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What’s Your Bucket List Wine?

2012 February 10
by Mike

The weekend before last, I attended the Naples Winter Wine Festival in Naples, Florida. First held in 2001, the NWWF is a wonderful event centered around what has become, in the span of just 12 years, the world’s largest charity wine auction. This year’s auction took in $12.2 million, pushing the festival past the $100 million mark in total money raised. More impressive still, all of the money goes to charity. It was a remarkable display of generosity, and a pleasure to be part of it.

The weekend naturally included some wine drinking. Things kicked on Thursday with a tasting of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion hosted by this year’s honored vintner, Prince Robert de Luxembourg, whose family owns the two châteaux, and winemaker Jean-Philippe Delmas. We tasted Haut-Brion and La Mission from 2000, 1990, 1989, 1982, and 1961—a murderers’ row of renowned vintages. Having already posted tasting notes here from an Haut-Brion/La Mission blowout in Los Angeles in December 2010, I will spare you more tasting notes. Suffice it to say that the wines were sensational. The two 61s were epic, ditto the 89 La Mission. The 89 Haut-Brion was great, but this was the first time I’ve encountered a bottle with a slight nick—the wine was just a little raspy on the finish (oh, look who’s gotten spoiled). The 82 La Mission was not showing quite as well as it usually does, either, though it still offered abundant pleasure. The 82 Haut-Brion, on the other hand, was brilliant; as these things go, it remains an underrated wine. The 90s and 2000s were outstanding, too.

But that wasn’t the end of it; the tasting was followed by a lunch at which they served the 1975 La Mission and the 1959 Haut-Brion. The 75 was wonderful, but the 59 was incandescent. It was a decadently rich wine, but shot through with amazing vibrancy and freshness. There were so many flavor sensations—sweet, earthy, leathery, smoky, salty—and such depth of flavor that it was almost head-spinning. I could go on trying to describe the 59, but it might be more effective simply to describe my reaction to it: thunderstruck. I’d brought my glass of the 89 Haut-Brion and the 61 Haut-Brion up to the lunch, and to taste those three colossi alongside one another was truly one of those pinch-me moments. I’ve criticized Bordeaux quite a bit in recent years, but there is something very special about these properties, Haut-Brion and La Mission, and a great claret is still one of life’s great pleasures. As I was sunning myself by the pool later, it occurred to me that I could get used to days like that.

Much wine was poured and consumed at the auction on Saturday afternoon. I tasted the 97 Harlan for the first time in a long time, and while it wasn’t a flawed bottle (there was a touch of volatility, but nothing unbearable), it failed to impress me again. I found it overripe, overoaked, and generally just overdone. If you like them packed and stacked, to borrow a Parkerism, it is a dandy wine; if you don’t, it ain’t. I spent most of the auction nursing glasses of Bruno Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva. Someone in southwest Florida evidently has a Giacosa jones and had gifted the festival a seemingly limitless supply of 2001 and 2004 Asili red label Riserva. The 01 was still very tight but delicious nonetheless. The 04, on the other hand, was drinking beautifully despite its youth; it was a voluptuous, almost flamboyant Barbaresco, but with enough structure underneath all that glorious baby fat to ensure a long life ahead. What a wine.

However, the highlight of the day for me was the 1989 Chateau Pétrus, which more than lived up to its reputation. It was an astonishingly rich and complex wine, but there was also elegance and freshness to it. The freshness was the key—a good Bordeaux leaves a feeling of refreshment on the palate, which is a quality that the Harlan, by contrast, conspicuously lacked. How great was the Pétrus? After drinking the last sip, I kept dipping my nose into the empty glass to savor the floral perfume that had lingered—heaven.

So it was a terrific weekend in Naples that raised a huge amount of money for some important causes, and as a very small footnote, it gave me the opportunity to experience two wines that were on my bucket list: the 89 Pétrus and the 59 Haut-Brion. Once you get deeply immersed in this hobby of ours, it is inevitable that you begin to fantasize about tasting the Holy Grail wines. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to cross quite a few of those wines off my list, but not all of them. The one I most yearn to taste is a wine that has been in the news this week on account of that controversial auction in London: the 1945 Romanée-Conti (I know, I’m sadly unoriginal). A bottle of the 45 was included in the London auction, and although it was one of the numerous DRC lots that Don Cornwell had pegged as questionable, Spectrum/Vanquish sold it anyway, for just over $39,000.

The 45 RC is the most celebrated wine ever produced by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and not just because it was from the year that the war ended. It was also the last RC to be made from pre-phylloxera vines. Those ancient vines, supposedly planted in 1585(!), didn’t fare well during the war years, and they had to be ripped out after the 45 vintage. Only 608 bottles of the 45 RC were released, and I can’t imagine that more than just a few are still in existence. The first wine from the replanted vineyard was the 1952 RC, which I had the pleasure of tasting a few years ago and which is a pretty special wine in its own right. I am reasonably sure that that’s the closest I will ever come to the mythical 45, but what the hell—I can dream the impossible dream.

So what’s your bucket list wine, the one wine you would most love to experience? Have you gone so far as to try to figure out how you might snag a taste of that wine, or are you content to leave it in the realm of fantasy? This strikes me as a fun topic for a Friday in mid-February, and I am eager to see what wines are on your drink-before-I-die list.

19 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris Robinson permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Any 1928 Bordeaux, 1938 Taylors, any Soldera ever.

  2. February 13, 2012

    Hi Brian, thanks for stopping by. You may be right. Before posting, I checked the Winebow website, which does list a 2001 Asili Riserva. But I see now that there have been no reviews posted anywhere, which suggests that maybe there wasn’t a red label Asili in 2001. Hmm. I can assure you that I was completely sober when I first picked up the bottle and inspected the label! It was definitely a 2001, so if I somehow managed to misread the fine print, perhaps it was the Rabaja instead. Or perhaps it was a fake :) Let me do some further investigating, and great catch. Thanks, too, for the kind words re the site; delighted you like it.

  3. Brian T. permalink
    February 13, 2012

    Giacosa. 2001 Asili red label Riserva . . . ? Perhaps you mean the 2000 Asili red label Riserva? Or the 2001 Rabajà red label Riserva? I believe that the 2001 Asili was bottled solely as a white labeled non-riserva, though it should be destined for greatness, in any case.

    As a side note: the Giacosa Rabajà plots are now designated “Asili,” but that’s a complication that began only with the 2007 vintage.

    Great blog. Thanks.

  4. Larry Kantrowitz permalink
    February 11, 2012

    I bet the number of 1921 DRC RC left in the world increases every year..lol

  5. RobinC permalink
    February 11, 2012

    1947 Cheval Blanc. I’m saving for a trip to Geneva and am working on my French and my smile.

  6. Jack Bulkin permalink
    February 11, 2012

    The hell with the 45 RC, check out these tweets from the Big Kahuna Platae tonight…
    I want me some 09 Bordeaux……. (not)

    RobertMParkerJr Robert M Parker, Jr

    ….and many of them are outrageous values for wines so sumptuous

    RobertMParkerJr Robert M Parker, Jr

    …of course 50-60 of the most prestigious wines cost a small fortune but there are another 500+ reviews in my next Wine Advocate

    RobertMParkerJr Robert M Parker, Jr

    …after 33 years of doing this 2009 is the single greatest vintage I have ever tasted.

    RobertMParkerJr Robert M Parker, Jr

    was in Bordeaux for 12 days tasting and retasting 2009 Bordeaux…

  7. Jim permalink
    February 11, 2012

    1947 Cheval Blanc
    Had an opportunity to buy it in the early 80s before wine values really took off. If memory serves it was $300 or under but that at a time when an “expensive” bottle of wine for me was $16

  8. February 11, 2012

    But you have to remember, Jack, that those were the war years; they did what they had to do.

  9. Jack Bulkin permalink
    February 11, 2012

    I want a 1945 RC that was bottled in Beaune and not Summatra. : )

  10. February 11, 2012

    Larry, those are some great choices. I’ve had the 71 and 69 La Tache, never the RCs. The 21 RC would truly be something; I wonder how much of that is left in circulation. The 59 HB was something special, as you could perhaps tell from my note :)

    Bill, Dan told me via email that that is exactly the plan.

  11. Bill Klapp permalink
    February 11, 2012

    Maybe Dan means to say the Monfortino that he will not be able to DRINK until 2039. That would be the 1999, and I am guessing that he will be drinking it at my funeral. And dancing on my grave, perhaps. And it will probably be from my cellar…

  12. Larry Kantrowitz permalink
    February 11, 2012

    I think one of my bucket list wines would have to be the 1955 Biondi Santi because it must be one hell of a wine, every vintage or every wine I have ever tasted from this property has always left me wondering what all the fuss is about. If a single wine can make the reputation of a producer then it must be pretty damn good. I have also dreamed about the 1921 Romanee Conti, having had more than a fair share of mature DRC I guess that would be the grail..I hear 1971 and 1969 are up there too..the 1966 was sublime..I love Haut Brion as well, I have never tasted the 1959 (someday perhaps)

  13. February 10, 2012

    David, it is the acidity, which does serve to refresh the palate. In the case of the Harlan, though, it wasn’t just a matter of acidity; the fruit had a stewed, overripe character. As I said, some people enjoy that kind of wine; for me, it grows tiresome really quickly.

    Chris, the 82 HB is a nice reference point to have! The 89 is spectacular, but we were talking very fine distinctions here. The 82 will forever be in the shadow of the 89, but it is a great wine in its own right, and I think right up there with the finest wines of the 82 vintage. I would say only two wines eclipse it: the 82 Mouton and, yes, the 82 Lafleur. I’ve had the 82 Lafleur only once, and it was all that–just unbelievably rich and complex. A really remarkable wine, and I hope you get the opportunity to try it.

  14. Chris Wallace permalink
    February 10, 2012

    So far in my tasting life, the 1982 Haut Brion has been the reference point wine for me. I have had it half a dozen times and each time I have been blown away. So I will put in for the 1989 Haut Brion as my bucket list wine, as by all accounts, it exceeds even the ’82. It still can be acquired, just a simple matter of deciding I can spare the $1500 or so. The other wine I would somehow like to taste in my lifetime is the 1982 Lafleur. I am a big Right Bank fan and from what I have read, that wine is magic. I cannot imagine acquiring it, given it goes for twice the ’89 Haut Brion. But I guess that is why God created dreams….

  15. David F. permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Mike, not a bucket list comment but a quick question. You write that “The freshness was the key—a good Bordeaux leaves a feeling of refreshment on the palate, which is a quality that the Harlan, by contrast, conspicuously lacked.” Any thoughts on the source of the freshness. I am not an expert (my budget, alas, rarely allows for such excellent and aged wines) but I often get the sense the if the wine has some good acidity, it tends to have a fresh effect and that the effect remains for quite some time. Is that what is going on here? Or something else?

  16. Dan McCallum permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Mike,
    It will be the wine of a century for me, when released. And I won’t be wanting to let go any earlier with a barrel tasting.

  17. February 10, 2012

    I hear that’s going to be a great vintage.

  18. Dan McCallum permalink
    February 10, 2012

    2039 Monfortino

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