For the past two weeks, I have spent almost every day in a professional warehouse inspecting thousands of bottles from what I am now convinced is the greatest cellar in America. Having had the privilege of being in hundreds of great cellars in the United States, I can diligently say this cellar is beyond compare. No windows nor sunlight for twelve hours a day, in a fifty-degree cellar is not the manner one would think of to ring in the New Year. Notwithstanding that, as I went from bottle to bottle, my soul got warmer and warmer. I have had many bottles from this spectacular collection, but never before had I seen such a dazzling array of legendary wines in such quantities. For a collection of this size and magnitude, with this level of legendary wines, I felt it my responsibility to inspect almost each and every bottle.
At Acker Merrall, we believe bottle inspection is the most vital part of any auction offering. Therefore, bottles, particularly older and rarer ones, are not objects just to be stamped and checked off like cookies on an assembly line, but rather something which needs to undergo a verification and identification process in order to be offered in any of our auctions. In order to do that, we put each and every bottle through a painstaking process: First, we test the cork to make sure it is firm. Loose corks generally mean the wine has been oxidized. Next, for at least one bottle in every lot we cut capsules for all rare and legendary wines to make sure the corks are properly branded. Next, we check color and sediment levels in the wine to determine how appropriate the wine is relative to its age. These are all important indicators especially with older wines. Labels are the final test. Signs of photocopied labels or older wines with glossy labels that lack texture are both warning signs, though occasionally can be found on authentic bottles. In addition, if a wine has been reconditioned, these steps will further ensure we properly identify
each and every lot. If it looks too good, chances are it has been reconditioned. Almost all Nicolas bottles were reconditioned decades ago and usually with the original wine. This is one reason they have great provenance and are highly sought after. Considering the magnitude of this offering I felt it important to give our clients a “behind the scenes” view of what we go through each and every time we sell wine.
Fine wine has become a commodity, and unfortunately many counterfeit wines have made their way into the auction marketplace. This fact makes inspecting wines of this rarity increasingly important and time consuming, and consequently made inspecting the wines in this cellar all the more pleasurable, as the condition and provenance here are outstanding.
It is now time to focus on THE cellar again. I know this cellar intimately, having had hundreds of bottles of old and rare wines from it. I have often sourced bottles for our Wine Workshop dinners, as well as our Top 100 weekends, during the past two years. I have had some of the greatest wines I have ever experienced from this cellar. Both the collector and I are so confident in the quality of this cellar, that we are offering something to my knowledge that has never been offered before: a money-back guarantee on any unopened bottles for ninety days after the sale. After going through the time-consuming process of inspecting all these wines in the fashion outlined above, I do not think I will see many returns. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to offer this cellar to you.
Even though I have already had hundreds of wines from the collection heretofore, I felt it my ‘duty’ to sample a few things over the course of the past couple of weeks. It started innocently enough with: a delicious 1990 Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin – just the AC wine. It was fresh, tasty, vibrant and very impressive for an AC wine; it didn’t take much persuading for me to polish it off! A 1990 Bon Pasteur a couple nights later was very good. The wine was classic and taut with nice Pomerol flavors and minerals, indubitably sound and still a bit on the young side. A half-bottle of 1974 Mayacamas got me through my first Friday night in fine fashion. Mountainous, big and still tannic, this half-bottle proved why Mayacamas was once considered one of California’s greatest producers of Cabernet. We rang in the New Year in style with a magnum of 1970 Petrus, which was the best example of this wine that I have ever had. Rich, chocolaty, intense and long, this magnum was deep and chunky, full of life and layers and a nice way to ring in 2006.
We had a couple days off early in week two, but we caught up later that week quite nicely. We had a couple of 1991 Burgundies head to head, a Roumier Bonnes Mares vs. a Rousseau Clos de Beze. Both were supreme examples. The Roumier was classic Roumier: full of red cherry and raspberry fruit and balanced by its stems. Burnt caramel, roses, black pepper, earth, some benevolent vegetable and a distinctive cantaloupe quality rounded out this balanced and delicate Burgundy. The Rousseau had more power and was bursting with vitamins, musk, meat and spice. A veritable forest full of flavors, the Rousseau seemed a bit more precise overall, but both were what I would categorize as excellent. A couple of 1945s that I actually declined to offer due to lower fills were an excellent test later in the week. Despite the lower fills, the 1945 Beychevelle and Lynch-Bages were both absolutely delicious. Both wines were mature yet still fresh and full of life, just as they ‘oughta’ be. The Beychevelle was sweet, nutty and earthy with kisses of minerals and tobacco and an exotic smokehouse tang to it. There were lots of mineral, cedar and tobacco flavors, and excellent balance and length. It was excellent overall. I preferred the Lynch, although that was not a universal opinion. To me, the Lynch was so fat and rich, classically beefy as Lynch always seems to be, sweet, nutty and full of fresh cassis and grape aromas and flavors. Long, earthy and dusty, this masculine wine developed some exotic butter toffee qualities and was outstanding in my book. As the week pressed on, I put a little pressure on the consignor that I should taste some special wines to let the public know how good the cellar is (wink, wink). I think he knew it wasn’t necessary, but he graciously decided not to blow my cover. A 1929 Roumier Bonnes Mares was a thrilling experience. There was a distinctive dill quality to the nose, mixed in with a touch of eucalyptus and benevolent vegetable that reminded me of the1991. Perhaps that stemmy edge that Roumier usually possesses becomes dill at age 75, or make that 77. The palate had a beefy intensity and extraordinary acidity still and a touch of tomato a la older s. Sweet, meaty, rich and lush, the wine actually got richer and stronger in the glass. I couldn’t help tasting it over and over again waiting for the wine to fall apart, which it did not. Possessing great texture and length, its mint and wood components became more pronounced in this timeless classic. Come the last weekend of our journey, it was time for a grand finale, a 1921 Lafleur. It was a ‘wow’ wine. Despite some slight volatile acidity, it was a beefy wine with lots of what I would call ‘that Pomerol motor oil action.’ Rich, meaty and oily, this Nicolas bottle had the distinctive Lafleur style – the minerals, the iron, the beef, the oil and the Pomerol fruit. The bottle had that fresh Nicolas style, indubitably reconditioned at some point in its life but still extraordinary. Port-like and delicious, it was in the ‘best wines of my life’ category.
Actually, the Lafleur which was intended to be the grand finale, wasn’t. I had called upon my good friend and Burgundy expert Allen Meadows to help me out with some tasting note support 48 hours before our deadline. It took some persuading on my part, but Allen was up for the task and provided over 120 additional tasting notes to accompany the first session wines. Suffice to say no one else could provide such a detailed and broad perspective of aged and rare Burgundies like Allen. This is precisely why the most knowledgeable collectors consider him to
be the foremost expert on Burgundy in the world.
As we were wrapping up the first session notes, I joked with Allen about how it could be he didn’t have tasting notes for wines like 1966, 1969 and 1978 Romanee Conti. He apologized and said he would sooner or later fill those holes in his database. Consequently, I responded jokingly that we should get a tasting together that evening to fill in a few holes. Naturally, I cc’d the consignor on my email as I knew that Allen and he were good friends. Not to my surprise considering the consignor’s well known generosity, he was up for the challenge, and Allen and I joined the owner of ‘THE Cellar’ with another anonymous friend for dinner four hours later.
First off was the 1962 Rousseau Chambertin. It was a ‘wow’ wine and a stellar start to the evening. It had an incredible nose, so fresh and complex with its menthol, vitamins and meat – all signature Rousseau. Kisses of orange rind and pure cherry fruit rounded out its nose, and the palate was very intense with an enjoyable nervousness on its dry finish. Very dense for a ’62, the Rousseau was all that and then some and a supreme example of Rousseau Chambertin and an outstanding wine, bordering on a winegasm. Next, we went to a 1937 La Tache, which came out of the bottle sweet and exotic, bordering on a Chateau Rayas impersonation. No, this was not Grenache, and over the course of the meal, the 1937 LT kept getting better and better, displaying signature LT qualities like spine, pitch, pungency, cedar, menthol, spice and soy. Before you knew it, the ’37 was ahead in the polls after a slow start and had won over the table quite convincingly. It was a touch reconditioned, but after some air, its true personality took over in outstanding fashion. The secondary and tertiary qualities were fantastic. A 1966 Romanee-Conti was next, from the same case as the six-bottle lot that is being offered in this sale. This was the wine that had motivated us to gather in the first place. It has a stupendous, amazing nose, full of mature yet fresh characteristics. Beef, earth, sauce, menthol, Asian spice and cedar all soared from the glass. It was oozing with fat and oil, and everyone at the table was convinced this was the best ’66 RC that they had ever had. It was simply outstanding. We were three for three, but the fourth wine of the night took things up a notch. The 1919 Liger-Belair La Tache was ridiculous. So concentrated and full of texture, the ’19 was trapped in time at age 87. I hope I am doing as well at that age. Thick and long, there was a touch of maturity to its fruit flavors, but its structure and texture were more amazing than Spider Man. It ended up being everyone’s wine of thenight. Remember that did not take possession of La Tache until 1933, and Liger-Belair had the property at the time. We changed it up with a half-bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc. I have had this wine between six and eight times, and two of them have been out-of this-world experiences. This was probably in third place all time, and it was from a half-bottle that had a midshoulder fill level! It was delicious and classic, perhaps not possessing the richness of a 750ml, but unbelievably tasty, port-like and Cheval all the way. As if all this was not enough, we popped a bottle of a wine not in this sale, a 1943 Vogue Musigny V.V. It was a very good wine with a shy yet complicated and mature nose, but its palate was soft and easy like Sunday morning. It was still sound, perhaps past its peak, but nonetheless a real treat.
Oh, what a night…and what a couple of weeks. From this random selection of great wines that I had while processing this cellar, there was not one bad, off, or questionable wine. Not one. You can see Allen’s notes for the above wines in the catalogue, as well.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you again ‘THE Cellar.’
In Vino Veritas,