Another Sumptuous, Bistro-styled Meal at Baltimore's Petit Louis

I had a delicious meal with a group of friends, all of us bringing an array of blockbuster southern Rhônes. There were no surprises other than the youthfulness of the 1978 Fortia and 1978 Vieux Télégraphe, a great, classic vintage for Châteauneuf du Pape that is probably equaled only in potential longevity by such recent vintages as 1989 and 1998. We began with the wonderful Roussanne cuvée from Raymond Usseglio, a rare offering that is sumptuous, fat, and rich. Even richer was the idiosyncratic but blockbuster 1997 Twisted and Bent, the magnificent, artistic achievement of Elaine and Manfred Krankl from grapes grown in the Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley. That was followed by two magnificent vintages of Pégaü Châteauneuf du Pape. I go back and forth as to whether I prefer the 1990 or 1989, but I did not have to make that choice at this dinner. The 1990 is on fire. Laurence Feraud, the proprietor's daughter, prefers it to the 1989, although her father prefers the 1989. Monsieur Feraud considers the latter wine to be one of the great vintages for Pégaü, along with 1971 and 1998. As for the 1981, it has been fully mature for a number of years, and is a classic, old style Châteauneuf du Pape. While it throws a tremendous amount of sediment, it is loaded with fruit, glycerin, and Provençal complexity.

The old vintages of Château Fortia are legendary, and since 1978, nothing as good has been produced. While this estate is coming back, it has a long way to go until it turns out anything as extraordinary. Depending on the bottle, these wines can score even higher. I have had mid-ninety point bottles of the 1978 as recently as summer, 2001, and mid-ninety point bottles of the 1970. At this dinner, maybe because they had been carried to the restaurant and were more unsettled, they showed brilliantly, but not at the level I have come to expect. Both wines have been fully mature for many years, but they are still sweet, youthful, vigorous efforts. One of my favorite Châteauneuf du Papes is the 1978 Vieux Télégraphe. The 1998 is probably the finest they have made since, but I do not think anything the younger generation is producing will achieve the greatness that Henri Brunier fashioned in 1978, before the cellars were modernized in 1979. This remains an extraordinary wine with a half-inch of sediment in the bottom, a dark ruby/purple color with lightening at the edge, and a blockbuster nose of licorice, seaweed, black fruits galore, pepper, and Provençal herbs. It's a tour de force in winemaking. After that, it was somewhat of a downer to taste the 1979 Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape, a dark ruby-colored, fully mature wine with a bit of astringency in the finish. Certainly the 1978 Clos du Mont Olivet Châteauneuf du Pape was delicious with the bistro's wonderful juicy short ribs.

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