Michael La Tondre of Fair Oaks assembled the tasting of a lifetime. On Saturday night at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton hotel, La Tondre gathered a dozen friends - both wine aficionados and casual drinkers alike - and tasted through 14 bottles. But these weren't just any bottles. La Tondre supplied 14 bottles of French wine from 1959, or more commonly known as "the vintage of the century." And what better way to celebrate this golden anniversary than uncorking some of 1959's superstars, and pairing them with a menu by chef Ron Siegel?
We applaud La Tondre for generously sharing these wines with friends, not just treating them like cellar trophies. Also note that La Tondre is chairing the Make A Wish "Winter Wine and Food Festival" on Jan. 30. We'll keep you posted for more details on that event.
But now, sit back, relax and try not to drool. Here are La Tondre's complete tasting notes from Saturday night.
First Flight, no food
1959 Ruinart, Rose Champagne, 88 pts
This 50 year old sparkling had a copper, ice tea color with just a few bubbles lifting from the glass. The nose had crÃ¨me caramel as well as iced coffee, mocha. The bouquet was complex, but the slow march of oxidation had created a Madiera nose. In the mouth, the acid was still zesty with a toasted walnut, nutty finish. The extremely fine sediment was dark brown as opposed the bread dough, yeast particles from a young Champagne. The finish on this champagne was tremendous lasting for over 40 seconds. The Ruinart Rose is unusual in that it does not achieve its rose color by extended contact with pinot noir berries, instead the Ruinart House adds fermented pinot noir wine to make this special Champagne. Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house, founded in 1729, but today is a jewel within the Louis Vuitton Moet & Hennessy luxury empire.
1959 Chateau du Suronde, Quarts de Chaume, 97 pts
First impression is an awesome, golden color with great apricot and orange in the nose. This wine had tremendous texture in the mouth as the botrytis noble rot lifted the lowly chenin blanc grape to a rich, mouth coating elixir that was totally full in the palate. In the glass it developed spice, nutmeg and candied orange peel in the bouquet. Several people regarded this as the wine of the night (WOTN) and no one had ever had a chenin blanc this delicious. The Loire region, two hours southwest of Paris, is not as famous as other regions of France, but the famous Christies Wine Auctioneer, Michael Broadbent, gave this vintage of Loire 5 Stars out of a possible 5 Stars. The yields are miniscule as 5 grape vines are needed to make one bottle of wine.
1959 Leroy, Meursault, 93 pts
If you were to try a 50 year old Chardonnay from California, it would be cooked, oxidized and way past its prime. The white wines of burgundy established chardonnay as one of the great wines of the world and Maison Leroy enjoys a reputation for making some of the longest lived wines from Burgundy. This wine had a bright yellow gold color redolent of an 8 year old chardonnay, yet the nose was significantly more complex. The acid and alcohol were in perfect balance with the refined breed and minerality of a Premiere Cru Meursault. Coffee and smoke aromas with a flinty mineral taste that persisted for 30 seconds. Meyer lemon and grilled honeydew melon.
1959 Chapoutier, Monier de la Sizeranne, 89+ pts
This Rhone from Hermitage has a long tradition of excellent wines but in the past 20 years with biodynamic farming it has climbed to one of the top three Syrah producers in France. This had Cuban cigar in the nose with bacon and smoke. The color was red with amber edges showing it was a wine of age. It had a medium mouth feel and the finish was only 20 seconds. The wine was in excellent condition but not a super star.
1959 Jaboulet, La Chapelle, 98 pts
Absolutely well preserved with a medium brick to dark red color. Tremendous nose that knocked me out. Grilled meats, great tobacco, leather. With new scents lifting each time you returned to the glass. Tremendous mouth coating wine with a full 40 second finish that has perfect balance among the acid, tannin and alcohol. This wine is not a candidate for AARP. It does not look 50 years old, it does not taste 50 years old. The balance and finesse are feminine while the nose and taste are masculine. Great complexity made this WOTN for some participants.
1959 Gruaud Larose, 93 pts
This second growth from St-Julien was the first Cabernet Sauvignon of the tasting. It was an opaque, dark red. It had coffee and mocha with mushroom. It had reached its plateau but still quite enjoyable. It was the densest, most viscous dry wine of the flight, but lacked the complexity of the La Chapelle.
Second Flight, served in stages with the menu
1959 Dom Perignon, Brut Champagne, 91 pts
The first luxury cuvee of Champagne was the 1921 Dom Perignon. So, if you are offered an older version of DP, you know it will be a fake. The 1959 DP was the real McCoy with Mick Jagger brown sugar in the nose and plenty of toasted brioche. This was not as oxidized as the Ruinart sparkling rose. The acid went well with the geoduck clam amuse bouche as well as the fatty Toro sashimi with golden osetra cavier. The DP had a great copper color and, after 50 years you could not tell any color difference from the white DP and the rose Ruinart. The finish was moderate 20 seconds.
1959 Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes, 100 pts
Brilliant amber color with gold highlights. This was gorgeous, maple syrup. You could pour this Yquem on pancakes. But, it went fantastic with the Lobster and Veal cheeks. Many people prefer dessert wine with dessert. The sweetness of a dessert wine, if it has enough acid, can work wonderfully with savory food as well. Last decade Ron Siegel defeated Iron Chef Sakai in Tokyo and the theme ingredient was Lobster. Once again Chef Siegel executed a fabulous pairing. The veal-lobster reduction sauce matched the amber color of the Yquem yet one was salty and the other was sweet. This was WOTN for me as well as five other tasters. '59 Yquem will please wine aficionados even when it is over 100 years old.
1959 Comte de VogÃ¼Ã©, Musigny, Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines), 96 pts
Many Francophiles are smitten with red burgundies even though only a few home runs are scattered among a sea of bunts and grounders. In the rarefied air of the wine snob's wine snob you have Comte de VogÃ¼Ã©, Musigny, Vieilles Vignes. One of the all time great plots of land in burgundy is the Grand Cru vineyard called Musigny and the Domaine Comte de VogÃ¼Ã© traces family ownership over 550 years through 20 generations. 1959 was one of the truly great Red Burgundy vintages. The wine in the glass was dark red with hints of translucent brick. Initially a little barnyard in the nose but evolved into warm spice and raisins, it smelled like a Thanksgiving kitchen. Sandalwood and candied cherries as well. This was a great pinot with a medium mouth feel but great length of finish. Every time I tried it, it had a different nose, this baby was moving. Thinner viscosity in the body lost a couple of points. This old vines burgundy was paired with grilled small quail. And quail, Ron Siegel style, meant 4 legs for each dish. After the quail, retasting the Musigny VV gave off cola notes as well as coffee and pomegranate. Another fantastic food and wine pairing.
1959 La Mission Haut Brion, 99+ pts
The first Bordeaux with food. Absolute dark purple, that was opaque and inky. Gorgeous nose with cedar, lead pencil, and sweet pipe tobacco. This wine had huge flavors and stained the palate and teeth with fantastic flavors that persisted for 60 seconds. The wine was in extraordinary condition and probably would be delicious another 50 years from now. La Mission is a 2nd Growth but tonight it was my dry wine of the night. Several people also picked it as their WOTN. This wine went excellent with the lamb chop, chanterelles and potato gnocchi.
1959 Haut Brion, 99 pts
It was great to compare the Haut Brion 1st Growth with its geographical neighbor the La Mission Haut Brion 2nd Growth. They seemed to be brothers from the same family with the 1959 Haut Brion a little tougher, rustic, with more leather and a hint of truffles. It had similar cedar and lead pencil but it did not coat the mouth as intense as the LMHB. The Haut Brion had nearly the same length of finish. Historically, this is regarded as one of the all time great Bordeaux and five people voted it their WOTN.
1959 Margaux, 94 pts
This is a wine that had depth and good color, but it was a little more raisiny than the HB or LMHB. It also had a little petrol in the nose. It had a medium palate and medium finish.
1959 Lafite, 95 pts
To have some fun, this wine was served blind. Someone guessed that it was 1961 Haut Brion. Huge, motor oil, 10W40, somewhat oxidized. Some regard 1959 Lafite as the greatest wine of 1959, but this bottle was not as good a condition. Great purple color, explosive aromatics, figgy, dry, port like in texture. Two people chose it as WOTN.
1959 Latour, 98- pts
After dinner, and after dessert, a surprise wine was brought out. This wine had the characteristic power of many classic Latours with great nose and youthful flavors. Lead pencil, graphite, with blueberry compote this had excellent complexity. The finish was 30 seconds so it was not quite in the same league as the Haut Brion or LMHB but still a delicious wine. Three people chose it as WOTN. A great wine to finish the night.