Le Bernadin, New York City

This was a small get-together with a dear friend to do a blind tasting of just four wines and see if the restaurant's top chef could match both the whites and reds with an assortment of fish dishes. The first flight was a blind pairing of the 1979 Ramonet Montrachet in magnum vs. 1980 Chalone Chardonnay. The second flight included two Châteauneuf du Papes, the 1998 Pégau Secret des Sabon vs. the 1998 Pégau Cuvée da Capo. Both of the Chardonnays were decanted, and both had similar light to medium-golden colors. Going back and forth, thinking it would be easy to discern a Ramonet Montrachet from the majestic but 21-year old Chalone, my guest and I both decided that the wine that tasted the highest in alcohol and was most evolved had to be the Chalone. You guessed it — we were wrong. On this day, the Chalone (the last bottle I tasted had been maderized) was pure perfection and a candidate for the greatest California Chardonnay I had ever tasted, although I am convinced that several of the Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnays will match the longevity of this wine one day, not to mention the Cuvée Cathleen form Kistler or Peter Michael's Point Rouge. The Ramonet was fabulous, but seemed to be more evolved and revealing higher alcohol than the Chalone, which actually has nearly 15% alcohol in it — one of those mysteries of winetasting. I would have loved to have done this tasting for about 100 Francophiles and seen the reaction, because I was shocked. Aside from a handful of California Chardonnays, the majority are dead by age five, making these results even more amazing. The other astonishing thing is, why doesn't Chalone go back to this style of winemaking? Today, the wines are very good, but politically correct compared to the 1980.

Lastly, no surprise on the two Châteauneuf du Papes, which we were able to guess correctly. Both are 100-pointers, but different in style, with da Capo years away from maturity, and the Secret sort of over the top with dry vintage port-like richness.

By the way, the cooking of chef Eric Ripert was true artistry. Our dish of barely-cooked filet of salmon with polenta and wild mushrooms was to die for, and was perfect with Châteauneuf du Pape.

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