The Bernard Roth Archives
We happy that Bernard, who has sampled so many wines, has shared his notes with us. We do have, or have had for sale a few of the wines Bernard writes about, and we include a link to our stock page whenever it is a producer we carry (but since the stock page is kept up-to-date and the wines are sold, don't expect any but the newest of wines to show up in our stock!). Mostly though, since we specialize in County of Santa Barbara Wine and Central Coast Wine, we don't carry a lot of the wines Bernard writes about. But we think it is important that you be able to have an idea what they're like in case you are planning to buy some somewhere, or have them in your own collection. Enjoy.
Here are Bernard's notes from October 15, 2000:
Once in a wine lover's life one should be so fortunate to try one of the truly great wines of all time. I was pleased to have joined 7 other wine lovers for a remarkable dinner that was made possible by the generosity of each participant.
The occasion goes back to a friendly wager between two well-known posters on various wine discussion boards-Steve and Todd. Just prior to Bill Clinton's famous public confessional of his involvement with Monica Lewinski, Steve and Todd took opposing positions on whether Clinton would confess to sexual relations with Ms. Lewinski. To make matters interesting, the loser, they agreed, would obtain a bottle of 61 La Chapelle to share with the winner. To make a long story brief, after the presidents' speech, in a magnanimous gesture, Steve agreed to match Todd's Hermitage with a 61 Latour (later to be replaced with the Trotanoy from the same vintage). Then to make matters even more interesting, they agreed that sharing those bottles with a few friends would make for a more memorable evening still, provided each friend put up a bottle of comparable stature. Thus was set in motion the designs for a fun and friendly dinner held this past week.
Steve arranged for a fixed menu at Eleven Madison
Park in New York. The restaurant is a little heralded gem in the Danny
Meyer empire, he of Union Square and other top Manhattan dining spots.
I'll recount the food as I describe each wine. Unfortunately, I left my
notes behind, so what follows is from memory and much abbreviated. Tim,
the sommelier, performed admirably in decanting the bottles and serving
the wines. The stemware was Riedel. They generously waved corkage, but
we left proper recompense for the service staff.
|We got things started in the bar with a corked bottle
of 88 Salon. It was replaced with a correct bottle and we were soon
seated, though our party was still a bottle short. As has become routine
for him, John Kapon (bearer of the 61 Latour) kept everyone in suspense
arriving 30 minutes late. The Salon was standard fare vintage Grand Cru,
certainly fine with light yeasty nose, good balance between fruit and stony
minerality, and a clean finish. It does not rise to the level of, say,
90 Dom in its concentration. To get things started, the chef sent out a
small plate of asparagus tip salad with baby greens.
Once everyone was settled in, it was time to focus on the wines (except for an insufferable, and interminable, argument between Todd and Steve over the legal merits of the recording industry case against Napster and the meaning and legitimacy of copyright protection). First up, the waiter presented the table with a platter holding two lobes of roasted foie gras. As this was being carved, Tim brought us the Sauternes and fumbled trying to extract the cork from the bottle. The foie gras was served with a port reduction sauce, a fresh fig half, a lightly dressed frisee. A light sprinkle of coarse sel de mer added a terrific counterpoint to the other flavors and textures.
49 d'Yquem had a medium amber color with hints of orange. The bouquet was pristine, with botrytis fully integrated with citrus, honey, orange blossom, jasmine, and sweet spices. In the mouth, the wine was exquisite, viscous with precise acidity, perfectly balanced, very complex, revealing many flavors with each sip. Apricots, bitter orange zest, nutmeg, crème brulee, flower nectar, and more. The finish is very long, showing cloves along with the other flavors. A 99 point wine, it matched the foie gras as well as one could want.
Next up, a decanter of white Burgundy was poured around, to be accompanied by lobster with cauliflower flan and lobster sauce. This was the favorite dish of many attendees. The Burgundy, because of its youth, was decanted about 1.5 hours before serving.
86 Ramonet Montrachet, from magnum, was very tight. It was fairly closed in the nose, and offered mostly grapefruit, river stones and slate in the mouth. Very backward, but with quite high acidity and serious depth in the mid-palate. Unfortunately, even after allowing the wine to breath in the glass over the course of the meal (another 3 hours), the wine refused to yield its potential. The finish hints at this potential, revealing some of the grip expected of the appellation. On this day, the wine merits an 88-90 score, with potential for significant improvement over the next decade.
In my opinion, the Ramonet matched better with the next course than the intended wine. The sautéed sweetbreads were served with verjus reduction and verjus grape. Very good flavor but too small a potion. This was served with our raison d'etre...
61 La Chapelle, purchased direct from the Jaboulet cellar, had youthful, inky dark red violet color. The distinctive bouquet was dominated by aged, decaying red meats, somewhat smoky, with (to coin a Parkerism) roasted plums. The flavors were on the black side of the spectrum, plumy, with blackberry. Tannins were finely integrated and the fruit somewhat evolved. The mid-palate had iron-mineral elements and somewhat drying fruit that did not sustain on the finish. Certainly an excellent wine, but this bottle did not live up to legendary status. It lacked the sweet fruit and liqueur-like mid-palate intensity that a truly great bottle should have shown. As the dinner progressed, I kept coming back to this wine and it did not evolve for the better, the fruit fading and acidity coming to the fore. I would expect this wine to show better out of larger size bottles. Anyone have a magnum they'd care to share? 92-.
Next up was a duck breast course, finely sauced but otherwise unexceptional, to accompany the Red Burgundies.
59 La Tache-Medium-light color without significant bricking. The ullage was excellent, indicating proper storage. The bouquet was rather restrained, nothing approaching what one expects of a great old La Tache. Elegant in the mouth, finely-honed and vibrant acidity carrying from start to finish. Mulberry fruit wound around soft tannins. Some terroir elements and secondary flavors. But overall, lacking grandeur and complexity. Disappointing. 92 points if it were any other Burgundy, 80 points as La Tache.
55 Leroy Chambertin-Darker, more violet color. The nose was more
expressive than La Tache, showing black berry, gunpowder and licorice whip.
Bigger, denser, more primary, black fruit. Restrained power. Decent finish
with some length, but lacking expansiveness throughout. 93 points as a
wine, 88 points as Chambertin. Will still age.
61 Trotanoy-Voluptuous bouquet of a fully mature Pomerol, showing plum, dried flowers, and aged character. Plush, mature, merlot fruit with underlying aged character. Excellent depth of flavor, still sweetness in the fruit. In the mid-palate and finish the wine shows its age as the fruit falls off just a little. The finish shows hints of fading tannins and a bit of acidic cut. A wonderful wine perhaps 6-8 years past peak, undergoing a slow decline. 92-. Drink over the next 5 years.
61 Latour-Very dark color from this pristine bottle. Rather tight in the nose, showing black fruit and earthy minerals, but lacking the breadth and grandeur of a classic, old Latour. Perhaps too well preserved to have been opened so soon. Very big in the mouth, layers of black fruit interwoven with iron, granite, fine tannins. But fairly unyielding and tight, despite its monumental concentration. Good length in the finish, but lacking the explosiveness I expect from Latour. An iron fist in a patent leather glove. Needs another 20 years. 96+ points.
Then came a great selection of properly mature French cheeses, headed up by a peak-condition Brillat-Savarin (triple cream). With this came the star of the evening...
31 Quinta do Noval Porto-Black color. Huge bouquet of cassis, black cherry, plum, black licorice, sweet spices, fine aged brandy, and layers of other complex aromas. Monumental, mouth filling wine. Extremely concentrated, like the densest of young shiraz, and then some. Black fruits, licorice, cola syrup, eucalyptus, prune and plum, and on and on. In a lesser wine, the tannins would be almost stingingly intense, but here they formed a perfect frame for the dance of fruit, alcohol, acid and spicy, dark flavors. One of the longest finishes I've encountered in a wine (matched only by Essencia and great Madeira). This wine humbles a perfect 63 Fonseca, so can I score this 101?
There was some discussion whether the QdN might in fact be the Nacional. According to Broadbent, the Nacional makes up about 10% of their vineyard holdings. Not every bottle from the Nacional grapes says so on the label. Some indicate Nacional on the cork, bin label, or wax seal. Tthe label did not say Nacional. However, Broadbent observes some differences between the 31 QdN ports. Of the regular bottle, he notes "caramelised raisins... prunes and cloves." Of the Nacional, he notes "high-toned bouquet... of eau de cologne, Armagnac and ... ultra-refined licorice.... Bitter-sweet wine, spicy, of great length." Based on those differences, especially in the bouquet, I'd conclude that this bottle had a good probability of being Nacional.
Finally, I saved a few sips of the d'Yquem and found it a fabulous match with the Brillat-Savarin. Even following the QdN, d'Yquem shined bright. A magnificent conclusion to a fun, at times raucous, and certainly memorable evening. Thanks again to Todd and Steve for making this happen.
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