I have found over the last few years that the best place to be on New Year’s Eve is at the home of the world’s greatest collector of Champagne, aka Big Boy. This year was no exception, and the generosity of our host was on full display with an incredible lineup of Champagnes and wines. In fact, the evening ended up being a little more wine-heavy than I thought, but after what we got to taste, there would be no complaints.  All wines were sabered by our host; therefore you can add an ‘S’ at the end of each Champagne rating if you so choose.

Rob had coined a phrase over the course of 2008: ‘The rats of ’08 will become the bulls of ’09 and slaughter the pigs of ’07.’ This saying relates to the Chinese calendar year and the fact that 2008 is a ‘year of the rat,’ 2007 a pig, and 2009 a bull year, of course. This calendar cycles every twelve years, so that 1996 is a year of the rat, 1995 a pig year and 1997 a bull, etc., going back to the beginning of time. Every wine served on this night was to be from a year of the rat, pig or bull. Game on.

I had gotten there early, and a few wines had already been opened and decanted, so I figured let me get ahead of the curve while I still had my wits with me, at least most of them. One of the wines was a magnum of 1971 Ponsot Clos de la Roche. Of course, since this was a Big Boy production, everything was to be served out of magnum; actually sometimes Jeroboam. The Ponsot smelled like Burgundy and reminded me of the ’71 vintage with its menthol and vivid acid rust. So far, so good. There was gamy fruit behind that, lots of red flowers to its aromatic fruit. The palate was gamy and tasty with lots of flesh and hints of black pepper and cola. Balanced and polished, it was a nice start to the evening and seemed right to me (94M).

We didn’t waste any time with a magnum of strong>1949 Rousseau Chambertin, whose nose was so gamy it was practically chewy, but still overall definitively silky with that ’49 haunt. There were great traces of smoke and old wood to go with its decidedly red and rose aromas. The palate was lush and tender, absolutely delicious with its game, meat and old fruit flavors. There was almost a touch of fig to its finish, something in that ‘senior’ fruit category. Light chocolate shavings rounded out this mature and plateau-ing red that still showed good posture after all these years (96M).

The Rousseau made a nice pair with the magnum of 1949 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle. Slover was quickly drooling, with ‘sensational’ spilling out of his mouth after one sip. The nose was a left turn, with bacon traces to go with its purpler fruit. It was very musky with aromas of band-aids, chocolate and more earth. It had Burgundy in its personality due to its age, ie a softening, but the kink said all Rhone. Light pepper emerged in time. Slover fancied the ’49 to be what the ’61 would taste like in 30+ years, as if the ’49 was in the same quality camp yet an earlier maturing vintage”¦relative to the ’61, of course. Every wine in the world might seem earlier maturing next to a good bottle of that! The palate was classic in every sense of the Hermitage word with its burnt, roasted earth, toast, chocolate, game, stone and white pepper flavors. Still young out of magnum, this long, smoky and rich red was impressive, still possessing hidden acids that proved long in the gut in a sneaky way (96+M).

Next up was a rare magnum of 1900 Lafite Rothschild, recorked at the Chateau in 1986. It was the real deal and about as good a reconditioned bottle as I have had in recent memory. The nose was full of cedar, clean from the reconditioning but still lush with cassis. Cedar was the dominant trait, however. Despite the obvious fact that the wine was reconditioned, it was damn delicious, vibrant and rich in its fruit and cassis flavors, complemented by delicate cedar and earth. Rose and grape also added themselves to the flavor profile, and there was a purity to the wine despite its theoretical impurity. Speez noted ‘a hint of cougar (insert your own body part here).’ Big Boy found it ‘close to outstanding,’ and ultimately I found it so (95M).

The 1985 G. Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva was quite young, rockin’ and rollin’ by comparison to the previous quartet. Its nose was full of leather, tar, smoke, truffles and that Nebbiolo goodness. Tar and chocolate flavors graced its earthy palate and rock solid finish. This wine is still an infant, and another sip two hours later had me note, ‘wicked’ (95+M).

There was one more wine for my warmup session, a 1985 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes. The nose displayed massive concentration, the most so far, brimming with big and rich aromas of chocolate, game and menthol. Its flavors had a bit of a wild streak to them, especially with its mint, eucalyptus and almost jasmine flavor. Quite gamy, there were fruit flavors of blueberry and acai as well as a hint of cola. Compared to the bottle that I recently had from the Grunewlad collection, though, I found this wine to be polished and hibernating a bit out of magnum, better to drink out of bottles at this stage, even though that could still arguably be too young (95+M).

Not a bad warmup, huh? What did I have to do to get some Champagne already??? Enter 1996 Krug Clos du Mesnil out of magnum, three of them to be exact. Not a bad reception bubbly. Its nose was fabulous, possessing more breed than Churchill Downs, or Churchill for that matter. The nose was raining razors with its searing structure, yet somehow a perfect flash of sweetness came through in the form of fat vanilla cream. Smoke on the water rounded out this golden child of a nose. The palate was long and in charge, full of yellow, lemon and citrus flavors. ‘Fantastic’ summed it up for what will probably be considered one of the greatest Champagnes of the 20th century if not all-time (98+M).

Next up was a 1973 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, and yes it was out of magnum. Still one of the most underappreciated big-time Champers, the Comtes stood out for its signature butterscotch right away, along with heavy cream, light toast, butter on top and a hint of all good, foresty wood. Fresh, lean, zesty and racy, I might have guessed 1996 if served to me blind as this magnum was in extremely good condition. Its finish dominated its palate, although there were also nice butter flavors and kisses of oak. There was one noticeable flaw, the fact that the flavors seemed short and mono (94M).

The ‘73s continued with a 1973 Dom Perignon Oenotheque magnum. It had a nice nose, classic DP with its granulated sugar and pinch of gingerbread. The palate was a little dirty and gave a sugar water impression despite nice fizz and vim. Dirty and earthy, the palate was long and round with a touch of teabag to it. Its flavors also seemed a bit short, but maybe that was the 1996 Mesnil (93M).

A 1959 Henriot Cuvee des Enchanteleurs was clearly disgorged recently, obviously fresh but not much after that. It was a touch sour on the palate with some notes of corkiness (88A).

It was back to the grill again with a 1973 Dom Perignon, this time from an original magnum. The nose seemed better, more balanced with nice aromas and edge to it, more musky and intoxicating with excellent cream traces. Its flavors of grilled nuts and toast were spot on. Original baby, go ‘head baby (95M).

We continued on the Moet trail with a magnum of 1959 Moet, which had a wild nose with lots of wheat and farm-like aromas. There was a granulated edge that brought back the classic, as well as nice butter along with this definitive cement quality merging with its wheat. The palate was round and ‘not so complex,’ as one noted. The palate was buttery and yeasty but a bit flat, not over the hill but possessing barely any fizz. Its roundness was one of its better qualities in the mouth (91M).

An original magnum of 1973 Krug was ‘dead on,’ as Big Boy put it. There was a lot of seashell and Fulton fish market at first, but that quickly blew off into the signature vanilla cream. The palate was apple cider meets rocket fuel with a razor’s edge of a finish. It had an endless silver streak in the mouth, zippedy doo dah day and den sum. There were good flavors of wood chip and almost a cinnamon without the spice. It was so zippy at first that it almost burned the tongue, although it did mellow nicely over time (96M).

We went back to the reds with a pair of Mascarellos, beginning with the 1961 Cantina Mascarello Barolo. It was glue city in the nose, along with some suburbian leather. The palate had leather as well with a touch of Madeira and bitters, thin in the middle with some paint thinner up front. There was also caramel glaze to this advanced yet solid Barolo (90A-M).

The 1971 Cantina Mascarello Barolo had a richer nose, firmer and with much more red and rose fruits along with leather and cigar. The palate was absolutely delicious, full of rust and rich bronze age action. Long and zippy, there was mucho citrus sex appeal in this flat-out fantastic wine (95M).

The next wine was one of the more discussion-worthy wines of the night, a double magnum or jeroboam of 1899 Latour. We couldn’t tell. At first, questions of authenticity were in the air, and even Big Boy thought it might be fake, despite the fact that was acquired five or six years ago and supposedly was one step removed from Latour itself. It was indubitably reconditioned, clearly showing darker and more youthful fruit, but it still had mature nuances and old qualities. The distinguished Sir Robert Bohr started making some positive observations at first. Olof noted ‘500 flavors at once.’ There was mint and eucalyptus at first. The texture was fleshy, rich and long. The wine remained controversial. Candle wax, earth and cobwebs all emerged, as did some signature sea salt and walnut. I was convinced it was Latour, but it was quixotic in its ‘am I young or am I old’ way. No one could say it wasn’t a reconditioned 1899, and by the end of the night there seemed to be mostly believers. The next day the wine was even better, so soft and supple, and even more decidedly Latour in its flavor profile, still with a purple core. It reminded me more of 1955 than 1899, and I guess reconditioning helps if you want to have an old wine 24 hours later (94D/J?).

One possible jero deserves another, especially when the other is a 1923 Bollinger. It doesn’t get much rarer than that. I had recently had a controversial bottle of this, but after this jero, I can safely say that there is controversy no more. The nose was the essence of white truffle oil, much like the bottle from before. Loreto hailed it as ‘trufflicious.’ Mike noted hints of garlic, and it wasn’t my breath, either. Someone noted apricots, and there were indeed apricots, but definitely on the Turkish side. Rich and oily in the mouth, there was still nice spritz and length here. It was rich and buttery with oyster shell flavors (95J).

More red wine? How about a magnum of 1949 La Tache? Very LT and very ’49, this was about as rich as 1949 can be. It had the oil, the rose, the leather, the meat, the menthol. As Crane noted, it had ‘a feminine style but still manly.’ Everyone noted its greatness, with lots of oohs and aahs coming from the crowd. It was definitely wine of the night so far, and even had Robert asking for seconds (98M).

One good ’49 deserves another, especially when it is a 1949 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes. Old book jumped out of its haunting nose. Rose and a citrus twist helix rounded out this amazingly old yet fresh nose. Robert quickly crowned this as the ‘best wine I’ve had tonight.’ Big Boy cooed ‘amazing and unbelievable.’ Its palate was tender, rich, long and soft, but its richness was what stood out the most. It was in a perfect spot (98M).

We finished off the evening with a trio of Champagnes, beginning with a staggering 1900 Moet. Olof, Scandavia’s version of physical therapy meets sadism, acutely noted, ‘crème brulee, vanilla bean, caramel and espresso bean.’ The Moet had the truffle oil of the ’23 Bolly and the butterscotch ofthe C de C. It reminded me of a Daniel Boulud coconut cake. Insanely rich and exotic, it also reminded me of a great white Burgundy, perhaps a Meursault Perrieres. It was delicious and round, and Robert noted, ‘white chocolate covered espresso bean.’ Paul hailed it as ‘Willy Wonka.’ Speez kicked in ‘ever so nutty and creamy,’ which worked all the more better with the Stimpy impersonation. Crane noted ‘burnt cake.’ The gloves were off, and everyone was all-in for the 1900 (98M).

Three ‘98s in a row, what year was that? A 1947 Bollinger made us forget. It had the same truffle as the ’23; I guess it’s a Bolly thing. There was also chicken bouillon there. The palate was super; long and fresh and amazingly so on both counts. It was long and zippy without the zip, if that makes sense. Its flavors were rich and long, with butter toffee and hard candy flavors. Two distinguished gentlemen noted separately ‘Rolo’ (96M).

There was one more magnum left, a 1971 Cristal, and it was a spectacular one. ‘Really fresh’ came from Slover, and ‘deep and thick’ from Big Boy. It was incredibly rich with a light saber of a finish, zippy and with orange marmalade and corn flavors. Its finish was extended and extensive with a super Sprite bite. Big Boy also noted ‘burnt orange,’ and there were toffee traces on its finish (97M).

I must confess there were a couple of klunkers, but we ended up using them in the sauce of the great cuisine of Chef Gaia Bagnasacco of Milano.

But New Year’s Eve wasn’t over, and I would soon discover that it was just beginning. As previously noted, I came back the next day to have some 1899 Latour again, and we also had a 1926 Bollinger, which again had this super exotic truffle oil aroma, along with a kinky, limy and gamy overall nose. A streak of mint surged to the forefront, Chartreuse-like and edgy. Big Boy was admiring its citric pitch, and there was a lot of life left in this ancient Bolly. I wondered if this and the ’23s of previous mention were disgorged at the same time due to the similarities. The pungency of its flavors was a bit much for me, and it held it back, again for me, but Big Boy was in love and rated it much higher for its freshness and condition (93).

The rest of Friday was dedicated to some cellar management, and Saturday I was in the office, catching up and getting ready for 2009, when I got the call at 5pm. ‘Johnny, I need you to run by my house, grab the following seven magnums and meet us at Balthazar. Now.’ Thirty minutes later I was at the bar of a packed Balthazar, which closed down one end of their bar for Big Boy and entourage. Any complaints of not enough Champagne on New Year’s Eve would soon be off the record.

The crew was already there drinking 1996 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill. I took a quick glass of this clean and fresh bubbly. It was full of yellow sunshine aromas. Its palate was long and balanced, elegant and smooth. It was more refined than I remembered, but this had been in the glass a bit before I got there (95).

First officially up was a spectacular magnum of 1949 Pommery Rose in unreal condition. Its color was a perfect light pink. Bobby noted ‘Riesling-like petrol and peach.’ It was very peachy, almost like a Buckingham Palace bellini. ‘Purely elegant, 100% integrated total rose and hard to make better,’ cooed Big Boy. Sweet, clean and pure, the ’49 was all one could want in a rose. Secondary strawberry qualities emerged. ‘That’s why Pommery is better than Dom”¦lacks nothing”¦the forties is the greatest decade for Pommery,’ were all comments from our generous host. Bobby noted ‘sweet tart’ without the tart, almost this powder andacid combination. Paul added ‘Dylan’s Candy Shop,’ to which I replied, ‘more like Fitty’s Candy Shop,’ to which Loreto reminded us, ‘It’s Big Boy’s Candy Shop’ lol. Everyone was floored by the ’49, including our eager bartender. A few glasses made their way around the room, and soon strange women from strange countries came to thank Big Boy for a taste of his magnum nectar (96M).

Wait, there were six more magnums to be had. The next was a (DQ), an oxidized 1949 Louis Roederer magnum, which still had excellent texture and length, and impressive sweetness in the mouth. Were it not oxidized, it would be in rare air territory.

The 1959 Louis Roederer had a perfect nose, clean and fresh, from a magnum acquired directly from Roederer. The disgorgement was clearly within the last few years, as this was fresher than most average 1990s, let alone 1959. It still had mature aromas of nutty, sundried, yellow fruit, as well as this kinky coconut milk meets mother’s milk. It was very buttery once you got past its freshness, almost sauteed. ‘Acid city,’ one remarked. This magnum was so fresh, it could last another 100 years, and one could keep it in the glass 24 hours, and it would still be great. It reminded me of the 1996 Clos du Mesnil somewhat, and while the disgorgement gave the ’59 ‘superpowers,’ it did have me yearning for some of its natural maturity. That was the only bad thing I could say about this 6 star wine from this 6 star vintage. There were long, zippy and tasty granulated sugar flavors along with vanilla lemon finger wafer ones, too (97+M).

The maturity I was looking for in the 1959 came in the form of the 1961 Louis Roederer, which immediately got ‘three cleans and two jerks’ from Big Boy. This original magnum had a much warmer nose, displaying exotic aromas of rye, ‘confectioners’ (Bobby), wheat, corn, wax, minerals and seeds including sesame. In fact, it was everything bagel style. Bobby also noted ‘potpourri,’ and there was, big-time. The palate was almost as fresh as the ’59 despite the original bottling. There was still speed racer acidity, and ‘rare air’ and ‘real deal’ came from the KOB. There was a nice, gamy twist to the flavors, and ‘oceanic depth’ per Bobby. There were meaty, white gyro juice flavors and an hour later, the ’61 was still going strong, o so nutty and ‘acorn-ish’ per Avi. He went on to say, ‘if they served Champagne in Heaven, this would be it.’ Big Boy insisted it was 98 points, and he may have been right, but I was stuck on (97+M).

The Roederers were finished, but the ‘61s paraded on with a 1961 Bollinger. Unfortunately, the Bolly was affected with a kiss of fino. Nutty skins and white cola flavors were there in what could be called a pleasant but flat Champagne. Hints of orange peel and more white fruits grew on me. There were tasty vanilla ice cream flavors, and I liked it even though it was affected. Bob the bartender, having the tasting of his life, noted the higher Pinot Noir content. A perfect bottle would have been a higher score, but the Bolly soon fell apart, and morning mouth joined the party, and that’s not a party one wants to be at (92A-M).

The final ’61 was a 1961 Krug, another original bottling. Bobby the bartender was having a tough time with the cork as it was so tightly in there, and he shared, ‘the best ones are the most difficult ones, just like women.’ Now the Krug was ever so slightly oxidized as well, but it was so great that it turned out being outstanding nonetheless and probably the best ‘affected’ wine that I have ever had, and Rob later said separately the same. It had similar nuances to the Bollinger, but this was way better, much richer and longer even though it shared a similar wine-like quality. It was round, lush, smooth and rich with apple cider flavors. Were this not oxidized, it would have clearly been 98 or 99 points. Its oxidation took on a bouillon essence flavor, and the Krug ‘kept building in the glass,’ as Big Boy observed, and he is one who knows about building. It got more honeyed, and had ‘mind-blowing minerality ”“ that’s why it is Krug,’ Rob also shared. Pretty impressive for a bottle that wasn’t 100% (96A-M).

The final Champagne to ring in the New Year was the 1928 Bollinger. Rob was anxious about the finale as he wanted to end with a bang, but one sniff elicited a ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ The color and fizz were both there and incredible for this ancient wonder. Wheat crackers were the first aroma I noted, followed by a seeping vanilla and touch of apple. Earth, forest, cinnamon spice and Apple Jacks joined in. It had great perfume. It was so sweet in the mouth, almost too much at first. ‘We are in the land of all-time,’ Big Boy pronounced. The palate eventually developed a dry goodness to it, not leather, not earth, but rather a benevolent cardboard, like opening up a Chanel gift box. There were Rose’s Lime Juice flavors on its finish, which had great sweetness and spritz. Pinches of mountain herbs and dried apple had this tremendous bubbly flirting with 98 points (97M).

It was a tremendous start to what will hopefully be a better year for everyone. There are many great collections out there in the world, but the greatest collectors are the ones who share from their cellars, and it is tough to find anyone more generous than Rob.

And on the first, second and third day, he opened them.

In Vino Veritas,

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