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A Birthday Dream

Posted: Aug 7, 2007 10:33pm ET

I got off the plane in Hong Kong yesterday, and I found myself a few hours later in the Ritz-Carlton on one knee, decanting an imperial of 1961 L’Evangile and a jeroboam of 1961 Latour. I have never decanted such big bottles of anything, especially two amazing wines as the great first growth legend and the fabulous Pomerol. It’s not as hard as you might think with the right size decanter. And, yes, Riedel makes imperial and jeroboam decanters.

What else could I do for a friend who was celebrating his 50th birthday? I was so excited about that event that I forgot to call my girlfriend when I got off the plane. She was sure I had been swept up in some new major disaster in the Far East. In fact, the whole thing was like a dream, and a very beautiful one at that.

But you don’t reach 50 every day. And Peter Lam certainly understood this on his birthday. He threw a bash that had to be one of the best wine dinners in a long time, with about 60 people drinking a range of amazing wines: all buffet style. Yes, you just walked up and served yourself – glass of this or that ... gloriously casual.

The wines served included the two big bottles I decanted, as well as a jero of 1979 Romanee-Conti. We also drank 1997 and 2001 Haut-Brion Blanc, 1970 Petrus, 1975 L’Evangile, 1982 Cheval-Blanc, and 1994 Le Pin. There was also a range of red Henri Jayer Burgundies that included 1996 Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux, 1996 Echézeaux, 1994 Echézeaux, 1993 Echézeaux, 1993 Vosne-Romanée Les Brûlées, 1990 Echézeaux, 1990 Nuits Saint Georges Meurgers, 1985 Nuits Saint Georges Meurgers, and 1983 Echézeaux. The Champagne was Krug 1990.

It’s sort of stupid to say which was the best wine of the evening with so many great bottles opened. But I have to say that I thought the 1961 L’Evangile stole the show. It showed breathtaking richness with a texture like the finest silk in China. The aromas were classic L’Evangile with chocolate and blackberries that turned to black olives and brown sugar. It was full bodied and wonderfully balanced. Seamless is the perfect word to describe it. I gave it a perfect 100 points, non-blind.

I found a couple other 100 pointers. Of course, the Latour was the blockbuster it has always been. It is a sleeping giant of a wine. The minute I decanted it, aromas of mint, licorice and currants came from the decanter with just hints of raisins. It was Port-like with a meaty undertone to the fruit. It was full-bodied and very tight. Yet the tannins were silky and finely textured. I tasted it through the evening and it didn’t change much. I have to wonder if it will live forever ...

The other 100-pointer was the 1990 Henri Jayer Echézeaux. What a wine! It was the archetypal Burgundy with seductive aromas and a delicate yet powerful palate. The first whiff of the wine from the glass was like smelling the neck of your true love. Don’t get me started. But it showed stunning aromas of sweet strawberries, plums and flowers. It was full yet very, very silky with wonderful focused fruit. The clarity of the wine was like looking at the stars on a mountain on a clear summer’s night. Jayer was a genius with the Pinot Noir grape. I felt so lucky to be drinking a range of Jayer’s wines, considering how rare and ridiculously expensive they have become.

In fact, I didn’t want to think about the prices and the rarity of the wines of last night. Sometimes I hate it that wines like those have become like rarified pieces of art and antiques that fetch outrageous amounts of money through dealers and auctions. They weren’t made with that intention, particularly the old wines. They were made to be drunk, and that’s why Peter opened them and shared them with his friends on his 50th birthday last night.

Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  August 8, 2007 9:17am ET
What an incredible collection....
Great to see that they are actually being consumed. And even more so because its done by people who really appreciate them.
Happy birthday Peter!
Tony Tam
August 8, 2007 10:18am ET
Oh James, please stop it!!!You are living way too fast and drinking way too well. The rest of us mortals are green with envy.
Niall Cosgrove
Ireland —  August 8, 2007 10:53am ET
no wonder you had your head in the clouds, what a collection.
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  August 8, 2007 1:31pm ET
You have a very understanding girlfriend James. Mine would kill me if I went to an event like that without her ;^)Kudos to your friend for sharing those wines the way they were meant to be shared! Clearly, he is a true wine lover, not a wine hoarder.
Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  August 8, 2007 1:35pm ET
JamesDid you pour the large bottles ir siphon them?
Jim Mcclure
DFW, Texas —  August 8, 2007 3:06pm ET
James, I'm incredibly jealous! I'd love to attend a party with a standard sized bottle of one just any of those wines.

I am curious though. I clicked on the link in the article for the 1961 L¿Evangile's tasting notes, which were published in 1986, 1992, and 1996. There's no attribution, but I'm assuming one if not all three were your notes. The 1986 received a 77 pt score, and the others 83 pts. Why the jump to 100? Does the extra decade in a larger format, which I understand ages better, account for all of it?
James Suckling
 —  August 8, 2007 9:17pm ET
Hoyt. No I poured them like a normal bottle into giant decanters. Jim. Those old notes are not mine in the database. But I think it is a case of bottle variation. I also think that big format bottles always help.
David A Zajac
August 9, 2007 1:43pm ET
Happy birthday Peter! What a collection of wines, what a friend to share such great wines - your a lucky man James.

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