Twenty very serious and fortunate wine aficionados gathered at Bouley in late April for a celebration of 1960’s Burgundies. All wines came directly from the impeccable cellar of Dr. Shelley Rabin, with whom we have been doing dinners for years. Every time we do a dinner featuring wines from Shelley’s cellar, the types of wines we enjoy are usually very old and rare. We are talking wines like 1945 Mouton, 1945 Vogue Musigny, 1947 Cheval, etc. However, there has rarely been a disappointment (maybe 3 or 4 bottles out of hundreds), and the wines from his cellar are often exhilarating. Shelley bought most of his older wines during the 1980s and early nineties, and the provenance of his bottles is second to none. I am very fortunate to count him as my friend, and also fortunate that he enjoys sharing and tasting his great wines with others.
Unfortunately, Shelley had to miss the dinner as his wife broke her toe that afternoon in a freak accident. We were fortunate that Chet Kern, known Burgundy lover and expert, was able to join us in his absence at Shelley’s request. We started off with a token white, the 1969 Leroy Meursault Perrieres. While there is a lot of controversy surrounding some of Leroy’s older wines and late releases, there was no doubting the authenticity of this bottle. The wine had a gorgeous nose with beautiful toast, nut, caramel and bread aromas. There was a touch of orange in that orange beef way, without the beef, of course. If I was served this wine blind, I would have probably guessed 1986, as it had a lot of similar qualities to other wines from 1986 that I have had. The palate was very bready, and Joe found it a touch acidic.. Chet observed some lemon-lime custard. action and commented how he thought that the parcel of Perrieres used for this vintage is now under Coche-Dury’s control. The palate was definitely a step behind the nose and lacked the relative definition, but the wine was still very good, especially considering it was a thirty-five year old white (91).
Two wines from 1969 were the next flight, and they were accompanied by one of the best dishes of food I have ever had in my life, one involving egg, shrimp and truffles that was so unbelievably good, the urge to lick my plate came over me. Thankfully, that is why God invented bread. Normally, I do not write about food that much (writing about wine is enough!), but I have to say that David Bouley is still one of the great culinary geniuses of this era, and his restaurant is one of my personal three favorite in New York City. This was one of the rare times where the food was so good it stole the show from the wines this particular course, at least. The 1969 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes had an intriguing nose with menthol, earth, carob, leather, band-aid, mushrooms and a touch of Worcestershire. There were both pronounced animal and vegetable aromas and flavors. The palate had lots of alcohol and acid in its earthy profile, and also what seemed like a touch of wood must or barrel skin flavors. The palate was gamy and rusty, hot in the glass at first, but it did expand and gain in the glass, with which Chet concurred (93). The 1969 Bichot La Romanee had a deep nose, also with menthol as well as wound fruit, earth and tobasco. There was good structure on the palate, which was more classically rendered for a 1969 with its rust and earth (the Vogue had more lushness to its fruit). There was nice balance up front in the mouth, in a rugged way, but the finish had more spine and heat than the Vogue, and I found it to be a bit too much. The wine became more and more finish-heavy and lost its balanced qualities with more time in the glass, becoming a bit of a bruiser, though still respectable (91).
The third flight was arguably the flight of the night, and it made many of the attendees coo affectionately over the virtues of great, old Burgundy and the 1966 vintage. The first wine in this most memorable flight was the 1966 Vogue Bonnes Mares. Having had this wine before and finding it extraordinary, I was prepared for a letdown but got none. The nose was gorgeous with its milk chocolate, earth, stalk and pinch of white sugared Burgundy fruit. There were also secondary aromas of cherry and tobacco, and its earth component flirted more with actual dirt, but good dirt. The palate was great: spiny, gritty yet fine. There was nice citric tension to its palate with good animal flavors and lots of stony ones on its finish. Both Rob and George gave the wine 20/20 or 100 points (take your pick), and it was extraordinary. My only potential complaint about the wine is that it did not seem to get stronger in what little time it had in the glass, but there is nothing wrong with a wine being fully mature as long as it is still delicious, but it is a wine that I think should be enjoyed now (95). The 1966 Grands Echezeaux tried to deliver a knock out blow to the flight and almost succeeded. ‘s Grands Echezeaux remains the real bang for your buck when it comes to . The wine had a sensuous nose full of rose, black cherry, stalk, wet slate and chalk. What a palate, I wrote next, as it was meaty, rich, fine and still sensuous. There were great leather flavors, and while this wine also seemed fully mature, it seemed to have more inner strength without showing any signs of decline. Its power and richness held, and there was great depth to its Asian spice, dark chocolate and citrus dust components. Overall, the wine was clearly the most powerful of this flight and remained young in the glass (96+). Its sibling, the 1966 Richebourg, had a reticent nose by comparison but still possessed divine, fat, nutty fruit to its nose. There was this almost indescribable aroma of hot earth with its first sprinkle of summer rain. There was amazing power here as well; a lot of oomph but somehow reined in. The wine seemed to be spilling out of its bra. There was rose, mature cherry fruit and leather on the palate. George found it to be the third best wine of the flight, but still 18 frac12;. points. There were good dry tannins, and the wine was sneakily long (95).
The next flight was one of 1964s, beginning with the only magnum of the night, a 1964 Louis Latour Corton Grancey. There was good vigor to the nose with its pure red fruit, dust, light earth and pinch of brown sugar. The wine was sturdy, solid and earthy, and despite its decent finish, the wine was one-dimensional on the palate, both in general and more than any previous wine. Especially considering the last flight, this wine was in a bit of a handicapped position, but the wine was still very good out of magnum with nice minerals, earth, rust and iron on its finish (90). The second wine of this flight of 1964 wines definitely won most controversial wine of the night, and it was the 1964 Remoissenet Romanee St. Vivant. There was just not the depth or intensity one would expect out of Romanee St. Vivant, and the wine was lacking fruit. Chet wondered whether or not some Rhone wine was part of this blend, to which I responded that it was great Algerian wine. The wine was still average overall, but many felt that it was not what it was supposed to be, to no fault of anyone except those that made the wine (85?). The 1964 Leroy Mazis Chambertin was a crowd-pleaser and had a great nose with lots of components, including bread, nut, earth and animal. The nose was browned, but not in that tired or cooked way. This wine was excellent but still did not reach the heights of the last flight for me. Chet noted the iron of Mazis. in the wine, and it was there in a big-time way. There was also some earth, but the wine got a little dirtier in the glass with time (93).
There were only two wines to go, but they were both La Taches, and 1962 and 1961 at that! The 1962 La Tache had an amazing nose. The fruit was so pure, sweet and mature in the way that only great Pinot Noir can be with its game, mint and chocolate. It was amazingly delicate in the nose yet still full of stuffing, loaded with complex spices. The wine was super smooth, satiny and fine, and it had tremendous spice on the palate as well. Its lingering nature was the stuff of legends (97). The 1961 La Tache was a bit funky, still full of meaty and gamy spice but a bit tired. The wine had a touch of shit and dirty flavors to it, and although the wine was still meaty, I think that the bottle was not 100%, especially after having a mind-blowing jeroboam of this wine at CRU a couple of months ago that was out-of-this-world great. Remember, often bottled barrel by barrel back then, and many feel that the large formats got the best barrels. So while that jeroboam that I had was in 97 or 98 point territory, this bottle was a (93?) at best due to its texture and implied qualities despite the bottle variation factor and its tired nature.
About a week later, after a record setting April auction and a Henschke Hill of Grace vertical dinner (you’ll read about that one next week), I found myself in Las Vegas again for the Wine Spectator weekend. After a twenty-hour day on Wednesday generating the May catalog, I arrived in Vegas Thursday afternoon, still suffering from four hours of sleep and the traveling factor, only to be trapped in my hotel room facing a deadline to get the May sale done. Twenty-four hours later, around a good night’s sleep of eight hours, I finished the catalog just in time for a 2000 Barolo dinner hosted by Robert Parker at Valentino’s in the Venetian (you might read about that one later as well), although I feel that tasting should have an asterisk since the wines were open for eight hours in advance! While it did make the wines wonderfully approachable, I feel strongly that that much air time for young wines gives a skewed perspective on said wines. Therefore, I might not write up that event, although Parker was his usual charming self and full of some great stories and points throughout the night, so in the end I will probably end of sharing my notes for this evening, but I digress. After the Valentino dinner, we ended up in a close friend of mine’s hotel room for the real. tasting of the night and an unofficial afterparty for many of those in attendance, such as Thomas Duroux, the young and talented winemaker for Chateau Palmer, Gil Lempert Schwartz (aka Mr. Wine Vegas), Matt and Jef from LA, and many others that I cannot even remember. Thanks to my good friend Damani and his female friends for which we were waiting, we were running a little late to the afterparty. I arrived just in time for a swallow of 1962 La Tache out of magnum. Damnit! When a close friend of mine starts opening up bottles, you have to move quickly, but I was grateful to have just a swallow of this wine, which was extraordinary and consistent with the bottle that I had a week ago, perhaps even richer and fleshier (97+). a close friend of mine wasted no time opening up a bottle of1978 Romanee Conti, which was also extraordinary. While I am not as big of fan of the 1978 s as other vintages and often find them on the earthier and beefier side of ‘s style, this bottle had insane menthol flavors and incredible texture, being all it should be and then some. Its richness, mouthfeel and length all proved why this wine is $5000 a bottle or more (97). As if those two wines were not enough, 1996 Dom Perignon was flowing by the case, and other wines started to uncork themselves such as 1989 Palmer, 1964 Cheval, 1943 Cheval and one or two more that I cannot remember. Unfortunately, none of these wines I can effectively review for you except one, one wine which became a nuclear bomb for the evening, destroying every wine in the room once it was open, and changing my personal history of wine forever. After finishing off the last of my 78 Conti, I noticed that a close friend of mine had disappeared from the main room in the suite, so I investigated. Inside the bedroom, I found Carl and a close friend of mine quietly huddled in the shadows of this dark room with a bottle in a close friend of mine’s hand. Both of them looked like I had caught them with their hands in the cookie jar for a split second, but once they saw it was me, I was quickly welcomed to try the wine that was just opened, a 1945 Romanee Conti. There is not much I can say about this wine other than it is the greatest wine that I have ever had. I hate to deal in absolutes, and I have been blessed to taste many of the greatest wines made over the past hundred years, but this wine took the cake and proceeded to eat up memories of the dozens of other wines that I have had that could contend for the elusive title of Best Wine I Have Ever Had.. The aromas, the texture, the flavors, the finish all of its components were flawless, and the wine was amazingly fresh but decidedly and deliciously mature as well. The wine lingered for minutes after each swallow, and trying not to drink it all immediately required a superhuman effort. After a quick double. off the rocks, we let the cat out of the bag for a few select people and shared the wealth. I took my glass to the bathroom with me as the evening was catching up with me, and I had to take a piss, to be frank. So I place my glass of 1945 Romanee Conti on top of the back of the toilet, and there were at least two or three good tastes left. So I start to go to the bathroom, and within a few seconds, CRASH! My glass of 1945 Conti slipped off the toilet tank top and crashed to the ground. What kind of place has slightly curved toilet tank tops, so slight that you cannot even notice until your glass of 1945 Conti slips off of it! The Venetian gets my vote for worst-designed toilets of the last century. Since I am on the topic, they also need to learn how to stack a mini-bar in ALL of their rooms, particularly the ones with bars built in them, and they can also add a radio or sound system to their rooms as well. And slippers. Ok, I feel better now. Disappointed but unfazed, I emerged from the bathroom unscathed to the delight of the crowd who roasted me quite well. We partied away the rest of the night until I passed out on the couch, only to awaken the next day at 8AM, still hammered and feeling noticeably drunk. I took a quick look around me to get my bearings, only to find myself sleeping next to a close friend of mine on his bed! I must have crawled in at night since a close friend of mine was kind enough to let me stay sleeping on his couch. This is not how I had planned my weekend to go, I thought to myself. Now, save your jokes for another time, as there was no Planes, Trains and Automobiles action, aka no spooning or cuddling, and I was fully dressed on top of the covers while a close friend of mine was safely underneath. I gathered myself and quickly headed down to my room, scaring a few small families in the process (let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly prim and proper at the time).
So, my agenda for Saturday (and actually Friday all day too before the catalog got in the way) was to play poker, Texas Hold Em, No Limit, the greatest card game known to mankind. Unfortunately, I woke back up at noon, and a close friend of mine called me in a timely fashion to remind me that Carl had invited us to lunch over at Tableau in Wynn’s Resort and Casino. It was opening weekend at the Wynn’s, so there were a lot of people in town. Carl had a special hookup at Wynn’s so we ate in a VIP area where the Donald (aka Mr. Trump) was holding court with a few people and his beautiful wife, Melania, who definitely checked me out for at least four seconds. I can’t blame her J. Steve Wynn walked by, etc., so all that was fun and exciting, but as lunch drew to a close, my poker itch had to be scratched, as I only had about four hours of time to play before the Spectator event. So I went to the poker room at Wynn’s and played, breaking even in the end but gaining valuable experience in my quest to play with the pros one day. Don’t worry, I won’t be leaving my day job for that! There were a lot of $1000, $2000 and $3000 pots at our table, not that I was in too many of those, but I did go all-in three times successfully, and it was a good table. I made about three or four bad plays that I am chalking up to lessons learned. Players welcome in NYC.
So the Spectator event was fun, but after going to it I wished I had spent the extra two hours playing more poker! The most noticeable wines being poured were 1996 Dom Perignon, 1996 Margaux, 1996 Cos d’Estournel, 2001 Palmer, 2001 L’Angelus, 2000 Magdelaine, 2002 Rudd Estate Cabernet, 2000 Rivetti Barolo, 2000 Giacosa something-or-other, and a few others I cannot remember right now. I got to see old friends such as Kent Rosenblum and Giorgio Rivetti, but overall there were not a lot of truly great wines there this year. Earlier in the day, while I was playing poker, a close friend of mine bumped into Daniel Boulud, who insisted that a close friend of mine go to his new brasserie at Wynn’s. We had a fabulous meal there and had some great wines, including a very good 1976 Dom Perignon Oenotheque. (i.e., recently disgorged and released) that was nowhere near the 1973 in terms of greatness, but still a very good bubbly in its own right (92). We then had some outstanding bottles (there were ten of us) of 1985 Richebourg, which was full of menthol, beef, iron, earth and autumnal fruit flavors, with excellent acidity still (95). We segued to a magnum of 1978 Stag’s Leap Cask 23. courtesy of Matt which was excellent, very cedary and minerally but also with some chocolate-covered coffee fruit flavors and a long, gritty finish (94). We finished with a couple of 1990 Cheval Blancs, still a baby in terms of its development yet somewhat approachable on this night. The monstrous alcohol and tannin of bottles past were more under control, and its shy, sexy red fruit qualities seemed to be coming out of their shell. The earth, mineral, wintergreen and Cab Franc kink were all there, and Carl and a close friend of mine were really feeling the wine. I think it will be a great wine, but patience is required, and it is far from a state of opulence, remaining in a state more suited for wine intellectuals than actual drinkers (95+).
There was another afterparty, but I was quite exhausted by the time it started happening. A jeroboam of 1983 Margaux had been opened but was slightly musty, although many found it undrinkable. I did not have the energy to monitor it for what was the remainder of the evening, however (DQ). There were three more wines that I sampled, and all were outstanding plus (95+): the 1974 Heitz Cabernet.Martha’s Vineyard, the 1990 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi, and the 1990 Altare Barolo Arborina.. The Heitz was from the same case as the one I had a couple week’s prior and consistently great. The 1990 Sandrone is one of my favorite all-time Barolos, and this bottle was a great one, although I was too exhausted to pinpoint its greatness other than the fact that it was at the very least outstanding. The Altare, which is still an insider’s Barolo, stood toe-to-toe with the Sandrone and was also outstanding. The Altare was more classic in style and did not have the fatness to its fruit that the Sandrone possessed, but picking a favorite between the two would have required a good night’s sleep and a fresh start the next day. When I saw a close friend of mine dozing off first on the couch on this night, it looked like the best idea anyone had all day, so I proceeded to slither downstairs and call it a night.
Nex trip to Vegas, I am playing at least twenty hours of poker, though. Come to think of it, I need to go to Atlantic City more often. Who’s all in?