It was a good week.
This past Thursday, Nashville’s premier collector flew into the Big Apple and took a bite at his favorite chef’s new restaurant, Alto. Scott Conant is the chef, by the way, and his first restaurant is the critically acclaimed L’Impero. Alto is sure to follow in its footsteps, and we had a wonderful meal accompanied by some extraordinary wines, twelve vintages of Chateau Petrus, all from Tennessee Tom’s spectacular cellar.
I shall quote the concise and factual introduction in our brochure about Chateau Petrus:
Unlike Chateau Petrus’ left bank neighbors, one can speak of a true vineyard when talking about this wine. The vineyard, which is 28 acres (including the two smaller blocks in La Conseillante), sits on the highest plateau in Pomerol. One of the secrets of Petrus is the soil. Whereas the rest of Pomerol is gravelly, black clay dominates this vineyard, making it ideal for growing the Merlot grapes (95%), as well as the Cabernet Franc (5%), that make up the planted vines of Chateau Petrus. By Bordeaux standards, their production is miniscule at approximately 3,000 cases annually. Aside from the unique soil, one must acknowledge Madame Loubat for propelling the Chateau to legendary status and Jean-Pierre Moueix for his maintaining this status and raising the bar even higher.’
We started with a 1995 Salon, which was elegant and fresh, stylish and delicate. Tom found it ‘creamy and crisp, just like the 1990’ (92).
We didn’t dilly-dally around, as the first wine was the 1990 Petrus. Its nose was deep and chunky, full of plums, chocolate, black olives and rich, meaty fruit. Underneath, there were healthy doses of minerals and slate, tobacco and green, dewy earth. The nose became more and more forward with its sexy and luscious fruit aromas; the 1990 would prove itself to be a bit of a hussy after having the 1989, but I mean that only as a compliment. The wine was rich, creamy and lush in the mouth but seemed a bit coy and on the young side, although some food really brought out the acidity from behind the fruit. Definitively more approachable than the 1989, the 1990 proved to be an outstanding wine in its own right, and the fruit and acidity really harmonized with a little time in the glass (96).
The 1989 Petrus was less open and fleshy than the 1990, brooding and wound by comparison. It wasn’t tight, but rather reserved, with more minerals prevalent in its nose. There was also more noticeable t ‘n a here aromatically, but it was incredibly stylish and integrated. The nose was big, long, deep and nutty with hints of mocha and cedar. The palate was big, taut and tight with incredible acidity. The acidity was remarkable, and the wine was long, deep and brooding. Dalia admired its ‘musk and amber’ edges, and Tom C. found ‘nickel,’ a member of the mineral family. There is no doubt this will be a 50 year Petrus and then some (98).
The last wine of the first flight was the 1985 Petrus. The 1985 was more open and wild with a lot of olives, ‘green’ ones Dalia was correct to point out. In fact, I had a difficult time at first getting past that ripe, green, Spanish olive quality. Eventually, some sweet nuts, earth, dark chocolate and sappy plum came out. Medium-weight by comparison to the ’89 and ’90, the 1985 was still excellent with a lot of leather flavors, almost rusty and on the drier side. Tennessee Tom found ‘leather, barnyard, dirt, black fruit and spearmint’ and remarked how he liked the 1985 better now, although the 1989 was still the better wine. ‘The complexities are more indicative of old Bordeaux,’ he reasoned (93).
The second flight began with the 1982 Petrus, which was immediately noted for its ‘sweet, sugary fruit’ by Dalia and seconded by Cathleen. Dalia went on to find ‘strawberries ‘n cream and crÃ¨me brulee.’ Tom C. jumped in with ‘creamy, white chocolate.’ The nose was also deep and earthy with lots of that Tom barnyard, earth and green fruit ahead of its plum and mineral core. ‘Now that’s Bordeaux,’ Tom gleefully observed. The palate was nutty and still with great length and breed, along with flavors of smoke, carob and skin. Its fruit was incredibly rich, plump, fat and juicy with nice balance, but the 1982 did seem on a faster evolutionary track than the other great vintages that we already had, the 1989 and the 1990 (96).
The 1978 Petrus had more ‘lemon,’ Dalia noted, and ‘grapefuit’ Tom C. chimed in. Kathleen found it ‘milky’ and another ‘a little green.’ I found a lot of earth, more dirt actually, olive, and Tom found it a dead ringer for ‘Pichon Lalande’ aromatically. The palate was leaner with a little zip but not a lot. Light earth, light mineral and light leather flavors were there; the palate was definitely light by comparison to every other wine so far and probably just starting to hit the downside of its career (89).
The 1971 Petrus had aromas of cola, plum, slate and light stalk. Tom C. found some ‘smoked pork chops,’ and Cathleen concurred with ‘smoked bacon,’ while Tom was into its ‘scented candle.’ Its palate was beautiful and smooth, prickly in a pleasing way with a touch of grit. Tom liked its ‘floral, waxy spice,’ but this particular bottle of 1971 seemed to be a bit less intense than others I have had. Dino felt the wine was at its peak (94).
We were onto the third flight and the 1970 Petrus. This bottle was much better than the last one I had, but only a point ultimately separated my ratings, which is the power of exponentialism at its finest. Sometimes theory wins over practice, I suppose. This bottle of 1970 was creamy and nutty, ‘more flowery,’ Dalia observed. She continued with ‘jasmine, rose, flowers – Mediterranean.’ There was also underlying chalk aromas, and its palate was chalky and a bit square, more two-dimensional but still outstanding. Dalia was really into the 1970, especially its nose and its ‘passion fruit. I smell a basket of fruit in the South of France in a nice villa.’ Hello (95).
The 1966 Petrus was off to a bad start, and Tom noted that he had ‘had better.’ Dalia also didn’t like it and its ‘coffee.’ Cathleen noticed ‘banana,’ while Tom was on its ‘barnyard and band-aids.’ The palate had flavors of minerals, smoke and gravel, and its alcohol seemed a touch out of balance. It wasn’t the best bottle that I have had either, but I enjoyed its chocolaty, plummy fruit, and its acidity snuck out over time (92).
The 1964 Petrus was very slaty and minerally in a pungent way. It had a very rocky style, but Tom was quick to remark that it was the best ’64 he had ever had. It did have a rich, spicy palate with loads of acidity, but I found it also a bit too slaty as well. Additional flavors of anise were there, and while the 1964 was more intense than the ’66, I still had visions of an extraordinary magnum that I had two or three years ago compared to this bottle (94).
The 1961 Petrus came from a very famous cellar, that of Henry Singleton, whose collection was auctioned off by Christies (boo hiss) a few years back after he passed away. It was an extraordinary bottle. It was very exotic with its deep, plummy, chocolaty fruit and touches of garden herbs. The fact that it was Pomerol was quite clear – you got the minerals, you got the earth, and you got the Petrus. There were no doubts as to its authenticity. Its palate had loads of acidity and was quite gravelly at first but continued to get oilier and chocolatier in the glass. Rich, long and with excellent spine, it was a great Petrus. Dalia, who is quickly becoming my alter-ego and partner in crime, summed it up quite eloquently when she said, ‘It’s like Shakespeare; it’s poetic’ (98).
The 1955 Petrus had a lemony, spiny and sprightly nose with lots of acidic vigor. It was very fresh with some mild cherry aromas. The palate also had excellent vigor with great spice, spine, balance and a long finish. Again, I had recently had an extraordinary bottle of this wine, so even though this one was sound and excellent, it was different and did not achieve the heights of that bottle I had at the 1955 dinner that I did at Le Bernadin last Spring (94).
The 1949 Petrus was a Vandermeulen bottling and maderized (DQ).
Oh, what a night.
The next day found me on my way to Los Angeles, and after getting into LA late Friday night, we were on our way to Carmel Saturday morning for an entire day of La Tache hosted by Aubert de Villaine himself at Auberge. Lunch featured eight vintages and dinner twelve, and the wines were served in flights of twos, orchestrated by the most knowledgeable Wilf Jaeger. Before I get into the wines, I must say that the cuisine at Auberge was spectacular and some of the best that I have had this year. The chef is the former chef at the old Patina, and it is well worth a weekend getaway to experience.
The first pair was 1997 and 1985. The 1997 La Tache had a fabulously open and ripe nose a la 1997 with an underlying touch of benevolent green. Its initial impression was much greater than it would have been later on in the day, and that fact is a testament to the greatness of La Tache and how good it can be when it is a first impression, even in a vintage like 1997 which many collectors do not fancy. The fruit was sexy and musky with lots of crushed red and black fruits, a dash of mint, roses, minerals, meat dripping in oil and that incredible sense of terroir that comes from La Tache. The palate was quite spiny by comparison to the nose, a bit stony and minerally, somewhat unyielding but with a flash of beefy flavors and the potential to flesh out. Someone asked Allen Meadows (who was, of course, on the scene) if the 1997 will always have that slight green quality, to which Allen succinctly and eloquently replied, ‘Yup.’ Despite the austere quality on the palate, the acidity was very good. Irs green edge is what I would call ‘garden good.’ Aubert noted how its touch of green was almost ‘foresty’ and how every year La Tache will show violet and that green, and how that green guarantees the wine will age. That’s good news for this ’97 (93+).
The 1985 La Tache had some ‘red meat’ in its nose, a quality off-putting to the fish-only-eating Dalia. The nose was musky and stinky in that good, earthy Burgundian way. There was also menthol, alcohol and some stewed, cherry fruit. The palate was meaty, earthy and bigger than the 1997 with some browned, autumnal fruit. I asked Wilf whether he thought that the 1985 was on a faster evolutionary track than some of its other vintages, and he wasn’t so sure, citing the 1978 and how it has had this quality for a few years without showing any more signs of decay. The flavors were full of sweet soy, menthol and beef along with excellent acidity. The wine was still outstanding in its seepy way, but it seemed a decade older than it should have been. Aubert admired the pairing, citing ‘a rose petal character that the 1997 will have’ (95).
The next pairing was the 1966 with the 1956, both of which were apparently reconditioned; I was unaware at this time that any of the wines were reconditioned and will touch upon that later in my notes in more detail. This bottle of 1966 La Tache was an outstanding one and many people’s favorite wine of the session. Sweet, musky and similar to the 1985 except even fresher and more precise, the 1966 was beefy and meaty with additional aromas of cedar, spice box, iron and minerals. Its palate was full of fresh, red fruits wrapped by some drier, autumnal flavors. Rich, long and fleshy, it was balanced with acidity that was far from its decline. Wilf cooed that it was a ‘good bottle’ on more than one occasion. Dalia keenly observed some ‘green apple and nutmeg,’ and a bit more wood came out with time in a cedar and mahogany direction. Saucy and long with a nice touch of autumnal flavors, I found some similar qualities in this ’66 to the ’85, and Wilf concurred aromatically but found more zip in the ’66. Me, too (96).
The 1956 La Tache smelled almost chapitalized in style, not that it necessarily was. It was the beefiest and meatiest so far, along with a bunch of mushrooms, a dash of Worcestershire, and ‘Chinese herbs that remind me of when I was growing up,’ a close friend of mine added. A bit oaty, the 1956 was flirting with stew, but a good, home-cooked one. It was pretty tasty in that earthy and foresty way, mature and sweet in the beefy, leathery and truffly direction. The 1956 was still holding on gracefully, but Wilf said that he had had fresher bottles. Spearmint came out, and a close friend of mine and Allen got in a 1956 RC vs. LT debate, with Allen firmly in the LT camp (90).
We were discussing 1985 vs. 1986 white Burgundies and a future event when Wilf made a humorous observation, ‘Just add a little Yquem to your 1985s and you get 1986s.’
The next pair was a celebrity death match of sorts, the 1993 vs. the 1990. The 1993 La Tache had a great nose, somewhat shy and brooding yet with incredible intensity without a high volume. There was tremendous pitch along with a refined elegance fit for kings or queens, in the pocket, of course. Dalia found ‘pink roses,’ while a close friend of mine was reminded of ‘2001 with more color.’ There were great stems and purity to the wine, along with mocha, soy and brick. Someone commented how amazing it was that this vintage was trashed ‘not once, but twice’ by a major wine critic, and how it was declared a vintage for ‘masochists.’ It seems now as if most Burgnuts are masochists, then. On the palate, there were stems, minerals, rust, earth and length. It was ‘sneakily long,’ as Allen noted, and it was; it kept going and going in the glass, so fine and ‘so long,’ Wilf concurred. ‘The 1993 is regal; the 1990 opulent,’ Allen concluded. I must confess that the 1993’s feathers got a little ruffled by the 1990, which was a staggering example. On its own, the 1993 was stupendous (96+).
The 1990 La Tache was ‘a poster child for great 1990s, and you know what I think of the vintage,’ Allen led off. The 1990 blew away the 1993 for pure sex appeal with its ‘succulent, sappy vibrance,’ as Wilf admired. Allen added, ‘it just throws itself at you and jumps on you,’ and it sure felt good. Its sex kitten of a nose was sappy, creamy and saucy full of rich, almost syrupy black cherry fruit. Musk, minerals and iron were there, and its t ‘n a were tremendous and vigorous but melted into its enormous fruit. Someone said its finish was ‘more corset than bra,’ and it was obvious by then that the 1990 got all of our hormones raging. The finish had a lot of verve with a super spine and spice. It had the same structure of the 1993 but more power, and much more concentration to its fruit. Paul called the 1993 ‘a Democrat’ while the 1990 was ‘Republican.’ Aubert summed up the flight by calling the two ‘two fighting brothers, one of strength and one of charm, but you can see the parenthood of soil’ (98+).
The final pair of the afternoon was the 2002 with the 1942, which seemed like an odd one, but Wilf explained that he felt that the 1942 would have been like the 2002 at a similar stage. The 2002 La Tache was such a baby by comparison to anything that we had so far, but one could still appreciate its fresh, red cherry fruit. It was not fat and seepy but rather reserved with its mineral and stalk supporting beams. There was that hint of green that Aubert affectionately referred to before, which means that this should have a long, bright future ahead of it. There were stems, ‘roses and almonds,’ Dalia observed. The 2002’s structure was excellent, a little ’93-ish but with redder fruit. All of its component parts were there in a drier style. Wilf was quick to point out that the 2002 was ‘showing surprisingly good, scary good.’ An exotic, mandarin orange edge developed in the nose (96+).
The 1942 La Tache had a mature, musky, meaty, brown sugared nose with flavors of beef, soy, leather and oat. It was not as good as the bottle I had at CRU at the weekend of the Top 100, but still excellent although more advanced. Paul joked that the 1942 had ‘something’ about it, like ‘Grenache.’ He was kidding (93).
It seems that eight wines were not enough for this crowd of connoisseurs, as after lunch a bit of a wine party broke out in the cellar of Auberge, beginning with a 1962 Roumier Bonnes Mares that was fairly consistent with the magnum that I had at the top 100 but not as good, but still alive and kicking but disappointing given the context on the 1962 vintage and Roumier being the producer (92). We had a head-to-head between the 1999 and 2000 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachets. The 1999 was awesome and showed tremendously despite its obvious, youthful nature. It had power, length, breed and its delicious baby fat was just starting to morph into real fruit, and its acidity was staggering (96+). The 2000 was sweeter and less powerful, with more finesse and that clean, fresh 2000 style (94). A 1997 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet finished our palate-cleaning trio of whites in very good fashion. 1997 is a pet white Burgundy vintage of Wilf’s at the moment, who, by the way, was trumpeting the 2004 whites, and he would know. The Niellon was very aromatic with some pinch and pungent fruit, white fruits, along with nut skin, oil, butter, minerals and rain. There was nice flesh, tang and good meat to this rich and long 1997, which was in a good spot now (93). What was this, Bordeaux? It was ok, for it was a 1982 Latour. Classic, beautiful, long and stylish, the Latour had an elegant power to it, although it did seem in reserve, but it probably did not get nearly enough time to come into its own before we animals devoured it (96+). A 1982 Bon Pasteur was delicious, bordering on outstanding (94+), and a 1997 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne was outstanding, perhaps never to be better than it was right then/now but absolutely delicious and right there in that signature Coche way (95). There was one more wine, a 1945 Mouton. It had a low-to-mid shoulder, but the bottle was still sound and showing its classic ‘mint chocolate chip’ and meaty fruit. With good acidity still, it was missing a layer or two, but considering the fill level, it was a good show (95A).
I went to get a massage, and when I came back, I found out I had missed a 2001 Romanee Conti and God knows what else. a close friend of mine had not stopped drinking all afternoon, and by the time we got through the second course, he was in early nap mode at the table, but I am getting ahead of myself.
The evening session started with a round of 1995 Salon, which I now figured out had been recently released. It seemed a bit fresher and better than the one I had on Thursday in New York, perhaps because it was out of magnum (93).
The first pair of the evening session was the 1989 with the 1980. The 1989 La Tache had a sexy nose – rich, sweet, oily, musky and full of dark black cherry and raspberry fruits and traces of red as well. The 1989 was consistent with my recent impression of the vintage experienced at the first Angry Man dinner of Year Two. Yes, the reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, but I haven’t gotten to writing that one up yet. The wine was a bit spiny, ‘square’ a close friend of mine interjected. I was talking about how this seemed to be the best, forgotten vintage of the last two decades, and Paul proceeded to slam it and praise 1988. ‘I don’t know how anyone could prefer 1989 over 1988,’ he said as he called the 1989 ‘screechy.’ I liked the 1989’s spiny vigor, its citric tension and gritty style. There was solid acidity; perhaps the wine was a little less complex than the average La Tache and on the drier side, but there was plenty of potential left. Aubert commented how the 1989 was ‘closed, but you can see the potential in the nose, but blocked as if it had a psychological problem’ (93).
The 1980 La Tache was a reconditioned bottle; until now, I was unaware that the Domaine had started or did this practice. I believe it was reconditioned in 2002. I think that the Domaine keeps these bottles for events and does not recirculate them. Everyone should know how I feel about reconditioned bottles by now and that generally, I am not a fan of the practice and feel that reconditioned bottles never achieve the heights of original ones, although they can still be very good in their own right. After checking, I found that the 1942 was reconditioned from the earlier session in addition to the 1956 and 1966. Back to the 1980, which Paul described as having a ‘brilliant bouquet.’ Dalia found its nose a bit offensive with its ‘salami’ qualities, but then again she thinks pork is one of the worst things known to man. I was more in the Paul camp, finding its aromas intoxicating. Meat, rose, iron and sweet, sweet cherries and strawberries were all present. Paul commented how the 1980 ‘has been at this stage for a while; like 1989, it hasn’t budged in six years, but the 1980 is integrated.’ Allen concluded that he saw a better future for the 1989 than Paul at this point. The wine seemed sweeter as a result of it being reconditioned. The palate was rich, bright and spicy, certainly exquisite but a touch short relative to its paired 1989. Sweet, musky and beautiful, the 1980 was fresh (reconditioned) and seemed on a plateau of maturity, but it did get more spiny and vigorous. a close friend of mine thought it had a ‘simpler’ edge, probably from the reconditioning. Aubert felt the 1980 ‘was giving what the 1989 was not – charm and delicacy’ (94).
The next pair was the 1957 and the 1947, the latter being reconditioned. Despite being a ‘bad vintage,’ as Aubert said, the 1957 La Tache had a sexy nose that was very musky with rose, sweet red cherry, sweet leather, earth, band-aid and meat aromas. It was delicious up front with a touch of brown sugared fruit and that pinch of Worcestershire. There were nice earth flavors, and while the finish was short, its acidity was integrated, and the wine was gorgeous. Wilf commented how the ’57 ‘always had a slight burnt quality, as in wood or charcoal.’ (93).
The 1947 La Tache had a musty nose, but beneath that was some incredibly sweet and decadent fruit, along with some leather, Worcestershire and band-aid. Smooth and with long acidity, the palate had nice citric tension. Wilf said how ‘neither of these two have ever been great La Taches,’ and he would know. Paul and Allen concurred that the 1947 could never have been a great wine. If you could get past the fact that it was slightly corked, the 1947 was still a beautiful wine with some nice citric kisses and light meat flavors (93A).
We came back to the nineties with a 1996 versus 1991 showdown. The 1996 La Tache was better than the one I had last week with its racy, spiny nose, which the other bottle had as well, except this bottle was also full of sweet fruit – cherry, raspberry and red currant to be precise. The nose was also firm with its minerals, slate, vitamins and pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg. I was astounded how sweet this bottle of 1996 was. There was a touch of rubber galoshes in there, in a good way like on a rainy day. Tasty and very 1996 with its acidity and stony and stalky personality, the 1996 was a touch young and mean on its palate but still great. Paul found it ‘too structured,’ while Aubert saw the 1966 in it (95+).
The 1991 La Tache was a revelation of a bottle. Dalia was loving it and its gorgeous fruit, which had strawberry joining the usual reaspberry and cherry. There was a similar racy, slaty and vigorous edge to the 1991 as the 1996, but there was even more depth to its fruit and a bready appeal. It was an unbelievable bottle; rich, long, vigorous and deep on the palate with layers of fruit on its thick palate and lip-smacking finish. Paul purred ‘as usual&old faithful.’ It was so rich; someone said that Aubert once mentioned he thought it would even surpass the 1990 (97)!
Paul prefaced the 1962 La Tache by saying, ‘when it’s on, it’s liquid sex.’ It was on. Allen quickly said, ‘we’re rockin’ after one sniff, and it had a gorgeous nose. The bottle was ‘a little sweeter and a touch advanced,’ Allen conceded, but both he and Wilf were like ‘who cares,’ because it was still so great. There was a prickly and edgy quality to the nose, which was decadently full of beef, earth, soy, spice, leather, vitamin and iron. Incredibly concentrated and with tremendous acidity, the 1962 was decadently sweet in a leathery and autumnal way. It still seemed young, and its acidity was ridiculous. Despite the fact that both Allen and a close friend of mine thought the magnum at my Top 100 was better, I preferred this bottle (98).
The 1962 was paired with the 1934 La Tache. While 1934 is a great vintage, this particular bottle seemed a little watered down, though that is the wrong word. There were some spiny edges underneath and nice earth, musk, vitamin and stalk aromas. Flavors of band-aid and earth were on its sturdy palate, but it had that reconditioned feeling, though the finish really came through. Someone said, ‘if it weren’t sitting next to the 1962, you’d like it better. The ’62 shows its flaws.’ Allen agreed by saying, ‘I like it, but it ran into a buzzsaw. ’34, ’59, ’90, ’99 – all very high quality and big volume, which is rare’ (94). The second-to-last historic pair on this historic day was the 1971 and the 1964. The 1971 La Tache was not a great bottle; this wine is always a 98 point wine, and this reconditioned bottle was a little metallic and not ‘the ’71 I love and know.’ Carraway, old wood, iron, vim and vigor were all present, but this metallic edge really marked it. Someone remarked that it did not have the richness of 1971, and while there was some intensity and length underneath and probably enough to merit an excellent rating, at this stage in the night I disqualified it (DQ).
The 1964 La Tache was ‘classic 1964 – big, rich’ and ‘ripe’ Allen interjected and took over for Wilf. The 1964 was heady, rich and meaty with nice t ‘n a, minerals and molasses. On the palate it was also rich and meaty with great animal flavors, both sweet and vigorous with nice earth supplements. Wilf summed it up nicely: ‘This is how I remember 1964; the texture and richness – only Vogue Musigny is close’ (95).
The last pair was the 1999 and the 1978, and it was a no contest. The 1999 La Tache was arguably the wine of the weekend. Bruce was in awe of its ‘jammy’ quality, especially since it was so young. Intense, super thick, full of t ‘n a, the 1999 was so dark and deep, spilling out of the glass with its midnight-like black fruits. There was also menthol, musk, tree bark and minerals in this intense, rich, long and deep wine. ‘Wow,’ I wrote; I could see why Wilf chose this for the grand finale. There was great acidity. It was so juicy and tasty that ‘you could nibble at it,’ someone said. Allen called it ‘impressive’ (98+).
The 1978 La Tache was itself outstanding and a great bottle, but the 1999 took the wind out of my sails. Consistent with the bottle I had over the summer, the 1978 was still delivering despite the storm that the other nineteen vintages had created. Dalia admired its ‘fresh sea’ qualities, and that was all she, literally, wrote (95).
In Vino Veritas,