“No man also having drunk old wine straightaway desireth new: for he saith, ‘The old is better.’” ”“ Luke 5:39

When it comes to wine, there are great wines, and there are truly great wines. What makes a wine truly great is its ability to age, and I am not talking ten to fifteen years, I am talking fifty to one hundred plus. It seems as if the market’s attention starts to wane pre-1982, which affords those that know the greatness of older wines an even greater luxury than the gift of knowledge they already have. True, there is always more risk with old wines, a bottle might be cooked, or past the ideal drinking window, but the risk is clearly outweighed by the reward. Even if there is a ten to fifteen percent chance of risk for any given forty-plus year-old bottle one might open, the price of the older wines relative to younger wines today is sometimes laughable, and more than makes up for that risk. Would you rather have a 1959 Lafite for $3000 a bottle, or a 1982 for $6000? How about a 1966 La Tache for about $1500, or a 2008 for the same price? And every bottle doesn’t have to be four figures either. I have had so many great obscure Burgundies from the 1960s and prior for $200 or $300 a bottle that just sing. Good luck finding a top 2009 for that price. For those that have the passion, and have no fear, old wine, pre-1982, is the greatest buying opportunity in the market today, and I gladly put my money where my mouth is on what might be considered a scaringly regular basis.

It’s also the greatest drinking opportunity, and I am a drinker, occasionally even a drunk :). If there is anyone who drinks more old wine than me on a yearly basis, then I need to meet you, and we need to drink together. Maybe Pekka and Juha up in Helsinki, they certainly are as experienced as anyone in the world right now. We now convene on a regular basis. King Angry and Big Boy have to be part of the conversation, for sure, along with the artist formerly known as Dr. Vino, Dr. Wilf Jaeger. It’s no surprise that these are the guys with which I drink on a regular basis. Allen Meadows definitely drinks his share of great old wines, but only Burgundies. I’ll never forget an incredible night with Allen at Cru, where we sampled a perfect 1934 Romanee Conti (third greatest wine of my life) amongst many other spectacular Burgs, then at the end of the night, we started to play around with some other regions, you know, like 1966 La Mouline, 1945 Mouton, etc. So the Mouton comes out, and this was an incredible bottle, one of the best I have ever had, 98 or 99 point territory, everything you could absolutely want in a great, old Bordeaux and then some. So I go to Allen, a bit cock-eyed and cocky accordingly, grinning ear to ear. Here was a Bordeaux that even Allen could not deny. ‘So Allen, what’d you give the ’45 Mouton?’ Allen replied without hesitation, ’88 points.’ Doh! But I digress”¦

My most recent trip to Hong Kong saw an incredible lineup of events, featuring the wines and proprietors from three world-class estates ”“ Chateau Valandraud, Dominio de Pingus and Domaine Comte Liger-Belair. There was also a pre-auction tasting with three dozen incredible wines, a fun mature German lunch that we’ll let Justin write up one of these years, and another very special lunch, featuring seven vintages of ancient, pre-World War I Lafite Rothschild with bulletproof provenance, and bottles in incredible condition accordingly. Later that week, we also opened up our usual palate-numbing quantity of bottles at the auction, including a delicious Imperial of 2007 Lafite, as well as fantastic bottles of 1964 and 1966 Petrus. There was also a very special, private dinner after the auction that featured 27 wines so great that the 1929 Haut Brion at the end was almost an afterthought, and a Sunday lunch that I still don’t know how I managed to attend. Oh yes, I do, the magnum of 1985 La Tache. But I digress again”¦

This article is about Lafite, and the lunch on the Thursday before the auction at Gold, one of Hong Kong’s hottest new restaurants. The bottles were courtesy of the sale’s featured collector, who wasn’t even selling anything pre-1982. That wasn’t the point; the point was to drink, to share, to experience, and what an experience it was. We began with a couple of aperitifs, a magnum of 1969 Krug Collection and a bottle of 1992 Coche-Dury Meursault Rougeots. The Krug had a bit of a low fill but was still delicious. While not as spritely as it could have been, it still had signature aromas and flavors of vanilla, butter and corn, and there were no complaints. Other bottles have been better, though (94A). The Coche was absolutely delicious, on a peaking plateau of maturity, a 1992 that hasn’t started skiing downhill just yet. It was a bit wet around the edges with some waterfall and wet alley, but its sweet white fruit and kinky Coche style were still held together nicely by warm acidity (93).

We sat down to a warmup wine, the 2006 Lafite Rothschild. Unlike the delicious 2007 that we had two days later from Imperial, 94 points by the way, the 2006 was completely shut down. There were pleasant pencil and mineral aromas and nice, reticent fruit in its nose, cassis, of course. The palate was very ‘stiff,’ as one put it, quite dry with little definition. Its acidity was buried alive, practically impossible to even identify. It was quite polished, but too much so, and it just lacked character on the palate, at this point. It caused someone to quip, ‘Young Bordeaux is for business, young Burgundy is for pleasure’ (90+?).

Warm-ups were over, and it was time for the main event. The 1901 Lafite Rothschild had everyone breathing a sigh of relief, as it was obvious we were in great shape, and the bottles had traveled well. The 1901 had a wow nose, full of mature, warm fruit. Michael keenly noted, ‘Spanish ham and honey.’ There was this ice cream sweetness to the nose, closest to black cherry, along with a brick-like, layered complexity. Right on cue, Lei observed that its nose kept ‘coming in layers,’ and it did, now developing a light forest and earth component, along with some cedar. Vincent, aka The Poet, admired that there was ‘still very good length.’ The palate was full of tender cedar flavors, in a fine antique way. There were touches of citrus and light candle wax in the mouth, which was absolutely delicious. Lei cooed how it was ‘so perfumed,’ and noted its ‘blossoms and floral beauty were so delicate yet complex.’ Michael hailed it as ‘kaleidoscopic,’ and everyone was left impressed and in awe of this 110 year-old treasure (96).

The 1904 Lafite Rothschild had a tough act to follow, but it was up to the challenge. Lei quickly observed, ‘like a fine cheese,’ and her son added, ‘Epoisses.’ Indeed, it was! It is always great to taste with experienced collectors who can share their observations and verbalize them effectively. Its nose was nutty and creamy, and a little bit of chocolate started to emerge. The palate, however, was a touch dirtier with earthier flavors, along with wafer and band-aid on the finish. Heinrich observed, ‘a little medicine,’ while Vincent found it ‘leathery.’ It was still a very good Lafite, but no 1901 (92).

The 1905 Lafite Rothschild had ‘dragoneye’ in its nose, and The Poet wasn’t talking about the famous Hong Kong nightclub! Its fruit was dried and sweet, Michael called it ‘long yan,’ which translates to longan fruit, although I still don’t know what that is, lol. There is still much I have to learn! The nose on the ’05 was milder than the previous two wines, and it has this lightly sautéed beef undertone. The palate was also lighter, but delightfully so. It was soft, tender and easy, caressing my palate like a good, bedtime story. It was a tad slaty on its finish at first, but that mellowed as it fruit became citrusy, and it picked up in the glass a little bit, flexing one last time before saying goodbye to all (93).

The 1907 Lafite Rothschild had great aromas, full of red colors ”“ currant, licorice and fresh fruit, almost like a red melon, but not watermelon. It had the signature vanilla and cedar, ‘the terroir of Lafite,’ as The Poet sagely said. ‘When they get old, you see the terroir,’ he continued. The 1907 had the richest nose so far, with exotic, sweet fruit that moved in a mango direction but not quite that. Its palate charmed at first with delectable flesh, richness and cherry flavors, also possessing a wafery finish. Michael hailed it as ‘the most complete,’ but it lightened in the glass just a touch, though, making it a fast and furious Lafite, but still an outstanding one (95).

The 1908 Lafite Rothschild had ‘old worn leather saddle, and a slight smokiness’ in its nose per Gil, who echoed Vincent’s sentiments about terroir in Bordeaux, even though he missed the original comment. Some conversations about Syrah and Alicante Bouschet in Bordeaux pre-1933 crept into the conversation, as there were some questions if there were any additional, non-traditional grapes here in general, per the times. The signature vanilla cream of Lafite oozed out onto its buttery palate in this delicious wine. The 1908 was brighter and held better than the 1907, and while Lei acknowledged the acidity of the 2008 was better, she still preferred the 1907 (95+).

We had another great nose in the 1909 Lafite Rothschild, this time more on the cigar side, lightly so. Heinrich observed a ‘smoky, Lagavulin nose,’ and it became nutty with a little air. The palate was much lighter in style, with flavors of raw vegetable, or ‘crudite,’ as one concurred. It was a fragile Lafite, but still in the quality zone, just hanging on (90).

We closed with the 1914 Lafite Rothschild. Finally, something less than 100 years old :)! The 1914 was a ringer for an old Burgundy; in fact, if this was served to me blind, I am fairly certain I would have guessed Burgundy. It had a tea-like color, orange at its rim. Gil found it ‘1923 La Tache-like,’ high praise, indeed. The nose was a bit stinky, lightly grassy with a pungent core. The palate was tangy and a bit simple after so many other great wines. It was the least exciting to me, although many liked its exotic, wild and woolly style more than me (88).

It was a magnificent afternoon, one we call a ‘proper business lunch’ in HK.

In Vino Veritas,

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