Whenever I go to Hong Kong, there always seem to be enough great wines on the dinner table for their own section in the auction, and while it started innocently enough this past November with a couple of incredible bottles on Monday, by Tuesday evening we were in full cruise mode, with a dinner on the water in the middle of Hong Kong harbor. Spectacular stuff, indeed.
We got off to a great start with a few bottles of 1997 Salon, and this was the best of the three times that I have had the pleasure of trying this newly-released bubbly so far. A remarkably tender and drinkable wine already, it got a little grassy in the glass. Drink this Salon over the next ten or twenty years while you let your 1996s age (93).
We sat down to an official flight of Salon, beginning with the 1988 Salon. It had a nose of bread soaked in extra virgin olive oil, and Raymond noted ‘vinegar.’ Alex picked up on ‘biscuit’ amongst its pungent white fruits. While balanced, elegant and long, it was clean but lighter in character for me, although a couple people preferred it for the flight. The Poet noted its ‘nice finish but light body’ as well, and I felt disappointed by this bottle overall (91).
The 1985 Salon stepped it up a couple notches with a more forward and expressive nose that possessed pungent lanolin, nutty white meats and fruits, as well as hanging game qualities. Its creamy palate was long and balanced, with Vincent agreeing, ‘full-bodied and rounded.’ Other quotes from the crowd included ‘peachy’ and ‘gamy/earthy.’ In the glass, the 1985 got all the more luscious and delicious (95+).
1983 is a vintage in Champagne where not everyone declared a vintage year, but this 1983 Salon made me wish more did. It was noticeably darkest in color. It was certainly a mature wine with the wild game character in full effect, supported by wet wool. The oily, rich palate was full of deliciously decadent white fruits, gently fallen from the tree after hanging a couple of days too long. There was great sweetness on its palate, with honey and oil everywhere, ready for a Girls Gone Wild DVD. The 1983 was definitely on a plateau, and Alex concurred, but it held remarkably well over time in the glass, which I didn’t expect. I doubt it will get any better, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate to enjoy it now (94).
A flight of that Enlgish claret was next, starting with the elegant 1979 Palmer, which had a pretty nose. Fresh, clean fruit with nice, light cassis and a hint of slate danced softly in the nose while coffee snuck in the back door. Its palate was tender, smooth, balanced and classy, still youthful, and ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ made their way into my notes again. It was chocolaty with a delicious hint of marzipan, but it didn’t hold that well in the glass, ie, drink up (93).
The 1964 Palmer was like walking into a freshly painted room, then exiting and walking right into a barnyard filled with hay. Gil was ‘mushroom’ farming next door lol, and the palate was better than I expected given the fading reputation of the ’64 vintage in the Left Bank. The Poet remarked that he thought this wine ‘was picked after the rain,’ accounting for its better than expected quality. There was more slate on the palate, but still a tasty flash of fruit, along with chocolate flavors and a sawdusty finish. It held well, too (93).
The legendary 1961 Palmer clearly had more density and volume than the others, with hints of wheat germ, forest and what can only be described as a cassis fountain of youth. The wine was absolutely delicious, and its acidity stood out like a center amongst point guards. A hint of tomato and much redder fruits rounded out this champion of a Margaux. Gil cooed, ‘there is nothing quite like when an old wine drinks young.’ Amen (97).
We got even older with a great bottle of 1929 Latour. It had a reserved nose, unfolding into cedar, charcoal, tobacco and chunky fruit. The palate was rich and still young, eliciting a few wows from the crowd. There was this sexy, raspberry kink and a ‘beetroot sappiness’ per Alex. Creamy and fleshy, this delicious and outstanding Latour had wild cherry and cigar flavors finishing it off. What was most remarkable was that it held well in the glass, too (96).
The 1957 Latour had a gorgeous nose for a not so wildly-regarded vintage, possessing the walnuts, chocolate, cassis and class reminiscent of ’59. The nose was classic in every regard. The palate was lean but still pretty, and its acidity held things together on the slaty finish. A little dill crept in, and the Poet noted ‘ginger flowers’ (92).
The 1962 Latour was from another underrated vintage, a ‘shadow’ year hidden behind the great 1961, and it had another great nose, milder and milky. It was both a little floral and a little stinky, but then the cedar took over with a smokehouse feel. The fruit was lean at first, but it gained density in the glass, particularly on its thick, cedary finish (93).
Things got stinkier with the 1970 Latour, which can be that way. It was grassy and needed extra air for the wet sheep to dry off their coats, but once it was worked out (ie aired and swirled) , it was better. There was still a pleasant wine here, with nice wafer and chocolate flavors and a balanced, lightly gritty finish. It was lighter than I remembered, however. It would prove to be better out of double magnum in Rio de Janeiro last week, but that’s for another article (93).
We switched gears to a 1949 Ausone. It made everyone take notice with its youthful and remarkable nose. Charles summed it up aptly, ‘Absolutely incredible, so exotic with aromas you don’t expect.’ Vincent continued the travel theme with, ‘ginger, leather and Sri Lankan jasmine.’ This great Ausone was eerily transcendent and complex with ripe, rich red fruits and a kinky, sweet sexiness that just wouldn’t quit. It ended up capturing the most first place votes on the evening, although there were a lot of diverging opinions on that topic (96).
The 1948 Margaux was like a coffee shop in Holland with marijuana and old money notes in its nose. Oatmeal was the healthy side of its herbal edge. The palate was fleshy with hints of exotic fruits, and there was a gorgeous honeyed glaze to its finish. I was quite impressed with this wine, which showed better than I thought it would, and it received a surprising number of first-place votes as well (94).
We ended this fabulous evening with a pair of Burgundies, beginning with a 1966 Mommesin Clos de Tart, which took us into the wild open with grainy and gamy aromas. It was rich and fleshy with almost a touch of cough syrup. ‘Great freshness and finish,’ proclaimed Charles, and it was at least one person’s favorite wine, as you can’t keep those Burg men down! It was a touch gamy for me to be outstanding, but close (94).
The 1966 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes suffered slightly in comparison to the Clos de Tart and was a touch oaky and very reductive on the nose. The palate was better and had good density but was a touch stewy. This was clearly not a perfect bottle, but it could not take away from our perfect night (92A).
We had such a great night that a couple nights later, we had to do it again, with a different set of wines, of course.
A magnum of 1981 Krug Collection got us off to a great start with a nose full of vanilla bean and toasty oak. The palate was a touch lean at first, still incredibly racy and youthful, but the honey flavors got spicier and fuller by the time the evening finished. All in all, it was a tasty and impressive wine (94+M).
The 1969 Krug Collection magnum had a similar personality that was more on the cola side of things, and its vanilla qualities in the nose were much more forward, so forward that I started blushing! In the mouth, the wine was still very fresh and firm, with tender fruits and an edgy Krug Collection, rocket-like finish. Some oxygen mellowed the wine out decadently; this was a complete wine, as it really came together in the glass, becoming creamier and exceptionally delicious (96M).
A trio of Palmers commenced with a gorgeous 1955 Palmer. The enticing nose plied with perfume, sweet corns and delicate fruit, leading to a rich palate of chocolate and caramel flavors, held together by stylized structure. This was a balanced and elegant older wine that seemed to pick up steam over time, and Michael noted that it was ‘surprisingly fresh.’ He would know, as he is one of HK’s best drinkers and palates, so much so I have crowned him ‘Mr. Magic’ (95)!
The 1982 Palmer was classic all around and had a lovely cassis nose with a touch of dustiness. The palate was softer than expected, creamy and almost toasty, turning a bit dirty in a good way. The finish was balanced and smooth, but the nose was the better part of this for now (93).
The 1983 Palmer was rather grassy and almost stinky on the nose, but the palate was cleaner and its finish even better with great length and structure. The plum fruits were carefully concealed by finely delineated tannins. The 1982 was more of a now wine, but everyone could see the ’83 getting better with time (94).
We were then privileged to have an exceptional bottle of 1952 Latour. The nose was a perfect combination of chocolate, walnut, pencil and slate. The long, zippy tannins and acidity kept this wine singing in the mouth and throughout the night. It was a spectacular wine with a long, nervy finish, possessing great tension and balance – simply great (96)!
The 1952 La Mission Haut Brion was not a perfect bottle, but you could see a great wine underneath its oxidized qualities. There were very mature prunes and dates and touch of Madeira and old chocolate pudding. It would have probably been 95+ points if a completely sound bottle.
The surprise of the evening was a very fresh and pleasant 1967 Mouton Rothschild, which had nice spice once its touch of Windex blew off. The palate was lean, but still a fighting machine. It was a balanced and tasty wine with a gently lingering finish. It just goes to show that great producers make good, age-worthy wines every vintage (92+).
The generally, more highly regarded 1966 Mouton Rothschild suffered slightly in comparison. It was a sound bottle but not the best example of this wine that I have had. A slightly muddy, chocolaty nose was lightened by herbal kisses and a hint of wood. Lean, clean and fresh, but ultimately simple, it left me wanting something more (90).
The 1961 Mouton Rothschild lived up to the billing of a legendary vintage and had an outstanding nose of tobacco, chocolate, dry-aged meat and clover honey. A long and elegant structure held the rich, fleshy flavors together. This was clearly the wine of the night, and a superlative example of this great Chateau (97).
In comparison to the ‘61, the 1982 Mouton Rothschild seemed like a barrel sample or an unruly child. Little brother had a long way to go, even though there was massive concentration for an ’82. It’s tough to drink a ‘young’ wine after several perfectly mature ones, but there was still clearly a lot of upside here, and I could not argue with anyone who says that Mouton was the best First Growth of this legendary vintage (96+).
We again ended with a pair of Burgundies, this time some 1985s, and both s. The 1985 Romanee St. Vivant had beautiful menthol aromas, almost vitamin C too, and a rose hip nose that got spicier and more beef bouillon-y. The creamy, ripe palate had a touch of brett and got a little dirtier as time went on (94).
The 1985 Richebourg was a bigger wine with brighter acidity, which was a good thing, as I was getting dimmer at this point! It was a beefy wine with a pleasant autumnal glaze, picking up more mint. Mr. Magic was ‘liking the long finish’ as was I, and I was officially finished (95+).
Time to do it again!
In Vino Veritas,