Fountain Restaurant

This was a sumptuous buffet, including great oysters, terrines, smoked salmon, and caviar, all followed by an incredible stuffed whole suckling pig and coq au vin en croute.

Wine collector, connoisseur, and incredibly generous guy, Randy Feinberg, put together an amazing tasting and lunch at the Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia's Four Seasons Hotel. The American chef, Martin Hamman, is one of this country's most brilliant chefs, and he succeeded with every dish, from extraordinary patés overloaded with truffles, great oysters, and the finest suckling pig I have ever had (and I've had some of the best from the likes of Daniel Boulud and the late Jean-Louis Palladin). This dish takes several days to prepare as they take a baby pig, completely deconstruct it, then reassemble it with a stuffing made from the different parts of the pig, so the young porker looks like it has never been touched, except that you slice the pig as if it were meat loaf. There are no bones except for the skull. The finest coq au vin en croute I ever tasted was prepared by Martin Hamman. This guy knows how to deliver intensely flavored as well as brilliantly presented dishes.

All of the wines were handled impeccably by the hotel's service staff, decanted well in advance, and served in flights. I listed the wines above in the order in which they were served. Even with great food and 6-7 hours to work through them, it was a challenge to stay on top of them, and with nearly 45-year old wines, bottle variation is especially acute.

FLIGHT ONE. The biggest surprise in this flight was the strong performance of the big, brawny Troplong Mondot, which offered a wonderful perfume of white chocolate, fresh mushrooms, a touch of mint, loads of black fruits, and a hint of road tar, a dark garnet color, and broad, flavorful, full-bodied, concentrated flavors. The medium garnet-colored Beau-Séjour Bécot began to quickly crack up in the glass. At first it was tasty, offering notions of tea, oranges, and faded fruits. That initial blast of fruit rapidly fell apart, leaving only austerity and acidity. My generous rating is based on the first sip, not the last, which would have been 10-15 points lower. The dark ruby/amber-edged 1961 Clos Fourtet offered hints of cedar and spice box along with medium body and a clipped finish. It's fully mature and needs to be drunk up.

FLIGHT TWO. The 1961 Rauzan Gassies performed beautifully. This property has been off form for most of my professional career, but it has recently begun to live up to its potential. The 1961 revealed a floral nose intermixed with hints of black cherries, currants, cedar, and tar. Sweet, expansive, medium to full-bodied, rich, vibrant, and alive, it could age for another decade. The spicy, austere 1961 Rausan Ségla revealed a moderate garnet color with considerable amber at the edge, an absence of fruit as well as surprisingly high acidity. Even worse was the fecal-smelling, thin, acidic, garnet/amber-colored 1961 Brane Cantenac. Despite considerable amber in its color, the cedary, nicely fruity, elegant, medium-bodied 1961 La Lagune had a strong showing. With pleasant softness and good balance, it was a charming, still alive 1961.

FLIGHT THREE. The star of this flight was the 1961 Beychevelle, a prodigious offering with great intensity, a deep plum/garnet color as well as a sweet nose of tar, black currants, cedar, and spice box. Rich yet elegant with sweet fruit, ripe tannin, and a long finish, it should last for another 10-15 years. The tannic, herbal 1961 Lagrange (St.-Julien) exhibited a note of decaying mushrooms interwoven with seaweed, hard tannin, high acidity, and a dry, nasty finish. Much more enjoyable, the 1961 Branaire Ducru possessed a medium plum/ruby color with some lightening at the edge, and a damp, earthy nose of truffles, decaying autumnal vegetation, and sweet plums, currants, and flowers. It is spicy, well-made, fresh, and very much alive. I have never had a profound bottle of 1961 Léoville Las Cases, even from the château. This bottle revealed a dark garnet color with amber at the edge, medium body, soft, sweet cherry flavors, hints of road tar and black currants, and moderate concentration. While intact and fresh, it does not possess much complexity or depth.

FLIGHT FOUR. A brilliant flight, the level of quality increased significantly once past the monolithic, youthful, but one-dimensional 1961 Clerc-Milon. The beautiful 1961 Batailleyexhibited a dark ruby/plum color as well as sweet aromas of cassis and earth, lovely fruit, good roundness, medium body, and a heady finish. This beauty will last another 10-15 years. Absolutely spectacular, the dark garnet-hued 1961 Grand Puy Lacoste displayed jammy, mint-infused, sweet crème de cassis fruit, and hints of sassafras, cedar, and spice box. A total intellectual as well as hedonistic turn-on, this full-bodied, opulent, vibrant 1961 may last 10-15 more years. Another dazzling offering was the exceptional 1961 Lynch Bages. Its dense plum/garnet color revealed a hint of lightening at the edge. A huge nose of roasted meats, black currants, cedar, tar, smoked herbs, and spice box were followed by a wine with great fruit, huge body, and a long, concentrated finish with no hard edges. This knock-out 1961 should have another 5-10 years of longevity. Another spectacular offering was the 1961 Pichon Longueville Baron. The most youthful of the Pauillacs, it revealed a dense plum/garnet color, aromas of crème de cassis, licorice, tar, and truffles, a sweet, expansive, broad, savory personality, sweet tannin, and oodles of fruit as well as concentration. It is a tour de force in winemaking that could last for two more decades.

FLIGHT FIVE. This flight was composed of mystery wines from outside the major Bordeaux appellations. I didn't keep notes on two of the wines as they were undrinkable, but the other two were surprisingly good. The 1961 La Cabanne was pleasant in a low-keyed way, but the most shocking was the outstanding 1961 La Papeterie from Montagne St.-Emilion. I'm not sure this vineyard still exists, but this bottle resembled a top-notch Pomerol - round, generous, succulent, opulent, and fleshy. It was an eye-opening wine that demonstrates what small estates can accomplish in great vintages.

FLIGHT SIX. Randy Feinberg, known for throwing both a curve ball and a knuckle ball or two, next hit us with a completely different mini-flight ... to wake everyone up I suppose. We were served two classic wines from Paul Jaboulet, including a 1961 Côte Rôtie Les Jumelles. This bottle, which revealed an amber color along with a decrepit personality, was definitely a bad bottle as this can be a stupendous wine. That was not the case with a monumental 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle. While it did seem somewhat Bordeaux-like, its dense ruby/purple color, extraordinary level of concentrated fruit, youthfulness, and vigor were remarkable. The aromatics are vinous fireworks, and the wine possesses amazing crème de cassis-like fruit along with massive body and richness. This was a nearly perfect bottle of a sublime Hermitage.

FLIGHT SEVEN. It was clear this was a flight of St.-Estèphes given the austerity, earthiness, and tannins in these wines. Amazingly youthful (one of the youngest-tasting wines in the line-up), the 1961 Montrose exhibited a deep plum/purple color with some lightening at the edge. Huge, rich, and slightly austere, it revealed monster concentration as well as a forceful palate. Whether it will ever completely absorb all of its tannin remains to be seen, but this wine can certainly last for another 20-30 years. The 1961 Calon-Ségur offered notes of sweet caramel, herbs, mocha, black currants, cherries, and earth. While very good, even excellent, it was not the star of this flight. The stunning 1961 Cos d'Estournel revealed a deep plum/garnet color along with a sweet bouquet of licorice, black currants, smoke, herbs, and cedar, and beautiful richness as well as density.

FLIGHT EIGHT. The two stars of this beautiful flight were the 1961 L'Eglise Clinet and 1961 La Fleur Petrus. The latter wine faded quickly in the glass, but for 5-10 minutes, it offered a remarkably complex nose of incense, roasted coffee, dried herbs, sweet mulberries, and cherry jam scents. Amber at the edge of the color suggested a fully mature wine, but it was ripe, opulent, and heady before cracking up as it sat in the glass. The score represents what it tasted like during the first 5-10 minutes. A wine that has been consistently sublime in my tasting experience (and which may have still been improving when we had to move on to the next flight) was the 1961 L'Eglise Clinet. It boasted the deepest ruby/purple color of this group with only a touch of amber at the edge. Youthful, with a marvelous perfume of crème de cassis, black raspberries, flowers, and minerals, it exhibited fabulous stuffing, huge body, and a dense, expansive finish with no hard edges. This beauty appears capable of lasting another 15-20 years. Also interesting, the outstanding, complex, medium to full-bodied, spicy, fully mature 1961 Certan de May revealed considerable amber at the edge of its plum/ruby color, along with notes of sweet cherries, roasted meats, and hints of Provençal herbs and licorice. Light in color with a nose of singed saddle leather, ginger, spice, and earth was the 1961 Vieux Château Certan. Slightly past its peak, it should be drunk up.

FLIGHT NINE. The wine that stood out in this flight was the finest bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc I have ever had. A perfect wine, it was totally perfumed, unctuously-textured, and full-bodied, with exquisite sweet fruit, richness, and depth. This magnificent example far eclipsed any other bottle I have ever had. This prodigious wine was one of the highlights of the day. The 1961 Figeac was undrinkable. The 1961 Ausone was elegant and austere, with loads of minerals as well as nobility and class.

FLIGHT TEN. While Château Margaux's 1961 was the top wine of the flight, I have had greater bottles. Nevertheless, this was a superb example boasting a dark plum/garnet color with some amber at the edge, a remarkable fragrance filled with flowers, black currants, cedar, and spice, a big, expansive mouthfeel, and a long finish with a touch of hard tannin evident. Although the lighter, leaner, more austere 1961 Maléscot St.-Exupéry quickly deteriorated in the glass, for ten minutes it was a 90-point wine. I have had more prodigious examples of the 1961 Palmer, but I believe this wine is past its peak and has begun a slow decline. It was the fattest effort in this flight, with more mint, spice box, and flower characteristics, but not the generosity, richness, or nobility of Château Margaux. The beautiful finish only suffered in comparison with previous bottles.

FLIGHT ELEVEN. St.-Julien acquitted itself well. The brilliant example of 1961 Léoville Poyferré (the finest bottle I have ever had of this cuvée) boasted sweet blackberry and cassis notes intermixed with cedar, tar, truffles, and smoke. This luscious, rich, full-bodied effort got stronger and stronger as it sat in the glass. Just the opposite happened with the 1961 Léoville Barton. This wine initially revealed sweet black fruits intermixed with tar, cedar, and truffle characteristics, but it became leaner and more austere, the acidity began to poke through, and the fruit faded the longer it was exposed to the air. If it is drunk early after pouring, it may be better than my rating. Always a top wine, the elegant, noble, gentlemanly 1961 Ducru Beaucaillou exhibited notes of cedar, mulberries, black cherries, and spice box in a beautifully pure, restrained, delicate style. Elegant, fruity, pure, and intact, it is capable of lasting another 5-10 years. As usual, the monster 1961 Gruaud Larose was the most massive, rustic St.-Julien. It revealed notes of new saddle leather, roasted meats, herbs, black fruits, and earthy undertones. Dense, chewy, full-bodied, rich, and heady, it should keep for another 20 years.

FLIGHT TWELVE. Sadly, a wine that often merits 100 points, the 1961 La Mission Haut-Brion, was defective - oxidized. Another often immortal wine, the 1961 Haut-Brion, was superb, although seemingly more evolved than previous examples I have enjoyed. Nevertheless, it was a riveting drinking experience. Smoky, with that ethereal, earthy, black cherry, spice box, cedary, incense, and sweet fruit-scented bouquet, this opulent, unctuously-textured Haut-Brion exhibits a lighter color than previous bottles, with more noticeable amber, but a striking sweetness and seamlessness. This bottle required immediate consumption as it did not improve with aeration. The Pape Clément was another 1961 that began strongly, showing notes of ripe fruit, earth, smoke, and creosote, but became more austere with airing, and the acids poked through as the wine sat in the glass. If drunk early, it merits a score in the low nineties.

FLIGHT THIRTEEN. The 1961 Lafite Rothschild is notoriously irregular, and I have never had a profound bottle. The wine always offers a terrific bouquet, but becomes acidic and malnourished in the mouth. This bottle revealed a better mouthfeel and more texture than others, but it was completely blown away by its two rivals, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild. The 1961 Latourdisplayed unbelievable amounts of mint and crème de cassis (I mistook it for the Mouton). It is dense, full-bodied, pure, and enormously concentrated with not a hard edge to be found. The same can be said for the spectacular 1961 Mouton-Rothschild. It was filled with crème de cassis, mint, eucalyptus, cedar, spice box, and incense. This incredibly expressive offering was the wine of the flight, although both Latour and Mouton were virtually perfect. The 1961 Pichon Lalande was another example of a wine that started strongly, but within ten minutes lost much of its fruit and character.

FLIGHT FOURTEEN. Among the most opulent, concentrated, and intense wines of the day were two virtually perfect wines - the dark plum/ruby/garnet-hued 1961 Petrus and the remarkable 1961 L'Evangile. The Petrus exhibited loads of caramel, remarkable concentration, a viscous palate, high glycerin as well as alcohol. This fabulous, mouthfilling offering is capable of saturating both the palate and the olfactory senses. This was a prodigious bottle of this legendary wine. However, just as momentous was the 1961 L'Evangile, which seemed even more complex, unctuously-textured, thick, and juicy, with additional complexity. It was seemingly much younger as it revealed less amber in its deep ruby/garnet/purple-tinged hue. Both of these were sheer elixirs that had to be tasted to be believed.

FLIGHT FIFTEEN. We finished the tasting with three legendary efforts. This flight began with a wine that I have probably given more 100 point scores than any other in my lifetime - the 1961 Latour à Pomerol. Although this was a great bottle, it was not up to the quality of the two that followed. The 1961 Lafleur was one of those magical bottles that just had to be tasted to be believed. Pure cherry liqueur with a flowery, concentrated essence of truffles, this wine was youthful, dense, yet complex, and surreal. One couldn't ask for a better wine to drink in one's lifetime than this particular bottle. Paradise on earth! Having said that, it was equaled by the finest bottle I have ever had of the 1961 Trotanoy. More masculine, denser, and meatier than Lafleur, without the pure black raspberry and cherry liqueur-like notes, but with huge body as well as massive concentration, this was a spectacular performance for this hallowed Pomerol terroir.

This was one of the most memorable days of wine tasting and eating that I have experienced. A million thanks to host Randy Feinberg as well as the Four Seasons and Chef Martin Hamman, who prepared food that was the culinary equivalent of one of the greatest Bordeaux vintages in the last 100 years.

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