The best ideas are often born over a glass or two of something decent and so it was in December last year, over a bottle of Chave ’90, a much-loved client, Gary Boom and myself decided upon a cracking idea for a wine dinner. The thought process was surprisingly streamlined; ‘This ’90 is bloody lovely, reminds me of a young ’78 – Oo the ’78, now you’re talking, I still have a few magnums tucked away – we’ll open one next time we get together. How good was that ’78 La Chapelle we had from your cellar last year? I have some magnums of that too. I have some awesome ‘78s in my cellar. Sod it, let’s a do a ’78 dinner!’
Whilst not universally great like ’85 or ’90, where just about every major region on earth turned out some excellent wines, enough vineyards in Burgundy, Rhone, Piedmont and California conjured up stunning efforts to ensure that a more then memorable line up could be assembled. Indeed, a vintage like ’78 would challenge those attending to spend some fun-fuelled hours having a rummage through their cellars and inventories for the perfect bottle.
And so in the days and weeks that followed, cellars were rummaged and bottles were picked, packed and shipped off to settle in time for this momentous event. The issue of a lack of quality in ’78 from Champagne was addressed as smoothly as the idea for the dinner itself; “Let’s do ’79 for Champagne!” Go on then...
Fast forward to March and guests and bottles had been assembled.
I’m not sure whether it was the young lady named Yummy on the front desk of our hotel, or the copy of ‘Boom’ magazine (don’t worry, it’s just Asia’s equivalent of Timeout, not something racier) I found on the desk in my room but there were several auspicious signs that this was to be a special evening indeed.
We kicked off with a trio of Champagnes from ’79:
1979 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
Last time I had the ’79 Krug was at BI London, 5 years ago. I’ve had more than my fair share of Krug since then but never the ’79. Absolutely beautiful. A perfect start to the evening. ‘Balance’ is one of the many over-used words in wine but this really is a perfect display of power, elegance and restraint. I want more.
Not many beverages make me think of both Russian Tsars and Rappers but whenever I’m lucky enough to try Cristal, the iconic golden bottle, so rich in history and in price, does just that. So good, if Russia’s top brass are still guzzling this stuff for fun, then vineyard owners in Reims should be on the alert as Putin and his pals could well be making it their next land grab. Deliciously rich and nutty. Maybe a little OTT for some but a stunning example of the heights that this most-fabled of Champagnes can reach when fully mature.
While the Krug and Cristal show their maturity, the Ruinart meanwhile is like a young pup. So fresh on the nose. While it perhaps lacks the stuffing of the Cristal or the balance and poise of the Krug, this is a beauty and completes a perfect trio of Champagne to begin any wine dinner with.
Next up, Great White Burgs:
1978 Meursault Cuvee Jehan Humblot, Hospice de Beaune (Bouchard)
1978 Musigny Blanc, Comte de Vogue
1978 Montrachet, Bouchard
A cracking pair from Bouchard, with the Meursault really ‘up for it’ early on but fading, while the Monty began quietly but was soaring after an hour. What a fantastic bottle. The uber-rare Musigny Blanc was an altogether more elusive dame. I had a brief encounter with an ’82 a couple of years ago but otherwise my reference point for this most enigmatic of producers has been entirely in the Bourgogne Blanc era. Another slow starter but again this is a lovingly sourced and stored bottle. Whilst not quite developing the complexity I perhaps expected or rather longed for, it is a beauty nonetheless.
Now for the ‘How do you follow that?’ flight:
1978 Charmes Chambertin, Dujac
1978 Musigny, Comte de Vogue
I bloody love Dujac. Described as a “mini-DRC” by one of the guests – she’s absolutely right. The purity is staggering. So velvety, with such a nice mix of earthy, animal notes and the prettiest of high toned red fruit. Quite a contrast to the more brooding De Vogue. Again, one of the great domaines but a wine that can frustrate given how long it takes to reach maturity. Finally a bottle that is ready to drink. Much more muscular than the Dujac and while not as alluring for me, an impressive beast nonetheless.
Onto a ‘Gentleman’s Trio’ or the ‘Something for Everyone’ flight:
1978 La Mission Haut Brion
1978 Barolo Monfortino Riserva Special, Giacomo Conterno
1978 Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon (Magnum)
’78 La Miss has everything you’d want from a mature Bordeaux. Lovely fruit cake aromas with classic La Mission/Graves tones of scorched earth. Lovely texture on the palate, full of black fruit and gorgeous earthy notes. The Monfortino meanwhile is a lot more primal and youthful. Somewhat restrained it was a lot more ‘showy’ towards the end of the dinner. Such a flawless wine. Yet again, the most dependable and enduring of Barolo. As spectacular as the Monfortino is stoic, Heitz’s famed ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ is Awesome, with a capital ‘A’. One of Napa’s most historic terroirs this was West Coast Rock ‘n’ Roll from the moment it was poured to the remnants of the magnum polished off at around 2am. Do yourself a favour and try and find some.
The Iconic Rhone Flight:
1978 Hermitage La Chapelle, Jaboulet (Magnum)
1978 Chave Hermitage (Magnum)
Courtesy of one Gary Boom. Drinking wine doesn’t get much better than this. Scoring out of 100, 20, or using emoticons (perish the thought), is all rather trifle. The faces of those around me says it all. These are belters. Both possess those tell-tale Hermitage notes in abundance; bacon fat, beef blood, tar and copious amounts of black fruit. So hard to pick a winner, and why do we need to? A rare chance to taste two legends side by side. Job done.
Finally, the “Well done, you deserve this” finale:
1978 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
A sensational way to end a sensational night. Not one of the great years for Port but this has everything you’d want. Beautiful nose of plums, figs and Christmas cake. Sweet and fat on the palate, and it needs to be, having just polished off three magnums. Deelicious.
You may recall an article picked up by the world’s media last year suggesting that if GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) data is to be believed then the world has been going downhill since 1978. The high-water mark for progress came and went that year. A pretty fine year for wine it was too. If this dinner was a high-water mark for wining and dining then all I can say is I am glad I was there.
A huge thank you to all those who attended and their generous vinous contributions and of course a massive thank you as always to our generous host. What a night. Just in case you were wondering, a very nice idea or two were hatched during the festivities. Stay tuned.