This past summer saw the end of the first year of my first official tasting group, the 12 Angry Men. They said it wouldn’t last, but we made it, nonetheless. All the politics, all the extra effort and all the coordination of doing a group like this seem well worth it after looking at all the great wines we were able to try, and all the good times we were able to share together. Only half of this initial year’s events made its way to the public, as many events remain in the archives of 2004, including one of the greatest evenings of Bordeaux that I have ever experienced, hosted by the one and only ‘Big Boy.’ You’ll read about that one sooner or later. Our first calendar year was actually 15 months for various membership reasons. ‘Brose was closing out the first year with an event at his gorgeous home up in Connecticut. He had gotten a car for the NYC crew to come up, and after fighting through some rush-hour traffic, we finally made it up and were definitely thirsty, despite the bottle of Champagne we had on the way up.
We were welcomed by some more Champagne, that Champagne being a 1985 Cristal, a delicious bottle of bubbly with great bread and toast flavors, possessing that elegant richness that only Cristal can, finishing smoothly and finely. It was exquisite (95). We had a white, or two, but due to some initial service confusion, we each basically got one white. I had the 1989 Trimbach Riesling ‘Cuvee Frederic Emile’ SGN. Ray was quick to share some of his knowledge, citing the fact that Frederic was the grandfather, and that the 1964 Clos Ste. Hune is the best bottle of white he ever had. The 1989 SGN had a lot of minerality, petrol and what Peter pegged as ‘honeysuckle.’ The nose was very racy and intense and not overly sweet. Spicy, zesty and alluring, there were lots of yellow fruits as well. Its palate was rich, meaty, lush and spicy, almost Gewurz-y in style. There was zip and zing with a great, woodsy and slaty spice on the back end. Peter found it ‘consistent and thick,’ while Jim liked its ‘balance’ (95).
It was time to get serious, and a flight of La Missions was first. This bottle of 1955 La Mission Haut Brion was spectacular. The nose was amazing, unbelievable with its super chocolaty and grapy fruit balanced by classic earth and slate. There was incredible depth and breadth to its fruit in the nose, and Mike keenly observed that it had ‘all the stuff that should be there’ and added ‘hickory.’ Ray had to jump in with ‘cinnamon pot pourri,’ but he did just return from the bathroom. HA. There was gravel, spine and edge to the wine, which was long, fine, smooth and intense. It was rich, lush, thick and spicy, and Peter found some ‘bacon fat’ emerging. Wow (98). Eric threw in a 1955 Haut Brion as a ‘ringer’ for our La Mission flight. The nose was a bit caramelized, and Rob immediately thought the wine was maderized. It was affected a bit, but far from being shot and still had a lot of purple flavors, along with bacon, earth, gravel and smoke, but the La Mission did crush it, and it should have been a little closer. The wine was still long and fine with nice earth and gravel. The palate was excellent but still less than it should have been, although its caramel flavors were great. This wine made me want to add a new dimension to my ratings, an ‘A’ for affected bottle (93A). The 1961 La Mission Haut Brion was similar to the 1955 in its grapy and chocolaty profile, although someone said that its finish was ‘lighter and more chalky.’ I saw the chalk in the nose blending in with its slate and gravel. There was lots of spine in the nose; the palate was more gravelly and stony. The finish was a walloper, though, a veritable ‘cedar chest,’ Jim noted. I wouldn’t exactly call this bottle affected, but I have had better (95+). Lastly in this flight was a stellar 1975 La Mission Haut Brion. I found its nose exciting in an almost erotic way. Its seepy, grapy fruit oozed out of the glass, guarded closely by chocolate, fig, walnut and slate. There was lots of character, and supercharged t ‘n a. Make that loads of t ‘n a, spice, power and length; the wine was impressive, as always, for me at least (97+). Actually, the 1975 wasn’t the last wine in the flight, as we had a bottle of 2000 La Mission Haut Brion that I had actually forgotten until turning the page of my notes. Here’s to old age .or too much alcohol. They’re both noble causes. The 2000 was undrinkable in the presence of its elder siblings. Flamboyant, over the top and almost Caliesque after the other three La Missions, the 2000 was the junior member of the team and not allowed to sit in on this board meeting. I am sure 2000 La Miss is a great wine and have had different experiences with it, but on this night and in this context it didn’t matter. Everyone wanted to drink all the other La Misses and knew that there was still plenty of wine to come (Unrated).
The next chapter in this saga was a long one, featuring five wines from 1982 and an ’86 Mouton, beginning with an outstanding 1982 Leoville Las Cases. The nose was deep and intense with a lot of spine. Rob found it ‘quixotic,’ whatever that meant. It was a big word from Big Boy. The wine was still young but brooding in a mature fashion. There were great aromas of grape, cassis, earth and slate. The palate was spicy and intense; it was certainly a great bottle of 1982 Las Cases. Let’s just say that I have already seen considerable variation with many different ’82s. This was a bottle that was still young and should be profound in twenty years. Mike awoke from a deep slumber to utter ‘cucumbers,’ but I actually saw what he was talking about (95+). The 1982 Latour was bready and yeasty in a good way, grilled like meat fresh off the fire. It had deep, chunky, cassisy fruit and was dripping with fat. The wine was so thick, rich and unctuous that it was immediately in charge and told the Las Cases that its turn was over, as good as the Leoville was (97+). A 1982 Pichon Lalande was next and out of magnum. A quick debate ensued between Mike and Rob over the wine. Mike found it ‘unusual’ for 1982 Pichon, and Rob was talking about the magnum factor. I was definitely starting to feel it and missed taking a lot of notes on this wine, but I did find major structure here, and the wine was not as open as the usual ’82 Pichon, so I guess they were both right. There was lots of spine and a spicy finish for this outstanding magnum of Lalande (96). One of my favorite wines from 1982, the 1982 Mouton Rothschild was intense and definitely a wine that one had to dig into. This wine was not going to give itself to us just like that. The breed was staggering, deep and thunderous with a centerpoint, a veritable eye amidst a tornado of a structure. The wine was flat out enormous, almost freaky in nature compared to the personalities of its previous brethren’the cedar was just, just starting to emerge. I immediately told Jefery, of Los Angeles, the real one if you remember, ‘don’t touch this wine for another twenty years,’ because it will be spectacular. There is no doubt in my mind that good bottles of 1982 Mouton will in the end stack up with the other great Moutons of the 20th century, and we all know Bordeaux doesn’t truly get great until the age of thirty, right? The wine was still shy, yet sturdy and sly, quite ‘longgggg,’ I wrote (97+). As good as the 1982 was, the 1986 Mouton was staggeringly so. ‘WOW,’ was the first thing that came to mind. Its amazing concentration was the second. Huge, thick and lip-smacking, this ’86 elevated this flight to another level. Since this wine was served blind, there were a lot of ’82 guesses occurring, and Jefery liked its ‘vanilla.’ As good as the previous four wines were, this bottle of 1986 Mouton made me want to downgrade all of them! This is another Mouton that will be amongst the 20th Century’s Top Ten, and maybe even Top Five Moutons (99). The 1982 Lafite that closed out the flight was anti-climactic yet still outstanding. It had another great nose, filled with peanut, earth, more nuts, tannins, alcohol and spice. The wine was rich, long, smooth and sexy (96).
Words really started to elude me for the final flight, which started off as a flight, at least. The 1994 Harlan had greatness written all over it. It stood up to the previous flight of incredible Bordeaux and the ‘only wine that can,’ Ray added. It was indubitably great, as it always has been, one of the greatest wines ever made in California (98). The 1997 Harlan had tons of milk chocolate in its nose but was clearly not as good as the 1994. There were intense walls of alcohol to get over to get into this humongous, massive wine. It was not that drinkable at the moment, perhaps that moment, but the wine certainly had more ‘oomph’ than the ’94. Comparatively unready, the 1997 did make a good case that it might outlive the 1994, though (95++). The 1998 Greenock Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Roennfeldt Road’ had exotic aromas of apple and plum, ‘green’ apple Ray suggested. ‘Overripe raspberry,’ someone countered, and there was black cherry and tang as well. The wine was rich and kinky but far from incredible. I neglected to give it a rating, but if memory serves me correctly, we were talking probably 92 points. There was a 1997 Shafer ‘Hillside Select’ that I absolutely can’t remember and took absolutely no notes for. Sorry. The last wine I had anything written about was a glorious 1978 Jaboulet Hermitage ‘La Chapelle.’ It was a great bottle, full of coffee, gingerbread, mocha, menthol, earth and bacon, wound and high-powered (98). We somehow managed to get home.
Jefery had just gotten into town that week, for he was staying in New York for a couple months while directing, and we soon thereafter got together along with Rob and some female companionship at Cru, where a new alliance formed as well. What slowly started as an innocent evening quickly turned into the inaugural meeting of the ‘Cru Club,’ a group dedicated to enjoying the fruit off the award-winning wine list at Cru every so often.
I quickly found a lonely bottle of 1993 Ramonet Montrachet, which had a gorgeous, waxy nose. Aromas of honeycomb, anise, alcohol, nut, light butter and mature Chardonnay musk danced in its smoky nose. The palate was full of forward alcohol and spice, corn, yeast, candle wax and dry honeycomb (no sweetness to the honey). The palate was saying ‘drink me now,’ not in that it would be ‘or never,’ but in that it is pretty damn good right now. The wine was long, and you could taste the greatness of Montrachet. Three hours later the wine was still singing (95). The 1964 Clos de Tart had a gorgeous, seductive nose with great aromatics of rose, smokehouse, gardenias, pinches of menthol and leather, red cherry, sexy musk and light , underlying earth. Ruth observed how it was ‘unlike anything I have ever smelled,’ while Teona noticed its ‘stinky wood.’ Rob found it ‘Baroloesque.’ While the nose was complex, the palate was delicate and easy. Worcestershire crept in to join its menthol flavors, and the wine softened yet held in the glass (92). The 1983 D’Angerville Volnay ‘Clos des Ducs’ was a real treat. The nose was nutty and meaty with a light brown sugar glaze and accompanying aromas of gingerbread, earth, grape and light t ‘n a. The mouth was ‘rippin,’ according to Rob, and it was rich, mouth-filling and with some ‘pop,’ which translates into a vibrant quality to its tannins/alcohol/acidity, almost explosive on its finish. There was more alcohol and acid than tannins, however, as its tannins were fully integrated. There was still a lot of vigor to its finish in this excellent wine, which was quite nutty and gave some ‘dirty bomb’ impressions, although that is supposed to be a positive thing. Someone called it ‘a revelation.’ The wine held quite well and its ‘oomph’ factor never left. It was another pleasing 1983, which remains somewhat of a sleeper of a vintage at the top level (94). Next, we plucked a 1986 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V. off the list, which had a noticeably lighter color than the Volnay. Its nose was amazing with sweet, sweet fruit that was ‘Yquem-like’ with its apricoty aromas. It was quite distinct and an accurate description. There was still the rust, leather, whips and chains of the ’86 vintage, another vintage that I have been having a lot of luck with as of late. There was a touch of milkyness and an amazing kink to its fruit with lots of leather. With a little time, the wine became round and smooth, though a bit short in the middle, but the wine then reversed course to gain in the glass and become more assertive (93). The 1964 La Tache was a ‘Big Boy’ selection, of course, and he quickly put its nose as ‘Right Bank and Lafleur more than La Tache,’ and he was 100% right. It was a Pomerol impersonating a Burgundy, but that wouldn’t be the first time that happened. Its nose was chocolaty, plummy and figgy, and the only sign of Burgundy in its nose was some mesquite. The palate was rich and hearty, full of spice, tannins and length. It had a ‘summery’ taste one of the ladies noticed, and there were lovely strawberry fruit flavors along with leather and musk oil ones. The wine was satiny, on the smooth side, yet still somewhat vigorous in a lip-smacking, roof-licking way (95). The 1991 Meo-Camuzet Richebourg had another intense nose with a lot of character, full of citrus, earth, nut, grape, blackberry and cedar. There was an intense grit to the palate; the wine was very gritty, long and another roof-licker. Its finish was gritty as well, sandy and spiny, but I think this wine needs some more time to find itself completely (94+).
Just when I thought that things were winding down and that the bill might be fairly reasonable since we chose wisely, and since Cru’s prices are phenomenal, Big Boy summoned for a wine list. Gulp. A 1978 Guigal Cote-Rotie ‘La Mouline’ soon came out thereafter. This is the second time I have had a bottle from this very same case, and it was unbelievable again. Aromas of blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, bacon and whip cream jumped out of this exotic wonder. Robert Bohr finally got into the act, calling ‘its concentration of fruit stunning.’ The fruit was so thick, it was bordering on scary. Cassis, violet, black raspberry, leather and musk were all present as well. Its nose was so good, it was almost too good to drink almost! Flavors of spice, bacon, menthol, violet and slate caressed our palates, and if I wasn’t a bit fatigued, and if we had had it earlier in the night, it probably would have been a 99-pointer as the other bottle we had recently (98). Robert Bohr made the last selection of the evening for us, a 1968 Mastroberadino Taurasi ‘Castelfrancia’ Riserva. ‘This is a wine that deserves to be written up indubitably Italian,’ Robert said. Made from Aglianco, Nebbiolo and possibly one other grape, Robert insisted it was the best wine ever made of its type. Volcanic and ashy, the wine had an intense nose full of spine, leather, spice, earth and minerals, chock full on all accounts. Its rich, hearty flavors had great cedar to them. There were a few more descriptors written, unfortunately now illegible a month later. I think one of them was about the nose from an anonymous member of Cru, calling the leather ‘spank me’ quality, but I could be mistaken (94+).
And that was the first official meeting of the ‘Cru Club.’
Meanwhile, the seeds for another group were being planted. Four cities in four quarters, eight members, and some very serious wines make up the recipe, and we had a precursor event at the Four Seasons organized by Jefery, where we were joined by ‘never stand’ Pat, Bruce and some ladies including Gina Gershon, who is very fine, indeed, as Clive would say. The name of the group is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, of course. C’mon, you know it’s a good one. So this was an exhibition dinner, if you will, as the group has not officially started, but three definite members were in attendance.
A trio of Salons started our evening, and we begun with the 1979. There was some maderization to the nose, but it was not ‘dead,’ as Rob insisted. There were bready and seltzer flavors along with some sherry ones that were too mature for its age. In the end, I had to (DQ) it, anyway. The 1982 Salon was great, just as I remembered the bottle we had last week at Bruce’s place. There was great toast to its flavors, and it was still fresh with plenty of meaty, chewy richness to boot. There was great balance, nice length and tasty flavors to this pure, outstanding Champagne (95). The 1985 Salon was a lot lighter than the 1982, still fresh, but almost like a little brother. It was soft and easy with a nice elegance and freshness but no match for the 1982 (92).
A pair of ’85s were next, starting with a 1985 H. Jayer Vosne Romanee ‘Cros Parantoux.’ Unfortunately, I think this bottle was fake. There was no ‘Cros Parantoux’ on the cork, so it was most likely a regular Jayer Vosne Romanee relabeled as it was still branded by Jayer. This is why we check all Jayer corks when auctioning or offering them through our store, as there are some counterfeits out there due to their extraordinary value. The bottle was also a bit musty and corky, but behind that it was beautiful, smooth, refined, subtle, soft and elegant. It was a very good wine, most likely village Jayer Vosnr Romanee, but not what it was supposed to be and therefore (DQ). The 1985 Leroy Chambertin had a deep, brooding nose with incredible depth and length there musk, meat, nut, vitamin, game and black fruits on the dark side all found themselves in its saturated and complex nose. The palate was big and rugged in the way that only Chambertin can be, although perhaps still on the young side for optimum drinking (95+).
A Clos de la Roche Celebrity Death Flight was next, pitting Ponsot against Dujac. While the Dujac should have been served first, shit happens, so we started with the 1990 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V. It had a fabulous nose with a beautiful, pure core of fruit, great balance and an appealing obesity. There were secondary aromas of meat and menthol, and the wine felt like a beast lurking the bushes of the glass. Pat found it ‘sexy and chewy.’ The palate had loads of vitamins and red fruits and a pinch of pungency that someone translated as ‘cat piss.’ The wine lacked some of the weight of other bottles that I have had, but that could have been me on this night. The wine was indubitably outstanding, just not as outstanding as three or four other occasions that I remember vividly (96). The 1990 Dujac Clos de la Roche was a perplexing bottle. The nose was a bit oaky for me, an unusual occurrence when it comes to a bottle of Dujac. There were a lot of oohs and aahs, so I became a bit introspective. The wine was atypically earthy and oaky with a lot of forest flavors, all floor ones, in fact. Some cherry fruit started to emerge, but this bottle just didn’t seem as good as it had been or should have been (usually 95 points); perhaps it was the curse of Allen Meadows regarding the 1990 vintage (92?). The 1991 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V. was not a favorite of Bruce’s or Rob’s, but I was digging it. The nose was rich, meaty and earthy with a lot of power and spice there. The palate was on the drier side but more intense with a lot of earth, black fruits and spice. It rounded out well in the glass (95). Again, the 1993 Dujac Clos de la Roche was oakier than I ever remembered it being. Was it possible that two batches from two different vintages could be off this way? Was it me? Or was it the Ponsot taking charge of this head-to-head matchup and leaving the Dujac naked in the middle of the ring? All these questions had few answers. The winedid have beautiful texture but was marked with an oak ‘letter’ (92?).
I was a bit disturbed at the showing of these Dujacs, but three La Taches were on their way to the table, starting with a 1991. Rob came out with a ‘spectacular’ right away, and I must admit that the wine was (is) in a great spot. Rich and meaty, its bouquet was filled with iron, vitamin, spice and leather. Intense, long, balanced and gorgeous, this was some serious Burgundy. It was a step up from the Clos de la Roche, possessing more intensity, spice and tannin than any of the prior wines. The palate was similarly rich and long with a touch of cola flavors (97). The next bottle had the honor of becoming the best 1993 La Tache that I have ever had. It was classic 1993 all the way with its intense, long and spiny nose, which was also loaded to the gills with vitamins. The palate was also loaded with vitamins, earth and spine; the wine was more than outstanding; it was ridiculous and the first glass that I finished on this night (97+). Compared to the 1991 and 1993, the 2001 La Tache was ‘superfly,’ forward and aromatic, dripping with cherry fruit, cherry fruit that needed to be popped. There were also lots of vitamins and nice spice, but it seemed ‘Junior Varsity’ after the 1991 and 1993. It was still outstanding; it only needs time (95).
We headed south to the Rhone Valley, where a flight of La Mouline awaited. The 1976 La Mouline had an incredible nose, amazing, even ridiculous again! There was first some confectioners sugar and molasses, but behind those the classic aromas of great Cote-Rotie. Violets, bacon and even biscotti graced the nose, as did coffee and blue fruits our palate. The wine was super, super smooth, possessing a finesse and grace that only thirty years of age can (97). The 1983 La Mouline, one of my all-time favorites, was a little weird, having some brett issues. There were band-aids and licorice aromas, and some fruit started to break through with a little coaxing, but the wine was not 100%. The palate was especially gravelly and stony, but its length and power were unmistakable. Its flavors were internal, affected by brett most likely, and although one could understand the wine’s greatness, its flavors were not complying (95A). I was pretty much out of gas by the time the 1985 La Mouline came out, a gingerbread man of a wine with lots of pungent and lethery spice and a smooth, long, regal palate (96).
There was one wine left, a fantastic bottle of 1974 Heitz ‘Martha’s Vineyard.’ It was a great bottle, a veritable chocolate ice cream soda loaded with minerals that was amazingly fresh. It stood up to all the Old World wines quite well and was the perfect finishing touch (97).
And that is my summer tasting group update.