Saturday 5th May its 6:40pm, the guests are arriving with excited smiles and grins, the wines are in place, the impeccable staff of Becasse/Quarter Twenty One take coats and pour glasses of water. Tonight is a special night; it’s the first of my dinners since launching the website and opening the opportunity to the public to join me for one of my very special rare & vintage wine dinners. This time i am joined by guests from as far as Perth & Melbourne as well as some of the Sydney regulars.
Introductions and conversation begins as we all stand around the room ready to take our seats. The last guest arrives and without hesitation we are seated ready to begin right on time at 7pm. As the first of the Champagnes is poured you could almost hear a pin drop in the room, the silence is deafening! This is it the time has arrived and this is surely the greatest line up of wines that i have achieved to date so without delay i strapped myself in, ready for the wine ride of a lifetime.
First up is two vintage Champagnes from the Taittinger artist series; the 1982 Taittinger, Masson, Champagne, France and 1988 Taittinger, Imai, Champagne, France. Both these wines come from two of the greatest vintages of the 80’s. Our Sommelier Alex starts of course with the 1982, as it hits my glass there is some initial fizz but within a matter of minutes it is for the most part gone. The palate is still very good with an abundance of Hazelnut and bread type characters, some caramel, baked apple, citrus notes and soft warm acid. Rich like Belgian chocolate it also seems quite fat without that refreshing effervescence that would have kept it bright, fresh and clean. Looking back in true 80’s style i can’t help but think this wine is a bit like Boy George: once upon a time it would have been bright, colorful and all tarted up but now its a little fat and flabby with nowhere special to go. Never the less it makes a lovely Grand Cru Chardonnay.
The 1988 Taittinger Imai however is a different story all together, bright, and clean with persistent effervescence it is very good Champagne indeed at this point. Lovely citrus, Granny Smith apple, biscuit, yeast and wonderful nutty complexity on a clean, complex and persistent palate. With fresh well defined acidity and wonderful balance in the mouth the powerful fizz keeping it clean and somewhat dry this was the pick of the two champagnes for me. In the words of the late Robert Palmer with one of the greatest hits of 1988 “Simply Irresistible”!
With a few glasses of Champagne the conversation was well and truly underway and it was at this point that i had to announce the unfortunate news that the 1969 Marcel Servin Grand Cru Les Clos Chablis was a victim of TCA. But to everyone’s surprise i announced the bottle would be replaced by a Magnum of 1996 Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru Chablis. Being a little nervous about the age of these two Chablis i thought it good measure to pack a back up bottle just in case both these wines were nothing but a faded memory.
1947 J.Faiveley Chablis Premier Cru was the next wine to be poured, rich gold in color with a nose of fresh flowers and honey that over time evolved into a smoky nutty nose which slowly faded. Interestingly the wine at first showed not much more than acid on the palate but with breathing it began to open and grow fatter; smoky complexity, minerals, nutty and a little waxy with ever so slight honey of bottle age. To me a Chameleon wine that went through a number of phases over the 30 minutes or so in my glass. A wonderful experience for a 65yr old Chablis. As one of my guests said on the night “i challenge anyone to find a better 65yr old Chablis”. So very alive and no doubt thanks to the wine makers in 47 adding acid to many of the Chablis wines. 1947 was a hot vintage and the fruit lacked acid so the practice at the time was often to add the acid that was missing from the fruit.
The 1996 Domaine Laroche, Les Blanchots Grand Cru Chablis opened with herbal and vegetable tones that over time settled and transformed to more slaty minerality, wet stone and fresh herbs, very long on the palate with wonderful balance. This was a lovely wine that showed all the minerality of its terrior with sheer power and sophisticated elegance. I think a good 2 hour decant would have done wonders for this wine. In the words of one of my guests “ a really beautiful wine”. The Salad of Beetroot, Endive, Goats Cheese and Hazelnut served with these wines made for an interesting match that did a good job of highlighting different aspects of the two very different wines it was served with.
Moving right along we come to the second and last flight of white wines for this dinner. Two very impressive and underrated German Auslese Riesling wines. While Germany understands how incredibly good these wines are most of the world is oblivious to the quality and brilliance of these consistently impressive wines. I may be a little biased (i have a true passion for aged German Riesling) but these wines would surely have to be serious contenders for some of the best white wines in the world and many wine critics often agree. I should mention the 1971 Spatlese for this flight was replaced with a 1983 Auslese from the same producer and appellation as that of the 1971 Auslese (unfortunately the Spatlese missed his flight from Germany and arrived the week after the dinner).
First up the 1983 Staatsweinguter Rauenthaler Baiken Auslese Riesling now this bottle could be smelt from a number of meters away when it was being decanted, bright yellow gold, amazingly powerful floral tones, flower bouquets, honey suckle, apricot, peach and a slight hint of petrol soured from the glass and filled the room. The palate was nothing short of amazing with Apricot jam, Orange marmalade, a melange of fresh ripe tropical fruit, minerals, a dash of honey, bright soft fine line acidity and great balance. In a word Kaleidoscopic! All this just persists and persists on the palate for more than a minute. Wonderful purity of fruit.
1971 one of the greatest vintages of the last century, Staatsweinguter Rauenthaler Baiken Auslese Riesling, Amber with orange tint, powerful nose of apricot, smoke, spice, citrus, and honey. Deep and thick, with fantastic presence, an oily texture and amazing balance on a somewhat decadent palate. Multiple layers of finely meshed complex flavors including: tropical fruit, dried apricot, canned peaches, cardamom spice, citrus, crystallized ginger, honey, minerals and smoke. Fat and sweet almost heading into Beerenauslese territory for me but with wonderful balance and soft but refreshing acidity, Brilliant! The 71 clearly showed the added complexity of Botrytis spice which is absent in the 83 vintage. Two superb, powerful and stunning wines that could be cellared for another 20 years with ease. The lightly Cured Ocean Trout, Spanner Crab, Cauliflower, Radish and puffed Buckwheat was a brilliant match to these two wines. The sweetness of the seafood matching perfectly to the Riesling fruit and flora with the soft acid cutting through the fattiness of the dish.
The scene is now well and truly set for some very memorable and great wines, at this time the sommelier advised me that all of the red wines (6 of them) are perfect! Not a bad or tainted bottle to be had. The Bordeaux and Barolo had been decanted and the Burgundy opened and ready to be poured. To everyone’s delight i announce that all the reds are in superb condition with not a bad or tainted bottle in sight. Meanwhile the sommelier pours the 1929 Henri De Bahezre Romanee St Vivant Grand Cru Cote de Nuits Burgundy. To my amazement this 82yr old Burgundy is in fantastic shape, light pink strawberry in color, an amazing nose of red liquorice and soft chewy strawberry lollies. On the palate subtle strawberry and tart cherry, soft resolved tannins and slightly creamy mouth feel with supporting acidity. Quite remarkable.
Then a “King of Wines” 1949 Professeur Marion Chambertin Grand Cru Cote de Nuits Burgundy from what some have called the vintage of the century for Burgundy. Color of fresh blood, a nose of earth, fresh brewed coffee and undergrowth growing smoky and earthier with time in the glass, reminding me of walking through a native Australian forest just after a bushfire. There was also a very slight throwback to some acetone on the nose. This wine on the palate had red and black fruit profiles like black cherry, strawberry, brambly sweet dark jubes, beetroot, thyme and that wonderful smoky earth that developed and grew deeper with time in the glass adding some spice to the earthy savory profile. Stunning wine with potential for further cellaring. These two wines were served with Confit Kurobuta Pork Belly, Smoked Scallop, Kohlrabi and Mushroom which was delicious!
Now some rather well aged Italians step up to the plate. The first being the 1952 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Riserva, bright light pinkish red in color to orange at the rim with a nose of rose, cherry, leather and herbs seeming so elegant. This was a complete surprise, when i took my very first sip the wine flooded my mouth coating every corner with an explosion of sweet raspberry, cherry and red currant. Plush and soft with such delicate tannins, so delightfully glug able and in such great condition. Such a pretty wine that went so very well with the Ballotine of Quail, red wine salsify, spiced quince and pistachio. A great experience from a 60yr old Barolo that will not be easily forgotten.
At the complete other end of the Barolo spectrum was the 1971 Marchesi Di Barolo Gia Opera Pia Barolo. 1971 was an outstanding vintage for Barolo and is often called the vintage of the century. This wine was very dark in color and smelling a bit like a mix of grand old port and a small goods shop with ample sweet dark fruit. On the palate it was thick, extremely rich and deeply concentrated with leather, charcuterie meats, coffee, cinnamon, plum, squashy mulberry and plump raisins. Very concentrated with wonderful balance and amazing length and persistence in the mouth. Such a stark comparison to the 52 Barolo but both so very very good.
Out came the big glasses and which sounded the bell, it was time for the highlights of the night, first up 1950 Chateau Petrus and at this point my notes actually took a backseat while i completely absorbed myself in the wines and conversation about them that was moving around the table. Amazing wine with an ethereal elegance, smooth and round the balance is outstanding. So very complex and rich yet at the same time so elegant with lovely sweet cassis positioned so perfectly underneath carrying all the way across the palate with a wonderful array of mocha, cinnamon, leather, dried beef and earth. There was also an interesting minty/menthol character that some of those around the table found in this wine while others felt it may have been alcohol sticking out ever so slightly. Regardless this wine was nothing short of incredibly good not to mention a unique and precious experience.
How could this next wine be even better than the wonderful experience already being had with the 1950, well some thought it wasn’t while others thought it was. 1961 Chateau Latour a Pomerol , deep, dark purple and brooding this wine was so very rich with an amazing array of dark berry fruits including cassis and blackberry jam, coffee and spice with much more chocolate type characters compared to the Petrus. The nose on this wine was so incredibly rich and powerful i could not help but find a lovely expression of blackcurrant, violets and plum. Still showing a fair amount of tannin and youth this wine could be easily cellared for many years to come. The length was heavenly and in the mouth so chewy and dense. The sheer power and precision on the palate is breathtaking. Gobs more fruit, length and power than the Petrus but not yet as evolved. A masterpiece! The dish that accompanied these wines so well was, dry aged grass fed beef sirloin, braised shin, celeriac, mushroom, chestnut and bone marrow an incredibly rich meal with incredibly rich wines. In a word “Superb”.
After a short break it was at this point that i announced my inclusion of a surprise wine for the evening which was a 1976 Staatsweinguter Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Beerenauslese, Rheingau which i served with the pre dessert which was a combination of watermelon granita, cream anglaise and ??? (me memory fails me on the other combination in this dessert). The wine was literally orange in color, rich and dense with a wonderful nose of flowers, honey, mango, dried apricot, peaches, kumquat and orange which flowed to the palate with incredible richness, density and mouth coating viscosity. Showing lovely bright racy acidity keeping the amazing richness so clean and accurate on the palate the balance is phenomenal and finish so very very long and fresh. In my opinion these wines are every bit as good as any of the wines tasted this evening including the 2 Bordeaux.
Now we have arrived at the finale for the evening. The 1953 Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Beerenauslese, MSR. Golden amber in color, on the nose very floral with lemon butter, honey, glace pineapple and butterscotch. This wine danced across the palate with the elegance and grace of a prima ballerina, pretty and bright with lovely minerality, lemon and tropical fruit characters, dripping with honey interlaced with touches of lemon grass and hay all held together by juicy acidity keeping the finish clean and fresh. A beautiful wine from a rare and outstanding vintage.
Last but certainly not least the sommelier did his final round and poured the 1949 Peter Lotz Gaubischofsheimer Herrnberg Riesling and Sylvaner Trockenbeerenauslese, Rheinhessen. Dark caramel brown, loaded with massive amounts of brown sugar, coffee, mocha, molasses and sticky date this was thick and rich with superb power and balance. It possessed an amazing amount of soft crisp acidity that kept this incredibly rich wine so balanced and finishing so clean, crisp and bright. So very very long and chewy in the mouth the finish just went on and on and on. Another rare and outstanding wine from an outstanding vintage. This bought to an end 3 impeccable rare and sweet German Riesling from 3 different regions producing 3 very different styles of sweet Riesling wine.
I would like to thank everyone who attended and took part in sharing this amazing experience of wonderful and rare wines. This dinner was quite possibly the best yet. My notes on these wines and impressions given above are just that and i look forward to reading some of the notes and impressions others found in sharing this incredible line up of wines. I would also like to thank Carey for the photos on the night, Jeremy for the photos of the bottles and Tim for his effort in putting together the booklet on the wines, without all of your help these dinners would never be as special as they are.