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.