Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Marius Gentaz Côte-Rôtie - a Dinner for the Ages.

The other night I did something that I have never done before, and most likely will never do again. I drank a Marius Gentaz Côte-Rôtie. Gentaz is the revered traditionalist farmer and wine maker whose Côte-Rôties are considered by many Rhône cognoscenti as the greatest of all the Northern Rhône wines, the greatest Syrah in existence. Gentaz never made large quantities of wine, and he stopped making wine after the 1993 vintage - he retired and his nephew René Rostaing took over the vines. From what I hear, Rostaing immediately ripped them up and started over, which is a tragedy of epic proportions.

There simply isn't a lot of Gentaz Côte-Rôtie out there, and whoever has the wine is jealously guarding it. I've never seen a bottle on any of the auction sites or on restaurant lists - I've never seen a bottle, period. And for the past few years, I've been keeping my eyes open. Honestly, fugedaboudit, it's not going to happen. The wines have skyrocketed in price and become more rare every year as people drink what they have. I remember a few years ago a friend told me that he was going to have dinner at some place in Manhattan where Gentaz was on the list at the bargain price of $800. Sounds like a lot, right? What would a bottle of 1993 DRC Echezeaux cost at a restaurant? That is a bottle that you will never have a problem finding, if you want it - there is nothing rare about DRC. But Gentaz Côte-Rôtie, an incredibly rare and superlative wine? Maybe $800 is not such a terrible price. Get 8 people together and you each get a glass each for 100, a glass of something that will never again exist on the planet, something truly glorious.

I've wanted to drink Gentaz for years, ever since hearing my friend Peter talk about the wine in hushed and awed terms that he uses only for only a few wines. Well, the other night I was incredibly privileged to drink Gentaz. Ten bottles actually - an embarrassment of riches. This is what happens when a few generous collectors decide to hold a Gentaz tasting and dinner. Why did I get to go to this dinner, you might be wondering. Because I discarded any sense of decorum and I begged, pleaded, and begged some more, that's why.

Wow, what a night. The wines and the food were absolutely amazing, and that's an understatement. We drank 10 vintages of Gentaz, but we were many people and we drank the wines slowly over several courses of food. I took notes but they don't come close to the experience of drinking the wines. I'll try to share some notes and experiences, but maybe before you read on, take a look at this lovely article by Eric Asimov from this week's Dining section - he writes about Gentaz and offers more context for the wines.

The first wine we drank was the last Gentaz vintage, the 1993. May I tell you that I was rather excited as the wine was poured into my glass? My first sniff of a Gentaz wine, and it was thrilling. It reminded me of a wonderful wine I drank a little over a year ago at a ridiculous lunch at Neal Rosenthal's house, the 1985 Ferraton Hermitage. The '93 Gentaz was pale in the glass, but it offered such intense and crystal clear aromas, it was such a vivid and electric wine. My notes say "black peppercorns, very spicy, rose petals, iodine, broth, flowers, so complex and lovely." All of that is true, and more. The wine was the epitome of grace and detail on the palate and its incredible harmoniousness made it seem less potent at times than it actually is. I loved this wine, as much as I loved any of the wines we drank. Some of that has to be because it was my first, but I also think it was legitimately a great wine.

The 1992 was corked, alas. The 1990 was not. It was more dense, with musky notes mingling with the flowers, pungent and gorgeous. The wine was very different from the 1993 in character, but they shared the same incredible grace and harmony, something that apparently is the hallmark of Gentaz. The wines are seamless, so much so that it can be shocking.

The 1977 I thought was absurd in its harmony and grace, its perfect mingling of spices and rocks and flowers, and hints of bloody meat. My notes say "there is no way to improve this wine." The 1987 was delicious and very drinkable, but not as memorable to me as many of the other wines. The 1989 seems like it will be as memorable as many, but it was still hard and tannic on this night, a wine that probably needs another 10 years of relaxation.

And then there was the 1988. Utterly gorgeous. Wide open, seamless, complex, as delicious as anything I can remember drinking. I felt like a 15 year old at the high school dance with this wine in my glass, hard to know what to do with myself, awkward, in love but not understanding the object of my desire, mystified and elated, covered with pimples and just a total mess.

And after that the 1985! Just as good! Spicier, more meaty and of the bacon, and still perfectly harmonious. How did this guy do it? These wines are perfect. Some people loved the 1983, others thought there was something off, not TCA, but some sort of cork taint. I appreciated the wine but definitely sensed the taint. That's okay, because then we drank the 1978, the most exalted of Gentaz vintages, from what I am told. The wine was mature and perfect, gamy and pungent, finely grained, meaty, fresh as a daisy, just ridiculous. Wine for a time capsule.

Then we did an interesting thing. We drank the 1991 Gentaz Côte-Rôtie with two other 1991's, also made by great producers, you know, just to compare. The 1991 Noel Verset Cornas was not showing so well, there was volatile acidity. The 1991 Chave Hermitage, though, was truly excellent, and taught me something very important. The Chave had such an effortless power and it was so very refined on the nose. I cannot say that it was better than the Gentaz wines, but it was most certainly playing at that level. It was different, in the end. More of some things, like power and richness, and firmness of structure. I remember thinking about how the Chave wine seemed to effortlessly do what the Gentaz wines had to struggle to do, if that makes any sense. There is plenty of beauty in the struggle, it's just a different kind of beauty, one that it a bit more raw. Peter said it was the grandiosity of the Hermitage terroir shining through. That, to me, is something to ponder.

This was an incredible experience, once that would be near impossible to repeat. I am so grateful to have had the chance to experience these wines, this bit of history.


Lars Carlberg said...

Awesome! Did Peter travel all the way from Champagne to NYC for this event? Seriously, I tweeted back to him a few days ago that the back-vintage Gentaz tasting on that night (February 3) might have even topped mine at J.J. Prüm, although the 1988 Bernkasteler Lay Auslese halbtrocken was at a perfect point and had such a long herbal aftertaste.

Alfonso Cevola said...

wow....chapeau - great read - wow!

thanks for sharing this post with is

Brooklynguy said...

Peter most certainly did travel from Champagne for this event. He did some other cool things as well, but this was the impetus for the trip. Others came from Portland Oregon and Rhode Island.

Eric said...

Wow, am jealous! The Gentaz and Chave ought to have been different, and ought to have epitomized the differences of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, masculine and feminine, as the French like to say.

the zinfidel (greg) said...

Nights like that only happen every so often. They are rare. And they are magic. I felt the magic in your words. I would rather a Gentaz grace my lips at least once, more so than DRC in fact. Nice one... and timely too... (z)

Sunshine Mountain Vineyard said...

Wow! I imagined this night to be very dreamy for you to experience! Wish i had this kind of opportunity in my lifetime!

Anonymous said...

I say this solemnly, not flippantly: I don't know how old you are but I think you've front-loaded your lifetime's experience of wine. I doubt you'll ever be ever to match, let alone top, this oeno-experience.