Dinner with Daniel Boulud for The Wine Advocate Foundation September 2007
Two extraordinarily gracious donors spent more than $100,000 to have wines from my cellar served with a meal cooked by Daniel Boulud in their home. This was a memorable evening on so many different accounts, including the extraordinary generosity of the donors, and the exceptionally warm hospitality they extended to us. The meal prepared by Daniel Boulud and two of his apprentices was exquisite. The hors d’Oeuvre were terrific, including his famed crispy parmesan with herbed goat cheese, and the lobster avocado tartelette with citrus. We then moved to a superb terrine of foie gras and poularde, followed by gorgeous black ink garganelli with Louisiana shrimp. Next came caramelized Maine sea scallops with porcini, and one of Boulud’s exceptional dishes, the pancetta wrapped tuna with winter black truffle celery confit. The glazed veal shank with chanterelles is another delicious offering, as is the roasted wild Scottish grouse. Normally, I do not enjoy the gamy character of Scottish grouse, but Daniel Boulud seems to tame it, and the combination was sensational.
The wines from my cellar were shipped to the donors’ residence a week in advance. In these situations, I am always concerned about the possibility of a corked bottle as well as wine service, but the latter was impeccable thanks to Doug Mohr, the sommelier at Vidalia in DC, who volunteered his services for the evening. He was fabulous. Chapoutier’s 2003 l’Ermite Blanc is pure perfection in dry white wine. It is almost a liqueur of minerals. While I do not know how the 2003 low acid, enormously endowed dry whites will age, this extraordinary offering is as provocative and compelling as any Montrachet I have ever had. The 1998 Chapoutier Ermitage l’Orée Blanc had not yet gone into that “dumb,” oxidative state that white Hermitages tend to experience. It was rich and full-bodied, revealing plenty of acacia flower, quince, and honey characteristics.
We then moved to a superb flight of Chave white Hermitages, which got better and better as we went back in age - a sign of just how long these whites can age, in addition to the mysterious nature of how these dry whites age. Also, the colors got lighter as we moved back chronologically, with the 1990 almost tasting like the youngest wine of this trio. A decade ago, the 1990 was in a very oxidized state, and I thought at the time that it was dying. Yet it has re-emerged and is currently exquisite, offering notes of crushed rocks, acacia flowers, white currants, and loads of fruit as well as depth.
Next came an ethereal group of Rhône Valley wines. The flight of Côte Rôties was dominated by the exquisitely perfect 1991 Guigal La Mouline. This wine seems fully mature, and lucky owners are advised to drink it over the next 3-5 years. More backward are the 1991 Guigal La Turque and 1991 La Landonne. However, all three of these wines are superb successes in a top vintage in Côte Rôtie, the most favored area of France that year. By comparison, the 1995 Château d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie tasted tannic, backward, burly, masculine, and unformed. The 1988 De Vallouit Côte Rôtie Les Roziers, a vineyard that Guigal now owns, was very animal-like displaying loads of tapenade/black olive notes. It is still full-bodied and vibrant as well as reasonably young.
Probably my favorite Hermitage vintage for drinking today is 1990, and on this evening, we enjoyed the five top Hermitages of that year. Sorrel’s 1990 Le Gréal can be variable from bottle to bottle, but this was a superb example. It revealed a touch of brett along with loads of new saddle leather, sweet black currant, pepper, licorice, and spice characteristics offered in a full-bodied, heady, rich format. The 1990 Chave Hermitage is outstanding. While it was the lightest in color, and also closest to full maturity, it boasted an extraordinary, ethereal bouquet, velvety flavors, and a seamless integration of all its component parts. This magnificent wine is just approaching its apogée. In comparison, the last three wines of the flight were all more backward. The beefy 1990 Delas Frères Hermitage Les Bessards tastes of meat blood, crème de cassis, tar, and earth. It needs another 3-5 years of cellaring, and should keep for two more decades. Even more backward was the black/ruby-tinged 1990 Chapoutier Ermitge Le Pavillon. Michel Chapoutier claims he was making “noise” during this period of his winemaking career, whereas today he is making “music.” However, this is a beautiful, super-concentrated wine meant for 40-50 years of evolution. It requires another decade of cellaring before it will hit its peak. The low acidity and magnificently sweet fruit provide plenty of pleasure and character at present, but this wine is still a baby. The same can be said for the blockbuster 1990 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle. This wine makes a mockery of the stuff that has been made at this estate over the last decade. One of the appellation’s all-time greats, it is still a youngster, but it is already revealing secondary nuances as well as massive fruit and concentration.
We changed gears with the veal shank and Scottish grouse, moving to two flights of Châteauneuf du Pape. The 1995 Clos des Papes is typical of the vintage. Still somewhat ruggedly constructed, masculine, and virile, it displays plenty of tannin along with abundant quantities of kirsch, spice, and garrigue. This vintage may never drop all of its tannin, but the tannins are not excessive. While the 1990 Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape reached its peak several years ago, it remains exquisite. While it is one of the finest Châteauneufs I have ever consumed, it is fully mature. It should merit a score in the upper nineties for 5-7 more years, but owners should be drinking up their stock. Another superb example of Grenache, with its licorice, garrigue, spice box, and resiny notes is the rich, full-bodied 1990 Chapoutier Barbe Rac.
As good as the first flight of Châteauneuf du Papes was, the second flight provided some serious competition. Henri Bonneau’s second cuvée of Châteauneuf du Pape, the 1990 Cuvée Marie Beurrier, was sensational. Pure beef blood, fig, plum, meat, and smoked game-like notes are present in this monumental, full-bodied, opulent effort. Sommelier Doug Mohr said that perhaps the greatest wine he had ever tasted was the 1990 Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf du Pape. That gives you an idea of just how fabulously this bottle was performing. I have always loved this wine, and have scored it highly, but this was close to perfection. At the pinnacle of maturity, its bouquet nearly filled the room. Even though the wine is totally dry, it revealed extraordinary sweetness and richness as well as a full-bodied, powerful finish. This magnificent cuvée has never been better than it was on this occasion. We finished with the 1990 Pégaü, which is another big, beefy Châteauneuf boasting notes of aged beef, meat juices, garrigue, licorice, pepper, and spice. It is another fabulous offering from a great, great vintage for Châteauneuf du Pape, a year that comes closest in quality and personality to the finest wines of the irregular 2003 vintage.
We ended the evening with the 1990 Vin de Paille from Chapoutier, a rare wine made from his l’Ermite Vineyard situated at the top of Hermitage Hill. A 100% Marsanne cuvée, the grapes are laid out on straw mats, turning into raisins as they dessicate, and were then pressed into a sweet wine with extremely high acidity. It is capable of lasting for a century or more.
This was an extraordinary night, and I can’t thank the Helen and Gordon Smith family enough for their wonderful hospitality, generosity, and reception, and, of course, the great Daniel Boulud, for his enormous charity and commitment to excellence.
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