This is an exquisite restaurant with Australian chef Brett Graham in full control, and he is an amazing talent. The food combines creativity, intensity of flavor and originality that is mind-boggling. I could eat here anytime. I love Graham's approach to cuisine and not cheating the diners on flavor or originality. It is actually very difficult to pick any of the food courses as my favorite, as they were all so remarkable - the intensity of flavors, the combination of different ingredients playing against each other all seemed to work. That to me is a sign of a genius in the kitchen. Of course, I am a shellfish and meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, so I thought the Scottish langoustine was sensational and the lamb called Herdwick and the Galloway beef sort of blew me away. All of this was paired with some rather remarkable wines, many of them capable of hitting the magic three-digit score on the right occasion.
The wines started with a great vintage for Champagne - 2002 - and Louis Roederer's top-cuvée of Cristal was gorgeously honeyed, vibrant, zesty sparkling wine with a good dose of brioche, honeyed/caramelized citrus, a touch of baked apples and orange blossom. We followed that with a killer (one of the great white Graves wines I have ever tasted), the 2009 Pape Clement Blanc. The wine is a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Sémillon, 16% Sauvignon Gris and the rest Muscadel, from this great vineyard's 7.5 acres of white grapes. This is an exotic, extravagantly rich, incredibly fragrant style of wine, to which I suspect the Sauvignon Gris gives a more tropical and exotic character. The wine is dry, but concentrated, honeyed and brilliant. An absolutely perfect example of Chardonnay is the 2012 Peter Michael Winery Chardonnay Cuvee Indigène. Inspired by one of their first winemakers, Helen Turley in 1988, this wine, made from an old Wente clone believed to be drawn from one of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyards of Louis Latour decades and decades ago, is this tiny cuvée of 460 cases of Chardonnay with indigenous yeast fermentation, full malolactic and no fining and filtration prior to bottling. The wine is loaded with notes of leesy tangerine oil, apple blossom, marmalade, brioche and white currants. It is full-bodied, gorgeously pure, with great acidity and balance. Another tour de force from Sir Peter Michael's winery in Knights Valley is the 2010 Pinot Noir Ma Danseuse. Only 140 cases were made of this wine, cropped at 15 hectoliters per hectare from their steep hillside vineyards in full view of the Pacific Ocean on the Sonoma Coast. Clone material was from "a famous vineyard in Vosne-Romanée," which I suspect means one of the DRC sites, such as La Tâche, or Romanée-Conti, but no one is confirming that. This is the most feminine of the three Pinot Noirs that Peter Michael makes from this vineyard, the others being Clos du Ciel and Le Caprice. Gorgeous forest floor, plum, Asian spice and black cherry notes are followed by a full-bodied, gorgeously rich and decadent Pinot Noir to drink over the next 10-15 years.
We followed that with two of the greatest Bordeaux ever made. Both were drinkable from barrel and fabulous even after bottling, continuing to be so at ages 33 and 26. The 1982 Pichon Lalande, is 40% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The 1989 Haut-Brion is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. It is funny that the blends for both of these are actually not all that different, even though their terroirs are totally different. Both wines can be perfect, and on this night one of them was - the 1989 Haut-Brion - which continued to have that hauntingly profound nose of scorched earth, sweet plum, black cherry and blackcurrant fruit, an opulent full-bodied mouthfeel, but nothing out of place. The wine has gorgeous integration of acidity, tannin, wood and alcohol, all present in this compelling wine that has been fabulous since its birth. The same can be said of the 1982 Pichon Lalande, which I first gave a mediocre rating, because I thought it was too flabby and unstructured from barrel. However, it put on weight, became more delineated, and, no doubt, the addition of the more tannic press wine gave it the perfect balance to deal with the super-ripeness that was achieved in this vintage of Bordeaux. This wine has been fully mature for probably 20 years, yet seems to show no signs of decline - a rather remarkable characteristic that really defines the great wines and great vintages of Bordeaux.
In complete contrast was the infant 2003 Ausone, coming from the tiny 17.3-acre vineyard, this blend of 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot was cropped at 23 hectoliters per hectare. This is from all limestone soils and there is loads of minerality. The wine is dense, tannic, backward, and, even for a 2003, needing another decade of cellaring. It is a 50- to 60-year wine at the minimum. Another perfect wine in this enchanted evening of great cuisine, company and vino, was the 2007 Colgin Cellars IX Estate, a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from their high, steep vineyard on Pritchard Hill. This is a relatively small cuvée of 1,400 cases, and a great vintage in Northern California. The wine had a blackish/purple color, a beautiful nose of acacia flowers interwoven with blueberries, blackberries, espresso roast and a loamy soil sense as well as forest floor notes. It is full-bodied, opulent, rich and, for some people in the crowd, just too much of a good thing. After the less-concentrated Bordeaux it was an amazing tour de force and a great achievement.
The 2007 Hundred Acre Fortification Port is the brilliant Jayson Woodbridge's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Kayli Morgan vineyard, fortified with brandy made from another Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard that spent four years in cask (versus two for most vintage Ports). The production was tiny, about 200 cases, from yields that should have produced about 2,000 cases, but the double distilling of the brandy and the super-selection process of Woodbridge has produced a profound fortified wine that could compete with the greatest vintage Ports ever made. This should go on for another 50-60 years.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...