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Happy New Year, Happy Drinking, Happy Trails

2013 January 4
by Mike

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and my best wishes to you for 2013.

As we are only four days into the new year, I don’t think it’s too late for me to partake of that obnoxious wine writer ritual: the annual top 10 list (we don’t make much money; at least let us boast about the fabulous wines we get to taste). I drank some sensational stuff in the year just ended, and I hope you did, as well. Here are my greatest hits of 2012:

1961 Château Haut-Brion: Say what you will about Bordeaux, there ain’t nothing finer than a great Haut-Brion…

1959 Château Haut-Brion: …except an even greater Haut-Brion. Sweet Jesus, was this good.

1961 Château La Mission Haut-Brion:  If I told you that I drank these first three at the same time and then fell asleep under a palm tree, would you hate me? I’d hate me, too.

1989 Château Pétrus: To paraphrase Teri Hatcher, it was real and it was spectacular.

1988 Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé: A killer Chambertin masquerading as a Champagne (surely, this is the best pink bubbly ever made?).

1961 Champagne Lanson: Yes, 61 was quite the year, and Lanson was once quite the house.

2002 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti: At a bar with a friend, talking about life and loss. Any wine would have done, but we did well with this one.

1963 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional: Sometimes they become legends for a reason.

1967 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional: And sometimes they deserve even bigger reputations than they have.

1991 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie: Bringing home the bacon and so much more. RIP, old-school Northern Rhone; we await the resurrection.


Happy trails to Martine Saunier. The acclaimed Bay Area importer, a pioneering figure in the American wine industry, announced last week that she has sold her business. The buyers are Gregory Castells, a French-born sommelier with experience on both sides of the Atlantic, and Kate Laughlin, who spent seven years working in operations for Thomas Keller’s restaurant group. The company will still be known as Martine’s Wines, and Martine will serve on its board.

Martine is one of my favorite wine people and someone for whom I have great admiration. A native of Paris, she moved to San Francisco in 1964. She started her business in 1979, importing wines from her native France. It was a gusty thing to do: at the time, the wine trade was still overwhelmingly male, and it took no small amount of courage and self-confidence on her part to walk into cellars in France offering her services, and into wine shops here offering her wines. But Martine, as personable as she is elegant, was able to put together an extraordinary portfolio. She represented two of Burgundy’s most celebrated producers, Henri Jayer and Domaine Leroy, and also imported the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Papes of Château Rayas.

I had the chance to spend some time with Martine while on an assignment in Burgundy a few years ago. Her affection for the place was unmistakable, and has now found expression in a documentary she helped produce called “A Year in Burgundy”, which will be released this year. In addition to visiting some of her growers, Martine and I shared a bottle of 1988 Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros-Parantoux. Jayer had recently passed away, and as we took our first sips, her eyes moistened and she made a simple toast: “Thank you, Henri.” I don’t have a glass of Jayer’s Cros-Parantoux handy, but I’d like to offer Martine a heartfelt thanks—for putting such extraordinary wines on our tables, for her role in nurturing the dynamic wine culture that we now have in the United States, and for the knowledge and graciousness she brought to the American wine scene.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. February 11, 2014 Jokke og valentinerne nederlag

  2. January 7, 2013

    I could say many good things about your wine writing.
    I follow your blog since I don’t know when.
    But, let me tell you this:
    These tasting notes are the best ones I ever seen!
    You described the wines in the most precise way.
    Thank you.

  3. January 6, 2013

    Hi Francois, I’m glad to hear that you had the opportunity to meet Martine; she’s a delightful person, and as I said, she has made a huge contribution to American wine culture. And, yes, I know–a year full of such modest wines! I am a big fan of Donnhoff, and there are obviously many great wines coming out of Germany these days. I intend to seek greater geographic diversity for my Best of 2013 list!

  4. mauss permalink
    January 6, 2013

    I met Martine at the wedding of Arnaud Mortet. Professionals at this level are simply “gems”.

    Mike : you should be totally ashamed to have tasted in 12 months such jewels (… from France)


    I know you are still young, but for 2013, you should work to extend your knowledge in wine : just come to Germany and you will be speechless in tasting the german “pinot noir” from Huber or Wassmer, and the purity of the Dönnhoff wines on the Nahe river.

    I wish you an outstanding vintage !

  5. January 4, 2013

    Jay, thanks so much for the comment; I’m flattered that you remember the Burgundy series and am touched to learn that the article about Laurence and Arnaud meant so much to you and your colleagues. It was a very sad story, and I was grateful that Martine trusted me to tell it with the sensitivity that it demanded.

    Martine is a wonderful storyteller, and she represented some of the great characters of the wine world–Jayer, Leroy, Reynaud, etc. She told me a while back that she was giving some thought to writing a memoir, and I hope she’ll do it–her story is a remarkable one, and ought to be told.

    Thanks, too, for the very kind words, and I will try to do more posting in 2013!

  6. Jay Latham permalink
    January 4, 2013

    hey Mike

    I remember reading your series that year on Slate about visiting Burgundy with great pleasure. I worked for Martine for five+ years and remember the day you all visited the domaine after Denis’ death. Your article did a fantastic job of capturing the story of Laurence & Arnaud as the people left behind by the tragedy and responsible for the future. It provided catharsis for a lot of us. Thank you for that.

    I can’t pay justice to all that Martine taught me in a quick post of the comments section. I will say that one of her greatest gifts is creating lasting stories -whether by telling them or creating them. Some of my favorite personal stories are ones that she shared with me or we lived out together.

    I’m glad we have fellows like you that tell those stories for us so well. Which is to say that you should post more!

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