For years, the ultimate destination for Chicago dining has been Charlie Trotter's, renowned for its world-class cooking. However, 5-6 years ago, Tru opened under the auspices of Chef Rick Tramonto and his partner, Pastry Chef Gale Gand. Many consider Tru to be at the same level as Charlie Trotter's, and I saw no reason to disagree based on the meal I had in June. Not only is the food beautiful to look at, but there is tremendous heart and soul as well as intense flavors yet elegance to all the dishes. Our meal was meant to match up with some of the most intensely concentrated and flavorful wines of California, and Chef Tramonto did just that. We began the evening with some gorgeous appetizers that were nicely complemented by a very good California sparkling wine, the 1997 Schamsberg J. Schram made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. We next had two fabulous Chardonnays, the Burgundian, Bâtard-Montrachet-like1999 Marcassin Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard, and the exotic, opulent, decadent 2001 Peter Michael Chardonnay Point Rouge. I do not think readers will find another New World or Burgundy Chardonnay with this kind of intensity, complexity, and overall appeal. The guests were fairly evenly split between which is the better wine, perhaps with the more exotic fruits of the Peter Michael winning out over the more earthy, hazelnut, honeyed Marcassin.
We then moved into a flight of Pinot Noirs. I was in the minority, preferring the wonderful elegance and complexity of the 1999 Marcassin Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard. I have noticed some bottle variation with this cuvée, and a few bottles from my cellar seemed to be aging rapidly, revealing an un-Pinot Noir-like chocolately character. But at this dinner, it offered classic Clos de la Roche-like, plum, cherry, spice box, and flower notes in an elegant, medium-bodied style. I was sitting next to one of the guests of honor, Michel Rolland, who remarked that blind he would have guessed it to be a great French Burgundy. In contrast, the 2001 Kistlerseemed much more primary, with notes of sweet cherries and spice box as well as a more unevolved, fruity, simpler style.
We next enjoyed the two greatest vintages of Dominus to date. I don't know why there has not been a vintage since 1991 and 1994 as good as these two wines. At this tasting, the bottle of 1991 Dominus at my table seemed a bit more evolved than those from my cellar. I have done the same comparison at home many times, and I always prefer the 1991, so this was an unusual result for me. The 1994 seemed richer, more complex and multilayered, but both were stunning wines that seemed to be just hitting their plateaus of maturity, where both should rest for another 10-15 years. One would certainly hope that in 2001 or 2002, Dominus will once again attain this level of quality. The next flight, my favorite, matched beautifully with the intensely flavored Colorado rack of lamb. The 1994 Harlan Estate is still a youthful wine that remains 5-6 years away from full maturity. It boasts a dense purple color as well as a gorgeous nose of crème de cassis, licorice, spice box, graphite, and smoky minerals. It reminded me of a hypothetical blend of Mouton-Rothschild and La Mission-Haut-Brion. A stunning effort, it is still young at age ten. I also loved the intensity, concentration, and power of the 1995 Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard. While it revealed some rustic tannin in the finish, it is still young, impressively layered, and rich. An atypically uninspiring bottle of the 1994 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon revealed an herbaceous, funky, floral character. The 1994 did not exhibit this herbal characteristic young, and I wonder if this bottle was an aberration, or if this is the way the wine is developing? If so, then I vastly overrated it when it was young. It was dominated completely by the brilliant 1999 Screaming Eagle. While not the greatest Screaming Eagle to date (the 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 2001 are superior), the 1999 is a beautiful wine in an overrated vintage for California Cabernet Sauvignon. Pure crème de cassis flavors and great purity are always the hallmark of this wine. It was the wine of the flight, easily standing up to the intensely flavored, incredibly rich, succulent braised beef short ribs from Chef Tramanto.
For many of the guests, the wine of the night was the extraordinary Mr. K The Nobleman, the trockenbeerenauslese-styled Viognier from Elaine and Manfred Krankl's Sine Qua Non. I rated this wine highly when I first tasted it, but this was the finest bottle I have ever had. The French people at my table were astonished that a wine could have such great richness, yet such complexity, precision, and elegance. A tour de force, it was a fabulous accompaniment with Pastry Chef Gale Gand's amazingly brilliant fromage blanc mousse with apricot soup. Perhaps it was the synergy between the food and the wine, but I kept thinking that even at 99 points I may have underrated the Nobleman. Usually this is the "least" of the Krankl sweet wines, but it is an incredible wine that performed magnificently well this evening.
In summary, great cuisine and great California wines made for a marvelous evening.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...