A casual conversation turned into a weekend road trip to Chicago in search of some grub. It was supposed to be an Alinea and Trotter.s weekend, as I had been lamenting how I had never eaten at Trotter.s, and also wanting to see what the fuss was about over Alinea. However, Trotter’s has a strict BYO policy of two bottles per table, and that just wouldn.t do for our party of six. So I still haven.t been to Trotter.s. I have to save that one for a romantic weekend. We were led to Alinea by our navigator, Keith, an investor in the property and other restaurants in New York such as Publix and Tasca. He seems to have a magic touch with his restaurants!

Food and Wine hailed Alinea as America’s best restaurant last year. No argument there, as Friday night’s meal was the most daring and dramatic cuisine I have ever witnessed, as well as the best meal that I have ever had. It was well worth the journey. Wizard chef Grant Achatz orchestrated a culinary symphony that filled both the stomach and the soul with its flavor combinations and incredible presentations. I could have taken tasting notes on the 15 or so courses we had as each dish was so intricate and complex, but I decided to do what I do best and stick to the wine.

We started with an uninspiring 1979 Alain Robert Fleur des Mesnil.. It had a mature, bready nose with decent toast and yeast. There was some soda freshness, but drier flavors and touches of sherry kisses. Its flavors were dry and uninspiring, although Peter noted a touch of .citrus. way back. There was still some acidity, but it was too dry and yeasty, and there was ultimately no fruit (86).

We bought a 1989 Krug Clos du Mesnil. off the list, because we are just those kinds of guys, and it had a gorgeous nose full of marzipan and exotic creams. There was a sweet playfulness as well as a cleaner and crisper quality. There were pungent anise and citrus flavors. It was very smooth and satiny, young and tangy, yet still infantile and not showing any fat. It seemed to be a more reserved and elegant vintage by the usual Clos du Mesnil standards. Ray found it a little primary, but it did pack on some yellow, baked fruit flavors and gain in acidity (93+).

A 1973 Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune was a treat to try, still with a very fresh nose full of petrol, subtle minerals and kisses of wise, old oak. It had the gamy, old Clos Ste. Hune thing and exotic fruit underneath. The palate was round and rich but lacking acidity and a touch woody in its flavor profile. It was still very good, and there was a slight icicle impression to its tangy finish (91).

We also ordered a 1945 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu. Moelleux off the list, and the sommelier shared some history with us about how Huet was actually in a POW camp and near death, emaciated and only eighty pounds when freed. The vineyard was in disarray and the vines dilapidated, but somehow Huet returned to make this stunning 1945. Amazing. There were bananas in the nose along with exotic apricot, peach and earth. Sweet caramel, yet not too sweet flavors resulted in a delicious Vouvray that had a cornucopia of flavors, according to Sir Ray, who also noted iron. and marmelade.. Apple flavors rounded out this rich, elegant and stylish off-sweet white (94).

The 1999 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres jumped from the glass with that Coche kinkiness, Bob observed. There were kernels popping, loads of minerals and ample alcohol and acidity to its fresh nose. Nutty and minerally flavors of sweet butter were complemented by a dose of wax and this sweet, white, floral honey. Rich and round with a touch of oil to its texture, the Perrieres was also earthy but lost a little definition in the glass. Flavors of rainwater, kernel and toast rounded out this excellent wine (93).

We bought one more wine off the list since we traveled lightly on the white side, a 1997 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet. 1997 has been a pet vintage of mine to drink over the past year or so for the whites, as they are right thurr, and the Leflaive was no exception. There was great balance in the nose of butter, mineral, musk and that Leflaive mint wax thing. The nose was deep, yet the palate was less intense but still nice and with some vigor. Touches of spice made up for a lack of mid-palate density. Soft and charming, the 1997 was very enjoyable (91).

The 1999 Sauzet Chevalier Montrachet was anisy and pungent with a wound, intense nose full of vitamins. Scott noted a touch of chemical. and Ray licorice and mushroom.. There was honey in the mouth; a baked, glazed honey hard stick. Menthol and that gamy Sauzet style came through on the palate, which was rich and full and with flesh and definition. There was lots of anise on its long finish, and the wine grew on me with time in the glass (93+).

A 1999 Colin-Deleger Chevalier Montrachet rounded out the white portion of our program and was toasty and full-bodied with good alcohol and acid. There was lots of power in its nose along with minerals, yellow tang and citrus aromas. There was a touch more winemaker than terroir to the palate, which came across strapping yet clumsy. It opened a shred but was still a bit .synthetic?. as Scott questioned (90).

We shifted to the reds with a less than perfect 1964 Cheval Blanc that was still excellent yet definitely affected. It has a lower fill than most bottles I open of that age, but the nose was still intoxicating with its aromas of rich, hearty and chunky red fruits. Ray noted its mineral and iron. while the sommelier admired its .Rioja.-like qualities that were probably there due to the affected quality of the bottle. The bottle was not perfect, but there were still smoked meats, wintergreen and new leather with the baseball glove oil, as Ray observed, pounding his fist over and over into his hand. The palate still had some richness, and its touch of oxidation was barely noticeable. Its flavors were beefier than usual and complemented by cola and port ones, and while its concentration was still good, the wine lacked its normal definition and acid. This should be a 96 point wine and was only a (93A) on this night.

That was it for Bordeaux on this night. Tomorrow was about the Bordeaux. Of course, that meant that it was time for some Burgundy, beginning with a 1989 Mugnier Musigny. It had a gamy, nutty nose full of sappy fruit. Ray noted sweet cherry and confectioners.. I noticed tobacco and this liqueur-like edge. It was seemingly another solid 89. The palate had more vitamins and less sweetness, and came across more maturely. It had mint, earth and tobacco on its finish. Peter picked up on some metal or iron. awkward flavors. It was soft in the mouth and quickly fell off a cliff, Jay pointed out (89).

The 1991 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. had a vimful and pungent nose full of gamy, vitamin aromas, a veritable vitamin city. The palate was rich, gamy and also vitaminy with a pungent, tangy kink to its flavors. However, there was less definition and explosiveness than I would have thought this heralded 91 would have. This is theoretically one of the wines of the vintage, and if it indeed is, it doesn.t say as much about where the 1991 vintage is heading (92).

The 1993 Rousseau Chambertin, by contrast, delivered an A to Z experience and the weekend’s first outstanding wine. It, too, was vitamin city in the nose but also stem city, and it also had a wealth of crushed red, black and purple fruits to match. The palate was rich and oily, its finish huge and leathery with loads of alcohol and acid. Somehow, it was still velvety, smooth and delicious. It was tough to revisit the other reds on the table after tasting this beauty (96+).

By this time, we were already on our fifth or sixth course, causing Jay to comment that the food made other top restaurants. cuisine seem like .White Castle..

The 1993 Jean Gros Richebourg was cursed by being hailed by Ray as one of my favorite producers and a dark horse.. The nose was a bit reticent and had a touch of lit match, rainwater and light minerals. You had to dig but could see there was depth here, and the palate had a lot of t n a but lacked front and mid-palate definition at the moment. Mint flavors emerged in this potentially dormant wine (91).

We finished with a quartet of 1993 Leroys, beginning with the 1993 Leroy Richebourg, which had a deep, dark, sexy, meaty and musky Leroy nose. Vitamins, iron, earth, leather and stems all abounded, and its intensity of fruit was ridiculous, someone observed. The palate was big and long yet less fleshy than I expected. The finish was long and leathery with nice dryness and rich, earthy flavors. It was so on the border between being excellent and outstanding that I felt like I needed a visa to drink it (94+).

The 1993 Leroy Vosne Romanee Les Beauxmonts. was long, seamy, sexy, nutty, minerally and slaty in its subtle yet firm nose. Meaty, rich, tasty, long and nutty, it had very good acidity and a long spine and qualitatively closer to the Richebourg than I would have thought (94).

The 1993 Leroy Clos Vougeot was a touch off and corked in the nose. Behind that, there was quality, and it seemed that the style of Leroy was unmistakably more noticeable than that of the vineyard. All these wines were eerily similar (93A).

What was supposed to be the last wine of the night was the 1993 Leroy Chambertin. Theory and practice came together finally, as the Chambertin had the best nose, the most breed, and still that Leroy style, of course, but the vineyard expressed itself more here. There seemed to be more Asian influences in its flavors, along with leather, beef and stem, perhaps a touch of venison, even (95).

I forgot we ordered one more wine off the list, a 1986 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline.. I remember this being a bit of a sleeper Mouline, but by this point and after 15 or so courses, we were all sleepers! The nose was very open, rich and chocolaty with aromas of nuts and caramel. The palate was peppery and spicy, not that spicy but decent. It was nut city in the mouth and had a touch of coconut skin to it but was not as tasty as I remember, or maybe I was hallucinating at this point (91).

It was Super Bowl weekend, so there were Bears, Bears, Bears everywhere. It was also frigid with temperatures flirting with zero degrees. Saturday there happened to be an auction in town, so we spent the day at the auction and drank a few things during the day to keep warm. I was actually working at the auction on my laptop on our own February catalog, so there was some sort of simultaneous combustion happening in the room.

After much hesitating on my part, as I was still in recovery mode, we had a rare 1979 Philliponnat Clos des Goisses. Champagne, which seemed like a ringer for Krug. Champagne is the best way to work through a hangover or get back on the horse, so to speak. The nose was spectacular; rich, bready, toasty and yeasty. Bob admired the fact that it was undergoing the perfect transition from young to old.. Meaty and rich in the mouth, it had hints of mint and caramel and was flat-out stunning (96).

A 1999 Grands Echezeaux had great aromatics, sensual with its red brick and forest floor fruit, cassis, iodine and lit match. It was still an infant, yet rounder and softer in the glass than I expected. There were nice stem flavors, but it seemed a bit hibernating (93).

A 1996 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes. had a weird, chemical nose with wood shavings, firm t n a, and sweet, simple cherry behind it. Flavors of sour milk were not that great, and it seemed Ponsot really missed the mark in this vintage. He does have that reputation as being an all or nothing, home run or strikeout, kind of producer, and this was definitely a strikeout (84).

We snagged a 2004 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne off the list, and it had fabulous and fresh aromatics, full of signature Coche minerality, nut, rain, honey, white smoke and citrus. It was a touch sweet aromatically, flirting with a Caliesque style, but it had great complexity of earth in there as well. It was softer in the mouth but still a baby, and Gil picked up on unripe gooseberry on the finish.. There was lushness and small doses of citrus and butter, all covered up. There was a little pop to the finish but more of a reserved quality. It needed time and will most likely be outstanding in time (94+).

We finished the afternoon where we started, with some Champagne, a 1982 Salon. The Salon had a nutty, gamy nose, more pungent than the Goisses. There was a touch of sweet cream there as well. It was still very fresh, a touch baked and yeasty in its flavors. Burnt orange edges and a kiss of sherry rounded things out. Ray noted that it had good champagne oxidation. and wondered whether there was an ever so slight touch of VA (95).

Thankfully, I got a long nap before dinner at the Peninsula’s new Avenues. restaurant. It was only five or six blocks from where we were staying, so we decided to take a brisk walk over. It was so cold that by the time we got to the Peninsula, I had a headache from the cold. It was unbelievable.

We warmed back up with a magnum of 1979 Charles Heidseick Cuvee Charlie. Champagne. This magnum was released in 2000 by Heidseick and accordingly fresher than the average 79. There were nice, pure aromas of buttered toast and light sweetness. Bob noted strawberry jam.. Ray complained it was a bit young out of magnum, and that a recent experience out of bottle was better. It was very fresh and racy, long and with zest and pinches of apple and citrus. It lacked flesh in the mouth yet fattened out a bit with time (92M).

A pair of Cunes was next. Old Riojas are one of my favorite things, converging towards old clarets while maintaining a unique Spanish kink, and Cune is one of the best producers of the 20th Century. I have had great Cunes dating back to the 20s and 30s and was happy to see a pocket pair on the board.

The 1950 Cune Rioja Vina Real. Gran Reserva had the nose of a great Bordeaux, very 50s Cheval in my mind a la 53 or .55. Ray admired its chocolate, and it was big-time chocolate. We all concurred it would be a great ringer in a Bordeaux tasting. Sundried cherry, leather and tobacco emerged. The palate was medium-rich and round with a long, chalky finish. Bob picked up on clove, leather and sandalwood.. It was rusty and vimful with great brick and pottery aromas and flavors, simply a beautiful wine (94).

The 1962 Cune Rioja Vina Real. Gran Reserva was musty in the nose; Ray called it bretty. and Bob sweatier.. If you could get past that, there was nice cherry jam, more jam here than the 1950. More Rhone-like in nature, the 1962 had peppery and smoky flavors, blacker fruits, leather and baked caramel edges. There was more richness, power and length here, but that is not always a better thing as I preferred the 1950 stylistically. I suppose the must didn.t help (93+A).

We had a mystery wine courtesy of the restaurant, which was a generous touch. It was served blind. Someone noted it was more like two than one, and it was and seemingly Spanish, having that egg-like Vega edge. A touch of pepper graced its Rhonish palate, which was obviously much younger than the first two wines, a baby in comparison with its modern, black fruits. Smooth, round and young, this 1995 Cune Rioja Vina Real. Gran Reserva was very good but needed another decade or two (91).

A quartet of serious 1989 Bordeaux was how we decided to finish the evening, at least the dinner portion of our program. There was no messing around, as we started with a 1989 La Mission Haut Brion. Smoky, gravelly and slaty were the first words that came to mind, but the wealth of cassis and plum fruit behind it quickly took over. Still a baby in its own right, its wealth of fruit was ridiculous and also quite enjoyable despite its youthful personality. Cigar and cedarbox. came from the crowd. In the mouth, the wine was rich and mouthfilling with a great, lush texture. Flavors of plum, tobacco and dry caramel graced this potentially 80-year old wine. It was so poised with incredible tension between its fruit and structure.. Its fruit flexed in an elegant way. Bob said that if he believed in 100 points, this would be it. I countered even if I believed in 100 points as well, it was still too young for that (97).

The 1989 Troplong Mondot also had a great nose with a hi-toned note of pine resin?. Bob questioned. The nose was deep, long and spicy, very Cheval with its wintergreen components. Its rich, red fruits were very saucy, and there was great t n a. Hints of chocolate rounded out the nose. The palate was also rich and saucy with just a shred missing in the middle, but enormous power on its backside. Peter noted its chocolate, and it got waxier (95).

We shifted gears to Pomerol with the 1989 Clinet, whose nose was markedly different with its pungent style. Anise, plum liqueur, minerals and chocolate sex oozed from its decadent nose. It was a black and purple hornet of a wine, also touched by cream, yeast and hints of exotic fruits like fig and date. Rich yet soft with light minerals and light texture, there was more balance and initial softness in the mouth than I expected from its wound and flamboyant nose. Gamy, anisy, cherry and truffle flavors rounded out its profile, but the Clinet did keep gaining and putting on weight with more air, and it also gained this lime-like exoticness. Ray and Peter preferred the Troplong while Bob the Clinet, and I must admit that I waffled a bit back and forth and finally decided that they were qualitatively equal, although I think the Clinet has the potential for a longer life (95+).

We ended with perhaps my favorite wine from the vintage, the 1989 Lafleur. Tonight was no exception. The nose was brooding, almost like Frankenstein in a trance. It left us all in a trance, digging deeper to get at the core of this extraordinary wine. Its deep, dark nose was full of concentrated purple and black fruits and a touch of currant tang. It had the spice, the spine; this was serious juice with amazing t n a, brood and breed. Ray and I got into an 89 versus 90 Lafleur debate, him being on the wrong side of it with the 90. Hints of raisiny sex appeal rounded out the nose. The finish was huge without being huge, like the 6. 8. power forward that can still bring the ball up the court; aka, it was still stylish despite its large frame. It is still my favorite Lafleur of the last forty years, pure class in the glass (98).

Surprisingly to me, four out of the five dentists who drank these 89s preferred the La Mission. If there was a jukebox in the joint, I would have played, I drink alone..

We put our differences aside to slide over to the other side of the hotel into the bar, pop a few Champagnes and poll some local women. The 1999 Cristal was stellar, full yet elegant, long yet taut, with sweet fruit yet a dry finish. There was great elegance and length to this thoroughbred of a Champagne (96).

A 1990 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill. was off (DQ), so we went to the 1991 Philliponnat Clos des Goisses, which had nice effervescence and bread aromas. Gil, who had just joined us for a nightcap after a Commanderie 1982 event, pegged butchershop. with that sawdust on the floor and meat combination of aromas that one gets when walking in to a butchershop. It was a great call. The 1991 was delicious with nice caramel and toast flavors and lots of character. Full-bodied and with admirable length, the 1991 was impressive for a vintage where you do not see much Champagne (94).

Some of us went out, and some of us went home. It was Super Bowl weekend in one of the Super. towns, after all. The rest of the weekend is strictly classified information.

In Vino Veritas,

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