Shanghai Nights

Greetings from Asia. I have begun my first tour of duty here in the Pacific Rim, and I started my trip off with a weekend in Shanghai. The fourteen plus hour flight did not seem so bad since I was able to sleep for close to nine hours of it; of course, that was only made possible by a miserable all-night catalog production the night before. I think I got home at 6am, and scraped myself out of bed at 9am, as there was much to do before departing that evening. Well, I made it, although the final proof of this catalog is still haunting me five days later. It’s a big one.

I was given a good tip to stay at the Grand Hyatt all the way throughout my seven city, three week tour, and the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai is housed within Shanghai’s tallest building, its lobby on the 54th floor. The views are accordingly spectacular and worth the trip alone; it is a sight to behold, looking out over all of Shanghai, an endless sea of a city, home to over 20 million people and growing everyday. The view from the Grand Hyatt made New York seem like, well, Chinatown, and with construction everywhere, there seems to be no sign of that changing anytime soon.

Many of you know of my close friendship with one of my fellow enthusiasts , wine collector extraordinaire, yet only a few of you know the Doctor’s older brother, who spends half his year in Shanghai. Since three out of the four wines we drank together were Chateau Margaux, we will now, at least temporarily, knight him, ‘Mr. Margaux.’

I arrived at 5am, worked my tail off until 11, and then had a lunch meeting, nap and then dinner with Mr. Margaux. Taxi drivers in Shanghai are the equivalent of a free ride at Great Adventure, one for which you definitely need to be at least ‘this high.’ Buckle up and hold on! They won’t understand a word you are saying either, so don’t bother to tell them to slow down. The difference between 229 and 299 was a five-minute discussion with plenty of sign language as we tried to find my destination’s building number.

Mr. Margaux took me to Jean Georges in order to ease my transition into the Eastern world. You know that a city is significant when a chef like Jean Georges opens up shop in it. I am sure we will see more of the same in the near future in Shanghai. Dinner was very good, and we had a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Margaux to warm up our whistles on this busy Friday night.

If there is one thing you can count on in this world, it’s that you will find Dom Perignon in every major city in the world. What do they make of that stuff now, 4 million cases a year? Just kidding, Nicole, and it was good to see a familiar face on the wine list to start things off, 1996 Dom Perignon to be exact. Toasty, lean and racy, there was a bit of a white Burgundian, smoky complexity to the nose in this 1996 DP, along with distinct corn oil aromas. I have had a lot of variation with the ’96 already in its short life, but this was an excellent bottle, with flavors of rainwater, musk, toast and yeast. Of course, it had the vintage’s fantastic acidity, but the wine was just a touch square at the moment, a squareness that I am sure time will undo (94+).

The 1986 Margaux was about as open as this wine has ever been for me, possessing dense plum and cassis fruit, forward in its personality and more forgiving than most ‘86s I have had of late. The wine also had some noticeable oak in the nose, not offensive, yet noticeable, which is never something I would call a good thing, either. In time, the oak integrated well, however, and this was a perfumed ’86, actually charming and seductive. Make no mistake about it, there was still a very sturdy backbone of tannins and acidity behind it, but in a good posture kind of way, in that you don’t notice it until you see someone/thing without it. Mr. Margaux noted ‘flowers and earth.’ The palate was spicy, with vanilla and oakflavors most noticeable, a bit shy overall, yet its big acidity and dry tannins made their presence more known in the mouth than in the nose. Its long finish had earthy flavors, and its fruit was a bit dormant in the mouth, typical for most ‘86s at the moment. Mr. Margaux noted the ‘tannins and acid are most noticeable in ’86; it is a long-term vintage and relatively a bargain accordingly.’ He also admired the ‘elegance of the earth’ and the terroir of Margaux. The 1986 Margaux was a spiny wine, still unyielding in the mouth despite signs of charm and finishing school in the nose; it was definitely an iron fist, without the velvet glove just yet (94+).

Mr. Margaux took me on a tour of Shanghai’s nightlife after dinner, beginning with a walk through XinTianDi (translation New Heaven Earth). This area had plenty of pubs and shops and reminded me a bit of a college town atmosphere, with lots of community eating and drinking and a buzz in the air. There were also plenty of foreigners in this area, so it is a good place to visit when in Shanghai. Fellas, be prepared to be aggressively courted by many young women in Shanghai. For a country where pornography is illegal, one of the world’s oldest professions seems to be thriving. Not that I partook ”“ yes, I can hear the cascade of ‘yeah yeahs’ all over America, thanks guys, but I did get asked on eight occasions during the evening between here and a stroll up and down Heng Shan Lu, another area filled with local bars and restaurants, with more locals and less foreigners but still that college town feel. It was a fun night, one that ended up at Bar Rouge, one of Shanghai’s top night clubs, where we proceeded to conduct a Champagne head-to-head matchup of Krug Grande Cuvee versus 1999 Cristal.

The Krug was delicious, as always, and I actually preferred it to the DP. Its balance, flavors, length and style were everything I could ask for in a quality Champagne. There is no doubt that the ‘Multi-Vintage’ Krug Grande Cuvee is the best buy in all of luxury Champagnes. Every home should have at least four six-packs on hand! Stop thinking Champagne is for special occasions; Champagne is for every occasion (95).

The 1999 Cristal was extra special, extraordinary in its combination of elegance and power. Its flavors were crisp, clean and intense, long and stylish with superb acidity that did not get in the way of the purity and style of the wine. It was integrated despite its extraordinary length. Its aromas of lightly toasted bread, corn and minerals danced around our table aptly with all the young ladies the Champagne seemed to attract. I love it when that happens. We danced the night away, so I was able to skip the morning workout (97).

Day two saw a couple of more meetings for me. The wine market in China is still in its infancy, and despite a big buzz in America about ‘China China China’ when it comes to wine and especially Lafite Rothschild, premier grand vin of choice of the Chinese, there is still a long way to go for fine wine to become a part of the everyday culture here. Those of you more interested in hearing about it can take me out to some dim sum in NYC! Speaking of which, on my second night in Shanghai, Mr. Margaux treated me to some local cuisine before heading to ”“ yikes ”“ a karaoke bar. Damnit, here it was, only my second night in Asia, and I was already in some karaoke place. There is no way I was taking the microphone, I knew that already. I can drop the hammer, but I can hardly carry a tune. At least this was a private club with private rooms, so if it got ugly, the embarrassment would be minimal. Mr. Margaux held court with some more wines from his cellar and a few friends.

The main event was the always-interesting match-up of ’95 versus ’96 Margaux. The 1995 Margaux had a soft, seductive nose, which was still wide in its aromatics. It had a delicate perfume yet was still forceful with its nut, cassis and mineral aromas. T ‘n a oozed out of its glass after a lot of coaxing, yet the wine never lost its balance. There were nice earth and toast elements underneath, rounding out the nose. The palate had outstanding spice and acidity. It was long and smooth, seductive and charming with a nice minerality to its finish. Pure and classic, the palate maintained the gymnast-worthy balance of the nose admirably (95).

The 1996 Margaux had a spicier nose; its tannins and alcohol jumped out right away compared to the charm and tickle of 1995. There was more of a cedary whiff to its profile. The personality of the nose was strict and stern, spiny and long, deep and dungeon-y. There was definitely some spank to the ’96; it was as if little miss ’95 went home after work and put on the full black leather outfit and let her hair down, whip in hand. The palate was enormous compared to the ’95, with a tidal wave of a finish and massive acidity and gritty, dry tannins. Its length was superb; this is easily a 50-100 year wine, and after some time, even some dense fruit developed. Superb stuff (97).

There was one last wine to the weekend, and it was a 1998 Lafleur. The Lafleur had a deep, intense nose full of chunky, meaty Pomerol fruit. Chocolate, graham cracker crust and black and blueberries were present as well. There was a balancing beam of anise with an exotic edge to its fruit, almost tropical but not quite. The nose was also full of iron, complementing its meat and game. The palate was huge, enormously endowed, wound and a bit unforgiving. In another twenty years, it will be forgiven for sure! Game, twisted t ‘n a, plum, anise, mineral, that Pomerol kink and that exotic Lafleur edge to the fruit were all there. It was another spectacular, 50-100 year wine (96+).

Somehow we ended up at Bar Rouge again, and they were out of Krug, so we did the 1998 Dom Perignon versus the 1999 Cristal. It was not much of a contest, but the DP was pleasant, smooth and easy to drink (91). As I admired the women that had surrounded us in the club, Mr. Margaux gave me some wise advice, an old Chinese proverb. ‘It is ok to squeeze the milk, but don’t take home the cow.’

Shortly thereafter, I went home, cowless, but on my way out, I was reminded that Shanghai is still a tale of two cities. For all the construction, excitement and energy in the city, there is still a great deal of poverty as well. Outside of the club, there were mothers with their young children in tow, using them to beg for money. A young boy got on his knees in front of me, and I couldn’t help but give him something, I mean, he had to only be seven or eight years old. So I reached into my pocket and peeled off 100 RMB, the Chinese equivalent of thirteen US dollars, and he started screaming at the top of his lungs as if he had just scored the winning goal in overtime of the World Cup final. There were instantly more than a dozen other beggars heading my way, and I was whisked away into a taxi before getting stampeded. It is a memory that will never leave me.

In Vino Veritas,

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