Before my recent leg to Hong Kong, I spent a weekend far, far away in a Northern land where the cold and snow are rites of passage, and the days have much less light, although more than the rumors rumble. When night falls early, dinner comes accordingly, and I spent an incredible evening, sampling incredible wines thanks to an incredible pair of wine lovers.
The first part of the evening was a tasting, and done double blind ”“ not knowing the order (single blind) and the wines’ identity (double blind). Clues were sparingly provided, as our hosts playfully pounced on the educated guesses that sometimes became very uneducated in retrospect. That’s the beauty of a blind wine tasting; it really strips everything down to its core, whether it is the wine itself or the actual tasters.
The first wine was served as a welcome, and what a welcome it was. We were given a clue that it was a 100 year old wine, so we knew it was from 1911. It still had a great, classic nose of sweet cassis, nut, leather and tobacco. Its palate was round, seductively tender, with flavors of light citrus and more tobacco. Juha also noted ‘leather’ on the palate, and the one lady in attendance, Esse, admired its ‘fragrant’ quality. Having had the 1911 Cos d’Estournel two nights prior, this was a real treat, and another testament to the vintage. ‘Silky and smooth’ were used to describe the qualities of 1911, and while its tannins were indeed melted, the acidity still remained. There was a chocolaty edge to it for sure, and I was convinced for a bit that it was Mouton, most certainly a Pauillac. It wasn’t either. ‘Varnish’ and ‘strawberry’ came from the eager and actively participating crowd. Its really elegant style charmed most, and I was stunned to see this be a 1911 Cheval Blanc. It was such a Left Bank impersonator! I learned that it was tradition for Pekka to have as the first wine of the first great tasting of the year a 100 year-old wine. See you next year, my friend 🙂 (93).
We sat down to a pair of Champagnes, the first of which was clearly old and perhaps a touch too mature, but there was still some life left in its bones. Aromas of honey, rust, bread and pungent candle oil were in its nose. There were lots of candle wax flavors to match, and a touch of bubbles left. It had a yeasty finish, a bit unpleasant like a morning mouth kiss. Its honey qualities blossomed a bit, but this was slightly oxidized, a bit more yeasty than it should have been. ‘Tar’ came from Esse, and I started to taste some cooked sugar. While there volume in the mouth, this bottle had seen better days, and what a shame that was, as it was an incredibly rare bottle of 1928 Dom Perignon, the second vintage ever made (90A).
The second Champagne brought Clos des Goisses to mind, and it turned out to be just that. Its nose was distinctively grassy and wheaty. There were ‘nice toast and bubbles’ per one gentleman. It had a long, similar personality on the palate with flavors of white, pungent fruits and a lemon/lime finish. Juha found it, ‘energetic and pungent’ with flavors of ‘green apple.’ ‘Heavy’ and ‘Pinot-dominated’ came from the crowd for this 1961 Philipponat Clos des Goisses (92).
The next flight was one of red wines, with the clue that they were all very important wines for their wineries and from different countries. The first had a nose full of coffee and blueberries. It had a Cabernet impression but was something different, I thought. Its fruit was forward and smoky, and its palate was round, lightly lush and long with earthy flavors on its finish. By the time I had finished evaluating the wine, I was convinced it was California, and it was a 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. The problem was that it wasn’t like any other bottle of this that I had ever had. This was usually one of the most distinctive wines of the 20th Century, and this bottle was far from it. After close inspection of the cork and bottle, it seemed to me as if this was a bottle that had gotten reconditioned (poorly) at the winery as the bottle seemed legit, although I don’t know for a fact if Heitz ever did that. A signature by one of the Heitz’s on the label backed that hypothesis up. If they didn’t recondition any, something wasn’t right (89?).
The second wine was a badly oxizidized 1982 Pesquera Janus. I thought the wine was completely shot, but a few necrophiliacs were trying to convince me this was the style of the wine made in 1982. I have never tasted another Pesquera that tasted like this, and I love the estate. This wine made me want to paint the room with it, but somehow the average score of the group was 84 points, those that did vote at least. This was apparently the wine that made Parker put Pesquera on the wine map (DQ).
Green olives dominated the nose of the next wine, and it carried over to the palate. There were dried fruit flavors, light chocolate shavings, leaving almost a pudding impression without the thickness. Pekka likened it to ‘meat soup,’ although I wasn’t sure which meat he usually included in his soup! It was richer and more complete than its predecessors, and there was nice sweetness to the palate in a carob/caramel way. Someone thought it was ‘La Miss-ish,’ but it was a 1972 Sassicaia! The significance of the 1972 was that it won a big London tasting in 1978 or 1979, we were told. Another tidbit was that it was actually made privately for the family from 1948 up until 1968, the first commercial release (93).
The last wine of this flight had a nose full of coffee and olives, almost combining the first and third wine in the glass a bit. The nose was earthy and hairy, with positive horse and barn in it, almost like a red Clos des Goisses with its wild character. The palate was rich, lush and confident, long and great with delicious coffee bean and taut lingonberry fruit flavors. Juha purred on about its ‘wonderful nose,’ continuing with ‘espresso with whipped cream’ and ‘yogurt.’ This 1918 Vega Sicilia Unico was the third vintage of this wine, although the first, 1915, was never released (95).
A trio of reds was our last pre-dinner flight, and the first wine had a little more barn to it, along with old wood walls, rye bread and some body odor. It was sweaty and complex, ‘beautiful’ per Pekka. Its flavors were peculiarly good and also particularly unique, like some Wasa bread with a core of kaleidoscopic red and purple fruits. It really improved in the glass, no small feat considering it was a 1864 Margaux, the oldest Bordeaux I believe I have ever had. It was still excellent, make that extraordinary, with a lengthy, lip-smacking finish. We were reminded how Michael Broadbent hailed 1864 as ‘one of the greatest vintages of the 19th Century’ (94).
The next wine had a Bordeaux nose and was definitely old. It had a webbed, old wood frame but a core of chocolate and cassis underneath. It was gamy like a good, moldy blue cheese, and ice cream soda emerged in this chameleon of a wine. The palate was lighter and a touch watery, tender and soft, not exciting, but this 1924 Mouton Rothschild was still hanging on. It was the first vintage they used an artist label (90).
The last wine of this flight was supposed to be from 1888, but instead became a 1982 Montrose when the 1888 was no good. It showed a bit metallically at first with some cherry behind it. The palate was much better, showing a Rhonish pepper edge. The nose got creamier, and the palate was light, pleasant and easy with carob and slate flavors, and a touch of red fruits. After the ’82 Montrose, a streak of my scores coinciding with the group’s average ended after four in a row (91).
We sat down to dinner and a magnum of 1975 Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale. It had a truffly nose, quite oily in its expression. The palate was sweet and sugary, smooth and exotic with light petillance. Esse noted, ‘cotton candy,’ and Juha ‘caramel,’ but it wasn’t my style. Someone hailed it as ‘eccentrically enjoyable,’ but I didn’t really care to drink it. The significance of this wine was that it was the ‘other’ Champagne served at the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, the first, of course, being the legendary 1961 Dom Perignon. Apparently, this was served for all of Diana’s guests as it was a personal favorite of hers; the Royals sure know how to treat the inlaws lol. I can just see Queen Elizabeth now, ‘Let them drink Joseph Perrier’ hahaha (88M).
We reverted to the blind games with a very old white. It had a bit of glue to its nose, that old White Bordeaux-like character, with a lot of animal attraction. The palate had a sweeter Riesling character, though, full of dry peach and petrol flavors. It was light and simpler in the mouth than on the nose, and most were in agreement that this was an old Auslese, and it was. The 1929 Karl Schmitt Niersteiner Flesichenhahl Riesling Auslese ‘lacked acidity’ but had a round, tender finish with apricot rind flavors (91).
The next white was clearly white Burgundy and an extraordinary one at that. It had a toasted head that reminded me at first of Leflaive. Its nose was smoky and powerful, with big kernel aromas along with butter and yellow fruit. Someone noted, ‘turpentine and minerals.’ The palate had great earth and minerals with impressive acidity and long flavors. It was a 1985 Montrachet. While there was less botrytis and more toast than usual, this Montrachet was every bit as impressive as any other (96).
We finally crossed the road and got to the other side with some red Burgundy. The nose of our first was seductive and saucy with tomato, musk and a hint of Worcestershire. It was rich, earthy and expressive with lots of outdoor aromas. Someone noted ‘an iron taste at the end,’ and I noticed lemony kisses to go with hearty acidity. There was a bit of brown sugar and metal as well to go with its foresty flavors and ‘orange smell.’ It was a bit forward and somewhat gamy, and while the acidity still lifted the wine nicely, I felt that the 1982 Jayer Echezeaux was a touch advanced and not a perfect bottle (93A).
The Burgundy that followed smelled much younger, and Juha noticed ‘brambly black fruit.’ There was a whiff of green wood in its long nose, which was a bit vegetal in a root way. There was also a bit of unclean fish tank in there at first, although that might have been the glass. This was a big, heavy monster in the mouth, extremely concentrated, with its green wood maintaining aggression. Someone guessed Jayer due to the oak, but I was in a Richebourg frame of mind. It was a 1989 Romanee Conti. It was complex and complicated although at least a decade too young. Its nose became more milky, and its palate more brothy with bouillon flavors to go with beefy undertones (94).
We were back to Bordeaux with Pekka’s greatest wine of all-time, and this would be the 100th time that he ever sampled it, and he’s younger than the wine, too. The 1961 Latour had a fresh and fabulous nose, with the energy of a new starlet but still the wisdom of an Oscar-winning veteran. There was a touch of wheat to its core of cassis, with secondary qualities of nut, charcoal and rainwater. The palate was rich and flat-out spectacular with a finish that just wouldn’t quit. There were great tobacco and mineral flavors to this super special wine. Even though I felt the bottle was in perfect condition, Pekka, of course, had had a few that were better. I didn’t ask him where the bottle rated on his top 100 list for 1961 Latour lol (97).
A wild wine followed that was pungent, gamy, oaky and overripe. There was too much wood in its nose which left a stinky overall impression. The wine was fleshy and rich in the mouth, but again there was too much wood, sickly so. The wine was better after some steak, but I still couldn’t tolerate its flavor. I liked this 1971 Penfolds Grange the least of the group by a considerable amount. The bottle was reconditioned in 1998, and having had this wine on numerous occasions, I can safely recommend sticking with original bottles (89).
There were a couple of ports to end the evening from the 19th Century, including a controversial (per Dirk) 1888 Niepoort and some random 1837 Colheita. We actually also had a 2007 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon, but I will be merciful and leave that part of the evening as a hazy memory.
It was a most incredible evening organized by Pekka and Juha, the first of many we will share together, I am sure. Their passion and respect for the ancient wonders of the wine world struck a chord that resonates within my own heart. It is always reassuring to find new wine lovers in new parts of the world that just want to drink it.
In Vino Veritas,