Friday, November 7, 2008

Dinner without Julien Barrot of Domaine de Barroche

A classic bait and switch was in the works. I was stuck in traffic, late to meet up with inveterate Rhone whore Brad Coelho and his pimp Posner. The lights were messed up on Fifth Avenue causing untoward traffic and sending my schemes aglay. Brad called to confirm my attendance and seek my opinion of a 2005 Peter Michael Belle Côte that he was considering, as I quietly cursed my decision to forego the subway. Traffic let up in the 40s as an unbroken string of green lights hastened my trip to MetroCafe. It was a beautiful night for November and I arrived with only a cable-knit sweater over a white shirt and jeans. I thought this outfit to be quite country French and I felt remiss for not picking up a pack of Gauloises on my way. I was only trying to strike the proper mood for dinner with Julien Barrot, one of the brightest young winemakers in the Chateauneuf du Pape.

When I arrived, I found a strikingly good looking crowd. They were most likely there pre-partying because it was pretty early, as Thursday is the new Saturday or so I am told. At the corner of the bar was Posner and Coelho. Posner was wearing a dark suit, which he said was on account of attending a funeral earlier in the day. I thought he might be joking, but he wasn't laughing and I figured it best not to press the matter. Dan is a rather imposing guy and can be irasible if poked with a sharp stick. Brad was dressed in full-on Halloween orange sweater and I was a little surprised he could pull that off. They had ordered the Belle Cote and the barman came over and poured me a glass. "It's next Thursday," Brad says. "Julien's coming next Thursday." Somewhere between Julien's broken English and Brad's broken English, they had miscommunicated (note "jeudi prochain" means next Thursday). We still had reservations and the affable Jim Gallagher was to stand in for Barrot and we had the lovely 2005 Belle Côte before us, so things were still promising. As with many young Peter Michaels it showed a decent amount of oak, although nothing that it wouldn't shed with some bottle age. The fruit was a little plump, but quite pure, and it was scaled appropriately and well-proportioned. A very nice wine.

After draining the Belle Côte and chewing the sediment, we hopped a cab to Tribeca Grill where our reservation awaited. We got in one of those new SUV yellow cabs and Posner imprisoned himself in a front seat that almost accomodated his frame. As we got out on Greenwich St., sarcastically Posner thanked the driver for a comfortable ride. I had brought a 2004 Big Basin Rattlesnake Syrah at Brad's request and we had it tossed into a decanter for future consumption. After much haggling, we decided to start with a 2006 Peay Chardonnay, which we had been discussing earlier in the evening. Vanessa Wong is doing some great things way up in the northern reaches of the Sonoma Coast, harnessing the cool climate fruit in an understated way. This wine showed its youth much differently from the Belle Cote. The nose was delicate and precise with hints of citrus. In the mouth it was somewhat reticent on the fruit side, but the acidity and the minerality on the back end really made for some promise. As it opened up, those elements came together better and made for a pretty complete wine. Although I don't buy them, I can't recommend these wines enough.

Now, Tribeca Grill has an amazing and amazingly priced wine list. We were also in the capable hands of Ryan Mills-Knapp, a wonderful sommelier and a very nice guy. The wine list, poured over by Coelho and Posner, becomes a perfect instrument for their passion for Chateauneuf du Pape. It also becomes the subject of much debate, as wines are suggested and rejected. My suggestion of the 1995 Janasse VV elicited an incredulous look from Brad and a chiding for suggesting that vintage of Janasse, which was junk apparently. Janasse seemed to have struck a chord though and we went ahead and ordered the 2000 Janasse Vieille Vignes. We hit this wine at a very good time and it was in a very good place. It had a classic Chateauneuf profile of dark fruit, garrigue and a hint of pepper. In the mouth it was lovely with great texture and weight, the fruit nicely layered and showing raspberry and fruitcake. As beautifully as it is drinking now it has an atypical amount of acidity for a CdP and ample tannin that suggest better things as this wine unpacks a little more. A real stunner that should be sought out.

We moved next to the 2004 Big Basin Rattlesnake, which was a real disappointment. I had been reluctant to open it given that it was built to age, but could not refuse Brad, who had looked forward to it after all the buzz from California Syrah afficianados. Not a bad wine, it just is not cohesive at this point. The past subtle floral notes had been replaced by ripe and jammy fruit. The former supple palate was just plain muddled. There was nothing Northern Rhonish about this wine at all and it came across as anonymous California wine, as opposed to a child of the promising Santa Cruz Mtns. I still think that this wine will come together and there was nothing absurd or offensive about it. We just caught it in an awkward time.

Our next wine was blind at the behest of Posner. It was not good. The first thing I do when tasting blind is to try to isolate the varietal and the region. I was, frankly, at a loss. I settled on Rhone, but why would Posner be blinding us on a cheap Vacqueyras or an entry level CdP. There had to be a catch, but I wasn't getting it. It was an OK wine. It had a pretty floral side to it, although the fruit didn't really hold my interest. It was medium bodied and well-made, although it lacked any density and struggled to impress me. The wine was revealed to be a 2004 Espectacle del Montsant, which I had never heard of before. I have no idea what would have made Posner pay $180 (his treat) off the list for this uninteresting wine, especially with all the beauties there, except to prove Dr. Jay Miller a charlatan. To paraphrase Brad, we bought it to see what a 99 point Spanish wine tastes like and found it tastes like an 86 point Vacqueyras.

We finished with a couple of wines shared by Ryan, including a 2002 Kunin that had not aged well and some Medeira that probably will. We left and went over to the Brandy Library where I exacted my revenge on those guys by agonizing over my Scotch selection. Cigars were had and the evening advanced on semi-serious conversation. A good night, even without Julien Barrot.

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