Through the nearly five and a half years writing this blog, I have been very fortunate to meet some incredible people, many of whom I would now call friends (and they might even actually say the same). On that list is Christophe Bristiel, the export manager at Château la Nerthe, the oldest producer in Chåteauneuf-du-Pape.
It is a bit hard to believe, but I only met Christophe a little over a year ago on a blustery January morning in New York City. Since then, I have visited him at Château la Nerthe (and Domaine de la Renjarde—another estate owned by the Richard family who owns La Nerthe). During that second meeting, I was with another good friend, this one a former professional cyclist, and we toured the Châteauneuf countryside by bike before making dinner at the La Renjarde estate.
I have also visited him in Marseille, where he lives with his lovely family—which I will write about as soon as I can decipher my incoherent notes of that day). While we did not ride at all, he did show me a bit of the incredible city including my new favorite restaurant in the world, La Boîte à Sardines, in the heart of downtown.
What characterized both visits was the consumption of a considerable amount of wine, mostly wines from La Nerthe whose white Châteauneuf-du-Pape I would rate as one of the best I have had (and the red is just as good).
He also came to visit us here in Houston this past February, our first non-relative house guest in our new home. Well, Houston does not really hold much interest for cyclists (particularly in February), and while there are several great restaurants and interesting neighborhoods, let’s just say it is no Marseille.
Although I have only lived here for a scant few months, it does seem that most who visit the Bayou City have a singular culinary focus, and Christophe was no different: he wanted beef. So I obliged, finding a couple of ribeyes as big as my head (which is quite large, by the way).
There was also plenty of wine to drink, including a gem that Christophe sent ahead of his visit. I am not sure exactly when the night ended, but by the time we went to bed, these were the bottles that lay empty—I am not entirely sure, but there could have been more.
N.V. Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée: Retail $65. There is a reason this is one of my faves. It has gravitas: caramel toasted biscuits, great acidity, and subtle citrus flavors. I find this champagne is at its best with at least a couple extra years of cellar time. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
1990 Cuvée William Deutz: Retail $120. We got this from a very dear friend we left in Philadelphia who wanted to make our move to Texas just a bit less painful. And oh did it. Citrus and caramel. Whoa. Unbelievable. Chutzpah. Verve. Finesse. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
1985 Dom Pérignon Champagne: Retail $300. I have had a series of bad wines. Ok not bad per se, but wines that I have waited too long to pop. I was worried about this wine. Why? Well, I bought this online a decade ago and was not quite sure of the provenance. As I started to turn the cork, I became even more stressed-the cork spun far to easily. As I worked it out of the bottle, however, there was a touch of push back–pressure. A great sign! The cork finally came out with a heavy sigh and a bit of “magic smoke” that assuaged just about every fear I had. On the nose? Wholly crapola. Sherried nose, but in the sense of the best possible sherry you could have. On the palate? Nothing short of ethereal. Rich, full, a buttered croissant with a heavy dose of heated caramel. Whoa. In spades. Outstanding Plus. 96-98 Points.
1982 Château la Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape: (From Magnum) Retail? Through the roof. Christophe said there were only a few of these magnums left in the winery, none of which had a label (the label in the photo is hand-written). This wine is amazing—yes, that is not only a cliché, but it is one of the words that I try to avoid at all costs when writing, but this wine left me speechless, so it is the best I can do. It showed very little sign of age (a slight bricking on the rim), and the nose was rich and lively. It started a bit stewed but evolved into minty and herbal. Next came meaty and savory and then a touch of fruity. Whoa. Then to raspberry and dark chocolate. Whoa. Drinking this with Christophe was nothing short of extraordinary. Can I say whoa again? Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
For some reason, after the equivalent of five bottles consumed between the two of us, we decided we needed to keep going. So we stumbled into the cellar and pulled out an older Burgundy. When I saw the note I tried to write for this wine, I could only laugh—it was that kind of night:
“1994 Corton geqnnd cru. Tadpberyb and anise with a touch of anise. Whoa. This is one of the best burganduws I have had in a while whoa 93-95.”
Hopefully, I will be heading over to France again this summer to spend some more time with Christophe in Marseille (I dream often of heading back to La Boîte) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If I do, one thing is certain—it is probably better if I leave my liver here in Houston.