Dinner at Home with Three Châteauneuf du Pape Proprietors

To celebrate the first visit to the USA by several Châteauneuf du Pape proprietors, my wife and I pulled out all the stops and prepared a totally American meal. It began with a wonderful chopped chicken liver recipe given to us by a Jewish friend, followed by unbelievably rich, decadent, jumbo lump Maryland crab cakes sauteed in clarified butter, and one of the finest cuts of beef I have ever had, a rib roast from Marin County’s Bryan Flannery that had been aged 60 days (to the specifications of board member Jeff Leve). That was served with a gratin of potatoes and sauteed spinach.

I am fortunate enough to participate in so many great wine and food evenings, one would think I would become jaded ... but that never happens as I savor every moment. I don’t think I have ever had a greater group of wines in my life than those served at this dinner. None of the proprietors of Châteauneuf du Pape had anything to do with the selections as I wanted to showcase a multitude of styles. First we enjoyed an exquisite magnum of 1995 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, a 100% Chardonnay champagne that is wonderfully luscious, crisp, and fresh. It is a surreal beverage that was adored by all. That was followed by the only California wine of the night, a tropical fruit-filled, opulent, fleshy, beautifully pure and crisp 2002 Peter Michael Chardonnay Point Rouge.

The red wines were all out of this world. It is almost sinful to try and make comparisons. The 2003 Usseglio Mon Aïeul, from an erratic vintage (the few producers who succeeded hit home runs), was the finest bottle I have yet had of that wine. It exhibited classic garrigue, blueberry, raspberry, and sweet black cherry notes offered in a heavenly aromatic concoction. In the mouth, it revealed pure opulence, plushness, and flesh. It is difficult to predict how long a wine such as this will last, but given its power and richness, it should keep much longer than its early charm suggests. We then moved to the a more tannic, animal-like, bigger cuvée, the 1998 Janasse Vieilles Vignes. From a superb vintage in Châteauneuf du Pape, this dense ruby/purple-colored effort is still somewhat closed (it was one of the most backward wines of the evening), but it revealed beautifully rich blackberry and cassis notes intermixed with truffles, roasted meats, and lavender. This structured, full, powerful Châteauneuf is bursting with quality. The most backward wine of the evening (it was even better the following day) was the magnum of 2000 Pégaü Cuvée da Capo. This is a superb, full-bodied Châteauneuf du Pape from ancient Grenache vines planted in the sector of Châteauneuf du Pape beloved by most of the area’s growers, La Crau. Herb, roasted meat, garrigue, licorice, fresh blood, and loads of black cherry, casssis, plum, and fig characteristics are all present in this monumental wine. It should age for another 2-3 decades. We then moved to another massive, but modern-styled offering, the 2001 La Mordoré Reine des Bois. Its inky/blue/purple hue was accompanied by notes of charcoal, blueberry liqueur, blackberries, and espresso as well as roasted Provençal herbs and meat juices. Intense, full-bodied, and super-pure, it is a tour de force in winemaking. This is an exquisite wine that I was lucky enough to have twice in a 48-hour period. It should drink well for another 20+ years.

We ended the meal with two exceptional wines from a superb Châteauneuf du Pape vintage, 1989. Both cuvées have needed a number of years to reach full maturity. Decanted several hours in advance, the 1989 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Céléstins was pure essence of old Grenache, revealing notes of smoked herbs, sweet, bloody meat, plums, licorice, sweet cherries, and some blacker fruits. As the wine sat in the glass, additional roasted meat and truffle aromas arose. Full-bodied, fresh, lively, gorgeously pure, and rich, this is a monument to old style Châteauneuf du Pape. It should evolve for 20+ years. The backward, dense ruby/purple-tinged 1989 Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin is the first vintage they made of this particular cuvée. What an extraordinary year! Fabulously intense aromas of asphalt, truffles, white flowers, and sweet black fruits are followed by powerful, muscular, full-bodied flavors that still reveal some tannin as well as amazing richness and length. This wine will easily last for another three decades. All in all, this gathering was a fabulous way in which to begin a new year.

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