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Mark Squires' E-Zine on Wine

Articles, September/October, 1996

[For some photos from the event, click here.]

Over the years, members of the Prodigy Wine Bulletin Board, to which I've belonged for around eight years, and where I'm now the Board Leader, have put together some memorable off-line, real life events. See, for instance, Grange Hermitage Vertical, 1996. This one was a little different in scale, with a tremendous number of fabulous wines.

From Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Atlanta and other far flung places, we arrived at Pelago restaurant (the fine food was a plus!) in New York after planning this for months. The basic theme was top Bordeaux, but we didn't stop there. Coincidentally, we showed up on the night the Yankees played Game 6 of the World Series. One or two Atlantans amongst us seemed to care, but mostly we drank the night away, looking up in wonder at the guy doing the Tomahawk Chop while drinking Mouton. :) At least the poor Atlantans had SOME good memories to take home. The wine list was simply exceptional (most items were double bottles).

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Now, if you're thinking that there's no way any human being could attend a tasting like this, fight through the pandemonium and chaos and numerous bottles (my list is doubtless incomplete) and come up with intelligent notes on so many different wines, you're quite right. I didn't try. Well, actually, I did try. I was VERY good for a little while. Then, this pattern seemed to be developing. I'd be writing a note on 86 Mouton and suddenly someone would be tugging at my sleeve saying, "Hey, grab this while it's going around." "THIS" usually turned out to be something like 82 Haut Brion, so, grabbing it seemed like a good idea even if I did leave my thought processes incomplete at times. So, don't expect notes on all that stuff. The notes I am publishing are the ones I feel confident about in the sense of the bottles being good and the impressions accurate. After a few, I ditched the notes and did what anyone would in this situation: drink. So...

My favorite wines: 1982 Latour and 1986 Mouton Rothschild. Surely, two of the greatest Bordeaux I've ever had, albeit in radically different styles. Both wines have power to spare, but expressed in radically different fashion. The Latour, for all of the tannins, intensity and depth, still seems lush and rich, as befits its vintage. This is not completely ready to drink, by the way, but is getting there. At least it has opened up again. The Mouton is a different animal. Lush is not the word I'd use here. The fruit at first seems cloaked by tannins that become mouth drying with air, but then you get to the mid-palate and there's a concentrated core of essence of cabernet. The nose is intense. And it's simply outstanding. This is not as close to ready as the Latour, but is drinking better than I've seen it since release. As with all 86s, I wonder if those who are tannin sensitive will ever find an optimum time to drink, i.e., with tannins dulled and fruit still vibrant.. For those willing to put up with a little tannic bite, this wine has everything going for it: finesse, sweetness, power.

This was a good night for 86s in general; of course, we brought top wines. The 86 Lynch Bages was a baby Mouton, perhaps even more tannic and very intense.

I was generally impressed by how well many 82s showed, including some of the lesser ones like the Leoville Poyferre but the heralded 82 Mouton and 82 Lafite were off. I have a lot of notes on each of these wines, the last going back just a couple of years. Both of these seemed like pale shadows of what I had before. The Lafite was dull and boring; the Mouton seemingly fully ready and lacking intensity. I doubt these were representative bottles.

1990 Cheval Blanc: In its youth, this was an amazing fruit bomb. It has gotten harder and closed quite a bit. If you didn't drink this up already, let it sit now for a few more years before touching any more. 1991 Penfold's Grange for me is a hard wine to evaluate. I liked the Grange style through most of the 80s, and then they did a 180. What was a big, massive, intense syrah wine, became a raspberry flavored mug of fruit. (Did they throw a couple of gallons of Chambord into the vat?) Admittedly, the wine can be tasty, but it is so sweet--and seems so artificially sweet, with intense flavors that I don't associate with syrah--- that I can't get excited about it any more. Give me my old Grange back.

1992 Altamura Cabernet is a sexy wine with loads of sweet oak drenching a heckuva lot of fruit. Then, I had the 1993 Arajuo Cabernet "Eisele" and it upped the ante even more, adding more oak, more fruit and tasting a lot like, um, shiraz. The Altamura at least was more or less cab like, but I confess my first impression with the Arajuo is that they switched labels on the bottles and this was really the Grange, as it used to be. The 1994 Beaux Freres Chardonnay was shoved blind under my nose. I took a whiff and thought "Batard?" It was a dead ringer for serious white Burgundy. The first taste followed through, but the palate did not really equal the nose. It did not develop well in the glass and thinned out too quickly. While this is not perhaps the quintessential new world chard yet, it's a first effort that indicates the winemaker is taking dead aim at producing a serious white Burgundy -styled wine in the USA.

The 1993 Bryant Family Cab was simply too weird. I was willing to tolerate a little varietal deviation in, say, the Arajuo, but this was too much. I can't quite identify the odd finish so I'm not sure if I'd accuse it of being herbal or vegetal. But it sure wasn't classic cab. 1993 Leonetti Merlot lived up to most of its reputation. Impressive performance in general, yet.....it's a lot of work to find and it isn't sui generis in quality, really. Not that I'm criticizing much of anything about it, but as with, say, Petrus, this is wine that is very fine but has trouble matching the unrealistic expectations. A word about the Hardy Shiraz. Superb, and under $20. This could be a dead ringer for an expensive Shiraz. But for a little less power and tannin, it reminds me a lot of how Grange used to taste before its style change. The 1978 Sterling Reserve was simply lovely. It has thinned in color and body but retained so much delightful sweet fruit that it was easy to forgive this wine any flaws. Lush, big...no. But very nice.

Dessert wines were a big hit. The 88 Climens is going to be a great Sauternes, but this is simply way too young at the moment. {July, 2001 editorial comment: It started to come around, late in 1999-early 2000, and has been drinking rather well to brilliantly since!} Tonight at least, I greatly preferred the Pellegrini Late Harvest Finale from Long Island. I don't think I've ever had a dessert wine this good, this pure, impeccably balanced, from outside of the better known wine growing regions. And the kudos at the end to the Portos. The 1952 Nieport had worrisome color. But sweet, mature, elegant flavors on the palate put all fears to rest. A winner. Fortunately, I drank that first, because the 70 Warres must have been in a very cold cellar. SO youthful, intense and powerful in a vintage that has started drinking reasonably well! If it had been blind I would have guessed 77 or even 85.

Finally, a word of caution. Don't do these tricks at home, y'all. Seriously, as good a time as I had, and even if I got the chance to gain impressions of a small amount of the wines, I had this nagging feel that this was a waste of an awful lot of great wine. 1982 Latour should be drunk and thought about all night long. It shouldn't be part of an assembly line of wines with cachet. All I can say is that I had a great time socializing. I was grateful for the opportunity to taste many rare things I either wanted to check on (like Latour) or had never had (like Arajuo). But I'd rather not destroy so much formidable wine so often. Count this event as one part ecstasy, one part unbridled amusement, one part hedonism, and one part guilt!

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Copyright Mark Squires, 1996, all rights reserved.