I often title consignments we get directly from Europe ‘From Europe with Love,’ as I always love to get collections directly from there, and this November, I was in Europe on a couple of occasions and in love thanks to some fantastic wines and meals. Whenever in Europe, I am always in awe of the quality of food. From the everyday gas station quick mart to the greatest of restaurants, the food is far finer when it comes to Europe, and so are many of the wines. Thankfully, they sell more than they buy when it comes to the best of wines ”“ wine is almost regarded more like an everyday beverage, adult cola if you will. However, there still remain many incredible wines nestled away in some extraordinary cellars, as well as on numerous wine lists across the continent.
One of my trips was on the way to Hong Kong and begun near Milan, on a quiet little Lake named Como. I was there for a conference, but it was a lunch on the day of my arrival that was most noteworthy, consumption-wise, at least. It was an international get-together including a few fellow Americans and some European trade members. Lunch was actually in Switzerland, a mere ten minute drive away, and we pillaged a local wine list to celebrate our arrival.
We started with a 2005 Didier Dageneau Pouilly Fume Silex, one of the world’s most collectible Sauvignon Blancs. Dageneau recently passed away tragically while piloting his own plane. Although I had never met him, those that knew him say that he was one of the most adventurous people they have each encountered. The Silex was quite wound, full of structure, tight and pungent with lots of wooden match and icy yellow fruit aromas, with hints of minerals and pee. Its fruit was quite rich for a Sauv Blanc. Kevin found it ‘very tight’ as well, and it was quite shut down although lush. Kelly observed ‘grapefruit’ in the nose. Someone on a later date told me not to drink his wines for 10-15 years, and this ’05 showed me why. The flavors that did show were pungent. There were nice hints of tea on its finish, and Gil was admiring its hidden acidity. It did linger in the belly (92+).
It was truffle season, so we complemented a great pasta and truffle course with a 2001 Clerico Barolo Ginestra. Ironically, I had just had this wine four days prior in New York. It both started my week in New York and my weekend in Europe. It was classic Piedmont with its nose of leather, tar and pine nuts. Gil observed, ‘tomato salsa.’ There was lots of intense structure and great black fruits along with a hint of black jam, anise and mint chocolate. Kelly found ‘a lot of oak.’ The palate was thick on its finish, and a lot of oak did linger on its backside. It hinted at flavors of leather, tar and anise. The finish was smackingly good in that Barolo way (94).
A pair of 2005 Burgundies set the stage for a celebrity death match. The 2005 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze was full of baby fat, although its fruit was still sexy with its red roses and raspberries. The wine had big lift in its nose but was so elegant at the same time. I think Kelly observed ‘Miracle Whip,’ to which Gil concurred, though he varied a bit, citing ‘more the blender ozone with the whip cream, totally with the metal.’ I found forest and crushed fruits. Kevin found it ‘very primary.’ The palate had hints of taut red fruits, forest and vitamins to go with leathery, stemmy flavors. There was definition and true grit here, but I found it almost too young to appreciate, and while still sexy, the wine that followed made it seem lighter and dare I say lesser (95+).
The 2005 La Tache had a much deeper nose with blacker fruits, more crushed and with more tea. There were also hints of citrus and wooden match again. The palate was grand but closed at first. It was long and stylish, complicated but so young. ‘See you in twenty years,’ I wrote. As I said before, when I went back to the Rousseau, the La Tache stood out more. It was deep, dark, black, large and in charge. I think King Angry has a fantasy about that, the 2005 La Tache, that is. It got better with each sip, flexing just a bit more when I thought it possibly couldn’t. It is one of the great young wines I have tasted (98).
We ended with a blind wine that had a nice nose for something very old, but not for a wine from 1985. The 1985 Pousse d’Or Volnay Clos des 60 Ouvrees had lots of animal and sweet, kinky fruit, along with leather, game and some Syrah bacon. There were also hints of powdered sugar, ‘the leather of Barolo’ per Kelly, big-time garden and lots of alcohol and acidity. Gil found ‘hints of B vitamin 6 and 12 and sautéed liver.’ Despite all that going on in the nose, the wine was tired on the palate, a bit rusty and with lots of citrus flavors. It was clearly an affected bottle, advanced and a bit cooked (91A).
The weekend had its share of interesting encounters, like dinner with Luciano Sandrone, lunch with Piero Antinori, a drink with Charles Banks as well as seeing some familiar friends such as Eric Rousseau and Louis Michel Liger-Belair. I tasted a pair of 2007s from Rousseau, the Clos St. Jacques and Clos de Beze, and I was impressed with them both. I asked Eric to compare 2007 to other vintages, and after some hesitation, he finally said that it was a combination of 2002 and 2001 if anything. I also grilled Sandrone about Italian vintages and his opinion of them all relative to each other, thanks to some deft translation courtesy of Gil. Here’s the brief synopsis: first, I asked him about 1989 vs. 1990, perhaps the two greatest back-to-back vintages in Italian history. Interestingly enough, Sandrone felt that almost no one hit the bullseye for both vintages; those that made great 1989s had issues in 1990 and visa-versa. When asked of the other three vintages from the ‘80s, (’82, ’85 and ’88), Sandrone felt that 1988s are really good wines, but they will always be in the shadow of the ‘89s and ‘90s. 1985s are starting to dry up, but 1982 is the true classic vintage that will continue to age for years to come. He gave the edge to 2001 over 2004, and the sleeper vintage that everyone seems to have forgotten is 1999, which he clearly feels made some great wines despite the fact that no one seems to notice at the moment. I could have sworn I asked him about 1996 vs. 1997, with 1996 prevailing, but I am not completely sure of that last one!
Happy Birthday to Me
My second trip to Europe took me to a top secret location and an extraordinary cellar, one that I was working on for our January auction. The depth and quantity here is extraordinary, and the older wines are in particularly spectacular condition. I was in awe of it for most of the weekend, and I am very excited to be representing it. I was most in awe for the two dinners where we sampled wines from the cellar, the first evening which saw me celebrate my 38th birthday. I hear the combination of three and eight is very lucky, and I am looking forward to this coming year accordingly.
The wines were served blind, and mercifully we were not left guessing for too long. The first wine on this starry night was a Champagne, one that I thought was a Rose but ultimately was not. I did guess late ‘60s/early 70s, and it was a 1971 Lanson Red Label, their top of the line cuvee at the time. Lanson made some great Champagne in the ‘70s; this I already knew, and this bottle backed up that fact. There were aromas of sweet faded roses, dried strawberry and breath mints, along with hints of dark chocolate and earth. There was nice, light petillance in the mouth, and our host noted flavors of ‘creamy caramel brioche.’ There were more citrus flavors on its really good finish, and its acidity was long and stylish, blending well with the citrus. Its flavors were sweet with hints of oil and more earth. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t Rose, but we were convinced that there was definitely a higher concentration of Pinot Noir in the blend. Great strawberry jam flavors developed in this outstanding bubbly (95).
A pair of whites followed, and the color was noticeably different in the two. The first was much lighter and hence younger. It almost gave off a Sauvignon Blanc impression in the nose, but its palate was definitively Chardonnay. The nose was clean and fresh with a pungent core; it was taut and citrusy, wrapped around an obsidian-like minerality on a bed of honeysuckle fruit. The palate was very rich with lots of acidity and noticeably strong alcohol. Its honeysuckle qualities came on stronger and stronger and were joined by acacia. This 2002 Comtes Lafon Meursault Genevrieres had been open for an hour. It was another testament to the 2002 vintage, the most forgotten of the great vintages. Everyone talks about 1999 and 2005; even 2001 and 2006 get more recognition it seems, although I am talking reds, really, but even the whites seem to be less discussed in the context of greatness. This ’02 was loaded with Chardonnay fruit and flesh, and its minerals and acidity were superb. The only flaw was this spike of alcohol, but it didn’t detract from the wine for me (95).
The second white we got a clue ”“ ‘same wine, different vintage. It was a 1992 Comtes Lafon Meursault Genevrieres, a nice pair with the ’02. The nose was sweet and buttery, full of tropical mango and kinky corn with a drop of heavy cream. The palate was rich, round and tangy with golden raisin and sunned fruit flavors. The acidity was still solid even though the wine was fatty and a bit over-ripe as ’92 whites are prone to be. This was still about as tasty a 1992 as I have had in a while, and while the sun is slowly setting on this vintage, there was still goodness in a gamy, semi-sweet way. Secondary flavors of banana peel (from the inside out) and tangerine joined the party. The ’92 kept growing on me, and it was a bottle that came directly from Lafon’s cellars on release, in fact (94).
It was onto some reds, and another pair. The first wine I pegged 1999 Burgundy right away ”“ the decadent fruit and rich, saucy and sexy style gave it away. It was deep and inky and edgy with its fruit. This wine had tremendous energy; the tannins and alcohol had that boom boom pow. The wine was incredibly rich and powerful on the palate as well, and the acidity was of superhero status. Our host found it akin to ‘eating berries off the tree’ as it was so concentrated. There were deep black fruits in this wow wine, and I was shocked to see it was the 1999 Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques, as it was better than the Griottes that I had had just a month prior. On cue, our host made a glowing comment about the quality of his cellar, of course. It did get a little drier in the glass as more skin aka tannins started to show (95+).
The second wine was another that I had had within the past month, but this time the US bottle showed much better. This bottle of 1999 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques was very sulfury. There was barn, animal, cedar and hay behind it, and our host also found it ‘gassy.’ Touches of garden rounded out the nose, but the gas dominated, for sure. The flavors were more on the candied red fruit side with a hint of rust, along with popcorn. The bottle was not exactly right, as the glorious other bottle I recently had would attest. Somehow, too much sulfur made its way into a batch of this wine, and here was one of them (93A).
The next wine was unfortunately corked, and it was a 1971 Grands Echezeaux, in honor of my birth year. Rats (DQ).
The next wine was also from my birth year, a 1971 Gros Frere et Soeur Richebourg. Its creamy nose was full of barbecue aromas along with the horseradish and brown sugar that often accompany BBQ. It was rich and saucy, also displaying distinct green olive aromas. The palate was rich, saucy and hearty, although it had some skunked keg flavors on its finish, which was also likened to ‘old furniture.’ It was ‘not so clean with some chemical qualities, but also minerals and vitamins,’ our host commented. Kisses of tobasco, game and cherry rounded out the palate in this fleshy red, which was still excellent despite some unusual edges (93).
The next wine had a great nose, with this 7up sexiness to go with citrus and black cherry. It was rich and sexy, more hearty on the palate. The finish was big and gritty, displaying lots of minerals and flavors of olive and slate. It was very Burgundian in style, so I was surprised to see this be a 1971 Certan de May! It was a ‘wow’ wine for sure, and a pet wine of our host’s (95).
The next wine had a hint of oxidation, paint-like in its impression, although our host insisted we give it some time to allow that paint ‘to crack off.’ The palate was decadent, rich, oily and thick with hints of port and ‘layers.’ It was still rich and saucy and what I would consider an outstanding wine despite the nose, as it was cleaner on the palate, and air continued to benefit the wine, as flavors of chocolate and bread pudding developed. Our host smiled after the wine, and all of us, came around, admiring its ‘bakery’ aromas and how it was ‘packed with fruit and acidity.’ It was a 1945 Certan de May (96).
We ended our meal with a 1990 Jacques Selosse, one of the great producers in Champagne who still seems to be under the radar, perhaps due to his dizzying array of non-vintage bottlings. The nose was cream city, make that cream soda city, very Krug-like in its personality with rich vanilla aromas that were also almost beefy, or ‘coq au vin’ as someone commented. In the mouth, the Selosse was long and decadent yet fine and elegant. Our host noted, ‘rich with good acidity”¦fat’ (95).
We didn’t end our night, however. We went back to the cellar for a healthy midnight raid, beginning with a 1986 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet. Healthy and forward aromas of corn, butter, stalk, cream and nut were all over the nose, developing into a hybrid of corn nuts and hazelnuts. There were rainwater flavors in this round and mature ’86, as well as lots of corn ones including candy. This was about as good as 1986 gets now, a vintage to drink up and enjoy (94).
The last wine on this extraordinary night was an also extraordinary 1961 Palmer. There were lots of cobwebs at first in this ancient wonder, but they blew off into black cherry dust, spice and ‘mushrooms.’ Flavors of chocolate shavings and earth were present in this round, tender, soft yet sturdy wine. It was dust city on its hearty finish, a classic claret all the way (96).
It was a definite happy birthday to me.
And then there was the night after, a quiet get-together of just me and my host after a hard day’s work in the cellar, with three more extraordinary wines selected, beginning with an incredible bottle of 1955 Roederer. Acquired from the cellar of a Belgian castle, this bottle, despite some wear and tear on the outside, had an amazing color and fill. Thankfully, there are 12 more in our January auction! The bottle was amazingly fresh, its bubbles popping in the glass upon first pour. Aromas of honey, tea, dried fig, straw, orange blossoms and ‘green apples’ were everywhere in its complex nose. The palate was delicious, long and with great effervescence, impossible to stop sipping. A hint of meat/game/animal developed in the nose, and our sommelier eagerly added, ‘pink grapefruit.’ My host wisely commented, ‘what you have in the nose, you get on the taste, and that is a sign of a great wine.’ I just couldn’t stop drinking it, and caramel started to take over its palate in time. It was clearly outstanding and flirting with that next level, best wines of my life category, but I left it on the border (96+).
The next bottle was one we took a chance on, a low-fill 1961 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape. ‘It’s aliiiiiive,’ I smiled. It was another low fill Burgundy/Rhone that proved to be outstanding, another feather in Mr. Jaeger’s cap regarding his theory of lower fill bottles from these regions. ‘Cooked strawberry marmalade,’ my host admired, and he didn’t mean that the wine was cooked, it was just the aroma he found. It was a ‘wow’ wine, so sweet and sexy with amazing spice. Plum, boysenberry and cassis were all there, wrapped in a decadent musk. Additional flavors of bamboo shoot, new leather and a hint of truffles were there; it was another wine I could not stop drinking. ‘Burgundy-like, except for the alcohol,’ my host keenly observed. There was great tension; this was a wine that would make aspiring rappers want to ‘smack that.’ Candle wax emerged after extended time. It was another wine right on the border of the greatest of all-time, but it didn’t last as long in the glass, perhaps a combination of its age as well as its fill catching up to it a little (96).
The third wine of the night was a rare 1967 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva Speciale. Tar and leather were the first things I noticed in the nose, but also lavender and ‘white flowers’ balancing it out. It was a desert storm of a nose, with additional hints of black rose, fig, tobacco, spice and spine, along with huge alcohol and acidity, plus a little coconut skin. The palate was full-bodied with loads of tar and charcoal but this awkward edge on its finish at first. The fruit was sweet, but the finish ‘not that long.’ There was good spice, excellent flex and definition still. It was a perplexing wine, as one sip would be great, and the next awkward, but one of the best lamb dishes that I have ever had kept it on the greater side, and flavors of chocolate-covered cigar developed. It held well in the glass, gaining in time and ultimately proving to be close to outstanding (94+).
There was one more wine on this night, a 1997 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva, generously given as a gift by the restaurant. How come they don’t do that in New York :). It first came across rich, lush and hearty with a long, leathery personality that alternated between stroking me and slapping me between its fruit and finish. The palate was quite gamy and figgy, though. It ‘reminds me of a garage St. Emilion, slightly overripe,’ my host noted, adding, ‘but I like it.’ Its backhand was wicked, but its forehand was fruity and figgy and honestly tough to drink compared to the three classics also on the table. It did hold in the glass and hinted at more potential, but like many 1997s, they might not last as long as people think (93+).
Memorable meals in memorable places with memorable people are just enough to make me fall in love, especially in Europe, where the food and wine can be as good as it gets.
In Vino Veritas,