Lunch at Citronelle, Washington, DC

Another brilliant, prodigiously original meal from the gifted chef, Michel Richard. His Ceviche of Geoduck Clam, Poached Egg with Foie Gras, Lobster Carpaccio, and Halibut Cheeks were all home-run courses that worked incredibly well with an assortment of over-sized, thick, red wines. That's the brilliance of this great chef, who is cooking at a level that far exceeds any Michelin three-star chef in France. The biggest surprise was how beautiful the 1994 Peter Michael Chardonnay Cuvée Indigène was holding up. I generally prefer to drink California Chardonnays during their first 4-5 years of life, but this wine, at age 8, was still going strong, revealing no signs of oxidation or decline. It was almost as good as the brilliant 1999 Peter Michael Chardonnay Cuvée Indigène.

After that, we had two relatively sweet wines from Zind-Humbrecht, both high octane, honeyed offerings that worked beautifully with the Oysters in Five Ways. They also provided relief from an oxidized, over the hill bottle of 1985 J. L. Chave Hermitage Blanc. (I have a handful of bottles left in my cellar, and I would be surprised if they showed this badly.)

The reds began with the finest Merlot made in California, Pahlmeyer's 1995 and 1996. Both exhibited notes of sweet espresso coffee intermixed with melted fudge, blackberries, currants, and smoke. The oak was beautifully integrated, and the 1995 barely edged out the 1996 simply because there was greater aromatic development and complexity. The 1996 was slightly more monolithic, but still an enormously endowed, full-throttle Merlot. Both wines are aging well and remain extremely young, with another decade of aging potential. The 1997 Bryant Cabernet Sauvignon is out of this world. It is an extraordinary achievement as well as a modern day legend from California. Although it is hard to top that wine, we came close with the next flight, which included the 1998 Torbreck Run Rig, a virtually perfect Shiraz blended with a bit of Viognier from the Barossa Valley, and the 1999 Torbreck Run Rig Shiraz, a more elegant, but equally palate-staining, thick offering. Both wines possess remarkable elegance despite tremendous intensity and flavor authority. Again, both wines are extremely young. The fabulous showing of the 1998 Veritas Shiraz Heysen was somewhat surprising. Nearly perfect, it is another example of the great wines being made by Rolf Binder. Aged in American oak (not French like the Run Rig cuvées), the oak component is well-integrated in the blockbuster aromas and flavors of blackberry liqueur, crushed pepper, and white flowers.

The next flight was one of the rarest in the world ... a mini-vertical of the famed Three Rivers Shiraz. Made from old dry-farmed Barossa vineyards by Chris Ringland, all three are outstanding, with the 1989 beginning to show some secondary nuances and development, the 1994 somewhat monolithic, and the 1995 closed, but potentially top-flight. The perfect 1996 was another example of just how spectacular Shiraz can be from the Barossa. A young but enormously appealing wine, it took everything the other three vintages possess and built more complexity, flavor authority, and intensity into the package. This is a compelling, out of this world Shiraz that should age effortlessly for another 15-20 years.

We finished with a mini-vertical of the Jones Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. The surprises were the strong performance of the 1998 (better than the 1997), and a beautiful showing of the 1999. These wines are made by Heidi Barrett (the winemaker at Screaming Eagle, and other widely respected California wineries), and all of them boasted deep ruby/purple colors and classic bouquets of vanilla, crème de cassis, blackberries, blueberries, and licorice. They can be drunk young, but have 10-15 years of aging potential.

Food and wines such as this makes one savor the fact that life can be splendid.

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