Ringing in 2019 with good vintages (not “great”)

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

11 January 2019

After an annual holiday dinner with wine loving pals – this year at the French embassy in Washington D.C. – the overriding theme was “good” vintages.

Neither “off” nor “great”, but vintages that sometimes get overlooked by critics seeking to obtain fame with 100 point scores.

And to some extent, lesser known wines that official critics did not see coming.

Before I broke bread (and popped corks) with Ken Brown, Howard Cooper, Ken Barr, Chris Bublitz, David Zimmerman, Scot Hasselman, Charles Stewart, Paul Marquardt and Karl Kellar, I cracked open a wine with a highly regarded pedigree to be sure: Château Ducru Beaucaillou. I had tasted the wine along with Grand Puy Lacoste together, before the two brothers parted ways (Francois Xavier Borie exclusively owns Grand Puy Lacoste while Bruno Borie exclusively owns Ducru). That was back in 2003, just before the official release of the 2001 vintage.

It was $50 on release. Back when highly rated Bordeaux was more affordable.

Coming on the heels of the fabled 2000 vintage, dubbed a “wine of the century” (several others followed within the next decade), some derided 2001 as a “restaurant wine”. But I really loved the floral elegance of the Ducru 2001 and hesitated not one second before purchasing six bottles en primeur for about $50 a bottle.

Fast forward to January 2019 and those “restaurant vintage” naysayers remain oh so wrong. 2001 in Bordeaux can be fabulous and even beat 2000 in some cases, especially on the Right Bank and in the Graves region. The 2000 vintage is better in Saint Julien and in the Médoc in general, but this Ducru is excellent as it combines true elegance with refined texture. It exudes some tertiary aromatics and flavors but there’s much ripe fruit as the wine is still in a youthful phase. Call it late adolescence. I have two more bottles left from a six pack that I had purchased upon release and, really, there is no rush to drink this. But if you do open one, you will not be sorry. In terms of points? It easily gets a 93 and maybe deserves more.

After an annual holiday dinner with dear wine loving pals – this year at the French embassy – the overriding theme was “good” vintages. Neither off nor great, vintages that sometimes get overlooked by official critics seeking to obtain fame with 100 point scores. And to some extent, lesser known wines that official critics did not see coming.

So, read on 😉 …

Two fine bubblies to start

  • 2002 Dom Perignon Champagne – France, Champagne
    A far better showing than what I had experienced in November last year, which may have been a less than top bottle? In any case, the wine here is lovely, tight and elegant. Indeed, there is a vivacity that seems contained and beckons a bit more time in your cellar. Now, having written this, it was quite revealing to have enjoyed this once again along with the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1996, which again revealed itself as superior to the Dom 2002. Given the pricing, it is oh so clear that the latter was a better buy than the Dom Perignon. (93 pts.)

  • 1996 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne – France, Champagne
    Once again this 1996 shows such brightness and length, such depth and focus. It is just hard to put into words how refined this wine is. Some burgeoning tertiary aspects, but still rather youthful overall. Much more to it that the Dom Perignon 2002 preceding. (96 pts.)

Darn good scallops carpaccio with ginger mayo a nice match for the dry whites.

Three white Burgs

  • 2008 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Ruchottes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru
    A tad reductive at first but there is depth on the palate, with energy, too. Some herbal aspects that reveal not a modern style whatsoever, but also excellent pear and white stone fruit complexity. A long finish. (93 pts.)

  • 1993 Robert Ampeau & Fils Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    This has aged well, and I think the second time I have encountered the wine in the last four years, as Howard Cooper also brought it to another holiday dinner a couple of years ago, if I recall correctly. It may not have as much precision as the Ramonet, tasted just before, but I really like how it combines grace and “fat” at the same time. Indeed, the palate is more broad than long, but always pleasing. I am not sure how much longer anyone should hold on to this. It seems fine now and likely just on its plateau. (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Corton-Charlemagne – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
    This shows much depth and breadth on the palate. There is vivacity, too, although the vintage character shows more fat than precision. But thoroughly full bodied sans excess, sans heaviness. There is fine length, too! I give it a similar rating to the Ramonet, tasted earlier, but perhaps it will not last as long as the Ramonet? For current drinking, both are a real pleasure. (93 pts.)

Bordeaux, Part I (Médoc)
Love how the Rauzan-Ségla showed but the Léoville Barton was better, if not by as much as expected. We should have nursed these just a bit longer.

  • 1988 Château Rausan-Ségla – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
    This was a “pop and pour” and fellow diner Ken Barr commented that the wine was just opening up before we went to the next series. Probably true! Nevertheless, we had enough time to appreciate the wine’s smooth and refined aspects, indeed very “Margaux” with elegance. It is interesting to note how Robert Parker got strong tannin when tasted en primeur. These tannins are pretty much tame at this stage, although you also get a roasted fruit ripeness, which make it even more interesting to me. 1988 is a cooler vintage than, say, 1989 or 1990, yet Rauzan has warm, gravely soils and the vines perhaps yielded higher than expected ripeness for the vintage. In any case, a very good showing! (92 pts.)
  • 1988 Château Calon-Ségur – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
    I recall really liking this from a memorable dinner back in December 2003 that was organized by Calvert Woodley at Michel Richard’s La Citronelle. It was delicious back then, while a 1982 Léoville Las Cases was closed down shut! The bottle we enjoyed in 2019 was however a bit too overcome by brett aspects. The barnyard dissipated a bit, but was always there, taking away from the fruit. In any case, it seemed to show a bit more depth than the Rauzan-Segla of the same vintage, but not as much balance. (91 pts.)
  • 1989 Château Léoville Barton – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
    Of the three late 80s Bordeaux from this first flight, the most “seamless” and in that sense, the most successful, although the Rauzan may have more personality? We did not spend as much time with these three as we should have, I fear, but I give the edge to the Léoville Barton 1989, a wine I have always enjoyed – and more than the 1990. It gives off notes of cassis and lead pencil but rather subtle in expression, certainly very (too?) smooth in texture, with subtle richness. Time in glass lends more weight. A long finish. I have another bottle and will spend more time with it next time! (93 pts.)

Bordeaux, Part II (Graves)
Of course the 1978 was lovely. You know, 1970s Bordeaux can be surprisingly good …

  • 1978 Château La Mission Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    What the heck! OK, wine geeks know that certain 1978s can be truly superb. Anyone try a Château Palmer 1978? You should … And you should get yourself a LMHB 1978, too. I had tried this a few years ago, loved it and love it yet again. What elegance! The crushed tobacco is vivid, the wine is bright and alive! And yet it is mainly all tertiary. But what refinement and smooth texture to match. The finish goes on and on. It could not match the weight of a 1982, to be sure, but the price is also not matching the 1982, to be sure. (95 pts.)
  • 1988 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Tasted after the 1978 LMHB, this comes across as downright infanticide. I am half joking. You have to love the substance here, very youthful and even tight. It opens up nicely over time, and this time, we held on to the glasses for the remaining 90 minutes of the dinner. There is a bit more weight to the Haut Brion 88 when compared to the LMHB 78, but also acidity that keeps it taut. The fruit is more obvious here, with ripe plum and some dark cherry notions, but tertiary aspects are coming to the fore: touches of fresh earth, a bit of leather and some tobacco, too. I would say hold on to you Haut Brion 1988 for a few more years, but it ain’t no crime to open one today. Fine length! (94 pts.)
  • 1995 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Give this another five years, and watch the score go to 95 or maybe higher. The question here is the tannin. Some unresolved. And with time in glass, one gets the impression that the wine is stubbornly tight. Oh, much is going on here to be sure. Recall that 1995 was the first really good vintage from Bordeaux since the fabled 1990. What is forgotten is that the tannins were sometimes pretty powerful. Here is a case in point. But it is clear that the Haut Brion 1995 is ripe and full bodied, and this touch of tannic austerity demands time to be tamed. If you have this, do not touch. Heck, the 1998 is a better bet for your younger Haut Brions of quality. (94 pts.)

Fine slow cooked Paleron of beef with Pomme Purée and vegetables.

Truchot Trio served blind: surprise, surprise
Today these bottles cost a fortune, but we were lucky to enjoy no less than three over dinner, served blind and again in a surprising manner to underscore how people can underrate good vintages. The temperature of the wines was quite cold, as they were kept near a half open window, so the structure was more prominent to the point where Ken Brown guessed 2005. We all sensed quite a bit of ripeness, especially for wine number one, and imagined a solar vintage but balanced, too, so along the lines of 2002. I was thinking maybe 1999. As it turned out, all were 2003s! Some of them obtained less than flattering scores from critics. Over dinner, they were very good indeed.

  • 2003 Domaine Truchot-Martin Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Aux Combottes Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru
    Served way too cold, and yet it came across very ripe and pleasing. It stayed that way throughout 60 minutes in glass. I did not get obvious 2003 fig notes. I did get sumptuous ripe fruit in a suave delivery. Long finish, this ripe Pinot! (93 pts.)
  • 2003 Domaine Truchot-Martin Charmes-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
    The second wine of three served blind so my notes reflect this. It is more structured than the preceding wine, which turned out to be a premier cru. Of course the cold temperature of service made the tannin show more than the fruit, but with time in glass, this got more refined, and – again – hardly what one would expect from an overripe 2003. Lovely wine. Maybe not as viscerally pleasing as the premier cru, but chalk that up to timing. (93 pts.)
  • 2003 Domaine Truchot-Martin Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
    This showed the most structure and seemed almost steely in aspect and yet time in glass brought forth more nuanced aromatics. Much depth to the palate, density, and pleasing texture. Ripe – not overripe – fruit make this a very successful 2003 indeed. Bravo! (94 pts.)

At nearly 60 years of age, a lovely red Burgundy indeed!

  • 1962 Gaston Grivot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Vosne-Romanée Les Beaumonts – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
    OK, not as dense as the Clos de la Roche 2003 we had enjoyed earlier, but I give this a higher score because it was so damn enjoyable and also because we are talking about a wine that is nearly 60 years old and not merely alive, but thoroughly smooth and enjoyable. Any readers out there who still think that red Burgundy cannot age that well? Here is proof that is can age magnificently. And this is not even a grand cru. Subtle notes of brownie. Clafoutis or baked cherry. A bit of crushed mint. Touch of licorice spice. So suave and refined for its age. Bravo! (95 pts.)
  • 1964 Georges Noellat Grands-Echezeaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru
    Alas corked. NR (flawed)

Supreme Stickies: Alsace and Sauternes

  • 2000 Zind-Humbrecht Tokay Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles – France, Alsace
    When you are in the mood for late harvest, berry-by-berry selection, you can do a whole lot worse. Very custard cinnamon. Sumptuous. Raisin bread. Good acidity. Finesse in its spicy aspects. Delicious and seductive. Loads of sugar however… you have to be in the mood ;-). I was. (94 pts.)
  • 1983 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    Caramel. Darker aspect. Full bodied and rich, with botrytis spice to be sure. Gets quite seductive with time in glass! This is rather refined in the end, but not as opulent and as refined as the 1989, tasted alongside. Coming from half bottle. (94 pts.)
  • 1989 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    Also served from a half bottle. While the 1983 seemed to exude dark caramel, this was more white and soft in expression and there seemed to be more balance and the expression of black tea, certainly a botrytis indication, was more pure. For a hot vintage, this was so well balanced. Long finish as well as opulent palate. Bravo! (95 pts.)

The Tomme de Savoie and the Brie went well with the last red Burgundy, but I saved some Roquefort for the stickies.

Happy Tawny and Madeira End

  • 1966 Kopke Porto Colheita – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    I did not take careful notes by this time, but had brought another bottle of this to a special birthday dinner at Domaine de Chevalier in Léognan a couple of years ago. It was much appreciated as a fine old Tawny, vintaged of course, with dried fig, toffee and baked orange like fruit with subtle sweet pecan pie aspects. I really enjoyed this as smooth and even bright, as bright an over 50 year old Port can be! (94 pts.)

  • 1968 D’Oliveiras Madeira Boal – Portugal, Madeira
    Tasted after the Colheita 66, this is a very different wine to be sure. But I took a bit more enjoyment from it, as it seemed a tad fuller bodied on the palate. Along with fig and grilled almond, I got lots of spice as well. Not as sweet an impression as the the Tawny and maybe I just liked the vivacity here more, which came across as seafaring mariner saltiness that beckoned further drinking, which I did. No serious notes taken, but coming from memory the next day. (95 pts.)

It was great to see wine pals Chris Bublitz, Ken Barr, Karl Kellar, Ken Brown, Charles Stewart, Scot Hasselman, David Zimmerman, Howard Cooper and Paul Marquardt. Thanks for such nice bottles that they brought! Photos on my website wine-chronicles.com [cheers.gif].

And special thanks to Ken Brown for organizing this shindig at the French embassy, and kudos to Max Jacquet and his team at Le Cafe Descartes, the French Embassy restaurant, for a fine dinner to go with the wines, and in such a lovely setting: a great way to kick off 2019.

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