Vintage Tastings

By John Kapon

Experience the finest and rarest wines in the world through the eyes and palate of Acker Chairman and globally renowned master taster, John Kapon (our “JK”). “Vintage Tastings” is a written journal chronicling the incredible bottles opened at some of the most exclusive tastings, wine dinners, and events all over the globe. These entries represent JK’s commitment to capturing and sharing the ephemeral nature and ultimate privilege of tasting the world’s rarest wines. Although ratings are based on a 100-point scale, JK believes there is no such thing as a 100-point wine. Point scores assigned to each wine are his own personal attempt to quantify the quality of each experience.

Almoçojantar

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For those of you that have never been to Brazil, I highly recommend that you do so as soon as possible. I have lost track of how many times I have gone, but every time I go, the first thing that I want to do is come back again. The energy and camaraderie amongst its people are second to none, especially when it comes to its fine wine. In fact, Brazil is such a great country that they came up with a word for one meal that encompasses both lunch and dinner: Almoçojantar. How great is that?!? You know, one of those late lunches that turns into dinner, it’s like a 2 for 1 deal lol. It’s even better when the wine theme at the Almocojantar is Chateau Petrus, well, for starters..

The opener of a magnum of 1989 Krug Clos de Mesnil was quickly deemed ‘sour’ by Jetski. It wasn’t perfect, though not off. A bottle I had a few weeks later was much better. It was definitely on the taut side and very citrusy. It did improve with air, but it remained taut, flexing great zip and flesh (93M).

We began our parade of Petrus with the 1985 Petrus, which was full of green olive goodness and black fruit. There was some foresty fun, minerals and a touch of black cherry on its open, creamy palate. The fruits were mainly black and purple, but very dusty. The Ambassador thought this vintage was ‘much better in Methuselah,’ and he proceeded to cut off all financial aid to those who only brought bottles (93).

The 1995 Petrus Magnum was much bigger and full of youthful fruit. It was so much more adolescent out of magnum. I was all about its deep purple and iron as the wine continued to reveal its rich, exceptional sexiness that only grew with air. A touch of banana skin added complexity. This was still elegant but sturdy and fresh in its youth. It was much wealthier than the 1985. Its meat was dripping off the bone; this was an exceptional Petrus, and an undervalued one (96+M).

The 1959 Petrus was packed with that signature, black olive nose. It had great wheat grains and truly seductive aromas of plum and chocolate with a bit of tomato and mesquite. The palate was on the red side with cherry, citrus tang and dust. It got better with more delicious chocolaty flavors. This was another exceptional Petrus (96).

The 1964 Petrus was a bit square with chunky chocolate aromas but a touch of metal. It was not as giving as the ‘59, though with more air it became more open and fleshier. The flavor profile leaned towards the wheat side, and it just seemed flabbier after the ‘59 (93).

The 1966 Petrus was very deep with more wheat and chocolaty chunks. The wheat dominated though, but the palate was round and tender, yet light in the middle. The Maestro found some ‘menthol’ in this pleasant, pretty glass that went down smoothly. It is a vintage gracefully on the decline (94).

The 1970 Petrus had a milky nose full of stems and steam. It was a bit tangy and sour and even a touch woodsy…eh…I was not particularly impressed as it finished dryly, and the tannins felt too woody. This was just an OK bottle, one that is usually much better (91A?).

We rebounded with the 1971 Petrus which was much, much better. It had round fruit, showing great red hues and a honeyed glaze. This was tender on its palate, caressing me smoothly with its delicious, creamy length. It was a classic Petrus in every which way (95).

The 1975 Petrus Magnum was rich and decadent and one of the best of the bunch. It was ‘the right size to drink for a wine of this age’, noted the Ambassador. It was delightfully creamy and in a perfect spot on this occasion (97M).

The 1952 Petrus was slightly oxidized, but the palate was better. It was rich and fleshy with great texture full of sweet, oily characteristics (95A).

The 1961 Petrus had a rich, sexy and sweet nose full of plums and chocolate. It was so complex with all the shades of all the flowers of the Royal garden in full bloom. The ’61 was incredibly expressive in the nose. Some mint crept in on the palate that was still a touch shy. It was still rich, creamy and sexy as hell. It was clearly the most complex wine so far. There were great layers to the mouth; this was was soooo good. Sweet, sexy and chocolaty, the ’61 Petrus was a veritable rap star (98).

I have never been a huge fan of the 1982 Petrus, or 1982 Pomerols in general, and this magnum didn’t change my mind, even though it was a perfect magnum. It had a milky nose with fresh farm and garden green aromas. It was so soft and barely hit 93 points for me, though the Maestro preferred it much more. I got criticized for my low and stingy score for a change! This was a bit yeasty and just OK (93M).

The 1989 Petrus came out, and now we were talking! I was all about the coconut kisses amidst its deep purple and black fruits. It was thick as a brick and rich with great length and zip. This was the ‘BEST,’ I wrote. Some things never change (99).

The 1990 Petrus showed me lots of open chocolate notes. It was ripe with lots of wheat, coconut and other exotic bits. I loved its length, but it was no match for the 1989 (95).

That was the Almoco, and now it was time for Jantar. After all that Bordeaux, there was only one place to go.

The 2008 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne was still so tight and coiled with that white, crystallized fruit. It had surprisingly pronounced acidity and tremendous length given the ripe nature of the vintage. Someone called it ‘tight and cold’ but I was into its tasty, tangy and wound personality. It was a bit shut down, however, by recent comparisons (95).

The 2009 DRC Montrachet was served too cold, which initially covered the smidge of corkiness. It was very fine and smooth. This would have been 95+ but ultimately was too corked (DQ).

The 2003 DRC Montrachet was smooth, soft and round but a touch too sweet and simple by this wine’s usual standards. It was fun and easy with its sweet personality. It added a touch of light flint on its finish (92).

The 2000 DRC Montrachet had that sexy rainwater nose. It was full of clay and wet waterfalls along with creamy, sexy acidity. There was great caramel on the palate, and I was finally wowed after three whites where I wanted more (96).

The 1996 DRC Montrachet gave me more and then some. It was all about its richness and smoky intensity. The acidity was even more intense; its length and zip made it a real powerhouse. The Ambassador thought the ‘acidity endless,’ and he was right. This wine wasn’t even on its plateau yet (99).

The reds began with a delicious 1985 DRC Grands Echezeaux. It bowled me over, literally. The GE is indubitably the dark knight of the DRC portfolio, and it always delivers the best price to quality experience of them all IMO. It was one of the most concentrated ’85 DRCs I could remember. It was heavy, with lots of depth and oily richness. The Wingman found ‘flowers, roses, white pepper and licorice.’ Well said (97).

The 1985 DRC Richebourg was quickly DQ’d. We moved on to a bottle of 1980 DRC Romanee St. Vivant which had a ripe, rock ‘n roll quality to it. It was a touch heavy, with a kiss of gravy. It was a little too hot but still good (93).

A bottle of 1978 G. Roumier Bonnes Mares was next, showing some lovely, smooth citrus. It was not the 98/99-point wine it usually is. It’s all about the bottle, and this one was still outstanding, but it can be better. It had a nice musk and was dominated by leather, citrus and bouillon (96).

There were two wines to go, and what wines they were. We continued with a perfect bottle of 1985 Dujac Clos St. Denis. It was so sexy and aromatic, showing all the colors of the wine rainbow, including apricot. I guess that’s technically orange lol. I wrote ‘Dujac=delicious’ and this beautiful bottle epitomized that statement, giving me autumn kisses and a purple forest floor on which I could stand. Autumn continued its statement on the finish in a youthful way; it was the September autumn, not the November one (97).

The 1985 A. Rousseau Chambertin was full bodied and then some. This was a ‘deep ocean’ wine as Big Boy would have said if he ever made it to Brazil. It was black like a deep cave after dark, and full of wet, dark stone mysteriousness. This wine was rich and great, in every which way, not rich and an asshole lol (98).

And that’s what we call Almocojantar. Try it out some time, and try out Brazil!

FIN,

JK

1978

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I still have a couple articles in the mix from last year, one featuring an amazing Petrus vertical in Sao Paulo, and, of course, my wines of the year 2019 article which is quickly becoming outdated lol. They’re coming! I have been on the road for 28 days this January for a variety of reasons, featuring Hong Kong, Europe, earthquake avoidances and my usual, mandatory New York City visit to celebrate the birthday of The Hedonist. Hollywood Jef and Jetski basically hijacked The Hedonist’s week, which was quite alright since he was invited to everything. The first night I joined was hosted by Tom Terrific in his beautiful home, and the beautiful theme of 1978 was selected.

Champagne service began with a bottle of 1978 Roederer Cristal, which was quickly deemed a ‘perfect ’78’ by Big Boy. It was full of orange rind and rust aromas with a nice sweetness to it. Lord Byron Jr. found ‘a lot of bubbles’ in this round and tender Cris. It was quite creamy with a touch of soda to it. Dapper Dave noticed its ‘rounder’ qualities (93).

The 1978 Roederer Cristal Rose was less bubbly than the original, with more mature notes of strawberry shortcake and powdered sugar. It was round, creamy and a touch dirty. Wild Bill found it ‘tasty’ with its lovely, honeyed finish (91).

A pair of whites came quickly, beginning with a bottle of 1978 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne. It was smoky and toasty, with lots of smoked corn in a maize, Native American sort of way. The palate was smooth and nutty with its toastiness persisting. It was just starting to turn the corner, but it remained very pretty as it began to sunset. For its age, I thought it was really good despite getting a bit mossy (93).

The 1978 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet showed great floral qualities immediately with lots of acacia and honeysuckle. It was very tropical, exotically so, and its palate was rich, creamy and luscious. Secondary flavors of vanilla and caramel emerged in this perfectly aged bottle of white Burgundy. Lord Byron Jr. hailed it as ‘oily’ and ‘unctuous.’ Each sip made me appreciate this profound wine even more. It got some pretty high scores from some distinguished tasters; Jetski was in 99 point territory and the Curious Gourmet gave it 98. Jetski quickly backpedaled, but both of them – and the wine – pulled me up a point in the end (98).

The reds began with a 1978 Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses. Dapper Dave admired its ‘musky’ elements while I was digging into its very complicated nose. There were great tangy, bing cherry aromas, and lots of black and purple olive qualities emerged. It had lots of energy with great spine and a leather smack to its palate, continuing its round and tangy themes in the mouth. It got more smoky and stayed complicated (95).

The Premier Crus continued with a divine 1978 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques. It was a super sexy bottle that was musky, oily and tangy with a wealth of red cherry sex appeal. The finish was so long and sensual with great earth flavors and a nutty finish. It made me smack my lips, and its acid lingered in my belly like a warm fireplace on a cold night. Its gritty, long finish had me excited (98).

The 1978 Ponsot Latricieres Chambertin was minty and mild by comparison to the other red Burgundies. Dapper Dave found it ‘lean for a ’78,’ and I thought it was ‘just OK’ with black fruits and earth flavors. It was chalky, stony and dry (92).

The 1978 Dujac Charmes Chambertin was musky and sexy with all of that ’78 Dujac goodness. There were delicious olive and dark chocolate flavors. Jetski found it ‘edgy,’ and it got riper in the glass. It also had a chalky finish and proved to be about as much as one could do with this terroir (94).

The 1978 Roumier Bonnes Mares once again delivered an immaculate experience. It had a smoky nose full of deep, dark purple fruits. This oily red was a 99 point wine from the get-go with its smorgasbord of delicious fruits. It still felt so young but was so open, with great length and grit. This wine had impeccable concentration and zip, and it lingered on my palate effortlessly and endlessly (99).

The 1978 DRC La Tache was another ‘wow’ wine. It was packed with menthol, rose, white smoke and light game, as in just right light. There were leather and slate flavors on its muscular and unfurling finish. This bottle of LT had it all. Lord Byron Jr. was hesitant to give it the elusive 99 points, but while the ink in his pen dried up, most of us had no doubt (99).

We migrated south to the Rhone with a perfect bottle of 1978 Chave Hermitage. It had all the great violet fruit and white pepper that great Syrah should have. Small purple flowers breezed through its nose. Someone declared it ‘animal’ with a French accent for some dramatic flair, and Dapper Dave found it ‘very primary’ with some ‘savory bacon.’ Minty secondary edges developed, and the wine was so fresh, it was almost too young. Lord Byron Jr. thought it was ‘open for business,’ going so far as to say it was the ‘best bottle (of this) he’d ever had’ (97).

The 1978 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle was deeper and sweeter than the Chave. It had more intensity, and more noticeable alcohol and acidity. There was big fruit and flesh to this rich and decadent red, which was more noticeably darker and at first more impressive. In the end, style often trumps substance (96).

We traversed the Alps over to Piedmont with a ripe and rich bottle of 1978 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva. It had a some jammy goodness to its nose with celery soda aromas. It was a sweet and sappy wine that became gamy and brown sugary (95).

The 1978 Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda Riserva was ‘so fresh underneath,’ underneath its corkiness, unfortunately. The lift to this wine was incredible, and the texture was unreal. It would’ve been in the 97-99 point category but alas just a (DQ). It was pretty badly corked.

The 1978 Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva was full of ‘cinnamon’ per one guest. It was long and dry but lifted like the take-off of an under-control rocket. This was clearly a great wine with great acidity and a zippy personality. The usual tar and leather were joined by black roses and Grandma’s secret spices. Mamma mia (99)!

The 1978 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Mouline was deep and meaty with menthol, violet and bacon – that superior signature of La Mouline. It was chocolatey on the palate, but the cheese kind of stripped it a bit; don’t serve cheese with your red wine! It regained its footing after the cheese went away and kept getting better and better. This was another superlative bottle on what was clearly a superlative night (98).

One final wine arrived, a mystery wine that Big Boy deemed ‘somewhere between strong and extremely strong,’ which was quite accurate. It had great bacon and mint aromas, with the perfect ‘zippy zip’ I wanted at the end of the night. It wound up being one of the best bottles of 1990 Chave Hermitage that I have ever had, firing away on all cylinders in all its rich and decadent glory (98).

There were three 99-point wines and four 98-point wines on this amazing evening; that doesn’t happen that often. If there was any doubt about 1978 being a spectacularly and universally great vintage before this night, none remained. A big thanks to our host, Tom Terrific, and a big Happy Birthday to The Hedonist! It was a great way to kick off drinking season in New York City in 2020, a fitting beginning to a Bicentennial celebration!

In Vino Veritas,
JK

Hong Kong Hittin’ Hard

Everyone wants to know, ‘how is Hong Kong?’ It has certainly been a tumultuous and strenuous second half to the year for one of the world’s greatest cities, and after a bit of recent and extended calm, things unfortunately escalated again on New Year’s Day. The hospitality business has definitely been hit hard, and the city regularly feels emptier than usual due to a spike downwards in tourism. When there are major protests in a certain area, local businesses are basically screwed. People do not go out on the weekends or holidays as much since most of the protests are on weekends or holidays, unless they are protesting, of course. Reports of recession have emerged, and everyone to whom I have spoken yearns for a return to normalcy.

But for its finest wine lovers, pleasure and business continue in fine fashion. People want to enjoy their passion, perhaps even more so given the circumstances. And two short but sweet meals on my two trips there this Fall would prove to be outstanding examples of this point.

A good doctor and a good businessman were good company on one weeknight in the city. We ended up with five wines but only two vintages, 1995 and 1991. It wasn’t planned like that, but we were in sync! We started with a 1995 Krug Clos du Mesnil, which had a big oaky nose, full of toasty coconut and bread soaked in oil. It was very buttery in the nose but very lemony on the palate, a bit tangy. There were earthy flavors in this tart bubbly (94).

The rare 1995 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet had a sweet nose with lots of caramel and caramel corn as well. There was musk to its decadent sweetness, and its nose was showing lots of skin. There was still a firm structure here. There was some hay, bits of straw and caramel in this delicious white. It was so delicious and creamy with a kiss of mom’s chicken soup flavors (96).

The 1991 H. Lignier Clos de la Roche had a wheaty nose. The wine was deep, tight and bready, perhaps a touch unusually so. There was long, firm acid and a big finish but the wine was a bit square. There were a lot of olive flavors in this big, beefy red. The wine was great, but I wanted more. It almost seemed musty, but it was really just super stony. Soy flavors emerged as its acid flexed even more (95).

The 1991 Domaine Leroy Richebourg was a deep, dark ocean that no sunlight could penetrate. It was so black with kisses of Ferrari tire. Rich, deep and long, it was remarked how 1991 is the first great vintage for Domaine Leroy. There were secondary nutty and grassy qualities; it was a regular squirrel party lol. There was a bit of a ceramic and rubber tire casing to its palate. The Riche was heavy, rich and meaty with a seductive perfume. ‘So perfumy’ came from the crowd as this wine continued to gain in the glass (97+).

We went back to the whites for the last wine of this glorious night and a rare 1991 Lafon Montrachet. It was very caramelly and creamy with lots of honey aromas. Gamy corn emerged to dominate the nose. The palate was buttery and kinky with a mature, gamy edge but excellent butterscotch flavors. This honeyed white gave me nice spider web feelings, whatever that meant lol. It was actually a proper dessert wine (94)!

Another most noteworthy meal of my Fall trips to Hong Kong also saw a Domaine Leflaive Montrachet opened. I love it when that happens. The 1996 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet had a fabulous nose with creamed corn and butter fresh off the farm aromas. There was sweet yellow fruit and a great icecap on its nose. There were underlying minerals and tension beneath its sensual olfactory stimulation. The palate was rich, creamy and round with such signature smoky sexiness. There were secondary butterscotch aromas and flavors in this divine wine (98).

A magnum of 1971 DRC Romanee Conti came next. That’s right. In fact, this magnum was purchased at our November Hong Kong auction the month prior. I love it when that happens, too. The magnum was in outstanding condition, and it had outstanding provenance, so I was feeling no pressure. After one sip, I was feeling no pain. Its nose was full of that autumnal rust and spice. There were tomato, rose, bouillon and menthol aromas filling my nose to capacity. The Winemaster found the 1971 ‘more elegant than 1978’ in general, and I was in love with its great, fully mature flavors. There were brick, rust and autumn flavors here. While its palate was elegant, its finish was thick. It got more minty and (good) herbal on its finish, with almost a kiss of Chartreuse-like complexity. What a wine (99M).

Next was another perfect condition bottle, a 1961 Chateau Haut Brion. It had toffee, caramel and peanut aromas with an egg cream kiss. It was rich and luscious on the palate with great, coffee and chocolate flavors alongside dark plum and cassis. This was a long and sexy wine; if flavors could be midnight, this wine was it. I wanted to take it back to my hotel room accordingly (98).

This spectacular lunch closed out with a 1990 J.L. Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin. I brought it. I mean, a ’71 RC magnum was opened, and I’m a gentleman! I have been drinking as much Chave as possible; it is generally a good habit lol. The Cathelin had an amazing nose with an insane blend of menthol, violet and bacon. It was so white smoky and so sexy with enough oil to get a racecar going. The palate was superb; this was another long and sexy wine that left my mouth open and wanting more. Its creamy, honeyed personality and elegant, endless finish had me in the promised land again. Just wow (99).

One Hong Kong friend said to me recently, ‘this, too, shall pass.’ In the meantime, Hong Kongers will keep passing the glass around the table and celebrate the life that they know and love. I am looking forward to returning tomorrow!

In Vino Veritas,
JK

Historic Rayas Vertical

2019 saw us take our special event show on the road to Europe. There were two extraordinary weeks in Paris and Piedmont where wine and food came together on the highest level. ‘April in Paris’ kicked off this new initiative, and there were five magical meals over the course of one week in April. While every meal was literally extraordinary, there was one evening that was more historically significant than the others.

Emmanuel Reynaud is the genius behind Chateau Rayas, the Chateauneuf du Pape that is more than just Chateauneuf du Pape. When I visited him a year plus ago at his vineyards, I learned about the unique microclimate and soil that makes Rayas so special and the greatest expression of Grenache in the world. It is truly one of the world’s greatest and most unique wines.

Emmanuel is also a reclusive man and not very responsive. He is incredibly intelligent and engaging when you are with him, but difficult to engage in the first place. We invited him for this special vertical we had acquired, and we wanted to do it in Paris for our first event there. We were doing it at Taillevent, and he now knew the Paradox and I after some quality time together, and our introduction came from none other than Martine Saunier. Of course, he would accept our invitation. How could he not? These verticals don’t grow on trees, and it was just a quick trip on the TGV to Paris for such a rare retrospective. Well, as winter turned into Spring, we still had no confirmation of his attendance after some regular enquiries, so we had to break out the big gun: Martine. Martine gave Emmanuel a lecture he could not refuse! It was her 50th Anniversary working with the Chateau after all, and he was told he had to be there. And he was there. I told you when Martine speaks, people listen! Now the stage was officially and properly set for this historical vertical with both Martine and Emmanuel at the legendary Taillevent in Paris. There were 26 vintages on the menu. Game on!

2009 Chateau Rayas (97)
2008 Chateau Rayas (95)
2007 Chateau Rayas (97+)
2006 Chateau Rayas (94)

The 2009 had a sweet nose with classic framboise. It was very rich and concentrated with that Rayas kink. The Big Tuna noted its ‘scented’ qualities and ‘variety of roses.’ Emmanuel noted its ‘puissance’ or power, and Alex deemed it his favorite. There was a common theme out of the gate with the wines showing great typicity of rose petals and sweet richness. The 2008 was tighter, showing a harder vintage and more alcohol. It was stonier on the nose with more minerals and lots of acidity. The wine finished dry and long in a similarly stony way. The Big Tuna found ‘sarsaparilla soda/root beer,’ and he preferred how the vintage was ‘more integrated, lighter and ready to drink now.’ The Paradox noted, ‘rosewater.’ The 2007 bowled us over with its sexy perfume. It was rich and full-bodied with much more acidity than the first two wines, and Emmanuel agreed. This was super impressive with so much more oil in the mouth. “SO RICH,” I wrote. The 2006 had the sweetest nose, but it showed a little dryly on the palate. There was more strawberry to it, and it showed a lot like the ’08 but with more acid.

2005 Chateau Rayas (96+)
2004 Chateau Rayas (92)
2003 Chateau Rayas (96)

The second flight began with the very stony 2005, which showed lots of alcohol and acidity in the nose. It was stone city, with ceramics, white pepper, black raspberry and bread soaked in oil aromas. It was rich and wide on the palate, still showing a bit of baby fat. I was all about its oiliness; the wine was so dense but without its cut at the moment. The Big Tuna found ‘cedar’ and ‘true sauvage.’ It was a wild vintage that just wasn’t quite as accessible yet as many other vintages. I wrote a capital, ‘YES!’ That’s usually a good sign. The Caps were coming out often and early lol. The 2004 had a nice nose but was clearly more reticent, showing more curds and whey and even a touch of yeastiness. It was a bit dirty on the palate, and I felt this was a vintage to enjoy sooner rather than later. The 2003 was from a sunny and very hot year, but it was still a great example of the vintage, and one of the best 2003s I can remember in all of France. This was the first vintage we tasted that showed a balance of fruit versus the alcohol. We were starting to reach a next level of maturity, it seemed. The wine was exceptionally fresh especially given the vintage, fleshy and delicious.

2002 Chateau Rayas (92)
2001 Chateau Rayas (94)
2000 Chateau Rayas (95)

The third flight commenced with the 2002 which Emmanuel found to be the ‘most agreeable right now.’ It had that signature rose again, red fruits and a bit of milk. Emmanuel shared how 2002 was a tricky vintage with ‘a lot of rain, we were literally washed out by water.’ A lot of winemakers lost everything. It still showed a nice structure with a lot of spice, leather and blacker than usual fruits. Emmanuel remarked that he had ‘waited and waited for the mistral’ winds, and some grapes lost skin, others had slight botrytis and some raisinated on the vine, but he was able to salvage the vintage. The 2001 was deeper and darker, full of blackberry jam. It was a bit dry, heavy and a little shut down à la the ’05, but it didn’t have as much going on. The Big Tuna found some ‘burnt coffee’ amongst the tight, spicy white pepper flavors. The freshness in the 2000 was impressive. There was great spice, pepper, cedar and open red fruits. It was rich and tasty, and I loved its red fruits with a touch of brick. The 2000 was a great man cave of rich, red fruit flavors.

1999 Chateau Rayas (93)
1998 Chateau Rayas (94)
1997 Chateau Rayas (94)
1996 Chateau Rayas (95)

The fourth flighted opened with the 1999, which was sweeter and kinkier with more black fruits in its jammy nose. It stayed jammy on the palate, with sweet, black sugary flavors, verging on molasses. Jetski dismissed this vintage as ‘an outlier,’ but it did get a little better with air, but it was still a bit yeasty and earthy. The 1999 was a bit of a bruiser. The 1998 was also jammy, but more in the classic red, strawberry way with nice framboise to match. It was elegant and light on its feet, dancing in the glass. It still had a touch of ‘burnt sugar’ to it, but I dug its tasty, sweet, jamminess at first. It got a touch (too) sweeter in the glass, though. The 1997 showed red forest and nice desert aromas backed by sturdy earth. It was excellent with nice ‘grilled meats’ per The Big Tuna, and Emmanuel found it ‘polite’ and reserved. I liked its white pepper notes as I kept comparing it to the ’98, but the 1997 was less sweet and lighter in a good way. The 1996 was a great return to freshness and was quickly compared to the ’08. It was all about the acidity and showed the most balance in this flight. This was the final vintage made by legendary Jacques Reynaud, Emmanuel’s uncle, but Emmanuel bottled it.

1995 Chateau Rayas (95)
1994 Chateau Rayas (DQ)
1992 Chateau Rayas (95)
1990 Chateau Rayas (98)

The fifth flight brought us to the sweet and elegant 1995, which had great purity. It was full of strawberries, fresh cream and a honeyed, sweet goodness. Martine quickly DQ’d the 1994 as it was corked. We came back in full force with the smoky, stony 1992. It had nice spice and fabulous intensity. It was so delicious to drink right now. I was impressed by this completely overlooked/forgotten vintage. The 1990 was the essence of kirsch. ‘So good,’ I wrote. Emmanuel thought the 1990 was the ‘real brother with 1995.’ Its kirsch core was encased in handcrafted ceramic walls littered with ancestral designs. It was so rich but had the cut and all the muscle. Emmanuel remarked, ‘nature is now talking!’ He was also a big fan of the vintage!

1989 Chateau Rayas (97)
1988 Chateau Rayas (94)
1986 Chateau Rayas (95)
1985 Chateau Rayas (96)

The 1989 picked up right where the 1990 left off. It had a sweet core of a melange of black and red fruits. It was a perfect ’89, big and rich on the nose but more mellow on the palate with nice, dry grit. There were scrumptious cherry kirsch flavors and nice alcohol and acidity expressions. This was a ‘big vintage’ per Emmanuel. The 1988 had another sweet core, but here there was a touch of coconut along with sweet red fruits and some cotton candy goodness. It wasn’t too sweet, though. It was quite tasty with a touch of coffee. The similarity of the ‘88 continued with the 1986. This had black, red and the first blue fruits! It was better than the ’88 with great dryness and nice verve. The 1985 had a deep, meaty nose with that cotton candy goodness again. It was so good, so rich and so decadent with blackberry and black raspberries punching through. Someone admired the overall ‘consistent style, great balance of fruit and acidity, these are wines for food.’ Well said.

1981 Chateau Rayas (DQ)
1978 Chateau Rayas (98)
1976 Chateau Rayas (96)
1971 Chateau Rayas (DQ)

We hit some speed bumps in the last flight with two DQ’d wines. Flight seven started on a sour note with a hot and mature 1981. It was a touch tired and ultimately oxidized. The 1978, however, was great enough to carry the whole flight! It had an extreme palate that reminded me of the 1990. ‘Awesome’ came to mind. It had animal and berry goodness, and Emmanuel found it more reminiscent of the ’89. It was rich, decadent and buttery. Martine cooed how Jacques was ‘a master,’ and how the 1978 ‘reminds me of Burgundy.’ There is no question the 1978 is in the league of greatest Rayases ever. The 1976 showed fresh strawberries and great sweetness. The freshness was terrific as was the balance amongst all its red fruits. The 1971 sadly fell apart in the glass, not bad at first but not a great bottle in the end.

1969 Chateau Rayas (96)
1967 Chateau Rayas (95)
1962 Chateau Rayas (97)

There was a small afterparty thanks to a few generous collectors featuring a few ancient wonders from the swinging Sixties. The 1969 was Martine’s vintage, her first vintage imported, her 50th anniversary of working with Chateau Rayas! It was a great wine, classy with a splendid finish. It had good earth undertones with nice Christmas dust flavors. The 1967 was sweeter and riper with red fruits as well as a charcoal complexity. It again reminded me of Christmas with its sweet red fruits and dusty finish. The 1962 was super elegant with all of its elements still in harmony. The Sixties officially became the Christmas decade for Rayas, as I kept getting that reference. It gave me more Christmas dust kisses – red fruits, wintry spice, gingerbread and more.

Emmanuel summed up this magical evening with a sage statement, ‘We are here for a certain amount of time, but the place is here forever.’ It was a testimony to terroir and its importance, and he gave all the credit to the unique vineyard that has helped make Chateau Rayas one of the world’s greatest wines. Now what can we do to get him out of the vineyard again LOL.

It was a magical night, one I will never forget. May your 2020 be filled with nothing but great wines and great times. Happy New Year!

In Vino Veritas,
JK

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