It is not often that one gets to uncork and drink one of wine’s undisputed treasures. When a friend recently shared a 1983 La Tache from the mythical producer Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, I wondering if I was up to the daunting task of unleashing this priceless wine. See the video to see how it went.
The rest of the wines this night were equally stunning, and most were from 1983, including the entire red portfolio of Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, 35 years in the making.
What do Nike founder Phil Knight, a former US Ambassador to Russia, the current CEO of the Girl Scouts, and Yahoo Cofounder Jerry Yang, and Mark have in common? They were all recently featured as “Stanford Pathfinders” on this new SiriusXM show hosted by Howard Wolf.
Mark discusses how he got his start in wine, how to order wine in a restaurant, why he advises drinkers to engage in “vinous promiscuity,” and a slew of other intoxicating topics. He and Howard enjoy a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Robert Mondavi, the late wine pioneer himself a Stanford alumnus (class of 1936, a very good year for California wine).
If you are like most people, you have yet to buy your bubbly for the ball drop. Not to worry: here I swoop in with the best New Year’s Eve Champagne 🍾 — two are expensive but worth it for this special night, even if you just guzzle it under the sheets. The other, an Italian sparkling wine, is actually underpriced for the quality it offers. To ensure that you thoroughly dazzle your loved ones, I supply three scintillating talking points for each bottle:
New Year’s Eve Champagne: KRUG Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée 164ème Édition NV ($170-$190)
One of the best Krug GC’s ever: pure, apple-raisin-hazelnut complexity, deeply flavorful yet airy, with a bright, endless finish. Ready to savor now, but has the energy and acidity to improve for decades.
In September I sat down with Olivier Krug, the sixth generation of the founding family, and he told me that his favorite all-time pairing was Krug rosé with roast pigeon during a trip to Singapore.
It is not a necessity, however, to enjoy such regal Champagne with elaborate food. Olivier also remembers Krug Grande Cuvée harmonizing beautifully with a simple hamburger. He revealed to me that Madonna is partial to Krug rosé with french fries, as confirmed in this tweet from the Material Girl’s official account. For me earlier this week, a bottle of it was the ultimate uplifting co-conspirator with towers of plump, glistening har gow, porky soup dumplings, and other dim sum at New York’s Dim Sum Go Go.
In my most recent book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire, I shed light on the little-known ritual of a “Champagne baptism,” which involves wetting a baby’s lips with drops of special Champagne, a Champenois tradition that Olivier’s father, Rémi, had once described to me. When we met, Olivier added more color as to how to make this chic procedure a success. His advice is to take to the hospital to two half-bottles of Champagne: one to use to dab the newborn’s lips, and the other to bribe the nurse into letting you do it.
New Year’s Eve Champagne: PERRIER-JOUËT Brut Champagne Belle Epoque 2008 ($150-$180)
A swirl of lemon and fresh flowers emanate from the glass, followed by suggestions of ginger, pastry, and spice. Its blend of grapes dominated by the grape Chardonnay, the taste is smooth and bright, with a citric snap that shades slightly smoky on the silky, persistent finish.
As I have emphasized in my books, and as both Olivier Krug and Perrier-Jouet’s cellarmaster Hervé Deschamps have stressed to me, it is no longer preferable to use a thin, flute-shaped glass for your Champagne. While a regular wine glass (or a slightly more narrow white wine glass, if you have it) won’t showcase the bubbles as prominently as a flute, it will however provide more surface area to swirl and sniff your precious bubbly and also obviate the need for special glassware.
Last year at Art Basel Miami, I had the pleasure of hosting a Champagne master class with Perrier-Jouet’s Deschamps. Here the debonaire Deschamps demonstrates how you should “puff,” not pop, open Champagne to minimize bubble loss. Note that he is using a fine bottle to demonstrate: a 3L of Belle Epoque Rosé.
To save bubbles, "puff," don't pop, your #Champagne tonight, as Champagne Perrier-Jouët's Chef de Cave Hervé Deschamps demonstrated for me here (with a 3L of Belle Epoque Rosé, no less) #DrinkLikeABillionaire #NYE16 #HappyNewYear
At this year’s Art Basel Miami, Perrier Jouet’s Eden Ball featured a private, six-song set by English singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding. She was at once ethereal and brimming with verve, herself the personification of fine Champagne. I captured this video of her performance (and you Royal watchers may notice Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie in the background cheering her on).
New Year’s Eve Sparkler: FERRARI Brut ($18-$24)
Like a bracing spoonful of fruit salad, this all-Chardonnay sparkler delights with notes of citrus fruits and juicy apples, joined by the subtle scent of baked bread. Delicate, racy, palate-cleansing bubbles add to the overall feel of freshness, its feathery, zesty personality all but demanding the presence of a tower of glistening shellfish.
Italian bubbles, but not our old friend Prosecco? Sì, this is a less-known category of traditionally-made bubbly from Italy’s northern, hilly Trentino region called “Trentodoc“. Even many experts have little familiarity with Trentodoc, so casually peppering this designation into your New Year’s Eve banter will make you seem like a high priest of wine knowledge.
Despite being a luxury good from Italy, Ferrari – the winery of Trentino – has nothing to do with the maker of pulse-quickening supercars of the same name. Although if you dare to saber your bubbly, your pulse will pound all the same.
Speaking of luxury, Ferrari also makes an elevated offering named after for its founder, Giulio Ferrari. For me it rates as one of the world’s best sparklers, on a par with even the finest Champagne. When I served the 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore ($125) at Thanksgiving last month, my guests moaned over its creamy, marzipan-like, honey-and-smoke personality.
another gem I broke open for Thanksgiving: Giulio Ferrari Trento Riserva del Fondatore, made in the traditional method….
Described by 90-year-old wine legend Michael Broadbent as his first ever “top wine” and featured in the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, 1937 Château d’Yquem is the world’s best dessert wine from arguably its best ever vintage. In Kingsman, Colin Firth’s character flippantly recommends to the villain played by Samuel L. Jackson that they pair “Twinkies with a 1937 Château d’Yquem”. Inspired by this exchange, I gave it a go:
Truth be told, I waited to introduce the Twinkie until there were only a few gulps of Yquem left. This is because the menu that preceded the pairing was nothing less than epic (see details below), lovingly prepared by my gastronaut friends Evan and Laura at their stunning Chelsea flat. At the table was one of America’s most generous and discerning wine collectors, who shares extraordinary wine as freely as a mother Robin doles out worms to her hatchlings. (In his company over the years, I have been fortunate to drink Yquem from 1995, 1989, 1988, 1983, and even an 1893). Of the hundreds of Yquem bottles he has tasted, his all-time favorite, he once told me, was the 1937.
So when I saw a 1937 Yquem come up at an auction last month, I pounced. This was perhaps the most illustrious single bottle I have ever invested in. Even as wine fraud becomes an ever greater concern, this particular bottle came from uncommonly clean hands — namely, those of collector Tawfiq Khoury, who is known to have purchased much of his legendary collection in the less counterfeit-happy times of 1970’s and 1980’s.
The ’37 Yquem did not disappoint. In fact, it was the most exquisite dessert wine ever to pass these lips. On first sniff, this dark-copper-colored exilir showed trademark Yquem scents of apricot and orange marmelade, joined by astonishingly delineated notes of coffee, brown sugar, and black tea. The wine also had a bracing freshness that reminded me of being on a ski slope, a compelling intensity that evoked cold air and pine needles. This minty vigor was countervailed by the taste, which was an instruction manual in unmitigated voluptuousness, extra-virgin smooth with a multifaceted finish that kept surprising the senses minutes after the wine was swallowed.
THE MENU: Dom P, La T, Chateau Y, and a Twinkie
Fromage et Jambon.
Pierre Peters, Rose for Albane NV.
Dom Perignon 2002.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Figs.
Leflaive Batard Montrachet 2012.
Baby artichoke tartlet.
Sous vide Beef tenderloin with red wine sauce.
Cauliflower “mashed potatoes”.
Roasted sweet tomatoes.
Spinach Salad with chocolate tomatoes.
DRC La Tache 1996.
DRC La Tache 1959.
Baked Pears with honey and chocolate, yellow raspberries, and homemade marshmallows.
Last week in sunny Palo Alto, it was cloudy with a chance of rain. And rain it did, in the form of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache, with five vintages of impeccable provenance from a collector whose proclivity to sharing is unmatched. Let’s get to the report (cue 70’s porn music):
1990 La Tache: The nose was a heady mélange of ripe, sweet red fruit permeated with notes of mushrooms, truffles, and La Tache’s unmistakable perfume of Asian spices. The rich-but-not-heavy taste penetrated every pore and lingered forever on the kaleidoscopic finish; you don’t need wine expertise to sense how sexy and astonishingly intense this wine is. Having been fortunate to canoodle with the 1990 several times over the years, I found this to be its best, most expressive showing.
1996 La Tache: If the 1990 was a buxom Burgundy-born pin-up, then the 1996 was Tippi Hedren — elegance and mystery, with a smoldering sex appeal that shows itself only when it decides it is ready. After about a half hour in the glass, it opened up to reveal layers of red fruit, soy sauce, and mint joined by seductive, powdery tannins which coat the tongue like the finest velvet.
1999 La Tache: Although Burgundy specialists regard the 1999 as near “perfect”, this bottle was a bit more reserved than expected and its muscular tannins and tart acidity were a bit too insistent. But the makings are there for future greatness, with its foundation of ripe plum, spice, and that know-it-when-you-smell-it earthiness the French call sous bois (“under brush” or “forest floor”).
2001 La Tache: The great surprise of the night: undeniably gorgeous, with a perfume of rose petals and minerals, with every structural element — acidity, tannin, fruit concentration, and alcohol — in balletic equipoise. The 2001 demonstrates how a top winery can make a masterpiece even in a relatively disappointing vintage year.
2002 La Tache: Started with an odd, flowers-and-cedar scent and sharp acidity, a woody dissonance that suggested spoilage. It was even more disjointed after an hour. Oxidized bottle.
2005 La Tache: A rare specimen of beauty, its dense black fruit showing hints of exotic spice coupled with a pleasing whiff of earth and beef bouillon. Its finish lingers like long, high clouds across a summer sky. But it is still young and tightly wound, with noticeable tannins. All signs point to a legend in the making that will get more nuanced and silky in the years and decades to come.