It's not easy trying to keep up with my colleague, James Suckling, and his adventures. OK, I admit it—it's impossible to keep up. But I feel like I should at least try.
So, I had a little Châteauneuf-du-Pape at dinner last night, accompanied by Didier Virot's cooking at Aix in New York.
We started with the 2005 Lucien & André Brunel Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape White and the 2005 Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape White, paired with a grilled lobster and a fennel, carrot, basil and star anise salad. A great contrast in styles—the rich, creamy St.-Préfert (which is made primarily from barrel-fermented Clairette) juxtaposed with the lean, minerally Les Cailloux. Both worked well with the food, but I thought the St.-Préfert was clearly a step up. (I gave the St.-Préfert a 93 rating, officially; alas, the Brunel wines don't get submitted for review, which is a shame).
Next up was another set of whites—the 2004 Clos des Papes White and the 1996 Clos des Papes White. I rated the 2004 90 points on release, but it's showing better than that—it's really pure and stony, and very long. I tasted the '96 in a recent vertical at the domaine. It's showing all the rich, tropical flavors this wine develops with age. Paired with a baked red snapper in a cream sauce, and some chanterelle and porcini ravioli, both wines showed well—particularly the '96, as its extra layers of fruit meshed perfectly with the mushrooms.
I continue to fall more and more in love with great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape—its range of flavors and ageworthiness make it unique, while its ability to match with richer dishes (such as truffles) sets it apart from most other whites.
The next course was a classic match—red Châteauneuf-du-Pape with roasted duck breast. A flight of four reds was served—the 2004 Clos des Papes, 1999 Domaine du Pégaü Cuvée Réservée, 1997 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier and the 2000 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins, which I just rated at 97 points. Though the '97 Bonneau is a less than stellar vintage, it was showing really well, with lovely clove, plum cake, game and mineral notes. The Pégaü was also on form, with a terrific nose of game, roasted beef, tobacco and more, followed by a rich but racy palate of currant and mineral flavors. My former colleague, Per-Henrik Mansson, nailed both of these wines when he gave them 91 and 94 points, respectively, on release. The '04 Clos des Papes is still offering a beautiful nose of kirsch, but it's starting to tighten up, so lay it away. With the rich, gamy quality of the duck, all four wines were ideal, though the more rustic and powerful Bonneau and Pégaü offerings matched up slightly better than the purer, Burgundy-styled Clos des Papes (which needs time).
So there—that's my best shot at keeping up with Suckling this week. At least until the weekend, when I can tuck into my wife's cooking and my own cellar!