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A 1990 Flashback

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 16, 2006 10:51am ET

Recently, I had half a dozen wines from the 1990 vintage. And at the age of “sweet sixteen,” those wines showed how great this vintage is.

I blind-tasted two Champagnes from the 1990 vintage in August, during my annual Champagne tasting. The Moët & Chandon Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Oenothèque (96 points, $290) just keeps getting better with age. Along with focused citrus and berry flavors, it has a mature element of coffee in a sophisticated profile. Bruno Paillard’s Brut Champagne Nec Plus Ultra 1990 (94, $185) was the first release of this prestige cuvée. The grapes are all sourced from grand cru villages, and the base wines are fermented in oak. It’s a muscular Champagne, with the whole-grain bread, tobacco and spice notes and the slight oxidative quality that comes from the use of barrels rather than stainless steel. Look for the 1995 soon, the second release of this cuvée.

Last month, I had dinner with the owner of a German winery at Veritas in New York. Among the wines we had, sommelier Yoshi Takemura poured the Riesling Auslese Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg 1990 from Karthäuserhof with dessert. I didn’t get the AP number (the estate made several different auslesen in 1990), but the wine was fabulous. The acidity and sweetness had integrated beautifully, and it was still fresh, with the typical lime and mineral flavors taking on honey and beeswax tones of maturity.

While moving most of my wines to a new wine room I built earlier this year with a colleague, I discovered my last bottle of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990. In mid-October, the weather turned chilly in New York, so I braised a lamb shank and cooked up some heirloom beans. It was a perfect match for the heady Châteauneuf, which has mellowed to a complex mix of dried cherry, herb, leather and spice notes.

Just a week later, at the California Wine Experience, Robert Drouhin and I led a seminar that included six vintages of Drouhin’s Beaune Clos des Mouches (2003, 2002, 1999, 1993, 1990 and 1976). For me, the 1990 was the standout, beginning to show the secondary aromas and flavors of autumn woods, dried fruit and flowers, yet still fresh with a core of cherry and sappy character.

At the end of October, I opened a bottle of Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron 1990 with a steak. This was the least evolved of this group of ’90s. Despite decanting, it was still very firm at the outset, gaining density and sweet black currant and licorice notes after about an hour. There was also plenty of iron and spice. If I had any more, I would wait another four or five years.

In fact, I have drunk most of the 1990s I purchased on release. Deciding when to drink a given wine is tricky. I enjoyed those that I opened, but wish I had had a little more patience. Or the foresight to have bought more.

Steven Page
November 16, 2006 8:21pm ET
Oh man, that Paillard NPU is one of my favourite wines of all time! I have one bottle left... what a bittersweet feeling.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  November 18, 2006 7:39pm ET
i bought recently a 4 bottles set of krug vintage 1989 for bargain 79 usd ...............let me tell you that those wines are surprisingly fresh , vibrants , all in krug syle with elegance and the nut touch of the krug familly.I love champagne and this one is maybe one of my all time favorite. besides the price................. no comment i believe.
Solie Kim
North York, ON —  November 19, 2006 4:14pm ET
Anacleto, did you buy them in Paris? or in US?What a terrific price you bought!!! if in US, please let me know where you bought...
James Molesworth
November 19, 2006 4:28pm ET
Anacleto,You got a great deal on the Krug '89. The best price I have seen for the Grande Cuv¿in the US is about $100.The 1989 is a little softer as Krug goes, thus it was released before the 1988. However, these are Champagnes that age beautifully. If well stored, they have years of life ahead.

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