Les Oenarchs Dinner
Another brilliant meal from Charleston's Chef Cindy Wolf began with her thrilling corn meal-crusted deep fried oysters, miniature crab cakes, and some wonderful soups in demi-tasse cups. That course was followed by a marvelous pheasant wrapped in bacon, a confit of pork, and a gorgeous piece of Scottish salmon cooked in a wonderful reduction of red wine.
It was a night for me to show off the 1998 Châteauneuf du Pape vintage. All of these wines came from my cellar, and I arranged them in corresponding flights, with the first flight composed of wines I thought would be close to full maturity, the second flight wines possessing more density, and the third flight being the monsters of the vintage that will probably need more time.
Starting with flight one, it is no secret that the 1998 Rayas is a relatively light example of this cuvée. Although it is a pretty Châteauneuf, it was clearly overwhelmed by the 1998 Charvin. While made in a similar style, there is much more to the latter wine. Rober Sabon's 1998 Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Prestige is drinking beautifully at present. The 1998 Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes is revealing too much oak, but it possesses outstanding richness and concentration. It stood out in the tasting for its unique style. Approaching full maturity, the 1998 Font de Michelle Cuvée Etienne Gonnet exhibits a medium ruby/plum color as well as plenty of sweet fruit, full body, and an opulent texture. It should be drunk over the next 5-6 years. I have had better bottles of the 1998 Maucoil Privilege as the one I served at this dinner was tannic and hard with a hint of TCA as well as suppressed fruit. There were no such problems with Chapoutier's big, herbal, peppery, spicy, hugely aromatic 1998 Barbe Rac. I had had a forward bottle of the 1998 Vieux Donjon in a previous tasting, but in this flight, it was the biggest, most backward offering. It would probably have been better in the second or third flight. In any event, it revealed terrific notes of licorice, plums, black cherries, and sweet currants along with full body and moderately high tannin.
The second flight of 1998 Châteauneuf du Papes was plagued by three corked bottles, the Bois de Boursan Cuvée des Félix, Pégaü's Cuvée Laurence, and the Vieux Télégraphe. However, the other wines made up for this unacceptable rate of failure. They were all stunning, relatively young efforts, with the Janasse Cuvée Chaupin being closest to full maturity. This is a gorgeously aromatic, sweet, full-bodied Châteauneuf du Pape made primarily from old Grenache vines. The two most backward offerings were the Janasse Vieilles Vignes and Beaurenard's Cuvée Boisrenard. The spectacular Clos du Caillou Châteauneuf du Pape Réserve has just emerged from a dormant stage of development. That wine, along with the Vieux Télégraphe, includes the highest percentage of Mourvèdre. Also beginning to perform brilliantly after a long closed stage is the Domaine de la Mordorée Reine des Bois. These five magnificent Châteauneuf du Papes, which are approaching their adolescence in terms of maturity, provided excellent compensation for the three corked bottles
The third flight was a tour de force performance for Châteauneuf du Pape, and it was hard to pick a winner. Four perfect wines out of eight is a pretty momentous percentage. Of the perfect efforts, the most drinkable includes Les Cailloux's Cuvée Centenaire and the Roger Sabon Secret des Sabon. Although they are two completely different animals, the Pégaü Cuvée da Capo and Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin both require plenty of time. They are among the greatest wines I have ever tasted in my life. The Jacques Perrin includes more Grenache than usual (the percentages of Mourvèdre and Grenache were different in 1998 than in other Hommage wines because the Grenache was very successful). The Pégaü Cuvée da Capo (the debut vintage for this magnificent cuvée) is an ethereal wine. All four of these beauties, which are modern day monuments to the greatness of Châteauneuf du Pape, will last for 15-20 years. I do not believe the 1998 Pierre Usseglio Mon Aïeul is as fabulous as the 2001 or 2003, but it is a stunning, earthy, gamy effort offering copious amounts of rich black fruits, pepper, and spice box. Although the Vieille Julienne Vieilles Vignes is totally closed, it is enormous and rich in the mouth. It appears to need another 5-6 years ... at the minimum. Revealing huge glycerin, alcohol, and fruit, the Marcoux Vieilles Vignes is a decadently rich, luxuriously sweet, intense, full-bodied Châteauneuf du Pape that is nearly overwhelming. The most unusual wine of this flight was Henri Bonneau's 1998 Réserve des Céléstins. It revealed an Amarone-like character, but it had only been in bottle for three months. It will be interesting to see how it develops once it settles down in the bottle. A dark garnet/plum color and a huge nose of roasted herbs, grilled steak, and a scorched fruit character emerge from this powerful, rich Châteauneuf. In the mouth, it is full-bodied, heady, rich, and long with sweet tannin.
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