Birthday of a Dear Friend at the Four Seasons, Washington

Immediately prior to my trip to Australia, we celebrated a birthday meal prepared by Chef William Douglas McNeill at the Seasons restaurant in the Four Seasons hotel. McNeill retired the following week, and his absence from Washington's fine dining scene will be greatly missed. Working in a large hotel, his extraordinary talents were not as appreciated as if he had had a stand alone restaurant. The menu included foie gras with pieds de cochon in honor of Jean-Louis Palladin, who was fighting a battle with lung cancer (he died four months later). Course two was roasted turbo with a nautua sauce. Course three was saltimbocco of rouget with Bordeaux ceps, as well as a ragout of chanterelles. The fourth course was roasted diver scallops in crushed garlic and basil. The fifth course was roasted canton baby duck. The last course was basically in honor to the pig -- cheeks, trotters, a boudin noir served with purées of potatoes, celery root, carrots, and onions. By that point, I could care less about what looked to be a superb cheese course, and, not being a sweet eater, I passed on dessert.

The Chardonnays included Peter Michael's 1995 Point Rouge, the 1997 Coche-Dury Meursault-Perrières, and the 1992 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. They represent three different styles, with Leflaive the most mineral-dominated, Coche-Dury a combination of minerals and opulence, and the Point Rouge pure fat and richness, but well-delineated and structured - a difficult combination to achieve. The 1990 Raveneau Chablis Les Blanchots was crispy and citrusy, with plenty of minerals, not a great deal of concentration, but an ethereal elegance. The 1990 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet was ripe, but monolithic. What should have been a fabulous bottle of the 1986 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet was corked. That was followed by a spectacular bottle of 1996 Château Margaux. I hope to be proven wrong, but if the 2000 Margaux (which many writers claim is the wine of the vintage) turns out to be this good, I will be the first to admit it. But I don't think so. The 1996 still needs another decade of cellaring, but what a spectacular expression of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon! It is all concentration and elegance.

The sumptuous, juicy 1982 Pichon-Lalande offered loads of coffee, cassis, mocha, and plum fruit. A corked bottle of 1982 Ducru-Beaucaillou brought sneers from the crowd. However, that was followed by the 1975 Haut-Brion, which I underrated early on. It continues to go from strength to strength. Fully mature, it offers an incredible perfume of scorched earth, minerals, black fruits, and spice. A nearly perfect bottle of 1975 La Tour-Haut-Brion (the greatest La Tour-Haut-Brion I have ever tasted and still one of the sleeper, unknown, prodigious wines) is fuller and more muscular than the 1975 La Mission-Haut-Brion, which has scored between 98 and 100 on every occasion I have had it. The perfect 1975 was an exotic, over-the-top example with splendid kirsch liqueur/raspberry notes. If a Châteauneuf du Pape was made in Bordeaux, this might be what it would taste like. Great anticipation built for the 1945 Latour à Pomerol. While this bottle had a mid-ninety point nose, the dried out, hard flavors did not deliver what the aromatics promised. C'est la vie. In any event, it was a great lunch with extraordinary food.

More articles from this author