Experience the finest and rarest wines in the world through the eyes and palate of Acker Chairman and globally renowned master taster, John Kapon (our “JK”).
“Vintage Tastings” is a written journal chronicling the incredible bottles opened at some of the most exclusive tastings, wine dinners, and events all over the globe. These entries represent JK’s commitment to capturing and sharing the ephemeral nature and ultimate privilege of tasting the world’s rarest wines.
Although ratings are based on a 100-point scale, JK believes there is no such thing as a 100-point wine. Point scores assigned to each wine are his own personal attempt to quantify the quality of each experience.
I recently spent two days traveling, one day working, and two nights drinking in order to process and evaluate the collection of Dr. Ivan Volent. For those of you that want more background on this collection, please review the introduction in our auction. For those of you who want a quick reference, I will quote Martine Saunier, who knew of him, and she said, “You got a gold mine!”
We planned a dinner on the first night, a tasting to evaluate the storage and the quality of the overall collection. We started with a wine not from the collection, a 2014 Raveneau Montee de Tonnerre provided by one of the fortunate guests for our two night extravaganza. It was a classic Chablis but still very tight, too young as are many 2014s if you ask me; however, no doubt about it, it is an incredible white wine vintage for Burgundy. There were great minerals, sea shells, sea breeze, yeast and reticent yellow aromas, but ‘needs 5-10 years minimum’ was the final note (93+).
A 1985 Lynch Bages was our one stop in Bordeaux, and it was classic all the way, resting comfortably on a bed of cassis with some nut and pencil aromas. Its palate was softer, charming and tender – a typical, easy to drink 1985 Bordeaux (93).
A trio of 1988 Burgundies were next. While many wrote off the vintage as too hard, tannic and not having enough fruit, it seems as if 33 years later the narrative can change a bit. These were three beautiful wines, led by a 1988 Roumier Ruchottes Chambertin. This bottle was so fresh, with the classic brick and stone components of the vintage, with lots of mineral and rust, too. ‘Orange meringue and black cherry’ came from the crowd, along with ‘sandalwood and coriander.’ All very on point! The acidity was tremendous and the wine lifted in the glass and had great weight and texture. It still felt like it had a lot of life ahead of it (95+).
Apertif Part II
The 1988 Dujac Clos de la Roche had a lot of Christmas spice but a lot of dirty tootsie pop as well. Anise, Asian spices and ‘watermelon’ came out on the palate. This was a bit of a sweaty bird with a muddy finish. While still an excellent wine, I have had so many superhuman bottles of Dujac this year, but this wasn’t one of them. I still enjoyed it (93).
The 1988 DRC La Tache told everyone immediately that it was here for business. There was some creamy, sweet spice, with lots of dusty tomato on the vine and some white pepper and a twist of lime. This was a margarita of a palate, in fact! Speaking of the palate, there was so much density and richness by comparison to the previous two. Rich and leathery, it had great vitamin flavors on its thick and long finish. I was flip-flopping between 96 and 97 points (96+).
We had two Leroy wines in the next flight, since there was a lot of Leroy in the collection, but I combined the two notes into one. Both of these wines were big and rich. There were dark, deep, black fruits and forests with intense structure and acidity. A meaty richness defined its savory palate, which flirted with heavy but wasn’t quite that. It was beefy with great garden and minerality buried deep, deep inside. Asian spices, hoisin and a fine varnish all defined each of their finishes. The 1993 Domaine Leroy Latricieres Chambertin (96) had more weight than the 1996 Domaine Leroy Clos Vougeot (95), but the 1996’s acidity was brighter. The richness of these wines was impressive!
We finished up with the ultimate cheese wine, a Chave Blanc, make that a 2012 Chave Hermitage Blanc. It was a wine from another guest, so rich, so tropical, move over dessert wine! Dry whites or Champagnes work for me best with cheese, and the concentration of a Chave Blanc is arguably cheese’s finest complement (95).
Rare Old Coche
So we did the inventory the next day, and there were a bunch of wines we rejected for low fills, heavy seepage, etc. I suggested we taste a bunch of rejected bottles, you know, to be extra careful. Given the provenance and storage of the collection, there was no hesitation by its owner. We started with a 1986 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres. There were two bottles, and they were different shades of color, this one being a bit darker and more brown, so we rejected one of the two bottles of ’86 Coche accordingly. And there was nothing wrong with it. The Coche offered a glimpse of greatness and sweet caramel flavors typical of the botrytis-y 1986 vintage. It was still excellent but honestly, probably a decade past its prime. It was fun to try but dried out in the glass, and I think Coche in general is best in the 20-25 year window. That means drink those 1996 and youngers. I have had enough over the years to comfortably say that (93).
The next bottle we had was a low fill bottle full of seepage around the bottom of the capsule. It was a 1994 Domaine d’Auvenay Chevalier Montrachet. Given the vintage and the condition, I wasn’t expecting much, but this wine delighted my palate! I suppose this is a good time to mention Dr. Volent’s obsession with humidity, which can often cause more conditions but also cause more longevity. This bottle was clean and still fresh, with an elegance and charm not typical of the Domaine’s style. It was tender and on a plateau, with lovely flavors in tight, skinny jeans. There were pleasant yellow hues of flavors with a touch of rainwater goodness. This was ‘just’ a tasty wine (95)!
A tantalizing duo of Richebourg took center stage for the reds, beginning with a 1985 DRC Richebourg. This bottle had heavy seepage; literally all over the top of the capsule, as well as a tear down one side. The wine was perfect. There was so much rose, but menthol was really first. Leather and citrus tang were joined by a touch of Worcestershire and some young orange and brick flavors. There were tender layers of caressing fruit mixing with both autumnal and summer fruit profiles, like a perfect Labor Day weekend. What a bottle (97)!
A 1990 Meo-Camuzet Richebourg was a much deeper and darker side of the terroir, with more similarities to last night’s Leroys than the prior DRC. It was impressive, quite concentrated and blackish with its foresty fruit. There was a lot of blackberry jam on the palate, and a density not matched by the DRC. In fact, it felt a lot younger than the DRC despite only the five year difference. This was a stacked and packed wine, mountainous in its expression, with another two decades ahead of it. And this bottle had a 4.5cm fill and a sign of seepage (95+)!
Lesser Year, Great Wine
There was a bunch of 1964 Maison Leroy Chapelle Chambertin with multiple label variations from three importers, two different vintage tags and fonts, so we decided to leave it behind. We opened one of them, and the wine was fine and what it should have been, but it was corked. That unfortunately, randomly happens (DQ).
The piece de resistance for the entire trip was a low fill (6cm), seeping, 1978 DRC La Tache. It was wine of the weeknights lol. It had a similar profile to the Richebourg, but it had a higher pitch with more mint than menthol, and an amazing acidity that danced and pranced. One sip is all it took to know that there would be no chance for any wine to defeat it. ‘6cm! Sos!’ I wrote with emphasis. There was a divine spine and sexy spice here, a lot of Asian action and a citrusy smokehouse tang that titillated (99).
We had another 1994, again a d’Auvenay, this time a red 1994 Domaine d’Auvenay Mazis Chambertin. It was another lovely and tender wine, with delicate red fruits leaning on the cranberry and lingonberry side. A touch of wet earth emerged on its finish. It was another beautiful, mature wine from Leroy (93).
A Red Sequel
We finished with another duo of Leroy, and each of the last three wines were also rejected bottles with heavier conditions, but no flaws were inside the bottles! A 1988 Domaine Leroy Vosne Romanee Brulees, the first vintage for the Domaine wines, was lighter than expected, but solid and classic (93).
The 1993 Leroy Chambertin was the best Leroy of the week, again this deep and dark, brooding style of wine, dripping with black fruits. The richness here seemed somewhat reined in by comparison to the other Grand Crus from the night prior. The king of Chambertin certainly let every other wine know it was nobility, and while it was also dense, it was also balanced and nuanced. An incredible wine from an incredible vintage that tasted like it will outlive me (97)!
I almost forgot the 1997 Leroy Richebourg that we popped at the warehouse. It was another beautiful, maturing Leroy. It seems all the great vintages still need significant time, but the ‘lesser’ years like 1994 and 1997 are really hitting sweet spots around 25-30 years of age. It was a great experience for me to taste so many of her wines in a couple of sessions as they don’t get opened that often, and it will be less and less as the prices keep increasing. Interesting stuff. This Richebourg had pretty red fruits and a succulent body. It was juicy and tasty, with great balance (95).
Whistling While We Work
The Happy Recap #1
The Happy Recap #2
It was an incredible couple of nights enjoying the magnificent collection of Dr. Ivan Volent. The moral of the story is buy what you can from it. You won’t regret it!
Putting together The Trinity Collection catalog was a little more effort than usual thanks to the incredible amount of rare Champagne. The goal was simple: only offer the best bottles, and we went through the entire collection three or four times making the ultimate selection. I personally looked at almost every bottle of Champagne 1971 and older, for my own edification. The opportunity to see any of these older bottles of Champagne is extremely rare, let alone this many. I was talking to Truly about the number of great Champagnes I’ve had from this collection over the years, and that we should put together a greatest hits of tasting notes. Truly said that would be nice and added a big “IF” we could do it, due to time constraints and having to launch the sale ASAP. He then added that he thought it would be much better if I took bottles that we were offering right now and wrote some new notes. I made a quick call, and I got a quick answer. “Whatever you want.”
It just so happened that this weekend saw both a small and large gathering, and both gatherings saw a lot of Champagne bottles opened. Eighteen, to be exact, and seventeen other wines tasted. I will get to the entire weekend in due course, but this article is just about the six bottles and magnum that I literally pulled out of this auction to drink this past weekend.
1966 Salon Le Mesnil
1928 Louis Roederer
Two of the bottles I had Saturday night at Marea, the first being a 1966 Salon. You know, just your everyday 55-year-old bottle of Salon that has come up three times in the market in the last five years, and those three times were all single bottle lots. It didn’t disappoint. The Secretary of Defense was loving it right away, and I could not blame him. It had a very nutty nose, and it even smelled oily and viscous. Its palate was rich and creamy, with toasty and nutty flavors. This was like a great white Burgundy; while there was just a trace of fizz left, there was still tremendous acidity lifting its finish. Its finished lingered with kisses of herbs and woodsy goodness, flexing like a mature Montrachet. You may notice my score for a previous bottle was 98+. It’s a good example of how results for older bottles vary, the ‘Any Given Sunday’ theory. I’ll take a range of 96-98+ any day (96)!
A brief sidebar about Champagne and bubbles. Original releases of older Champagne tend to have less bubbles after forty years of age and become very wine-like. Many Champagne houses recently disgorge older bottles, which gives them a much fresher and bubbly personality. The only problem with recently disgorged bottles are that they are often drunk way too soon. They really need at least ten years on the cork, post-disgorgement, for the mature flavors to come out again. Otherwise, it’s all fizz and no flavor! It’s tough to say what is the ideal time to drink; it’s a matter of personal taste. All I can say is the mature flavors of an original bottle in good condition are thrilling, but not always as bubbly.
Back to my Saturday night, then there was a 1969 Krug. This bottle was so fresh and vibrant, it danced on my palate. Again, there was finesse here to the wine. There was a bit more mousse to the Krug than the Salon, but the Krug was also still very wine-like. There was less vanilla than I often get in Krugs, but it had perfect balance and freshness. Long, delicate, fine and smooth, it was another stunning bottle (96).
Two for two, we were off to a good start. There were eight bottles of Champagne served on this night. One was corked, and one was oxidized by the way, but I will discuss that more later. The next day saw us also at Marea, and a 1928 Louis Roederer came out first. This was a rich wine, the greatness of ’28 coming through with the power of a thunderbolt. I do recall the owner of this Champagne collection once calling 1928 ‘the greatest Champagne vintage of all-time.’ The Roederer reminded me of that statement, in a back-to-back future kind of way. It sung with apple cider vinegar flavors and character, and that’s in the good vinegar way, not the wine is cooked kind of way. It had almost searing acidity, again not in a bad way, in a somewhere between strong and extremely strong way. Its acidity hit the high notes, like a perfect bottle of 1996 Montrachet. Are you starting to see a connection (96).
1964 Veuve Clicquot Brut
1961 Taittinger Brut
1953 Krug Private Cuvee Extra Sec
Next up was a magnum of 1964 Veuve Clicquot Brut, one with a gold label, not sure if that makes it a reserve or not. This was a super sweet Champagne. Bad Boy dropped some of his extensive Champagne knowledge, “All old Clicquots are in good shape because they are loaded with sugar.” He didn’t say great, he said good, and that’s exactly what this VC was. Sweet, soft and a vinous version of a sugar factory, the Clicquot pleased, but you weren’t running to get seconds (92M).
A 1961 Taittinger Brut, not the Comtes de Champagne, was full of caramel aromas and flavors. It was a bit more mature in style, but still tasty and drinkable, albeit almost dessert-like in its personality. That signature, sweet, butterscotch style of old “Tatt” came through, with nice honey flavors and “sweet walnuts” per Truly. At least I think he was talking about the wine (93).
The next wine, I mean Champagne, was the wine of the day and one of the wines of the weekend. It was a 1953 Krug Private Cuvee Extra Sec. Breathtaking stuff. ‘Awesome’ was the first thing I wrote. There was still some spritz, but this was all wine. The best acidity of the day, and the previous night for that matter. There was a combination of toffee and half n half flavors with vanilla kisses and a citrusy finish that lit up my palate. Electric! You will notice a “NO LOT” in the catalog, sorry. Don’t worry, there are four more single-bottle lots (98).
There was actually one more bottle, but it was oxidized and undrinkable. It doesn’t matter what it was. It literally was the last of the seven. That happens when you open up lots of bottles of older wines, or Champagnes. Let’s not forget that Champagne by definition is a sparkling wine! I mentioned the first night, where we opened eight bottles, and one was corked and one was oxidized. And the oxidized bottle had outstanding color! The other six were so good, no one cared. The same thing happened with all the Champagnes we opened from this collection this weekend. The first six were so good, no one cared about the fact that the seventh was bad. The point is that if you cannot handle the minority of off bottles when drinking older wines, there are plenty of other things to try. For Champagne, I recommend 1979 or younger. Tough to find an off bottle in this category. But if you want to touch the sun, make sure you are mentally prepared.
It was a very spontaneous and special selection of Champagnes sampled this Saturday and Sunday. I hope you enjoy this catalog and these three special collections as much as I have over the years!
Despite my really having only two-and-a-half months of typical social drinking in 2020, I managed to cram in quite a few legendary wines in 2020. It was Acker’s 200th Bicentennial Anniversary, after all, so there was no hesitation in pulling any and every cork that got in my way for the first couple months. Of course, in typical JK fashion, I have misplaced the notes for a few evenings even in a year where there were fewer nights out, so in going back looking at pictures and places, I noticed evenings like thirty vintages of Rousseau that never made it on these charts, because I am not sure where those notes are. There could have been an extra three or more Rousseaus here, as an example of the imprecise nature of my recap. There is an anal, perfectionist side of me that in years past would work on this article for days until every wine was captured and recorded, even relaying a list of those 97/97+ point wines. I think I got close to 200 97+ point wines tasted in 2018, and this very same nature is why I never got this article out in 2019. This year, I am not letting that happen twice, so I am giving you a 90th percentile perception of my year in wine. It was 2020, you know, so there had to be some degree of fuhgeddaboudit to it.
1990 Dujac Clos St. Denis
1955 La Mission Haut Brion
1993 Dujac Clos de la Roche
Let’s start my recap with nine, very fine wines that scored 98 points or more that I didn’t officially write up:
1980 DRC Romanee Conti
1990 Dujac Clos St. Denis
1955 La Mission Haut Brion
1971 DRC Richebourg
1985 Dujac Clos de la Roche
1990 Cheval Blanc
1993 Dujac Clos de la Roche
2002 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne
Not a bad nonet, no? I think that’s the first time I ever used that word, I love it when that happens. Moving right along, there were fifteen other wines that scored 98 or 98+ points that I did write up, then another ten that scored 99 or more. Actually, make that sixteen. It will all be clear in the end, I promise.
Let’s start with a white, and a 1978 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet that showed great floral qualities immediately with lots of acacia and honeysuckle. It was very tropical, exotically so, and its palate was rich, creamy and luscious. Secondary flavors of vanilla and caramel emerged in this perfectly aged bottle of white Burgundy. Lord Byron Jr. hailed it as ‘oily’ and ‘unctuous.’ Each sip made me appreciate this profound wine even more. It got some pretty high scores from some distinguished tasters; Jetski was in 99-point territory and the Curious Gourmet gave it 98. Jetski quickly backpedaled, but both of them – and the wine – pulled me up a point in the end (98).
1996 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet
1990 Chave Hermitage
Another most noteworthy white wine was a Domaine Leflaive Montrachet. The 1996 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet had a fabulous nose with creamed corn and butter fresh off the farm aromas. There was sweet yellow fruit and a great icecap on its nose. There were underlying minerals and tension beneath its sensual olfactory stimulation. The palate was rich, creamy and round with such signature smoky sexiness. There were secondary butterscotch aromas and flavors in this divine wine (98).
There was a superlative magnum of 1988 Salon, which was pretty much perfect in every which way. It had a rich nose full of vanilla aromas that Big Boy quickly gave 98 points. It was long and scintillating with a nice sweetness and powdered goodness to it. This was rock star stuff with great acidity and still on the upswing. In the end, I agreed with Big Boy, which is always highly recommended (98M)!
I drink a lot of Chave, and the 1990 “regular” delivered 98 point bliss on two occasions: one night we began a flight with the headline act also known as the 1990 J.L. Chave Hermitage. I’d recently tasted two magnums of this in January that remained at the forefront of my brain, but that didn’t take away from the thrill of this bottle. There was great minerality, and it was consistent with my most recent, previous tastings. The Chave was like a full meal with its vegetable, animal and mineral components — WOW. It was long, fine and meaty, with flavors of iron, bacon and violet. This wine pretty much had it all. A second bottle was another evening’s last call: one final wine arrived, a mystery wine that Big Boy deemed ‘somewhere between strong and extremely strong,’ which was quite accurate. It had great bacon and mint aromas, with the perfect ‘zippy zip’ I wanted at the end of the night. It wound up being one of the best bottles of 1990 Chave Hermitage that I have ever had, firing away on all cylinders in all its rich and decadent glory (98).
Speaking of Rhone, a 1978 Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline was deep and meaty with menthol, violet and bacon – that superior signature of La Mouline. It was chocolatey on the palate, but the cheese kind of stripped it a bit; don’t serve cheese with your red wine! It regained its footing after the cheese went away and kept getting better and better. This was another superlative bottle on what was clearly a superlative night (98).
1945, 1955, 1959 and 1961 are pretty good places to be if you like to drink Bordeaux, and some of those vintages slid into my Top Wines of 2020. First up is 1959 Chateau Haut Brion, which had a spectacular nose of chocolate and tobacco. There was plenty of zip left in it with some band-aid, charcoal and gravel aromas to add complexity. I could sense how long the palate was before I tasted it, and it was terrific and sensual, full of chocolatey, creamy and tasty greatness. There was lots of gravel on the finish, and Hamburger found a ‘particular freshness to it’ (98).
Next is another perfect condition bottle, a 1961 Chateau Haut Brion. It had toffee, caramel and peanut aromas with an egg cream kiss. It was rich and luscious on the palate with great, coffee and chocolate flavors alongside dark plum and cassis. This was a long and sexy wine; if flavors could be midnight, this wine was it. I wanted to take it back to my hotel room accordingly (98).
1978 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques
There was a 1961 Petrus which had a rich, sexy and sweet nose full of plums and chocolate. It was so complex with all the shades of all the flowers of the Royal garden in full bloom. The ’61 was incredibly expressive in the nose. Some mint crept in on the palate that was still a touch shy. It was still rich, creamy and sexy as hell. It was clearly the most complex wine so far. There were great layers to the mouth; this was was soooo good. Sweet, sexy and chocolaty, the ’61 Petrus was a veritable rap star (98).
La Tache always finds its way to the top; it could be renamed ‘La Top’ lol. We had a Rare Legends dinner, and it couldn’t be a Rare Legends dinner without a La Tache flight, so most appropriately we began one flight with a 1990 DRC La Tache. This was another rock star wine with great depth and freshness. This was fresh like the Versailles garden. It was rich, leathery and black with a touch of partridge with the buckshot still in it. It was so long and stylish, continuing to unfurl until there was regrettably nothing left in my glass (98).
Rousseau basically has its own VIP section in my 98-point club, and this doesn’t even include that night of thirty others. I hope it’s clear I love the wines from Rousseau. A Premier Cru even snuck in here thanks to a divine 1978 Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques. It was a super sexy bottle that was musky, oily and tangy with a wealth of red cherry sex appeal. The finish was so long and sensual with great earth flavors and a nutty finish. It made me smack my lips, and its acid lingered in my belly like a warm fireplace on a cold night. Its gritty, long finish had me excited (98).
A 1993 Rousseau Chambertin was deep, dark, vitaminy, irony and rich. This wine was deep, deep inside. It was long and strong with a great flash of black and purple fruits. There was a fair amount of game as in ’got game,’ and everything was in the right spot. Its sweet core tickled my fancy, and it was so long in a beautifully brooding way, what a wine (98).
A 1985 A. Rousseau Chambertin was full bodied and then some. This was a ‘deep ocean’ wine as Big Boy would have said if he ever made it to Brazil. It was black like a deep cave after dark, and full of wet, dark stone mysteriousness. This wine was rich and great, in every which way, not rich and an asshole lol (98).
The red wines began with a bang thanks to a strong bottle of 1985 Rosseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. It was outstanding from the get-go, with great length and zip. It was still on the tight side and young for an ’85. It kept unfurling and lingering on the palate, with great cedar and a flash of fruit on the strawberry city side. This was an amazing wine still with a long way to go (98).
A couple more wines pushed the boundaries of 98 to 98+, making it five wines total for the year knocking on heaven’s door. The first was one of the rarest of them all, and we went straight to the penthouse with a 1999 Roumier Musigny. ‘Miraculous,’ ‘other shores’ and ‘stellar’ came from the crowd. It was deep in an inverse, mountainous way. It had deep, dark fruit and was coiled like a rattlesnake. I couldn’t stop drinking this nectar, a big-time Rocky Mountain high experience (98+)!
We moved on to a spectacular bottle of 1985 Ponsot Clos de la Roche. It was rich, decadent and super concentrated. This was a perfect bottle of this wine, and it was clearly nestled in the strike zone of Ponsot’s best vintages. It is an outer-worldly wine in the context of the 1985 vintage, a bit of a superhero amongst mere mortals, although we had two other superheroes in this flight already! There was a lot of boss to this sauce (98+).
1985 Burgundy Bliss
1978 G. Conterno Monfortino Riserva
And now, drumroll please…time to cross over into 99-point territory and the best wines I tasted in 2020. First, I must pay tribute to the four wines I gave 99 points that didn’t make the official countdown; ie, they have no tasting note. Apologies in advance. Chalk this one up to the fugghedaboudit pile that wasn’t completely forgotten. Where would they be inserted in the official countdown? If you really care, send me an email, I need more human contact anyway lol.
1992 Ramonet Montrachet
1991 Rousseau Chambertin
1971 DRC La Tache
1959 La Mission Haut Brion
(10) In tenth place is the perennial Top Tenner, The 1989 Petrus. It is tough to see any vintage of this wine since 1961 ever eclipsing the 1989. It is always as good as it gets, and still ascending. One night it came out, and immediately it was, ‘now we were talking!’ I was all about the coconut kisses amidst its deep purple and black fruits. It was thick as a brick and rich with great length and zip. This was the ‘BEST,’ I wrote. Some things never change (99).
(9) Viva Italia! Any one who thinks Italy can’t make some of the world’s greatest wines should start with some 1978 Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva, or many other vintages of Monfortino, for that matter. One bottle was full of ‘cinnamon.’ It was long and dry but lifted like the take-off of an under-control rocket. This was clearly a great wine with great acidity and a zippy personality. The usual tar and leather were joined by black roses and Grandma’s secret spices. Mamma mia (99)!
(8) 1978 is a good segue to the first Red Burgundy in my Top Ten, a 1978 Roumier Bonnes Mares, which once again delivered an immaculate experience. It had a smoky nose full of deep, dark purple fruits. This oily red was a 99-point wine from the get-go with its smorgasbord of delicious fruits. It still felt so young but was so open, with great length and grit. This wine had impeccable concentration and zip, and it lingered on my palate effortlessly and endlessly (99).
(7) I might drink more white wine than red wine on a yearly, everyday basis, even though the best wines are dominated by red. I was glad a 1996 DRC Montrachet gave me more and then some, cracking that 99-point code. It was all about its richness and smoky intensity. The acidity was even more intense; its length and zip made it a real powerhouse. The Ambassador thought the ‘acidity endless,’ and he was right. This wine wasn’t even on its plateau yet and was as good as Chardonnay gets (99).
1990 Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin
99 Point Peaches
(6) A spectacular lunch closed out with a 1990 J.L. Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin. I brought it. I mean, a ’71 RC magnum was opened, and I’m a gentleman! I just realize that I may have had this wine in late 2019, but I never released by ‘Best of 2019’ article, so just deal with it lol. As previously indicated, I have been drinking as much Chave as possible; it is generally a good habit. The Cathelin had an amazing nose with an insane blend of menthol, violet and bacon. It was so white smoky and so sexy with enough oil to get a racecar going. The palate was superb; this was another long and sexy wine that left my mouth open and wanting more. Its creamy, honeyed personality and elegant, endless finish had me in the promised land again. Just wow (99).
(5) The best wine of Acker’s 200th Anniversary Gala that I tried was a 1991 J.L. Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin. This wine always achieves 99 points; I have written this wine up on this level before and will refer to the last time I wrote it up properly: While by no means mature, the additional nuances and style of the 1991 Cathelin obviously showed more development than the 2003, but it still felt like a very young wine. What amazed me about the 1991 was its silky personality. This was not a bomb like the 2003, and I could see even more Jean-Louis’ insistence that Cathelin was a different wine and expression of a given vintage. Its fruit was again on the black side, with more purple and light ink edges. Smoked meats and fireplace crackles of the God of War mixed with violets and wildflowers from the Goddess of Love. It had a long, sensual finish, unfurling slowly, surely and sexily. It was creamy but not heavy; there was a grace and elegance to the 1991, and it danced like a ballerina on my palate. It also was dripping with diamonds, sparkling in every which (and rich) way. I just realized I totally forgot about this wine in my Top Wines of the Year article in 2017! Those auction tasters are impossible for me to keep track…but I won’t forget it again (99).
(4) The 1978 DRC La Tache proved on two occasions to be another ‘wow’ wine. It was packed with menthol, rose, white smoke and light game, as in just right light. There were leather and slate flavors on its muscular and unfurling finish. This bottle of LT had it all. Lord Byron Jr. was hesitant to give it the elusive 99 points, but while the ink in his pen dried up, most of us had no doubt. Tasted twice, both 99 points, and the second time was also as good as it gets. It resided in menthol city with any and every fruit readily apparent in an amazing, smorgasbord fashion. It was a kaleidoscope of colors: red, purple, blue and even more. There was great earth and leather, too, accompanying the spectacular mint notes. It was in the perfect spot at age 42 (99).
(3) The last wine of one of Jetski’s celebratory nights was as spectacular as anything we had had so far, and one of my most spectacular wines of the year. It should have been, as it was a 1971 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. It had the citricity meets electricity that would light up anyone’s palate. The red rainbow of fruits was on full display, starting with currant and, let’s not forget, the berries, straw, cran, rasp and lingon, of course. This was a spectacular wine that would be hard to defeat no matter who the opponent (99).
The 1945 Mouton
Thar She Blows
Message In A Bottle
(2) The 1945 Mouton Rothschild was perfection as always. I seem to be fortunate enough to have this wine at least once a year. The bottle I had in 2020 had everything it should have and dream it could have. This remains, year after year, one of the Top Ten wines I have had in my life – really Top Five. That eucalyptus edge à la 1974 Heitz Martha’s is that characteristic’s best it ever could be. The caramel, carob, cream and candlelight qualities were Captivating with Capital letters. The wine reeked capital, in fact. I will never be able to drink enough bottles of this most incredible wine. Thankfully, I’ve already had it close to twenty times (99+).
(1) Now those of you that have been reading my notes for years, you know that I don’t give out 100 points. I believe in the pursuit of perfection, but not perfection itself. So, 99+ is as high as I have ever given, and only to a handful of wines, one of which is above. However, one night in February in New York City made me think a bit differently about things, and it took four wines to combine together into a rising Phoenix of a 100-point experience, and the four wines were all DRC Romanee Conti, of course. First a bit of context. It was the week before our gala, and there were conflicting events popping up all over. I was at Per Se with Comte Liger-Belair, doing a historical retrospective of every vintage of Aux Reignots, ever, which normally would be enough of a great wine night on its own. But Big Boy was also holding Romanee Conti court at his home, back to 1937, on the same night. The Comte and I arrived late, but quickly caught up, because thankfully Sir Robert and Dapper Dave were saving us some sips. There were numerous afterthoughts like 1990, 1999 and 2002, because four mature vintages of RC hit the bellissimo bullseye, three of which were 99-point wines: 1937, 1952, and 1971, combined with the aforementioned 98+ points, the 1980. One could split hairs that the 1937 was 98 points, but at that point and that age and that circumstance, it just got that baby bump. Of course, the younger vintages were still alpha alphas, but when you have great old bottles next to the same great young wines, it is very hard for youth to prevail. I didn’t take thorough notes as it was late, and I was catching up, but I stayed until about two in the morning, sampling and sipping my way through numerous other RCs (a great magnum of 1970 was another standout), along with a trio of DRC Montrachets amongst others. To give a great tasting note of the ultimate mature RC experience, I will share with you a wine that I was going to include in this article, a note from a magnum of 1971 RC that I then realized I had in December 2019, previously mentioned in my misplaced 1990 Chave Cathelin note above: A magnum of 1971 DRC Romanee Conti came next. That’s right. In fact, this magnum was purchased at our November Hong Kong auction the month prior. The magnum was in outstanding condition, and it had outstanding provenance, so I was feeling no pressure. After one sip, I was feeling no pain. Its nose was full of that autumnal rust and spice. There were tomato, rose, bouillon and menthol aromas filling my nose to capacity. The Winemaster found the 1971 ‘more elegant than 1978’ in general, and I was in love with its great, fully mature flavors. There were brick, rust and autumn flavors here. While its palate was elegant, its finish was thick. It got more minty and (good) herbal on its finish, with almost a kiss of Chartreuse-like complexity. What a wine (99M).
100 Point Experience
So, there you have it, my first 100-point rating, although it would be fair to call it an experience, a Big Boy Experience, of course. I suppose there have been many other 100-point nights over the years, but this combination of 1937/1952/1971/1980 DRC Romanee Conti gets the first, official (100). It only took me 25 years, but 2020 was the kind of year that needed one.
Forty wines in 2020 rated 98 points or more, and a few missing soldiers, for sure. All things considered, I’ll take it. I have a feeling that my 2021 will be backfilled a bit like my 2020 was front filled. No matter what, I will still find a way to drink and share some great wines with great people. I look forward to lots of catching up in 2021!
This has been a different year for everyone, a lot of ‘Home Alone’ on the playlists for sure. Slowly but surely, one must poke one’s head out of the ground and say hi to the world…responsibly, of course. Everyone I know has no problem with masks and social distancing; one would think this wouldn’t be an issue. In fact, responsible people want to go out and see their friends; it’s the strangers everyone is concerned about. After limiting most of my summer movement to deserted beaches and island hopping, I took a big hop to the Hamptons to deep dive into a few familiar wine lovers’ cellars. The expedition was deeper than I expected, and that was a very good thing. The concert was officially sold out, and it was time to get back to what we all knew best.
The Moose is Loose
A magnum of very aged Krug MV was served first as a cocktail and estimated to be a release between 1966 and 1976 by the world’s foremost Champagne expert, Big Boy. It was 100% delicious, vanilla cream soda tasty, so easy to drink and so scrumptious. Amazing how well the Krug ‘non’ aka ‘multi’ vintages age (95M).
A flight of Ramonet was the first official sit-down occasion, beginning with a 1992 Ramonet Batard Montrachet. It had a mature nose in a great way. Caramel, honey, carob and nut all integrated well in its round nose. Its flavors were on the dry, honeyed side. The wine was rich and fat but starting to lose focus. It was still nutty and tasty with corn kisses and a wheaty finish. It was rich but lost its center in time (94).
The 1988 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet ultimately proved to be the best wine of the flight, which is definitely an underdog story. There was more waterfall and acacia in its nose, with lots of matchbox flavors to complement. Nutty, tasty and dry, the ’88 exploded with lots of acid and its bigger finish (95).
The nose of the 1986 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet had me thinking best of flight, but the palate didn’t back up the thesis. It had the sweetest and most exotic nose, very tropical in character. It got fatter and also more floozy with time. It was too early for that (93).
The 1971 Vogue Musigny VV was good not great per the consensus. It was ‘a little stewy, you can still sense the grip,’ Big Boy acutely observed. The palate was round, a little earthy, zippy yet tangy. There are better bottles of this wine (90A).
The 1966 Vogue Musigny VV was a better bottle, for sure. Its nice red fruits were ‘working’ per one of the guests. ‘Delicious’ came from another. There was a floral, sensual quality to its great, red fruits. Its fruit went va va with the voom and even gave me a kiss of charcuterie. I think the French would say, ‘oh ho ho.’ More kisses of earth, a touch of tea and a smack of leather held my attention. Its acidity sealed the deal (97).
We continued with the Musigny theme and a rare 1955 Jadot Musigny, which was rich and decadent but also a touch square, most likely touched up/reconditioned at some point. Attention all Burgundians: it doesn’t work well for Pinot Noir please cease and desist! Its finish was quite dry with desert-like flavors. There was some discussion about the wine’s bottling, and Vogue’s name came up (92).
There was one more Musigny – for now. It was an outstanding 1971 Drouhin Musigny. ‘Fantastic bottle’ started my note. It was on the chalky, citrusy, garden-y style. Its palate was round, tangy and zippy, reinforcing the citrus before its dry finish. It was a tightwire act, showing more citric tension than any other Moose. Its acidity was still lifting, but its fruit was a touch taut (95).
In Love with One
Meet Me in the Penthouse
It Was a Very Good Year
The next flight was a rare trio of Roumier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, led by the 1995. Its nose was fantastic and alluring, ‘spectacular’ per Big Boy with its aromas of wafer, citrus and black cherry. Dapper Dave found it ‘super clean,’ while The Mogul found it ‘too young.’ It was tight but with amazing structure, and it was still so elegant. This was clearly the best of the forthcoming flight, and its finish smacked sexy in its desert of a finish (96+).
The best way to sum up the 1993 Roumier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses was ‘not perfect’ (DQ), and the 1988 was strong but a bit squirrely and confused with its expressions (93).
One good Roumier flight deserves another, and we went straight to the penthouse with a 1999 Roumier Musigny. ‘Miraculous,’ ‘other shores’ and ‘stellar’ came from the crowd. It was deep in an inverse, mountainous way. It had deep, dark fruit and was coiled like a rattlesnake. I couldn’t stop drinking this nectar, a big-time Rocky Mountain high experience (98+)!
The 1996 Roumier Musigny was much more shy and tight. It was long, dry and zippy, a bit square and make that very dry. ‘Tight’ and ‘Sahara’ were my last observations (94).
The 1995 Roumier Musigny was an intense wine. It was zippy, stony, long and dry. It was still tasty, but it was definitely iron fist strong. Long and acidic, this was another ‘wow’ Roumier, although as is the case with most Roumiers of the last 25 years, still young (96+)!
It was definitely some time for some Bordeaux, even more especially so thanks to a spectacular flight of five wines from the 1945 vintage. 1945 Palmer? Why yes please, thank you very much lol. This was a phenomenal bottle of Bordeaux, everything one would need to explain the region to anyone. Its nose was rich and buttery, a testament to the vintage, and it had a kiss of honey as well. Its palate had pencil, minerals and chalk, and tobacco graced the finish of this delicious wine (96).
The 1945 Lafite Rothschild had signature lead pencil but also a bit of locker room to its nose. Its palate was light and elegant, atypical for the vintage. It was Burgundian in style compared to the rest of its counterparts in this spectacular quintet. This was an elegant wine, a 93 point bottle at best but really a 92. It was ultimately the least wine in this best flight (92).
Someone said nothing was ‘close’ to the 1945 La Mission Haut Brion. The La Miss had a deeper, darker nose which was full of chocolate. It wasn’t quite as open as the Palmer, but it was certainly more serious. Dapper Dave got deep with ‘cool smokiness, almost embers. It’s a smoky minerality.’ The Mogul talked me up a point, but he was right. He always knows when the stock should go up. He’s a good financial advisor lol (97+).
The 1945 Latour was not the best bottle that this wine can be; it wasn’t off, but it was a touch gamy and more fruit forward. There were some classic components and nice cherry, but this wine can be a beast, and this bottle was clearly domesticated (93).
Late Night Additions
The 1945 Mouton Rothschild was perfection as always. It had everything it should have and dream to could have. This remains year after year one of the Top Ten wines I have had in my life – really Top Five. That eucalyptus edge a la 1974 Heitz Martha’s is that characteristic’s best it ever could be. The caramel, carob, cream and candlelight qualities were Captivating with Capitals. The wine reeked capital. I will never be able to drink enough bottles of this most incredible wine. Thankfully, I’ve already had it close to twenty times (99+).
A 1966 Faiveley Bonnes Mares was classic and delicious. It had red fruits that were fleshy and softer, aged in a great way. It was an excellent wine (93).
The 1966 Vogue Bonnes Mares was cut from the same cloth as the Musigny but not as complex. It didn’t have the density of the Moose, but it was still a sturdy, complex wine (94).
There were two more wines, a 1971 La Tache being the first. It wasn’t the best example of this wine, but it was still really, really good. It was a slice more mature, a bit saucy compared to prime examples, but it had density and complexity. I am a good judge of this wine; unlike the 1945 Mouton, I’ve had ithe ’71 LT more than twenty times 😉 (97pts).
The last wine of the night was as spectacular as anything we had had so far. It should have been, as it was a 1971 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze. It had the citricity meets electricity that would light up anyone’s palate. The red rainbow of fruits were on full display, starting with currant and let’s not forget the berries straw, cran, rasp and lingon, of course. This was a spectacular wine that would be hard to defeat no matter who the opponent (99).
The music was still loud, but it was time for the show to be over. It was good to get the band back together thanks to Jetski and his incomparable chronicles!
John Kapon is the third-generation chairman of Acker, America’s oldest wine merchant, which has sold fine and rare wines since 1820. Under his leadership, the firm has become the largest fine and rare wine auction house in the world. A leading fine wine expert and master taster, Kapon is the author of The Compendium: Tasting the World’s Finest Wines (Vol. I), an insider’s glimpse into the exclusive world of fine wine, featuring hundreds of tasting notes and illustrated with dozens of photos of the world’s greatest estates and vineyards.