An Embarrassment of Riches: Cros Parantoux Edition

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Friday evening on October 26th Tribeca Wine Merchants hosted the most undeniably special wine dinner (wine lunch is another story…) I have had the pleasure in which to take part. The premise alone is the stuff of legends; 10 bottles of Cros Parantoux, the most mythical and allusive vineyard in Burgundy, dating back three decades. Then throw in an equally legendary New York restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, and you’ve got yourself a nice little evening.

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The background. Cros Parantoux is a vineyard that’s been around for centuries, just above and next to Grand Cru Richebourg in Vosne Romanee. After phylloxera and two world wars, the vineyard lay fallow, lest a few plantings of Jerusalem artichokes. That is, until Henri Jayer showed up in 1951 and decided to bring this 1er cru back to glory. Several blast of dynamite later, some plantings, and voila by the late ’50s we have the first bottlings of Cros Parantoux. The vineyard is small at ~ 1 hectare, and today has only 2 owners, Emmanuel Rouget, Jayer’s nephew, and Meo Camuzet. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s all you need to know heading into dinner.

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The Dinner. Ten guests gathered in a private room above the main dining room for a specially curated menu prepared by EMP specifically with Cros Parantoux in mind. Four of us were wine professionals, and the rest avid collectors and diehard Burg enthusiasts. The dishes were a mix of old EMP favorites, the first of which was an incredible trumpet mushroom over a mushroom-broth-soaked toast and a side of horseradish mousse. I have to decided that I am going to start soaking all of my toast in mushroom broth.

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We continued on to a wonderfully moist chicken, also with mushroom, before getting to the most unexpectedly delicious bites of the evening, neigh the year! Cedric, our head Sommelier (we also had Will assisting), came out to show us the pig bladder used in preparing the celery root. The dish was comprised only of celery root and truffle, and my god was it divine.

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It doesn’t look like much, but that little frothy mound of celery root on the left is covering an earthy core of decadent black truffles, cleverly downplaying its excess of pleasure. The celery root on the right was prepared en bladder, giving it a perfectly supple texture and making for an ample vehicle to sop up all that truffle-y goodness oozing around it. WOW. Who would have thought celery root would be the bite of the night?

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Although right on its tail is the masterful duck seen above. The skin is dabbled with cardamom, which led my table mate Sean and myself down a road of nostalgia for our respective times in India. Others felt the magnificent spice overpowered the wines, but I wholly disagree. It was superb, and elevated higher yet with the perfectly petite blood pudding encased in a striking blood red beet melange.

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Next we had a tasty cheese course, a blue, a soft and a medium hard, with nutty cranberry bread, followed by one of the greatest desserts in the history of desserts. Chocolate came in balls, in cake, in biscuits, in crumbles, yet none felt heavy or overdone. Everything complemented the next and it was the perfect size so as not to weigh you down.

I would be remiss not to talk about the bread. We were served a wonderful little pillow of buttery goodness, almost like a circular croissant, with the first course. Perhaps because I was that hungry, but this bread was slamming. If I were forced to think of one complaint about the evening, it would only be that I only got one piece. I easily could have eaten 4…or 5….

But we were really here for the wines!

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The Wines. We began with a Champagne reception, first with Lanson 1971 en bowling pin shaped magnum, which Rob explained as the last appearance of said bottle said. Almost chocolate in color, the wine was surprisingly alive and filled with caramel and dried brioche bread. Next we very much enjoyed a bottle of R&L Legras St Vincent Blanc de Blancs 1990. Still very youthful and full of citrus vibrancy, this is a Champagne that anyone could get behind.

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Flight 1 consisted of the second youngest wines, wines Ben felt would benefit from some air without overpowering the next flight.

Meo Camuzet Cros Parantoux 2001 – I loved this from the get go. A whiff of volatile acidity elevated and brightened the aromatics of dark flowers and earth. The palate felt light on its feet, with iced tea like dusty tannins and a terrifically long floral finish. Cros Parantoux is not a vineyard I associate with elegance, yet I found a ton of it here. Coming back at the end I found a little more spice with some herbal notes making this one of my top wines of the evening. A poised beauty with a long road ahead.

Emmanuel Rouget Cros Parantoux 2001 – At first I found this rather chunky and broad, but as it opened, it harmonized and became super super interesting. There’a a lot going on here. I found it creamier in flavor with broodier fruit than the Meo, but as it opened the fruit encased the structure instead of sitting on top of it. I bet this will be absolutely show stopping in another decade.

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Flight 2 was comprised of the trickier vintages to set the stage for the next flight of more heralded vintages.

Meo 1997 – Again I found a really graceful nose, soft and full of dark dried flowers and earthy sous bois. This felt a little warmer on the palate, but had wonderfully ripe tannins and huge resonance. Brian especially loved this wine for its surprise.

Rouget 1995 – if we had to pick one loser of the evening, this would be it, but in all fairness it had some pretty stiff competition. This probably had the highest alcohol of the evening, had big rustic drying tannins, and just left an overall impression of austerity. Funnily enough, this and 2006 Parantoux are the only other vintages I had had before, and I was left with a less than impressed impression. A tough year for Burgundy…

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Flight 3 was stacked with winners!

Meo 1988 – a hit or miss vintage, expectations were high for this, the oldest of our wines. And boy were they met. This was absolutely singing. Tons of spice, underbrush, and a massive core of tannin and acid, this also has that X factor that’s hard to describe. It was just on, and was certainly in most people’s top 2 of the evening.

Meo 1996 – a high acid year that came through in spades. It felt quite young to me, but perhaps that was just the acid. Earth, graphite, and big everything – acid, tannin, and hence body. The table wondered if it would ever grow into its own, or if the fruit would dry out before it had a chance. I remain optimistic!

Rouget 1993 – This was the wine to beat based on vintage reputation, and after tasting it, it’s the bar by which Rouget should be measured! WOW. Effusive nose with red fruit and earth. Plump in the middle, it felt harmonious throughout the entire palate, with a really cool lemon tea flavor that kept it feeling fresh. This is what you hope a wine with some age will show like and it was sitting right at the top of its maturity plateau – an experience not able to be repeated – although I think we should try!

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The final flight was the stuff of legends.

Meo 1999 – deep dark nose that had me thinking of slippers and sweaters and settling in next to a roaring fire, this was all about comfort. Powdery tannins were silky on the front but finished a little hard, leaving the wine feeling a touch austere. There was enough dark fruit to suggest this would continue on to harmonize, it just needs a little time.

Meo 2002 – just great, and still just a babe. Slight reduction on the nose fades into some new wood vanilla aromatics. The palate is beautiful, lifted and wonderfully texturous. This hits all of the buttons and will continue to improve and bring joy for a long, long time.

Rouget 2002 – WOW. This, this, this! Again, here we find the X factor of a wine so complex with earth, spice, oak, and a distinctly wild but massively alluring nature. The fruit oscillated between orange and red to flowers, all the while feeling fresh and incredibly vibrant. Wine of the night and the wine I would love to continue to drink, by the buckets, year on year on year.

As you can see above, we kept the glasses and went back and forth between the wines, really getting a feel for how each was evolving in the glass. With only 9 people there was ample wine for everyone to taste and retaste.

We ended on a high note with a stunning bottle of Selosse Bout de Clos further confirming what I already know to be true; Selosse Champagne for President.

I use this without hyperbole…

A legendary night of mythical proportions. Asa!

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