Wine Vault: 19th Hole-Burgundy

Again, a number of these wines were tasted here in New York at the Christie's Pre-Sale tasting on September 19, 1997. For those who attended the tasting, do not thiink that you missed bottles under the tables, as I have been busy whipping through super claret at a number of locations over the last eight weeks. My cellar has taken a number of hits as well, as the fall tasting schedule has been pretty brisk.

The Wine List:

1978 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

1995 Pavillon Blanc de Chateau Margaux

1986 Chateau Climens

1929 Chateau Canon

1959 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

1961 Chateau Lanessan

1964 Chateau Montrose

1966 Chateau Palmer

1966 Chateau Latour

1967 Cheval Blanc

1967 Mouton-Rothschild

1970 Cheval Blanc

1971 Cos D'Estournal

1978 Les Forts de Latour

1979 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

1979 Chateau Pape Clement

1981 Chateau Petrus

1982 Chateau Figeac

1983 Chateau Cheval Blanc

1985 Chateau Haut Marbuzet

1988 Chateau Haut Brion

1989 Chateau Clinet

1989 Chateau Lafleur de Gay

1990 Chateau Figeac

1978 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

DDC's 1978 blanc is an extremely rare bottle to find in the American market, as little was shipped here, and much of what arrived has already been drunk up. Unfortunately for those who drank the wine early, the wine is just beginning to approach its plateau of maturity. The nose is beautifully Graves, but atypical of the more powerfully fig-like and petrolly wines of vintages of DDC such as 1983, 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1994. The nose is deep and complex, with beautiful notes of lemon skin, beeswax, suggestions of tangerine and fig, herbal notes, minerals, fennel seed, vanillin oak and a fresh, floral topnote. Medium-full and still a bit bound up on the palate, with great depth, fine acids, and a long, complex, lemony finish. I would still hold this bottle for another five to seven years before having at it in earnest, as there is still decades worth of life ahead of it. A wonderful, wonderful wine of discretion and complexity. 2002-2030. 93.

1995 Pavillon Blanc de Chateau Margaux

Over the last handful of vintages, there has been a concerted effort on the part Paul Pontallier, director at Chateau Margaux, to increase the quality of the chateau's white wine: Pavillon Blanc. These efforts are clearly bearing fruit, as the 1995 is the finest example of this wine that I have ever tasted. The nose is lovely, with scents of green apples, lime, beeswax, spring flowers, cut grass, plenty of minerals, and a lovely frame of vanillin oak. Deep, crisp and very elegant on the palate, with really fine depth and concentration, flawless balance, and a long, complex finish. For years this wine had lovely flavors, but no depth or real backbone. I would suspect that the combination of the vines maturing and a serious effort to lower yields here has resulted in this dramatic move up the quality hierarchy. This is now a wine that rivals all but the top couple of white Graves, and offers a lovely change of pace in terms of flavor and soil characteristics from the big boys in Graves. Excellent. 1997-2010. 94.

1986 Chateau Climens

Climens is my favorite Sauternes producer. The symbiotic relationship between ripeness and acidity in this wine's profile in the top vintages is unmatched in the region. Certainly there are a number of more powerful wines than Climens, with Y'Quem at the top of the list, but I do not find a comparable magical snap of acidity in most top vintages of the bigger styled Sauternes. Even a wine such as 1975 Y'Quem, which has such lovely acid/fruit balance, is produced relatively rarely at the property. However, Climens in vintages such as 1971, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1983, 1986, and 1988 is a study in how to best couple depth, complexity and acid snap in Sauternes. The 1986 is one of the young titans for Climens. It is not yet ready to drink, but it is now within a few years of its plateau of drinkability. The nose is lovely, with scents of peach, pineapple, coconut, spring flowers, minerals, and a deft touch of vanillin oak. Full-bodied, crisp and pristine on the palate, with a lovely sheen of bortytis, a succulent core of fruit, zesty acidity, and a long, complex, focused finish. Still on its way up, look for this great vintage of Climens to drink well during the first half of the twenty-first century. 2000-2050. 95.

1929 Chateau Canon

I had this bottle earlier this year, and while the wine showed quite well, it had been bounced around a fair bit on its way to the dinner table on that particular evening. This bottle of 1929 Canon, (a twin from the same cellar) had been treated much more delicately in preparation for consumption. Not surprisingly, the showing of this bottle was dramatically more impressive as a result. Stood up for three months prior to drinking, the wine was amazingly clear and deep in color. The bouquet was shockingly rich and powerful, with scents of sweet black cherries, chocolate, black truffles, grilled nuts, earth, smoke, and a topnote of mint. Given the apparent delicacy and red fruit quality of the last bottle I had of this wine, the depth, power and sweetness of this bottle was a revelation. Medium-full, round and amazingly sweet and concentrated on the palate, with plenty of fruit at the core, great balance and complexity, and soft, melting tannins still framing the long, complex finish nicely. This is an amazing old bottle of claret that has been drinking magically for decades, but still retains plenty of life to it. I would opt for drinking it over the next decade, but given how well this particular bottle showed, I would not be surprised to see the 1929 Canon continuing on for another twenty-five years! A joy to drink. 1997-2010 (conservatively). 93.

1959 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

I have had this towering, epic bottle of Lafite on five or six occasions over the dozen years that I have been in the wine trade. I can honestly say that in spite of Lafite's extraordinary run of success between 1976 and 1990, I have yet to see the modern day replacement for this wine. It is simply the greatest Lafite I have ever tasted. Certainly, the 1959 is much less classically sculptured than a vintage such as 1953, but I am willing to trade a bit of Lafite's unconquerable breed, finesse, and pure perfume for a swashbuckler such as 1959. To give you some idea of how fine this wine is, this particular bottle was probably about ninety percent of the wine in perfect condition, and yet two very seasoned tasters (who had never previously tasted '59 Lafite) thought it to be the greatest wine they had ever tasted. The bouquet on this particular bottle was still sublime, with scents of pure cassis fruit, tobacco, black truffle, herb tones (particularly a note of fresh sage), minerals, French roast, and cedar. On the palate the wine was quite full, very, very complex, poised and powerful, with just a bit of tannin still poking its head up on the finish. The great power, opulence and multi-layered wave of '59 fruit that Lafite in perfect condition revels in was not quite here in its entirety, but yet the overall impression of this particular bottle was still memorable in the extreme. 1997-2020. 95. (Perfectly stored bottles are an easy 100.)

1961 Chateau Lanessan

Americans are often remarked upon for their predilection of buying only top flight vintages. While my own personal collecting habits have me often following growers and hunting for the great wines from the lesser years (1967 Trotanoy or 1971 Latour, for example), it is wines like the 1961 Lanessan that lend credence to those who take the vintage train. I had little expectations for this wine, and yet I found it one of the highlights of the tasting. The nose is wonderfully pure, with scents of sweet cherry fruit, tobacco, truffle, woodsmoke and a hint of wood. This is not an overly complex claret (as mature claret goes), but it is amazingly pure, elegant and just jumping from the glass. Medium-full resolved and elegant on the palate, with 1961's perfect fruit beautifully arrayed here; soft tannins, fine focus, and great sweetness and length on the finish make this a delicious revelation for drinking over the next five years. Kudos to the lucky bidder(s) that picked up this wine at auction. 1997-2005. 92.

1964 Chateau Montrose

All you need to know about 1964 Montrose is that it was picked before the deluge. The wine is truly lovely, with thirty odd years of bottle age producing a lovely bouquet of sweet cassis, blackberry, violets, black truffles, earth, tobacco, herb tones and cedar. Full-bodied and filled with pure, warm weather fruit on the palate, with plenty of truffles carrying through to the finish. Surpassingly for Montrose in its power-mongering heyday, this wine is almost gentle and delicate (though certainly full-bodied), with just a bit of firm tannin still perking up on the finish. This is a great Montrose from the golden years. 1997-2025. 93.

1966 Chateau Palmer

My history of older claret consumption is interesting in its frequent visits to certain wines and its lack of notes on other major wines from the same vintages. The 1966 Palmer is perhaps the one older claret that I have more experience with than any other, with at least twenty-five or thirty notes on the wine. What I have found remarkable is how this wine seems to have a few different personalities (no doubt depending on which barrels of wine each bottling came from), but, irregardless of style, the overall quality level has never been anything less than stunning. Some bottles can be quintessentially Palmer, with lush mulberry fruit, notes of violets and roses, black truffle tones and a lovely base of wood. These bottles remind me greatly of the 1970 Palmer, though with slightly tighter structure and brighter acidity. Other bottles, as was the case with this bottle, are much more black fruity, tobaccoey and truffley, with an almost La Mission-like personality. This '66 Palmer offered up a fine nose of sweet cassis, peppery tones, black truffles, roasted tobacco, earth, herbs and spicy wood. Deep. full and quite concentrated still on the palate, with excellent grip and length, plenty of black fruit, and a long, complex finish that ends with a Graves-like note of roasted, pungent tobacco. A fine bottle that I would willingly succumb to again and again and again. Years of life ahead of it. 1997-2015. 95.

1966 Chateau Latour

Speaking of wines that have a little life still in them... the 1966 Latour is unequivocally the Medoc of the vintage, though it is only now (at thirty plus years of age) just beginning to soften and round into form. For much of the last dozen years, '66 Latour has been tough, hard and somewhat herbal, with the underlying richness of black fruit firmly sewn up inside of its tannin and acid structure. Over the last couple of years, the sweetness and depth of fruit that was only a supposition for those of us who never tasted the wine in its pre-shut down infancy, is now beginning to stir. The bouquet on this wine is great Latour awakening: scents of sweet cassis and blackberry fruit, cigar box, black truffle, tar, earth, smoke, grilled nuts, herbs, bitter chocolate and cedar are all coaxed from the glass with air and swirling. Certainly the wine is still fairly tight, but the stunning promise of this wine is now beginning to be delivered on both the nose and palate. In the mouth the wine is classically Latour-like in terms of its scope and depth, with a deep, powerful attack, a huge core in the middle (still kept pretty much under wrap[s by the wine's extraordinary structure), firm, but round and ripe tannins, excellent balancing acidity, and a long, powerful, multi-dimensional finish. I enjoy drinking this wine immensely right now, but it is still only a slice of what is still to come. Believe it or not, the 1966 Latour is anywhere from ten to twenty years still away from its apogee. It should continue to drink magically for seventy-five to a hundred years! 1997-2100? 96.

1967 Cheval Blanc

I have had some extremely pleasant surprises with 1967s over the last couple of years, and the '67 Cheval Blanc must certainly be added to my list of wines to look for if the price is right. The nose is excellent: lovely autumnal notes of cherry, nuts, fallen leaves, coffee, loads of truffle, herbs, and cedary wood drift from the glass. In a world of time constraints and urgency, the lovely attributes of this wine could certainly be missed, as it requires a bit of concentration and quiet. But the rewards are certainly here: medium-bodied, round and resolved on the palate, but with its structural integrity still sound. The finish is long, complex, moderately intense, but still capable of delivering First Growth terroir and breed. In a perfect world, great Tuesday night claret for me and the Misses. 1997-2002. 88+.

1967 Mouton-Rothschild

Alas, Mouton did not turn out to be another sleeper from the vintage. My suspicion is that this wine was very tasty out of the blocks, but it has been in gentle repose for a couple of decades, at least. Still offering up a potpourri of Mouton spice on the nose, as well as some cherry and red currant fruit, a bit of tobacco, and cedary wood. As my dear friend Dr. Herb Werner likes to say, "with old wines, the nose is always the last thing to go." This is the case here. The palate is still medium-bodied, but age is beginning to take its toll, as the fruit thins out and the skeleton starts to poke through. Not a bad wine, but drink it up yesterday. 84.

1970 Cheval Blanc

Quite similar aromatically to the 1967, the 1970 Cheval in the context of its vintage may well be a bit less impressive than the 1967 is in the context of its vintage. The nose is strikingly similar, with scents of cherry fruit, sous bois, grilled nuts, coffee, a hint of menthol, truffles and cedary wood. Medium-full and elegant on the palate, with fine delineation, but without that reserve of fruit on the mid-palate that separates great wines from the merely good. The finish is long, classy, delicious, and only in need of a bit more volume. This is really a delicious bottle of wine, but with wines like 1970 Latour, 1970 Petrus, 1970 Trotanoy, 1970 Palmer, and 1970 Montrose out there, this is yet another example of why most 1970 clarets are bloop singles, rather than homeruns. Not that I am complaining. 1997-2010. 90.

1971 Cos D'Estournal

Cos was not at the top of its game in this era (the stern, chewy 1970 is more of a foul tip than a bloop single), and the 1971 is a solid, four-square wine that would not have me out combing the auction catalogs looking for more. The nose is solid, with scents of cherry, red currant, meaty tones, tobacco and cedar. Thinnish and fading on the palate, with decent flavor interest, but with its best days long gone at this point. It may well have been tasty claret in its day, though at this point it is impossible to say. Drink up. 1997-1998. 83.

1978 Les Forts de Latour

While the 1978 Latour remains stubbornly buttoned up and brooding, the '78 Forts de Latour has now emerged from its tannic slumber, and is drinking beautifully. The nose is classic Pauillac, with scents of ripe, sweet cassis, black truffle, cigar box, violets, earth, and cedary, spicy wood. Full-bodied and beautifully balanced on the palate, with layers of fruit, excellent focus, and soft, melting tannins on the finish. As the 1978 have aged, and many have developed some green notes of underripeness, it is enjoyable to see the '78 Forts de Latour emerge and demonstrate that many of the early prognostications concerning the fine nature of the vintage was not entirely off target. A very tasty bottle. 1997-2005. 90.

1979 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

As big a fan of the 1978 Ducru as I am, I was hoping for a more serious 1979. This is a wine that is more 1979 than it is Ducru, with a medium-bodied, modestly concentrated palate, fine resolution to its flavors, and a modest finish. The nose is pleasant enough, with scents of cassis fruit, coffee, tobacco, herbs, and cedar. Certainly a sound wine, but I was hoping for Ducru's answer to 1979 Pichon-Lalande! This is a good, solid effort, but it could have been significantly better. Is this bottle representative? 1997-2007. 86.

1979 Chateau Pape Clement

And the baby Haut Brion in 1979? Lovely stuff. Here is a finely etched middleweight with the charm of a complete wine in a lighter vintage playing to its advantage. The nose is complex and stylish, with scents of black cherry fruit, brick dust, black truffle, roasted tobacco, herbal complications, and cedary wood. Barely medium-bodied, but with intensity and stuffing in the middle, this wine is a suave, savvy medium-bodied wine that I would snap up in a second for drinking over the next five to ten years. It is sleeper wines like this that remind me of how much a enjoy mature claret. 1997-2004. 89.

1981 Chateau Petrus

The '81 Petrus, as is its wont in most vintages, remains the most stubborn and backward wine of the vintage. It is also the finest wine of the vintage, though still a solid five years away from fully opening. The depth, power, and potential complexity of this wine are readily apparent even in its closed state, but there are signs that it is only a matter of four or five years before this wine really starts exploding. The nose is tight, but extremely serious, with scents of raspberry, bitter chocolate, coffee, herb tones, road tar, tobacco, grilled nuts, earth and toasty oak. On the palate the wine is extremely dense and powerful, with fine structure, a huge core of fruit, plenty of tannin, and a long, thick, tannic finish. This wine is coiled to pounce, and when it finally hits its apogee, it will tower above all other 1981s. 2003-2040. 94+.

1982 Chateau Figeac

Clearly the finest showing I have had of this magical wine, the '82 Figeac has continued to put on weight in the bottle, and has now reached a level of seriousness that I never suspected it would attain. The nose is profound, with scents of ripe plums, sweet black cherries, loads of black truffles, herbs, chocolate, spices and sweet vanillin oak. Deep, full and wonderfully complex on the palate, with black truffles breaking out everywhere. The finish is long, powerful, sweet, and well-structured. Do I wish I had back the half case of this wine I drank up over the 1990-1993 period? 1997-2030. 95.

1983 Chateau Cheval Blanc

What's not to like? I have had bottles that have shown much more brilliantly than this bottle, but even slightly "off" examples are delicious wines. Only Lafleur is a better right bank wine than Cheval in 1983. The nose is closed and in hibernation (on this bottle at least), but eventually offers up scents of red cherry, mulberry, menthol, roasted tobacco, herbs, coffee, and vanillin oak. Deep, full, closed, but potentially profound on the palate, with layers of perfectly ripe fruit, ripe tannins, and a long, complex, powerful finish. This will be a great, great Cheval Blanc that, while living in the shadow of the monument of 1982 Cheval, will obscure a lot of light in its own right. A great wine that represents one of the glaring holes in my cellar! 2002-2045. 94+.

1985 Chateau Haut Marbuzet

Another outstanding effort from St. Estephe's only Pomerol wannabe. The nose is lovely, with scents of ripe black cherries, chocolate, tobacco, grilled nuts, meaty tones, herbs, and plenty of vanillin oak. Medium-full but plenty intense on the palate, with a Pomerol-like creaminess to the texture, finely-integrated tannins, fine focus, and a long, stylish, complete finish. 1985 wines continue to go from strength to strength, with the elegance and finesse of the year now being even more beautifully displayed as wine after wine seems to put on weight in the bottle. Could this turn out as fine as the 1970 Haut Marbuzet? 1997-2017. 91.

1988 Chateau Haut Brion

1988 is particularly successful in the Graves region, and not surprisingly, Haut Brion is the cream of the crop. I had not had this wine since shortly after its release, and I was surprised by how quickly it has come forward. Nearing its tenth birthday, this is a lovely Haut Brion that is actually starting to drink well: the nose is Haut Brion's classic melange of Pomerol and Medoc: notes of creamy blackberries, chocolate, roasted tobacco, herb tones, truffles, minerals, and toasty oak. Deep, full (though not massive) on the palate, with layers of ripe fruit, beautiful focus and delineation, moderate tannins, bright acids, and a long, stunningly complex finish. Look for this wine on restaurant wine lists. It will always live in the shadow of the 1989 and 1990, but this is still one impressive vintage of Haut Brion. 1999-2030. 94.

1989 Chateau Clinet

This was to be my first opportunity to taste the legendary 1989 Clinet, but unfortunately, the bottle had other ideas. Not that it was "off", only so hunkered down that inspection was virtually impossible. The very reticent, grumpy nose reluctantly offered up scents of ripe plums dipped in chocolate, Pomerol herbs, tobacco, and vanillin oak. On the palate, um, maybe the wine is thick with fruit, but again, this is a classic example of claret in its dumb phase. Everybody loves this wine baby, so its hard not to want it in the cellar, but my first visit was hardly memorable. Wake me an hour before it gets up, so I can be ready. 2005-2045? 88-96?

1989 Chateau Lafleur de Gay

While this wine has always displayed the flamboyant, exotic side of the 1989 vintage, I had always found it to possess the depth and balance to augur well for its evolution. However, after not seeing this wine in four or five years, I was a bit disappointed at how this wine showed. Perhaps it was just caught at an awkward stage of development, but the wine's wood component (always quite strong, though seemingly well integrated in its youth) was disconcertingly dominant. This wine has always been strongly oaky, but the nose on this particular bottle was a bit swamped by the wood. However, given the extraordinary quality of fruit in '89 Pomerols in general, it is not surprising that this wine delivers dramatic amounts of roasted plum, chocolate, dill-like herbal notes, tobacco, minerals, grilled nuts, and heavily-toasted new oak. If this wine manages to absorb all the oak gracefully, it will be stupendous stuff. Deep, full, and opulent on the palate, with layers of super-ripe, creamy fruit, plenty of ripe, well-integrated tannin, and a long, complex, opulent finish. This is an extremely impressive wine, though my impression of it when I first tasted it remains pretty much unchanged: as fine as the '89 Lafleur de Gay will be at it speak, it does not possess the breed, potential elegance, and greatness of terroir of such wines as La Conseillante, Trotanoy, L'Evangile, or Certan de May. At my first in-depth 1989 tasting in 1992, Lafleur de Gay was paired up in a flight with La Conseillante. I very much admired the Lafleur de Gay, but I bought a box of the La Conseillante. It is not a decision I regret. 2002-2025. 93.

1990 Chateau Figeac

Anybody want to know how profound the 1990 vintage is for red Burgundy? I am a huge fan of Figeac at its rare best, and I sold 25 cases of this unbelievable wine and never bought a bottle for my own cellar! I should have secured twenty-four! Over the last two days, I have tasted profound examples of the 1982 Figeac on two separate occasions, and while upping my score on the 1982 by three points, I cannot honestly say that the 1982 is even close to the celestial quality of the 1990! This is as fine as Figeac ever gets, with a phenomenal, explosive bouquet of sweet plums, sweeter cherries, sweetest mulberries, chocolate, tobacco, grilled nuts, exotic spices, minerals, and toasty new oak deftly tucked into the frame of the wine. On the palate the wine is amazingly deep and packed with ripe fruit, with flawless delineation and great grip. The finish is boundless, with plenty of ripe tannin buried in the waves of fruit that unfold across the palate. The 1990 Figeac is so stuffed with fruit, it is amazing that the overall impression is of a wine of measured step and delicacy of footfall; it is only on the extremely long finish that the thunderous amount of fruit really becomes apparent. I will let others get seduced by the obvious early charms of "malo-in-barrel" wines like '90 L'Angelus and '90 Beausejour- in the end, the overriding quality that comes from great terroir (and which cannot be made up by any alchemy in the cellar) will make this profound wine the only St. Emilion worthy of keeping the company of 1990 Cheval Blanc and 1990 Ausone! And I don't own a bottle....idiot.... 2010-2060. . 96+