There’s something about July and birthdays that works for me. A close friend and loyal Acker client recently turned 50, and he celebrated in the finest of fashions with two dinners this month, the first of which celebrated his birth year, 1959. He has occasionally made his way into some previous vintage tasting notes, but due to a personal request, let’s just call him ‘Mr. Happy.’ It is most certain that everyone in attendance for this extraordinary evening was giddy by the time the night was over, and the food at Per Se didn’t make anyone grumpy, either.
The evening started with a bang and the only Rhone for the night. The 1959 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape had an explosive and amazing nose; this was clearly an incredible bottle, love at first sniff. Actually, it was Domaine de Beaucastel at the time. I guess they got some new digs soon thereafter! Anyone that thinks Chateauneuf cannot compete with the greatest wines of the world need to start with old Beaucastel. Jules gave it a ‘hubba hubba,’ while Amy added ‘smoked bacon.’ Deep garrigue was accompanied by green olive, smoked meats (indeed), menthol and juicy red fruit aromas in this spicy nose. Jean Luc admired the ‘mint,’ while Sarah admired its balance. The palate was rich, saucy, hearty and earthy, and its acidity was still young; this wine was still ascending at age 50, much like Mr. Happy. Flavors of chocolate, great earth and hints of rust and tobasco on the finish made this wine even more special. Jules summed it up, ‘it’s like really good Wagyu; it just melts in your mouth’ (97).
We quickly moved to Burgundy and a 1959 Mommesin Clos de Tart. Mr. Happy quickly gave it an ‘oh my God and wow.’ It was classic ’59 with that sweet hint of over the top ripeness. The wine was bursting with red fruits, ‘iron ore’ per Jean Luc, and the Happy one concurred with ‘minerality.’ Hints of orange peel and yeast proceeded in this complex nose, along with whiffs of good wood, beef satay and hot cereal with the brown sugar. Its flavors were sweet and tender, silky with hints of metallic goodness, like a shield from bad wine. Mr. Happy found it rhymingly ‘sappy,’ and it was smooth but still a bit hot (94).
The Tart was paired with a 1959 Noellat Romanee St. Vivant, which was about as good as an old Noellat as I have had. It was also sexy with that sweet ’59 style, syrupy and sugary with hints of orange again, but more citrus overall. It was tasty with a bittersweet finish, again with hints of tobasco. The Noellat was hearty with a twisted spice, like brown leather syrup. While the Clos de Tart danced more, the Noellat could knock you out. Jean Luc found it ‘more put together,’ but its ‘dustiness’ bothered Sarah a bit (93).
Some foie gras was served, along with the classic pairing of Sauternes and a 1959 Rayne Vigneau. Despite the magic of the matching, I still find having a sweet wine in the middle of many dry ones a bit intrusive. Nonetheless, I serviced with a smile. The Rayne had a nice nose with aromas of coconut, candle wax and almost a bit of beef. The palate had ‘serious dried fruit’ per our host, peach to be precise. It was rich and sweet with a tender, soft finish. The foie gras brought out its mid-palate and finish more (93).
The next flight was one of Musigny, with a bonus round. The 1959 Moillard-Grivot Musigny had lots of brown sugar in its nose in that chapitalized way. It was very Asian in its profile, and also had some hot, salty pretzel in there. The nose was hearty, spicy and woodsy, but the palate was light, a touch metallic, although it leveled out in a leathery direction. Sarah concurred that the ‘aromatics are on steroids,’ but the palate, although beefy, had tutti frutti fruit and a square finish, although some emerging chocolate flavors didn’t hurt (92).
The 1959 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes was a superb bottle. It had sweet, delicate cherry vanilla aromas with much purer and high-toned fruit. There was lots of citrus here in this very bright and ‘framed’ (Jean Luc) wine. There was also a decadent, floral, lavender soap quality without the soapiness. The Moillard-Grivot versus the Vogue was like bowling versus baseball; ‘no, you mean versus soccer,’ Jean Luc insisted with a smile. Someone admired its ‘precision,’ and Sarah its ‘raisiny’ qualities. This was definitely a raisin in the sun. The palate was round with nice spice, smack and pinch. It had great red citrus components that went on and on; this wine kept on giving all through the night (96).
A 1959 La Tache was a most welcome way to say goodbye to Burgundy. This bottle was a bit affected, but still outstanding. It was quite meaty, almost like meat liqueur, beefy yet tropical as well. There was a touch of cork, and a hint of maderization as well, but it was a fine line between that and gamy. The palate was rich and hearty, brawny and soupy. It had the most muscle of any Burgundy so far, and the most serious acidity of the night as well; in these regards, it was no contest. The inherent greatness of this wine was evident despite it being gamier than usual and despite it having some cork issues (95+A).
It was time for Bordeaux, and we started with some Pomerols, namely a 1959 La Conseillante, which had a fresh, young nose filled with purple fruit galore. Vanilla, musk and hints of coconut unveiled in its sexy nose. There was also gauze there but no need for medical attention. Despite the cavernous nature of the nose, the palate was leaner, possessing more chalk and citrus although still nice purple fruit. Someone admired its ‘floral and rose petal’ qualities (91).
There was one magnum on this starry night, a magnum of 1959 Gazin. Its nose was rich with a deeper and sexier Pomerol kink. Royal garden, chocolate, cassis, plum and ceramics rounded out the nose. I preferred its smooth and satiny style to the Conseillante, as it was more balanced and also had more fruit on the palate. Jean Luc agreed, citing ‘more length’ on the Gazin (93M).
While the first two wines reminded me that 1959 wasn’t as good a year for Pomerol as it was for the Left Bank, the 1959 Petrus reminded me that Petrus doesn’t care. Jean Luc remarked, ‘its intensity is almost painful.’ There was a deep core of alcohol and acidity, as well as an ocean of plum and cassis. Its initial wood blew off into garden, chimney and ceramic, and its palate was absolutely f’in delicious. It popped and hit warp speed, leaving the other two Pomerols in another galaxy. Rich, regal, long and with great spine, slate and vigor, the Petrus made me change my mind about ’59 Pomerols (96+).
The 1959 Ausone wasn’t bad either. Was this the last great year of Ausone until the ‘80s? Perhaps, perhaps. The Ausone needed a lot of work as in aeration to shed its very dusty nose. Red fruits slowly emerged, along with big-time black licorice, rye bread and caraway seeds. It spine and spice created an impression of a deep forest in the heart of winter. The palate was saucy and firm, and it had soupy good fruit, and ‘tar on the back end’ per Jean Luc. Rich, delicious and ultimately perfumed, the Ausone was outstanding (95).
A 1959 Palmer was ‘stinky in the best possible way,’ according to Sarah. Additional aromas of cigar, tobacco, yeast and crusted red meat with a sea-like twist made up its unique nose. The palate was good but a little underwhelming after the Petrus and Ausone (92).
It was not a good day for the Left Bank, as its other representative, a 1959 Latour, was way too oaky, to be frank. I just couldn’t deal with it at this point in time, although I just think it was an off batch rather than an off bottle, so to speak (DQ).
There were a few dessert wines that continued the celebration, one being a 1959 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese. It smelled like mother’s milk. There was a whiff of oak that was so clean; it was amazingly young for a 50 year-old Riesling, and its color looked like it could be less than 10 years old! It was delicious and clean, linear and focused, elegance wine-sonified. Vanilla flavors lingered on its finish (93).
The 1959 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu was much sweeter, musky and seepy, rich and smoky with a hint of Sauternes here. Aromas and flavors of yummy honeycomb, apricot and hints of dandelion were all present in this great wine (95).
There was another German, our last sweet wine of the night, a 1959 Von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser Herrenberg Riesling Beerenauslese. It had deep honey and kink in the nose. Thick, rich with a swath of wood but decadent honey to balance it, the Von Schubert was rich, lush and impressive (95).
We had our only bubbly from 1959, a 1959 Cristal. Although it was a little tough going dry after all those sweets, the Cristal managed to show quite well, although it might have showed a point or so better at the beginning of the night. Aromas of baked bread came out first in this rich and decadent nose, although the dessert wines definitely cut the sweetness in the mouth. Someone observed ‘a key lime citrus burst’ in the mouth, no doubt getting that tang due to the dessert wines stealing some sugar from the spotlight. Flavors of oats, earth and yeast were more dominant accordingly, and there was still a kiss of spritz in this sunsetting yet beautiful Cris (94).
There was actually one last wine, a blind wine, served courtesy of one of Mr. Happy’s friend’s who could not make the event. He knew the lineup in advance, and wanted to get him something that he would never forget. The nose had ‘green apple jolly rancher’ per Mr. Happy. It was like Sprite meets Grappa to me. It smelled like I was in a nightclub where I didn’t know the address (not a good thing), and ‘waking up next to a stranger’ per one of the ladies on hand. It was a NV Thunderbird, particular flavor undetermined, if they even have flavors of that swill lol. It was the first time I ever had some T’bird, and definitely the last. Man, that stuff was putrid, so it got the rare ‘Not Recommended’ (NR).
A toast was in order, and a good friend of Mr. Happy delivered and summed up this celebration with one of his favorite quotes, ‘Though youth gave us love and roses, age still leaves us friends and wine.’
I will always drink to that.
”¦but it wasn’t over. Two days later, we were together again, this time closer to Mr. Happy’s home upstate, and with a whole host more people, including many of the Acker crew. It still had its share of 1959s, although since there were over fifty people, and at least six bottles of every wine served, there was a wider range of wines on this evening.
A glass of 1985 Salon kicked things off. It had a yeasty nose with lots of game and a miso glaze, also with hints of white chocolate and musk. The palate was rich, spritely and long with excellent lift. Very meaty and very gamy, the 1985 Salon again gave me the impression that it might mature earlier than other Salons from top vintages, but it was still outstanding and with serious structure (95).
A 1971 Schloss Eltz Rauenthaler Baissen Riesling Spatlese was delicious, just a pure, hedonistic and juicy Riesling that was in the perfect sweet spot, aka not too sweet and not too dry. There were great petrol aromas and sweet fruit, and aromas of honey, musk, apricot and lychee. There were rich flavors of orange and honey glaze, and a hint of nice ‘butter’ per Alexander the Great (93).
A flight of 2002 Burgs were next, beginning with a 2002 Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges Blanc La Perriere and ending with a Pillot that I will get to in a minute. Both were pungent and acidic at first, but the Gouges the more so of the two. It had a pungent, anisy nose with aromas of rusted metal and wet earth, but the palate was rich with a lot of backside showing. It had a bruising style, big but clumsy (91).
The Jean-Marc Pillot Puligny Montrachet Cailleret had a cleaner nose that was more mineral driven and rocky, with tantalizing hints of dew-laced yellow fruits. It was balanced with a really nice perfume to it, and what I would call ‘make up flavors.’ Rainwater flavors were clean, elegant and stylish (93).
A 1959 Josef Schmitt Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Auslese had a great, yeasty nose with additional aromas of orange peel, rubber, mint and a kiss of very mature wood. Alexander noticed ‘basement,’ and that was a ‘great’ call, of course. There were good sugar flavors on its oily palate with a kiss of cement (94+).
The procession of ‘59s continued with a 1959 Cune Rioja Reserva Especial Vina Real. Aromas of chocolate, game, iodine and lots of leather sat perched in the glass, alert and ready for duty. The palate was also very leathery, still young and with a nice citrus smack to its finish. The Unico that followed made the Cune seem drier and outclassed this excellent Rioja, although others did prefer the Cune, as difficult as I found that to believe (93).
The 1959 Vega Sicilia Unico was incredibly exotic and complex. There was a lot more wood in the nose at first, but it soon gave way to cherry, vanilla and soy, along with a sweet, leathery kink. The wine was flat-out delicious, rich and meaty in that kinky, Unico style. Its kink was in the citrus and leather family, and the wine was edgy and hit staccato notes deftly. It was a great, classic Unico with nice musk, great spice and crackle to its finish, which still had good tannins (95+).
We had the 1959 Moillard-Grivot Musigny again, and I liked the bottle better on this night, perhaps because it was the only Burgundy on this evening ? (Actually, there was one more later, off the menu, so to speak”¦) Competition can be tough, as we all know. It was ‘blue velvet’ per Alexander, whose greatness was showing brightly again. This bottle came across more regally, and its long, gritty tannins played out well with earth, autumn and red fruit flavors (93).
A jero of 1959 Gruaud Larose had a reticent nose, deep but reticent, with nice black fruits, nuts and earth, but shy overall. The palate had classic qualities although it was a bit fruit forward. Bright and round, it was long and gritty but simple, possibly reconditioned (91J).
It was dueling jeros, the next being a 1989 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. The week was coming full circle, and the Beaucastel was a complete wine to match. Alexander the Great found ‘pork rinds and salty bacon,’ and along with that there was deep violet, cassis and all the black fruits, dark as night, with a hint of garrigue. The palate was superb with hints of pepper and more black fruits, and phenomenal t ‘n a. Its earth components were gritty, agile and balanced, and its finish thick. The ’89 remains a great wine and the true modern-day legend of this legendary estate (96J).
A 1983 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle was a worthy adversary, ‘irony’ per the Great One, who added ‘blood.’ It was much more wound than I remember it last being, but upon looking at the bottle, it did look like a later release. Aromas of black fruits, earth and hot stones were complemented by a big, beefy palate, which was really sturdy for a 1983. It had lots of power and a similar finish to the Beaucastel in its gritty, earthy and balanced style, although it had a more roasted flavor to it (94).
There was one last wine to this night, a 1959 La Tache redux, from the same batch as the bottle served two nights prior at Per Se. It was also gamy with a bit of stew and raisin at first. Mr. Happy noted ‘sous bois city.’ It opened up into aromas of bouillon, autumn, earth, a pinch of cola and wild greens. The palate was insanely good ”“ rich, hearty and fatty like a good piece of sashimi, with awesome concentration, hearty garden flavors and superb acidity. It both danced and boxed, to continue an analogy from the first evening. This was special stuff, and it may not have been a 100% perfect bottle, either, but it didn’t matter (97).
What a week and many thanks to Mr. Happy. Encore encore! I think you need to turn fifty again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that”¦
In Vino Veritas,