Haut Brion and Yquem verticals and so much more

Starting 2017 on the right foot

By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles.com

6 January 2017

2017 already started with a wine bang, thanks to this dinner organized by Randy McFarlane. So consider this text a part 2 of sorts – and what a great tasting dinner this was, too.

Holiday dinner organizer par excellence, Ken Brown

Each January, Ken Brown organizes our annual holiday dinner, where participants bring two or three top wines. And at Ripple Restaurant, we had loads of great wines. It was all French, and “I like it like that,” Brown remarked. Given much fascination in recent years with wine regions outside of France, may we say that the Empire Strikes Back? With Krug, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Dom Perignon – by way of Hermitage, Haut Brion, grand cru Burgundy and Yquem – I think that we may.

In any case, for my return to Washington for the winter break, it was great to see fellow wine drinking buddies again here to kick off 2017. Thanks to Ken for organizing the dinner. In addition to Ken and myself, participants included Ken Barr, Chris Bublitz, Karl Kellar, Howard Cooper, David Ehrlich, Scot Hasselman, Paul Marquardt, Randy McFarlane and David Zimmerman.

The food and setting were great, as was the service, in a just-remodeled private room at the back of the restaurant.

Delicious smoked trout, new potato, roe, crab, mustard (and both the smoked and mustard aspects were very subtle)

Bravo to recently hired new chef, Ryan Ratino, who did a fantastic job with the pairings. I loved his trout, lightly smoked to the point where the smoke aspect was suggested and not overbearing, so as to let the wines sing. His hay smoked beef strip loin was all that was needed for the Haut Brion vertical, and I loved the duck breast as well.  Excellent charcuterie went well with the Champagnes, although I would not have opted for any of the pickled vegetables, as they impeded proper wine appreciation. But that’s just a small issue.

Haut Brion: a dinner vertical highlight

Once again, Ripple proves itself as a great wine friendly food venue (and stay tuned because very soon, it will be the site of at least two more dinner tastings: cru bourgeois Bordeaux and Château Montrose).

Of course two highlights: verticals of Haut Brion (vintages: 70, 90, 96, 98 and 01) and Yquem (86, 96, 99 and 03). We also enjoyed 1988 and 1990 Chave Hermitage and grands crus from Burgundy as well as three grand Champagnes that set the tone in grand style.

Yquem: a dinner vertical highlight, too

Although David’s DRC 1959 – which was the expected highlight – was clearly faulty beyond any hope, nearly all the other bottles showed very well.

Wines I liked in particular (well, all of them, lol!) are in bold; those in red and bold, I liked even more. For the red and underlined, a wine nirvana

Simply seductive

Three great Champagnes, with Krug pulling ahead especially with time in glass

  • 1990 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne – France, Champagne
    Perhaps I liked this more than the group entirely, although I found allies in both Ken Brown and Howard Cooper. Such clean lifting lemon-lime elegance and vivacity. Could you really suspect that this came from a solar vintage, dating from a harvest that took place over 25 years ago? To some extent. It was not the deepest of the three gorgeous Champagnes to open our holiday dinner, but I was hooked, lined and sinkered. Well, that last word does not exist, but the lovely nature of this wine certainly does. Long and lingering if not dense and substantial. For me, that is still a high “scoring” wine. (95 pts.)

Depth, poise and effortless power

  • 1995 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut – France, Champagne
    When I first took a sniff, it was actually a bit closed in. But – boy oh boy – this is vintage Krug at its finest. Very vinous, very serious. While the Comtes de Champagne is elegant soprano, this is baritone serious. And such tasty brioche and red fruit aspects that scream Blancs de Noir Pinot Noir. Over time in glass, it just got better and better, and – as Ken Brown said – this estate has the uncanny capacity to make “effortlessly powerful” wines. Indeed, you could have a steak with this. Gorgeous stuff! (96 pts.)

Hermes fashion sense

  • 2006 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne
    After the sheer elegance of the Comtes 1990 and the supreme depth of the Krug Brut 1995, this younger Dom Perignon 2006 was just balanced Hermes fashion. We were all amazed at how this estate can produce so many (undisclosed amounts) bottles and maintain a consistent style. Sure, there is vintage variation and 2006 was a more solar vintage, but the wine was stylish and smooth. Not nearly as deep and profound as the Krug, and I do not think that this 2006 would achieve that depth in 10 years even, but it was damn delicious! (94 pts.)

Great to compare two glorious Trimbach Rieslings

  • 2000 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune – France, Alsace
    2000 was a more solar vintage than 2005, which was itself rather solar. Touches of botrytis methinks were in the blend – and the color was very noticeably darker than the 2005. But this was not oxidative. There was just as much poise and substance as with the 2005, and perhaps more so. The burgeoning gunflint was getting more evident but hardly vulgar or omnipresent as happens with lesser Rieslings. There was an almost chewy tannin succulence to this wine that impressed most of our group to its credit. Bravo to the Trimbachs for making such gorgeous dry Rieslings. (94 pts.)

Scot Hasselman with the 2000 Clos Sainte Hune


  • 2005 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune – France, Alsace
    Power, poise and vibrancy. This wine is still a bit tight, and yet shows such refinement and substance while being elegant and dry. It has been said that Clos Sainte Hune is the best Riesling in the world, and the 2005 argues in favor of that supposition. Far too young, in my opinion, to truly appreciate, but just breaking into a youthful drinking window. Fantastic wine with upside scoring potential. (94 pts.)

Two very different – but both delicious – white Burgundies

  • 2012 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru
    Sure this has hedonistic appeal, but it is on a fast track to get old methinks. The color is abnormally old for a 2012, and – yet – 2012 is not the greatest vintage for white Burgundy, so it makes sense. It is now indeed sumptuous and delicious, rich and full bodied, so these are all very good things! But there is a sense of baked apple and a touch of warmth on the finish. At least since it was compared to a far more youthful 2011… In any case, let’s not be too critical. If you have this, do not hesitate. It is delicious, even if it may not be so long living. (93 pts.)

Chris Bublitz with the Criots

  • 2011 Henri Boillot Corton-Charlemagne – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
    At first closed in, the color and tone noticeably more youthful than that of the Criots-Batard-Montrachet 2012 tasted along with it. Yet, with time in glass, this wine displayed a confident precision and focus and burgeoning depth that made it – as Ken Barr said – among the best of the Corton Charlemagnes one could experience. Bravo! Score higher with five years more in bottle. (94 pts.)

A highlight of the dinner: Haut Brion vertical 

Much discussion over favorites, but that crushed tobacco perfume aspect that is typical to Haut Brion was a common link to all, within varying degrees. For Chris Bublitz, the 1998 was his favorite. For Howard Cooper, the 1970.

Don’t drop any! David Ehrlich with the Haut Brions.

  • 2001 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Can we talk about common threads with Haut Brion? Sure. Tobacco. Yes, it sounds like a cliche but the aromatics of five vintages stretching back to 1970 had to varying degrees that singular aspect. The 2001 exudes a regal elegance with noticeable tannin on the palate and yet smooth and even caressing. For some, it is not the most substantial – and I would agree – but it is very refined and could use a bit more time in bottle to reach a more optimal drinking window. The length impresses. A gorgeous young Haut Brion! (94 pts.)

Perfect with the Haut Brions, but not much left for the Hermitages.

  • 1998 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    I was lucky enough to have tried one just two days before, and this bottle seemed a bit more open for business. And yet: what underlying power and tannin! The 1998 is a great wine in the making and surpasses the 2001 in terms of mid palate substance. At the get-go there is a Pomerol like lushness and richness, as Ken Brown noted. But from the mid palate to the finish, the tannic structure and power takes over. Certainly one of the very top Haut Brions in recent years. If you have any in your cellar (I have but one) do not open just yet. (96 pts.)
  • 1996 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    1996 is very well known for excellent wines from the Medoc but not so much necessarily for the Graves region. And yet Haut Brion excelled in this vintage, as we experienced tonight. Not as substantial as the 1998, the 1996 however offers such clean precision and clarity of fruit. It has a misleadingly high toned feel – at first. But the overall feel is one of refined excellence and full body that does not seem so at first. By the time you finish your sip, the echoing finish reassures your senses that this damn wine is frigging seriously delicious in a subtle and elegant manner. Bravo! (95 pts.)

One of my overall favorites.

  • 1990 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Depending on your tolerance for brett… I really liked this wine, but it was likely the least pure expression of the bunch. But who cares in this case? I don’t. At first very menthol and mint, a bit too much. With time in glass, the wine turned out full bodied and opulent while maintaining an elegant poise. Many in our grouped picked it as their favorite. My hand went up, too, but I understand that it was not as pure as the 1996 – for example. Still a mid 90s score makes eminent sense. (95 pts.)
  • 1970 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Pardon me. Did you say 45 years? I thought so. This Haut Brion seemed younger than its vintage. Smooth, crushed tobacco aspects and baked chocolate along with subtle dry floral notes intrigue your palate. It conveys neither the depth of the 1990 nor the power of the 1998, but seems like a 2001 but older. If the 2001 ends up like this 30 years later, I would be happy, seeing that I have a few more bottles of the 2001 in my cellar. Bravo! What a fine series of Haut Brion. (94 pts.)

I have not had much Chave Hermitage. Wow, what a treat. I preferred the 1988 this evening.

  • 1990 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage – France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    Perhaps it was the bottle? Yes, gorgeous black olive and bacon. Rich, opulent and a blend of tertiary and vibrant primary. Perfumed. So why only 93? Was there not a touch of intrusive brett? For me, yes. It lacked the clean precision of the 1988, with which it was paired, and which I preferred. But you pays your money and you takes your choice. Perhaps I am being too diminutive in scoring! (93 pts.)

Karl Kellar and his two Chave Hermitages

  • 1988 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage – France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
    What clean precision and focus! Some used “wild” descriptions but I just found this gorgeously linear and long on the palate. Sure, also intense and dense – as a Syrah based northern Rhone should be, especially from a producer with such a great reputation. Let’s cut to the chase: while my glass of 1990 was still existing, I finished off the 1988. (95 pts.)

Red Burgundy, party 1: Was totally enamored by the Ponsot

  • 1986 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
    I have not had much Ponsot. Maybe this was my first experience? I honestly cannot recall. But I will not soon forget how darn delicious this wine was. Candidate for wine of the evening in very tough competition. Gorgeous? Yes. Palate enveloping (not staining). It was subtle and glorious at once. Opulent, deep, and long. Tertiary but hardly leafy or tired. Indeed, far more youthful than its 30 year age. Bravo to Ponsot. And not a Rudy fake! (96 pts.)

Ponsot + duck = gustatory heaven

  • 1999 Domaine Truchot-Martin Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbes Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Morey St. Denis 1er Cru
    Many of us were left rather perplexed by this bottle. It was not corked but it was not optimal either. Very high toned, almost acidulated. Perhaps I should have given it more time in glass, but too many participants said that the bottle was not optimal and so I kind of gave up on it. A pity, because Truchot is better than this as I discovered from a marvelous tasting at the home of Howard Cooper a couple of years ago.

In the midst of the Haut Brion flight, Howard admitted to not missing Burgundy, but what a smile he has with the Burgundies!

Although somewhat underwhelmed by the first two in this series – taking into account pricing – I adored the Richebourg.

  • 2000 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Musigny Grand Cru
    A begrudging 94 points. OK? Sorry folks. But if a wine cost well over 500 bucks, I want to be impressed. Really impressed. And I was not. Sure, this conveys intensity and palate substance but where is the frigging charm of a Musigny? Not evident enough for me to warrant anything higher than mid 90s. It is now over 15 years of age. Give it another 5-10 years and cross your fingers – or sell it and buy a bunch of more charming and less expensive wines. (94 pts.)

Paul with the Musigny

  • 2001 Domaine Rossignol Trapet Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambertin Grand Cru
    Tasted just after the Musigny, this was not as dense and palate encompassing but more charming – if only just. 2001 is a tricky vintage from my (limited) experience with Burgundy. One could say that 2001 is a connoisseur’s vintage, but sometimes I feel that it a euphemism for minefield. I liked this grand cru, but I did not really love it, either. More a question of respect than of adoration. (93 pts.)

Simply glorious this Richebourg!

  • 2002 Mongeard-Mugneret Richebourg – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Richebourg Grand Cru
    Well, now you’re talking! Lift, density and charm all at once. After having the Musigny 2000 and the Chambertin 2001, this 2002 was just fabulous. I am tempted to give it a higher score, but the Ponsot may just edge it out as my red Burgundy of the evening. And yet: what a complete wine of precision charm and substance. This is a textbook illustration of why grand cru Burgundy can be so utterly fantastic! (95 pts.)

The revelation for me was the 2003, but all performed very well.

Ken Barr with one of the Yquems

  • 2003 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    Doubters be damned. 2003. A hot vintage. Thousands in Paris died from the heat. I was in Chateauneuf du Pape in August and the town ran out of fans, so I recall (not quite) sleeping next to a semi open fridge it was so bloody hot. And so it was in Bordeaux. Botrytis? Sure. At Yquem. Some critics moderate their notes owing to the vintage, but they are nuts. This is a full throttle voluptuous yet refined Sauternes that defies the vintage while exhibiting its heat in the best possible way. Truly a fabulous wine. And perhaps my overall favorite of the evening amidst tough competition. Long finish! (97 pts.)

Randy with a bottle of Yquem

  • 1999 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    Admittedly 1999 is not such a great vintage for Sauternes but we are talking about Yquem. The precocious vineyard made the best of ripeness in a vintage that did not have the most botrytis (if I recall correctly). In any case, substantial enough and displaying touches of delicacy even if a certain cloying pineapple aspect detracted. It is not for nothing that 1999 Yquem counts among the least expensive among recent vintages. Still, it’s darn good! (92 pts.)

David with another Yquem!

  • 1996 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    Lovely and pristine and far better than the 1999 as it displays far more focus and precision. There is a fine black tea aspect with hints of ginger. A lovely wine! (94 pts.)
  • 1986 Château d’Yquem – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    An excellent wine it was to be sure, and I recall enjoying it very much. But, dear reader, this was a dinner tasting with so many great wines that by the time I got to the 1986, I did not take any careful notes. Then I started to doubt my impression because of the color difference, as it seemed a bit too dark even considering its 30 year age. But, no, fellow participants confirmed its excellence. Having said that, the 2003 left me with the most enthusiastic impression among the four Yquems tasted. (95 pts.)

As Howard Cooper noted, aside from a badly faulty 1959 DRC (tragic, to be sure), all the wines showed very well and illustrated different points in excellent drinking windows. My only quibble in this regard was the Truchot, which I found somewhat off. Opinions varied somewhat over favorites, as well, and certain wines. But overall, the entire group had a fantastic evening with the wines.

Good health, happiness and success to all in 2017!

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