Lunch at Citronelle, Washington, DC

Readers can obviously look at the menu that Michel Richard prepared, but I did want to mention several courses that stood out for their incredible brilliance. This includes the assortment of hors d'oeuvres that he calls Amuse Bouche, followed by an amazing scrambled egg and mushroom dish, a totally prodigious peanut soup with foie gras (how can anybody think of such a combination that works so marvelously well), and the Carpaccio of tuna, lobster, scallops, peppers, and yes, venison ... an amazing dish. My favorite two dishes were the Potato Ravioli stuffed with Beef Cheeks, and the Piballes, baby eels that look like angel hair pasta. The Rouget, Santa Barbara Prawns, and Tenderloin of Rabbit also stood out. In fact, just about every course was memorable.

This was a chance to take a look at the 2000 Châteauneuf du Pape vintage among friends and southern Rhône enthusiasts, much like we had done last year with the 1998s. This tasting was repeated simply because it was so great the first time, we decided we had to do it again. This was also a remarkable tasting, making me think that perhaps the best wines of Châteauneuf du Pape may well be the most remarkable wines for the money that exist in the marketplace today.

Two major disappointments were the shockingly light, herbal, evolved rosé-colored Rayas, and a weird, stinky, vegetal bottle of Patrick Lesec's Les Galets Blonds. Aside from those, it was one stunning wine after another, with the vintage's hallmark sweet, succulent black fruits intermixed with pepper, sometimes herbs de Provence, and garrigue all displayed in incredibly succulent, full-bodied, fleshy, low acid forms. Some wines were more drinkable than others, including Les Caillou, surprisingly the BeaucastelPégaü, and the two luxury cuvées from ChapoutierBarbe Rac and Croix de Bois. The Cuvée Chaupin was also stunningly drinkable. None of the wines was difficult to appreciate. Even those that were high in tannin had such extraordinary wealth of fruit and glycerin that it easily covered any astringency or toughness.

Some revelations for readers to look for included Pierre Usseglio (often mentioned in The Wine AdvocateChristia's Cuvée Renaissance (which must include plenty of Mourvédre), a spectacularly complex, rich wine, and La Panisse's Noble Revelation, a top cuvée that is tremendously rich and intense, but very backward. As a ringer, we threw in the 1998 Pégaü Cuvée Laurence, which has just arrived, and it is unquestionably the greatest Cuvée Laurence the Féraud family has yet made. It wouldn't have won the tasting, but it was certainly in the top ten-12 wines among an extraordinary selection.

The scores indicate my favorites, but for me, the five wines of the vintage are Marcoux Vieilles VignesClos du Caillou RéservePierre Usseglio's Mon Aîeul and Réserve de Deux Frères, and Vieilles Julienne's Réserve. It's hard to believe any wine, whether from the Rhône Valley or any other appellation on Earth could be any better than these extraordinary offerings.

One of the arguments that raged during the day was whether the 2000 vintage is better than 1998, as the wines appeared to be putting on weight and developing greater strength and stature. Looking back over my notes, I would say that Charvin, Clos des PapesCabrièresPierre UsseglioCuvée du VaticanCristiaLa Panisse, and Vieille Julienne did indeed produce even greater 2000s than they did in 1998. The 1998s of Les CaillouxRaymond UsseglioBeaucastelVieux DonjonCharbonnièrePégaüMordoréeClos du Mont OlivetJanassePaul AutardBeaurenardLa NertheRoger Perrin, and Roger Sabon have a trifle more stuffing, power, and persistence in 1998 than 2000, but it's a close call. For Clos du Caillou and Marcoux, it's a toss up. In any event, these are striking wines. Except for the above mentioned disappointing Rayas and Les Galets Blonds, there is not one wine that could not stand on its own merits.

By the way, because it just arrived to the restaurant, one of the guests decided to splurge on a bottle of the 1999 Côte Rôtie La Mouline from Guigal. Yes, it is a 100 point wine, and one of the most remarkable La La's Guigal has ever made, even allowing for the fact that I have bestowed a three-digit score on many vintages.

All in all, this was a memorable day. Stay tuned for our next installment, which will be the greatest 2000s versus the greatest 1998s ... otherwise known as a Titanic Clash of Greats, or the Superbowl of Châteauneuf du Pape.

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