Dinner at Mark's Duck House

This was an enormous array of wines drunk with a magnificent display of dim sum from my favorite Hong Kong-styled Chinese restaurant in northern Virginia, Mark's Duck House. There were two corked bottles, including the famous 1996 Penfold's Grange and Henri Bonneau's 1995 Châteauneuf du Pape Marie Beurrier. An oxidized bottle of Lafon's 1992 Meursault Perrières may have just been badly stored, but it showed poorly. As for the other whites, the 1988 Cronin Chardonnay Ventana Vineyards is holding onto life with extremely high acid, but little character or fruit. The Rockford 2000 Riesling was disappointingly thin for such a high quality producer, and the 1997 Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets seemed artificially acidulated and lacking depth. One would have thought, based on the fact that it goes for about $1,000 a bottle, that the 1997 DRC Montrachet would have won hands down over the other whites. It's an outstanding wine. Very evolved for a 1997 with a hint of oxidation, but gorgeous honeysuckle, caramel, and sweet jammy pear flavors. However, I wouldn't risk aging it more than another 2-3 years.

One of the two stars of the white line-up was the spectacular, other-worldly 1996 Marcassin Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard. It possessed more minerality and depth than the Montrachet as well as more alcohol. This is a brilliant Chardonnay that can be out of control. It is best drunk over the next 4-5 years. While the 2000 vintage is somewhat underwhelming for the northern Rhône red wines, it is a stunning vintage for the whites. The 2000 Chapoutier Ermitage Cuvée l'Orée is pure liquid minerals with hints of honeysuckle, white peaches, and tropical fruits. It is unctuously-textured and massive, but with enough acidity to provide definition. I wonder if this wine will shut down in a couple of years? At present, it is out of this world!

We had two great bottles of Bollinger R. D. Champagne. The 1988 has a certain toughness and austerity, but it is very high quality as well as extremely intellectual. The 1990 is one of the finest R. D.'s I have ever tasted. A powerful, full-bodied, intense, traditionally made Champagne, the likes of which are increasingly rare, it should last for 10-15 years.

Experience has shown that Rhône wines, particularly southern Rhones, and Nebbiolo-based wines tend to work best with dim sum dishes, even though 90% of what we eat is seafood. However, a few anomalies were thrown in to satisfy our curiosity. The 1990 Rouget Vosne Romanée Cros Parantoux exhibited a fabulous nose of compost, plum liqueur, cherries, earth, and smoke. It is just hitting full maturity, and is extremely concentrated and intense. There were two Bordeaux. Essentially fully mature, the 1989 La Dominique was splendidly rich, opulent, and hedonistic. The structured, masculine, backward yet promising 1986 Château Margauxworked reasonably well, but these types of wines require meat and potatoes, not Chinese food. I was amazed by the youthfulness of the Château Margaux (which was from my cellar). If La Dominique should be drunk over the next 7-8 years, the Margaux has 50 more years of longevity. Among the Italian offerings was a strong effort from Sandrone, the powerful 1995 Barolo. Still an adolescent, it offered excellent sweet black cherry fruit and earth notes, medium body, and long, luscious flavors. At least one person on Mark Squires' message board claims 1998 was bad for Barbaresco, so we decided to do a comparison of the opulently-styled 1997 and 1998 Barbarescos of Albino Rocca. The 1997 is a flamboyant, exotic, and nearly over the top Barbaresco with an abundance of fruit, glycerin, and concentration. The more restrained 1998 is gorgeously rich, ripe, symmetrical, and well-balanced. Both are great Barbarescos, so whoever claims something is wrong with these 1998s might need to taste again.

From Côte Rôtie, we had Guigal's perfect 1991 La Mouline. Every time I have this splendid wine it seems to score between 96 and 100, with most bottles hitting the three digit score. Extremely supple, forward, and showy, I can't imagine it is going to be one of the longest lived La Moulines, but wow, what a spectacular wine to drink now and over the next 8-10 years. While Guigal's 1976 Côte Rôtie is still holding up, it is beginning to reveal some pink at the edge as well as some hardness in the finish. Nevertheless, it offers a gorgeous bouquet of tapenade, black fruits, truffles, and a hint of honeysuckle. It is a more burly, rustic, and concentrated effort than the 1985 Jamet, which displays a touch of brett in its pepper, black fruit, and dusty, earthy personality. I have had better bottles of this cuvée. This one, which came from my cellar, was fully mature, and suggested consumption over the next 4-5 years is warranted.

Châteauneuf du Pape works spectacularly well with this food. The 1989 Beaucastel was rocking on this occasion. Still black/purple-colored, it offered fabulous concentrated blackberry, truffle, licorice, earthy, and peppery notes in a full-bodied, opulent style. As has been reported, Beaucastel had some defective corks in 1989, causing leakage in some of their wines. However, this cork was in perfect condition, and the wine was nearly perfect. A nearly perfect wine was the 1998 Vieux Donjon. This is a limited cuvée of just over 100 cases that is made in only the top vintages. Essentially, it is only sold to a handful of the estate's friends. After a lot of begging, I managed to purchase a handful of bottles. Put the regular cuvée of Vieux Donjon on steroids and what you get is a spectacularly complex, sumptuous, super-concentrated Vieux Donjon that must be tasted to be believed. It is a magnificent offering from this profound Châteauneuf du Pape vintage.

Despite the disappointments of the corked and oxidized wines, this was a spectacular evening of great wines and sumptuous food!

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