When something of this magnitude occurs, people love to talk, so I thought I would speak a bit more myself about the Imperial Cellar and what went into making a catalogue of this magnitude.
We always take the utmost care in our consignment process, but in order to produce the greatest wine sale in Asian history, it was decided to take near-extreme measures to ensure that only the top quality was represented in a carefully constructed, detailed catalogue. It also made me, as a merchant, comfortable that I would be selling a product that not only meets, but indeed exceeds the market’s standards and expectations.
For a long time, I have been bothering the owner of the Imperial Cellar to sell from his collection; the response was always the same, ‘No, I am not selling.’ Again and again I would knock on the door, a bit louder each time. The answer was again the same, occasionally I would get, ‘I really like you, but I am not selling!’ A glass or ten was shared over the period of a couple years, and then one day I received an answer to my question that I no longer expected, ‘Ok, I will sell some.’
It was our vision to produce the greatest auction catalogue ever produced. This was no easy task. First, the collection had to be appraised. Weeks of work went into carefully analyzing recent market trends and results in the beginning, and an appraisal was generated towards the end of 2009. Three months later, with so much change and growth taking place in the marketplace, I did it again. For an entire week, I sat glued to my computer, day and night, capturing the market in real-time. It was a massive amount of data. I most definitely needed a drink every night that week!
Then it came time to go on location and inventory the cellar firsthand. A first pass was done on all the older and most significant wines by one of our independent consultants. I made a similar pass-through myself. I catalogued the most important wines first-hand. Once the wines were shipped back to New York, we had another third party consultant look at the wines to validate our work on the 19,000+ bottles. I could not be more confident in what is on offer. The owner of the Imperial Cellar was insistent that every bottle represent the highest quality possible out of his cellar, which is why we went through this extensive and additional process.
Working on the catalog was my version of giving birth this year, and the research put into it was like no other before. Crafting the sale order felt like my greatest masterpiece, and the introductions that came along with them took multiple rounds of edits and revisions. It is something of which I am very proud.
There was other help as well. Chateaux and Domaines were also contacted directly for important questions, and only positive feedback was received. Martine Saunier, the legendary US importer of Jayer, joined us for dinner in the home of the owner of the Imperial Cellar, for a magical evening of five fabulous wines from Henri Jayer. Before we drank, we looked at many wines from Jayer, and there were no issues brought up by Martine for wines she saw that were selected for the sale. The wines at dinner were, of course, magnificent (see notes later!). Speaking of which, this is an Acker auction, and you know wine is as important to us to drink as it is to sell. And drink we have. Many of you already know who the owner of the Imperial Cellar is, as he has been here with us in Asia opening up dozens of bottles from his cellar to share with everyone. In fact, close to USD$400,000 worth of superb wines will be opened here in Hong Kong before the end of this weekend courtesy of both of us; sixty-one cases in total. At Acker Merrall, we like to put our money where our mouth is. Everyone else is just mouth.
The owner of the Imperial Cellar also wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to taste for themselves the quality of what The Imperial Cellar is all about. It is this type of generosity that is yet another reason that this is arguably the greatest collection of all-time.
I know I haven’t been sending many tasting notes of late, even though I have still been taking many notes these past three months. This catalog is the reason why. After two weeks of events here in Asia already, I felt motivated to share a few with you. The first batch of notes began chez Imperial Cellar itself.
It started innocently enough with one bottle, one whose cork was a bit sunken although everything else for the bottle looked good, including its color. This 1945 Cheval Blanc was just begging to be consumed. It is only fitting that all these tastings would commence with Hong Kong’s own Good Doctor, who was in the States for a quick visit. Its sweet tang, old book and rusticity were accompanied by citrus sprinkles and back of the throat spice. ‘Powerful’ came from the crowd; that, of course, is 1945. In the glass it became velvety and lush, and everything was off to a good start (96).
Another dinner had us sipping on 1953 Canon. It was another beautiful, old bottle, full of autumnal but still red fruits. Hints of forest, chocolate and graham rounded out its delectable nose. The palate was a touch drier in its personality and had less fruit, but it still possessed nice acidity and a long and tender finish. ‘Supreme elegance’ came from Wolfgang, as well as ‘all 1953s are sweet’ from none other than Bipin Desai. Two significant seals of approval, indeed (93).
While working in the cellar, we drank a few goodies, but I was a bit careless in my notes. Three wines stood out in my memory, however, including arguably the greatest white wine that I have ever had. I don’t even know what else to say about the 1996 D’Auvenay (Leroy) Chevalier Montrachet. It was beyond incredible, in a place where words no longer have enough meaning to share the experience. Its aromas, texture, concentration, acidity and length were about as close to a perfect combination as one can find in a white wine. I can still taste it two months later (99) .
A 1998 Leroy Musigny was stellar. Its concentration transcended the vintage; 1998s do not have this kind of weight in general. Welcome to the magical world of Leroy, where amplitude rules, but terroir is not sacrificed. Its Musigny side came through with its graceful fruit flavors, which were a bit redder than I expected, which is not a bad thing. This was still a big wine, but somehow it danced, and the rest of the room stopped to watch (96).
A rare 1955 Lamarche La Grande Rue we drank for fun, and it delivered a smile. I don’t think we are offering any of this wine, so apologies in advance. It was in its sunset, full of delightful brown sugar sweetness and flavors, backed by earth, tobacco and citrus. It was mature, but still delicious (95).
Our biggest treat from the cellar was a night of Henri Jayer in the middle of our travails, five wines to be exact. Dinner was with Martine Saunier, who helped us sort some important facts and details about Henri Jayer, as well as inspecting numerous vintages with us.
We began with a 1985 Jayer Echezeaux, whose nose was all Jayer, all the way. ‘Fantastic fragrance,’ cooed Martine. Aromas of deep purple lilacs, flowers and fruits opened the door to a big, rich palate. It was a touch cold coming straight from the cellar, muting its finish at first, but after twenty minutes of air, its acidity started to sizzle. Musk, jasmine and other secondary spices emerged. Its perfume got sexier and sexier, and its finish got bigger and bigger. Mint, slate, forest, and all about the purple were other notes I took. Gil likened the ‘depth of nose sung like Madame Pompadou herself’ (96).
The 1988 Jayer Echezeaux was equally as impressive, but stylistically different. It had so much fruit for 1988, and Martine likened it to ‘a blossoming flower.’ This sang even louder in its nose. It, too, had that signature purple sexy back, along with musk, perfume, Asian spice and forest. A hint of mahogany cabinetry balanced out its enormous sweetness. It was meatier, bigger and brawnier than the ’85, and its sweet, musky, minty and thick finish were all that and then some (96).
A 1995 Jayer Vosne Romanee Les Beaumonts was a bit tight; its acid and youthful personality were almost beastly after the previous two wines. Its nose was rusty, spiny and cedary, typical 1995. Its nose bordered on pungent, black fruits were underneath, and that sweet Jayer sex appeal was lurking in the background. It was ‘more masculine and brutish’ per Gil, and its flavors were cedary and its finish huge. Secondary aromas and flavors of ceramics, coffee and herbal celery root came out to play. It was clear this wine wasn’t quite ready for us, and that we were disturbing it, but one had to respect it (93).
Ooh la la, ah oui oui. The 1999 Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux redefined the word sexy. Martine hailed it as a ‘wild beast,’ and Gil observed, ‘gunpowder and Chinese black oolong tea.’ There was an ocean of fruit here; one had to swim through it to find structure on its shores. This was 1999 at its finest. The pitch was insane, shattering my nose as if it was meant to be an ear drum, and its perfume lingered like memories of a perfect home-cooked meal from Mom. While adolescent, its creamy, purple fruit said it was ready for the draft, and its nose was described as ‘fireworks,’ a ‘chameleon,’ and ‘spearmint.’ Thierry hailed it as ‘brighter, better and fresher’ than the great 1990, a bold statement, indeed. Its flavors were dessert-y without being sweet ”“ decadent, exotic, hedonistic, take your pick. Gil observed, ‘caramel crÃ¨me brulee,’ and beef and citrus tried to join the party. This wine was bordering on pornographic, and we were all”¦in awe 🙂 (98).
Oops, I guess I should have updated my previous 96+ score in the catalog. Oh, well.
The last wine on this magical night was a 1993 Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux. Its deep, rusty nose was ‘Chambertin-like,’ per Gil, and Martine and our host immediately seconded that notion. It had that cedar and forest of Chambertin with a hint of sulfur. Thierry fell in love all over again; you know how French guys are lol. Its minerals and slate were impressively 1993. Its palate was thick and penetrating, and it kept opening in the glass. Its raw materials were unbelievable; black fruits, desert flavors, limestone kink and pure power came together as a ‘Brutus Opulentus,’ Gil mused. This was serious stuff (96+).
Well, that was a great night, and more would soon follow. The rest of the events were here in Asia, amongst the cities of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Unfortunately I am out of time, so here is the very, very, very happy and abbreviated recap:
2000 Bordeaux Blind in Hong Kong
We did the same tasting back to back nights in Hong Kong and Shanghai and pitted the palates of these two great cities together against one another. Votes were taken at the end of each night with 5 points being awarded to first-place and one point to fifth-place. Over 60 people partook in HK; over 30 in Shanghai. My scores are in parentheses after the group’s favorites.
In Vino Veritas,