Ray Signorello, Jr. Charity Meal

  • Robert M. Parker, Jr.

  • 17 Jul 2011 | Events

An extraordinary lunch and wine tasting was sponsored by the Ray Signorello, Jr. to benefit Daniel Boulud’s favorite New York charity, Meals on Wheels. All the Rhône wines as well as the Coche-Dury cuvées came from my cellar, and the rest were generously donated by Ray.

My favorite courses included the wonderful Burgundian Egg Meurette with crispy pork belly and porcini ragout and the Boudin Noir served over delicious onion mashed potatoes. The baby goat was also sublime.

As for the wines, we had quite a line-up, which resulted in a remarkably fascinating day of tasting. We started with a double blind selection of seven Napa Cabernet Sauvignons that I had previously given perfect ratings. None were decanted, which I believe accounted for how closed even this flamboyant vintage can be. As we went through the tasting, my first impression was that Ray Signorello had inserted several 2005 first-growths with the balance great Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. The only wine that seemed somewhat out of sync for the day was the 2007 Hundred Acre Kayli Morgan, which was closed, with biting tannins. It was not a perfect bottle by any means, with the wood and tannin showing to the detriment of the fruit – not usually a characteristic of Hundred Acre – an off bottle? Some of the other wines were closed, but bursting with potential. The great progress and qualitative revolution we have witnessed in California over the last generation is noticeable in every one of these wines, which represents the pinnacle of winemaking art as well as Napa viticulture. The 2007 Scarecrow was one of the two wines that I was sure was a Bordeaux. It revealed a beautiful earthiness intermixed with cedar and crème de cassis in addition to a full-bodied but firmly tannic, more evolved style than any other wine in the tasting (with the exception of the Colgin). Still needing 5-6 years of cellaring, this wine should last 30 or more years, and prove to be a candidate for perfection during most of its life. The second wine seemed like a great Pauillac from Bordeaux’s 2005 vintage. In fact, it turned out to be the Kapcsandy 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard, whose upbringing is overseen by Bordelais Denis Malbec – from Pauillac! Tight, with a black ruby color, it revealed notes of lead pencil shavings, black fruits, earth and subtle wood. Full-bodied, rich and structured, it is built for the long haul. Even in a showy vintage such as 2007, it needs another 5-6 years of cellaring and should age for 30-40 years. Big, rich, sweet and backward, the 2007 Harlan Estate exhibits more oak than some of its peers. Intense aromas of burning embers, crème brülée, cassis, earth and loamy soil are followed by a dense, powerful, rich Cabernet. It seems more like a great yet backward California Cabernet Sauvignon than the usual hypothetical blend of a top Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon. It appears to have closed down considerably since bottling, so 8-10 years of cellaring is necessary. The most exotic wine in the entire tasting proved to be the Colgin Estate IX. Open-knit, sweet plum, kirsch, chocolate, floral and graphite notes emerged from this stunningly complex, rich, fleshy, succulent effort. It was easily the most drinkable and appealing offering of these structured, backward Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. This beauty is one of the few that can be drunk now or cellared for 25-30 years. It is a flawless wine with perfect balance. Another extraordinarily brilliant effort was the 2007 Sloan. Full, rich, concentrated, muscular and masculine as well as meaty and backward, it possesses stunning purity as well as notes of creosote, camphor, incense, blue and black fruits, coffee and chocolate. Bursting with potential, it is an amazing effort from the hillside above the famed Hotel Auberge du Soleil. The Hundred Acre 2007 may have not been a perfect bottle. This wine is usually a flamboyant, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon, but this bottle displayed lots of oak and an unusual tannic, woody character. The blind tasting finished with an absolutely monumental wine, the 2007 Dana Estate Lotus Vineyard. It boasts an opaque purple color along with notes of flowers, blueberry liqueur, blackberries and cassis. This wine is full-bodied, opulent and tannic as well as beautifully put together. These wines are convincing evidence of just what extraordinary levels of quality can be attained in California with great sites, impeccable viticulture and superb winemaking. These legends in the making should all last 30-40 years and will still be talked about a quarter of a century from now.

We then moved into the meal and wine list for what proved to be a spectacular four and a half hour lunch. We started with a magnum of 1973 Deutz Cuvée William Deutz Champagne, which was old, but still interesting in a curious manner. While I didn’t get much pleasure out of it, it was an interesting beverage with some fruit still remaining as well as good acidity. It just wasn’t my style. Both the Coche-Durys showed what a brilliant winemaker this guy is. There were no problems with the oxidation that has raged through white Burgundy and plagued so many estates. The 1997 Meursault Les Chevalières is still a very young wine displaying lots of roasted nut characteristics as well as a slightly earthy, almost stinky character that is soon over-powered by the sweet honey and citrus notes. Even better was the magnificent Coche-Dury 1995 Puligny Montrachet Les Enseignères, which revealed abundant honeysuckle, butter and crushed rock-like notes in addition to a stunning, full-bodied mouthfeel. These were followed by two of the greatest white Burgundies I have had over the last year, the 1992 Domaine Leflaive Bâtard Montrachet and the 1983 Domaine Ramonet Montrachet. Currently, 1992 is my favorite white Burgundy vintage for Domaine Leflaive and every 1992 white wine I have had from them is stunning. This offering exhibited big, buttery popcorn and honeysuckle notes, excellent minerality, abundant concentration and intensity, and superb elegance and finesse. A tour de force achievement, the 1983 Ramonet Montrachet, unlike most 1983 white Burgundies, is still a young wine. I remember Ramonet telling me that the alcohol was well above 15% in both his 1982 and 1983 Montrachets. The 1983 possesses a light gold color, great acidity (probably added, but it has been well done as it does not stand out), and beautiful, pure, linear notes of lemon butter, white peach, honeysuckle and crushed rocks. This brilliant wine is a prodigious example of what white Burgundy should be but rarely is.

With the tasty Alaskan King Salmon with chanterelles we had a brilliant magnum of 1955 Pierre Ponnelle Bonnes Mares. Copious coffee, sassafras, damp earth and forest floor characteristics emerged from this 56-year old wine (which was made by the Roumier family for Pierre Ponnelle). It exhibited a dark garnet/rusty color, but it still retained an attractive sweetness. This impressive wine is still holding on to life. The major disappointment of the day was probably the most expensive wine, a magnum of the 1985 DRC La Tâche. It had a great fill, but the cork was very dry and moldy at the top, but healthy at the bottom. The wine was over the hill and lacked fruit. As it sat in the glass, notes of rotting garbage and fecal scents became dominant. Largely undrinkable, it was a huge disappointment from a wine that can be sublime.

We then moved into a flight of northern Rhônes that I provided from my cellar. First was the young, 12-year-old 1999 Michel Ogier Côte Rôtie La Belle Hélène, a luxury cuvée named after Ogier’s charming wife. A fabulous vintage in Côte Rôtie, this 1999 exhibits a dense ruby/purple color as well as abundant amounts of concentrated berry fruit intermixed with notions of violets, bacon fat, meat and earth. This full-bodied effort is still an adolescent in terms of its evolution and needs at least five more years in the bottle to hit its peak. It should last 20-25 years thereafter. A monumental, still huge, massive, young wine is the 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle. At 21 years of age, this effort tastes like a 5- to 6-year-old wine. Revealing a dense ruby/purple color along with sweet blackberry and cassis fruit, copious opulence, fat and purity, and a remarkable youthfulness, this amazing wine is the greatest La Chapelle made between 1961 and 2009. Sadly, Marc Sorrel’s 1989 Hermitage Le Gréal(which came from my cellar) was plagued by TCA and was undrinkable.

The more one tastes the wines of Marcel Guigal and more recently his son, Philippe (who works with his dad), the more one recognizes the pure genius at work in these cellars. The millions of bottles of Côtes du Rhône that emerge from Guigal probably pay all the bills, but the luxury cuvées, the three single vineyard Côte Rôties that spend a whopping 42 months in 100% new François Frères barrels, are the estate’s highest achievements. Despite the long wood aging, after five or six years, there is not a trace of oak to be found in these remarkable wines. Moreover, even in the lightest Côte Rôtie vintages, Guigal turns out magical wines. From a phenomenal vintage in Côte Rôtie, Guigal’s three 1991s are virtually perfect. All three were delicious when first released in the mid-1990s and twenty years later, they remain remarkably complex even though they were never massive, tannic or muscular. The 1991 La Turqueexhibits notes of spring flowers, black currants, sweet cherries, licorice and incense. Medium to full-bodied with wonderful opulence and purity but not a hint of oak, this is a brilliant wine. The 1988 Côte Rôtie La Turque is pure perfection. A more masculine, concentrated, powerful effort that has shed all of its tannin, it is prodigiously rich, velvety textured and voluptuous in the mouth. Currently at its peak of perfection, it should hold on to life for another 8-10 years. Beginning to fade ever so slightly, the 1987 Côte Rôtie La Turque comes from a light vintage where most wines required consumption in their first 5-6 years of life. This 24-year-old offering is still delicious and complete. Although it is not what it was two or three years ago, it remains a beauty of elegance, finesse and femininity. The 1989 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Landonne is stunning. Concentrated and powerful, it exhibits the earthy, meaty, dark, brooding character of Côte Rôtie. Unlike La Turque, which has some Viognier co-fermented or La Mouline, which usually includes 11-12% co-fermented Viognier, La Landonne is 100% Syrah. Revealing lots of beef blood, licorice, black olive, earth and pepper notes, it is a full-bodied, still young and promising wine. The beautiful, super-concentrated, fully mature 1979 La Landonne is one of the biggest, richest French wines made in that vintage. It has shed most of its tannin and exhibits copious notes of camphor, charcoal, olive, blackberry and smoky, meaty characteristics. The pure perfection and seductiveness of the 1983 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Mouline must be smelled and tasted to be believed. A surreal bouquet of honeysuckle, black raspberry jam, spice box, kirsch, cedar and incense soars from the glass of this remarkable, seamlessly constructed, full-bodied wine. While fully mature, like many vintages of La Mouline, it will remain alive for many more years.  We finished the Rhône flight with an absolutely monumental bottle of what appears to be one of the all-time great wines ever made at Domaine Chave, the 2003 Hermitage. This is a bizarre vintage, but as I have written many times in The Wine Advocate, the small percentage of producers who got this vintage correct or had soils that supported the drought and high heat produced prodigious wines that will be future legends, much like 1945, 1947 or 1929. It is an over the top, rich, concentrated yet fresh, lively, precise wine. The alcohol-phobes will no doubt point to the fact that the wine has an excess of 16% natural alcohol yet is remarkably fresh and lively. It has at least 50 years of longevity ahead of it.

With the baby goat we consumed the 1988 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. The wine’s abundant acidity tended to interfere with my ability to appreciate it. It revealed a medium ruby/garnet color as well as intriguing tobacco leaf, licorice and sweet cherry notes, but the high acid was somewhat shocking following the flight of French Rhônes. However, the acid component will keep this wine alive for another 30-40 years. Still prodigious and probably the greatest red wine made in 1985 is Sassicaia’s Cabernet Sauvignon-based offering from Bolgheri. This cuvée, along with Antinori’s 1985 Solaia, were two of the first so-called super Tuscan wines that began to make people to sit up and notice the great potential for Bordeaux varietals that existed in this area. The inky/blue/purple-colored Sassicaia exhibits an extraordinary nose of graphite, blueberries, black currants and crushed rocks. The minerality, full-bodied richness, opulence and freshness of this wine seem to defy longevity and for me, remains the greatest Sassicaia every made. It should continue to drink beautifully for three decades or more. I was also blown away by the 1985 Solaia, which offered complex notes of cedarwood, licorice, black cherries, black currants, spice box and espresso roast. This full-bodied, opulent wine seems to be fully mature, but its color and aromatics show no signs of losing intensity or beginning to fade. Even with extended aeration in the glass, the wine held up beautifully.

We had a little intermezzo before we enjoyed a selection of cheeses with the outstanding 1982 Dom Perignon Rosé. Still complex, it offered a delicate nose of strawberries, earth and herbs. That was followed by a magnificent bottle of a fully mature, glorious, complex 1985 Haut Brionthat exhibited notes of camphor, burning embers, sweet cherries and abundant plush, succulent fruit. It was a beauty of finesse and seamlessness. The 1961 Mouton Rothschild seemed slightly coarse and awkward compared to the Haut Brion. It was a dense, bigger wine, but the tannins were jagged and the finish was slightly astringent.

Two after dinner wines included an absolutely prodigious 1903 Royal Tokaji Aszu Essencia. This is the kind of wine that makes one realize what kind of potential Tokaji has. Acid has kept this wine fresh and lively, but all the nuances from extended aging and the fact that it is 108 years old made for a remarkable drinking experience. Marmalade, roasted nut and caramelized citrus notes intermixed with hints of maple syrup and brown sugar made for a stunningly complex wine with explosive aromatics as well as shocking flavors. We ended the luncheon with the 1931 Quinta de Noval Vintage Port. Although this is not the renowned Naçional bottling, it is a great wine in its own right. This was the second time I have had this port and although the cork broke apart, it was again a timeless, monumental port with lots of sweet kirsch fruit intertwined with licorice and floral notes. Full-bodied as well as beautifully elegant and nuanced, this is a prodigious effort.

Many thanks to both Daniel Boulud, for his generosity in sponsoring this luncheon, and to Ray Signorello, Jr. for providing so many wonderful wines and for bringing a group of wine lovers (mostly Canadians from Vancouver) who were great company. We had a fabulous time on a beautiful, sunny, late April afternoon in New York City. It was a day we will always remember.

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