This past week, 20 of us gathered at Tse Yang, one of New York’s finest Chinese restaurants, for a comprehensive vertical of the Montrachet of Alsace, Clos Ste. Hune. Clos Ste. Hune actually comes from the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard in Alsace, but Trimbach, who makes the wine, does not want to put Roascker on the label, so they are not allowed by law to put ‘Grand Cru’ on the bottle even though it is Grand Cru fruit. Grander than any other wine made in Alsace, Clos Ste. Hune averages about 700 cases a year in total production and dates back to 1919, I believe its first vintage.
We did not go back that far, but we had every vintage between 2000 and 1990, along with a few other oldies. The most amazing fact about Clos Ste. Hune was how consistent in quality they are from year to year. It was as if every year was a good year in Alsace, as the lesser vintages were still very good, and the greater vintages extraordinary. What is also extraordinary is the fact that Clos Ste. Hune is breathtakingly dry for a Riesling, so while other producers in the region such as Zind Humbrecht have gone for fruitier and more luscious expressions, Trimbach has stayed true to the style of Old World greatness, perhaps producing the only white wine in France outside of Burgundy that can be put on the same quality level. Ok, Chave’s Hermitage Blanc can go in there too, and we are not counting Champagne!
We started with the newly released, hot off the press 2000. The nose of the 2000 was forward and sexy, still possessing a bit of a carefree, teenage side. The nose was quite sweet by Clos Ste. Hune’s standards with lots of pineapple, lychee, musk, petrol, minerals and citrus. With time and air, its sweetness did level out, but Ray was quick to call it ‘juvenile’ although he still found it extraordinary. There were nice supplements of bread crust and gingerbread. The palate was very citrusy, a bit youthful and shut down at first, and there were lots of mineral and wood flavors on its finish to complement its long acidity. The wine reeked of potential, and the wine continued to open more and more in the mouth with time, with exotic tea flavors emerging. Its acidity was something special (96+). The 1999 had a muskier nose, shier, with more rainwater and lighter citrus and mineral aromas. There was nice breed here, but the wine seemed more feminine and elegant. The palate had lots of citrus and earth, but not the style or acidity of the 2000, which made it seem clumsier (92). The 1998 had a ‘classic petrol’ nose, Ray was quick to point out. There was some baked fruit in a positive way and definitely lots of ‘classic’ to it. The fatness of fruit, its citrus, honey, musk and minerals all added up to a total package. The palate was big, rich and heady, and there was lots of finish to its heavy mouthfeel. Still young, the 1998 was long and lingering, and at first I preferred it to the 2000, which did surpass it by the end of the night (95+). The 1997 rounded out the first flight with a more minerally and almost anisy personality. There was petrol, citrus, smoke and ‘pink grapefruit,’ according to Mike. He also pointed out that it was ‘rougher and less elegant,’ and it was a bit square, indeed. The wine was still very good, but and I initially thought that it might not get any better than it was right then. On the second go around, however, distinct lollipop aromas kicked in and the wine improved significantly (92).
The 1996 was very high toned with an amazing nose full of race – zip, lemon, cake, light minerality, fat fruit and a pungent something. There was great breed and style to the nose and a pinch of pineapple sweetness. The palate was very tangy with lots of citrus and wound, stony fruit. Mike thought that this baby had back, ‘big in the back but a thin attack.’ The wine held but did not improve (94). The 1995 had a gorgeous nose, a great combination of musk and fruit, a m eacute;lange of yellow fruits. There was excellent balance between its minerals and petrol. The palate seemed more mature and oily, more on the wood side of the flavor wheel, still possessing lots of acid, though (93). The 1994 was very bright but also possessed a unique nuttiness, one that I determined to be a bit of an oxidized bottle, with which Ray agreed. There was this mature Chardonnay kink to it that I have found in 40 year old Chardonnays! Some classic petrol and minerals were behind it, and the wine was white meaty in a pungent way. The palate was still nice, quite buttery and round with good minerals and dusty flavors, but this bottle was definitely affected, and a pristine bottle could prove to be outstanding (93A).
The 1993 had the most exotic nose of the night, full of coconut, pineapple, lychee and wood, almost like an exotic Asian ice cream. It was also musky with dashes of citrus, candle wax and petrol. There was great roundness and oil to its palate, and while the finish seemed shorter than others, the wine still lingered quite nicely in the belly. The 1993 seemed to be in a great spot, perfectly mature. There were balanced flavors of citrus and earth, and it won the ‘Miss Congeniality’ award of the evening. Lester did not like it as much, calling it ‘awkward – its nose was fabulous but the palate not as much’ (93). The 1992 Bob found ‘similar to the 1992 but with more body,’ and he was right. The nose was a bit more musky as well, meaty and richer with more wild fruits and flowers. It was very exotic in a sweet vitamin way, and its palate was rich and oily, definitely with more body but slatier in its expression (92). The 1991 had a very shy nose, possessing almost a sprinkle of cinnamon and a lit match quality. Exotic in its own right, the 1991 seemed more youthful than its previous two siblings, and also more classic with its citrus, petrol and mineral trifecta in the nose. There were nice citrus and earth flavors and more potential still locked up in the palate, which was strong and spiny. Bob agreed that it was the least mature of the flight, and Ray commented how amazingly fresh these wines were for 12-14 year old white wines from average vintages (92+).
The 1990 quickly laid claim to wine of the night. It had a fabulous nose, ‘always’ as Ray insisted. The nose was incredible, full of musk, rainwater, citrus, nut and a sweet Asian spice. Montrachet was definitely in the house. The richness, length and breed of the wine were all superlative. Flavors of tender, juicy white meat, rain, citrus dust and oil were all delicious. ‘A cut above,’ Lester remarked, and it was rich, exotic and incredible (97). We skipped our first vintages and jumped back to the 1986, a wine that I recently had in Belgium six weeks ago. Another Mike, ‘Wheels,’ thought the ’86 was ‘special,’ and it was and quite unique as well. It had a honeyed nose with an exotic Asian spice and buttery yellow fruits. Its palate was tangy and zippy, still shy, reminding me a bit of the ’99. Jim agreed, calling it ‘still very young’ and ‘punchy.’ Yeasty and hedonistic in a waxy and meaty way, it was different than all the other vintages so far, and its flavors of candle wax and dried honeycomb were very complex and unique. The nose might possibly have been the most complex of the night, in a tormented kind of way, and the 1986 took home the ‘most twisted’ award, even though Wheels came in a close second after dinner (93)! There was one more vintage before the VTs, the 1985. This was pronounced to be Jim’s Thanksgiving wine, as he thought it would go great with such a feast. The nose was quite sexy with a candy corn edge, sweet and musky, but again I thought there might be a touch of oxidative influences here. The palate was rich and nutty, and candy corn carried over to the flavors, along with a nutty finish. If not affected, the 1985 is on a faster maturity track (94A?) Actually, there was another wine that we had, but it was corked, the 1981. If you could get beyond the corkiness, you could see that the 1981 could be something very, very special and completely off the radar. There was an incredible freshness to it, greatness underneath the corked quality and lots of length and classic depth, possibly warranting a 94+ but ultimately a (DQ).
We finished with a couple of VT wines, Vendages Tardives (Late Harvest), and Trimbach’s VTs still finished dryly! The 1983 VT had a dry nose full of apricoty, exotic, sweet, oily fruit, sweeter in sugar aromatically, but still dry on the palate. Ray tried to tell me it was richer and not sweeter, so I sold him some apples to go with his oranges. The wine was impressive. Flavors of teas and sweet cream rounded this beautiful wine out (94). Although many people seemed to prefer the 1989 VT, I did not, and it was the second disappointing bottle of this I have had this year, the first being with the Colonel and his ‘Nuts’ in LA, disappointing given how good 1989 is supposed to be in Alsace. The wine was nuttier and more woodsy, perhaps with more potential, but squarer as well. Despite all the petrol in the wines, I was out of gas (92+?).
There is no doubt that Trimbach’s ‘Clos Ste. Hune’ Riesling is one of the world’s great white wines.
Two nights later, I was in Las Vegas for a ‘stopover’ night on the way to LA. a close friend of mine and Big Boy happened to be in town, so the stars were aligned for a magical dinner at Picasso, where we were joined by a close friend of mine’s brother Dar, his mother, ‘Patman’ and Graham Revell, reknowned Hollywood music composer and wine collector.
We started off with a magnum of 1982 Dom Perignon Rose, which was quite fresh with beautiful red fruits. Long, smooth and balanced, the 1982 was excellent but a touch short of outstanding and not as good as previous memories of this out of magnum. It didn’t have that extra lift, although Pat found it ‘ten times better with the egg and truffle dish,’ which was a true breakfast of champions (94). I noted how Las Vegas is not the restaurant capital of the world despite all the big names out there, as all the restaurants out there are more assembly line productions and do not have the full time attention of the chefs who lend their names to the operations, but Picasso is one of the exceptions where the chef is actually there all the time. It is his first restaurant, and that makes a difference.
We shifted gears to an impressive bottle of 1990 Latour, one of the best bottles of this that I have ever had. It was in perfect condition and had an incredibly youthful nose, Pomerolesque, in fact. Its nose was dripping with chunky, plummy fruit intertwined with t ‘n a, grilled walnuts and a dash of mint. There were also edges of sawdust and leather. The palate was rich, meaty and long with dry (as in young) cassis fruit flavors, chocolate kisses and sweet grape seed and carob touches. The fruit and seed elements were well balanced to say the least. a close friend of mine called the 1990 ‘the next 1959,’ while the 1982 was ‘the next 1961.’ a close friend of mine also admirably noted its ‘sea salt,’ Dar its ‘tobacco,’ and Graham its ‘soil and iron’ (97).
A duo of Petrus (Petruses?) was next, the 1970 and 1971. The 1970 Petrus was a surprising selection to me, as both a close friend of mine and Rob have recently admitted to giving up on this vintage of Petrus, but I guess they wanted to doublecheck that opinion. Pat noted its ‘gamy’ quality right away. Its nose was brooding and chunky with a woodsy whiff to it. Molasses, chocolate and almost eucalyptus were also present, and the wine seemed brawny and a bit shy. The palate was very monolithic and rugged; big, bruising yet still with a degree of finesse. Pat found the ’70 to be mouthfilling, and it was big and long but still had that kiss of obtrusive wood to its flavors. It was rich but short of outstanding for me despite the increased presence of acid over time and its secondary graham cracker and rye aromas. It did gain and was concentrated but might be considered by some to be a disappointment (94+). The 1971 Petrus was fabulous, more classic with its plummy and chocolaty fruit, minerals, cedar and t ‘n a. The palate was delicious; smooth, satiny and balanced with nice plummy fruit. Most if not all at the table preferred the 1971, and a close friend of mine loved its ‘elegance.’ It was more my style as well (95).
We ended with two wines from the Fifties, beginning with a 1959 Mouton. The nose on this 1959 was incredible, ‘as good as it gets,’ a close friend of mine noted. Pat quickly joined the forming consensus, saying ‘if I ever meet a woman that smells like the ’59 Mouton, it’s over.’ The nose was divine with its rich, chocolaty, musky, meaty, chunky and cassisy fruit. It was so young and fresh, basically breathtaking. Additional aromas of carob, vanilla and caramel were present as well. The palate, however, was quite chalky, long with its cedar flavors but a bit short on its fruit. Still outstanding, the 1959 had a 99 point nose and a 94/5 point palate. It did flesh out a bit and improve, and coffee flavors emerged. Dar liked its ‘aristocratic’ qualities (96+). The 1955 Petrus was the grand finale, and it was a great bottle of this wine, one which I preferred to the Nicolas bottle that I recently tasted at the Top 100 weekend. Sometimes even Nicolas bottles can suffer the ‘watering down’ of being reconditioned, although it is rarer. The 1955 had a gorgeous nose, subtle yet sweet with its chocolaty Pomerol fruit. Bready and smoky, the 1955 was chunky and balanced between its fruit and finish components like the 1971. Incredibly rich in the mouth, the 1955 had gorgeous texture and beautiful plum flavors, and it was long and cocoa chocolaty. Its finish sparkled with minerals (97). The rest of the evening was brought to us by Big Boy Entertainment. It was a long night, one that saw me turn into a pumpkin at about 4am after being up 24 hours straight. If I didn’t sign a confidentiality agreement, I’d tell you all about it.
On that same night in New York, Dave Hamburger led a BLIND tasting of 2002 Aussies, and here are the final tallies. Remember, everyone who voted had five points given for their first place wine, four for their second, etc., and one point for their fifth placer. I am quite surprised how little regard the group had for the Integrity, which is usually at the top of most Aussie tastings!
2002 Shirvington Shiraz 1st place 39 votes
2002 Torbreck Run Rig 2nd place 37 votes
2002 Greenock Creek Shiraz Alice’s 3rd place 33 votes
2002 Kalleske Shiraz Greenock 4th place 30 votes
2002 Clarendon Hills Astralis 5th place 22 votes
2002 Amon-Ra ‘Barossa’ Shiraz 6th place 20 votes
2002 The Colonial Estate Shiraz Exile 7th place 18 votes
2002 Glaetzer Shiraz 8th place 16 votes
2002 Kaesler Shiraz Old Bastard 9th place 15 votes
2002 Torbreck The Factor 10th place 13 votes
2002 Kay Brothers Shiraz Block 6 11th place 12 votes
2002 Henry’s Drive Shiraz Reserve 12th place 9 votes
2002 Noon Shiraz Reserve 13th place 4 votes
2002 Marquis Philips Shiraz Integrity 14th place 0 votes
2002 D’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz (corked) 14th place 0 votes