Wit & Wisdom

I have been supporting the T. J. Martell Foundation, which is the music industry’s effort to provide generous aid for research involving leukemia, cancer and AIDS, since its inception. This was a luncheon featuring a boatload of wines from my cellar for a group from Los Angeles that purchased this charitable lot, and came to the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Baltimore, where the excellent Wit & Wisdom restaurant is located.

We started with two selections from the restaurant’s wine list. From a boutique producer of Rosé champagne, the 100% Pinot Noir NV Roger Pouillon & Fils was crisp, with strawberry and cherry notes. It was tart and a nice foil for the slightly softer, creamier NV Laurent-Perrier Rosé Champagne.

We then moved into some stunning white wines, all of them Chardonnay, except for Michel Chapoutier’s 100% old-vine Marsanne, the 1995 Chapoutier Hermitage de L’Orée. Two of the oldest Chardonnays actually performed best, from the 2002 Peter Michael Chardonnay Belle Côte and 1999 Marcassin Chardonnay Upper Barn, to the 2004 Aubert Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard. I have always been in favor of drinking California Chardonnay in its first 5-7 years of life, but the absolute brilliance of these wines (the Marcassin was pure perfection and the 2002 Belle Côte and 2004 Ritchie were close to a three-digit rating) has made me think I haven’t been flexible enough in my thinking about how these wines can age. The vibrancy and youthfulness of all three of these relatively old Chardonnays was incredible. Of course, we did have some young Chardonnays, and that’s part of the problem – that they are so delicious in their youth it is hard to resist them. In short, we barely give any of these a chance to probably even develop more nuances and show further improvement. The 2013 Peter Michael Chardonnay Belle Côte was stunning in its honeyed citrus, orange marmalade, brioche and hazelnut notes. The 2013 Aubert Chardonnay Lauren Vineyard was extremely young, high in acid, but with stunning concentration and one can see that this will be a Chardonnay that in 10 or 12 years could actually rival the Marcassin Upper Barn. Luc Morlet 2012 Chardonnay Coup de Coeur was also tightly knit, with high acid levels, great extract and richness – but again a Chardonnay that seems to have at least a decade of aging potential in it. The Marcassin 2010 Estate seemed more mature than the Marcassin 1999 Upper Barn, as weird as that sounds. It’s just one of those striking anomalies, where the Marcassin 2010, as brilliant as it was, had to take a back seat to the great Upper Barn 1999. That vineyard is now owned by the Jackson family and is their Alexander Mountain Estate – and they do indeed make a Chardonnay from the Upper Barn Vineyard at their Stone Street Winery. We finished this flight of wines with Michel Chapoutier’s 1995 Hermitage de L’Orée 100% Marsanne. This wine, from my cellar, where I had bought it since its release, is 21 years old, showing a medium gold color, but an extraordinary nose of honeysuckle, and orange marmalade, remarkable concentration and intensity and a freshness and vibrancy that belie its age as well. Remember, white wines are often thought of as refreshing wines to clear the palate for some great reds, but this flight of eight white wines was totally compelling.

We then moved into an assortment of red wines, with the theme being Northern and Southern Rhônes, a few perfect Northern California Cabernets and a few pirates, such as the Sine Qua Non and Saxum wines.

As for the red wines we started off with the lineup of Châteauneuf du Papes, with the most delicate wine of the bunch, the 2006 Château Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape coming first. This vintage seems fully mature. It doesn’t quite have the density of the 2005 or the 2007, but it has the classic Rayas character, a light-ruby color, loads of kirsch liqueur and dusty/loamy notes intermixed with licorice. It is medium to full-bodied, beautifully silky and textured. It should drink nicely for another decade or more. Much more of a monster was the 2003 Domaine du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée da Capo, made from a selection of very old vines in the sector of Châteauneuf du Pape known as La Crau (probably the most favored sector by many growers). This wine had a much deeper plum/garnet/purple color, a stunning nose of camphor, licorice, grilled meats, beef blood and roasted herbs. Full-bodied, unctuously textured, thick and juicy, this is a gorgeous wine that can hit three digits, depending on the bottle. This one was very close. The 2001 Clos de Cailloux Châteauneuf du Pape La Réserve comes from one of the few walled/monopole vineyards in Châteauneuf du Pape and is spectacular. This is still an amazingly young wine, but is the first of these three Châteauneuf du Papes to have a significant percentage of Mourvedre – at about 35% in the final blend. With a dense purple color, terrific structure, richness and intensity, this wine has at least a good 10-15 years of cellaring ahead of it. We then had the 2003 Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf du Pape Reserve des Deux Frères, which was absolutely out of this world, but still young and just turning the corner into adolescence. It is interesting to compare this blockbuster with the Capo. They are both nearly over-the-top rich wines that are full-bodied.

Absolutely perfect was the 1998 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée de la Reine des Bois. This wine was fabulous in its youth and has gotten stronger and stronger over the last 18 years. It was absolutely magnificent at this tasting and certainly, to me, maybe the wine of the day. That was followed by the 1998 Château la Nerthe Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée des Cadettes, which is the luxury cuvée from La Nerthe that is Mourvedre-based, but has multiple varietals – with Mourvedre followed by Grenache as the two dominant grapes. This wine is young, almost Bordeaux-like in its structure, density and finish, and still seems to have a good 10-20 years of life ahead of it. Fully mature and drinking beautifully, but not up to the level of some of these other ones was the 1990 Chapoutier Châteauneuf du Pape Barbe Rac. Out of magnum, I would expect this would be out of this world, but this wine was starting to show a little fatigue as it sat in the glass, with some amber at the edge, but plenty of dusty kirsch notes, black-olive tapenade and Provençal herbs. It is a bold, rich, concentrated 100% Grenache cuvée.

We then moved to some Northern Rhônes, the 1999 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis was remarkably young, rich,  dense purple color with notes of violets, bacon fat and black fruits, medium to full-bodied, loads of structure and still surprisingly young and vibrant. Much more open and mature, but no more than an adolescent was the 1999 J. L. Chave Hermitage, which seems set for another 20-25 years of life. Another incredibly backward, tannic, yet massive and rich wine is 1999 Domaine Ogier Côte-Rôtie Cuvée Belle Hélène, which is their flagship cuvée and is an exquisite Côte-Rôtie. This wine, at 17 years of age seems like a baby, but wow is it loaded with potential and is a potential 100-pointer as well. The two Hermitage Cuvées from Domaine des Remizières include the magnificent Domaine des Remizières Hermitage Cuvée Emilie, which was the star of the 1999s and flirting with perfection. Just now coming into mid-adolescence, the wine was black/purple with notes of camphor, truffle, incense, blackberry and cassis fruit, the 2003 Domaine des Remizières Hermitage l’Essential was tight, tannic, enormously extracted, brutally tannic to the point of being rustic, but showing serious potential, if you have the patience to wait it out, which may be another 10-15 years. From magnum, the 1998 Henri Sorrel Hermitage le Gréal, the estate’s top wine, was showing loads of beef blood, a much more mature character than the other Hermitages, grilled herbs, earth and spice. The are a lot of peppery, meaty notes to this wine that was enticing, but didn’t have the concentration of the other wines, including the spectacular 1999 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Méal, which was every bit as young as the 1999 Cuvée Emilie from Remizières. Sadly, two wines that I had thought could be the stars of the day, were both badly corked. The 1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Aine Hermitage La Chapelle and the 1989 Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne were missing in action, so to speak, much to my disgust since they both came from my cellar and those two wines can be about as great as anyone could ever taste and are legends of the 20th century.

After we finished with the Northern Rhônes, we moved onto a flight of two pirates – the 2012 Saxum James Berry Proprietary Red and Sine Qua Non’s Grenache 2011 Dark Blossom. Both were gorgeous wines, with the Grenache much more drinkable, open-knit, velvety textured and sexy and the James Berry just dense, dark, primordial, but bursting with high-quality and potential. Surprisingly drinkable was the 2012 Pride Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, which was a magnificent expression of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Spring Mountain, but that was eclipsed by the two Cabernets from 2010, the 2010 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena and the Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select from Stags Leap. Both of those are as profound as Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can be, and although they are six years of age and approachable, they have a good 25-30 years of aging ahead of them – and that’s at the very minimum when well-stored.

Lastly, the 2006 Mollydooker Carnival of Love was a hedonist’s elixir. Black/purple, enormous fruit and body, but pure and well-balanced, it is a hefty, big boy, but very special and compelling. Moreover, at age 10, it tasted like a 12-month-old barrel sample!

All in all, it was a strikingly successful charity lunch, with a fun-loving, wine-oriented crowd from Los Angeles. Other than the two corked bottles, I was simply thrilled with how the other wines from my cellar performed.

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