Vito's Ristorante Italiano

Our casual wine group got together for a delicious lunch at Vito's in Cockeysville. We started with their assorted appetizers, which are standard fare there, but the chef's homemade/handmade ravioli presented in brown butter are fabulous and about as good as this simple dish can be. It is this kind of food that pleases me the most, and the ravioli was a perfect foil for a group of white wines that cleansed our palates before some big Châteauneuf du Papes. We then had whatever we wanted as a main course, and I chose their wonderful Florentine grilled veal chop, which is marinated with herbs and cooked beautifully.

As for the white wines, we had a mixed bag of California Chardonnays, white Burgundies and one contrarian, the 2012 Chave Hermitage Blanc that was probably my second favorite white of the entire flight. My first was the absolutely spectacular, near perfect 2010 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge from this rocky Southern Napa Valley vineyard in the Coombsville AVA. Those were the two superstars, followed by Dumol's 2013 Chloe Chardonnay from the Russian River. The only white Burgundy in the tasting, the 2013 Mark Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Vergers, was pleasant, but high in acid and tart. The two major disappointments were a totally bad bottle of Luc Morlet's 2012 Chardonnay Ma Princesse - a wine I knew well and is really quite gorgeous. Whatever happened to this wine, it had been cooked or poorly stored. And there was a completely oxidized 2005 Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay. I haven't been pleased with how Kistler Chardonnays have aged, and certainly for those who have them, I suggest drinking them in their first 5-8 years of life. Another disappointment was Mount Eden's 2012 Chardonnay from Santa Cruz Mountains. This, again, seemed to be slightly off-bottle, whether it was a dirty cork, dirty bottle or just a funky wine, it had earthy, mushroomy notes, but did not suggest TCA. Lastly, we finished with a stunning bottle of 2012 Neely Chardonnay, from the same people that make the Varner Chardonnay from Santa Cruz Mountains. This wine was beautiful with its tangerine notes intermixed with honeysuckle and citrus.

After that, we moved to the theme of the day, which was "Bring a Good Châteauneuf du Pape." I'll get rid of the dog first, and there was only one, the 1989 Domaine Pontifical Châteauneuf du Pape, which was completely maderized. Other than that, the wines ranged from a fully mature, and probably better three or four years ago but still tasty and delicious, 1983 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape. There was a spectacular showing for the 1985 Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape, which despite being 31 years old is holding up magnificently and was classic Châteauneuf du Pape in a traditional style with plenty of garrigue and meaty, gamy notes, but with loads of fruit still present. The 1990 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins, drunk probably three weeks before he passed away, was pure perfection and still one of the all-time greatest Châteauneuf-du-Papes I have ever tasted. It is fully mature, unlike his 1989, which still seems to have many years to go. However, this is a sumptuous, world-class, spectacularly complex wine that satisfies the hedonistic and intellectual senses. Some of the younger wines included the still virile, masculine, tannic and big, backstrapping 1995 Château Beaucastel Hommage Jacques Perrin Châteauneuf du Pape, which only indicated just how young the 2012 edition of that wine tasted as well. Fully mature and not likely to get better, but holding to life without seemingly much of an effort, was the stunning 2003 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape. This wine, which cuts a path between a great Grand Cru Burgundy and a Châteauneuf du Pape, has loads of kirsch liqueur, lavender and spice, is full-bodied, opulent, juicy and velvety. It is a stunner. The same can be said of two of the other great Châteauneuf du Papes that day. The 2009 Janasse Chaupin Châteauneuf du Pape is pure Grenache and a gorgeous wine, but seemingly fully mature as that vintage is on a fast evolutionary track. And then the spectacularly fragrant (possibly the best aromatics of the entire day) 2009 Saint Préfert Charles Giraud Châteauneuf du Pape. It was my second-place wine after the 1990 Henri Bonneau Reserve des Celestins, but wow, was this wine showing great and anyone who has some is advised to try it out. It is not as rich and concentrated as the 2007, or as backward as the 2010, but it is at a magical place right now and readers who may own a bottle or more need to take a look at it.

All in all, a fun day of wine, food and good friendship at Vito's Ristorante in Cockeysville.

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