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.
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an amazing Petrus vertical in Sao Paulo, and, of course, my wines of the year 2019 article which is quickly becoming outdated lol.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).
1978 In the House
Rhone Death Match
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).
Hard at Work
The Happy Recap
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!
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!
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 and I
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
2008 Chateau Rayas
2007 Chateau Rayas
2006 Chateau Rayas
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
2004 Chateau Rayas
2003 Chateau Rayas
The Menu Was Set
And So Were The Wines
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
2001 Chateau Rayas
2000 Chateau Rayas
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
1998 Chateau Rayas
1997 Chateau Rayas
1996 Chateau Rayas
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
1994 Chateau Rayas
1992 Chateau Rayas
1990 Chateau Rayas
Early Emmanuel Era
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
1988 Chateau Rayas
1986 Chateau Rayas
1985 Chateau Rayas
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
1978 Chateau Rayas
1976 Chateau Rayas
1971 Chateau Rayas
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
1967 Chateau Rayas
1962 Chateau Rayas
The Ambassador Getting The Perfect Shot
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!
2018 was a great year. We sold $125M of wine, set 2150 World Records and passed $1 Billion in lifetime auction sales. I like hearing the sound of that again and again lol. As far as this year’s revenue, it only took me 141 flights and over 300,000 miles in the air, no big deal ; ) It was also an amazing year of drinking wine accordingly, where I more than tripled my top wines of the year from 2017, those wines that achieve the elusive 99 point score. This year, I had nineteen of them, although five of the wines on my list made it twice, theoretically making it a Top 24. I think last year it was only eight? Am I drinking better, or getting easier in my old age? Well, considering my 97 point wines and up more than doubled this year, and how many wines it took for me to taste to get to those nineteen (I would guestimate at least 1500-2000), I think I am drinking better! Now that’s a resolution to which I think we can all stick.
For those of you that forgot, or don’t even know, I never rate a wine 100 points. 99 is as good as it gets, although every once in a (long) while, a wine makes me go 99+. I believe in the pursuit of perfection, but not perfection itself. So, let the countdown begin, here are my top wines of 2018:
#19) 1989 Haut Brion
#18) 1989 Petrus
#17) 2010 Comte Liger-Belair La Romanee
#19) 1989 Haut Brion – This is a perennial guest on my top wines of the year, certainly the greatest ‘young’ claret I have ever had, and nothing has topped it since, at least in my book.
The 1989 Haut Brion was near perfect, as always. There were deep black fruits with a nutty glaze, and while heavy, it had an effortless finish. It was gritty and zippy with regal acidity and length. It lasted so long on the palate yet was still utterly stylish. It is still the greatest Bordeaux made over the past thirty years, along with the 1989 Petrus.(99pts)
The 1989 Haut Brion was perfect AS EVER. I have gotten lazy with taking notes for this wine, as I have it fairly regularly, and it is always 98 or 99 points. Wine life can be so mundane.(99)
#18) 1989 Petrus – Right behind, or in front of, the 1989 Haut Brion is usually the 1989 Petrus. It is also my first 99 point wine of 2019, I am off to a good start ; ) I can never have enough of this wine, I recommend buying four cases so you can have it at least once or twice a year for the next 20-30 years!
I consider there to be few greater wines ever made in Bordeaux than the 1989 Petrus, and it showed why once again. It basically crushed the La Taches, no contest. It was clearly the best wine of the night. Rich and decadent, its saucy and syrupy chocolate and purple fruit oozed out of the glass. You almost had to squeeze it as if it was in a toothpaste tube. Its finish was vim city meets smack that, and its palate wasn’t just rich – it was wealthy. It is an anytime, anywhere wine.(99)
Some of the words I can still recognize are intense, chocolate, exotic, molasses and ‘as always.’ The 1989 Petrus is, along with the 1989 Haut Brion, the greatest Bordeaux(s) made in the last thirty years.(99pts)
#17) 2010 Comte Liger-Belair La Romanee – I will never forget this bonus bottle (thanks to BJ) on a Jayer night, because it came out at the end of the night, after all these great Jayers, Rougets and Meos, and it just exceeded everything else. Has the pupil become the master? Hell, yeah!
This was another spectacular, WOW wine with superb aromatics of pure fruit, great menthol and extraordinary spice. BJ and I were blown away, and we both decided rather quickly that this was wine of the night. Its acidity and length were both endless and effortless. ‘BEST wine’ was in my notes in that exact manner. When you have a consensus amongst JK and BJ, it becomes official, although I am sure most wine drinkers would rather have an official BJ than an official JK. That joke will never grow old lol.(99)
#16) 1996 DRC Montrachet
#14) 1991 Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux
#13) 1961 Latour in Magnum
#16) 1996 DRC Montrachet – I had this wine at least three times in 2018, but this bottle took the top prize. It remains of the greatest modern day expressions of this legendary wine, which we will be seeing again soon in this article. You will notice that the wines also start to get older in this article, too. Yes, older is always better, except when it is too old lol.
The French Paradox found it to be a ‘laser.’ This had a great, regal yet shy nose at first with nice citrus aromas, but it was muted overall. The palate, however, was explosive and absolutely ‘insane,’ I wrote. Its acidity was great, its finish long and its flavors nice and icy. This was a graceful wine with great fireplace action and awesome minerality. It doesn’t get much better.(99)
#15) 1979 Krug Clos du Mesnil – The first vintage of this single vineyard Champagne is still one of its best. Truth be told, there isn’t a bad vintage of Clos du Mesnil, which isn’t made every year. Every bottle of Clos du Mesnil is a special occasion; it is the true Romanee Conti of Champagne.
The 1979 Krug Clos du Mesnil was Montrachet-like with its buttery butter bomb of a personality. This was a little oakier at first, but it turned into woodsy goodness. WOW, this wine had the intensity and sweetness of a DRC Montrachet. This was an ‘epic’ Champagne, roasted and reminiscent of ‘toasted apricots’ per the French Paradox. While starting to mellow and ‘not so fizzy like the others’ per the Comte, make no mistake about it: this was a stone-cold stunner.(99)
#14) 1991 Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux – I used to think that the 1978 Jayers were as good as it gets, but perhaps the sweet spot for Jayer is moving into the decade thereafter. There are few producers who get people to spend $500,000 on a case of wine, so it is only fitting that a bottle of it made my Top Wines of the Year.
It was so good, it was like being wine horny. It was deep, dark and even better than I remember it from last year, and that bottle was pretty damn great, too! This was rich, decadent, creamy and oily, so large and in charge, so young but just starting to show some mature nuances. ‘Mint’ and ‘camphor’ came from the crowd. This was as good as it gets.(99)
#13) 1961 Latour in Magnum – The first magnum makes its way onto my list, and it was a near-perfect magnum of 1961 Latour. This was an experience that lived up to the greatest wines of the century hype, although I have found bottles to be inconsistently spectacular. Always great, but not always spectacular. This magnum was certainly spectacular.
A spectacular magnum of 1961 Chateau Latour finished the night in fine fashion and was one of the best experiences I have ever had with this wine, if not the best. This was a classic claret in every which way and kept gaining and gaining and gaining in the glass.(99M)
#12) 1959 Lafite Rothschild
#11) 1990 DRC La Tache in Magnum
#10) 1991 Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin
#12) 1959 Lafite Rothschild – Certainly the greatest Lafite ever made for me, the 1959 always delivers an amazing experience, even when hunting truffles in Piedmont, which is where I had another glorious ’59 this Fall.
The 1959 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild had a great nose with cedar, carob, caramel and, oddly, more of that Mouton mint. This was delicious and full of super aromatic fruit. The finish was gritty with great balance and expressiveness. The French Paradox noted the wine’s great ‘length.’(99)
#11) 1990 DRC La Tache in Magnum – The magnums are coming, the magnums are coming! This was an incredible magnum of this wine. While bottles can sometimes be inconsistent with the ’90 LT, similar to the ’61 Latour, I could see both the pleasure and the potential intertwined here like fine wine genetics. This will be a vintage to celebrate for DRC for the next 30+ years.
Big Boy immediately found ‘spice box’ on the 1990 DRC La Tache magnum. This had all the cedar any forest would need. It was a soupy, sexy city, still so young but oh so good. It was much, much better than a recently had bottle. There was so much spice it made me sneeze. It was a truly great magnum, as good a wine as there is. So young, so long and so good kept reappearing in my notes.(99M)
#10) 1991 Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin – There were some tough decisions to get here, but finally here is the Top Ten! This bottle of Cathelin was courtesy of the personal cellars of Jean-Louis Chave, and we drank it about five minutes from the Domaine. There is definitely some truth that it often tastes better when you are there, wherever there may be, but I have a feeling this vintage of Cathelin will be 99 points no matter where I have it.
While by no means mature, the additional nuances and style of the 1991 Cathelin obviously showed more development than the 2003, but it still felt like a very young wine. What amazed me about the 1991 was its silky personality. This was not a bomb like the 2003, and I could see even more Jean-Louis’ insistence that Cathelin was a different wine and expression of a given vintage. Its fruit was again on the black side, with more purple and light ink edges. Smoked meats and fireplace crackles of the God of War mixed with violets and wildflowers from the Goddess of Love. It had a long, sensual finish, unfurling slowly, surely and sexily. It was creamy but not heavy; there was a grace and elegance to the 1991, and it danced like a ballerina on my palate. It also was dripping with diamonds, sparkling in every which (and rich) way. I just realized I totally forgot about this wine in my Top Wines of the Year article in 2017! Those auction tasters are impossible for me to keep track…but I won’t forget it again.(99pts)
#9) 1978 DRC Montrachet
#8) 1959 Latour in Bottle and Magnum
#7) TIE 1993 Rousseau Chambertin in Bottle and Magnum, 1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze in bottle
#9) 1978 DRC Montrachet – I will never forget a dinner at Georges V, just Aubert de Villaine, Bipin Desai Wolfgang Grunewald and I, when Wolfgang served this wine to Aubert. Aubert was visibly touched, not only by Wolfgang’s gesture, but also by the wine itself. He remarked how it was the greatest of DRC Montrachets, at least in his book at that time. It was nice to see the wine holding up so well over fifteen years later.
There was one great bottle of 1978 DRC Montrachet out of two served, and thankfully I got the great one. There was definitely some rumbling and grumbling because one bottle was served to half the room and the other to the other half. Since most wines were one bottle each, everyone could have tasted the first bottle and then tried the second etc. Just trying to help all of your future dinner parties ; ) White cocoa jumped out of its nose. This was a rich, decadent and divine glass of wine. ‘Great great great,’ I wrote. The sun was just setting for the wine, but this sun was still full and blazing, lighting up the sky. There was some gamy goodness with white chocolate and great smoke flavors. Its finish was super smoky, in fact, and there was still great acid remaining here to go with tertiary coffee flavors. Wow.(99)
#8) 1959 Latour in Bottle and Magnum – Any bottle that can hit 99 points out of bottle and magnum definitely is a winner lol. I have always adored the 1959 Latour, usually enjoying it slightly more than the 1961. There is a sweetness to the ’59 that is tough to beat, and on two separate occasions in 2018, it proved my point.
The Good Doctor set a high bar when he said that the 1959 Latour was ‘one of the best bottles of Latour I’ve ever tasted.’ He was absolutely right; I seconded that emotion! This was a perfect bottle that was so sweet (in the right way) and so rich with loads of great spice. Dusty, long, thick and smooth, the crowd cooed ‘chocolate’ and ‘cassis.’ This was a gritty and exciting wine. I often say that I usually prefer the ’59 Latour these days to the ’61, and this bottle was Exhibit A-Z.(99)
The 1959 Latour in magnum was rich and decadent with great spice, cedar and cassis flavors. This was a classic in every which way of the word; it is tough to find a better Bordeaux to drink right now, especially out of magnum.(99M).
#7) TIE 1993 Rousseau Chambertin in Bottle and Magnum, 1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze in bottle – If there is one producer that has catapulted into Burgundy lovers’ hearts deeper and faster over the last handful of years, I do not know it. Well, that’s not true. The wines of Comte Liger-Belair, as well, for sure. But this is Rousseau’s turn to shine, and this magnum did just that. This is another wine whose evolution I will enjoy following for another three decades. I will also note that a bottle of Beze hit the magical 99 point score at our massive 40+ vintage of Beze. There were many 98 pointers but only one 99 for me, and that was the 1993, which says a lot for this vintage for Rousseau.
The 1993 Rousseau Chambertin is one of the greatest Burgs ever made, as a recent lunch in LA also confirmed. The red fruits, the Asian spices, it wasn’t too rich or too sweet and perfect in each of those regards. It was like an elegant jackhammer.(99M)
The 1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze had more of that super structure. This was a fantastic, sexy beast of a wine, with sea breeze and deep red fruit. This was so rich and so great. It lingered endlessly a bit like a holiday weekend where you took Tuesday off as well. It was so muscular yet so graceful. Super, super stuff.(99)
#6) 1992 Ramonet Montrachet in Jeroboam
#5) 1978 Ramonet Montrachet
#4) 1961 Lafleur
#6) 1992 Ramonet Montrachet in Jeroboam – What could be better than a perfect magnum of an aged, world-class wine? Yup, a jeroboam. This was not only a jeroboam; it was a perfect jeroboam purchased upon release and never moved by its original owner. The Germans know how to keep their white wines lol. A crisp Fall afternoon in Northern Germany was the perfect setting for this amazing bottle, which six to eight of us guzzled down in a couple of hours.
This was a perfect bottle. Its color glittered in the sunlight like a small fortune. Its nose was full of a sexy corn/butter glaze with a touch of signature mint. It had that wintry, icy character that was in perfect balance with great spice, black forest, and great minerality. This had none of the 1992 over-ripeness from which many whites of this vintage can suffer. It was still tight, but it continued to open and was in a really good spot after my fourth glass of it. There were true grit and expensive earth on its finish. It was nice to see that even out of Jeroboam, the 1992 Ramonet Montrachet is still one of the greatest white wines ever made.(99J)
#5) 1978 Ramonet Montrachet – So I like white wines, you got a problem with that? It was a Ramonet year for JK and Acker, and there are at least five other guys who know what I am talking about lol. The 1978 Ramonet is a legend, and deservedly so. It marks the beginning of decades of greatness for this elite producer of white Burgundy.
The 1978 Ramonet Montrachet had a fabulous nose that was so creamy, so rich and so lush. It was nutty and reductive, quite gamy in a great way and full of cocoa butter. The acid was blindingly bright, this was a WOW wine all the way and then some. One of the best white wines I have ever had, make that wines period.(99)
#4) 1961 Lafleur – I have another Bipin memory, having this bottle with him at one of his legendary LA weekends. There was this flight of four 1961 Pomerols: Petrus, Lafleur, L’Evangile and Trotanoy, and they were all 99 point wines. It was one of the greatest flights of my life. Bottles of this nectar have become increasingly rare, so it was a thrill to have another great bottle of this wine at our Top 100 weekend in Hong Kong after so many years.
It is extremely difficult to find a good bottle of this wine, but when you do, it is incredible. It had a deep nose that was so plummy, chocolaty and full of royal garden aromas. This was a rich and sumptuous bottle, tangy and intense with amazing texture and incredible acid. This was a perfect bottle, truly incredible. It smacked lips and asses.(99)
#3) 1945 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape
#2) 1959 DRC Romanee Conti in Magnum
#1) 1945 Mouton Rothschild
#3) 1945 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape – There is Chateauneuf du Pape, and there is Chateau Rayas, one of the truly unique, great wines of the world. I was fortunate enough to visit there this year (thanks Martine!), and a deeper explanation would require a whole article. Suffice it to say that it is a special place with special soil. Old Rayases (prior to 1978) are impossible to find, so when they show up, grab them if you can. A 1945 from the cellar of Wilf Jaeger was an absolute thrill.
This was one of those unforgettable wines, made all the more so by the fact that I will probably never see it again. I have to thank Mr. Wilf Jaeger for this spectacular bottle from his spectacular collection, and yes, timing is everything. This savory red was full of pepper yet ‘Burgundian in the nose’ per the Zen Master. The Iceman noted ‘licorice.’ There was some scintillating sea breeze to it, but it was dominated by its rich, decadent strawberry fruit flavors. This kept me smacking my lips and showed that more great winemakers need to be making Grenache.(99)
#2) 1959 DRC Romanee Conti in Magnum – This incredibly rare artifact was shared with about thirty people on a snowy night in New York this Fall. But this wasn’t just any snowy night, it was the first snow of the season, and it threw the city into absolute chaos. I came a long way to get there, actually from Europe, and it took me – no lie – four and a half hours to get from JFK to Legacy Records. I was bouncing off the walls in that Uber. Just watching my 730pm arrival time go to 8pm…to 830pm…to 9pm…I think I got there just after 10, and I needed fifteen drinks. I had come to the right place lol. It was one of the most spectacular dinners we have ever hosted, and the agony of my commute went away with one sip of the 1959 RC. The ’59 La Tache after dinner was pretty spectacular, too.
The 1959 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti was spectacular with incredible richness. This had ‘weight yet elegance’ per Jetski, and Arvid thought that it only got better on the palate. The wine tasted like Christmas for a Burgundy lover, both literally and figuratively. It was like walking through a royal garden on the highest quality slate path, wearing hot red pants, Louis Michel style lol. This was red, red wine as God must have intended.(99M)
#1) 1945 Mouton Rothschild – Yes, I love the 1945 vintage, and yes, I think it is the greatest universal vintage of all-time. I was fortunate to have two practically perfect bottles of this all-time legend, including one bottle that sucked out that extra, elusive plus out of me! If you want to create the dinner party of a lifetime, start right here. We have done that ourselves for two consecutive Top 100 weekends, and both years this wine was at the top. It’s like the Alabama of fine and rare wine, or should I say Clemson? Either way, that’s impressive!
The 1945 Mouton Rothschild had that mint and eucalyptus sweetness that is such a trademark for this wine in this era. It was kinky, flamboyant and exotic. There was some ‘spicy pepper’ per the Comte, and I got the Shishito. I also got the pork luau with a touch of pineapple. I told you it was exotic! Toffee and animal led us all into a round of ‘jungle boogie,’ followed quickly by an ‘electric shock.’ This was the wakeup call that the Comte would desperately need tomorrow lol.(99+)
There was one perfect bottle, or as close as it gets since I don’t believe in perfection. The 1945 Mouton Rothschild once again proved to be one of the greatest wines of all time. The mint, the eucalyptus, the soy, the tea leaves…there was a log going on. Someone found ‘hoisin,’ and without question, this was the heaviest and most concentrated wine of the night. This was, indeed, flamboyant, so exotic, practically ‘medieval’ per one. If you wanted to argue that this was the best wine ever made, it would be tough to argue otherwise, although I might have 3-4 recommendations, and they all start with DRC or Petrus.(99)
But wait! This article isn’t over! Well the article is, but the list of the rest of the greatest wines that I had this year isn’t. So anything I rate 97 points or higher I consider to be one of the greatest wines I have ever had. It’s the ne plus ultra category. Have you had an outstanding wine recently? Sorry, that’s 95-96 points only. It was excellent? That’s 93-94 points. Very good, you say? 90-92 points, buddy. We’re talking Top Wines of the Year! And here they are, in vintage order from oldest to youngest per score:
1979 Ramonet Montrachet
1989 Haut Brion
1989 Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux
1993 Rousseau Chambertin
1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
1996 Cristal RosÂŽ
2003 Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin
2010 G. Roumier Musigny
1945 La Mission Haut Brion
1949 Chateau Cheval Blanc
1953 Lafite Rothschild
1955 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva
1955 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
1959 DRC La Tache
1959 Haut Brion
1959 Lafite Rothschild
1961 Haut Brion
1961 La Mission Haut Brion
1969 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
1971 DRC La Tache
1971 DRC Richebourg
1974 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon MarthaÃ•s Vineyard
1978 Guigal Cote-Rotie La Landonne
1978 Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux
1978 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
1982 Mouton Rothschild
1985 Dujac Bonnes Mares
1985 Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque
1985 Rousseau Chambertin
1990 DRC La Tache
1990 DRC Montrachet
1990 Meo-Camuzet Richebourg
1991 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
1993 Dujac Bonnes Mares
1993 Dujac Clos de la Roche
1996 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne
1996 DRC Montrachet
2005 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
2008 Cristal RosÂŽ
2009 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
2010 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne
2010 Comte Liger-Belair La Romanee
2010 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
2015 Chateau de la Tour Clos Vougeot Hommage a Jean Morin
2015 Comte Liger-Belair La Romanee
1971 Krug Collection
1979 Krug Collection
1985 DRC La Tache
1985 Krug Clos du Mesnil
1985 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet
1986 Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche
1988 Krug Clos du Mesnil
1990 Cheval Blanc
1990 Roumier Bonnes Mares
1990 Rousseau Chambertin
1993 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet
1993 Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche
1999 DRC Montrachet
1999 DRC Richebourg
1999 DRC RomanÂŽe-Conti
1999 Roumier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses
1999 Roumier Musigny
2000 Haut Brion
2002 Meo-Camuzet Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux
2010 DRC Montrachet
2010 Fourrier Griottes Chambertin
1937 DRC Richebourg
1952 Cheval Blanc
1952 DRC La Tache
1955 Haut Brion
1955 La Mission Haut Brion
1955 Mouton Rothschild
1959 Clair-Dau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
1959 Lafite Rothschild
1959 Mouton Rothschild
1970 DRC Montrachet
1971 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
1971 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
1975 La Mission Haut Brion
1978 Chave Hermitage
1978 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet
1979 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill
1980 DRC La Tache
1982 Chave Hermitage Blanc
1982 Pichon Lalande
1985 DRC Richebourg
1985 Dujac Clos de la Roche
1985 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva
1985 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
1988 DRC Romanee Conti
1988 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline
1988 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill
1989 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin
1989 Henri Jayer (for Georges) Echezeaux
1989 Krug Clos du Mesnil
1990 Chave Hermitage
1990 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva
1990 Leroy Richebourg
1990 Ramonet Batard Montrachet
1990 Ramonet Montrachet
1990 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
1991 DRC La Tache
1991 Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux
1991 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
1993 Leroy Musigny
1993 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
1995 Roumier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses
1996 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet
1996 Roulot Meursault Perrieres
1996 Roumier Musigny
1996 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne
1999 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
2000 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne
2001 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres
2001 Giacosa Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva
2002 DRC La Tache
2002 Engel Clos Vougeot
2004 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet
2004 DRC Montrachet
2006 Comte Liger-Belair La Romanee
2009 Comte Liger-Belair Echezeaux
2010 DRC Richebourg
2014 Bouchard Montrachet
2014 Keller Riesling G-Max
One last explanatory paragraph here. When a wine was tasted multiple times, I left the highest score in. Sometimes multiple tasting notes render the same score, some times slightly different. Sometimes a 97+ wine can be a 98 point wine on a different day etc., but every wine listed above when tasted on multiple occasions was at least 97 points. I also listed the wine again if it was 99 points and in the Top Wines of the Year but tasted again when it didn’t achieve 99 points. And lastly, I missed one 99 point wine, the 1999 DRC La Tache. It was at Hollywood Jef’s birthday party, and I didn’t take a tasting note, it was DRC pandemonium, and I am not re-writing this article for the fourth time, so deal with it lol. So Twenty Top Wines and twenty-five 99 point experiences in 2018, that’s my final story, and I am sticking with it!
So that’s my Top Wines of 2018. 198 wines that I would consider ‘best wines of my life’ category, not bad, not bad. I cracked 100 this year by a wide margin, 2018 mission accomplished! And I am sure I missed at least ten or more, somehow, some way. Well, I know how – I didn’t write it down, or I lost the notes, or my R&D team was drinking too much getting me the data. They all happen lol.
Let’s make 2019 an even better vintage together!!! Grande Fete de Bourgogne here we come!!!
John Kapon is the third-generation chairman of Acker, America’s oldest wine merchant, which has sold fine and rare wines since 1820. Under his leadership, the firm has become the largest fine and rare wine auction house in the world. A leading fine wine expert and master taster, Kapon is the author of The Compendium: Tasting the World’s Finest Wines (Vol. I), an insider’s glimpse into the exclusive world of fine wine, featuring hundreds of tasting notes and illustrated with dozens of photos of the world’s greatest estates and vineyards.