Coming from a generation that thought no one over 30 could be trusted, and that anyone over 40 must be old, dreary, and incapable of enjoying life, I must say I never dreamed I could feel so good, be so happy, or still enjoy the finest things in life in such an uncensored, uncomplicated way at age 63. Perhaps the sixties are the new forties, although it does seem that at some point the biological clock will begin to run down. As Jonathan Swift’s famous quote says so clearly, “May you live every day of your life.”
A gathering of dear friends to celebrate my birthday is always an occasion to pull out all the stops. My birthday celebrations are easy - high quality food prepared simply and drunk with uncomplicated, pleasure-filled wines. This straightforward formula works every year. The food included some extraordinary smoked fish from Russ and Daughters in New York City, Santa Barbara spotted prawns (the finest prawns in the United States; sadly the season is very short), and one of my wife’s signature dishes, a melted Gruyere cheese and jumbo lump crab meat dish sprinkled with capers that is perfect for dipping. We also enjoyed Brian Flannery’s decadent prime rib of beef caps (the thin section of the entire prime rib of beef above the fat line that’s about an inch thick), which has to be seared on its outside on top of the stove or grill, and then baked until it is medium to medium well. I love my steaks rare, but this is not a cut that should be cooked rare. It is something that should only be eaten one or two times a year given its potential for clogging arteries. However, with enough resveratrol from good red wines, I may be able to enjoy it for many years to come.
As for the wines, one of my favorite Champagnes is Bollinger’s 2002 Grande Année Rosé. I love its light salmon color, exquisite minerality and berry fruit, and medium to full-bodied character. It is a serious, somewhat austere rosé that is loaded with flavor. Mark Aubert again hit pay dirt with his 2008 Chardonnays, and the Lauren is sumptuous. Honeyed citrus, lemon blossom, white peach, and exotic fruit notes hide any evidence of wood aging. This powerful Chardonnay comes across with lots of minerality, up-lift, freshness, and intensity.
Once past the non-reds, we surged into Châteauneuf du Papes, which seemed to be the perfect foil with grilled prawns, Flannery’s prime rib, and my wife’s wonderful pasta dish. Slowly and lovingly she caramelizes yellow and red peppers which are then served over a bed of pasta with freshly grated Parmigiana and sautéed pine nuts. The Châteauneuf du Papes can be put in two categories - Most Drinkable and Most Needing Time. For pure decadence, richness, and Provençal typicity, one won’t find a more sexy effort than the 2007 Colombis made from old vine Grenache by Isabel Ferrando, or the 2003 Pierre Usseglio Mon Aïeul. For full maturity, both the 1981 Pégaü Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservée and the 1990 Rayas were extraordinary. Both were at their peak 5-10 years ago, but remain vibrant and generous, proving that some Châteauneuf du Papes, even though I tend to want to drink then in their first 10-15 years of life, can push 30 years in some vintages. The babies in the crowd included the 1998 Pégaü Cuvee da Capo, 2007 Clos St.-Jean Combe des Fous, and the 2007 Domaine de la Solitude Cornelia Constanza. The latter wine (100% Grenache) is pretty sumptuous, but it still needs some time in the cellar. Two other backward, but incredibly promising (potentially 100 point) wines are Domaine de la Janasse’s 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape XXL (a wine that took over two years to ferment dry) and Beaucastel’s 1998 Hommage à Jacques Perrin, which includes plenty of Mourvèdre as well as more Grenache than usual in 1998. All of these wines showed exquisitely, but perhaps the biggest surprise was the absolutely magnificent 2000 Incognito from Sine Qua Non. I have always believed this to be the greatest Grenache ever made in the New World, and it remains to be seen if what Manfred Krankl has done in recent vintages will equal the complexity and richness achieved by this cuvée. At age 10, it is still a young wine, but it didn’t miss a beat when thrown in with all these old vine classics from Châteauneuf du Pape. Copious lavender, kirsch, raspberry, and darker fruit characteristics are found in this sumptuous, full-bodied, perfect wine. To repeat myself, this is a great Grenache!
The only three wines that should be watched carefully are the 1981 Pégaü (anyone owning this wine should drink it up), the 2003 Mon Aïeul (at least from this magnum, the wine seemed to be more evolved than from a regular bottle I had a month or so ago), and of course, the brilliant 1990 Rayas (a wine that should probably be drunk earlier rather than later).
All things considered, this was a great birthday celebration, with the best of wine, food, and friends.