Four Seasons Restaurant, New York

The purpose of this event, organized by Park Smith and myself, was to have a taste-off between what are two obviously great vintages in Châteauneuf du Pape. The first half of the tasting was held at the Four Seasons, and the second half will be October 1st, at Veritas restaurant. The food of Chef Christian Albin was again superb. This guy can cook - I have never been disappointed with any of his meals. All the courses were superb, but the roasted farmhouse duck was particularly divine, and the lobster and diver scallop creation was one of the best dishes I have had in the last twelve months.

As for the wines, it was pretty much a toss-up as to which vintage might be better. The 1998s are slightly bigger, more structured, and muscular wines with more tannin. A handful are starting to close down. The 2000s are lower in acidity and the fruit seems riper (although 1998 has extremely ripe fruit). In 2000, the wines' sweetness as well as open-knit accessibility give them immediate charm and appeal. A few do not appear to have the structure or extraordinary depth found in the finest 1998s, but that may be because they are higher in alcohol and glycerin, which covers some of their structure. The short and sweet of it is that both vintages elicit rave reviews.

In the first flight, the 1998 Chapoutier Croix de Bois was off - a bad bottle. The 2000 Croix de Bois (which I believe is the better wine) is pure, sumptuous, concentrated fruit offered in a full-bodied style. The 2000 Clos des Papes is also head and shoulders above the 1998 as the latter wine is not one of the great successes for this estate. Charvin is a tough call. The 2000 is pure, silky sex in a bottle, whereas the 1998 is more animal and rustic. Both are marvelous examples of old vine Grenache-based Châteauneuf du Pape that has never seen a day in wood ... old or new.

In the second flight, the 1998 Vieux Donjon clearly surpassed the 2000, but both are top-flight wines. The 1998 and 2000 Janasse were tied, with the 1998 possessing more power and size, and the 2000 representing liquid Viagra, an amazingly concentrated wine with a silky texture. It was fascinating to see how great both the 1998 and 2000 Beaucastel were. The 1998 has a far higher percentage of Grenache than normal. It is a spectacular Beaucastel, for my taste the finest regular bottling produced the great duo of 1989 and 1990. The other-worldly 2000 goes from strength to strength, and is better and better every time I taste it. A magnificent offering, it is unquestionably one of this estate's greatest efforts.

In the third flight, there was no contest with La Nerthe's famed Cuvée des Cadettes. The 1998 towers over the very fine, but less impressive 2000. An herbal, possibly flawed bottle of 1998 Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes did not hold up to the beautiful, full-bodied, creamy-textured, luscious 2000. 1998 won again in the Autard Côte Ronde pairing. It revealed more muscle, concentration, and depth than the loosely-knit but charming, seductive 2000.

The last flight was a battle of titans. It was hard to choose between the 1998 and 2000 Roger Perrin Vieilles Vignes. Both are spectacular, still young Châteauneufs with dense colors, great fruit concentration, and full-bodied, structured personalities. I wanted to like the 1998 better, but each time I tasted the 2000, I ended up thinking that these are both sublime wines that should stand the test of time and age effortlessly for 12-15 years. Chapoutier's 2000 Barbe Rac is a more sumptuous, succulent, and sexy wine than the 1998, but I'm not sure it's better. The 1998 exhibits more pepper, garrigue, and Provençal notes in a full-bodied, powerful style. The 2000 is a slut of a Châteauneuf du Pape with huge fruit, huge glycerin, and an enormous mouthfeel with no hard edges. It's the kind of wine that causes your eyes to roll back in your head.

Dreamlike, indeed. Pégaü's 1998 appears to be a more structured, muscular, and animal wine than the 2000, but the latter offering is drinking better at present. A decade from now that scenario may be reversed, but both are great vintages for Pégaü. I tend to give a slight nod to the 2000. I thought both vintages of Marcoux Vieilles Vignes to be pure perfection, with the 1998 having an extra layer of concentration ... if that's possible. Both are extraordinary expressions of old vine Châteauneuf du Pape that has never seen a day in new oak. They are inordinately concentrated, with high levels and glycerin as well as richness, yet no hard edges. The 1998 is more delineated, and the 2000 is more flamboyant.

Just for fun, we finished with a bottle of 1998 Pégaü Cuvée da Capo, possibly one of the greatest dry red wines I have ever tasted in my life. It is still close to infanticide to drink this wine, but its pure old vine Grenache character is unmistakable. A tour de force in winemaking.

All things considered, this was an extraordinary first half to our super bowl of Châteauneuf du Pape with both vintages performing splendidly on "game" day. Stay tuned for the finale!

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