The Envelopes, please…

The end of February seems to be the last call to look back and celebrate 2011, and I thought I would do some of my own celebrating before La Paulee and 2012 officially took over.We begin with two forgotten nights and end with the Top Ten wines of the year.

The Envelopes please…

Best Night I Never Wrote Up – New York :

And the winner is… The Don Stott Magnum Dinner

It’s kind of tough to do a quick summary of 23 magnums, especially when so many were so great. Over this week and the following, I tasted hundreds of great Burgundies thanks to its greatest collector, Don Stott. It was years’ worth of great Burgundy in two weeks, the type of Burgundy energy which is only matched by La Paulee. This evening was a true snapshot of Don’s most regular drinking habits, and it was easy to see why, although Champagne almost stole the show thanks to some spectacular guest appearances (Big Boy and Bad Boy tend to BYOB, as in bubbly). In the end, Rousseau stood tallest, thanks to a spectacular, rocking and rolling magnum of 1964, and a surprisingly delicious 1972 that I was tempted to give 95 points. Honorable mention to the great 1985 Ramonet Montrachet and 1993 Mugnier Musigny. I’d just like to thank The Don, all the producers who came with us to Hong Kong, and The Don.

1. 1953 Bollinger (95M)
2. 2000 Dauvissat Chablis Les Preuses (93M)
3. 2000 Raveneau Chablis Les Clos (94+M)
4. 1982 Ramonet Batard Montrachet (95M)
5. 1982 Leflaive Batard Montrachet (95M)
6. 1976 Salon (96M)
7. 1985 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet (94A-M)
8. 1985 Ramonet Montrachet (97M)
9. 1988 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill (94+M)
10. 1985 Pousse d’Or Volnay 60 Ouvrees (93M)
11. 1985 de Montille Volnay Taillepieds (92M)
12. 1985 d’Angerville Volnay Champans (DQ) – corked
13. 1993 Mugnier Musigny (97M)
14. 1978 Drouhin Griottes Chambertin (93M)
15. 1978 Roumier Bonnes Mares (95M)
16. 1978 Clair Dau Chambertin Clos de Beze (93M)
17. 1972 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze (94M)
18. 1962 Krug (96M)
19. 1971 Roumier Bonnes Mares (95M)
20. 1964 Rousseau Chambertin (97M)
21. 1966 Vogue Musigny V.V. (93A-M)
22. 1978 Ramonet Batard Montrachet (95M)
23. 1966 Roederer Cristal (96M)

Best Night I Never Wrote Up – Hong Kong

And the winner is… One Blind Sifu

Not too many nights end up in the swimming pool, but somehow this one did. The Sifu, a name bestowed upon this influential Hong Kong collector that means ‘Master,’ hosted an incredible gathering that included top artists, businessmen and winemakers/personalities. Also representing the good ‘ol USA was The Punisher, who has been in fine form in HK on a couple of occasions this past year. All wines were served blind until the last four or so, as most guests were already blind by then! 1989 Haut Brion laid claim, again, to title of one of the best Bordeaux ever made, and the under-appreciated 1982 was in fine form along with its La Mission counterpart. The La Mouline stole some thunder at the end, although I am told that the wine of the night was one that I somehow missed, the 1985 Roumier Bonnes Mares. Oh, well.

1. 2002 Laville Haut Brion magnum (94M)
2. 2002 Haut Brion Blanc magnum (93M)
3. 1993 Ramonet Batard Montrachet (93)
4. 1993 Ramonet Montrachet (95)
5. 2002 Ramonet Montrachet (94+A)
6. 2000 Chapelle d’Ausone (89)
7. 1989 La Mission Haut Brion (96)
8. 1989 Haut Brion (99)
9. 1982 La Mission Haut Brion (97+)
10. 1982 Haut Brion (96)
11. 1979 Petrus magnum (90M)
12. 1959 Vieux Chateau Certan magnum (94M)
13. 1959 Haut Brion magnum (95M)
14. 2002 Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Amoureuses (95)
15. 2002 Jadot Musigny magnum (92+M)
16. 1997 Jadot Musigny (93)
17. 1995 Grivot Richebourg (93)
18. 1995 A. Gros Richebourg (94+)
19. 1995 DRC Richebourg (93)
20. 1995 DRC La Tache (95)
21. Another La Tache magnum (96+M)
22. 1976 Dujac Bonnes Mares (94)
23. 1979 Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux (94)
24. 1985 Guigal Cote(Rotie La Mouline (97)
25. 1929 Haut Brion (93)

Best Producer

And the winner is…Eric Rousseau.

The wines of the Rousseau family have been, without question, amongst Burgundy’s greatest for the past 100 years, and it seems the market has finally taken notice. Eric, a third generation winemaker, has never been a man interested in publicity or attention, but it was good to see him come to Hong Kong and embrace the market over numerous events. His wines are spectacular, and the Clos St. Jacques may be the best value (great) wine in all of Burgundy.

Best Value White Wine – Gruner Veltliner

I drank a lot of Gruner in 2011, meaning like 30+ bottles. These unique whites from Austria deliver incredible quality at an incredible price. You can get some of the best in the world for less than $50 or even $40 a bottle, and even the really inexpensive ones rarely disappoint for casual drinking.

Best Value Red Wine – Chianti Classico

Italy is a hotbed of uniqueness and diversity, with more grapes and regions in play than probably any other country. As much as I love Piedmont the most when it comes to my Italian wine regions, I find myself often grabbing a Chianti for casual drinking. Even though it isn’t a ‘Super’ Tuscan and perhaps its original popularity has made it less ‘fashionable,’ there is nothing like a good Chianti (try Fontodi or Felsina) to reward a hard day’s work.

Top Ten Wines of the Year

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…

#10. 1996 Krug Clos du Mesnil (98+) – Clos du Mesnil is the Romanee Conti of Champagne, and 1996 is arguably its greatest vintage…ever. One has to go back to 1928 to find a vintage of comparable quality, per the Champagne man himself, Richard Juhlin. It is nice to see theory and practice come together. No matter how great any other 1996 Champagne may be, the Krug C du M takes the concentration and weight levels up a notch. “Whenever 1996 Krug Clos du Mesnil is served, it is a great night. It is one of the greatest Champagnes ever made, and it will be a benchmark for me for the rest of my life. Its nose was deep, big and rich, with aromas of saucy butter, wood, vanilla cream, nuts, oil and yellow musky fruit. The palate was huge yet balanced, with laser-like acidity and a tidal wave of a finish. I summed up the Krug with ‘strength and wealth,’ two of Americas favorite things (98+).

#10. (It’s A Tie!) 1961 Latour (98+) – Although I haven’t had this wine over 100 times like my European wine brother Pekka (who has declared it the greatest wine ever made), I have had it somewhere around fifteen to twenty times, and it isn’t going out of style yet. One of the true wine monuments to Cabernet Sauvignon. “What better wine than 1961 Latour to have next? The ’61 is Pekka’s personal #1 wine of all-time, and he has had it over 100 times. Man, I thought my fifteen-to-twenty times tasted was pretty strong! The ’61 was another classic, again deep and brooding, full of signature walnut and cassis, with a hint of exotic berry and fig. Caramel and mocha drizzled about the nose. Its palate was also long and thick with perfectly-centered, lengthy acidity and an endless finish. The ’45 was more seductive with its kinky fruit, but the ’61 would win a back alley fight. There were great slate and stone flavors on the finish. This was an extraordinary bottle (98+).

#9. 2001 Yquem (99) – Now I must confess, I don’t drink much sweet wine, and although I have long adored ancient Yquems, they just don’t make it into my rotation that often. And when they do, they tend to be older, but a 2001 this summer in Switzerland really made me stand up and take notice. It is rare that a young wine leaves a ‘greatest wine of my life’ impression, ie 99 points, but this Yquem did just that. Impressive, and relatively easy to acquire. “Even though I am not a big drinker of sweet wines, it was hard not to notice the greatness of the 2001 Yquem. This was so rich, so oily, so special, with coconut and cocoa butter and an exotic passionfruit, peach and apricot three-way unfolding dramatically in front of me. So creamy, so incredible, it was much more than just so so (99).”

#8. 1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze (99) – Historically, this wine in this vintage has averaged 97 points for me, but something magical happened one afternoon in the middle of Hong Kong harbor on a yacht, with another dozen plus Rousseau wines from many great vintages. I almost forgot Eric himself being in attendance. This bottle 1993 reached beyond its normal wingspan and touched the heavens this afternoon, delivering a mind-blowing combination of fruit, finsh and balance. When a great 1993 Burgundy shows fruit like this bottle did, it can be amongst the greatest vintages ever in Burgundy. “There was something extraordinary about this bottle of 1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze, bordering on supernatural. Everything I could ask for in a great Burgundy was there – ripe red fruits, forest floor and the complexity of terroir, breed, style, length. The fruit had a catnip-like quality that made me feel happy and silly, and its acidity and finish said, ‘I know I’m good now, but just you wait and see.’ It was impossible to stop drinking, even in the context of a dozen plus other, fabulous Rousseau reds. This may prove to be one of those lightning bolts in a bottle; on this day, it didn’t get any better (99).”

#7. 1999 DRC La Tache (99) – This has traditionally been for me one of the youngest wines to achieve ‘legendary’ status at a young age. While some 1999s have shut down a bit, the La Tache still shows why 1999 is one of the great and generous vintages of our lifetime. Even Aubert mentioned that it may be his greatest vintage ever, and he is not a man who would say something like that lightly. It will be a pleasure to taste this wine again and again and again over the course of the next three or four decades. “Last and never least was a 1999 DRC La Tache, which was clearly the best in our flight of the last three. Its nose was so deep; it felt like I could literally dive into its aromas. There was an oceanic feel to the breadth of its violet fruit. That plush 1999 signature fruit was everywhere. Sweet caramel and nut were balanced by smoke in this behemoth of a nose. The finish was so thick, I had to undo and work the wine back out of my mouth after each sip. It is rare that a wine this young makes me do cartwheels and handstands, but the ’99 LT is that great, especially for such a young wine. Stem and stalk flavors added zip and vim to the fantastic fruit. So long, so strong and so balanced, the 1999 DRC La Tache is an anywhere, anytime wine that has never delivered anything but an extraordinary experience (99).

#6. 1989 Petrus (99) – It wouldn’t be an appropriate top ten list without one vintage of Petrus, and while there are many great vintages of Petrus that can flirt with this score, I find myself going back to 1989 more than any other vintage. It remains the reference point, great young Petrus for me. I am looking forward to an historical vertical of Petrus back to 1945 to be held later this year. “We warmed up with the 1989 Petrus. Man, I love this wine. 1989 is clearly the greatest modern-day Petrus, the one against which all others should be measured. We’ll see how vintages like 1998, 2000 and 2005 develop, but they will all have to answer to this vintage. The ’89 was unreal as always, even more of a behemoth out of magnum, infantile in its initial expression, and all the more brooding. There was still fruit showing, and its acidity was hidden at first but slowly uncoiled to reveal regality. Big Boy observed its ‘vahlrona chocolate.’ This wine was quite hedonistic, packed and stacked with chocolate, plums and earth, adding up to near-perfection again (99M).”

#5. 1989 Haut Brion (99) – The thing I love most about 1989 Haut Brion is the fact that I have had it at least a half-dozen times in 2011. It is the most accessible, young, great Bordeaux, no exceptions, and it always delivers a near-perfect experience. Some bottles ‘slip’ to 98 points, forgive it. No other First Growth between 1982 and 2005 can touch this wine. “We began with 1989 Haut Brion, which is the equivalent of Albert Pujols batting leadoff. I happened to have this wine last week as well (I love it when that happens), and both bottles were equally great. Great was actually an understatement. How’s this for a different statement – when all is said and done, the 1989 Haut Brion could possibly be the greatest First Growth ever made, and how ironic would that be since Haut Brion tends to lag a little behind the other Firsts as far as overall perception. The 1989 was fabulous with aromas of peanut, olive and densely packed cassis fruit. It was chewy, nutty and long, tickling my tongue and warming my soul. Its balance and length defined ‘thoroughbred.’ The greatest thing about this wine is that it has never shut down; it has always been incredible (99).

#4. 1966 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Mouline (99) – I have had this wine on at least three occasions, and my notes are consistent. The first vintage of Guigal’s La Mouline (which is easily the best of the three La La’s, by the way) remains a benchmark wine for the Rhone. What made this bottle even more impressive was how it sent 1971 and 1978 Roumiers, along with a 1945 Haut Brion (that were all spectacular bottles) to the back of the bus. In fact, it probably knocked the 1945 Haut Brion off this list. “It is rare for a Rhone wine to upstage Bordeaux and Burgundy legends like ’45 HB and ’71/78 Roumiers and so forth, but the 1966 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline did just that. It had a ‘wow’ nose, full of white pepper and sexy supporting singers named violet, bacon and beef. One commented, ‘this is perfect; no flaws.’ It was incredibly tasty, adding lavender to its previous violet and bacon, and its flesh and length were superb. There was great kink to its finish, and its flavor was as good as the Rhone gets. In fact, the 1966 La Mouline, its first vintage, might be the greatest wine ever made in the Rhone. Consistent notes (99).”

#3. 1962 DRC La Tache (99) – It is always great to have a flight of old wines from the same vintage, as it really gives a perspective that one would never have with one bottle. On New Year’s Eve, thanks to Big Boy, we had a flight of 1962 Burgundies that will be difficult to duplicate. Rousseau, Vogue, Roumier…they were all spectacular, but there was only one 99-point wine, and it was La Tache. “It couldn’t get any better, could it? Enter 1962 DRC La Tache. At first, there were oysters and ocean action in the nose; it needed some time to unravel, and did it ever. Aromas of rose and tobacco slowly took over, with secondary rose and menthol seeping up out of its earth. The palate was out of control. It was rich, saucy and long with crazy spice and oomph to its finish. I must confess that I was starting to think the sun was setting on the 1962 vintage, in a long, graceful way, as great vintages fade away and never disappear. I am happy to officially stand corrected. Long live La Tache (99).

#2. 1966 Krug Blanc de Blancs (99) – This is one of those bottles that doesn’t exist. Really. 500 bottles were made, and it was only made in 1966. This was the pre-cursor/predecessor for the Clos du Mesnil thirteen years later. 1966 is often hailed as the best vintage from Champagne’s greatest decade, and one sip of this nectar states that case clearly and concisely. Every Champagne lover should be fortunate enough to taste this at least once. “Big Boy went straight to the hoop, Blake Griffin style, with the next selection. ‘Perfect, flawless, top five ever produced,’ he went on, and he was right. Richard was at first in the 55/47 camp, identifying the strength of the wine with some of Champagne’s strongest vintages. Its nose was both classic and insane at the same time. There were hints of hinterland oak, along with meaty, yellow aromas that were sweet, rich and nutty in an autumnal way. Its palate was musky and zippy yet rich and lush, with divine flavors of seltzer, bread and citrus. Secondary flavors of orange, chocolate and tobacco emerged in this incredible wine. It was a 1966 Krug Blanc de Blancs, the pre-cursor to Clos du Mesnil that was only made once, and only 500 bottles were made. Holy shit (99).

#1. 1900 Margaux (99) – The Bucket List has one less wine on it. I have never been blown away by a bottle of this despite having it from time to time, more in the early part of this century than later. Thanks to the Keymaster and his magnificent collection, I was treated to a historic afternoon of Margaux led by Paul Pontallier, and the day had the appropriate storybook ending thanks to this bottle of 1900. Burgundy may give more pleasure for the first 30-40 years, from age 40-80 it’s a bit of a horserace, but when it comes to drinking wines eighty years or older, nothing can compete with Bordeaux. Case closed. “We began with a bottle of 1900 Margaux, or should I say THE bottle, as this was the bottle of 1900 Margaux that I had been looking for my whole life, being previously disappointed on a handful of occasions. There was a level of complexity here unmatched by any other wine so far. There were lots of wows from the crowd, along with oohs, aahs and omg’s. Its nose was perfect, so good with its smoke, wheat, earth, chocolate and cassis. The palate was rich and complete, with great sweetness and a long, scintillating finish. There was still zip to its dusty finish, and the fruit stayed great to the very last drop. ‘Unbelievable’ came from the crowd and summed it up perfectly (99).”

Honorable mentions go to the following wines in vintage order, all scoring 98 points:

1911 Moet
1923 DRC Romanee Conti
1945 Haut Brion
1945 Latour
1947 Roederer
1953 Margaux
1961 La Mission Haut Brion
1962 Roumier Musigny
1962 Vogue Musigny V.V.
1971 Salon magnum
1979 Bollinger V.V.F.
1990 Krug Clos du Mesnil
1996 Latour

And the oldest wine of the year also goes to Chateau Margaux with a delicious and still fresh 1864…

It’s a whole new year, so make a resolution to drink better in 2012. You deserve it!

In Vino Veritas,
JK

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