It was one month later, so wine’s original Bad Boy Bruce decided to have another get together at his home in New Jersey. It was a smaller get-together than his previous party, but still on hand from last month’s birthday bash were King Angry, the Hillbilly and Alexander the Great. I don’t think the Hillbilly ever left, actually. Bad Boy’s musical world touched us on this night, as we were also joined by Maynard Keenan, lead singer of Tool, a passionate wine lover and maker of fine wine as well. I had dined with him before a couple of years ago, and we had enjoyed an incredible wine dinner at Cru, but I somehow lost those notes and was never able to share that night. He was in town for a concert, and his presence was just enough to spark a fantastic evening centered around 1979 Champagnes, Soldera and Monfortino. The King and the Hillbilly, in a twist of half-inspiration and half-destiny, answered the musical bell and assumed the role they were born to play: the wine world’s version of Tupac and Biggie lol.
We started with a magnum of 1979 Louis Roederer. While good, the Roederer was simpler than I would have hoped and a significant drop off in quality from the Roederer bottles of the ‘60s, ‘50s and older, which all have legendary potential in them. I am not sure when this quality curve changed, perhaps coinciding with an increase in production of Cristal. The Roederer was clean and fresh with light aromas of yellow and toast. The palate was a little pungent, with flavors of urine and minerals (89M).
A magnum of 1979 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill had decadent vanilla aromas. It was ‘peachy and slaty’ per Todd, aka the Hillbilly, and also had great white musk and light toast aromas, more like bread soaked in oil. The palate was still young, very young, with nice bread, toast and white chocolate flavors. There was a bit of dirty earth on the finish, holding it back a bit (94+M).
A 1979 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame was gorgeous and lived up to its name. The Great one was admiring its soft, caressing nature. It was very floral with crushed, crystallized fruit aromas, sprinkled in sugar. A touch of hay added complexity. The palate was very clean. It was also long and fresh and possessed great effervescence, an effervescence that was more about its bubbles than its acidity. The Hillbilly said, ‘JK 94,’ and he was right. What can I say, the guy worships me 🙂 (94).
We did a fascinating comparison of three bottles of 1979 Krug, all with different disgorgement dates. ‘Real geeky wine stuff,’ Bruce gleefully admitted. The first was believed to be the original release, some time in the mid-80s. Alexander found it ‘very creamy,’ and Todd ‘more golden.’ It was big and bold, full of that Krug vanilla cream, but it was really more egg cream this time. While big, rich and bold, the ’79 was also a touch aggressive. Bruce thought it had ‘more yeast, balance and development.’ It stayed eggy but in a good way. The second bottle was disgorged in 1990, and showed more youthfully accordingly. Alexander noted, ‘white cherry,’ but there was also a slight must to this bottle. On the palate, it also had the egg, more wood and vanilla cream pie. Big, rich and bubbly, while there was more muscle here, there was also more BO, as in cork issues. The third bottle of 1979 Krug was disgorged in 1988. Again eggy, the third bottle finally had everyone jumping on my egg bandwagon. Todd called it ‘hard-boiled and sulfury.’ This bottle was the best balanced, and while lighter, it was tastier, too. The Hillbilly found it ‘less robust,’ but then again, he’s a big guy and needs those 99-point Shirazes, Priorats and Chateauneufs to wake up his senses lol. He didn’t think it would go well with Possum Stew, always a big factor in his ratings scale. Speaking of which, while all three bottles were different, and one was affected, I found them all to be qualitatively equal and (95).
It was at this point that Bruce started grumbling about the female sommelier he hired to serve at the party. The Hillbilly was all over him, saying ‘you can’t get a girl to come over even when you pay her, and she doesn’t even have to have sex with you.’ It was quite a funny moment, and no one enjoyed it more than the Hillbilly, who hooted and hollered for approximately the next five minutes. We gave him some oxygen to settle him down.
But it was really the 1979 Krug Collection from magnum that got Todd’s attention. The Collection had a great, toasty nose with unreal vanilla cream aromas. The HB noted, ‘more linear and saline”¦a tighter package.’ It absolutely was, and racy enough for any major speedway. It had a rocket-like finish that took off, leaving a trail of dust, minerals and spice. This was the first Champagne I insisted on seconds (96+M).
A 1979 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose had a nice nose, very floral in a thick way. There was red rose and strawberry fruit, mint and chocolate. The nose was outstanding and really seduced me, but the palate was milder and more elegant, simple with its sweet and earthy personality. The King agreed about the nose, but found it ‘too sweet like cotton candy.’ Alexander the Great also found it ‘sugary like lemonade’ (92).
We had our first wine of the night, and it was from Arizona, our friend Maynard’s estate Cabernet, of which he makes about 90 cases in total. The 2007 Caduceus Cabernet Sauvignon Nagual del Judith was an inky baby. It had a young, sappy and seepy nose, quite juicy in that New World way. There were nice minerals dancing around a core of superripe cassis, make that hardcore; this is Tool we are talking about! The palate was rich, saucy and juicy, with nice flesh to its finish, very good definition and traces of earth, melons and coffee grinds. The winery was named after the staff of Hermes; of course, King Angry insisted that his staff was bigger lol. This was a well-made wine by someone who takes his wine very seriously, and I look forward to trying more wines from him in the future (93).
There were three more ‘79s to go, though, and they were three of Champagne’s finest. The 1979 Louis Roederer Cristal was distinctively Cris. It was very bready, with fine, sweet vanilla wafer, smoke, orange rind and crÃ¨me brulee aromas in the nose. The palate was rich and heady with a sweet, oily core and an aggressive ‘burnt’ edge in the mouth. Very full-bodied, this ’79 was quite wild on the palate, sporting earth and weed flavors, but they were balanced by pleasing caramel, sweet margarine and yellow corn ones. Bruce hailed it as ‘great and staggering.’ There was a hint of celery, veggie goodness here. At first, the Cristal was all over the place, almost too complex, or as Todd put it, ‘a little furry.’ It really rounded out with some time in the glass, its sweetness reined itself in, and it got oily, kinky and sexy, three of my favorite things when they are enjoyed simultaneously (95+).
While I enjoyed the 1979 Salon more than the Cristal at first, by the time I had finished evaluating the both of them, the Cristal had snuck ahead. The Salon was clean and racy like light speed in the nose. It was so focused with its aromas of white fruits, ice and granulated sugar. It had the perfect sweetness, and it was a ‘laser cannon’ per the Hillbilly. The sweetness carried its perfection over to its rich palate through a rainbow of lemon and lime flavors. Its finish was long, and it had great balance. It was elegant but still big, starting to plateau and mellow, and it continued to mellow more in the glass while the Cris took off. The King added ‘vanilla cream soda’ (95).
Last and certainly not least was the 1979 Krug Clos du Mesnil. The last two bottles that I have had of this were horribly corked; thankfully, history would not repeat itself, and this bottle lived up to its historic reputation. This was the first vintage for what is now considered by many to be greatest Champagne made year in and year out, the Romanee Conti of the Champagne world. The Mesnil had a big, scintillating nose full of cinnamon, antique wood and vanilla bean. It was so big that it came across almost beefy. Deep and regal, it required our complete attention. The palate was rich, heavy and hearty, with its cinnamon and wood qualities carrying over to the palate. It was absolutely delicious, like drinking feathers and still having the meat along with it. With air and food, the wood melted away into a butter bomb. The Mesnil became saucy and decadent, rich and full of vanilla. ‘Vanilla cream soda,’ the King added. Wait a second, you said that for the Salon? ‘Make that celery soda,’ he laughed. This was finally the bottle of this legendary wine that I have been looking for; it didn’t disappoint (98).
It was time for some wine, and we began with a couple of Contis before heading over to Italy. Ray’s mystery wine had a gamy nose full of wintry red fruits and a kiss of menthol, along with rose, garden, citrus and tree bark. The palate was rich and intense with lots of red citrus fruits. There was great spice, tree flavors and a leathery finish that supported cedar and mahogany flavors. It was a delicious 1983 Echezeaux. I have said it before, that many 1983 Burgs can be surprisingly good, especially for ’s (94).
The Ech was paired with a 1985 Grands Echezeaux. Alexander the Great noticed ‘beet cottage’ right away in its big, beefy nose. There were lots of brown aromas, but not as in mature. Some vitamins and rose crept out behind the beef. The palate was oily and concentrated, almost too much so, again beefy. Its finish was lip-smacking but bruising, and the GE was a bit broad-shouldered at the moment. Although I thought the ’85 to be the better wine as far as its raw materials and long-term aging potential, I preferred the ’83 Ech on this night, as did Maynard and Ray (95+).
It was on to the Italians and the Solderas, Tuscany’s true First Growth. By the way, all Solderas are Casse Basse, which is the name of the estate, I believe. There has long been confusion about whether a Soldera is Casse Basse or not, but they all are! The 1997 Soldera Brunello Riserva had a sweet cherry core but was really all about the dust. There was also a cigar dipped in chocolate aroma in this deep, dark wine. The palate was rich and concentrated with great smoked Brunello flavors of beef, earth and leather. I was pleasantly surprised by this 1997, which seems to have floundered in the secondary market recently. Why, I am not sure (95).
The 1995 Soldera Brunello Riserva was more leathery with lots of peanuty goodness to its nose. One could tell the 1995 and 1997 were related, as the Soldera style translates in any vintage. The palate was rich and thick, full of tobacco, black fruit and tar flavors, also marked by a little egg. Its finish was much drier than the 1997’s, and it exerted itself firmly on the back end (94+).
The 1993 Soldera Brunello Riserva followed suit admirably for a vintage that isn’t considered to be a great one. Besides the usual suspects, aromas of glue and oat made their presence known. The 1993 was still rich in fruit although lighter than the previous two vintages, and flavors of leather and sour cherry candy were there in this fairly concentrated wine (93).
The 1990 Soldera Brunello Riserva had more garden and bell pepper at first, blacker fruits and a very nutty profile. It was by far the deepest and most expansive nose. The palate was thicker than anything else either, almost over the top with its motor oil concentration. Burnt coffee grinds simmered in the background. This was the essence of Brunello, and when I say essence I mean where something is taken and then reduced and concentrated. The 1990 was so concentrated that everyone lost complete focus, but that usually happens around wine #19 lol. While the 1990 stood out, the entire flight was consistently amazing and a reminder as to the greatness being achieved here (95+).
Unfortunately, a 1985 Soldera Brunello Riserva was corked (DQ).
There was one last dance, a flight of Monfortinos beginning with the 1958 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. The nose was fabulous, and everything one could want in an old Barolo. There were mature aromas of sweet tea fruit, earth, tobacco, tar, minerals, leather, citrus, oil, smoked meats and truffles. The palate was quite concentrated as well, thick bordering on syrupy. The strength of the acidity was mind-boggling; this was a powerful wine and at age 41 showing no signs of slowing down (96).
The 1961 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva was more classic in style, a cleaner, more elegant and feminine style of this wine. This was a beauty, making the 1958 a beast. There was also more reserve and depth in the ’61. Reserve, breed and class all came to mind. The palate was delicious with its mix of tobacco, citrus, autumn and bouillon flavors. Again, there was impressive acidity here, and great smack to its finish, which was full of citrus and earth (97).
The 1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva had aromas of sweet cherry, seemingly more mature than its older siblings, but it still possessed a tight core of leather, citrus, old book, tobacco leaf, varnish and sweet cigar aromas. It was round and rich with excellent acidity, nice leather and citrus flavors, and a gritty finish. Again, the acidity really impressed (94).
The last of the four horsemen here was the 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva. The 1971 was more anisy, and bready in a biscotti way. The palate had lots of black fruits, and this came across as the youngest by far, more so than the actual age difference. The acidity again was superb, and its flavors were thick but more tangy, and also more primary at this stage (95).
There was one last wine on the program, a 1976 Dom Perignon. This was a fantastic bottle of Dom, complete with that granulated sugar goodness, rich and delicious. It was long, focused and youthful. Awesome summed it up (95).
I am hoping this turns into a monthly occurrence!
In Vino Veritas,