After a hearty weekend in Shanghai, the next stop on my Asian tour was Taipei, capital city of Taiwan. After looking at my itinerary, then a map, and then my itinerary again, I quickly learned that China still has a chip on its shoulder in regard to Taiwan and its independence, the equivalent of sibling jealousy or resentment over an ex-wife or husband. Accordingly, one cannot travel directly to Taiwan from China, and I had to fly from Shanghai to Hong Kong, layover for an hour or so, and fly back up to Taipei, even though Taiwan is between the two. It literally made the trip a Taipei two step. I was a bit grumpy about the whole situation, especially after the consecutive head-banging evenings in Shanghai, but I soon forgot about the extra effort once I sat down to the magnificent dinner that my host had orchestrated. Someone remarked during dinner that ‘a barking dog cannot bite’ in response to my recount of the mini-ordeal.
Taiwan is an island, mountainous, rural and green by contrast to Shanghai and the flatlands surrounding it. The city of Taipei is not as awe-inspiring as Shanghai but still definitively urban and buzzing away. Taipei is a scooter city, with thousands of people driving them around at any given time. It seems to be the preferred method of transportation.
I stuck with the taxi as my choice for transportation and traveled over to the Ritz, or what was formally the Ritz, recently purchased and renamed, but basically still the Ritz. The private room in its top restaurant was ours for an evening of special Burgundy. Asia is definitively a continent of claret, so I found it quite fitting that the spirit of Burgundy would be alive and well in Taipei, as both Burgundian wine lovers and the Taiwanese seem to have that independent spirit burning inside, and on this night, the two came together in perfect harmony.
Taiwan’s most significant wine collector had gathered a group of friends together, notably another significant collector of Burgundy who also does some importing, one of its major wine and food writers and two very happy and good-natured Doctors, one of whom declared himself ‘Mr. La Tache.’ If you do not know who Taiwan’s premier collector is, then I am not going to tell you! For the sake of this article, we will call him ‘Mr. T.’
We started with a magnum of 1976 Veuve Clicquot Champagne, the traditional vintage, gold label. It had a gorgeous nose full of both white and brown sugar aromas, as well as a touch of corn oil and caramel. It was rich and buttery yet long, smooth and round, with a pinch of seltzer rounding out its nose. Its palate still had a touch of petillance and was round, rich and buttery as well. There were great corn and yeast flavors and some wheat on its finish. Very tasty and still with good acidity, it reminded me of a delicious and mature Corton Charlemagne, and after an hour in the glass and some food, it got a touch more bubbly (93)!
Mr. T pulled out one of my favorite Burgundies next, a 1985 Meo Camuzet Richebourg. It was in outstanding condition, and the wine delivered a more than outstanding performance. It had a pungent, gamy nose with incredible sweet fruit behind, a veritable symphony of red, black and purple. There were loads of vitamins, musk, minerals and pungent leather. ‘We are talking rare air,’ I wrote. Its tannins and acidity were still so fresh; it was an impeccably kept bottle. Its gamy complexity walked itself out into a Versailles garden of aromas, barefoot and perfectly manicured. The palate was equally as spectacular as the nose: rich, meaty, long and balanced with flavors of earth, game, leather, musk and dark, pungent meat. It had a pinch of benevolent barn, in a farmer’s daughter way, I suppose. A touch of benevolent cat box also joined the party, blending into a wicked streak of anise. The vigor, the kink, the intensity, the game”¦in my mind, the 1985 Meo Richebourg is the wine of the vintage (98).
A 1972 Bouchard Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques was brought by one of the guests, and it was from some stock recently released from Bouchard’s cellars and in perfect condition accordingly. It had a nice nose, full of sweet cherry fruit and excellent forest-like complexity. Brown sugar and nut along with a ginger glaze and an exotic lychee kink rounded out this youthful wine. The palate was rich, sweet and sturdy with great structure, make that surprisingly huge structure, and lots of cherry vanilla flavors. Despite that ‘o so fresh’ feeling of being reconditioned, it was still a delicious wine (93).
A 1975 Bouchard Monthelie was spontaneously opened after the success of the Clos St. Jacques. Monthelie and 1975 are not usually a few of any Burgundy connoisseur’s favorite things, but the nose was pleasant, and I never would have guessed either 1975 or Monthelie if served blind. Mild and a touch metallic, square and with noticeable acid, the wine was rusty and spiny, hard as nails without being too, too hard. Still a touch awkward, Mr. T commented on its ‘sour wood’ (86).
The final wine of the evening was a 1971 La Tache, a bottle that had been to Taiwan and back. Let me explain further. Now I knew Mr. T was an old Burgundy lover based on his bidding history, and I promised to bring a bottle of Burgundy to share on this special night. The week before my trip to Asia, I was cataloguing away in the cellar of ‘The Man with the Golden Cellar,’ the incredible and potential $15M collection coming to you this October via Acker Auctions. When I was inventorying the ’71 La Taches and the different batches that this spectacular collection has, I noted a couple of bottles with Taiwanese strip labels on them, and right then and there, I decided that I was going to splurge. That was going to be the bottle I was going to bring back to Taiwan. The bottle was gorgeous; great fill, cork branded correctly, everything about it looked heaven sent, and I was very proud of myself with the notion that I was going to bring this bottle back to Taiwan and its original resting place. I would later find out that Mr. T knew the importer quite well, as I should have guessed!
I must interrupt this tasting note with an important news bulletin. Whenever an American sees an Asian strip label on a bottle of wine, more often than not, that American will look at that bottle as being ‘bad’ or highly risky, etc. Conversely, I have found that wines with American strip labels suffer from the same bias here in Asia. You know what I discovered on my trip? I found out that those who are professional and serious about their wine in Asia are taking care of the product just like we do here in the States, and that the same can be said for both of our continents’ serious collectors. This notion of inferior provenance here and there, trumpeted by many in such major supply markets as London and Bordeaux, is an unfair assessment, one that is also conveniently justifying higher sale prices in said markets, as well as keeping the Asian and American markets more apart. There will always be a small risk when buying older wines, no matter where they come from; small, that is, if you are dealing with reputable merchants that thoroughly inspect and care for the wine. More great wine has gone to America over the last fifteen years than anywhere else, and the time is now for America to emerge as more of an important secondary wine market for the rest of the world. The weak dollar should also make the stock here all the more attractive to foreign buyers. Asia’s consumption is rapidly on the rise, so put two and two together, and now you know why I have been here for almost three weeks, and also why I have only gotten to the third night of its tasting notes. Sorry, it has been a ridiculously busy trip, twelve years in the making”¦*hiccup*
Back to the ’71 La Tache”¦now this was a bottle that was definitely shaken, not stirred. Since one cannot carry a bottle of wine onto the plane anymore, this bottle went into the luggage and not only went from New York to Shanghai, but also then from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Taipei the same day it was being drunk, and the bottle was still spectacular. I am not sure that bottle shock is something I believe anymore! Yes, it was a bit murky from the sediment being integrated into the wine, but it did not take away from the wine at all. The experience reminded me of a ’45 Haut Brion that I had to ship overnight for a dinner a couple of years ago that was also phenomenal. Its nose was spectacular, incredible, amazing”¦insert your own superlative here. Rose and oil were first and foremost, then there was this ménage a toi of citrus, leather and cedar, you know, the tasteful kind ha ha. The vitamins, minerals, spice and overall depth were extraordinary. ‘This is the 71 LT I know and love,’ I wrote. The musk qualities were bringing sexy back, and the wine itself was bordering on a sexual experience. This was sheer liquid nobility, and all these observations are just describing the aromas! The palate kept pace with the nose; first and foremost, there was rust, citrus and spine galore. Its t ‘n a was enormous, searing my mouth with its laser-like precision and possessing enough acidity to go another 36 years. There was a touch of vanilla and cream soda, and a also hint of eucalyptus. Rich and rusty with great spice, the ’71 La Tache also had a hint of tomato stew, in a good way. What a wine (98).
There were no late night escapades in Taiwan. It was off to Hong Kong in the morning for four nights and a busy agenda, and I needed some rest.
In Vino Veritas,