Accompanied by the incomparable cuisine of one of this country's hottest young chefs, Scott Bryan, we rocked and Rhoned through an absolutely staggering array of Châteauneuf du Papes. This was the second half of our "superbowl of Châteauneuf du Pape," pitting 1998 against 2000. In all candor, I stopped taking notes after the first four wines and simply wrote the score of each wine because I was having too much fun, and the wines were too magnificent. I decided I did not want to be distracted, and only jotted down a number as a remembrance of just how well these wines performed. As readers will note, it's pretty much a toss up between the two vintages (as I expected). Some estates were pushing the envelope a bit harder in 2000, but there is no question that these are both great vintages. The short and the skinny of it is that 1998 has more structure and power, and 2000 more velvety fruit, opulence, and seductiveness. The perfect ratings reflect the fact that I do not believe any Châteauneuf du Pape, or for that matter, any wine, could be any better. They offered thrilling complexity, extraordinary aromatics, and incredibly well-balanced richness, with great intensity yet phenomenal purity, definition, and overall harmony. I hate to admit how frequently I drink these wines, so there were no surprises for me. One possible exception was that several of the 1998s, particularly Pierre Usseglio's Mon Aïeul, Vieille Julienne's Vieilles Vignes, and Raymond Usseglio's Cuvée Impériale, seemed to be shutting down. If there was an under-performing estate, it was Cabrières. While the 1998 and 2000 represent the finest two wines produced at this estate in more than three decades, they were perhaps not as good out of bottle as they were from barrel.
In any event, it was an extraordinary tasting that paid tribute to the world's most underrated great wine region, Châteauneuf du Pape. Moreover, there are still some great buys from this vintage available in the marketplace, particularly the Charbonnière Haut Brusquières and the Cuvée Mon Aïeul from Pierre Usseglio.
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