My list of the top ten wines tasted during the last decade was a lot of fun to put together. Bordeaux wine and a few other special bottles made the list.
A decade is a long time. Time needs memories to help it remember and live past the moment. Over the past ten years, it’s impossible to count the number of wines I’ve been privileged to taste. On the flip side, I’ve sampled my share of wines I wish I could forget. That’s why God created hills as well as valleys and my list of The 10 Best Wines.
Every wine has a story. The plot is generated by the good friends that were there to share the experience. Great wine should never be tasted alone. They deserve to be shared, sloshed, sniffed, swirled, swallowed and discussed with others. Each bottle on this list remains vividly etched in my memory. The nights were about the people and the experience, as well as the wine.
Writing this list helped me relive the moments, the flavors, the sensations and experience. Sadly, some of the people present for these wines passed away. Others, for one reason or another have faded away. A few have moved. Some travel in different social circles. Some do not enjoy wine as much as they used to. But they are instantly brought back when remembering these wines and the nights they were opened. That is the gift great wine offers.
The wines are listed in random order.
1961 Jaboulet La Chapelle – Tasted at a small birthday dinner in my honor hosted by Robert Parker in Baltimore. This was Parker’s last bottle from the original case. In fact, that’s what he wrote for his inscription on the bottle. It’s one of the few empty bottles I’ve saved over the years.
This maintains a dark color at close to 50 years of age! Scents of olive orchards waft from the glass in this perfect Hermitage wine. Green olives, black olives, earth and trees were in abundance. Truffles, burnt toast, tobacco, licorice, citrus, forest floor and soy sauce are easy to find in the complex, expanding aromatics. On the palate, the wine is massive and intensely concentrated with layers of rich, thick, juicy, ripe black fruit and minerals. This wine perfectly melds power with elegance. The seemingly endless finish is long and pure. In the mouth, this wine reminds me a 1961 Latour. The wine improved in the glass for over two hours. Few wines live up to their legendary status due to a myriad of reasons from provenance, value and the most important reason of all, how can any wine be as good as a legend. This bottle was as good, if not better than the legend! This wine ended with a finish that lasts for years. The question, do dream wines dream, remains unanswered. Perhaps the next time I meet another one of my dream wines, I’ll know. 100 Pts
1870 Margaux – From the cellars of Domaine de Chevalier. The owner of this historic Pessac Leognan estate, OlivierBernard shared this 6L bottle at a dinner for tasters of the GJE at the chateau. The bottle had been in the cellars of Chevalier for over a century!
This was a taste of history drinking a Bordeaux wine that was produced shortly after the civil war ended! The color of tea, potent, earthy, truffle, spice, tea, leather and tobacco notes were only the first scents to arrive. This elegant, soft, polished wine ended with a parade of fresh, ripe strawberries and raspberries in a rich syrupy texture. 100 Pts
1945 La Mission Haut Brion – Opened at Spago from Magnum with the president of Haut Brion, Jean Philippe Delmas.
This was my first time with this legendary wine. OMG, that’s “Oh My God”, is the best descriptor I can fathom. This wine was so fragrant, popping the bottle filled the room with aromatics. Earthy, truffle, forest floor, spice, tobacco, fresh herbs, coffee and smoke do not begin to describe what you find in this wine. Incredible layers of concentrated fruit that is ripe, fat and rich. The wine is further complicated with decades of age that give the wine a patina of time in the texture. Chocolate, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, licorice, leather and coffee linger on your palate for more than sixty seconds while your remaining senses catch up, to get in on the party. The wine offers an intense purity of fruit that is difficult to find, especially after 60 years of age. 100 Pts
1985 GuigalLa Mouline – La La’s at Leve’s. 33 different bottles of Guigal La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne with 16 courses and 12 people at my house.
How can any Cote Rotie, no make that, how can any wine be this good? Nosing this wine is akin to touring a perfume factory. The texture is best described as, “Sex in your mouth!” This was so rich and decadent, it was almost surreal. The seamless finish lasted well over a minute. Truly, this bottle offered one of the finest tasting experiences I’ve ever had. 100 Pts
1978 Guigal La Mouline – A surprise bottle opened at dinner at Chinois with good friends.
The perfume was explosive. Overripe blackberry, plum, strawberry and raspberry, coupled with spice, flowers, truffles and smoke which become more concentrated in the glass. The decadent layers of fruit and glycerin has to be tasted to be believed! Countless layers of soft, exotic textured red and black fruit overload your senses with pleasure. The seamless finish seems like it lasts well over one minute! 100 Pts
1982 Lafleur – Opened at the French Laundry with great friends.
Simply awesome. Jaw dropping levels of concentration and extract. Off the hook kinky plums, cherry, fudge and spice aromatics, coupled with intensity of pure ripe fruit, a perfect, seamless finish that seems like it the Bordeaux will never end as the flavors remain for close to two minutes! This is the wine of the vintage! 100 Pts
1982 Latour – From a dinner in Beaver Creek at Brad England’s home.
This Bordeaux wine brings tears to wine lovers eyes! Words do not do it justice. This amazing wine exploded with a myriad of scents including pepper, walnuts, spice box, cassis, cinnamon, licorice, coffee, truffles and more! And that was the beginning! The palate presence was out of this world! This is so opulent, exotic and rich, it has to be tasted to be believed. The perfect, seamless finish was breath taking! It filled every nook and cranny in your mouth, waking up all your taste buds and senses. If aliens came to earth and demanded a great wine, they would take 82 Latour.100 Pts
1961 Haut-Brion – From a bottle that had been stored at the chateau for close to 50 years and never moved until this dinner.
This riveting Bordeaux wine captures your attention. Grabbing you like a great piece of music, each sip compels you to focus on the experience. The smells, the feeling and the flavors last long after the bottle is empty. Wines like this make memories.
Smoke, tobacco, cigar box, earth, cassis, truffle, tar, crushed stone, spice, ash and wet forest floor aromas pour out of the glass. And that’s just the opening act. In the mouth, the wine drenches your palate with waves of opulent, sweet, smoke filled cassis and dense, rich ripe cherries. The texture is pure silk and velvet with the weight and feel of motor oil. This elegant, concentrated, suave, regal wine is balanced, harmonious and ends with a seamless finish that lasts at least 60 seconds. 100 Pts
This amazing Bordeaux was light garnet with brick and deep amber hues in color. This wine could open its own perfume shop with its intense bouquet. Leather, soy, Asian spice, wood, truffle, cassis, cigar and incense filled your glass, olfactory senses and the room. The patina of age gave this wine an unbelievable texture. The fruit displayed an incredible silky, velvet richness on your palate. The opulent, flamboyant, decadent sensations that drenched your palate would excite the most jaded wine lover. The long, complex, seamless finish flowed over every inch of your mouth. I would never have thought this wine was 64 years old. In fact, I hope I’m in that good a shape and that someone will still need me and feed me, “When I’m 64”. 100 Pts
On a pure rating of absolute quality, entry number 10 does not compete with the wines listed in the top 10. It only scored 98 Pts. Points, shmoints… When measuring a wines quality, the length, purity, and persistence of finish says a lot about a wine. Like all the wines on this list, the memory of drinking it remained with me long after the bottle was emptied, the glasses were washed and lights went out. That type of length and persistence is the true mark of greatness.
1921 ChevalBlanc – Dinner at the French Laundry with some great friends that will never be forgotten. 5 people, 18 bottles of wine and about 24 courses of Thomas Kellers cooking. Knowing this would be a long night, we were amongst the first people to arrive. We were seated at close to 6pm. We stumbled back to our hotel for cigars and 1955 Port at 2 in the morning.
This incredibly, complex Bordeaux nose offered so many aromas, I’d have an easier time trying to count the holes in Albert Hall before I could name them all. But, the fireworks did not end with an amazing nose. The Port like syrupy texture of the wine gliding over your palate was surreal. The decadent wine continued gaining in the glass for several hours. This was positively riveting. Unfortunately, I will never be able to see what my 90 Cheval Blanc will taste like at 85, but I will never forget tasting this wine!
Honorable mention goes to 2000 Petrus. It did not make the top 10 due to its youth and inexperience. In time, it stands a chance to one of the great wines of our life. Petrus is an interesting wine. Young vintages like 1982, 1989 and 1990 did not develop as well as expected. I hope some of my friends bought 2000, 2008 and 2009 Petrus. In the name of science, I am ready, willing and able to taste those wines over the years to help track their development.
Tasted with Robert Parker, Ed Milstein and a friends of Bob’s in New York at Daniel. This was a special 10 year anniversary tasting of the 2000 vintage.
2000 Petrus – Oh My God! (If I wanted brevity, I could have left it there, as that truly said it all.) This was the real deal. The non-stop perfume explosion reminded me of what Hendrix sounded like at Woodstock! This was thrilling! Chocolate, black raspberry, assorted fresh flowers, herbs, spices, truffles, earth, plums and black cherry could have been enjoyed from across the room. This powerful, concentrated, deep wine filled every nook and cranny of your taste receptors with endless waves of decadent, flawlessly ripe fruit. Purity, velvet, silk, balance and length are the hallmarks of this wine. If I never see it again, (Like Bogart and Bergman, who will always have Paris) I will always remember tasting that bottle. 100 Pts
Honorable mention # 2: 1900 Chateau Margaux. Tasted at the wines of the century lunch at Spago, hosted by Eric Cotsen. 16 people, 36 bottles 18 courses. We arrived at noon. Both private rooms were ours for the afternoon. Room number 1 was for the guests. Room number 2 was reserved our glasses. The room was an amazing sight to see. It was wall to wall glasses! For the lunch, every guest had a different glass for each wine. Each glass was individually tagged and numbered. That’s 576 glasses and tags if you’re good at math.
We arrived at 11:30 in the morning. The sun was shining. We were the first people there. When our lunch was over, (about 6:30) the sun had set. The dinner crowd was already getting started. The wine remaining in our glasses looked so tempting, I tried talking Eric into staying for dinner. We should have gone for the record. We would have been at Spago for 12 hours straight. For those wines, it would have been worth it. Many of the guests were friends of Eric’s father. There were members of a wine tasting group that had been meeting for close to 40 years. At least 4 of the people have passed away. But they will always be rememberd as part of that amazing day.
That lunch was the first of many unforgettable days and nights with an ever expanding circle of wine loving friends. Writing this paragraph allowed me to relive that special day all over again.
Believe it or not, I left the bottle 1900 Margaux off the first draft from my wines of the decade article. How is that possible? Every good excuse is followed by an equally good explanation. The original tasting notes were not entered in the data base. This wine was tasted at the start of the decade, January 2001. Only after this article was published, did I recall the notes and the wine.
1900 Margaux – With a perfume that was sensed from all four corners of the large, well appointed dining room, this legendary bottle of 1900 Chateau Margaux announced itself. Truffles, tobacco, floral, earth, sweet cherry and cedar aromatics bathed your nose. The wine offered a unique sensation, perfectly combining elegance, concentration and a light touch. Silk, satin and velvet textures played in your mouth, while ripe, spicy cherries, pipe tobacco, fresh strawberry and cassis flavors lingered on your palate. Everything was as it should be. This was my first experience with bottled, liquid history. With luck, it won’t be my last. 100 Pts
I have no idea what the next decade will bring. I am not even sure what we’re going to call it. Did everyone decide and forget to send me the memo? Is it the tens? Will that morph into the teens? Does each year have its own identity? Regardless of what it’s known as, I’m looking forward to seeing what develops.
Your comments on this post are welcome. Feel free to share about any of your favorite wines that you’ve tasted over the last several years.