Dinner at Home With Friends
For me there are no better products across the board than the offerings from northern California’s Bryan Flannery (lamb, organic free-range capons, prime dry-aged beef, Kubota pork, and heads-on fresh Gulf of Mexico shrimp). Once you taste never frozen, freshly caught, heads-on shrimp, you realize just what a difference it makes. I have always felt the finest shrimp in America were the spotted prawns that come from Santa Barbara (Flannery is also my go to source for those since they are unavailable on the East Coast), but this new product is very special. By the way, he receives these shrimp within 24 hours of their being caught, and you can have them within 48-72 hours via Federal Express. I marinated them overnight in fresh garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil, then threw them on a super-hot grill. However, a word of warning, you have to be right on top of them because they cook very quickly. Wow! What incredible flavor. Flannery’s remarkable prime rib beef cap is about the most decadent, lavishly rich beef flavored dish you can have. It is well worth the price of admission. I would not recommend readers have it too frequently as it is definitely an artery clogger, but with good red wine you are probably safe as long as you don’t have it more than 4-5 times a year. (I’m not a doctor, so don’t consider that as serious advice.) The dry-aged strip steaks are incredibly marbled, and offer a wonderful beefy flavor. I even enjoy them the next day at room temperature when, interestingly, they taste even better. The other course came from one of my other favorite places for terrific food, the pastrami-soaked salmon from Russ and Daughters in lower Manhattan. I am a fanatic concerning the smoked fish, their speciality, and the pastrami-soaked salmon is akin to having a great pastrami sandwich without all the artery clogging fat.
I had one of my dearest friends, Mr. Park B. Smith, the proprietor of New York City’s Veritas restaurant as well as the owner of one of the greatest wine cellars I have ever seen, visiting, and basically all he drinks these days is Châteauneuf du Pape. We started the evening with an incredibly young 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne, which is destined to be one of the greatest champagnes produced by this house. Just arriving in the American market, it is a fabulous Champagne offering hints of brioche, honeyed citrus (grapefruit and orange rind), unbelievable intensity of flavor, and great acidity as well as freshness. This full-bodied offering should age for two decades or more. My two favorite vintages to date of California Chardonnay have been 2005 and 2007. Cooler years seem to bring out even more aromatic complexity, and when you have a brilliant winemaker such as Mark Aubert working with extraordinary cool climate vineyards, the results can be spectacular. His 2007 Chardonnay Lauren is a sumptuous effort revealing notes of honeyed pears, lemon custard, and orange blossoms, gorgeous fresh fruit flavors, terrific acidity, and plenty of body. Good underlying minerality provides complexity in this well-balanced, young, incredibly promising Chardonnay.
Moving to the reds, it was primarily an evening of older Châteauneuf du Papes. I have always thought that in a top vintage, Châteauneuf du Pape has the broadest window of drinkability of any wine in the world, often drinkable several years after it is released, and lasting 20+ years. The sweet spot for most Châteauneuf du Papes is between ages 5 and 20. When I see wines such as the 1990 Rayas, 1981 Beaucastel, and 1990 Pégaü Cuvée Réservée I wonder if I may be drinking them too soon. From regular bottle, the 1990 Rayas is still a superb wine. For many years it was at the top of my scale, then it seemed to slip a bit. However, this bottle was nearly perfect, offering the extraordinary essence of kirsch liqueur, licorice, and spice along with a full-bodied richness. It held up gorgeously in the glass for hours. We then moved to the 1981 Beaucastel, which represents the essence of beef blood, animal notes, and sweaty horse saddle. Wow! What an extraordinary wine. Many people think some of these aromas are related to brett, and there may be some brett in this wine, but I think it is primarily just super-concentrated, old vine Mourvèdre that has spent 28 years in the bottle. Still a dense dark plum color (much darker than the Rayas, which is 100% Grenache), it smells like fresh horse dung when first opened, but that blew off, leaving aged beef smells intermixed with blood, garrigue, earth, truffle, and leather. It is very full-bodied and stunningly complex, but boy, I can understand why some people might be repulsed by this style of wine. However, it is a great example of Beaucastel and of a Châteauneuf du Pape from the Mourvèdre-dominated school of winemaking. The 1990 Pégaü Cuvée Réservée from magnum was extraordinary. I probably should have decanted it, but we were all thirsty, so we just started drinking it. By the end of three hours, the wine was unreal. An amazingly dark plum/purple color was followed by a sweet nose of creosote, roasted herbs, kirsch, plums, and figs. Full-bodied with high glycerin, lofty alcohol (but it’s not the least bit hot), and a long finish, out of magnum, this 1990 has another 15-20 years of life ... at a minimum. The 2003 Clos St.-Jean Deus-Ex Machina is one of the greatest Châteauneuf du Papes I have ever tasted.. While it is a candidate for another 20-25 years of aging, I am not wait that long given how incredibly opulent, flamboyant, and intense it is at present. Out of magnum, it seemed more backward than regular bottles I have drunk. Its deep plum/ruby/purple hue is accompanied by extraordinary notes of licorice, seaweed, blackberries, cassis, truffles, camphor, and a hint of lavender. Exceptionally full-bodied with loads of glycerin, and even higher alcohol than the 1990 Pégaü Cuvée Réservée, in texture, glycerin levels, and richness, there is a lot of similarity between the two wines despite the fact there is a 13-year age difference.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...