Restaurant Palena, Washington, DC

After a charitable tasting of 2000 Bordeaux to benefit the American Heart Association in Washington, DC, a small group of us retired to one of DC's outstanding restaurants, Palena, on Connecticut Avenue, not far from the National Zoo. As usual, the food was impeccable. My favorite dishes were the veal, quail with gnocchi, and the sensational pithivier pigeon and truffles. The latter dish is similar to Beef Wellington, but with pigeon stuffed in the pastry. I am not a big lover of sweets, but the incredibly ethereal dessert included some of the lightest pastry I have ever put in my mouth, making it easy to consume even after the sumptuous quantities of food.

As for the wines, we started with the gorgeous 1990 Taittinger Blanc de Blancs, which probably has another year or two before beginning its decline. One of the great Champagnes of the vintage, I have enjoyed many bottles, but this nearly 13-year old offering is probably best consumed over the next 2-3 years. I was disappointed in the evolved, tired 1992 Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes. I had drunk some wonderful bottles of this wine early in its life, but this bottle was drying out. In total contrast was the sumptuous, youthful, blockbuster 1992 Jean-Marc Boillot Batard-Montrachet. Although it has many years of life remaining, it is impossible to resist at present.

We then moved to a tremendously generous flight of Lafleurs, all brought to the restaurant by renowned wine collector and restauranteur, Steve "The Wine Ho" Verlin. Because of logistical problems, the wines were not opened or decanted until immediately prior to being served, and that may have had a negative impact on their performance. The 1998 Lafleur (which I originally underestimated) is starting to come on like gangbusters. It is still tannic and powerful, but the fabulous black raspberry and kirsch fruit are beginning to emerge. This wine looks set for a long, promising life. It could easily merit a score in the mid-nineties in 5-10 years. I love contrasting the great wines of 1990 and 1989. In Pomerol, it is often a toss-up as to which is better. The 1990sseem slightly more evolved and looser-knit, but gorgeously sweet, succulent, and hedonistic. The 1989s are denser and more tannic, perhaps less seductive, but promising, thick, and juicy. Lafleur's 1990 was spectacularly stunning in its aromatics, fleshy texture, and opulent, full-bodied palate. This bottle was drinking great, and appeared more evolved than bottles from my cellar. The 1989 was similar, but deeper in color, more tannic, and more concentrated. It does not offer the present day enjoyment of the 1990, but will evolve magnificently for another 20-30 years. The pretty 1988 possesses less weight, volume, and substance than its younger siblings. It is a gentle, well-balanced effort with plenty of black fruits. The 1986 was dumb, muted, and disappointing when first poured, but 30 minutes later it was blossoming beautifully, and continued to gain in strength, bouquet, and stature for the next several hours. When retasted later in the evening, it appeared young, backward, and extremely promising. It may ultimately turn out like the stunning 1966. The fully mature 1983 is best drunk over the next five years. It has a much lighter color than any of the younger vintages in addition to a gorgeous bouquet of melted licorice infused with black cherry liqueur, incense, and herbs. Full-bodied and opulent, it is a total hedonistic turn-on. The perfect 1982 Lafleur is the type of wine that can bring one to their knees. Extremely young, with a deep ruby color, it is a powerful, muscular, sweet offering that caused me to reflect on how so much flavor, power, and juice can be packed into a 24-ounce bottle. It is easy to appreciate because of its extraordinary qualities, but most of its life is ahead of it, not behind. I have had better bottles of the 1979 Lafleur than this one, but this vintage undoubtedly would have benefitted from 2-3 hours in a decanter. It is a more rustic style of Lafleur, with high tannin, noticeable acidity, and tremendous depth and concentration. Along with Haut-Brion, it is one of the candidates for wine of the vintage. Young and vigorous, this old-styled Bordeaux has a tremendous up-side. The 1962 Lafleur was very good, but not inspiring. It was followed by a sentimental favorite, the 1967 Pétrus. It marks the year that I first visited France, and this has always been a tremendously successful wine in a vintage that has long been forgotten. I only have one magnum left in my cellar (which I purchased for $12.50 a bottle!). Unfortunately, this magnum was badly corked ... what a downer!

I have also have had better bottles of the 1964 Montrose (which came from my cellar). This was one of the few successful Médocs in this rain-plagued vintage. It can easily score in the low nineties when it's on, but this bottle had an excess of tannin as well as a harshness. This, too, would have been a wine to decant two hours in advance of service. Another spectacular bottle of 1975 La Tour-Haut-Brion concluded the red wines of the evening. Still young, with an intense scorched earth character, it's like drinking liquid from an erupting volcano.

Lastly, the spectacular 1947 Huet Vouvray was pure delicacy and richness, with a tremendous amount of fruit and density, yet remarkable freshness and delineation. A stunning vintage for this producer, the 1947 has another 10-20 years of life ahead of it.

All things considered, this was a great, great evening!

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