Dinner at Home with Six Friends from Shanghai, China

A half dozen wine lovers and friends we had met in Shanghai joined us for a night of fun as well as fine food and wine. Knowing their love of Bordeaux, I pulled some of my finest bottles from the cellar. We started with the 2002 Bollinger Grand Année Rosé Champagne, a brilliant dry, full-bodied rosé Champagne that’s loaded with flavor. It has at least 20 years of life ahead of it, but it will be long gone from my cellar by that time. The only California wine we opened was a magnum of Aubert’s 2009 Chardonnay Reuling Vineyard. It exhibited lots of brioche, buttered citrus, honeysuckle and waxy notes along with a full-bodied, opulent, fresh, vigorous and vibrant personality. It was admired by all, especially when drunk with my wife’s sumptuous jumbo lump Maryland crab crakes.

We then moved to three flights of Bordeaux. With the seafood gumbo, which was primarily a heavily reduced, round roux with a touch of saffron and lots of crayfish, shrimp and crab, we had a flight of 1989 Bordeaux – La Conseillante, Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. Interestingly, I had the first two wines again several days later, and neither of them performed as well as they did this evening. The brilliant, fully mature 1989 La Conseillante exhibited beautiful notes of mulberries, cedar, incense, licorice and a touch of herbs. When I had it again several days later, it was much more herbal, even though the bottle came from the same case. Go figure. The 1989 Haut-Brion was pure perfection. It boasted a dense ruby/plum/garnet color as well as a stunning, room-filling perfume of plum sauce, black cherries, lead pencil shavings, volcanic scorched earth, and a hint of smoke. Full, opulent and silky textured, this gorgeous 1989 is one of the all-time great Haut-Brions. I wonder if the 1959 tasted like this at age 23? Equally as good as its cross-street rival, the 1989 La Mission Haut-Brion may have been our guests’ favorite wine of the evening. Denser, fuller, more powerful and masculine than the elegant Haut-Brion, La Mission is a thick, unctuously textured effort revealing chewy black currant and blackberry fruit intermixed with a brooding note of smoky barbecue. This terrific wine has at least two decades of life remaining.

The last two flights were served with an amazing strip Waygu from the famed Bryan Flannery in California. The young 1990 Lafite Rothschild was not as impressive as the other five wines that followed it. A classic Lafite, it revealed notions of English walnuts, graphite, black currants and cherries. I think many of the Lafites made from 1996 onward (particularly the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010) would easily surpass this medium-bodied 1990. For those who may own it, it can be drunk now, but it will probably benefit from another 5-6 years of cellaring. Fully mature and unlikely to get any better, but capable of holding at this plateau for at least a decade is the 1990 Cheval Blanc. Notes of mountain laurel, lavender, mulberries, black cherries, incense and a roasted coconut-like scent jump from the glass of this exotic, perfumed wine. The wine’s plum/garnet color was not as deep as either the Lafite’s or Latour’s. Silky, round and medium to full-bodied, it is a beauty of complexity as well as hedonism. I have experienced bottle variation with the 1990 Latour, with some bottles on the edge of being too low in acidity and out of balance, but this was a beautifully vibrant, full-bodied, powerful example. Dense ruby/purple-colored, young, flashy and exuberant, it was overall surprisingly soft and forward for a Latour at age 22. Nevertheless, it was impressive as well as the biggest wine of the three Bordeaux served in this flight.

We then moved to a flight of 1982s that have been in my cellar since they arrived to these shores in 1985. The greatest Beychevelle I have ever tasted (although there are some bottle variations for unknown reasons) is the 1982. Several of my Chinese guests were shocked that this wine was so amazingly rich, powerful, and capable of standing up next to Château Margaux (in fact, even eclipsing it) and the mythical 1982 Mouton Rothschild. One of the reasons I served the Beychevelle was because of the dragon boat on the label, which the Chinese loved. It is very dense, full-bodied, and unusually masculine for this wine, which tends to be elegant and understated. The concentrated 1982 appears to have another 20-30 years of life remaining. The 1982 Château Margaux is wonderful. By itself it would have been considered a great bottle, but it was eclipsed by its siblings in this flight. Dark and rich with a slightly more chunky, fatter character than most Margauxs exhibit, it offers plenty of black fruit, earth, new saddle leather, licorice and flower-like characteristics. The wine is surprisingly full-bodied, and has at least 30-40 more years ahead of it. Coming in to mid- to late-adolescence, the 1982 Mouton Rothschild reveals the darkest, youngest looking color of all the wines we tasted. Its deep purple color is accompanied by classic Mouton notes of crème de cassis, flowers and background oak. Full, rich, youthful, vigorous and concentrated, this is clearly a 50-75-year wine. Perfectly stored bottles are just now revealing secondary nuances. The problem is that so much of it has been traded and re-traded that it is easy to find badly stored and cooked bottles that are over the hill. The great bottles are still young.

This was a magnificent night of joyous Chinese enjoying good wine and food as well as fabulously interesting discussions about politics and other assorted items from our respective countries. It was a great example of how good wine and food can bring people from different backgrounds together like no other beverage in the world is capable of doing.

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