Earlier in the week, I met with three friends at a local bistro for a wine luncheon. One of the guys had just returned to the W. Coast from his trip to Bordeaux and London. He stopped here on the way home to LA, as we had planned a small but rather stellar tasting of Chateauneuf du Pape.  Instead of entrees, we just ordered a slew of appetizers at Le Pichet, which is a little French haven in the Belltown section of downtown Seattle. It is casual and they’re pretty tolerant of our wine proclivities; although seeing the handful of bottles on the table at lunch with just four of us, certainly earned some interesting glances from other diners.

The wines were about as good as CdP gets, although very sadly my bottle was corked and I felt pretty terrible about that. It happens, but this was extremely disappointing as I bought this bottle just in time for the tasting from a company in Chicago. It was literally the first time I have ever called a retailer to see if I could return a TCA infected bottle, but it is against their company’s policy to take the bottle back. Although I enjoy Chateauneuf and have had lots of it over the years, I must say that it does not excite me as much as Northern Rhone, Bordeaux or Burgundy … nor even Douro wines. But I digress, as the real story here was the wine on this particular occasion, and especially the troika of rare grand vin, Bonneau des Célestins bottlings:

1988 Domaine Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins – Smoky, meaty, balsamic, mushroom  and minty characteristics captivate the nose. Soft and elegant, a wine of great finesse and balance with a slightly coarse texture. The ’88 exhibits a very dark and gamey profile, with bloody raw beef and black cherry flavors along with a blackcurrant essence, which was much better than I can describe. A sensual wine that really won me over and it was a great way to start the tasting.  95 points.

1990 Domaine Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins – As much as I enjoyed the 1988 and it was a wine that all by itself deserved contemplation and my admiration;  the old-school 1990 took it up a few notches to the heights that only a 1989 Rayas had ever brought me to, in terms of Chateuneuf du Pape, or for that matter, any Southern Rhone. A most effusive bouquet of black truffles and other earthy notes of iodine, marrow and then a hint of anise to sex it up.  Great depth, ultimately voluptuous and seamless on the palate; the explosive flavors tend towards stewed prune, bouillon and a backdrop of chocolate that arrived late after the swallow. Pretty darn close to perfection in fact, with focus and sheer concentrated intensity and the early sense of complex and savory secondary nuances starting to come into play. A most hedonistic experience that won me over and it kept improving right up until the last sip.  99+ points.

2000 Domaine Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins –  The fragrance here was far more primary and spicy, with less animalistic tones than the two prior Celestins, offering tar, dark red berry, spice cake, pepper and clove. Medium-bodied, quite soft texturally with subdued tannins and very sweet in a ripe bing cherry sense with a touch of red licorice, and somewhat lacking precision compared to the elder brethren at the table. This will be a fine wine down the road as it is still very young, feminine, and for my palate too sweet at this point, but ultra-smooth with a lingering white pepper aftertaste. 92+ points.

1989 Château de Beaucastel –  It only took a short while for me to be certain that this was corked. Initially I did get some mushroom funk, but with CdP and this wine in particular … normally a “brett monster” … I was not immediately convinced. Fifteen minutes later, I was pretty miserable as you hate to be the guy to bring the corked bottle to a tasting like this! Not rated.

1995 Château Rayas Reserve –  Very tight on the nose early on and it needed lots of coaxing in a big Burgundy glass that I tend towards for CdPs. Framboise, mint, creosote and saline round out the scents that finally emerged after lots of swirling. On the palate there was more of a Kirsch laden profile with some eucalyptus and distinct peppery-ness and a touch of heat that lessened after a half an hour in glass. Powerful and balanced this is a pretty Rayas with a lingering finish. Eric commented, “sweet sun-dried tomatoes” and you know, he was right. 94+ points.

1995 Domaine de Marcoux Vieilles Vignes –  Presenting primary plum with a panoply of herbs and spices, flint/graphite, soy sauce and red licorice. A fabulous aromatic profile which took some time to unfold.  I think it was Eric who mentioned “wasabi” but the distinct spice room essence carried forth for me.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the gorgeous purity of expressive Grenache, seductive in its generous, ripe raspberry charms, if not a bit brambly, with just enough pepper to provide the oomph on the mid-palate that I found enchanting. In the mouth, it was almost Burgundian in its intricate and downy delivery. A nice surprise, as I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced a Marcoux before. 95+ points.

We finished off our lunch with a bottle of 1993 Diznoko 6 Puttanyos, Tokaji Aszu. I had considered decanting this ahead of time, but given the busy bistro’s policy, I didn’t want to chance them noticing that it had already been opened. As this post is really all about the Chateauneuf du Pape, I’ll just say that for a Tokaji, this being a young version for me … it drank beautifully.


Later this week, I will be presenting a vertical of Napa Cabernets from “bin ends” I intentionally set aside over the years, to be able to someday open these for a group of friends. I have 13 of 14 consecutive vintages of Hess Collection Cabernet, going back in time 21 years.