For most people, their 50th birthday is a significant milestone, a time to look back, forward and reflect all at once. When you are a wine lover and born in 1961, a 50th birthday can be even more significant, and it certainly was one summer evening in Los Angeles recently, when ‘The Rev’ held service for a small group of friends and fam in order to celebrate the first five decades of his life. The fact that he still looks less than forty is irrelevant; perhaps that all fish diet to which he has adhered has some benefits after all.
At any given time, you may find The Rev, who happens to be an ordained minister, in Los Angeles, New York or London. On this evening, we found him in LA, and Mark, his given name here on Earth, decided to take us all on a wine journey of galactic proportions. He set the stage with some fun facts and trivia about his vintage ”“ I think I got them all right. Being a music man, The Rev began with the fact that Bob Newhart had the album of the year. Other top hits included the ‘Theme from Exodus’ and ‘Theme from A Summer Place,’ and kids were dancing away to ‘The Pony.’ The Beatles first performed at the Cavern Club in Germany on February 9th, setting the stage for the music revolution that would follow. Top movies included ‘The Guns of Navarone,’ ‘101 Dalmatians,’ ‘The Hustler’ and ‘West Side Story.’ On the boob tube, the top shows were ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Perry Mason,’ ‘My Three Sons,’ ‘Mr. Ed,’ ‘Andy Griffith’ and ‘The Twilight Zone.’ Roger Maris was the story of the summer with his pursuit of 61 home runs. The Ken doll arrived to keep Barbie company, and other celebrities who joined the world in 1961 were Wayne Gretzky, George Clooney, Princess Diana, Barack Obama, Wynton Marsalis, Peter Jackson and most importantly, Scott Baio. JFK was president, and we sent Ham the Chimp into space, followed soon thereafter by the first American. The Berlin Wall was constructed the same year Six Flags was opened. The 23rd Amendment, Peace Corps and genetic code were also developments of the vintage, which happens to be the only year that reads the same when you turn it upside down.
The trivia set the stage nicely for what would turn out to be a historic evening. We started auspiciously with an oxidized jeroboam of 1961 Bollinger RD (DQ). A few squirrely bottles came out early, but thankfully most everything else showed spectacularly, and as you are about to read, there was a boatload of wine in tow to follow.
We quickly rectified things with a 1911 Moet, one of the greatest Champagnes I have ever had. This was the third time I have had it, and each time it soared to the heights of what old Champagne can achieve. The 1911 was a hand-blown bottle with no seams, someone observed. Of course, this was pre-Dom Perignon, so all that theoretical Dom was going into Moet at the time. It had a crazy nose of luscious honey and sex while frolicking in an open field. The palate was creamy, round, rich and tender while still possessing great length and a finish that was certainly youthful for its age. It lingered like a gorgeous summer sunset. A bite of sushi brought out some pronounced coconut flavors on its finish. This was like a great Montrachet, with outstanding acidity at age 100, and bubbles that were still game (98).
A bottle of 1959 Dom Perignon proved to be no slouch with a fantastic nose of wheat and toasted sugar. It was deep and rich yet still quite fresh, as its long and spritzy palate attested. There were big, stony flavors to go with secondary aromas of oatmeal and great citrus on its finish (96).
Bad Boy Bruce the Returner pulled a cat out of his hat with a late ‘60s/early ‘70s non-vintage bottling of Krug Private Cuvee. There were probably some pretty great vintages blended in here as a base accordingly, he reasoned, since the 1960s was an incredible decade for Champagne. There was great vanilla spice to the nose and lots of jasmine. Bruce gave it an ‘unfuckingbelievable,’ and its palate was rich, long and zippy, still high in acid. Hollywood Jef found it ‘the lightest and youngest’ of the flight, although Alexander the Great didn’t like it as much, finding it ‘too lemony.’ It rounded out nicely in the glass (95).
A 1961 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne had a noticeably darker color and a sweet, butterscotchy nose. Its musky, golden qualities carried over to its lush palate. Someone called it the ‘kinkiest,’ and ‘definitely caramel’ also came from the crowd. The palate was a touch advanced, but it didn’t bother me (93A).
A flight of ‘white lightning’ was next, beginning with a 1959 Bouchard Montrachet. The Bouchard had a deep, fresh nose that emitted mature hay and golden fruit aromas, with a pinch of aggressive, dirty barn. It became very smoky, which continued on its big, rich palate, along with butter and honey flavors. Alexander the Great found it ‘very popcorny,’ while The Rev settled on ‘stunning,’ then observing ‘bacon and corn in the ’59,’ which were there big time. The Rev was heating up on his pulpit, finally picking up on some ‘cotton candy’ (95).
The 1966 Bouchard Montrachet was badly corked in the nose, although the palate not nearly as so. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tale of two wines in the nose and palate like this one. The palate was still a touch muted, and corn came out in this medium-bodied and not so full Monty. It got smoky and had a pleasant finish, and despite its horridly corked nose, it got a lot of kudos for its ‘not bad’ palate (93A).
A 1973 Montrachet had a fabulous nose. It was clean yet powerful with a deep mélange of apple and citrus fruit. There was a great spice to it, and a very special floral edge along with nice smoke. The palate was quite high-strung with outstanding pitch and a gorgeous, smokehouse finish. Hollywood Jef was a little less impressed at first, finding it ‘slightly disjointed,’ but he later found it to ‘come together.’ Even at last sip, the acidity was superb; the wine stayed knit to the very end (96).
A pair of Ramonets ended our obligatory white flight, starting with a 1983 Ramonet Montrachet. The ’83 was very exotic with sweet tangerine and freshly cut grass aromas. It had a smooth and satiny palate with bright citrus and supporting mesquite and earth flavors. It lingered gently but felt like 2D Montrachet; maybe it was just the bottle, or maybe it’s time to drink up those ‘83s (93).
The 1985 Ramonet Montrachet was also a bit wild ‘n crazy with a much gamier nose, with lots of honey and a fruit profile bordering on guava. ‘Passionfruit,’ ‘Hi-C peach puree’ and ‘papaya’ came from the crowd, which are not typical for this wine. There were warm fireplace aromas in this underwhelming Montrachet, although I was surprised to find that it was the second favorite wine of the flight (91A?).
We had been teased long enough and were now ready for some 1961s. The 1961 Latour set a high bar immediately. Its nose had great, deep cassis and black fruits, along with smoke, walnut and layers of complexity. The aromas were so intense that it gave off a cocaine-like intensity. White smoke and red cherry fruit flashed through after time in the glass. The palate was big and still tight, incredibly youthful and long. Its structure consisted of columns, pillars and bridges; now that is what I call infrastructure. Jef was also in awe of its viscosity and structure. This was one of those incredible bottles, which is why one notable critic has hailed it as the greatest wine ever made (98).
The 1961 Mouton Rothschild that followed was outstanding but also out-shadowed. Its nose was chunky and chocolaty, much more forward than the Latour. The palate was lush, long, smooth and elegant. ‘I love the softness of the Mouton,’ The Rev told us, continuing how it ‘coats’ and was ‘velvety’ (95).
A 1961 Palmer held its own amongst those First Growth bullies, providing a solid foundation in its intense nose of cassis and garden. There was also this taut and unique glue-like edge to it. The richness of its fruit in the mouth was special. Indeed, it seemed to be a step up from the Mouton, and Bruce let us know he was definitely in the Palmer camp. Its lush, gamy palate delivered pure pleasure (96).
Dueling Brions were next, led off by 1961 La Mission Haut Brion. This was a classic bottle of La Miss, gravel meeting chocolate in perfect harmony. There were also secondary aromas of smoke, black cherry and cassis. Its big palate sparkled with acidity, and the bottle tasted insanely good, adding wafer and charcoal to its thick, tannic flnish. There are bottles of this wine that end up too gravelly for my taste, but this wasn’t one of them. This was as good as it gets (98).
We noticed the 1961 Haut Brion was from the cellar of Wolfgang Grunewald, so we knew we were in for a treat, even though all the ‘61s so far were fantastic. Wolf sends his regards to all from beautiful Mallorca, by the way. July means JK is in Europe, but we’ll get to that article in a couple weeks, hopefully”¦it’s a big one. Sorry to digress, back to the bottle of 1961 HB! There was more black cherry here to go with gravel and charcoal underneath, which both seemed buried in its regal earth components. The palate was more chocolaty and open, not as smoky or gravelly as the La Miss. The HB was smooth and sexy, maintaining its intensity in an elegant way, but the power of the La Miss stole this outstanding bottle of Haut Brion’s show somewhat (96).
Dueling 1961 Pomerols were next, or as Mark put it. “Damn. Just Damn. Ok, DAMN!” The 1961 L’Evangile was a wow wine from the very first sniff. This was pure Pomerol heaven with its chocolate and plum bliss. Alexander the Great cooed, ‘Now that’s a wine,’ in her unique way that made me want to insert my own orgasm. This was a bouquet of fine flowers, and even though there was a mineral and iron component as well, the flowers dominated. Its fruit was rich yet slaty on the palate, and the finish had a positive bitters edge. Its overly slaty quality on the palate was the only thing holding the wine back from that ‘great wine of my life category,’ aka 97 points and up (96).
A stunning bottle of 1961 Latour a Pomerol was a little corked, bummer. Underneath, the wine was fighting to get to the surface. You could see the kinky, overripe style there, masked by the cork. The wine was all it should have been in the mouth; this was Amarone city. It was so gamy and lush, with staggering concentration to the point where the proverbial motor oil came to mind. Despite the slightly corked edge in the nose, this was an immensely enjoyable bottle that came across amazingly unique, as legend has always had it (97A).
Our magical trip through 1961 Bordeaux came to a close, but the 1961s continued, beginning with a 1961 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino. Its incredible nose made the change of pace more welcome, although Frank didn’t like it that much. I found the mélange of leather, rose, tar and earth quite intoxicating; its spice was great as was its character. The palate had extreme acidity and delicious flavors of tobacco, black rose, earth and hints of citrus. The wine finished with great smack, and Bruce also found it equally fabulous, a word which ended up in my notes twice (97).
The 1961 Vega Sicilia Unico was excellent, but no match for the Monfortino. ‘Porty and brown sugar’ came from The Rev. Its nose was rich, saucy and hedonistic, with that sweet and chunky ‘rump a dump style,’ I wrote. Too bad I have no clue what I meant :). Its palate was oily, and its finish left a dusty impression, as if a motorcycle just left me behind on some dirt road. Brothy and raisiny, it reminded me of other old, decadent Vegas like the ’53 and ’59. In the end, it reminded me more of Madeira than Port, but not in a cooked or bad way (94).
A magnum of 1961 Moet RD freshened our palates, although it came out a bit cold. ‘Kefir’ and ‘buttermilk’ came from the crowd, as did ‘pretty.’ It was fresh and grassy with a clean finish. Alexander the Great loved its vivacious and fresh style (92M).
Bruce whipped out another mystery bubbly, this time a rare 1947 Pol Roger Disgorged in 1981 for the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana. Man, that’s a long wine name. Bruce relished in the guesses of DP and Krug before revealing the pleasant surprise. Someone hailed it as Champagne of the night. It was practically perfect with its clean bed of white fruits. Fresh and delicious, this was a wow Champagne (97).
Brother, can you spare some Burgundy? Yes, it was time for ‘the other red treat.’ A 1962 Vogue Bonnes Mares was gamy city, very forward and saucy, full of gamy red fruits. The fruit was rather concentrated, saucy and tomato in flavor as well. It was rich but had a kink to its flavor that held it back, this stewed element that led me to believe this bottle was a bit cooked and affected, although still appreciable (93A).
This was the third time I have had the 1955 Leroy Chambertin this year (I know, I need to write more). They all have been fairly consistent. The nose had lots of green fruit and garden, while the palate was of the beefy and red cherry varieties. Big and full, like typical Leroy, there was excellent acidity here, and this ’55 felt like it needed even more time to develop. Purple and black joined the fruit party in this long and beefy red (95+).
An obscure 1928 Chevillot La Tache had some awkward aromas at first, which was perhaps the glass and not the wine. It was a soft and tender wine, friendly and fun in fine negociant fashion. ‘Raspberry’ and ‘kooky’ came from The Rev, and its red fruit and rose flavors danced just enough to keep me interested (92).
The 1943 La Tache was a brothy and ‘smacking’ nose, as in the aromatic equivalent of lip-smacking. It was very aromatic and had that Monfortino tea-like edge and spice, along with some cloves and glue. The palate was delicious with tasty flavors of tea, broth, game, autumn and rose. Despite getting up there in years, it was still fleshy and dense (95).
On to flight number eight, eight I tell you! It is getting increasingly rare to find ’s from 1971, my beloved birth year, but especially rare out of magnum. Furthermore, it is quite rare to see magnums of even opened nowadays, but The Rev made us all kneel before him and his two magnums of , La Tache and Romanee Conti.
Somehow, I had the RC first. Shit happens. The 1971 Romanee Conti oozed ‘liquid cherry’ per The Rev, along with deep rose and citrus in its expressive yet reticent nose. There was enough citric tension in here for every Burgundy of the night, and an exotic edge developed to the fruit as time in the glass wore on, along with some secondary cola. It was so smoky and so deep; this was a wine over which philosophers could truly ponder. Its wound-up yet seductive palate had rich, deep and gamy flavors, along with cola, rose and a hint of tomato. This was still young, to the point where I started to regret drinking it at this ‘early’ stage of its development in magnum. Naaaaahhhhhhhhh 🙂 (97M).
The 1971 La Tache had a nose similar to its big brother, although this particular magnum was a bit dirtier and more earthy. Mounds also abounded, as in chocolate and a hint of exotic coconut. The palate was creamy and fleshy, yet softer and a bit dirty as well. There were nice rose flavors, but this magnum was more tender than expected. I have had many more thrilling experiences with this wine, but that’s the way the game sometimes plays out. It was still special, but this wine routinely hit 97-98 points for me over the last decade, so I chalked this one up to bottle variation (94M).
Five more La Taches proceeded to demand our attention, beginning with a great bottle of 1978 La Tache. Its vim and vigor jumped out of the glass compared to the tenderness of the 1971. This had that signature spicy menthol and great intensity, balanced by rose hips and Vitamin C aromas. The palate was lush and more gamy than the nose with some bouillon flavors, something I typically find in 1978 . Its finish was long and decadent, leaving lingering flavors of beef, citrus, wet earth and bacon (96).
The 1985 La Tache that followed was a disappointing bottle that came across a bit dirty. Like Amsterdam at 3am dirty. A few scattered notes included tender, sensitive, earthy and decent acidity. I do think this vintage of La Tache can be great, so this was just a random off bottle (92A).
The 1991 La Tache signaled a brave, new world with its youthful nose. There was deep, rich red fruit, along with milk, citrus and vitamin aromas. Its palate was thick, stalky and stemmy, still fresh and still young (95).
The 1995 La Tache had some similarities to the ’91, with a more wound personality. Aromas of iron, citrus and leather were more dominant in this thick and slightly square LT. It was still serious, although quite tight and rustic. Jef found its peppery spice ‘overbearing’ (94).
Last and never least was a 1999 La Tache, which was clearly the best in our flight of the last three. Its nose was so deep; it felt like I could literally dive into its aromas. There was an oceanic feel to the breadth of its violet fruit. That plush 1999 signature fruit was everywhere. Sweet caramel and nut were balanced by smoke in this behemoth of a nose. The finish was so thick, I had to undo and work the wine back out of my mouth after each sip. It is rare that a wine this young makes me do cartwheels and handstands, but the ’99 LT is that great, especially for such a young wine. Stem and stalk flavors added zip and vim to the fantastic fruit. So long, so strong and so balanced, the 1999 La Tache is an anywhere, anytime wine that has never delivered anything but an extraordinary experience (99).
There was time for a final toast, and we had it with a spectacular bottle of 1971 Salon. It had a fantastic nose full of white fruits. ‘Champagne of the night?’ again was asked. It was stony, nutty, zippy and meaty with wonderful citrus flavors and a rich, long finish. It was refreshing like an ice cold glass of 7up on a hot summer day, AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA. I just had to say that 🙂 (97).
There were more wines waiting in the wings, but most of us threw in the towel at this point. It was a legendary evening fit for a king, I mean a rev. We had all been humbled and reminded of our sins, but thankfully The Rev is a forgiving one, so we all repented before leaving, each promising him, “I will drink more wine.”
In Vino Veritas,