Dinner at L'Ami Louis, Paris

My favorite (and most expensive) bistro in the world, L'Ami Louis, is at its best in the winter, when they offer the world's finest baby leg of lamb as well as Brittany scallops. However, there is still plenty to get excited about in the fall. Because of the extreme drought and heat experienced in France this year, it was a poor mushroom crop, but I was fortunate enough to have some gorgeous ceps at L'Ami Louis. The other courses included their superb snails, the finest I have ever enjoyed, their foie gras, which is very good, but not exceptional, and the world's finest roast chicken served with extraordinary potato cakes (the potatoes are sauteed in goose fat, then assembled into a cheesecake-shaped pan, put in a scorching hot oven to be crisped, and immediately before serving, fistfuls of fresh parsley and garlic are sprinkled on the top). Yum!

The wines were all interesting, with the 1988 Krug Clos Mesnil a terrific light, but authoritatively flavored Champagne. The 1979 Leroy Bâtard-Montrachet is still fresh, but reveals a monolithic character that kept it from meriting an outstanding score. Nevertheless, it possesses good body as well as fruit. We all had incredibly high expectations for the 1989 Leroy Richebourg, but it came across as a pretty, elegant, complex, but not terribly profound grand cru red Burgundy. Still young, it was quite drinkable, and capable of another 5-10 years of longevity.

The two Rayas offerings were splendid treats, with the 1974 a surprisingly strong, still intact Châteauneuf du Pape. Although 1974 was a difficult vintage, this offering possesses character as well as vigor, but lacks concentration. I loved the 1985 Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape early in life, but it then went into a dumb, uninteresting stage. At this dinner, it was superb, offering gorgeous kirsch liqueur notes, medium to full body, and great complexity as well as elegance. Frankly, it blew away Leroy's 1989 Richebourg, something several Burgundy enthusiasts in attendance reluctantly acknowledged.

Incredibly young, but loaded with potential were the three Chapoutier magnums. The 2000 Hermitage Cuvée l'Orée, a blockbuster white Hermitage, is still in a primary stage and has not yet closed down. Gushing with exotic fruits, it is an enormously-endowed effort that must have close to 15% natural alcohol along with extraordinary concentration. It will be interesting to see if the finest 2001 Châteauneuf du Papes equal or surpass the best of the 2000 and 1998 vintages. 2001 is a more structured vintage in this appellation, and both the Chapoutier offerings revealed more tannin and closed personalities along with enormous concentration and loads of black cherry fruit. The Barbe Rac always exhibits more spice box, pepper, and garrigue as well as jammy framboise and kirsch notes. The Croix de Bois offers straight kirsch liqueur-like characteristics without the enormous fragrance of the Barbe Rac, but that's splitting hairs at the level of these old vine Châteauneuf du Papes. The Barbe Rac comes from the western sector of the appellation, and the Croix de Bois from the eastern. Both these 2001 Châteauneuf du Papes have at least 15-20 years of aging ahead of them, whereas the 1985 Rayas has hit its peak, where it can be expected to remain for another 5-7 years.

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