Dinner for The Wine Advocate Fund for Philanthropy Halcyon House
As one can see, the food from so many great chefs was outrageous, and everyone marveled at how they could do such precision service, perfectly prepared plates, and get everything out to 150 diners in such incredible condition. There were a lot of amazing dishes, but my favorites among the main dishes included Chef Frank Ruta's Navarin of Maine lobster, the filet of pigeonneau with foie gras from Chef Alain Dutournier (who flew in from his famed Paris restaurant, Carré des Feuillants, to make this dish), and Chef Nancy Oakes' amazing slow cooked Kobe short ribs.
With respect to the wines, the Taittinger 1996 Comtes de Champagne gets better every time I have it. Even though I have been scoring it in the mid-nineties since its release, I am beginning to think I have underrated it. 1996 is an exquisite vintage for Champagne, ranking alongside my all time favorite, 1990, only fresher. This marvelous 1996 is loaded with yeasty brioche notes intermixed with honeyed citrus, and a texture reminiscent of a fine white Burgundy. We then moved to two of the great limited production classic dry white wines of the world from the granitic soils of Hermitage, Chapoutier's famed Ermitage Cuvée de l'Orée 2000 and his even more limited 1999 Ermitage l'Ermite, from the top of the granite dome of Hermitage's largest hill. White Hermitage is a tricky wine to comprehend. Both of these cuvées are 100% ancient old vine Marsanne fermented in oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Both are very concentrated and powerful. However, no matter who is making great white Hermitage, whether it's Chapoutier or Chave, between ages 4-8, the wines go into a funky, almost oxidized fino sherry-like mode, provoking their owners to think the wines are falling apart. Then, magically (this is where the trick comes in as not every vintage does this), they rebound, seem to take on a lighter color, and then a marvelous freshness, complexity, and honeyed, nutty richness that emerges between age 10 and 20. I have been buying white Hermitage for over thirty years, and I would estimate that 60-70% of them behave in this manner, and the other 30% seemingly never come back to form ... or at least haven't yet. The real challenge is that I am never sure which vintages will rebound and which will not. Both of these cuvées are still in their "open" mode, and are exquisitely rich, opulent, full-bodied whites with the texture, complexity, and quality of a great Montrachet. Another of the world's great winemakers is Olivier Humbrecht, and his 1989 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Vendange Tardive is another immortal wine. At age 17, it could easily be mistaken for a 3-year old, moderately sweet wine from Alsace. It was a great match up with Chef Ruta's Navarin of Maine lobster since its extraordinary honeyed character worked magnificently well with this blockbuster, complex dish.
We next moved to a flight of two New World Cabernet Sauvignons that are completely different in style. Quilceda Creek probably makes one of America's most Bordeaux-styled wines. I have had the 2002 in blind tastings with some of the finest Bordeaux and it not only holds its own, but often wins the tasting. It boasts beautiful violet-tinged blueberry and black currant fruit along with hints of graphite and spice. Wonderfully structured, medium to full-bodied, and seemingly more closed and tight than a bottle I had had several weeks earlier, it is an exquisite statement for what the potential can be in Washington state. Hopefully, more and more wineries will follow in Quilceda's footsteps as this is a reference point wine. In total contrast (stylistically) is what I consider to be the finest vintage to date of Bryant Family Vineyard's Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997. From the steep hillsides of Pritchard Hill on the east side of Napa Vally, this is a full-throttle, port-like, unctuously-textured, blockbuster Cabernet that oozes over the palate without a hard edge to be found. The wine is extraordinarily well-endowed, and probably has more in common with some of the port-like 1947 right bank wines of Pomerol we had the previous evening than any New World wine ever has, with the exception perhaps of the 1997 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a profound wine that should last for another 20-30 years.
The next flight took me somewhat by surprise. One of the great opportunities in this job is how often I am able to taste renowned wines and hallowed vintages, compare them, and then enjoy them once past the analytical reaction. I thought the 1990 Cheval Blanc was the greatest Cheval Blanc following 1982 and before 2000. In a half dozen recent side-by-side comparisons, it was literally no contest, with the 1990 simply beating up on a great, but less dimensional and seemingly less concentrated 1982. But great wine is never that predictable, and I always say, "Thank God for the mysteries and things we can never quite figure out." The 1982 Cheval Blanc, which I thought was a 100-point wine in its first 5-6 years of life before it entered an awkward, adolescent stage - seemingly never to rebound and live up to my high hopes, was in full majestic glory on the gorgeous night in Washington, DC. Absolutely perfect, it had people shaking their heads with its glorious perfume, complexity, richness, opulence, and decadence. Of course, in 1982 there was no selection made and no second wine at Cheval Blanc, which may give readers an idea of how extraordinary more recent vintages could be - assuming the raw materials were as magical as they were in 1982.
We then moved to two wines that are consistently perfect, one still an adolescent, and the other moving into early adulthood, the famed Hermitage La Chapelle from the firm of Paul Jaboulet (which was sold recently to the large textile manufacturing family, the Freys, also proprietors of Château La Lagune and major stockholders in the Champagne house of Billecart-Salmon). I donated two cases of the 1990 La Chapelle from my personal collection, and it was extraordinary. For me, it is the greatest La Chapelle after the 1961. Still young, magnificently concentrated, and representing a concentrated blood essence of blackberries and cassis, this wine should hit its prime in 10-15 years, and last for 25-30. The 1978 La Chapelle showed more complexity, gaminess, earthy, spicy notes along with classic blackberry and cassis characteristics. It was clearly another 100-point wine, but it did not have the mass and richness of the 1990. Then again, it is 12 years older, and I would not expect the 1990 to have the same mass and richness 12 years from now. For some reason, I could not get past the last two wines, so I totally missed tasting the 1992 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port that was being poured, out of magnum no less! However, I made sure not to miss the 2001 Yquem. This wine has actually become almost too expensive, and is probably the only wine in my 28-years of writing that both The Wine Spectator and I have agreed deserved a 3-digit rating. It is a Yquem of a lifetime. Perhaps 100 years from now, when all of us are six feet under, people will be comparing it to the 1921 or 1811. Who knows? It is phenomenal.
Everything about this meal was very special. The 150 wine and food enthusiasts soaked up the glorious wine and extraordinary food. A million thanks to all the people who made this second evening of The Wine Advocate Fund for Philanthropy a great success, including Daniel Boulud, always the most generous chef that the world has ever known, Jeffrey Buben, of restaurant Vidalia and Bistro Bis, Alain Dutournier, the great French chef from Carré des Feuillants in Paris, Nancy Oakes from Boulevard in San Francisco, Michel Richard, from Citronelle in Washington, DC, Frank Ruta from Palena in Washington, DC, and Eric Ziebold from CityZen in Washington, DC. Also, a special tribute goes to the impeccable wine service which not easy to pull off given the number of wines and glasses as well as navigating a room full of people. Those people include Mike Tilch (Silesia Liquors), Douglas Mohr (Vidalia), Caterina Abbruzzetti (Willard Room), Steven Brown (Sommelier and Wine Consultant), David Bueno (Taberna del Alabardero), David Denton (Charlie Palmer Steak), Jaren Keller (Vidalia), John Lancaster (Boulevard), Robert McFarlane (Roanoke Valley Wine Co.), Kathryn Morgan (2941 Restaurant), Grey Mosby (Importer), Robby Shuman-Powell (The Country Vintner), Robert Purdy (Touton Selections), Bruce Schutte (Touton Selections), Sotiris Bafitis (Vina Mediterranea)and Jared Slipp (C'est Vin).
And finally, a million thanks to my colleague, Pierre-Antoine Rovani, who worked extremely hard to pull this week-end together so flawlessly, and who served as our Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
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