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Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Alsatian Pairing with some Legendary Bottles

Harlan Bernstein and his lovely wife were in town, doing up New York City w/ their Portland charm and cosmopolitan sensibilities. It seems they hit just about every gustatory sweet spot that a New York foodie could desire, including a spectacular lunch at Gotham Grill, half off wine night at Compass and they dove into all the Italian culinary dreams that Il Mulino provides as well. Considering how quickly stacked their vacation resume became, I chose to direct them a bit off the beaten path to the Upper East side’s Café d’Alsace, a haven for New York’s cassoulet and charcuterie aficionados. Between the multiple courses of sausage, bone marrow and duck dishes, close to six bottles of wine were consumed, mostly by us 3 thirsty hedonists (and a little help from our New York friends in the adjacent tables).

Harlan is uncompromising in terms of his altruism. He and his wife were such a fun and friendly couple to share an evening w/ that I didn’t even notice it was almost 2 am until I turned around to see the once boisterous restaurant was completely empty. Once I find my way out west, I’d love to have an encore presentation of this event, assuming my liver can muscle its way through another marathon evening. Debauchery over dinner doesn’t get any more enjoyable than this!

Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc Chante Aloutte, 2005
I couldn’t help but bring some of this golden colored elixir back to the States. Chapoutier’s collective line-up of whites, to me, are the most complex, rich and terroir driven white wines in the entire Rhone region. The Chante Aloutte cuvee used to encompass the entire white Hermitage blend before Michel took over the Domaine in ’89 and fragmented the wines into their particular terroirs. A riveting, idiosyncratic white, full of bee pollen, lanolin, honey glazed hazelnuts, smoked figs, lime candy and floral lychee notes permeate the aromatic profile of this uncanny wine. This monster is oily and thick in the mouth, w/ unctuous flavors that are beautifully reeled in by a stony sense of liquid minerality on the finish. While this is technically the lowest end of the price/quality spectrum from Chapoutier’s white Hermitage line-up, it is a stunning example of the potential depth and complexities of the Marsanne grape from the granite soils on the hill, 95 points.

Troplong Mondot, 2000
While I just had a quick taste of this beauty, thanks to the generosity of our neighbors, it was certainly enough to leave an impression. The nose suggests a touch of evolution, w/ layers of crème de cassis, grilled mushrooms, fresh cedar and crushed lilacs singing from the glass. The palate, on the other hand, is a virile, tannic and feral laced youngster, that is quite full bodied and in need of another 3-4 years until it hits a prime drinking window, 94+ points.

Chave Hermitage, 1989
This classic, traditionally styled ’89 completely sang from the bottle aromatically w/ a flutter of charcoal grilled pancetta, sweet tobacco, blackberry sauce and tons of pencil shavings. A bit austere on the entry, but true completely true to the Chave style, w/ a brilliantly defined full body of pure truffle flavors that pump along some seriously muscular structure and linger effortlessly on the finish. This is just a beautiful synthesis of the structure of the vintage and the class of Chave, 95 points.

Clos des Papes, 1990
Here’s some food for thought regarding the ’90 Clos des Papes. Harlan was shocked that it held its own versus the extremely stiff competition (I, being the Chateauneuf addict that I am, was surprised it wasn’t the wine of the night). The original price tag of some 20 odd dollars was still attached from when Harlan bought this in ’94. Couple that with my excitement to have found a magnum of ’90 Clos des Papes for 200 plus euros w/ the recent ‘wine of the year price hike’ phenomenon, and this ‘expensive cheapie’ was just the oxymoron we needed to get the pot boiling. At almost 20 years of age, this beautiful vintage of Clos des Papes is exhibiting a wonderful marriage of power and finesse. The scents of licorice, truffle oil, dark fig, graphite and rich cassis ooze from the glass in pure Provencal delight. In the mouth, notions of an herbal garden, pepper and high toned spice lurk underneath a gorgeous palate of fresh fruit w/ outstanding purity, flawless texture and terrific acidity. I imagine this classic will provide prime drinking for the next 5-10 years handily, 96 points.

Leoville Las Cases, 1990
Even though the Clos des Papes is a spectacular representation of the watershed 1990 vintage, the tribute to Bordeaux nobility put forth by Leoville Las Cases takes the cake for best in class on this particular occasion. She’s still tightly wound, but there is such an underlying intensity of cassis, black currant, cigar humidor, pencil shavings, aged tobacco and warm chocolate ganache notes that give the aromas an almost brooding demeanor. In the mouth, the wine is absolutely tantalizing in terms of its textbook purity, class and symmetry. There is a wonderful depth of flavor, judicious acidity and nary a rough edge to be found in this nearly flawless claret, demonstrating how brilliant St. Julien can be at its apex, 98 points.

Almaviva, 2003
I served this blind to see if it would tickle Harlan’s Bordeaux sensibility while still retaining a sense of Chilean roots. He had it pegged as a Pauillac, which is generally what it reminds me of vintage in and vintage out (save for the black color and ashy Chilean loam, I imagine this could fool most any Bordeaux nut). While not quite as expressive as it has showed in the past, but just as constituted, with sinewy notes of cigar smoke, wild truffles, iron, currant and dark figs. The palate is rock solid, with a refined sense of strength, not unlike the definition one must acquire as a bodybuilder. Another 3-4 years should put the Almaviva in high gear, where I can’t imagine it not maintaining for another 15 plus year, 95 points.

Many thanks again go out to Harlan and his charming wife for a rare evening that the wines almost matched the pleasure of the company.

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