Thirty-six wines in two hours… though we were out in 90 minutes. The trick with big wine events like this is to pace yourself and be able to maintain enough clarity to properly evaluate what you’re drinking, and at a pre-auction event, you have another challenge: There’s only one bottle of each wine available for tasting, so if you spend too long eating cheese and crackers or arrive too late, some of the bottles may be gone. (Several of the Italian wines were empty after the first hour last night, possibly due to “gracious” pours from the server manning that table.)
Some real delights and big surprises from the event. Of course, it’s hard to get a real sense of a wine from the two small sips you get at a large tasting (I do most of my wine reviews over the course of several hours with the wine), so consider these comments preliminary and obviously incomplete. But here goes.
At the white wine table, California Chardonnay unilaterally outpaced two 1999 white Burgundies, both of which tasted almost milky and medicinal, overwhelming their delicate fruit and perfume profiles. The winner was easily Kistler’s 2003 Vine Hill Chardonnay, a honeyed, lemon-filled wine, very easy to drink. The 2000 Kistler and 2003 Peter Michael were also quite good.
Major disappointment at the Bordeaux table, though the 1952 Lafite was still plenty drinkable, and probably would have been far better if I hadn’t been faced with a glass (and mouth) full of sediment. Quite faded, it still showed some signs of life and barely-there fruit, and it was, if nothing else, far superior to many 1960s and 1970s Bordeauxs I’ve sampled in the past. Two 1983 Bordeauxs, a Lafite and a Latour, were also aging heavily, coming from a very weak year for Pauillac. The 1994 Mouton was also fading and lacking structure, but things finally improved with the 1996 Mouton, which, head to head with the ’94, showed what the power of good raw materials can be. The wine was still tight and overpoweringly earthy, but you could see how a little time in the glass or decanter could open it up perfectly for a steak dinner.
I didn’t have great luck at the Italian table, with a 1990 Brunello from Banfi showing really port-like, almost sweet tones. On the other hand, a 1997 Barbaresco (Brich Ronchi, A. Rocca) was an easy standout here. I also liked the 1997 Barolo, La Serra, R. Voerzio, which was a super meaty, almost livery wine, but perfumed with herbal notes.
Things kicked in at table 4, the California Cabs. I had little initial hope for Stag’s Leap’s 1975 SLV, Lot 3, coming from a poor year and not from Napa’s finest era, not to mention having had many a foul 30-year-old Napa cab, but it easily stole the show as the best of the tasting. A classic Cabernet, the wine had maintained its structure and tone, with silky tannin giving way to a perfectly currant core. Lacking that Madeira color and mustiness that many old wines get, it could easily be a centerpiece wine for a special occasion, and I may bid on the four bottles for sale at the auction tomorrow. Both B.V. Private Reserve bottlings were fine, even the off-year 1998. But the 1991 was outstanding, a tart and fruity, raspberry-filled Cab that made a stark contrast to the ’75 Stag’s. At $200 a bottle, it’s a bit out there, though. Both the 1992 Shafer and 1996 Heitz Bella Oaks were also classic examples of why these wines are cult standbys, with only the 1996 Silver Oak, normally a top producer, being unimpressive, exhibiting a funky, weedy aroma.
More Cabs at table 5, highlighted by two excellent Peter Michael bottlings. The 2001 L’Esprit des Pavots had the most beautiful flavor of figs, chocolate, and tobacco. I wished for a full glass. I’d never had Blankiet’s wines before the event, and both its 2003 and 2004 Paradise Hills bottlings were good, but different as night and day.
The final table saw the castoffs that didn’t fit elsewhere, including the sole outright dog of the evening, a 1993 Chateau Musar which was either corked or had overheated sometime in its life. Lewis’s 2004 Syrah was a watery letdown. Pahlmeyer’s 2001 Merlot was probably the best Merlot I’ve ever had. And I was thrilled to taste a Hermitage (Chaptoutier’s “Ermitage”) and a Penfolds Grange, both of which were solid but need 10 years or more to open up, especially the Hermitage.
Finally it was back to table one to finish off with a 1999 Sauternes from Chateau Raymond Lafon, a young but wonderfully sweet way to cap the night.
Complete ratings follow, broken up by table:
1999 Meursault, Clos Richemont, Darnat – B
1999 Puligny Montrachet, Les Pucelles, Domaine Leflaive – B-
2000 Kistler Chardonnay, Kistler Vineyard – A-
2003 Kistler Chardonnay, Vine Hill – A
2003 Peter Michael Chardonnay, La Carriere – A-
1999 Chateau Raymond Lafon, Sauternes – A
1952 Chateau Lafite Rothschild – B+
1983 Chateau Lafite Rothschild – B+
1983 Chateau Latour – B-
1994 Chateau Haut Brion – B+
1994 Chateau Mouton Rothschild – B
1996 Chateau Mouton Rothschild – A-
2001 Bonnes Mares, Dujac – B
2002 Chianti Classico, Riserva, Castello Banfi – B+
1990 Brunello di Montalcino, Poggio all’Oro Riserva, Castello Banfi – B
1997 Barbaresco, Brich Ronchi, A. Rocca – A-
1997 Barolo, La Serra, R. Voerzio – B+
1997 Barolo, Cicala, A. Conterno – B
1975 Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, SLV, Lot 3 – A
1991 B.V. Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – A
1998 B.V. Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – A-
1992 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District – A
1996 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon, Bella Oaks – A
1996 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley – B
1995 Merryvale Red, Profile – B+
1998 Pride Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – B+
2003 Blankiet Cabernet Sauvignon, Paradise Hills – A-
2004 Blankiet Cabernet Sauvignon, Paradise Hills – A-
2001 Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon, L’Esprit des Pavots – A
2003 Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon, Les Pavots – A
1993 Chateau Musar – D
2001 Pahlmeyer Merlot – A
2004 Lewis Cellars Syrah, Hudson Vineyard – B
2001 Chateauneuf du Pape, E. Guigal – B
1998 Ermitage, Le Meal, M. Chapoutier – A
1999 Penfolds Grange – A