Four Seasons Hotel - Fountain Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA
I listed these wines in the sequence they were served at a lunch by well-known and incredibly generous Philadelphia wine enthusiast and collector, Randy Feinberg. All of these wines were served blind, with a sumptuous lunch prepared by the staff at the Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia's Four Seasons Hotel. The centerpiece was a phenomenal stuffed pig. Other magnificent dishes included shepherd's pie and veal cheeks.
As for the wines, one has to remember that with old wines, there are no great wines, just great bottles. Flight one included two 1962s, an underrated vintage for Bordeaux. The Ducru Beaucaillou performed magnificently (the finest bottle I have ever had of this wine), and theMontrose was a bit earthy, rustic, and coarse. They were followed by a sensational flight of 1986s. I have always believed in this vintage's wines from the northern Médoc (which consist primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon). My wife actually worked the harvest for three weeks at Gruaud Larose, and said not a drop of rain fell during the entire time ... something worth remembering. These wines are still incredibly young, tasting more like 7-8 year old wines than ones approaching their 17th birthday. The 1986 Mouton Rothschild is one of the greatest Moutons ever made. At this tasting it revealed even more opulence than previously. The late Michel Delon always felt the 1986 Léoville Las Cases was the greatest wine he made, better even than his 1982, 1990, and 1996. It is a magnificent Las Cases revealing classic lead pencil aromas intermixed with cherry liqueur and graphite along with fabulous concentration and depth. It is just beginning to approach maturity, although this bottle suggested another 3-4 years of aging is necessary. The 1986 Gruaud Larose was more forward than bottles from my cellar. While it did not reveal the intensity of the Mouton or Las Cases, it is a majestic, multi-layered, complex wine with tremendous richness and admirable intensity.
This amazing flight of 1986s (all under-valued, in my opinion) was followed by a disappointing bottle of 1964 Troplong Mondot, a great bottle of 1964 Canon (its pristine quality was impressive), and a rustic, earthy example of 1964 Montrose. All of these wines are fully mature, and will not improve with additional cellaring.
To everyone's surprise (and there were some very good tasters here), no one picked the next flight as California. I know that sounds impossible, but the 1975 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon was thought to be a great vintage of Château Latour. Most people thought the Groth Reserve to be a Mouton, and the Bonny's Vineyard, which was incredibly herbaceous young, now has the mint/ginger characteristics of a Mouton such as 1959. Laugh if you will, but these wines could have fooled the greatest tasters in the world. They had been decanted the night before, which probably had something to do with the fact they had lost some of their California grapiness. In any event, they performed well. My favorites included the Groth Reserve and the Mayacamas. Interestingly, the last bottle of the 1985 Groth Reserve I had tasted (the first California wine I bestowed 100 points) had been tired, but this bottle was spectacular. Again, it's always a question of storage/provenance.
The next flight also fooled everybody, although at the end, before we made our guesses, I did identify the last wine as being the 1990 Rayas (because of the kirsch liqueur aspect). The star was the virtually perfect 1990 André Brunel Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire. It is a sumptuous Châteauneuf du Pape for the ages.
Following the three Châteauneuf du Papes was a flight of three perfect wines ... young, vibrant, magnificently concentrated, and loaded with potential. Anyone who has these wines in their cellars owns liquid gold. I am speaking of the 1989 Haut Brion (one of the greatest Haut Brions I have ever tasted, and a dead ringer for a modern day clone of the 1959 or 1961), the 1989 La Mission Haut Brion (perhaps the greatest La Mission Jean Delmas has made since he took control of the winemaking at this estate), and the 1989 Pétrus, which, in the last few tastings, has lived up to its acclaimed status.
Flight seven was a downer. It included a so-so bottle of 1959 Giscours, a surprisingly good, almost Burgundian-like wine, the 1959 Carbonnieux, a tired, astringent, vegetal bottle of 1959 Pontet Canet, and an earthy, rustic, washed-out bottle of 1959 Lafon Rochet.
Flight eight made up for the previous flight. It included the three greatest Beychevelles ever made. The 1928 Beychevelle is legendary, and this bottle was still intact, offering up notes of Chinese black tea, cedar, spice box, and minerals. It was followed by a gorgeous bottle of sweet, full-bodied, incredibly youthful yet rich and complex 1945 Beychevelle. An offering that blew me away was the 1982 Beychevelle, a wine that I have consistently rated between 89 - 92, but never as high as I did at this tasting. A magnificent bottle, it was far denser, bigger, and richer than I remembered. Obviously, I have got to pull a bottle from my cellar to see if it reveals anything near the quality it demonstrated at this tasting.
A great mini-flight included the magnificent 1983 Le Pin. Still youthful, it makes a mockery of anyone who says this wine can't age. Additionally, there was a still young, fabulous 1983 Palmer, one of the greatest Palmers from the sixties, seventies, and eighties.
The tenth flight consisted of three 1982s. The L'Evangile continues to prove that it is a magnificent effort that goes from strength to strength. The Vieux Château Certan was meaty and herbal, but rich and concentrated. A perplexing wine, and one I may have seriously overrated, is the 1982 Certan de May. I have not had a great bottle of it for a few years, making me think that it is either in an awkward stage, or that it is never going to come around, and reach the heights I predicted when it was young. A frustrating wine to handicap.
The next flight included a fully mature, but complex 1966 Domaine de Chevalier out of magnum. It was produced during a period when this estate made many elegant, complex Graves (as readers who have ever tasted a pristinely stored bottle of 1970 know). The 1966 is fully mature, and, from magnum, is best drunk up. I assume regular bottles are over the hill. The 1967 Domaine de Chevalier, one of the finest wines of that vintage, was tired at this tasting.
The last flight included an under-performing bottle of 1961 Gruaud Larose, a wine that can be magical. This example was spicy and cedary, with plenty of herb and fruit characteristics, but a dry finish. While the 1961 Vieux Château Certan was a bit tired, it was still beautifully perfumed, with a rich attack, but an attenuated finish. Nevertheless, both wines offered delicious drinking, but they were not the best examples I have seen of this vintage from either château.
I can't end without thanking Randy Feinberg as well as the extraordinary cooking of the Fountain's chef, Martin Hamann.
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