For a while now, the wine market has been buzzing about Hong Kong, China, Asia, etc. 2010 saw HK just eke past NY for the title of world’s largest wine auction market, but it was basically a 50/50 split. 2011, however, saw the margin increase to about 60/40 in HK’s favor. Simple projections might put HK at 70% market share in 2012, but I’m not so sure about that. No one ever talks about the fact that many Americans also bid in Hong Kong auctions. Five of those finest American collectors and I gathered in New York last week for a birthday celebration of The Cardinal, one of America’s greatest wine tasters, as well as collector extraordinaire in his own right.

Unfortunately, The Cardinal didn.t show up. I should disclose that we knew in advance; apparently The Cardinal has been very pre-occupied with numerous altar boy interviews and lost track of his schedule. He had to go back to The Vatican the day of the event, and a few other guests dropped out accordingly, but six of us remained, and we were rewarded for our diligence.

We started with a 1996 Dom Perignon Oenotheque off the list, as two of our guests were late, and they both happened to have the Champagne. The 96 was rather grassy and herbal, and despite its zippy and impressive finish, its flavors had me leaving it in the glass, which is no easy task. DP Oenos really need at least ten years in the bottle after being disgorged; I think this one was disgorged in 2008 (91+).

A 1966 Krug was more like it, at first coiled and tight, almost a bit tarred. Its nose was bready and full of apple cider, flirting with the sour side of the apple. The palate was also apple-y, yeasty yet possessing great spritz. Rob noted, very laser, with great acidity and a briny, zippy, tangy finish. It kept getting better (96).

Lady Agah noted coconut. in the 1959 Salon. It had a white knight of a nose, with fruit, minerals and wafers to support. The vanilla quality emerged victorious, in unreal. fashion. This was a manly Champagne, and while it didn.t have the spritz of the Krug, its acidity was stronger. Flavors of orange rind emerged on its gamy, bitter finish (94).

A pair of Coches were next thanks to the Artful Roger, beginning with the 2000 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres. You could see the 2000 at first smell, but this was meatier than most. Aromas of rainwater, citrus and that signature Coche nutty sex appeal were all present. Lush. and big bosoms. came from the crowd. It was a full-bodied 2000 for sure, heavy and thick, almost unctuous. Great smokehouse flavors defined its earthy, big palate, and a minty finish put this white in its own league. (95)

The 1995 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres was more minty in the nose, and more open with its snow-capped white fruit. There was great spice and super menthol flavors in this bigger and lusher. wine. One found it more refined, and while its finish was a bit dirty, it was a good dirty (95).

The 1945 Lafite Rothschild was unbelievable. It was a perfect bottle, with sweet and sour cherry immediately defining its nose. Cedar, musk and caramel joined the party in this open and sexy wine. The palate was fleshy yet still serious, showing all the best qualities of 45, ie fruit, finish and balance. There were great caramel and carob flavors, along with rusty nail. and paprika.. 1945 Lafite doesn.t get much press compared to Mouton, Latour and Haut Brion in 1945, but this bottle was awesome (97).

The 1959 Lafite Rothschild was more factory fresh, as in reconditioned. Deep cigar and chocolate slowly emerged from within. The palate was full and chalky, and a big debate ensued about reconditioning or topping off.. While it was lovely, it tasted too young to be fifty years old.. Thankfully, most producers have stopped the practice. The wine was still outstanding, but it didn.t show as many mature nuances I wanted, especially after the 1945 (95)

A great bottle of 1970 Petrus ensued. It was a beast, and a nice counterpoint to the 59, showing mature and open flavors despite being ten years younger. It had stony and zippy Pomerol fruit, with aromas and flavors of dates, plums and olives. The 70 was huge with extraordinary acidity and a massive finish, although it did mellow after an hour (96)

A bottle of 1955 La Mission Haut Brion was a negociant bottling, but if I didn.t know beforehand, I would have thought it to be one from the Chateau, as it was consistent with other 55 La Misses. Aromas of oatmeal, wheat and classic cassis were framed by gravel and tobacco, along with violet, per Lady Agah. Its flavors were full of chocolate, although it ended up being a touch too yeasty on its finish, more likely at the hands of the negociant than anyone elses (95)

It was goodbye Bordeaux, hello Burgundy, and time to say hello to a wine I had just over three weeks prior, a 1962 Vogue Musigny Vieilles Vignes. It’s been a good month. The Vogue once again had a great nose, although it needed a minute or two to shake off this fish tank element. Old wines can often have unusual qualities right after opening that need aerating out, and this was one of those occasions. Once the wine opened, it was knee-wobbling material. Aromas of fresh herbs, cherry cola and divine earth made way for this wild uni/sea urchin edge, which indubitably emerged from the fish tank. I know it sounds unusual, but it was amazingly true, wild stuff. The palate was spectacular, with great game and garden flavors and superb acidity. Someone noted the classic wine metaphor, iron fist in a velvet glove.. I got iron flavors, and bread as well. It was consistently great, just like the previous bottle (97)

All hail the 1971 Romanee Conti. 1971 and are two things that have always gone great together. not talking almonds and coconut here. THUNDERSTRUCK. were how my notes began. It was quite appropriate, as the RC was immediately rocking hard and frenetically. Spectacular. came up twice, as did menthol, meat, rose, iron, citrus, animal and wow.. Its acidity, too, was superb, and it took it up a notch from the Vogue, almost to the most Promised Land of 99 points. That’s fitting, as Romanee Conti already is the most Promised Land (98+)

A couple had to go, and four of us were left with one last bottle, a glorious 1919 Vogue Musigny. I’m not sure it was Vieilles Vignes or not now that I think about it, but it was great. Faint vanilla in that ice cream way handed off to the core of cherry and citrus. There was great spice and spine to this ancient wonder still, and Jay found it bursting. A dollop of mature port flavors made their way into the party. The only negative about this wine was that it started to fade rather quickly. After the first ten or fifteen minutes, the bloom was off the rose, and each sip started to take a step (and point) backwards, but man, that first sniff and smell was unforgettable! It didn.t fall off a cliff, though, so I settled on (95)

New York still knows a thing or two about its fine wine, especially how to drink it.

In Vino Veritas,

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