Believe It or Not Blind Tasting Dinner

Dec 17, 2006

Insane is the only word I can use to describe it. I was invited to a blind tasting dinner at the restaurant Caprice to celebrate the 30th birthday of Paulo Pong, a Hong Kong wine merchant, and I really didn’t expect to have to try to “find” the wines I tasted during the outrageous dinner.

Most of the time, “mystery” decanters normally mean finding the variety like Pinot Noir or Sangiovese or Nebbiolo or Merlot. And then you go to country, area, vintage, appellation and maybe winery. But the first wine of the evening served blind was the Leroy Le Montrachet 1969. I think I was off about two decades, although I did say that it was a Montrachet—Chassagne-Montrachet. Oops!

I was with Paulo’s usual tasting group, about eight of them, all in their late 20s or early 30s. I was the only salt-and-pepper-haired guy in the group, although Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour was also there, and he's no spring chicken. Anyway, apparently they have this group every month or so and they taste blind against one another. They didn’t say what they won at the end of the year, whoever finds the most wines ... but I was afraid to ask.

Two of the guys at the dinner had been partying all night in Tokyo the evening before. They said they were blind tasting some 1986 Jayer and 1985 Guigal single-vineyard Côte-Rôties in the Ginza with newfound friends. So they were in perfect shape for the dinner, I told them.

The next two wines were served. And this is no lie. I realized that Paulo was going to pull out the stops, so I was going for broke on my educated guess. And Paulo would not say anything about the wines. Nothing. I was sort of pissed off. He said he would not reveal the names or anything else until we tasted all eight of the wines, each with a different course of food.

But I will tell you what they were as we go, because it’s more interesting.

So the next pair was old. I am mean really old. But they tasted young. So many of the group said they were from the '50s, or even the '80s. I went large. I felt like I was playing roulette. “1899 Margaux and 1900 Margaux,” I said. Paulo looked at me like I had just heard a few words from God.

I had actually had a 1900 Margaux in Hong Kong last year during a dinner and the wines reminded me of it.

Well, they weren’t the Margaux 1900. But they were 1899 Cos-d’Estournel and 1899 Léoville-Barton. I was sort of pleased with myself … maybe there is a God who helps us in blind tasting! Normally, I am not very good at finding bottles to be honest.

The Cos, by the way, was not a very good bottle. It was very acidic. But the Léoville-Barton was glorious. I posted this in the Forums tasting section over the weekend: It was a lovely wine with a light amber red color and delicate aromas of sweet red fruits and citrus. It was medium-bodied with silky, almost oily, tannins, and a long, caressing finish. It was very layered. 94 points.

The next pair was even better to drink. They were old and dreamy with layered, silky tannins and an oily and refined finish. They reminded me of old Lafites like 1929 and 1928. So I threw that out. You know the saying about throwing stuff on the wall and if it sticks …. Anyway, they were 1929 Ducru (88 points) and 1929 Beychevelle (98 points). The latter tasting note is in the Forums. The Ducru may not have been a perfect bottle.

Perhaps you are noticing a pattern. Of course, we didn’t know that, because Paulo would not tell us the wines or anything until the end of the dinner. But Paulo chose vintages ending in “9,” which the Chinese believe gives you longevity as a lucky number. And I do hope the longest life for Paulo (and myself) if he keeps serving wines like this!

Back to tasting. The next set was so delicious and luxurious. They went surprisingly well with the roasted sea bass in a red wine reduction sauce. One of the wines was so rich and powerful, with a unique aroma and flavor of raspberry reduction sauce with chocolate and mushroom that it reminded me of a 1947 Lafleur that I had in New York a few weeks ago during a dinner tasting. So I said that. The other bottle was corked! Ouch! The good bottle was the 1949 Lafleur and the bad one 1949 Cheval-Blanc. I gave the Lafleur 100 points.

Two more bottles to go. These two were equally rich and wonderful. One in particular had a mind-blowing aroma of eucalyptus and chocolate with currants. I joked and said it must be the 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. But that was not my official guess.

I thought Paulo was really pushing the boat out here—1945 Mouton. OH MY GOD, I thought to myself. What is this guy going to do for his 40th? I don’t care but I am there!

But in all honesty, the wine was not as rich as I remember, if it was the 1945 Mouton. So may be it was not a perfect bottle? So I said it anyway. And the other was so outrageously gorgeous and so delicious to drink with tobacco, berry, mint and a caressing finish that lasted for minutes, that 1959 Lafite popped into my mind. The wines were 1959 La Mission (100 points for me that night!) and 1959 Mouton (98 points).

There was no room for dessert. Honestly, my palate was overwhelmed with pleasure. And I think everyone else felt the same. We had been spoiled rotten! And it had been the most amazing birthday wine bash I had ever been to.

We decided to pass up the 1989 Yquem and dessert for karaoke …

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