I interrupt my natural progression through some of this Fall’s more noteworthy wine evenings in order to bring you notes from a night last week that was so extraordinary, it immediately went to the top of my pile, easily one of the ‘nights of the year,’ so to speak. And there were only three of us.
I have often joked in years past about the two Jef(f)s in Los Angeles who share a last name (despite different spellings), the ‘good’ Jef being one of my close friends. Well, the, um, let’s call him ‘other’ Jeff, was in town on his way back from two weeks in Bordeaux and reached out to get together with myself and another special guest a couple months ago, and the evening was finally upon us. This other Jeff was fresh off an evening in Baltimore with Mr. Parker himself, drinking 1961 La Chapelle from Bob’s cellar amongst other goodies. It is, in fact, on Mr. Parker’s website where you will often find the other Jeff posting away on a daily basis, to which his thousands of posts will attest. When you talk that much on web bulletin boards, you are bound to find some people disagreeing with you, but after this evening, I can safely say that both Jef(f)s in LA are now ‘good’ in my book.
We were joined by one of New York’s empirical collectors, one who used to have an Airplane in his nickname, but after this night, he will only be known as ‘The Punisher,’ because he just punished us with incredibly rare wine after another until we couldn’t drink no more. And there were still another eight or ten bottles in tow if necessary!
Acrobatic/exotic/unique chef Wylie Dufresene’s 12-course tasting menu (at WD-50) also filled us to the gills, but was absolutely critical in soaking up the awesome arsenal of insane wines to which we would be privy on this special night.
I was sitting at the bar for about twenty minutes, not knowing that Jeff and The Punisher were waiting patiently in a booth in the back. I finally called The Punisher, perplexed as to how both of them could be so late ”“ was my calendar wrong? This was the right restaurant, no? I was not wrong in either regard. Bad hostess, bad bad bad bad girl! Thankfully, I hadn’t missed much. Jeff and The Punisher were casually sipping on a 1900 Pichon Baron and had not gotten any further. In advance, Jeff offered up a 1989 Rayas, and I a 1993 Mugnier Musigny, although I changed up to a 1978 Ponsot Clos de la Roche at the last second due to circumstance”¦and still had the Mugnier, of course, just in case. The Punisher had assured us in advance that he ‘should be able to find something,’ and knowing his cellar already, that was good enough for us.
Ok, time for some notes. The 1900 Pichon Baron had a deep nose, still with a wealth of fruit despite a healthy whiff of oak at first. Aromas of peanut and walnut were also there, and with some extended aeration and swirling action, the oak settled down into more of a benevolent cedar, along with some creepy caramel and sawdust. The palate was rich and luscious. The Punisher remarked how he liked the ‘nose more than the mouth,’ and Jeff agreed, finding it ‘a hair short and a bit taut,’ but make no doubt about it, this bottle was in fabulous condition, still fresh for age 109 despite no signs of reconditioning. It was a natural fresh; it doesn’t get any better than that for old wine. There was a little bit of locker room funk that emerged, but this ancient rarity was still a tasty treat and an impressive bottle (92).
We jumped into my 1978 Ponsot Clos de la Roche. It was actually graciously given to me to taste from a case by a potential seller, as some of the color was off in a few but not all of the bottles, per his ethical acknowledgement. The nose was at first minty, beefy and chocolaty, also ‘foresty’ per The Punisher. Hints of tea rounded out its nose. The palate was rich and round, tender yet long, and tasty in a sweet, brothy, bouillon way with a hint of citrus. Autumnal flavors of forest and damp earth were present, along with game, browned fruit, beef and chocolate. There was still nice tannin definition to its cedary finish, and the wine possessed a little bit of that good dirty. The Punisher grimaced. ‘It is moving in a stewed direction.’ The wine was a bit exotic and unfortunately a bit affected, still good but not a perfect bottle (94A).
Jeff’s 1989 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape followed, and it needed to be woken up a bit. A first there was a lot of sweet cherry, but in a cough syrupy way, with enough menthol in its nose to clear any sinus on any occasion. The palate was rich, hearty, decadent and delicious. Jeff questioned ‘a touch of volatile acidity?’ The Punisher noted, ‘Riesling diesel.’ The wine had amazing power and acidity, not to mention its sweet concentration. Its cherry flavors were superb, and garrigue and white pepper balanced it out perfectly. One could pick at it and call it ‘too sweet,’ but it was pretty delicious to me, and a wine that will age a long time (95+).
It was at this point where The Punisher took over. He told us how he recently bought this old cellar where the Pichon Baron came from and had brought a few others from it to try to make sure the cellar was good. Enter 1918 Ducru Beaucaillou. The Punisher was having a case of ‘deja-vu,’ as he felt ‘like I just drank this wine.’ The Ducru was lighter than the Pichon Baron, also possessing more sour cherry in the nose. The palate was a bit yeasty at first, with some morning mouth flavors on its finish and fruit that I would call on the tired side, despite the condition of the bottle being fine and fresh per my note on the Baron. Flavors of citrus, wheat, sour cherry and dust were here, and the wine grew on me, as I was again impressed by the condition of the wine, even if it was, perhaps, past its prime. Jeff picked up on secondary ‘butterscotch’ aromas, which I saw in a dry way. There were cobwebs on its tangy finish (90).
The Punisher pulled out a 1925 Mouton Rothschild next as if it was another weapon to help him carry out wine justice. Jeff immediately noted, ‘pretty Asian spice,’ and The Punisher ‘strawberry.’ Jeff countered with ‘tobacco and truffles.’ The Punisher then finished the rally with ‘a touch of salty vinegar and metal on the end.’ I saw all that and then some. The nose was like cobwebs meeting biscuits, and it was divinely sweet in a restrained and refined way. I was really digging the nose on this ’25, which I believe is the first Bordeaux I have ever even had from this rarely seen vintage. Its front and mid-palates were great, although the finish did have some of that awkward metal. Light Asian tea flavors and ‘rhubarb’ per Jeff were upfront in the mouth, and while the wine was soft and bright, its citrus flavors were a touch too tart (?), I questioned, and Jeff chimed in on that ‘hint of metal.’ With a little more air, its citrus flavors became great, and the palate leaned on the sexy side in a ballerina way with light brothy qualities. Light beef and previous citrus flavors gave way to old cherry vanilla ones in the end, and overall, this was an excellent Mouton, perhaps never to be experienced again (93).
‘Let’s try some ’01 Lafite,’ The Punisher pronounced. Jeff had to stop himself. He was wondering, why are we going to try something so young now, until he realized it was the 1901 Lafite Rothschild. Like, duh :). The nose said ‘wow,’ roaring to reveal this decadent, toasted caramel like Smores without the chocolate, made with caramel instead, and a hand-made Guy Savoy caramel at that. Jeff kicked in ‘gingerbread,’ and that he ‘would have guessed Right Bank’ if the wine had been served blind. This, too, had a light, deft edge that the previous wines from this cellar showed and again was fresh and lively. The palate had nice citrus hints and ‘light brown sugar’ flavors. This wine was absolutely delicious, and I loved it, giving it three yums. Even at the end of the night, it was still delicious, still classy and incredibly distinguished. Move over, 1900 (96+).
The Punisher was just warming up. I swear I heard the click of a shotgun, and out came a 1904 Lafite Rothschild. The sibling rivalry was on. There was more citrus in the ’04, and more floral qualities to its sweetness, but we could all see it was a sibling to the ’01. The 1904 was much lighter in the mouth, however, and no ’01 for sure. It had wafer and water flavors along with sour cherry, dust and cobwebs in an old cupboard. It was still pleasant but its palate didn’t live up to its nose; it was a big drop off (88).
The vertical continued with a 1905 Lafite Rothschild, which had a deeper and darker nose than the previous two and was the first of the Lafites to show black fruits in its nose. There was also this hint of windshield wiper, but not in a negative way. Again the palate was on the lighter side. These weren’t hallmark vintages, of course, so that should not be a surprise for hundred year-old wines from years that are not from those ‘vintages of the century.’ The palate was also round, possessing waterfall flavors and again those dusty cobwebs, this time wrapped around old books (90).
There was one more Lafite to this impromptu flight, a 1907 Lafite Rothschild. I asked the sommelier for his thoughts, to which he replied that it had ‘the most grip and is a lot bloodier in its flavors.’ The Punisher playfully asked me if I was trying to get the sommelier to write my notes for me lol. The 1907 was the most classic in my book, possessing rich cassis and cedar in its nose. There were flavors of band-aids and strawberry soup on the palate, which was again lighter but more substantial than the 1905. It developed nice baked aromas as well (92).
It was Mouton’s turn again, beginning with the 1929 Mouton Rothschild, whose nose was intriguing and exciting. It was deep, long and smoky and clearly great claret. It had hickory, cassis and cedar aromas, all working well together. The palate was another wine that could best be described as delicious. Rich and sweet, it had both great fruit and great finish, with coffee flavors on its long backside. It was saucy with black cherry flavors and a hint of grill. The only negative was that it got a touch figgy in the glass after some time, pulling it down from outstanding back into the excellent zone, even though that initial impression was without a doubt outstanding (94).
The 1928 Mouton Rothschild made for an interesting comparison. I have always liked both these vintages for Mouton despite a lack of critical acclaim, and this evening reinforced my internal beliefs. Jeff resurfaced to find the ’28 ‘minty,’ although The Punisher was a bit concerned with some ‘cardboard’ at first. I saw what he was saying, but likened it more to an un-fresh bathroom edge, with hints of chlorine, although black fruits kept trying to fight their way through. Thankfully, the ’28 tasted far better than it smelled. The ’28 was rich and chocolaty, beefy and saucy. There were lots of Vitamin C flavors surrounding its dusty and zippy, rich fruit. The Punisher noted ‘mushroomy’ qualities and found ‘the nose better on ’29, but the mouth better on ’28.’ The Punisher also found that the ’29 softened in the glass, as well, and I agreed that while the two were close in quality now, as time continues, the 1928 will distance itself more as the better wine. Only in Bordeaux can a wine at age eighty still have time to outdistance another similar vintage! Jeff was in the ’29 camp, however, rating it one point higher ‘for elegance.’ The ’28 got better and better, and its nose became integrated and less awkward (96).
I don’t think I could have eaten another crumb or drank another drop. It was at this point that I had to say, ‘I think that cellar’s good.’ What a cellar, and what a night. Somehow, I think that if we didn’t throw in the towel, we could have stayed until every bottle in The Punisher’s wine bag was done.
I bowed down before the wine superhero before me, meagerly offering up my unopened 1993 Mugnier as a token of my gratitude. It quickly got sucked into his arsenal with the ease of a gun being put back into the holster of a marksman. As I stumbled out of WD-50 into the cold, rainy New York night, all I could hear was the crowd cheering, ‘Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die”¦.’
In Vino Veritas,