The only wine in my life of which I have drunk an entire case and rated every single bottle of the case a perfect wine was the 1990 Le Vieux Donjon, from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
I LOVED THAT CASE. And every bottle in it.
I was apparently justified in thinking so highly of the 1990 Le Vieux Donjon; in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate several years ago, he quoted sommelier Doug Mohr of Vidalia restaurant, in Washington D.C., who marveled that “the greatest wine he had ever tasted was the 1990 Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape.”
Gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.
As perfect as 1990 was, other vintages of this wine have also produced giddiness when served with great food.
Several years ago, I paired a 2001 Vieux Donjon with my wife Carol’s homemade pappardelle tossed with a sensational veal ragout (a variation of a Mario Batali recipe, only Carol makes it better!). The wine offered a near-duplicate experience of the 1990 vintage.
Here was a wine of exceptional length and extraordinary quality. Another perfect wine. Brilliant, elegant, rich, balanced. A 100-pointer, for sure.
There was nothing missing in this wine, no flaws, only gemstone brilliance, bright mature fruit, terroir, minerality, and a finish that Burgundian producers would kill to duplicate.
So imagine my extreme pleasure to have received an email two weeks ago from Stefan Blicker at BPWine, in St. Helena, offering to collectors a single bottle of 1990 Vieux Donjon, which he had acquired with the purchase of a large private cellar. He was asking $150 for the bottle.
I called Stefan, from whom I have bought many fabulous Chateauneufs-du-Pape over the years, and made an offer he couldn’t refuse:
“Take that bottle of Donjon off the shelf and bring it to lunch. I will write an encomium to the wine, which is the best press coverage you – and the wine – will ever have, “ I pledged to Stefan, knowing full well that he didn’t know what an encomium is.
He agreed. Which just shows that wine retailers aren’t any smarter than winewriters.
Hey! Before we get to details of our lunch, let me give a brief overview of Vieux Donjon, pirated from the superb book The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book, by Harry Karis.
If you missed my earlier review of this book, you’ll find it here:
The winery is named for the view of the original Chateauneuf chateau, which Marcel’s home over looks.
Today, a third generation of Michels runs the winery; it’s in the hands of Marcel’s granddaughter Claire Michel, who interned at -- of all places! -- Harlan, here in Napa Valley.
VD (as we affectionately call it) has nearly 35 acres of red grapes and 2.5 acres of white varieties.
Unlike neighbors, who make several cuvees – a luxury selection and a lesser cuvee – VD only makes 1 cuvee, producing the single best wine it can make from its grapes. And man, they hit the ball out of the park many times each decade. But particularly in 1990 and in 2001, two of my favorite-ever years for Vieux Donjon.
The traditional blend is 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault.
All varieties are vinified together, with the exception of Mourvedre, which is vinified separately and then blended with the others to be matured in wood.
The Michels age their Chateauneuf-du-Pape for 18 months in large wooden foudres.
To Lunch We Go…
And now, ladies and gentlemen… to the luncheon with Stefan, who, last seen, was clutching the 1990 Vieux Donjon as though it were a bar of gold. I think he feared that I wouldn’t have anything to write about if he dropped it.
Stefan Blicker, of BPWine.com
We dine at one of my favorite Napa Valley restaurants, Market, on Main St., in St. Helena.
Upon being opened, the wine exhibited scents of cedar, wood, rich white truffles, anise, garrigue, licorice, herbes de provence, and kirsch.
“1990 was one of the ripest Donjons ever made,” says Stefan, who loves the Grenache grape almost as much as I do. Stefan, 44, owns and operates BPWine with partners Brent Pierce and Cory Wagner.
BPWine is one of Napa Valley’s larger wine retailers. I asked Stefan what’s the oldest, rarest wine he’s ever sold.
“We secured an 1865 Lafite (Bordeaux) from a private cellar and a collector bought the bottle from us for $10,000. The customer then consumed it at The French Laundry as part of an exceptional dinner.”
The 1990 Donjon may not be in this same league, but for us humble folks who remember our roots, and who can stretch to pay $150 for a wine of this stature, there is still a ton of pleasure here.
The Donjon is elegant, focused and shows improvement with each ten minutes of passing time, putting on weight and adding complexity.
After 30 minutes, the wine is humming along, exhibiting raspberries, lots of garrigue, truffles, and fresh herbs, just cut from an organic garden. Sure doesn’t taste or smell like a 22-year-old wine.
Lacey asked if she could shoot the two diners wasting her time -- I think she meant with a .45 caliber pistol, but she settled for my camera when I handed it to her to take this shot. That’s me on the left, Stefan on the right.
The wine is also special – and one of the year’s best – for what’s NOT present. There is NO:
+ Bottle funk
+ Bottle stink
+ Advanced Age
+ Storage issues
In sum, the wine is a perfect 100 – in both provenance and pleasure.
We paired the wine with two of my favorite dishes at Market; the appetizer chopped salad has many delicious ingredients. It has crunch, richness, complexity, and sensational taste.
The small plate pepper-crusted filet medallions, served with Napa Valley’s best truffled, shoestring fries, is a natural, totally complementary dish to the wine, which itself boasts truffle-y flavors. I LOVE THIS DISH and have had it at Market a half-a-dozen times in the past two months. Congratulations to chef Eduardo Martinez for duplicating this perfect dish time after time.
And thanks to the Michel family for making yet one more perfect bottle of 1990 Donjon, my 13th perfect experience of this wine.