A Double-Blind Dinner of a Lifetime, Big Boy Style
Rob had been planning this event seemingly all his life, and twelve very fortunate guests were invited to the private room at Cru one innocent Spring evening for this once-in-a-lifetime event, making me the resident Chesire Cat. For those of you that might not know or forget, double-blind means you do not know the wines that you are being served. At all. Single-blind means you know the wines but not the order, and Big Boy’s usual generosity motivated me to come up with the triple-blind scenario for another evening, which is double-blind for the host as well, being that someone would select all the wines out of the host’s cellar without any say by the host. Now that would be true Big Boy Style :).
There was only one clue given to us before the festivities began, and that was ‘pre-war.’ After some clarification that it was not Iraq or Vietnam as our reference point, but rather World War II, we started off with some Champagne. A quick asterisk emerged; the pre-war theme would not extend to the Champagne segments of our evening.
The first magnum of Champagne had a stunning nose of sweet white chocolate and dry orange marmelade. Seven Up, rainwater and a drop of honey oozed out as well. We started out with a bang, I wrote, and I was thinking Cristal at first. It was very fresh with great granulated sugar flavors. Robert Bohr appreciated the fact it was ‘tondu,’ or tight and tense with structure. Gentleman Jim noticed some ‘peanut,’ and there was a kiss of Sprite citrus on its sweet finish. Exotic apricot flavors rounded out this stunning and sweet Champagne. After a myriad of misses by the guessing crowd, it was revealed to be a Krug Private Cuvee from the 1960s, basically the same wine they call Multi-Vintage today, but from a batch released in the 1960s meaning this was a blend of vintages from the 1940s and 1950s. Krug releases different batches of the Multi-Vintage every decade and to the Krug family, it is their greatest masterpiece. This was certainly an impressive testament to that fact, and they should release more batch information and mark their bottles accordingly (96M)!!!
Another magnum of bubbly came out, obviously Rose, also very fresh with aromas of cherry, strawberry and chocolate. It was much earthier in its nose yet still floral despite a big, brawny style overall. It was a bit of a bruiser but still kept it together with a long and stylish finish. There were earth and chocolate flavors, ‘wild strawberries’ per Robert. It didn’t have the sweetness of the Krug, but the 1969 Dom Perignon Rose was still an excellent Champagne (93M).
Those were the aperitif Champagnes, and now came the first official flight, consisting of four bubblies.
The first had white chocolate, nut, earth and honey in its nose, and a bit of wildflower and acacia to that honey in its reserved nose. Blossoms, rainwater and almost a cocaine-like edge also graced its aroma profile. Its flavors were very dirty and its texture wine-like, creamy and earthy, fully mature, Chardonnay-like in its sweet flavors. A hint of cork disturbed the palate, but despite the advanced quality to the bottle, it was still regarded by most to be the best of this flight. It was a 1962 Charles Heidseick British Cuvee (93A).
The second bubbly of this flight, which was accompanied by enough Iranian Gold Osetra Caviar to feed a seven nation army, had an exotic wildflower nose that also featured light caramel, a touch of honey and some pinches of granulated sugar. Smooth with light grit on its finish, there was a touch of earth, but this did not seem overly complex, merely mortal and only pleasant. It was dry upfront, and its taut, citrus flavors were redeemed only by a long finish. It was a 1959 Philipponat Clos des Goisses, and this was incredibly inconsistent with aspectacular bottle of this that I had had within the prior two months (91).
The third Champagne of this flight was served out of magnum but oxidized, not unbearably so but enough to make even a wine necrophiliac think twice (DQ). It was a 1962 Roederer. Too bad. Shit happens. Tomorrow’s another day. Get over it, get up and walk it off, will ya?
The last bottle in this flight was an incredibly rare one, a 1959 Roederer Cristal. It had a great, pure nose with traces of smoke, citrus, marinated white meat, musk, ‘hazelnut’ (Jim) and just a kiss of sherry. Round, delicious and mature, it was softer and rounder than I had hoped, and there was a bit of morning mouth on the finish that disturbed its up-front deliciousness, kind of like a good kiss that turned into some bad tongue. Big Mike wasn’t digging it, and I didn’t mind the necro flavors, but it, too, seemed advanced and not as fresh as it should have been (93A).
It was a bumpy flight, but there would be no excuses made for this quartet of Champagne. ‘Excuses are like assholes; everyone’s got one and they all stink,’ our host quickly pontificated. It was time for some wine.
Our first wine had a tangy, intense nose. There was rose, citrus and a Chambertin-like intensity. Too bad it wasn’t Burgundy! Musk, deep dark black fruits, earth and tobacco leaf all graced its complex nose. It has a ‘wow’ palate; rich and intense with that spiny, flexing, peacock’s tail action on its finish; it had great backside. Its fruits were very dark and dank, and peanut and citrus crept out more and more along with mocha and minerals. After a few minutes, everyone was in the Pomerol camp, but no one was in the 1900 camp. It was a Nicolas Reserve bottling of 1900 L’Eglise Clinet. What was told to me is the Nicolas Reserve wines were reconditioned right before their final release. Definitely showing more youthful signs of that fact, it was still a stunning wine (96).
The second wine of this flight had a complex nose of olives, garden, rose, citrus, wax and smoke. Its palate was smooth and soft, easy like Sunday morning. The nose gained this sushi-like sweet complexity, and Ray picked up on ‘lavender.’ There was nice acid to its rusty finish and also a lot of exotic spice. ‘If anything is Cheval, it’s this,’ Ray asserted, and it was a 1900 Cheval Blanc, also a Nicolas Reserve bottling. I have been fortunate to have been blown away by a spectacular bottle of this wine, and although it displayed more and more signature Cheval and was many’s favorite wine of the flight, I found this bottle to not live up to my memory of this wine (94). I should add that both Rob and a close friend of mine thought that by the end of the night, the 1900 Cheval was legendary and 6 star status. I did not get to taste it at that much later stage.
The third and final wine of this flight had a very oaky nose, a bit offensive with its wood at first, possessing lots of cedar and eucalyptus that was over-aggressive. Big Boy grumbled how I never like this wine, anyway. Some fruit and garden aromas tried to fight through. Its palate was more, well, palatable with nice round, plum flavors. The wood started to blow off, and the wine became richer and more concentrated in the glass, ultimately revealing some great concentration. This was a wine that needed more time in the glass, and that is the one disadvantage about these scenarios where lots of wines are served in only tasting pours. However, it is better to have loved and lost, as they say. The oak got less and less, and the finish became downright explosive in this 1900 Margaux. The Margaux was also a Nicolas Reserve bottling, completing the trilogy of this esteemed first flight. It was also from a high-to-mid shoulder filled bottle (92+).
The evening was of to a pretty good start, but the next flights would prove even more thrilling. The first wine of our second flight of wine had a decadent nose. Exotic mint jumped out in this deep, intense and long nose. Spine, spice and citrus twists gave way to an exotic baked muffin quality and more twists, this time of olive. Chocolate shavings snowed out of its nose as well. Delicious and smooth, the wine offered up great earth and mocha flavors with citrus kisses. Smooth and satiny, it reminded me of ’45 Lafleur but was actually a 1921 Latour a Pomerol. It softened a bit in the glass, not to be unexpected for an 86 year-old wine (94).
The next wine was similarly decadent with great plum and mocha aromas, and the spine of a sexy model. Brick, chocolate and garden edges complemented the chocolate croissant city that was building in the glass. Rich, concentrated and long, there were amazing chocolate and motor oil flavors to this super concentrated wine. I guessed 1947 Petrus and was immediately reprimanded for ignoring our one clue for the evening. Ray was also thinking 1947, but rather Cheval due to the motor oil quality. The intensity and length held and expanded in the glass for this spectacular bottle of 1928 Latour a Pomerol (97).
Keep in mind that all of the wines’ identities were revealed after the entire flight was tasted and discussed, so it was not obvious at the time of note-taking that it was a Latour a Pomerol flight. ‘Left Bank for sure,’ an anonymous taster decided about our third wine here :). It was very spiny and gamy at first with a touch of hay/compost action, in a good way if that is possible. There was a bit of windex here, aka reconditioning gone wild. However, that blew off with air as it usually does. The wine was incredibly rich, concentrated and long in the mouth revealing citrus and polished cedar flavors. More animal came out, and it maintained its vigor, gaining and expressing in the glass. It was a 1929 Latour a Pomerol (95).
I should add that all of the Latour a Pomerol bottles were reconditioned in the 1970s.
As if that wasn’t enough, the next flight took it up another notch, also all Nicolas Reserve bottlings. Cigar jumped out of the nose, accompanied by some George Clinton chocolate funk. It became distinctive chocolate Tootsie Pop, and Wendy similarly picked up on ‘thick molasses.’ Exotic fresh grass balanced out this Big Boy ‘100 point’ wine. Its palate was long and great, ‘sweet’ per Wendy and full of chalk and minerals. Delicious, this 1921 Petrus maintained both its balance and its grace (97).
The 1928 Petrus was even better. It had the garden, the earth, the plum and the chocolate. It was a quadrafecta of a nose, paying off big-time to anyone that had a glass. Robert Bohr noted ‘chocolate covered cherries,’ and its flavors also had that chocolate Tootsie Pop quality of the 1921, but this time in the mouth of Adriana Lima. Someone found it ‘exotic and Burgundian.’ The concentration of the 1928 was a notch up from the ’21, possessing a bit more intensity despite the similar overall style. Big Boy gave it 99 points, and I was very close in my opinion as well (98+).
The 1929 Petrus was caramel sex in the nose, possessing a ‘Jaegermeister pinch of herbs’ per King Angry, aka Ray. Its palate was tender and delicious, and its caramel and herb flavors were 3-star Michelin worthy. Its volatile acidity was noticeable yet softened (95).
Now over the past ten years, I have had enough original bottles that are seventy years and older to know that none of these first nine wines would be considered ‘pure.’ And I also know that I am not a fan of reconditioning in general, and in the context of wine fraud as a topic, it can be argued that this practice,conducted by the Chateaux, Domaines and Negociants themselves over the course of the past hundred years, could be considered the greatest wine crime of the century. However, as I have said before, this does not mean that reconditioned bottles cannot still provide thrilling experiences, as these wines all did. All of these wines retained much of their original character, and many people might even enjoy them more than an original bottle. Reportedly, Nicolas used to recork their bottles every fifteen years with the same wine from the same vintage, keeping the wines fresher. Some of the best bottles that I have ever had have been Nicolas wines. When dealing with reconditioning, it always comes down to the batch. So that is not always that.
A trio of Champagnes provided an intermezzo. The first bubbly had a great, sexy nose full of granulated sugar, bread and exotic nut. At first, it was ‘like whoa.’ Wine-like on its palate, the acidity was still there but not the petillance. Unfortunately, there was morning mouth flavors on the finish, and this 1938 Krug Private Cuvee was, indeed, oxidized despite its initial sex appeal (92A).
The next Champagne had everyone oohing and aahing with its white chocolate nose and incredible palate. Big, spiny and fresh yet still mature, it was smooth and superb. As Wendy summed it up, ‘It is a 60 year-old woman in a 25 year-old body.’ The mature, yellow flavors were delicious in this 1949 Krug Collection, from a bottle whose fill was below the foil (98)!
What a honeyed nose the third bubbly had. Its honey had an exotic and homemade non-FDA-approved quality, like Winnie the Pooh caught in a nightclub. There were fresh, granulated sugar flavors to this smooth and sexy beast, prompting Big Mike to call Krug ‘the Yquem of Champagne.’ It was a Krug, a magnum of 1952 Krug, to be exact. It was the bottle with the serial number of ten, making it all the more special of an experience (95M).
It was back to the reds, beginning with a wine that had insane baby’s bottom to its nose, in a your-own-child’s-first shit kind of way. Gentleman Jim loosened up the tie with ‘a fresh line of”¦,’ and trailed off, and his femme fatale Wendy added ‘sweaty sex on the beach’ and ‘salty chocolate balls.’ The party had officially begun. King Angry likes to party in his own way, in that ‘parmesan cheese with suntan lotion’ way. Old and soft, this crazy wine had book and citrus traces in the mouth along with old wood. The ass blew off, but the intensity went nowhere in this 1921 Clos des Lambrays (90).
The second wine, which was actually supposed to be the first wine (but I tasted in opposite order), had a deep, decadent nose. Tar, citrus, earth, candle wax, spice, citrus, old book and a splash of Worcestershire were all present in its complex nose. The palate was classic with great rust and a long, spiny finish. Cedar, citrus and rust formed a formidable trifecta of flavors in this 1919 Clos des Lambrays (95+).
The 1934 Clos des Lambrays rounded out this flight. ‘Rusty,’ Ray remarked, and ‘serious mushroom,’ observed Wendy. I got the mushroom in more of a broth way, along with mint julep. The flavors were mushroom as well in this smooth, long and soft wine. Its finish was a little bookwormy and its flavors a touch old. Citrus twists, leather and spine emerged, and the wine gained in the glass (93).
The next flight began with a wine that made me write, ‘We can end right here.’ The nose was insanely good. Spiny menthol, citrus, rose heaven and cherry bombs blew the last flight away in hostile takeover fashion. ‘Insane nose’ appeared again in my notes, along with ‘a citrus Masters exam.’ The wine was so tangy, intense and long in the mouth, full of rust, brick, menthol and game flavors. Its spice and spine were extraordinary, as wasthis cereal-like complexity to its flavors, with the ‘concentration and power indicative of the vineyard,’ our gracious host cooed. It was a 1923 Liger-Belair La Tache. No wonder six bottles of this went for over $100,000 at Dr. Vino’s recent auction (98).
The next wine was much younger in its personality, a bit disturbingly so. There were oats, wheat, baked bread, plum, nut and chocolate in its flashy nose. Wendy picked up on ‘yellow bell pepper,’ and Ray found ‘stewed tomato.’ Big Boy observed ‘volatile acidity.’ This wine was clearly not pure and was the only wine of the night that I seriously questioned the authenticity. However, the next wine made me think that it was more of a bad reconditioning job. It was a 1923 Les Gaudichots (91?).
The third wine of this flight was serious again, possessing many similar traits of the Liger-Belair with a sprinkle of the best qualities of the Gaudichots. There were also oatmeal flavors to this smooth and soft 1923 Romanee Conti, a wine that also gained in the glass (94).
A 1923 Vogue Musigny was unfortunately heavily oxidized on arrival (DQ).
one of my fellow enthusiasts and Eddie finally arrived on the scene in better late than never fashion due to a prior conflict in schedule. They conveniently made it just in time for the wine of the night. The next wine was incredible and spectacular; that about sums it up. There were literally one thousand descriptors in the nose. Menthol, ‘sexy sausage,’ and ‘herbs de provence’(Jim) all made their way to the forefront of its sensational aromatics. Even Webster would have had a hard time describing the litany of aromas. As Robert Bohr observed, ‘the promise of the nose comes through on the palate,’ and its texture was, indeed, incredible. Eddie commented how ‘the precision is perfect.’ Jim admired how the wine had ‘another twenty or thirty years in it.’ Big Boy called it ‘surreal,’ and threw the ’23 Liger-Belair into that category. It was all of the above, and it was a bottle I have never seen before and probably never will again. It was a 1934 Richebourg Vieux Cepages, an old-vine Richebourg that made one barrel of in certain vintages between 1911 and 1937. Flavor Flav used to say ‘bring that beat back!’ Aubert, bring that wine back! What a thrill (99).
A 1934 La Tache was robust yet oxidized, and after the Vieux Cepages, I couldn’t go through the motions of taking notes for this affected bottle. Ironically, the 1934 La Tache was probably the best looking bottle of the tasting going in (92A).
The third wine of this flight was another ‘insane’ wine. The spine, rust, iodine and vitamin aromas and flavors were divine. Its finish was lengthy and full of breed. It was another incredible wine, this time a 1934 Romanee Conti, of course. While it was not the near-perfect bottle that I had from Roy at Cru eighteen months ago, it was still extraordinary, although a close friend of mine brought the No Joy, No Luck Club to the party with ‘not the energy and color of most ’34 RC’s.’ It was only my second time, and both times were spectacular, buddy (97).
The last wine of this flight stood out from the crowd as having a different personality and most likely a different producer, some reasoned. They were correct. There was large t ‘n a here, as ‘34s are prone to have, and its spiny nose had citrus, tea and blade-like aromas. The flavors were in a cherry oil direction, but the wine was a touch too spiny and a hair oxidized. It was not the near-perfect bottle I recently wrote up that I had with one of my fellow enthusiasts , Wilf and the Burghound in LA. Too bad, because there are probably only a handful of 1934 Roumier Musigny bottles left in the world (94A).
That last flight of Burgundies left me dazed and dizzy with admiration, yet a magnum of 1921 Ausone was up for the task of reminding the world that it is not only a Burg, Burg world. a close friend of mine admired ‘the richness of 1921,’ and the wine was pure sex in the nose, intense and ridiculously good. There was the meat, game and kink of St. Emilion here and that defining wintergreen to this ‘wow’ wine. Its flavors were also intense, full of menthol, meat, game and a long finish (97+M).
There was one more wine left to this legendary evening, and Wendy could not stop talking about it. It definitely had a newsworthy nose, and Wendy was doing her Money Honey impression in making sure that everyone got the latest breaking story. It was coiled in the nose, dangerously different from anything else that we had had so far, making it exciting. There was some wintergreen, cedar and medium spine in its long nose, and a super cherry core that crossed the border of framboise liqueur. Its finish exploded and lingered to the point where it felt like the first time. Its finish was huge, long, rusty, spiny and minerally; this 1934 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape was the greatest old Rhone I have ever had. Move over, La Chapelle (98).
Somehow, two more Champagnes popped themselves open to celebrate an extraordinary evening of extreme generosity, one that I have only seen equaled by one of my fellow enthusiasts . The 1966 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne was so decadently butterscotchy and tropical that it felt like a Carribean vacation unto itself. Its flavors were crazy exotic, but it still showed the strength of the tree from where it came, whatever the heck that means. Cut me some slack, it was wine number 33 (95).
Lastly was the Champagne of the evening, at least for me, a 1966 Salon. Wound, intense and spiny like a Stegosaurus, the Salon was not happy to see anyone at first but slowly revealed itself. I grew to like this evil dungeon of a Champagne and its insane length and vitamin city flavors. Big, brooding and from one of the greatest vintages of the century for Champagne, the Salon answered all calls and proceeded to take many prisoners (98+).
Oh, what a night. It was ‘Big Boy Style’ meets ‘Deep Ocean.’ It was truly a testament to Rob’s cellar and the effort that he has made in building one of the greatest collections in the world today.
In Vino Veritas,