The Park B. Smith 2000 Châteauneuf du Pape Invitational
The great wine collector and restauranteur, Park B. Smith, annually hosts a lunch for his friends at his restaurant, Veritas. On this occasion, the theme was to taste through the 2000 Châteauneuf du Pape vintage, as well as to introduce his new chef, Grégory Pugin, who was a Robuchon protegé. At 29 years of age, Pugin is obviously a very talented chef with an exceptional future. The food was sensational, from the exquisite, perfumed carpaccio langoustine, to the Robuchon-like cold gelée of scallops, broccoli and caviar. The lobster nage was an amazing dish, as were the seared halibut, escargots, and pork belly. The latter course was an extraordinary rendition of this dish, which has become a popular item at many top restaurants. The stuffed pigeon with foie gras seemed a little short on foie gras, but the flavor of the pigeon was superb. We finished with a wagyu filet, which was very good, but I may have hit my saturation point as the last two courses did not ring my bells as much as the first five, which were nothing short of perfection.
The wine service was led by Veritas’ three brilliant sommeliers, Tim Kopec, Yoshi Takemura, and Patrick Cappiello. From magnum, the Louis Roederer 1990 Cristal is still a youngster. Gorgeous brioche, orange rind, and citrus notes are offered in a full-bodied, unbelievably pure style that could have been 5-6 years old rather than 18. It is always remarkable how well great Champagne can age. We next had a magnum of the 2004 Aubert Chardonnay Reuling Vineyard. This section of the vineyard is planted with a clone from Burgundy’s Montrachet vineyard that was suitcased over. This sensational Chardonnay, which has a striking minerality and almost liquid rockiness, adds further fuel to the belief that Aubert is the master of Chardonnay winemaking in California.
The first flight of Châteauneuf du Papes included magnums of the Charvin, Clos des Papes, Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire, and Chapoutier Barbe Rac. The manner in which Park Smith arranged the wines was to essentially put the lighter, more Burgundian-styled up front, and the more concentrated, denser cuvées at the back. The Domaine de Charvin, Chapoutier Barbe Rac, and Les Cailloux Centenaire are nearly all Grenache, but the Clos des Papes includes about 60% Grenache, along with more Mourvèdre as well as some Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault. The quality was extraordinarily high across the board. I thought the Charvin was the most Burgundian, and the Clos des Papes the most backward, although it was very much in keeping with this vintage, which is one of opulence, flamboyant fruit, and showy, easy-to-understand and appreciate, hedonistic wines. The most fully mature was Chapoutier’s Barbe Rac, and the most complex and nuanced was Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire. All four were full-bodied, fresh, and still adolescents in terms of their aging potentials. The best window of drinkablity for all four is between now and 2020, with the Cuvée Centenaire and Clos des Papes possibly lasting longer. The Barbe Rac should be drunk over the shortest term.
The second flight of Châteauneuf du Papes included two wines that see a percentage of new barriques for their Syrah and Mourvèdre components, the Cuvée du Vatican Cuvée Sixtine and Beaurenard’s Cuvée Boisrenard. The third wine of the flight, the Beaucastel, was included because of its extraordinarily high Mourvèdre content. All three were very structured, but I was shocked by how little oak showed in either the Cuvée du Vatican or Boisrenard. Of course, they are now eight years of age, and that initial oakiness is normally absorbed between age 4 and 10. The Beaucastel exhibited beautiful sweet, earthy notes of black fruits, fresh mushrooms, pepper, and spice. It is full-bodied, surprisingly velvety and open for a Beaucastel, and decidedly less dense and concentrated than the two subsequent wines. I was blown away by the Cuvée du Vatican Cuvée Sixtine. I had bought some of this wine but had hesitated to try it as I was waiting for all the oak to be absorbed, but that has certainly been accomplished. While still young, this fabulous cuvée is brilliantly concentrated and very Châteauneuf du Pape-like with its garrigue, pepper, kirsch, and blacker fruit spectrum. The Beaurenard Cuvée Boisrenard, a more internationally-styled Châteauneuf du Pape, is by far the most modern-styled of all the wines in this tasting. It is an impressive, brilliantly-made, pure, rich wine with plenty of Châteauneuf du Pape typicity.
The third flight was also remarkably consistent, a hallmark of this tasting. The wines scored within a very narrow range, and the regularity and brilliance of these top cuvées were gorgeous. I had hoped to be doing a bit more spitting given the amount of wine available, but it was impossible to resist the charm of this vintage. The 2000 Pierre Usseglio Cuvée de Mon Aïeulis a brilliant wine, but it has to take a back seat to the 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2006. The 2000, while approaching maturity, will benefit from another 3-4 years of bottle age. The Domaine du Caillou Le Clos du Caillou Réserve has a make-up similar to the Clos des Papes, but with the Syrah and Mourvèdre components aged in small barrels. It seems to be a hypothetical blend of a structured style of Châteauneuf du Pape, along with the garrigue, pepper, incense, and black fruit characteristics Grenache can provide. However, the Mourvèdre and Syrah components show through in this wine. Among the densest, inkiest of all the wines we tasted, it requires another 4-5 years to hit its peak of maturity. Mordorée’s 2000 Reine de Bois was exquisite. Graphite, blackberry, licorice, and hints of spice box, earth, and truffle notes are present in this full-bodied, opulent, magnificently concentrated wine. It was my favorite of this flight.
The next flight was the most difficult to figure out. While Sabon’s limited cuvée, Le Secret des Sabon, was closed, it was extremely promising. It was the most backward wine in the entire tasting, although in the subsequent flight, the Usseglio Réserve des Deux Frères tasted more like a barrel sample than a finished wine. Janasse’s Cuvée Chaupin was richly fruity (it is nearly all Grenache) with loads of kirsch, garrigue, pepper, and spice. Although it’s a beauty, it seemed to get lost in the company of the other wines. Janasse’s exquisite, sublime Cuvée Vieilles Vignes was full-bodied and concentrated, with no hard edges, but with tremendous reserve and length. It should drink beautifully for another 10-15 years.
The final flight included one off bottle, the 2000 Pégaü Cuvée da Capo, which can be virtually perfect. Its color was not as dark as it should be, and the wine exhibited more herbs and vegetal characteristics than I remember from previous bottles. It may have been heat damaged, or was just an off bottle, but I have given this cuvée a perfect score many times. There were two perfect wines in this flight, including the extraordinary Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin. Its dense blue purple color, unbelievable concentration, power, and richness, and amazing length were all prodigious. What a shame this wine is so difficult to find in the marketplace. The Marcoux Vieilles Vignes was the most open-knit, mature, and evolved wine in the last flight. Its extraordinarily complex notes of blackberries, lavender, and spring flowers followed by its opulent, velvety-textured mouthfeel suggest it is best consumed over the next 7-8 years. Vieille Julienne’s 2000 Réserve is a perfect wine by any standard of measurement. While still young, its extraordinary concentration of old vine Grenache, and the nakedness and purity of expression represent a tour de force in winemaking. You just want to stand up and salute this beauty it is so perfect, pure, and complex. Not to be outdone, Pierre Usseglio’s limited production Réserve des Deux Frères was the most backward wine in the entire tasting, along with the Clos du Caillou Réserve. It is an extraordinary effort - full-bodied, powerful, rich, and several notches above the concentration of its sibling, the Mon Aïeul.
All things considered, I celebrated my birthday, had an exquisite meal from the talented, young, new chef at Veritas, Grégory Pugin, and enjoyed the company, generosity, and graciousness of Park B. Smith and his wonderful group of friends. Living well is what living is all about.
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