John and I arranged a wine tasting for my next article, and we used the occasion to have a dinner party. I'm not going to write about the wines we tasted, partly because it was for the article and partly because after we did the tasting- during which we dutifully spat- we drank our way through a positively stunning lineup of juice (of which we did not spit out even a little bit.)
John made white bean crostini with pumpkin seed oil and I made a spanakopita, but using a combination of nettles, garlic mustard, lamb's quarters, spinach, and oregano, all of which are going off like crazy right now. I steamed and chopped the greens, drained off the liquid, and beat in an egg, panko, and crumbled feta. We had both of these during the tasting. John also brought incredible sablefish (aka black cod) marinated in sake and miso à la Nobu (but without the sugar.) We broiled it up and ate it with a roasted beet salad I had made.
Sadly, the first great wine of the night was oxidized: a 2000 Michel Coutoux Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru "La Maltroie." Undaunted, we moved on to a 1990 Fiorano. We had a 1992 with him last summer, and it's an amazing wine with an equally amazing story. It evolves in puzzling and fascinating ways over the course of the evening, aging backwards from an almost sherry-like profile early on to a softer, rounder, more youthful profile later on. The last white was a 2002 Domaine Chèze Condrieu, which was elegant and powerful, and even better for the fact that I just scored 6 of them for half price from a place that's closing.
For the reds, I pulled two chickens out of the smoker and we had them with slow-braised cabbage. First up, a 1999 Bruno Clavelier Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru "La Combe d'Orveaux" that was still a baby, though it woke up some over time. Next was a 1999 Chapoutier Saint-Joseph "Les Granits" that was just beautiful- an excellent example of the sublime contrasts between elegance and power, fruit and dirt, Heaven and Earth which a great Syrah can hold in perfect equilibrium.
Because one of our guests is a sommelier, we blind-tasted him on a real stumper: a 1987 Orion. Nobody unfamiliar with Thackrey's wines ever guesses California, especially if they have any age on them. And this had gone to an impossible place so rich, sublime, and still young that our guest was convinced it was a 2000 Margaux. Just incredible; it makes me determined to hold all my Orions for at least another decade before I open them (though they are so damn sexy in their youth that it's easier said than done.)
We followed with a 1979 Drouhin-Laroze Chambertin Clos de Bèze that was sadly over the hill- just sort of dried up and tired out. A shame. But the 1989 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle was perfect, and somehow tasted both old and young at the same time. Wines like this have so many layers and change so subtly in the glass; they're positively operatic in the way they unfold over the course of a few hours. They cost about as much as going to the opera, too, so there's that. I'd been saving this one for quite a while to drink with John, and I am glad that I did.
By now we were on a roll, so we grabbed a Pleiades XII (my last one) to mess with our French friend some more. As before, he was at a loss and just stunned when we told him that this is the humble field blend by the same genius behind the Orion. Oh Pleiades, is there anything you can't do? At this point we were deep into the cheese: Stilton, Roquefort, and a local blue that I can't remember the name of. We tried the oxidized white with them, as well as another oxidized local strawberry-rhubarb wine, and neither one did much of anything, so we were forced to pop a 2000 Domaine des Perdrix Nuits Saint-Georges 1er cru "Aux Perdrix" that I'm pretty sure was quite delicious.
There is no more enjoyable bottomless pit than the pursuit of an understanding of wine. And to have such companionship on the journey makes for a good trip indeed. (No prizes for guessing that the sommelier is the one with the French flag wristband flashing gang signs with a glass in his hand.)
The funny part is that this picture doesn't even have all the bottles in it: