Dinner Chez Parker

To celebrate my promotion from Knight to Officer in France's Legion of Honor, awarded by President Jacques Chirac on Bastille Day, 2005, we hosted a dinner with dear friends. The evening began with Spain's extraordinary black ham from that country's finest purveyor, Joselito (which, I have heard, US authorities will finally allow to be imported into America by the end of 2005). We then moved to my wife's renowned clams casino, wonderful clams sauteed in garlic and butter mixed with a stuffing of green onions and herbs, and baked with a Parmesan cheese topping. The main course was made-from-scratch spaghetti and meatballs, one of the specialties of this house. The only ingredient that came from outside was the handstuffed sweet Italian sausages from a local Italian deli, Mastelleone's. They are as good as any made in the world, but only limited quantities are available, and they must be reserved several days in advance in order to secure more than 4-5 pounds.

The wines began with a damn good palate refresher, the 2001 Peter Michael Belle Côte Chardonnay. It offered a lovely greenish hue to its medium straw color along with hints of peaches, lychee nuts, and tropical fruits, with a good backbone of acidity. We then moved into a flight of older Châteauneuf du Papes. We began with a comparison between two great 1981s, Rayas and Pégaü. While they both remain sumptuous Châteauneuf du Papes from a top vintage, they were even better 3-4 years ago. The Rayas revealed more character, nobility, and complexity than the more rustic, muscular Pégaü, which displayed more meat, garrigue, pepper, and earth. However, both were still beautiful, sweet, pure wines with evolved colors. We then jumped to two young wines, the 1989 Rayas and Pégaü. This vintage has been very slow to mature, and now seems to be equaling or surpassing its renowned younger sibling, 1990, whose wines were like sprinters out of the gate and have been sumptuous for 15 years. The 1989 Rayas will outlive the 1990 by 10-15 years. Still a young wine, it exhibits a crisp, floral, black raspberry liqueur-like bouquet intermixed with notes of flowers and spice. It is deeply colored for a Rayas, but not as dense, dark, meaty, smoky, or earthy as the 1989 Pégaü, a huge behemoth that is just becoming drinkable. I recall that Paul Feraud always preferred the 1989, while his daughter Laurence favored the 1990, but who's complaining? We then opened one of my last magnums of 1990 Rayas. From bottle, this wine can be variable, but it always scores in the mid-nineties at least. Out of magnum, it is one of the greatest wines in the world. In fact, one of my guests said he had recently had a pristine bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc and thought the 1990 Rayas was actually more complex and noble. Like every magnum I have opened, it was a memorable wine.

For dessert, we decided to check out what we believed were fraudulent bottles of the famed Henri Bonneau 1998 Réserve des Céléstins. One of my guests had bought some bottles in Europe. My bottles came from the authorized importer, Alain Junguenet's Wines of France. It was clear from looking at the bottles that they were two completely different wines, with the bottle label purchased in Europe showing 14.5% alcohol, and the American label 14%. Even more alarming was the fact that the American importer's bottling had a cork that read "Henri Bonneau 1998," whereas the other cork did not show either the name or vintage. To make things even more dramatic, the colors of the two bottles were completely different, with the legitimate bottle an olive green and the phony bottle a bright, florescent green. The wines were tasted blind. One wine tasted troubled, with excessive amounts of volatile acidity, a cloudy, hazy presentation, and hard, acidic, volatile flavors with no depth. The real 1998 Réserve des Céléstins possessed a deeper plum/ruby/garnet color to the rim with a chocolatey, Amarone-like perfume of sweet leather, roasted meats, blackberries, and burning embers, huge concentration, depth, and thickness, and no VA whatsoever. It is sad to see the criminal element playing games with Châteauneuf du Pape as most of these frauds tend to occur with prestigious Bordeaux and Burgundy.

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