Wing & Barrel Ranch - Benefitting the Navy SEAL Foundation
With Chef Charlie Palmer's superb yellow fin tuna tartare, I set out a selection of California's better Chardonnays along with some white Burgundies. As the scores attest, this was a consistent horizontal, and I was especially struck by just how beautiful and young the Raveneau Chablis Montée de Tonnerre was, even though it was 14 years of age. The Leflaive 2009 Bâtard-Montrachet is still an infant in terms of its evolution and, thankfully, not showing any early signs of oxidation, which has plagued so many white Burgundies since the mid-1990s. The three California Chardonnays strutted their stuff in wonderful ways, with the 2013 Aubert probably the leanest and most crisp and steely of the three. The Peter Michael Ma Belle-Fille was the most tropical, exotic and flamboyant. My favorite Chardonnay of the entire flight, the 2010 Marcassin Estate, is a statuesque, gorgeous wine with great structure, acidity and remarkable depth.
The second flight was a flight of Bordeaux matched with duck breast, a superb foie gras torchon and wonderful grits. This was an interesting flight of different styles of wine, with the 1995 Calon-Ségur tight, concentrated, backward and masculine, which seems typical of this vintage that appears to be taking forever to come around. The Lynch Bages is normally a much earlier drinker than Calon-Ségur, and the 1995 remains tannic, tight and dense ruby/purple, but with more structure and tannin than charm at this point. Fully mature for a number of years, but holding onto life with ease, the 1990 Canon-La-Gaffelière shows the flamboyant, rich, cedary, Christmas fruitcake, plum, black cherry and currant side of St.-Emilion. This is a lush, velvety textured, typical 1990 that is still gorgeous, even though I have been drinking it with great pleasure since it was seven or eight years of age. I hadn't had the next wine in a long, long time, and it is still one of the all-time great Lafite-Rothschilds of the last 50 or so years - the 1986. Obviously from my cellar, where it has been since I bought it when it was released, this is a wine that proprietor Baron Eric de Rothschild has always said is one of his favorite Lafite-Rothschilds of the last 100 years. This is a 100-point wine. Still incredibly youthful, but beginning to show some cedar wood, graphite and blackcurrant fruit, the wine is medium-bodied, as many Lafites are, but stunningly concentrated and relatively light on its feet. There is still tannin to resolve, and the wine seems a good decade away from hitting full maturity, which is rather remarkable since it is already 30 years of age! Another magnificent wine is the 1989 Château Montrose, which might now be at a stage where in some tastings it may eclipse the faster-maturing and more evolved 1990. This was youthful, young and earthy, with copious quantities of black fruits, stunning richness and a full-bodied mouthfeel and finish. This could easily go on for another 25-30+ years.
The third flight, matched with a beautiful Wagyu slab of steak from Snake River Farms and a sensational black truffle sauce, was all Châteauneuf du Pape - with the exception of the 2009 Domaine du Pégaü, which was easily the youngest wine along with the Solitude 2005 Cornelia Constanza. (It is interesting that both are dominated by Grenache.) The three most mature wines, and I would say fully mature, were the 2000 Brunel Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire, the Janasse 2003 Chaupin and the Pierre Usseglio Reserve des Deux Frères. Both the 2000 Les Cailloux and the 2003 Chaupin really need to be drunk over the next 3-4 years as they seem to have peaked and really have nowhere to go but down. In contrast, the 2003 Usseglio Réserve des Deux Frères is a monster, a massively rich, concentrated wine that clearly is one of the great successes in this irregular vintage. To reiterate, the Solitude 2005 Cornelia Constanza, even though 100% Old Vine Grenache, was tightly knit, a dense color and relatively unevolved, as was the Pégaü 2009 Cuvée Reservée, which also showed a touch of bretty animal sweat, but in an intriguing and provocative way rather than one that was annoying.
We then finished the flight of wines with some spectacular California Cabernets. The 1993 Abreu Madrona Ranch was still a youthful wine, which again shoots a barn-door-sized hole in all the skeptic's claims that modern, ripe, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa somehow doesn't age. This wine has at least another 20-30 years cellaring in it. Kapcsándy's 2007 Grand Vin is one of their great, great successes. It was going through a somewhat tight passage at this dinner, but it is clearly a world-class wine. Probably the highest score I've given to date was the 1999 Harlan Estate. This is a vintage that I have liked less than some of my peers, but certainly this wine was just coming into its own and showing beautifully. The 2001 Sloan, which is largely Cabernet Sauvignon, but with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the blend, performed exceptionally well. But the wine of the Cabernet flight was the 2001 Colgin Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Tychson Hill, from that wonderful hillside vineyard just north of St. Helena. This was magnificent and, again, a youthful inky purple with notes of spring flowers, blueberry and blackberry liqueur and stunningly full-bodied opulence. It hasn't seemed to budge much in evolution since it was first released. My cohost, Dick Arrowood, provided one of the last bottles of one of his iconic wines that he made while at Château St. Jean, the 1975 Johannesburg Riesling Individual Bunch Special Select Late Harvest. This wine, which is 41 years of age, could have been a five to eight-year-old sweet Riesling. Great acidity and stunning notes of caramel, maple syrup and caramelized tropical fruits jump from the glass of this medium/dark, slightly amber-colored wine. Incredible vibrancy and richness make for a wine that probably still has another 25-50 years of life, but since this is one of the last bottles known in existence, few people will have the option to taste it when I'm sure it will still be going strong at about 2075!
Lastly, I wanted to share my compliments with the staff of Chef Charlie Palmer and to Richard Arrowood for setting up this dinner at the Wing & Barrel Ranch in Sonoma and with all of those donees that contributed to a truly successful Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction lot to benefit several charities in Sonoma, as well as the Navy SEAL Foundation.
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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...