This popular BYOB restaurant in Hunt Valley/Cockeysville, Maryland has terrific casual Italian food (although the chef from Tuscany and the owner from Bari on the Adriatic coastline are far more talented than the word "casual" suggests). This is our "go-to" fun spot, and the food is just wonderful. I have raved in previous reports about the best Veal Parmigiana I have ever had, but they do a terrific job with all the veal dishes, as well as seafood. We tend to share all the dishes with the people at our table, and this was primarily a seafood night, with wonderfully light, deep-fried calamari, their well-known prosciutto wood-fired pizza, a terrific roasted branzino (European sea bass), and one of my favorite dishes, local rockfish (striped bass) in a rich marinara broth filled with shellfish.
The white wines showcased California Chardonnay, as the 2001 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne was impossibly over-oaked and already starting to show traces of oxidation. I wasn't shocked, but I was very pleased to see how terrific the 2006 Martinelli Chardonnay Zio Tony was. This wine had almost Meursault-like hazelnut, brioche and honeysuckle notes, wonderful freshness, full-bodied opulence, and terrific fruit. Still holding together, and actually just an adolescent in terms of its evolution was the Aubert 2004 Chardonnay Lauren. I rarely get enough Aubert to last six years, but it was a thrill to see this wine at age six still vigorous, vibrant, and compelling.
Those wines were followed by two sensational 2003 Châteauneuf du Papes. This is a very irregular vintage, as I have mentioned before, but the top wines are monumental, although I do believe they are on a very fast evolutionary track. (That's okay with me, since I'm not getting any younger.) The 2003 St.-Préfert Châteauneuf du Pape Charles Giraud is staggeringly rich. A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre, the wine displays loads of smoked, gamey animal notes intermixed with a boatload of kirsch liqueur, boysenberry and black currants. There are hints of lavender/Provençal herbs, and the wine is very fleshy, full-bodied, opulent, and fully mature. It is not going to get any better, but this classic Châteauneuf du Pape is decadently rich and thrilling. Even better, and probably a candidate for at least another 10-15 years of cellaring despite being a 2003, is Pégaü's 2003 da Capo. The first bottle I had from magnum was exquisite. Dark plum/garnet, almost magenta, with an a nose of melted licorice, kirsch liqueur, cedar wood, incense, and roasted meats, this is an unbelievably rich, full-bodied, silky-textured, luscious wine, with layers and layers, as well as a finish that exceeds 60 seconds. It has softened up considerably since the last time I had it, yet should continue to drink well for at least a decade. This is one of the few 2003s that I would risk cellaring for an extended period.