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The 1000 Point Dinner

How perfect is perfect? Let's open ten 100-pointers
over dinner and see for ourselves...

(May 2, 2002) "More 1989 Petrus, sir?" Any other night, hell yes. But tonight, weirdly and wonderfully, "No, I guess I've had enough."

     It's the end of a (pardon me) perfect evening. Ten wines, each rated 100 points by The Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator. Plus two ringers, plus a 100-point bonus wine, all matched to a magnificent meal at Le Mas Perrier on Philly's Main Line. (Georges Perrier himself is tasting with us. More on that below.)

     Our more-than-generous host says we're here "to determine once and for all how much credence can be placed in such an allegedly perfect rating." Out of approximately 100,000 or so wines ever reviewed by WA or WS, they've awarded perfection to just 8 dry whites, 98 dry reds and 13 dessert wines -- roughly one in a thousand. (I don't count these things, but our host does and he's pretty careful.)

     In each of the first two flights, four 100-pointers are poured, plus a ringer. We're given names and reviews of the first four, but we're not told which is which. We're each asked to name our favorite, then match the wine in each glass to the right name. (The final flight, of dessert wines, is served with labels showing. Our host figures that most of us can tell Port from Monbazillac.)

     So how perfect are these rarities? Here are my notes.

Flight #1: Dry White Wines

You've never heard of this wine and neither had I, but it bested four "perfect" whites. See below... 

    

WINE #1. Palest wine of the flight and very, very backward. Practically dumb for at least half an hour. Gradually, it creaks open to reveal mineral flavors and a long, flinty finish. The mid-palate still hasn't developed much when the deadline arrives to name it. My card says "very young Chablis?" and I guess it to be the ringer. Right church, wrong pew. It's ***1995 Verget Chablis Valmur (100 Points WA), my third-favorite of the flight, voted third also by the group.

COMMENT. Judgment reserved. I wouldn't have rated it 100 points based on tonight's performance, but several hours (or 24!) in a decanter might well have improved it.

WINE #2. Yum from the get-go. Smiles all around the table. Aromas of honeydew melon, fresh white peaches and similar delights. Not much oak showing. Slippery texture, which leads me to guess it may be Marsanne. As the minutes tick by, the wine just gets better. Yep, it's my favorite wine of the flight, and the group votes that way too. But we're all shocked to find this "Best-of-the-100-Pointers" is an unrated California Chardonnay, the amazing ***+1999 Hollywood & Vine "2480" Chardonnay, from a brand-new Napa Valley producer.

COMMENT. Revelation of the evening. I never would have nailed this as California Chardonnay, but tasting is believing. Wonderful combination of grace and power. Kudos to producer Doug Barr for beating the heavy-hitters so convincingly. (Note: for more about this wine, scroll down to the end of this article or click here.)

WINE #3. For a while it's a mirror image of wine #1, but develops faster. After 35 minutes, it's kicking tail. Lots of fruit, plenty of steel, and a thundering finish. Powerful doesn't begin to describe it. I'm surprised more of the others here don't love it too. They vote it dead last, but it's my second-favorite of the flight. Seems to me it might be Verget Chablis, but it's ***+1998 Chapoutier "de l'Ore" Ermitage (100 points WA).

COMMENT. No quarrel from me with the perfect score awarded this one.

WINE #4. Darkest of the flight. Plainly older, but oak flavors still abound, followed by very ripe tropical fruit. Big wine, but showing some oxidation. Seems to me this has to be **--1990 Talbott Chardonnay "Monterey" (100 Points WS). I rank it last in the flight and the group votes it second-best.

COMMENT. Talbott makes some of my favorite wines, and this 1990 is showing pretty darned well for a 12-year-old California Chard, but perfect? No way. I find it hard to believe it ever deserved 100 points. (The group, of course, likes it better. Note that California claims both first and second place in group voting.)

WINE #5. Soaring nose of expensive oak, minerals and peaches. Lots of presence on the palate and the finish is pretty convincing. I'm mightily impressed by this wine at first, but less so an hour later, by which time it seems to have thinned a bit. I correctly guess it to be ***1995 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet (100 points WS), and like the group, I rank it fourth in the flight.

COMMENT. If I were awarding points, I'd place this wine in the low 90s. Doesn't have the potential of the Verget, the finesse of the Hollywood & Vine or the sheer power of the Chapoutier. Tough competition, admittedly.

Flight #2: Dry Red Wines

"I know them. I bet my restaurant on it!" roars irrepressible Georges Perrier, as he sniffs the reds. We smile, but he keeps the title deed.... 

     Say what you like about Georges Perrier, the man's got guts. He noses the reds for a minute and roars, "I know them. I bet my restaurant on it!" Then he goes ahead and nails all five. (I got them right too, but I wouldn't even have betted my website.)

WINE#1. Jet black, very grapey and smokey. Hickory and coconut flavors give way to an ocean of blackberry fruit. Trot out all your synonyms for BIG and apply them to the attack, mid-palate and especially the finish. Fruit-driven style, American oak, lots of supple tannin -- textbook profile of a young Oz Shiraz. I like it a lot, but there's stiff competition and it ranks third on my card. It's ***+1996 Three Rivers Shiraz (100 Points WA).

COMMENT. This wine does everything Australian Shiraz is famous for, to the max. No argument with the perfect score. The group votes it last, but that may be because it's so young and tannic. If you're holding any, you could drink it now, but I'd cellar it several more years at least. Parker predicts maturity around 2010 and that sounds about right.

WINE #2. This must have been the wine that spurred Georges to make his bet. Opaque wine, plainly a youngster, but aromas erupt from the glass. Saddle leather, vanilla, cassis, kirsch, intense red cherries, even a hint of Cointreau. Swarms all over your palate and the finish never, ever ends. (I can taste it today.) Everything screams "great Bordeaux." Given the cost of repeating this pleasure, I wish it weren't ***+1989 Petrus (100 Points WA). It's so pure, so intense, so "drink me," holding so much power in reserve, that it's easily WINE OF THE EVENING.

COMMENT. Some perfect wines are more perfect than others. Better still, there was an extra bottle, so I could return to it later on. (Just to verify its greatness, of course.)

WINE #3. Now what can this be? Very jammy, overripe fruit. Lots of blackberry flavors, red raspberry, spice and prune. My card says "sexy, precocious, softest of flight." Lots of depth, considerable alcohol, complex, broad wine. It could be Australian Shiraz, but if so, it's not as big as #1. I decide it's Shiraz and I'm partly right. It turns out to be **A Blend Concocted by Our Host from some of his favorite wines. If I have his recipe correctly, it's about 50% Martinelli Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel, plus some Vintage Port, Australian Shiraz, Australian Merlot and a dollop of 1997 Pride Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

COMMENT. Devilish trick that might have snookered more folks if this had been a tasting of California Cabs or Australian Shiraz. Georges disdains it, but I think it works pretty well. The group apparently agrees, as it ranks third in their voting. I certainly prefer it to the next 100-pointer...

WINE #4. Some floral and berry aromas that vanish after 15 minutes. Lots of mineral flavors initially, but after half an hour, its tar, tar and more tar. There's a fairly lengthy finish, laden with tannin, and that's all I can say about *+1997 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate (100 points WS).

COMMENT. I'll admit that Barolo is not among my favorite wines, but even so this isn't perfect Barolo or perfect anything else. It might show more favorably in lesser company, but tonight it's clearly outclassed by every other wine on the table.

WINE #5. Very strong mineral aromas, followed by leather and blackcurrant. Supple, ready to drink -- and the flavors are all about Pauillac. A strong note of iodine on the finish seals the deal. If there's any sure bet on the table tonight, it's that this is ***+1982 Latour (100 points WA). It's my second-favorite of all the blind reds, and second also in group voting.

COMMENT. A few honest tasters actually said they were turned off by the mineral flavors. One taster said that he felt the wine faded; I did not detect this. Unfortunately, one of the bottles was corked, so we all had to deal with smaller pours.

BONUS WINE. To compensate for the short pour (as if he needed to!), our considerate host now uncorks a bottle of ***+1990 Latour (100 points WA). I'm pleasantly surprised to find it's drinking wonderfully -- an even bigger and juicier version of the great 1982.

COMMENT. No formal vote is taken, but I prefer this Latour to the 1982. Says all the same things, but even louder and prouder. What a great wine! 

Flight 3: Dessert Wines

     For obvious reasons, no attempt is made to conceal the labels on...

**+1995 Chteau Tirecul "Cuvee Madame" (100 points WA). I've tasted this wine once before, when I didn't know about it's perfect rating. Now as then, I like it a lot, but I'm not blown away. It's got boatloads of fruit, finishes big and it's certainly sweet and complex, but...well, I dunno.

COMMENT. Lovely stuff and all that, but the angels don't sing. If you don't mind me getting picky, it even seems a tiny bit cloying. Maybe it needs a little more time for the sugar to subside?

***+1992 Taylor Vintage Port (100 points WA), on the other hand, is my idea of perfect Port. Barge-loads of tannin get totally swamped by oceans of black cherry fruit. I've got a bottle of this in my own cellar and I won't be opening it quite so early, but I'll be darned -- tonight it's on top of its game! Perfect way to end a perfect dinner? Well, not quite...

COMMENT. Much as I love Port, my favorite dessert wine tonight is...1989 Petrus! When I find there is some left in the decanter, I asked for another glass and it refuses to give ground to any wine, not even Port.

Concluding Comments

     At the risk of sounding like a label-drinker, I'd say most of these wines performed pretty much as promised. Only four of the 11 "perfect" wines failed to float my boat.

     That being said, I found The Wine Advocate's 100-pointers more to my liking than Wine Spectator's. In fact, I'm stumped to imagine how the Barolo or the fading Talbott Chard could ever have been rated higher than the low 90s.

     Finally, once again, lift a glass to Doug Barr at Hollywood & Vine. You could hardly ask for tougher competition, and his very first Chardonnay beat the field.

     Following are the final voting tallies. As you'll see, every wine could claim at least a couple of votes for Best of Flight -- there were even two who preferred the Voerzio Barolo to 1989 Petrus. As our host remarked toward the end of the evening, desgustibus non est disputandum.

Favorites by Group Vote

BEST DRY WHITE WINE

9 votes - 1999 Hollywood & Vine "2480" Chardonnay
7 votes - 1990 Talbott Monterrey Chardonnay
5 votes - 1995 Verget Chablis Grand Cru Valmur
4 votes - 1995 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet
2 votes - 1998 Chapoutier "de l'Oree" Ermitage

BEST DRY RED WINE

9 votes - 1989 Petrus
8 votes - 1982 Chteau Latour
3 votes - Our host's proprietary blend
3 votes - 1997 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
2 votes - 1996 Three Rivers Shiraz
(2 tasters apparently abstained from voting)

My Personal Rankings

DRY WHITE WINES:

1. 1999 Hollywood & Vine Chardonnay "2480"
2. 1998 Chapoutier Ermitage "de l'Oree" 
3. 1995 Verget Chablis Grand Cru "Valmur"
4. 1995 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet
5. 1990 Talbott Chardonnay "Monterey"

DRY RED WINES

1. 1989 Petrus
2. 1990 Chteau Latour (served unblind as a bonus)
3. 1982 Chteau Latour
4. 1996 Three Rivers Shiraz
5. Our host's proprietary blend
6. 1997 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate

DESSERT WINES

1. 1992 Taylor Vintage Port
2. 1995 Chteau Tirecul "Cuvee Madame"

WINE OF THE EVENING

1989 Petrus

Postscript. I spoke later with Doug Barr, proprietor of Hollywood & Vine, and here's what he told me about their amazing 2480 Chard:

    "The '99 Hollywood and Vine 2480 Chard was in 60 gallon new and one year old Demptos Allier French oak barrels for nine months. The fruit for the '99 Chard came from David Long's David-Arthur Vineyard on the top of the Eastern slope above Rutherford.

     "Unfortunately, those vines were taken out after our 2000 vintage. The David Arthur vineyard is a family operation and they rarely sell fruit. The grapes we used in our '99 Chard came from vines that were, in essence, landscaping around David Long's house and not really part of the family vineyard. David sold the house and the new owner wanted to plant Cab. The county would only let him replant the area with vines already planted, so he pulled up those beautiful Chard vines and replaced them with Cabernet.

     "Sad, but that's life in the Napa valley. I do think our new source is going to make some exceptional Chard. We've moved along the same ridge line and purchased fruit for our 2001 Chard from a vineyard at the top of Soda Canyon. The flavors so far are terrific! We'll be releasing that Chard around June 30th. We don't add ML and go light on the oak to give the grapes a chance to shine on their own. Total production will be 500 cases.

     "We also produce Cabernet Sauvignon. Our '98 and '99 are long ago sold out, but the 2000 will be available before Christmas this year. The fruit sources will be the Stanton Oakville ranch, Caldwell vineyard and the Curry vineyard. 500 cases will be our total production for that release.

     "Celia Masyczek who makes wine for Staglin, Hartwell and others, is our winemaker."

     For more about Hollywood & Vine Cellars or to get on their mailing list, click here to visit their website.

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