Petit Louis Bistro - "Big" Jay's 60th Birthday

To celebrate his 60th birthday, my longtime, dear friend, Dr. "Big" Jay Miller, pulled out all the stops at the noisy, but fun and festive Petit Louis bistro in Baltimore. The food was as follows - the caviar superb, the grilled Daurade good, the foie gras terrine about as superb as one can find in America, the pan-seared duck breast average, and the beef shortribs tasty.

The wines began with a bevy of Champagnes. I was the only guest who was critical of the 1979 Krug. While it did improve in the glass, it revealed a medium gold color as well as too much oxidation for my taste. I thought the 1988 was a dynamic example of Krug's style ... full-bodied, slightly oxidized, and beautifully rich, offering notes of hazelnuts and brioche. The two Dom Pérignon Champagnes wowed everybody, with the 1985 exhibiting extraordinary freshness, liveliness, and remarkable intensity, fruit, and perfume. This is another example of how effortlessly some vintages of Dom Pérignon can age. We had the finest bottle I have ever tasted of the 1990 Dom Pérignon Rosé. As demonstrated by this exquisite effort, some vintages of Dom Pérignon Rosé need as much time as a serious red wine. Fresh and lively, with the body of a big red as well as extraordinary delicacy and perfume, it is a great Champagne. It's a shame it is so expensive.

The three Chardonnays included the 1997 Kistler Hudson Vineyard. Like most vintages of this cuvée, it was at its apogee during its first 3-4 years of life. The most evolved, it requires near-term consumption. The Marcassin 2000 Chardonnay Three Sisters was like a Chablis on steroids ... very minerally, steely, and citrusy, with huge body, but loads of elegance and freshness. The brilliant Peter Michael 1997 Chardonnay Cuvée Indigène, at age eight, was still extremely fresh, lively, and complex, tasting like a 2-3-year old effort.

I was happy with the way in which the 1993 Beaux Frères held its own against Ponsot'smagnificent 1990 Clos de la Roche, which remains a relatively young red Burgundy. One of the "Dogs of Wine," a local Burgundy tasting group, felt that the Ponsot never would completely open up, but I am convinced it will. It seems like a concentrated, still evolving wine with hints of figs, plums, underbrush, and sweet mushroom/forest floor aromas. A beautiful wine that I enjoyed immensely, I thought it tasted much younger than its 25 years.

Dr. Jay's favorite wines are Bordeaux and California Cabernet Sauvignon, and at this dinner, with the exception of one Bordeaux, all California Cabernets were served (we are doing a second celebration with Bordeaux wines in a few days). By and large, all the California Cabs were extraordinary. Moreover, some of the older bottlings demonstrated just how well these wines can age. We began with the 1999 Harlan, a vintage I am not totally convinced by except for a few of the superstars (i.e., Shafer Hillside), but this was an elegant, seemingly mature Harlan with gorgeous aromatics, but not quite the weight and texture of the estate's greatest vintages. Its pairing was probably the worst of the night, coming next to a monumental wine from Paul Hobbs, the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Tokalon Beckstoffer Vineyard. An amazing effort, it represents the concentrated essence of Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon. Extraordinarily pure, rich, concentrated, and multidimensional, it should age effortlessly for 30 or more years.

We then moved to a flight of two magnums, the 1994 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1994 Harlan. The Bryant displayed that wild blueberry/flowery nose. Several guests thought it to be reminiscent of the kinky Pomerol, Le Pin. Its dense blue/purple color was accompanied by a full-bodied, extraordinarily pure, amazingly fruit-driven 11-year old wine. The only problem was that it was served next to one of the most immortal Cabernets made in California in the last dozen years, the 1994 Harlan ... out of magnum. Among the young wines, it was the "wine of the evening" for just about everybody at the dinner. Still very young, it could easily pass for a 3-4 year old wine, but still has 25+ years of life remaining. It is a brilliant achievement for owner Bill Harlan and his winemaking team of Bob Levy and Michel Rolland.

Next came the first single vineyard Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the Ridge 1971. I have had this exquisite wine many times, but I felt it would probably be showing its age. Not so. It was gorgeously mineral with notes of black cherries, cassis, and flowers offered in a medium to full-bodied, elegant style. Although loaded with fruit and impeccably well-balanced, I wouldn't push my luck and hold it any longer. This wine has been fully mature without showing any signs of decline for over a decade. That was followed by a wine that Philip Togni believes is the greatest wine he ever made while working at Chappellet, the 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon. A legendary wine that Dr. Jay and I found at auction for an amazing $20 a bottle, every bottle of the three cases we bought has been extraordinary, and this may have been the finest of the lot. Only approaching full maturity, it still has another two decades of life. A gorgeous perfume of licorice, black currants, minerals, and spice are accompanied by a sumptuous, full-bodied, sweet, long, savory wine. We all saluted Philip Togni, the authoritative winemaker on Spring Mountain who has had such a legendary career. Togni has produced so many long-lived wines under his own name that one tends to forget about some of the monumental efforts he made as a youngster. Another legendary Cabernet Sauvignon from a cool year was the 1975 Joseph Phelps Eisele Vineyard. Initially this wine was musty, making some guests suspect there was a cork problem, but with air, the old damp cellar smell blew off beautifully leaving only luscious flowery, black currant fruit notes intermixed with notions of crushed rocks and violets. This sumptuous wine revealed a seamless integration of wood, alcohol, and tannin. Fully mature, it should last for another decade.

The only French Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine, the 1982 Lafite Rothschild, managed to hold its own among these big California bruisers. The Lafite was very young, but beautifully balanced. We finished the dry wines with a 1978 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, a great vintage for this estate. It exhibited plenty of tar, earth, cassis, and cedar in its full-bodied personality.

I skipped some of the dessert wines since, as one could guess, I was pretty much in the tank, but I did taste my favorite producer of ArmagnacFrancis Daroze, and the 1945 (Dr. Jay's birth year) was an exquisite Armagnac.

Kudos to Dr. Jay Miller, a great wine connoisseur, great friend, and incredibly knowledgeable and generous guy!

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