Dinner at the Oregon Grille, Hunt Valley, Maryland

Anyone visiting northern Baltimore County during soft-shell crab season (usually May - August) won't find any better than Mark Henry's. His lobster corncake isn't bad either, and of course, the finest aged beef south of New York can be found at this restaurant.

The wines offered no surprises. The three Chardonnays were totally different in style. The 1999 Kongsgaard had the most terroir, with extraordinary minerality, the 1999 Peter Michael Point Rouge the most opulent, exotic, and filled with tropical fruit, and the 1999 Martinelli Charles Ranch leesy and smoky with gobs of fruit and hazelnut notes.

As for the reds, the 1998 Quinault l'Enclos remains young, and may be starting to close down. The color is a dense purple, and the wine shows pure black raspberry and cassis fruit intermixed with subtle wood and mineral notions. It is a stylish, provocative effort with 10-15 years of aging ahead of it. The 1997 Pahlmeyer Merlot came across as less complex, fatter, and more simple, but gorgeously lush and opulent with loads of fudge and chocolatey fruit. Surprisingly, it is fully mature. The 1997 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select is prodigious stuff. This was a perfect performance by a magnificent wine that is young yet so concentrated and long. It will last for at least two decades. The 1993 Harlan Estate (double-decanted four hours in advance) is just beginning to shrug off its tannin. It still tastes like a very young wine. The color remains a dense purple, and the wine exhibits notes of smoke, cedar, licorice, black currants, and tobacco. There has been more aromatic development than previously noticed, but in the mouth, it is large-scaled and Bordeaux-like in its size and tannin profile. Lastly, the luxurious, lavish, over the top fortified Old Muscat from Ralph Fowler was a treat. It's like drinking maple syrup infused with roasted nuts.

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