Veritas: The Park B Smith Invitational
Park Smith’s annual Châteauneuf du Pape Invitational Lunch at his restaurant, Veritas, was one of my most memorable wine and food occasions over the last decade. His new Executive Chef, Sam Hazen, and Chef de Cuisine, Alexander Williamson, turned out a remarkable meal. Everything, the Kumamoto oysters, made from a sea water gelée with osetra caviar, the mind-blowing Toro tartare topped with Uni (sea urchin), roasted lobster, foie gras, and duck confit with beans from Tarbais, France, was to die for. I was a little full by the time the Black Angus short ribs and Wagyu tenderloin with bone marrow bread pudding was served, but, wow! The intensity of that dish was extraordinary. Veritas has had some remarkable chefs since it opened, but Sam Hazen, maybe my favorite. His innovative approach to cuisine combines great imagination allied with fabulous flavor purity and intensity, and his dishes have unbelievable texture.
There were six different flights of Châteauneuf du Pape and the only disappointment was a somewhat wacky bottle of Olivier Hillaire’s Les Petits Pieds d’Armands, which seemed to be fermenting. The rest of the wines were all performing beautifully. As Shakespeare said, “comparisons are odious,” especially at this level of quality. 2007 is by far the greatest vintage of Châteauneuf du Pape I have ever tasted, and the wines remain remarkably young at age five. They all have at least two decades of aging potential ahead of them. I still tend to prefer drinking most Châteauneuf du Papes between 3 and 4 years of age until about age 10 to 15. There is only a handful that generally merits two decades of cellaring, but the wines from the 2007 vintage are the most concentrated and powerful Châteauneuf du Papes I have ever tasted. They give every indication of being extremely long lived. The wine service from Head Sommelier Ruben Sanz Ramiro and his assistants, Sommeliers Alexandria Cubbage and Orr Reches, was fabulous.
The first flight consisted of 100% Grenache cuvées. The 2007 Rayas is unquestionably the finest Rayas since the 1995, but the surprise of the flight was Chapoutier’s absolutely magnificent Barbe Rac. I had not expected it show this well, but it still couldn’t eclipse Isabel Ferrando’s remarkable tour de force in old vine Grenache, the 2007 Colombis.
The second flight was essentially 100% Grenache cuvées except for the Clos Saint Jean Combe des Fous. As noted above, Olivier Hillaire’s Les Petits Pieds d’Armand was fermenting in the bottle. While impressive endowed, it was just off. The Giraud Grenache des Pierres and Barroche Pure come from the same lieu-dit in Châteauneuf du Pape that is adjacent to Rayas. These are pure sandy soils and extremely old vines of Grenache. The Giraud Grenache des Pierres offered pure raspberry and kirsch notes in a full-bodied, opulent style. The 2007 La Barroche Pure, with which I have noticed tremendous bottle variation, was a great bottle, revealing an even more concentrated style than the Grenache des Pierres. It exhibited enormous licorice, incense, black cherry jam, raspberry and blackberry notes. That was followed by the youngest wine of the flight, the 2007 Clos Saint Jean Combe des Fous, which revealed the deepest color (even deeper than the Barroche Pure) as well as lots of spring flower, raspberry, meat juice, roasted herb and spice characteristics. A beautiful but massive wine, it still needs at least 4-5 years of bottle age.
The two most evolved, although still young, wines in Flight 3 included Domaine Durieu’s Cuvée Lucile Avril and Domaine de la Solitude’s 2007 Cornelia Constanza. The Constanza is 100% old vine Grenache where the Avril includes some Mourvèdre as well as other grapes in the blend. The Clos des Papes 2007 may be the greatest Clos des Papes since the 1990. Pierre Usseglio’s Cuvée de Mon Aïeul 2007 is the finest the Usseglios have ever made, even eclipsing their magnificent 2003. The Mon Aïeul was the most backward wine. It exhibited a blue/purple color as well as lots of raspberry, blueberry, licorice, incense and garrigue notes. The 2007 Clos des Papes is a massive wine with extraordinary elegance, complexity and perhaps the greatest nobility of any wine in this flight. Domaine de la Solitude’s Cornelia Constanza would have been better in Flight 2, switching out Clos Saint Jean’s Combe des Fous to go in this flight. The Grenache was so sexy and alluring it would have been nice to have it against the Barroche Pure and the Grenache des Pierres.
Flight 4 was the most backward flight of the tasting, with the first three wines all needing five or more years of bottle age. The Saint Préfert Réserve August Favier possesses an inky/purple color as well as lots of charcoal, creosote, roasted herb, incense and black fruit characteristics. The 2007 Solitude Réserve Sècrete, which includes a large quantity of Syrah in the blend, was massive and backward, and needs plenty of time. Grand Veneur’s 2007 Vieilles Vignes is meant to be cellared for 20-25 years. The perfect 2007 Mas de Boislauzon Quet is an incredible over-achiever from this great estate in the northern part of the appellation. Notes of meat juices, garrigue, black cherry jam, raspberries and cassis emerge from this beauty that blows me away every time I taste it. Still extremely young, it will not hit its prime for 5-7 years. What a magnificent example of Châteauneuf du Pape!
Flights 5 and 6 were the essence of Châteauneuf du Pape. All of us realized we were having one of the greatest wine and food match-up meals of our lifetime. The most backward wine in Flight 5 was the Pégaü Cuvée da Capo. The 2007 Capo reminds me somewhat of the 1998, although the style of the 2007 vintage is certainly different with more extravagant fruit. The alcohol levels and technical profile of the 2007 are not dissimilar from the 1998. The extraordinary 2007 is filled with gamy, smoky, earthy notes, incredible fruit richness and a full-bodied, noble profile with unbelievable length and richness. This wine should hit its peak in 5-7 years and last for two more decades. More open-knit (despite the fact it is a blend of 40% Mourvèdre and 60% Grenache), Saint Préfert’s 2007 Collection Charles Guiraud is an unreal Châteauneuf du Pape boasting an extraordinary bouquet of blue, red and black fruits intermixed with hints of charcoal, earth, barbecue spice, licorice and graphite. It offers a total contrast to the Grenache-dominated 2007 Domaine de la Janasse Chaupin, which is pure black raspberry and sweet kirsch intermixed with licorice and underbrush.
Flight 6 included two enormous wines that both require another 7-8 years of cellaring. The 2007 Clos Saint Jean Deus Ex Machina is made from a blend identical to Saint Préfert’s Collection Charles Guiraud (60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre from the estate’s oldest vines and finest terroirs). The 2007 Domaine de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes was made from extremely old vine Grenache (80-85%) and the rest Syrah and Mourvèdre. Both of these wines exhibit black/purple colors as well as extraordinary richness. They are world-class wines of unbelievable potential complexity as well as both intellectual and hedonistic joys. Even more backward was Pierre Usseglio’s 2007 Réserve des Deux Frères. Possibly the most backward, tannic wine of the flight, the placement of it as the last wine in the tasting made total sense.
My thanks to Park B. Smith for being such a gracious and generous host, and to Chef Sam Hazen for pulling together a remarkable meal. This one goes in my brain’s keeper file until the day I die.