It takes a lot for the fates to align, and for the schedules of The Mogul, The Cardinal and Big Boy to open up on the same evening. Or perhaps all it takes is a great winemaker to show up in New York City. Axel Heinz is the winemaker for Ornellaia and Masseto, and a man of impeccable taste accordingly. It is no surprise that when he recently came to New York, he looked me up accordingly J. He wanted to pair a few good Ornellaias and a few good Massetos with a few good men. I knew just who to call.

The Cardinal indoctrinated us with a 1989 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, a vintage I don’t see often for this wine. Its nose was big and butterscotchy with hearty acid. This was still on the way up, and its tasty yellow fruits were yummy, but its palate was lighter than the nose led me to believe. There was a bit of seltzer to this excellent C de C (93).

Keeping Tabs

Big Boy arrived fashionably late, but we forgave him thanks to a 1959 Salon. There were great aromas of vanilla, sugar cube and white musk, along with some reserved touches of ginger and ‘wheat’ per The Mogul. It was more wine-like on the palate with flavors of paint and some bitters to its finish. The nose was better, but it was still excellent (94).

We talked turkey with Axel about recent vintages in Tuscany, and were excited to hear how 2011 and 2012 were ‘monumental vintages,’ with ’11 being the best since ’01. 2006 has a richness that is great, while 2007 and 2008 were big and dramatic. 2005 and 2009 are the ‘open’ vintages, ready to drink and enjoy sooner, while 2006 vs. 2008 would be a debate for a while, as both were outstanding vintages. 1987 was Masseto’s first vintage, by the way.

The reds began with Tuscany, and a 1988 Ornellaia. It was still so young and fresh; I never would have guessed 1988. Its fruit was almost still purple, but it had that European goodness of fruit. Big Boy noted ‘mint.’ In 1988, the blend was about 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot while today it is 60/30/10. There were light aromas of chocolate and cigar box, along with touches of smoke and gravel. It had a great nose; there was a lot going on. The palate had rich fruit and nice grit with touches of tobacco and solid acidity. A nice swath of cedar and wood held it all together. The Cardinal found it ‘perfect now’ (95).

The Ornellaia was challenged by a 1989 Margaux, and as good a bottle of this as I can remember. It was nutty with aromas of carob, smoke, pencil and meat. This was elegant with stuffing. It was a tasty, pure and high class wine, but the Ornellaia won the matchup (94).

Perfect Now

Axel threw in a 1995 Ornellaia for fun, even though it wasn’t the greatest vintage for Ornellaia. It had a grapier nose and fatter fruit, sweeter and plumper overall. It was certainly less complicated than the ’88, with almost jam flavors, but not quite so. It was a chewy wine (92).

We transitioned to Masseto with a flight of 1989 Pomerols. The 1989 La Fleur de Gay was unfortunately corked (DQ).

The 1989 Clinet fortunately was not. This was a deep Pomerol with fat fruit, the good kind of fat, that ‘get in my belly’ fat. It was brothy and foresty in its big nose, which also possessed sexy perfume. The palate was rich and mouth-coating, round and lush. This was an exceptional wine… (97).

…but it was no match for the winegasmic 1989 Lafleur. This has long been one of my favorite Lafleurs, best since 1975 and better than ’82 or ’90, apologies to those that think otherwise. The ’89 had a spectacular nose that kept getting better. This is a wine that keeps getting better every time I have it as well. It was still shy, but its thickness, length and breed were undeniable. ‘So great’ appeared in my notes, and someone else’s as well. Its power was complemented by flavors of chocolate and minerals. Chunks of complexity spilled out of the glass. This was a beauty and a beast (98+).

1989 Killers

The next phase of our official challenge began with a 2006 Masseto. ‘So juicy’ and ‘coffee’ came from the crowd. Its nose was sweet and thick, with port and black cherry jam aromas. There was this candied goodness here, and the palate was rich, fine and silky. It was creamy with vibrant acidity, and while young, there was no denying this was outstanding wine (96).

Masseto’s challenge was a formidable one, the great 1995 Petrus, but on this night, the 1995 was in a bit of a shell. A 2004 Masseto would follow, prompting The Mogul to call the Petrus ‘a lady in between two guys.’ Experience can be a great teacher lol. The Petrus was definitely reserved, and garden and plum were the most prevalent yet reticent aromas. The palate was shy, shut down and frankly disappointing, unlike two other recent, previous bottles. Perhaps it was the Masseto’s fault (94).

The 2004 Masseto was a sibling of the ’06, for sure. It was more floral with less stuffing, excellent but not on the level of the ’06. Coffee and blueberry were the dominant characteristics (94).

Full House

The Cardinal pulled one last Champagne out of his bag, a fantastic 1982 Krug. It was clean, lemony and zippy. This was a full-bodied, masterful Krug, on the bigger side and in the category of 1988 and 1996, as far as the younger ones go. It was bready as in the biggest loaf around, a behemoth to behold (96).

There was one last wine on this evening, a rare 1952 Lafleur thanks to Big Boy. 1952 is the forgotten great vintage for both Right Bank Bordeaux and Burgundy, and the Lafleur was exhibit A. There was a gorgeous sex appeal to its open and mature nose. Chocolate and plum were present, as obligated. The Mogul found its chocolate qualities ‘melted.’ The palate was round, soft and smooth, tender yet lingering. It still possessed great acid and a wheaty finish. Alessandro admired the fact that it still came across ‘fresh’ (96).

Ornellaia and Masseto were up for the challenge on this magical evening at Marea, even if 1989 Pomerols remain uncontested. For all of you other great winemakers visiting New York City, let me know. I think I may be able to find a few good men to join us.

A Few Good Men = Many Empty Bottles

In Vino Veritas,

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