I shot out to Los Angeles in the middle of the week before our March auction, a rare mid-week trip for me, but L.A. was calling thanks to a very special event put together by the real. Jef Levy, as his friends like to call him. No slight to the other Jeff Leve out there in L.A. who is a most knowledgeable and passionate collector in his own right; it is more of a running gag than anything else.
So Jef belongs to a tasting group in Los Angeles called DDB, aka Deaf, Dumb and Blind, the brainchild of Los Angeles. #1 kvetch, Matt. Those of you who received my short-lived printed versions of Vintage Tastings (there were four published volumes in 2003 and early 2004) may remember the DDB. It is still going strong, and the premise behind the group is simple: the host puts together the wines and serves all the wines blind with no leaks of inside information prior to the event. So the onus is on the host to select some great wines, as if the host does not, kvetch, a close friend of mine and others in the group are sure to bring shame to said host and most likely their children, grandchildren and grandchildren’s children for many decades to follow. Everyone pays their own meal at any given DDB event, and this one happened to be at Spago’s.
So Jef started us off with a couple of magnums of 1982 Champagnes, not served blind, and they were the 1982 Louis Roederer Cristal Rose and 1982 Dom Perignon Rose. Now that is a good start to any evening. The 1982 Cristal Rose was gorgeous and pure in the nose with the classic Cristal elegance and finesse but still meaty underneath. There was a kiss of rose flavors as it was just starting to show some signs of maturity but still showed very youthfully. There was a long finish and another kiss of bread flavors (this bubbly had me blushing, for sure). George observed similarly that the Cristal was very smooth but still has meat behind it.. There were lemon flavors underneath, and this outstanding magnum of Champagne widened out in the glass (96). The 1982 Dom Rose was no slouch, either, as its nose exploded out of the glass with more chocolaty bread and strawberry fruit. The palate was big and brawny, but its flavors struck me as a bit oaky. The palate was still very fresh, with more razor-like qualities to its overall impression, both clearer and quicker as well yet not as meaty and full of cherry fruit as the Cristal. The nose got crusty in a rye bread way. The Dom might outlive the Cristal, but it lacked the expansion and expression of the Cristal on this evening, and the oaky streak bothered me a bit on the palate (94+).
The games began with flight #1. I should say that I knew 90% of the wines in advance, as I served as Jef’s advisor for the evening. However, even knowing most of the wines in advance, I still found it difficult to identify many of the wines exactly. Tasting blind is one of th198e hardest things to do, no matter how much experience you have, and that is the premise behind the group. Jef gave everyone one clue about each flight, and this flight’s clue was same decade, two different countries.. The first wine was unfortunately maderized, which happens sometimes when opening up wines such as 1928 Haut Brion (DQ). The second wine had a seductive, deep nose with some aromas of caraway, chocolate, bread and pollen. There were wood shine and rye flavors to the wine, which was smooth, mature, earthy and bready. The palate was quite velvety with lush tannins that were fully integrated, and food made the palate more chocolaty and brought out a touch of dandelion sweetness. It was the 1925 Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial (93). All identities for each wine were not revealed until after each flight was tasted and discussed, fyi. The third wine of flight number one had a sweet, leathery nose with more black cherry aromas, seemingly lighter than wine #2 at first, but in an on its feet. kind of way. The palate was soft and sumptuous, fully mature and beautiful with its leather, cedar, nut, earth, ash and morning-after fireplace aromas and flavors. Smells like Lafite, a close friend of mine hypothesized. It was a beautiful 1928 Gruaud Larose (94).
The next flight contained four wines, and Jef’s clue was same producer, two decades and one ringer.. The first wine had a gorgeous nose, and it was clear that we were in Burgundy territory. Our resident sommelier to the stars, aka Christian, definitively put the stamp on the fact that we were tasting Burgundies by calling it, serious wine.. The nose had a soft and inviting quality with its rose, cherry, light earth and prime real estate action. The palate was rich, meaty and beefy, both sturdy yet mature at the same time. The finish was big, firm and earthy yet balanced. With some air, its tomato qualities came out, and I believe it was a close friend of mine who commented on its sweet, chapitalized fruit.. It got a little BBQ in the glass as well, but it did not have as much staying power in the glass as the other wines in this flight. Christian and I liked it a lot though, and it was another tasty wine from 1983, a 1983 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V. (94-). I have decided to add a minus. to my scoring system for wines that evolve quickly in the glass and therefore seem to be less likely to improve, and more likely to become inferior, with time. However, it was so tasty for the first half-hour that I felt it deserve its 94 as I began with 94 and ended with 93 points over time. The next wine had a much younger nose with more black cherry fruit and a touch of menthol, noticeably more modern in style. a close friend of mine noticed that this producer flirted with the line between modern and traditional.. The wine was rich, beefy and loaded with vitamins, possessing menthol flavors as well. The wine was very big, shy and young, but you couldn’t ignore it in that bouncer-outside-the-club-you-want-to-get-into kind of way. a close friend of mine loved this wine and its purity, and so did I as there were tremendous, secondary complexities and acids. It was the great 1990 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V. (96+), one of my favorite wines from 1990. The next wine was corked, and what a bummer as it was a 1990 La Tache. We all consoled Jefwith the it’s the thought that counts. routine, as all benevolent wine lovers should do in the case of a corked or cooked bottle. The last wine of the flight had lots of pepper, Dave observed, and a close friend of mine guessed accurately that the last two wines (not counting the corked wine) were from the 90s and the first one from the 80s.. This wine was similar to the second wine of the flight in its sturdy, beefy nose and traces of menthol. There was black cherry fruit and more presence of stems as well. The palate was big and sturdy, Leroy-esque I thought even though I knew it was not, and there were more vitamin flavors. This 1993 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V., which has disappointed me on more than one occasion, was squarer next to the 1990 but still excellent in its own right and one of the better showings that I have had. (94) a close friend of mine wrapped up the flight with some astute comments about Clos de la Roche being all about the chocolate and liqueur, and called the 1990 atypical Ponsot..
The next flight began with the following clue from Jef: two different producers, same appellation.. The first wine had a sweet, cedary nose that had rich and fat fruit and additional aromas of carob, pencil, walnut and light vanilla extract. The wine was smooth, supple and delicious. It lacked that extra weight or dimension but was still excellent, and it was the 1953 Lafite Rothschild (94). The next wine was a touch maderized, still rich, creamy and lush on the palate with more old oak and vanilla flavors. It could easily have been DQ’d, but I saw enough in the wine to give it a (92?) due to its texture more than anything else. It was a 1953 Latour. The third wine smelled great. Andy remarked right away, and it did have a delicious nose. The nose was deep, chunky and chocolaty and really stood out as youthful, containing a touch of malt soda. The wine was rich, creamy and smooth, long yet feminine in a skin-tight, full leather outfit kind of way. Delicious and exquisitely balanced, the wine was super smooth yet noticeably larger than the first wine of this flight, almost like a bigger, stronger brother. The wine got spicier in the glass, and it was the best 1959 Lafite Rothschild that I have ever had (97). There was a bonus wine in this flight, just for the heck of it, and the wine was fairly rich, tasty and smooth, yet more one-dimensional on the palate after the 59 Lafite. The 1962 Latour had a good finish, but its flavors were on the gravelly and earthy side (90). a close friend of mine commented how he felt that the 53s were starting to fade and just getting to that last hurrah. stage of holding on. Others have said that the 1953s have been fully mature since release, and I think that most of the better wines from 1953 are definitely on a plateau, perhaps on a slight decline, and are definitely wines that should be enjoyed over one or two hours as opposed to three or more since they are not wines with a lot of stuffing. They are certainly delicious, though.
Onwards, we continued, and it was right about now that half of us couldn’t eat any more. They do feed you well at Spago’s, I must say. Our clue for this flight was same wine, three decades and two magnums.. The first wine had a deliciously minty nose full of sweet cassis, cedar and caramel. The cat was out of the bag quickly as Dave immediately guessed Heitz Martha’s, and Brad agreed that the wine did have a lot of eucalyptus.. The flavors were chocolate sprinkles and vanilla ice cream in this super smooth and lovely 1965 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. (93). The next wine had a gorgeous nose with its mint, chocolate and eucalyptus we had to be in 1974 territory. The palate was rich, chunky and chocolaty with good earth flavors to match. The wine was long and smooth, beautifully balanced yet possessing lots of gut-checking acids. A rich touch of toffee flavors and a dash of cinnamon aromas and flavors rounded out this outstanding 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. (96). The next wine had a tough act to follow, but the similar style came through. It was definitely younger, possessing more cassis in its nose, and its alcohol components were more noticeable, blending into its varnish/polished quality. The wine was quite sturdy on the palate and gave a very youthful impression, and the magnum factor certainly heightened this fact. There was a Cote-Rotie spike to the wine, which was rugged and dirty on the palate, where its polish and varnish qualities became accentuated in the glass as a little cardboard crept out in this magnum of 1978 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. (91). Unfortunately, the next magnum of Heitz, the 1985 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, was corked (DQ). That is another wine that I have had more bad luck than good. Someone said at this point that Bob Foley, California’s hottest winemaker at the moment, worked for Heitz during the 1974 vintage, not that he made the wine, though. Can I get a fact check, anyone?
The almost final flight was all 100 point Parker wines, according to Jef. It was at this point that we got into a brief 100 point debate and how I do not believe in perfection, but rather the pursuit of perfection, which is why my highest score is 99 points. Then someone remarked, well, 99 points is your 100 then.. I never quite thought about it like that, but it was a good point, I will admit, one that put a small pinhole in, without bursting, my bubble. The first wine was super-duper. intense (all that education and super-duper still applies). It was meaty with menthol, bacon, white pepper, earth and mineral. On the palate it was incredibly rich, oily, thick and creamy, both tasty and balanced in a massive way. There were flavors of roasted meat and a distinct impression of muscle, cut, ripped and agile in its enormity. The wine was long and fine only to become longer and finer. We were in 1983 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline. territory (96). It was after this wine where words started to elude me, but the impressions were still staggering. The next wine had a 45 second finish. according to Dave, so I joked, did you time that finish?. Right on cue, he checked his watch. It was a wow. wine, for sure. The wine was emotionally intense, so rich and meaty and full of coffee liqueur. It was amazingly young, but both Dave and I concurred that it was older than we thought. a close friend of mine gave it the elusive six stars, and I gave this 1978 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline. (99). The third wine had another fabulous nose, young, musky and sappy, marked by blue fruits and oil. It was long, rich, smooth and lush, another wow. wine. It was the 1991 La Mouline.(97). Yum. When it comes to Guigal, La Mouline is the one for me.
The last official flight was five wines, and the clue was two producers, basically a decade except it’s five decades.. That got a big laugh. I only had one note left in me though. Someone noted the first wine’s port-like. qualities and guessed 61 Latour.. It was incredibly rich, chocolaty, meaty and big. It was a spectacular bottle of 1959 Latour (98). I was officially shot for the 1961 Latour, 1961 Lafite (which was kind of cooked anyway), the 1947 Latour (which was kind of corked anyway), and the 1982 Lafite, which a close friend of mine loved but seemed very anti-climactic and simpler in the context of all these other wines. Perhaps I was shot by this time, perhaps it was this bottle, or perhaps it was the truth! It just left a less than va-va-voom impression. I declined to rate this one for the record.
We all headed over to the Grand Havana Room for cigars and cocktails, a divine 1900 Taylor Port and a pretty good 1924. We soon disappeared into the haze of the Los Angeles night one by one, some two by two, and some good night, Gracie.