What Would Be Your Goodbye Wine?

I recently wrote of my experience this past July 4th drinking what I believe to be the best wine ever made, a 1962 La Tâche from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (also known as “DRC”), which was shared by my dear friend Burt who happened to be one of the world’s great wine collectors. What I did not get to mention was that Burt was suffering with a terminal illness. Although his health had steadily worsened over the past few years, neither his family nor I envisioned that a mere two months after the La Tâche dinner we would be attending his memorial. The 1962 La Tâche, it turns out, was his goodbye wine.

The story, however, is not as sad as it sounds, as Burt and the way he approached wine serves as a reminder of why we winos are so drawn to the vintner’s art. He epitomized what I think of as a wine lover’s special spirit of generosity, an impulse for sharing that is inherently encouraged by the happy fact that one bottle contains multiple servings.

To declare Burt a sharer, however, is like characterizing a lion as a cat: technically correct but vastly understating the scope. Over many years, I watched how in his unassuming, courtly way, he would share glasses of his priceless wine with everyone from captains of industry and former U.S. Secretaries of State to grateful waiters, maître d’s, even occasionally a curious coat check attendant. If there was wine left over after a restaurant meal, he would quietly send the unfinished bottles of mythical wine back to the entire kitchen, much to their gleeful astonishment. I still can hear the jubilant roar that emanated from the kitchen of a Palo Alto Greek restaurant when a half dozen half-full treasures were sent back to the chef and his team. Sharing brought Burt great pleasure; he did not talk about it, but it registered on his face.

Conan O'Brien, fan of wine from 1963
Conan O’Brien, Vintage 1963

Burt also thought big. He was the only collector I have known who would buy the world’s greatest dessert wine, Château d’Yquem, in a discombobulatingly swollen six-liter size, which looked like a golden battering ram and telegraphed not just generosity but the intent to provision a small army. He was so legendary that one day when we were at an event, Conan O’Brien sought him out because he had heard that Burt had opened a rare bottle of vintage port that happened to be from Conan’s birth year, 1963. Burt, then almost 80-years-old and happily oblivious to all facets of pop culture, poured Conan a healthy glass having no idea of whom he was except for his unusual name.

“Mark, this is Conan,” Burt said matter-of-factly as he introduced me to the 6’4″ comedian. I shook Conan’s hand, looked up — way up — in the direction of Conan’s ginger bouffant, and assured the comedian that I was a big fan.

With Burt’s outsized magnanimity, it was easy to think that the 1962 La Tâche we had as just another sublime bottle. In retrospect, however, there were subtle signals that suggested otherwise. About a year ago, his oenophilic grandson took me aside and made an observation that only a true grape nut would appreciate. He noticed that his grandfather, without announcing it, was no longer just sharing world-class Burgundies from excellent vintages but producing long line-ups of such wine from legendary vintages such as 2005, 1990, and 1985. An intensely private man, Burt would never tell you about how far his illness had progressed, but his choice of wine did.

An intensely private man, Burt would never tell you about how far his illness had progressed, but his choice of wine did.

Echézeaux line-up
A murderers’ row of Echézeaux.

Indeed, with unspoken urgency, in the days leading up to the 1962 La Tâche there were dinners with dazzling bottles set up like bowling pins, each of these nights focusing on a particular grand cru vineyard of Burgundy. First there was a repast with 10 bottles of Richebourg from the likes of DRC, Méo-Camuzet, and Leroy. Two nights later we experienced a murderers’ row of Echézeaux, an eye-popping 11 bottles in total, featuring the producers Henri Jayer, DRC, Dujac, and Emmanuel Rouget.

incredible 2005 Bonnes Mares Dujac goodbye bottle
Dujac Bonnes-Mares at Howie’s Pizza, Palo Alto.

Displaying his trademark disregard for pretension, Burt held a third gathering at a highway pizzeria, where at a table outside amid the ruckus of a child’s birthday party and the zoom of cars, he produced a chorus line of the world’s best Bonnes-Mares.

These dinners culminated with the night we gathered around the big, beautiful 1962 La Tâche. In his understated way, this was Burt’s pièce de résistance, his capstone to decades of swirling and sharing the best. True to his analytical, Stanford Ph.D. mind, his selection that night followed a kind of mathematical precision by maximizing every factor in the vinous equation: producer (DRC), vineyard (La Tâche), year (1962), and bottle type (an ultra-rare, slower-aging 3-liter). Though I did not realize it at the time, this was Burt’s way of saying farewell through wine.

Not only did Burt personify the spirit of generosity that surrounds wine, but his indefatigable embrace of it spoke volumes about how we wine lovers might face our own mortality. Whereas many of those in the late stages of a terminal disease would understandably retreat to a corner, he instead choose to be among people, eating delicious food, drinking sublime wine, and basking in the special bonhomie that happens, almost magically, at the table. It did not matter that he was in a wheelchair and tethered to an oxygen tank; he sought to be in the mix. In doing so he exemplified the spirit which draws so many of us to the epicurean experience — that feeling of fellowship and satiety of the soul that brings us closer, however briefly, to what it truly means to live.

La Tache 1962


’62 La Tache, ’37 Yquem, &…a $15 Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc? My Picks Revealed on Grape Nation Radio

Grape Nation Mark Oldman

A few weeks ago I appeared on Sam Benrubi ‘s Grape Nation radio show on Heritage Radio. He asked a slew of incisive questions, and I revealed a cornucopia of personal favorites. Sam’s transcript of the Q&A segment is below, with my commentary in brackets. The full broadcast can be found here.

“Mark gives us some Billion Dollar recos for our weekly Wine List:

1. What are you drinking now– Viognier, a rich white with less oak than Chardonnay, [as well as the French version called] Condrieu from the Northern Rhone. Also [what Mark calls “Low Buzz Pioneers”] from the Napa Valley like Chappellet WineryRobert Mondavi Winery & Beringer Vineyards.

2. Favorite wine and food pairing- pancakes & Chateau d’Yquem, rose Champagne [esp. Dom Pérignon rose] with spareribs.

3. Favorite wine restaurant and/or bar-Aquagrill, NYC stands the test of time with a smart seafood wine list. Also Bâtard, NYC & A.O.C. Wine Bar and Restaurant in LA. Dawat Indian in NYC has an affordable BYOB policy with heavenly samosas, great with sparkling wine.

4. Favorite all-time wine- find generous friends with great taste in wine. ’62 & ’78 La Tache, ’59 Henri Jayer Richebourg, a ’37 d’Yquem & Brander Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara, CA [enjoyed on a picnic bench at the winery with freshly caught trout shared by the owner].

5. Best wine around 15 bucks Red & White- Red, Portuguese reds, like Quinta do Crasto’s Douro Flor de Crasto. White, of course Muscadet, and Verdejo from Rueda, Spain.

For our “Weekly Wine Sip” Mark brought in the most interesting wine of this segment, a 2005 Volnay Burgundy from the private collection of Geddy Lee, lead singer & bassist from RUSH. Geddy purchased barrels at the 2005 Hospice de Beaune in France. The full name of the wine is 2005 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Santenots Cuvée Jéhan de Massol Lucien Le Moine pour Geddy Lee.”

Full Grape Nation interview is here.

The Five Stages of Opening a Priceless La Tache

La Tache from Domaine de la Romanee Conti

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.

2014 Marius Delarche Corton-Charlemagne

1983 DRC Echezeaux

1983 DRC Grands-Echezeaux

1983 DRC Romanee-St.Vivant

1983 DRC Richebourg

1983 DRC La Tache

1983 DRC Romanee-Conti

1983 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin

1983 Mommessin Clos de Tart

'14 Marius Delarche Corton-Charlemagne '66 DRC Romanee-Conti magnum A Rudy bottle, almost certainly fake; pink capsule! 1983 DRC Echezeaux 1983 DRC Grands-Echezeaux 1983 DRC Romanee-St.Vivant 1983 DRC Richebourg 1983 DRC La Tache 1983 DRC Romanee-Conti 1983 Joseph Drouhin Echezeaux 1983 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin 1983 Mommessin Clos de Tart

Where Nike’s Phil Knight, the US Ambassador to Russia, & Mark Oldman Converge

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).

Click here to listen.

New Year’s Eve Champagne: The Three Best and Cool Talking Points

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:

Krug Grand Cuvee - top Champagne for New Year's Eve

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.

Talking points:

  •  In September I sat down with Olivier Krug, the sixth generation of the founKrug Champagne with dim sumding 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.

Perrier Jouet Champagne Art Basel Miami

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.

Talking points:

  • 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

Posted by Mark Oldman on Saturday, December 31, 2016

  • 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).

Ferrari Trento Brut - an Ideal Bubbly for New Year's Eve

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.

Talking points:

  • 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….

Posted by Mark Oldman on Monday, November 27, 2017

A raise of the chalice 🏆 to you for 2018. May you drink like a billionaire at every price.

Ellie Goulding Art Basel Miami Perrier Jouet Eden Miami