I felt like the referee at a sumo match, but the only wrestling being done was the debate over whether certain bottles were fake or not. We were drinking some of the greatest bottles (magnums) ever produced on the face of the earth during a dinner last night here in Hong Kong. For a wine lover, this was extraordinary: 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, 1947 Pétrus, 1947 Cheval-Blanc, 1961 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle (two bottles), 1961 Latour-a-Pomerol, 1961 Pétrus, 1982 Le Pin and 1982 Lafleur.
But the dinner conversation was mostly about which bottle was fake and which wasn’t. And I was looked at as the arbitrator. It was sort of ugly, but a necessary evil. No one likes fakes, especially when we are talking about bottles worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Okay. The ’61 Pétrus was fake. We knew that from the outset. The label was too big. It had the wrong print. The cork was wrong. And finally, the wine didn’t taste anything like the ’61. Maybe it was a Pétrus from the early 1980s, but it was certainly not the 100-point ’61.
I also thought the 1961 Latour-a-Pomerol was bogus. I have had this numerous times in the last two years, and this magnum was not the outrageously opulent ’61 Pomerol. It had none of the opulence. In fact, it tasted more like Cabernet Sauvignon than a Merlot-and-Cabernet Franc blend.
I am not sure that anyone else had doubts, but the 1982 Le Pin did not taste like the 1982. It did not have the outrageous wild berry and milk chocolate character that the wine has. It seemed more like a 1985 or 1983. I also noticed that the “Le Pin” was distinguishable on the cork but the vintage was unreadable ….
Finally, the big debate was over the magnum of the 1947 Pétrus. I admit that I had my doubts. The wine was so, so young. It was darkly colored with lots of raspberry and chocolate character, full-bodied with a velvety tannin structure. It was a little short.
I didn’t want to be drawn on the bottle when I was asked if the ’47 Pétrus was real. And a couple of guys at the table said it was totally fake. “I will cut my head off if this wine is real,” said one. I took a big gulp when I heard that one!
I said that the cork was right and so was the label as well as the bottle and capsule. The wine just wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear. So I said I wasn’t sure. I was labeled as being a politician … apparently not a good thing by the Hong Kong Chinese.
But I wanted to check my notes in my computer. And here is what I have on file from a tasting in 1991. I have had it a handful of times more recently but it is written in my notebooks, which are in my office in Italy.
“A rich, massive wine, with opulent aromas and flavors of bitter chocolate, vanilla and earth, an extremely silky mouthfeel and an underlying ripeness of fruit that spellbinds. 98 points.”
Sounds like the wine we had last night. So it’s real in my opinion. Real bottle. Real label. Real cork. Real wine. That’s it. Maybe it wasn't the best bottle. But it was worth 94 points, and fascinating to drink.
The rest of the wines in the evening were definitely also real. The 1945 Mouton was glorious with lots of mint, currant and berry character. It was full-bodied and ultrasilky with a long, long finish. It is the 100-point wine it should be. The 1947 Cheval-Blanc was not a perfect bottle. I found it slightly musty, but it still had the amazing richness and velvety tannins that this legendary wine delivers so well. One of the best slightly off bottles I have ever had. 97 points in this non-blind tasting.
The 1961 La Chapelle was mindblowing, although one bottle was less good than the other. I had the awesome one. After about two hours in the glass, it opened up into this cassis and raspberry jam on the nose with hints of meat and spices. It was full, soft and velvety. It was a real genie from the bottle. 100 points.
And my other 100-pointer was the Lafleur 1982. This continues to be one of the modern classics … a wine of our time. It has layers upon layers of raspberry, blackberry, mineral and wet earth aromas and flavors. It is full, silky and powerful. I have had it three times in the last two months. And it is stupendous.
I almost forgot to mention that two Montrachets were served as well: 2003 Lafond and 1985 DRC. Both were superb. The Lafond was tight as a drum and gave nothing. It was real infanticide, but the wine will be amazing in 10 or 15 years. 97 points for now. The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was stunning. It started very thick and overripe with a dried apple, pineapple and butterscotch character. Then it got younger and younger on the nose and palate with air. A couple of hours later, it was like a new wine. This was an amazing transformation in a wine. 98 points.
After the dinner, some of us went for a cigar and talked for another hour about the tasting and about the fakes. I didn’t want to shoot my mouth off and say something that I wasn’t almost 100 percent sure about, like my final call on the ’47 Pétrus.
So what I wrote above are my thoughts, the morning after and after reviewing my old tasting notes. One other thing sticks in my mind from the dinner:
Remember this when it comes to old wines, no matter their value. As Henry Tang said during the dinner, which I have heard before: “Remember that there are no great wines, only great bottles."
Guus Hateboer — Netherlands — December 19, 2006 5:05am ET
Paul Wright — December 19, 2006 9:16am ET
Paul Wright — December 19, 2006 9:31am ET
Guus Hateboer — Netherlands — December 19, 2006 11:04am ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — December 19, 2006 2:06pm ET
Scott O Neil — UT — December 19, 2006 2:44pm ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — December 19, 2006 4:39pm ET
Paul Lin — Irvine — December 19, 2006 6:11pm ET
James Suckling — — December 19, 2006 7:53pm ET
Scott O Neil — UT — December 19, 2006 8:40pm ET
Marvin Shanken — New York City — December 19, 2006 9:25pm ET
Mike Vessa — East Williston,NY — December 19, 2006 10:33pm ET
James Suckling — — December 19, 2006 11:24pm ET
Steve Lenzo — PHX, AZ — December 20, 2006 12:01am ET
Guus Hateboer — Netherlands — December 20, 2006 4:26am ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — December 20, 2006 3:20pm ET
Patricio De La Fuente Sa — Hong Kong — December 21, 2006 5:30am ET
Scott O Neil — UT — December 21, 2006 3:51pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — December 21, 2006 5:56pm ET
Mark Buzan — Carmel Valley, CA — March 8, 2007 1:00am ET
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