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(January 14, 2001) The food is terrific. The wines, legendary. Our
companions, two of our favorite people. So how could this not be an
evening of sheer perfection?
How about this. Every ten minutes or so, like a
running gag in a Seinfeld show, yet another restaurant staffer stops by and
tells us to hurry up.
Let me name the offending restaurant -- Café Panache in Ramsey, New Jersey. Do not, repeat, do not go
there in search of relaxing times.
Enough ranting. Now let me rave about what these bozos were rushing us
We start the evening with a very rare piece of California Chardonnay
history, Helen Turley's *+1988 Peter Michael Point Rouge. That's
right, I said 1988. Naturally fermented wines are all the rage today, but
this bottle is the "experiment" that helped set the trend.
Only 50 cases were made and no special labels
were printed. It sports the very same label as Peter Michael's regular
cuvée, Mon Plaisir -- plus a big red, stick-on dot. Red dot. Point
Rouge. Get it? Pretty neat.
Anyhow, the wine is still alive and kicking
quite impressively, even though it has doubtless seen better days. It's
medium gold, with plenty of sediment. Aromas of truffle, mineral and
vanilla. Cream and dough on the palate, with a darned good finish.
Starts to fade in 15 minutes, but pretty darned good for a 13-year-old
Chard from the worst California vintage in recent memory.
Now we open the wine that mesmerizes my
California-Chard-loving bride. ***1993 Etienne Sauzet Batard
Montrachet. Big mineral aromas. Loads of gunflint and cream flavors.
Thundering finish. Develops well, showing mushroom, more minerals and a
truckload of Chardonnay fruit. All this, plus wonderfully light on its
feet. And even though it must have been aged in 100% new oak, it's
showing hardly any vanilla at all. WHITE OF THE EVENING.
In comparison, the yummy **+1996 Kistler Chardonnay Kistler
Vineyard is all but ignored. I have to say, however, that it's
surprisingly well-matched to the Batard, showing lots of mineral flavors
too and impressive depth, plus the oak you'd expect in such a young
wine. In two or three years, this wine should be even better.
Now I want you to imagine that you have exactly 1 hour and 30
minutes to sit down with one of the greatest Bordeaux I've
ever tasted. Here I
sit with a splendid filet on my plate -- and ***+1989 La Mission Haut Brion.
I have never, but never,
tasted a better La Mission Haut Brion. It's a baby still, but a
prodigy! Deep dark ruby-black, with a fabulous tobacco fragrance. On the
palate, you get cigar, earth and minerals, atop untold depths of cassis.
You want to savor every sip of this wine, followed up by tiny nibbles of
steak. Then your waiter comes by and tells you to hurry up. Tell
me a better justification for homicide. WINE OF THE EVENING.
Sometimes I wonder how Robert Parker can possibly
distinguish between a mere 99-point wine and a full 100 pointer.
Tonight, however, I can taste the difference too. ***+1994 Dominus
is fantastic but can't quite trump La Mission. When I've tasted it
before, it always seemed somewhat closed -- but next to the
gigantic La Mission, it seems wide open. It is still, however, one of
the greatest California Cabs ever made. With oceans of ripe fruit and
the tell-tale earthiness of a Napanook wine, it's the best of Bordeaux
plus the best of Napa Valley.
As we open the ***1998 Donnhoff Riesling Eiswein, the waiter
practically plops our bill onto the bottle. But this wine can sweeten
even the sourest moments. Ultra-thick, pineapple-scented, apple-tinged
essence of Riesling. Masses of sugar, but balanced on a knife-blade of
acidity. The perfect end to an all-but-perfect evening.
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