Dinner at Home with Friends

My favorite smoked salmon, from Brown Trading Company, is a special Scottish salmon smoked to the specifications of New York's great French chef, Daniel Boulud. The subtlety of its intense flavor is what makes it so exceptional. I do not like smoked salmon to be too smoky, and this tastes almost like sashimi salmon with a very gentle smoky edge to it. We then moved on to what are the world's greatest crab cakes ... mine. Each weighs about a half pound, and there is very little filling. They are made from the best Maryland jumbo lump backfin crab meat available in the market, then sauteed in clarified butter until they are crispy on the outside, but incredibly moist on the inside. Crab cakes such as this would cost $50 in a restaurant, but great crabs are the indigenous equivalent of black truffles for Marylanders. Next we had great Peter Luger marbled strip steaks served with a mild au poivre sauce. I usually make this sauce more peppery, but since I was serving Burgundies with it, I wanted just a hint of spice so it would not overwhelm the wines.

As for the wines, it was one of those magical nights where everything performed beautifully. But it was also the kind of night that could cost you a lot of money since all of these wines are outrageously expensive ... if they could be found with good provenance. Taittinger's newest release, the 1999 Comtes de Champagne Rosé is gorgeous. I like it almost as much as the 1996 (it may be as good with another year of bottle age). At one time I had nearly two cases of Niellon's 1985 Bâtard Montrachet and 18 bottles of Leflaive's 1983 Chevalier Montrachet, But these were the last bottles from my cellar (les derniers soldats, as the French might say). Both were exquisite examples of wines that have given me enormous pleasure over their entire lives. Both are reference point white Burgundies that remain remarkably vibrant, intact, and young. The Leflaive revealed a hint of oxidation, but only after it was open for thirty minutes. It is still a momentous monument from a vintage that produced many flabby, quick-to-die white Burgundies. Niellon's 1985 Bâtard Montrachet is seemingly immortal, still tasting like a 5-6 year old wine. It is stunningly rich, opulent, and full-bodied with oodles of fruit, honeysuckle, and wax-like characteristics. I don't know whether Niellon made any magnums in this vintage, but, wow, what a treat that would be. We finished with a mini-vertical of Ponsot's Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes. I have long believed that, along with a handful of the great vintages of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, the greatest red Burgundy is Ponsot's Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes, but he is a distressingly erratic performer (he did horribly in the mid to late eighties and throughout most of the nineties). If the 2003s are any indication, the man has returned with a vengeance. The 2003 Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes is one of the greatest young Burgundies I have ever tasted. A magnificent wine, it does not reveal any of the heat (although the alcohol must be pushing 15%) or over-ripeness that is often associated with this vintage. It is a nectar of the vines and true Pinot Noir elixir. The 1991 Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes remains an outstanding wine, but it is fully mature and reveals considerable rust at the edge. It reveals a gorgeous perfume of forest floor and sweet currants and cherries, but it tails off in the finish. Readers who have it in their cellars are advised to drink it up. In total contrast, the 1990 Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes is opulent, voluptuous, gorgeously rich, pure, and full-throttle, but still seamless and young (it's no more than a teenager in terms of its evolution). What a joy to drink! We finished with the sensational 1985 Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes. Broad, savory, and incredibly perfumed, it revealed wonderful sweetness, not a hard edge to be found, enormous notes of forest floor, fresh mushrooms, cedar, black and red fruits, and a finish that lasts over 60 seconds. The 2003 may be a more modern version of the 1985, being bigger, richer, and even more profound. In any event, this was a great evening with some superb performances by these extraordinary Burgundies.

As a postscript, when I visited Tablas Creek in May, I was talking to Robert Haas about Ponsot's wines, which his company has imported for decades. Haas, one of the godfathers of estate Burgundies, said the greatest Burgundy he ever tasted was the 1947 Ponsot Clos de la Roche - a year very much like 2003.

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