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1996/1998 Dom Perignon, 1999 Cheval Blanc & 1985/1999 Haut Brion

December 5, 2009

I started the first day of December with a bang at Saint-Pierre, my fourth visit in as many months. K, still flushed over his recent success, was hosting an extravagant dinner, planned to the last detail. The decent thing to do was to offer him a Premier Grand Cru Classe en 1855; why hog these treasures?

I was the last to arrive, and wasted no time plunging into the opening aperitif, a 1998 Dom Perignon (courtesy K). This was loaded with citrus and lime, light-medium, with excellent body, expansive yet delicate, offering good transparency, very deep, with a fragrance of longans and just the right level of acidity, ensuring a lively finish. It doesn’t have the yeasty note of a Krug, but this was great stuff, preferable than the 2000 vintage. But as good as the 1998 was, the 1996 Dom Perignon (courtesy D), drunk alongside, showed up the former’s deficiencies. One could immediately appreciate that the 1996 was a finer champagne – slightly deeper in color, richer, brimming with lifted aromas of lime and citrus, topped off with a creamy biscuity flavour, weighty and dry (but not to the extent of Salon), yielding greater complexity and depth, yet remaining smooth, even and delicate, avoiding any heaviness, ending on a note of pomelo and exotic tropical fruits, leading to a lingering, bitter-sweet finish. Going back, the 1998 seemed uneven in places, whereas the 1996 was a complete wine, beautifully proportioned. It is only through such side-by-side comparison that one can understand why the 1996 vintage is held in such high esteem. I am truly grateful to have had this great opportunity to taste both. Fantastique!

The solitary white, a 2000 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet “Les Combettes” 1er Cru (courtesy K), almost seemed an oddity after such a  marvelous start. This was not as deep in color as the 2003 example tasted in August, corresponding to its light-medium feel, with predominant notes of pear, pineapples and green apples (not to be confused with greeness), not quite as minerally or chalky as a Les Pucelles. It took on greater weight in the glass, developing a layer of vanilla and caramel, but the wine began to fade after 2 hours, never really getting into proper stride. Perhaps it had moved out of its temperature window, or because the subsequent auslese had altered my perception irreversibly. 

Next, the obligatory foie gras classique came along, paired astutely by K to go with a 2004 Fritz Haag Auslese Gold Cap, earning even the sommelier’s approval that this was more appropriate than a Sauternes, which would have been too cloying, whereas one could never direct such an allegation against an auslese. Pale yellow, conveying a wonderful body of pure nectar and honey with understated acidity, beautifully balanced, very smooth and even across the palate. Amazingly detailed, revealing very deep notes of lychees but it never ever threatened to dominate the food, neither did all the richness come across as being too thick on the mid-palate. It complemented the foie gras perfectly, and I simply can’t imagine how else the pairing should have been. I have to remind myself to keep my 2 bottles for at least 10 years.

Then came the highly anticipated trio of First Growths, starting with a 1999 Ch Cheval Blanc (courtesy PS). I remembered missing out on this when it was offered for only slightly above SGD300 a few years back. The color was an unattractive dusty red, but it gave off a bold, almost acerbic, bouquet of deep red fruits, plums, olives and wild mushrooms, giving an initial impression of fruit that was drying out, but it dawned upon me later that this was, of course, the predominant cabernet franc, an unique majority in Cheval Blanc, that was speaking. Quite intense and full-bodied, finishing strongly on a note of sweet cherries and raspberries, but the wine lacked the power, opulence and depth of the great vintages, even though it fleshed out more in the glass, becoming more seamless. Strangely though, I recalled having tasted another example at a 1999 horizontal at See Lim’s last year, where it had a level of richness and depth that was missing here, and certainly nowhere near the 1964, plush and pure, tasted two years ago at Iggy’s.

In comparison, the 1999 Ch Haut Brion, sourced from Bob Rees of WEA, showed a deeper red, which translated into a fuller and deeper wine, fruitier, more svelte, with loads of deep dark berries and earthy notes amidst a trace of sweet vanilla. It fleshed out further in the glass, displaying very good levels of richness and concentration combined with quite a bit of verve, well balanced, finishing with fine tannins. A solid wine, perhaps even a tad four-square, but it stayed firm throughout the entire evening. Excellent. However, like the Cheval Blanc, it never achieved the opulence and lushness of a great Haut Brion, as exemplified by the 1985 Ch Haut Brion (courtesy K) that was drunk alongside. Clearly the wine of the night with an evolved red, the 1985 displayed a very open, inviting bouquet of classic aged Bordeaux, consisting of a very unique mixture of predominant red fruits and dry, exotic herbal overtones, yielding a wine that was still considerably bold and deep, yet absolutely seamless and harmonious, bringing out the cliche that “’85s are drinking best now”. It certainly had an antique chic quality that is quite different from an ’85 Medoc – more evolved, more pure. Wonderful.

I’m a sucker for Saint-Pierre’s excellent cheese platter, and K generously obliged with a 1983 Ch Suduiraut from the restaurant’s list. The acidity was beginning to fade in this quasi-liquid gold, losing some freshness, but it still had a deep, rich vein of apricot and nectar, leading to a bit of an austere finish. We probably caught it at the tail end of its drinking plateau, as I recalled a 1983 Rieussec as being considerably more complex and livelier.

We finally staggered out past midnight (no…I felt fine, really). This had been a great dinner, and again I must express my gratitude for the generous opportunity to taste all these wonderful wines, not forgetting to congratulate K for finally exiting the dark tunnel.

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