clock in the afternoon. That’s what I call a civilized day of life.

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