Daniel - The Legends of the Right Bank
This Right Bank Legends event at restaurant Daniel ranks as one of the top two or three culinary and wine drinking occasions of my life. All the wines were from superbly stored magnums, and, with the exception of the bottles brought by participating hedonist, Ed Milstein, all the reds were decanted three hours in advance. Knowing what lay ahead, I skipped the Champagne and waited for the 1986 Ramonet Montrachet, which was revealing the botrytis/funky notes that have appeared in the finest 1986 white Burgundies after age 15. Its medium gold color was accompanied by plenty of oily citrus characteristics as well as bright acidity (no doubt some added). Given its richness, intensity, and full-bodied character, I could put up with its weird personality. The nearly perfect 1985 Ramonet Montrachet exhibited a lighter gold color as well as a gorgeously sweet nose of honeyed herbal tea intermixed with lemon oils, crushed rocks, and hints of smoke/matchstick-like sulphur. It still possesses remarkable freshness, huge body, and appears set for another two decades of longevity.
Donated as a palate cleanser by the ever-so-generous Ed Milstein was a magnum of 1961 La Fleur Petrus. This wine had 98-100 point aromatics, but 88-90 point flavors. Dark garnet-hued with orange/amber at the edge, it revealed a stunning bouquet of caramel, toffee, and black cherries. The attack was encouraging, but the wine quickly dried out, revealing bitter tannin in the finish. This would be a superb wine drunk on its own, but it was outclassed by virtually everything that followed. One of the greatest wines of the day was the magnum of 1947 L'Eglise Clinet. Its dense ruby/purple, pink-rimmed color was followed by an overwhelming perfume of cherry liqueur, melted chocolate, and toffee. The incredibly harmonious, opulent, full-bodied palate was accompanied by remarkable concentration, that unctuous texture found in many of the top 1947 Pomerols, and a 60+ second finish. This exquisite, fresh, vibrant 1947 is capable of another 20-30 years of longevity.
We then moved into a flight of Petrus. While the 1961 Petrus outclassed the 1947, it was much drier and more Médoc-like than any other bottle of this vintage I have had. It tends to possess much more unctuosity and fat than this particular bottle. Nevertheless, it was a great wine displaying a fabulous dense purple/plum color, notes of underbrush, cedar, sweet cola, black cherries, and currants, and superb definition. In a blind tasting, I would have guessed it to be a northern Médoc, not a Pomerol. The 1947 Petrus did not have the unctuosity and port-like characteristics displayed by the finest bottles. The finish was dry, but the color was intact, and this medium to full-bodied wine revealed stunning aromas of tobacco, lavender, black cherries, spice box, and earth.
The next flight may have been the most compelling group of wines I have ever had in my life. Two were perfect, and one was nearly so. The 1961 Latour à Pomerol is a freak. It boasts an exotic nose of tropical fruits, Chinese black tea, Grand Marnier, ripe black currants, and sweet kirsch as well as a huge, lavish palate with a wealth of fruit and glycerin. This full-bodied, massively-endowed 1961 possesses a silky personality, wonderful harmony, and, despite its weight, power, richness, and intensity, refreshing elegance. The color is just beginning to brick at the rim. This magnum was as good as any I have tasted of this legend. It is capable of lasting another 20-25 years. One of the wines of the day was the 1950 Latour à Pomerol. 1950 was a forgotten vintage in Bordeaux until I started writing about how great some of the Pomerols were. It is one of those unusual years where Pomerol had a legendary vintage, but no other appellation came remotely close. This effort's black/plum/garnet color was the densest of any of the older wines. It revealed an extraordinary perfume of smoke, black truffles, mulberry and cherry liqueur, licorice, sweet toffee, and caramel. Amazingly unctuous, with the viscosity of a vintage port, but totally dry and incredibly pure, with multiple layers, this was like a 50-story skyscraper on your palate. An unreal wine in every sense! I suspect on its own, I would have given the 1947 Latour à Pomerol a perfect score, but the fact is, as Shakespeare wrote, "comparisons are odious," and this magnum, as brilliant as it was, just did not have quite the aromatic complexity of either the 1961 or 1950, or the weight and richness of the 1950. However, it was a magnificent wine. Massive, port-like, and thick, with a hint of amber at the edge of its older garnet color, it revealed an extraordinary nose of smoke, herbs, underbrush, caramelized black and red fruits, and gorgeous sweetness from high alcohol. It should drink well for another 15-20 years. As my right side lunch partner amusingly exclaimed,
"My God - these are all Parkerized wines 27 years before he started to write."
As anyone who drinks wines older than 10-15 years knows, bottle variation is a major factor. Prior to 1970, virtually no Bordeaux château had the capacity to make a master blend and bottle their entire production from large tanks. Hence, most bottlings were in small lots, or, at some of the tiny Pomerol and St.-Emilion estates, even barrel by barrel. That accounts for significant bottle variation. Also, many châteaux sold part of their wines in barrel to négociants, in Bordeaux, Belgium, and England, who then bottled the wines, which also contributed to bottle variation.
I say that largely because the first four or five bottles I had of 1961 Lafleur were dreadful, ranging from mediocre to undrinkable, but at the last half dozen or so tastings, the wine has been virtually perfect. The magnum served at this lunch was like a prodigious Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape on steroids. It displayed superb aromas of kirsch liqueur, licorice, and spice along with fabulous purity and laser-like precision. Revealing great intensity, full body, and marvelous concentration as well as freshness, this bottle seemed capable of lasting another three decades. The first magnum of 1947 Lafleur was brilliant, but as several people commented, it tasted more like Hermitage than Lafleur, revealing none of the classic kirsch liqueur characteristics for which Lafleur is noted. Ed Milstein must be the only person in the world to travel around in his limousine with magnums of Right Bank legends for a quick pick me up. When I jokingly accused him of having a satchel full of magnums that was worth more than the entire Rockefeller Center, he pulled a magnum of 1947 Lafleur from his treasure trove. It was quickly decanted, and it was out of this world. It would probably have been even better if it had had some time in the decanter, but since it was already perfect, I'm not sure where it could have gone. It was essentially the same color as the first magnum, but the kirsch liqueur and licorice notes, fabulous sweetness of fruit, additional glycerin, and massive concentration and texture were more apparent in the second magnum. It was amazing - like drinking pure candy of the vine!
The 1947 Cheval Blanc can be an irregular wine, but this particular magnum was off the charts. Young and vibrant, with a dense plum/garnet color with lighter pink and amber at the edge, it revealed a fabulous nose of mint, chocolate, black tea, and heavenly layers of cherries, crème de cassis, and earth. Huge, viscous, ripe, and full-bodied, with wonderful purity and vibrancy, it lived up to its reputation as one of the greatest wines ever made. Unlike some bottles (especially Belgian bottled cuvées which often had some port added to the barrels), this example was dry, but incredibly unctuous in the mouth. We thought the ‘47 Cheval Blanc would be the final magnum of the evening (believe it or not, we were all in amazing shape given the incredible quality of these wines), but Mr. Milstein pulled a magnum of 1945 Mouton Rothschild from his car. While it was not the perfect wine I have had in the past, it came close. The aromatics merited 100 points, but the flavors were slightly austere compared to all the Right Bank wines that preceded it. Aromas of black currants, cedar, spice box, and high quality cigar tobacco filled the room. In the mouth, the wine was sweet, full-bodied, rich, and still revealing tannin and toughness in the finish. It was a great wine that fell just short of perfection.
As always at Daniel, the food was impeccable. The Toro Tuna could have emerged from Tokyo's finest restaurant. The brilliant Snail Baeckenhoff with Porcini and Frog's Legs was to die for, as were the Liève à la Royale (which would have made Louis XV proud), and the extraordinary Côte de Bœuf Rossini (which Daniel Boulud prepared with foie gras, whole black truffles, and cepes).
I suspect this type of tasting will be impossible to repeat anywhere in the world, but somebody, somewhere might be able to come up with some bottles in such pristine condition as the ones we tasted on that memorable Monday afternoon, December 5, 2005.
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