Wine Vault: Dinner at Luma Restaurant, NYC, April 8th, 1997

This dinner was conceived when it dawned on us that we do not eat at Luma often enough. No one does. There may well be comparably fine meals to be found at the likes of L'Espinasse and Restaurant Daniel, but there are certainly no rungs higher up the ladder. Granted the strorefront restaurant lacks the impact of such sumptuous dining spaces as L'Espinasse or Le Bernardin. But those grand landscapes come with a price, a huge pricetag. To pay for such grandiose settings, the winelists are jacked to the hilt, and the meal will set you back at least double that of Luma. If you catch them on a good night, the food may well be as good as Luma.

The artist manning the stoves at Luma is Scott Bryan. Recently acclaimed as New York's finest up and coming chef by Food and Wine magazine (psst... he's already arrived to the cognoscenti). Scott can be found most nights at Luma. He is also executive chef at sister restaurant Indigo in the west village, so if you want to sample his deft touch, all ahead to see where his duties will find him on any given night. The food is always excellent at either restaurant, but the precision is just a touch finer when the creator is stoveside.

Luma's winelist is also superb. The depth and breadth of its California and Burgundy selections is excellent. Wines such as multiple vintages and bottlings of Kistler and Marcassin chardonnays, mature cabernets from the likes of Etude, Beringer Reserve, Opus One, Mondavi Reserve, Chateau Montelena, Heitz Martha's Vineyard and Silver Oak are some of the treats on the list. Hot new boutiques such as Harlan Estate, Colgin-Schrader, and Pahlmeyer also make their annual appearances here. Burgundy is deep in both red and white, with producer's such as Comtes Lafon, Niellon, Ramonet, Meo-Camuzet, Leroy, Dujac, and others reads like a who's who of the Cote D'Or. There are well-selected Bordeaux and Rhones for all price levels here as well. Prices are shockingly fair. In fact, only Harry's at Hanover Square offers more consistent steals on their winelist.

As fine an array of wines as are found here, it is the food of Scott Bryan that takes center stage. When Scott is at the helm, there is never a dull moment or near-miss on the plate. rather, his wonderful synthesis of classic French haute cuisine technique and ingredients and textures from the world's most dynamic food cultures can be found here nightly. The ingredients are as fresh as can be, the flavors and textures harmonize seamlessly, and the presentations are dramatic without being pretentious. Scott's stay at Le Bernardin in its heyday has given him as fine a touch with seafood as anyone in New York. Game, fowl, and meats are also extremely strong here.

As is usual for us, we walked in and just asked that Scott cook for us. The quail salad was requested to go with the Bollinger, and it was a perfect match. Delicately grilled, savory quail, set on a bed of bitter greens, balsamic vinegar reduction and caramelized onions was stunning. The dish was right on the money, and an auspicious beginning. Next was a seared filet of red snapper, set over a melange of fresh corn, haricot verts, tomato concasse, and black beans. The sauce was a basil-infused nage that perfectly accented the fresh vegetables and the succulent red snapper. With the young Bordeaux we had a dish of seared diver scallops, set on a truffle-infused puree of potato, intensely reduced red wine sauce and a melange of porcini, shiitake, and chanterelles. A fabulous dish that takes red wine with fish to new heights. The final course was a succulent roasted, free-range chicken set on a bed of truffley, vegetable risotto, finished with red wine and foie gras. A fabulous dish as well. Desserts were lovely, and happily passed around the table. Apple tartlett (buttery and on the money), Chocolate Valrhona cake (melts in the mouth), a Mille Fuille of fresh raspberries and lemon custard in a pool of raspberry sauce were some of the highlights. Do your palate a favor, find your way to Chelsea.

Luma Restaurant
200 Ninth Avenue

1982 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes

Bollinger VV is one of the top five Champagnes made in the world. Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir from pre-phyloxera vines, this is a truly distinctive, profound Champagne. Unlike its peers (Dom Perignon, Krug Vintage, Salon, and Krug Clos de Mesnil), Bollinger VV comes on pretty rapidly. While the other "First Growth" bubblies generally need fifteen to twenty years to really hit their apogees, Bollinger VV seems to arrive at its plateau of maturity at age ten. This is not a knock on the wine, as it is truly an extraordinary bottle, but just a warning to those lucky enough to find this wine and thinking of burying it in the cellar until the Krug is ready to pair with it. The 1982 is one of the legendary Bollinger VV, which surprisingly, was never imported into the US by Bollinger's importer, Dreyfus-Ashby! The nose is stunning: scents of ripe apples, wheat toast, delicate yeasty notes, almonds, floral notes and minerals. The wine is deep, wonderfully complex, and quite evolved on the palate, with plenty of bright acidity to keep it cruising for a few more years, but not much left in reserve at this point. I would opt for drinking this fabulous wine over the next year or two, before its starts its gentle decline. Catch it at its magical peak. 1997-1999. 95.

1990 Corton-Charlemagne- Coche-Dury

This wine is still so young and unevolved that the youthful puppy fat has not yet melted away. This is as big a wine as I have tasted from Coche-Dury: rich, full, and packed with fruit, with a purity and richness, tied to such perfect balance that it is breath taking. The nose offers up a stunning melange of fresh fruit tones of lemon, pear, apple, hints of melon, loads of minerals, floral tones, and a deft touch of vanillin oak. Still very primary in terms of flavor and aroma, this great, great wine will need another five to seven years to reveal its true shape and snap, but when it does, stand back! 2002-2020. 96.

1990 Meursault "Perrieres"- Comtes Lafon

While the 1990 Meursault "Charmes" is drinking fabulously right now, the "Perrieres" is still a couple of years away from its absolute peak. That said, it is a pretty spectacular wine right now. The nose, after half an hour's coaxing explodes from the glass with scents of ripe apples, lemon, honey, hazelnut, leesy tones, butter, loads of minerals, and vanillin oak. Deep, rich, racy, and fabulously complex on the palate, this wine's shape and focus will be legendary. The finish is long, powerful, and finely-honed. This is as fine of a wine as I have tasted to date from Lafon, though I am sure that the 1995s at this address will set the new standard of excellence for Comtes Lafon wines. 1999-2010. 95+.

1986 La Tache (Magnum)

1986 has produced its share of superb wines, though the fall-off after the top handful of wines is precipitous. Producers such as Henri Jayer, Rousseau, Roumier, Frederic Mugnier, (to name a few that I have crossed paths with in the last few years) have made surprisingly fine wines. It is also an extremely successful vintage at DRC. The Richebourg was drinking quite well a couple of months ago, and this La Tache, while still young out of a magnum, was a spectacular bottle of wine. The wonderfully complex nose explodes from the glass with scents of cherry, beet root, kaleidoscopic Vosne spice tones, sous bois, coffee, minerals, vinesmoke, minerals, roses and cedary wood. On the palate the wine is full, quite transparent, bright with acidity, and stuffed with fruit at the core. The tannins (out of magnum) are still quite perky on the finish. This wine could certainly use another four or five years out of magnum, and probably two out of bottle to hit its apogee, but it is coming on fast. A superb wine from a DRC vintage to look for at auction, where it may not be quite as overheated as the commodity vintages of 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1993. 2002-2020. 94.

1985 Mazis-Chambertin Cuvee Madeleine Collignon- Hospices de Beaune (Leroy)

I have had this wine previously, and had always wanted to have it alongside the "regular" Mazis from Leroy. Serendipity was on our side this evening, as we had brought the "regular" to dinner at NY's most exciting restaurant, Luma, and another table of serious wine enthusiasts had the Hospices Mazis at their table. Glasses were exchanged between tables, and we all got to compare these two dazzling wines. The Hospices Mazis is just beginning to open up and reveal its boundless depths of blackberry fruit, coupled to superb terroir, scents of grilled meats, shoe polish, herb tones, bitter chocolate, smoke and toasty new oak. On the palate, the wine behaves as if it were La Mouline made out of pinot noir with a huge, creamy, opulent palate impression, layer upon layer of sweet fruit, excellent focus and intensity, and a long, complex, bracingly powerful finish. The tannins are quite suave and well-integrated, but substantial. This is a very atypical Mazis in its lack of sauvage character, and perhaps the single greatest example of this vineyard that I have tasted. Interestingly, there are two separate cuvees of this wine, as Madame Leroy bought two-thirds of the barrels, and Bouchard Pere et Fils bought the other third. The Bouchard wine (93) was also stunning when I tasted it back in 1989, but it did not possess quite the depth and opulence of the Leroy version. It would be fascinating to see how it has evolved. 2002-2030. 96+.

1985 Mazis-Chambertin- Leroy

I have had the good fortune to swish this around between the cheek and gum on more than a few occasions, and it has never failed to delight. Unfortunately, on the last couple of sightings, it has had to sit on the table with some pretty stiff competition. It has not faired as well as I had hoped, but outside of the context of multiple Henri Jayer wines and the legendary 1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis, it is an extraordinary wine. The nose is classic Mazis, but taken to a very high level of concentration and flamboyance: scents of roasted cassis, plum, hints of prune, French roast, loads of smoked meats, herbs, earth, and toasty new oak soar from the glass. On the palate the wine is deep, powerful, and just packed with ripe fruit. Firm tannins and moderate acidity give the wine a lush, opulent, somewhat chewy finish. It is a superb bottle of wine, that is three to five years ahead of the Hospices Mazis in terms of development. I would opt for drinking it over the next ten years, but it may well last another twenty-five! 1997-2010. 93.

1994 Beaux Freres

What can I say? This was sent over to our table as a double-blind wine, and we were able to guess the wine in under two minutes. It is very distinctive, and for those who like this style of wine, it is stunning juice. Once again, I was left decidedly underwhelmed. The nose is explosive enough, with scents of jammy cassis, plum, black cherry, coffee, and raw vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is spritzy and primary, with a boatload of fruit, tremendous depth, modest tannins, plenty of new oak, and a long, bouncy finish. I am surprised at how poorly the wood is integrated into the wine early on, though it may well get subsumed with more bottle age. If extract and opulence are your be-all and end-all for Pinot, this is a magical wine. For those of us who value complexity, finesse, and harmony in our pinot, this is just another over-oaked glass of jam juice. 1999-2010. 84-94 (depending on one's predilection for over the top wines).

1994 Chateau Latour

As with so many things in life, timing and context are so important. This flight of blind 1994s certainly suffered from the excellence and relative evolution of the wines that surrounded them on this evening. That said, I would be much more comfortable prognosticating fine things for the Latour than the L'Evangile. The nose is classic young Latour (of course, I guessed Lafite for the wine, c'est la vie!), with scents of ripe cassis, tobacco, hints of grilled meats, herbs, earth, and plenty of smoky, toasty new oak. This wine is so young that the oak is not even close to being absorbed into the wine, but unlike the '94 Beaux Freres, it is neither raw nor doubtful that it will be integrated into the wine. On the palate the wine is medium-full (by Latour standards), with fine delineation and length, firm tannins, and a long, complex, oaky finish. How much weight this wine puts on I the mid-palate over the next year or two will ultimately determine its overall place in the rolls of past Latours. For now, it is very, very speculative to call this a great Latour in the making. As one very seasoned taster (a big Latour fan) at the table put it: "It's hard to believe that this wine will ever be as good as the '85." For those of us weaned on young Bordeaux from the 1980s, the wines since 1990 issuing forth from this region seem overly hyped. 2004-2030. 89-92.

1994 Chateau L'Evangile

In the overheated commodities market of Bordeaux, wines much less impressive than 1994 L'Evangile continue to change hands at ridiculous prices. 1989 Margaux (totally mediocre) and 1985 L'Angelus (a wine from the era of consistent misses at that property) are perfect examples of how in today's market the most important thing to remember about Bordeaux is never, never actually taste the wines! I would have to peg the 1994 L'Evangile as a step or two higher than the 1989 Margaux, but it is another wine whose reputation rests more on the needs of the wolves than on the merits of the wine. Sure, its okay juice, but it is nowhere near the quality of wines such as 1990 or 1985 L'Evangile (the good bottles, a lot of the '85 is pretty modestly endowed, for whatever reason), and I would have to give the nod to the less polished, but deeper and more honest 1989 as well. The '94 is a round, admirably endowed wine that offers up scents of roasted plums, cassis, dill, tobacco, meaty undertones, earth and plenty of toasty new oak on the nose. It is round and full on the palate, with modest mid-palate depth, firm tannins, and a surprisingly clipped finish. It will make a quite stylish, middleweight in seven to eight years time, but at the price it currently fetches comes a responsibility to delight and dazzle. That this wine will never do. 2003-2025. 89+.

1959 Chateau Montrose

I have had this wine four or five times in the last year, and each time I have feared that it was about as developed as it would become. A friend pulled this bottle with a mid-shoulder fill to demonstrate that there remains plenty of evolution ahead for this wine. I'm convinced! The low fill made the wine a touch shorter on the finish than perfect bottles, but also has hastened the aromatic and flavor development. The resulting bouquet and flavor profile argue strenuously for further cellaring! The nose is beautiful on this wine, with a pure, sweet red cherry fruit tones, lovely tobacco, herbs, minerals, roses, and cedary, spicy wood. On the palate the wine is deep, long, and silky, with great delineation and harmony to its components, soft tannins, soft acids, and a lovely finish. The one caveat I have about this wine is that the acidity is noticeably low (particularly to a palate accustomed to the fine tang of pinot noir), which leaves the overall impression of a wine that is slightly flat. Still, who's complaining? 1997-2040 (for perfect bottles). 95.

1989 Echezeaux- Georges Jayer

Good Lord, what a lineup! In all this lofty company, this was hands down the wine of the evening. The purity and complexity of both the nose and palate of this wine are beyond the pale of mere words to adequately describe. A hauntingly perfumed bouquet of crushed raspberries, blackberry, plum, duck, bonfires, violets, herb tones, minerals, and vanillin oak is near perfection. In fact, it is perfect, only one must leave room at the top for even finer expressions of the art of Henri Jayer. Deep and seductive on the palate, with flawless focus and balance, tremendous mid-palate depth, soft tannins, great acidity, and a long, very, very complex finish. While this wine possesses uncanny constituent components, it is the overall sense of harmony, focus and completeness of this wine that raises it to another level altogether. You've seen the lineup, you be the judge. We sent a glass of this over to the table that sent us the Coche, La Tache and Hospices Mazis. Their guess: 1990 Henri Jayer Echezeaux. You get the idea. And, the wine is not even near its peak yet! 2002-2020. 97+.

1983 Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile SGN- Trimbach

This was the first vintage ever for a Cuvee Fred SGN, and it is a fascinating wine. The nose screams SGN, the palate Vendages Tardives. A bouquet of honeyed apples, apricot, petrol, nutty tones, flowers, butterscotch, corn kernel and loads of minerals is lovely. It strongly suggests a wine of notable botrytis and sweetness. And yet, the palate is quite dry, with a great core of fruit, bright acids, fine length, and a long, complex finish. It is a superb wine that would make a great accompaniment to Foie Gras, but it is not quite sweet enough to stand in for dessert. 1997-2010. 90.