Vito's Café

It's a shame that the top estates from Austria making Gruner Veltliner are so difficult to source in the marketplace, and when found, they are certainly not inexpensive. But wow, these three Gruners from KnollNigl and FX Pichler were fabulous. I don't know what the alcohol levels are, but I suspect they are 14% plus. All three had terrific bouquets, naked expressions of fruit with lots of peppery, honeyed grapefruit, pineapple, pear and even more exotic fruits such as mango. A wet stoniness gave the wines a rather distinctive pungent minerality that added to the attraction. Each was a full-bodied, dry white and simply fabulous yet incredibly young and capable of lasting at least another decade - if you have the patience to wait.

We then moved onto three 1998 Châteauneuf du Papes. I must confess that this vintage is not living up to the high consistency I thought it would. It certainly has a number of brilliant wines, but it's more hit-or-miss than I would have thought ten years ago.

The Bois du Boursan 1998 Cuvée Felix was beautiful, with loads of anise, incense, cedar wood, lavender and red and black currants followed by a fully mature, full-bodied Châteauneuf du Pape with a complexity and elegance that was almost Burgundian rather than Southern Rhone-like. Certainly there's plenty of heady alcohol, I suspect tipping the scales at 14.5% or so, but the tannins are silky, the acidity present but unobtrusive, and the wine flavorful, fleshy and full.

I don't know what happened to the 1998 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire, but this was a candidate for perfection for about 7-8 years after bottling, then I started running into bottles plagued with acetic off-smells, or others that were simply weird or unusual. This one was largely undrinkable, with a garbagey, fecal nose, and disjointed spritzy flavors suggesting they might have undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle. What a shame, as this wine had such great potential. I suspect there are at least several lots in the marketplace that are stable.

We finished on a strong note. The 1998 Marcoux Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf du Pape is still a dense, plum/ruby purple, exhibiting lots of spring flowers, blackberry and blueberry liqueur as well as truffle and camphor. Extraordinarily rich, unctuously textured, thick and a real old-style Châteauneuf du Pape made from incredibly old vines and tiny yields, this stunner is succulent and unctuously textured. It might have too much flavor for some people, but certainly not for any of us at the dinner.

Vito's cuisine, again, was just stunning. It's not Michelin three-star cuisine, but it's oh-so- satisfying, and their warm service and flexibility in the kitchen is to be applauded. I thought the grilled baby octopus with fresh fennel was a tour de force, while the stuffed guinea hens were not only delicious but a perfect foil for the Châteauneuf du Pape.

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