25 March, 2014
Les Amis Au Jardin Restaurant, 3 days before it closes down
“Wine must always be shared… I think it would be a sad day if one were to drink a bottle of Pétrus by himself.”
– Dr. Gordon Ku
On my birthday, I received a few messages asking me what wine am I going to drink that night? A 1968 Bordeaux? I got no answer for them that day, as my wife had booked me a dinner at a Japanese restaurant Shinji, and thus for the dinner, I brought the bottle of sake I bought from Otaru, Hokkaido during last year’s ski trip. Nobody believed a wine lover like me had gone without wine on my big day! Half way through my sumptuous dinner, I received a call from Christie’s. What a birthday surprise! They gave me a ticket to dinner at Au Jardin served with top Bordeaux 1982 labels.I was so happy that day! My wishes were granted! I had celebrated my last year’s birthday at Au Jardin with some friends with killer line ups of wines like Petrus 1953, Lafite 1976, 1996, Latour 1968, Mouton Rothschild 1990, Cheval Blanc 2000 … etc. And I was also trying to find another excuse to have dinner at Les Amis Au Jardin before it stopped its operation at the Botanic Garden location.
Les Amis Au Jardin, a beautiful fine dining restaurant set in the midst of Botanic Garden, was one of my all-time favorite due to its pleasant ambience. Surrounded by lush greeneries, set in a colonial bungalow house with impeccable service, it is extremely difficult not to like this restaurant. Its sad that the Les Amis Group has decided to stop its operation there due to rising rental rate. Looks like it is true we are “the most expensive city on earth”! Sad to see businesses being squeezed out.
My eyes lit up when I see the wine bottles to be served ! The line up was not mentioned in the invitation card…
Leoville Las Cases 1982
Chateau Margaux 1982
Chateau Haut Brion 1982
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1982
Chateau Latour 1982
Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982
Cheval Blanc 1982
During the pre-dinner champagne, I mingled around. Simon Tam, Christie’s Head of Wine, China (based in HK) caught my attention. I understood from my contact in Christie’s that they had consolidated many of their wine auctions spread around Europe (e.g. Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva) to Hong Kong. For sure, we can sense that the center of wine gravity is fast shifting to Asia. Thus Simon is quickly becoming a very important person to know if one wants to remain in this trade. I was puzzled by the wine flight arrangement. For example in flight 1, Leoville Las Cases pairing with Margaux and Simon explained that he wanted to “contrast” the wines as some attendees were not wine buffs like myself. Most of the attendees were clients of Coutts, the private bank banking arm of RBS and joint organiser of the event.
Simon introduced me to Dr Gordon Ku, a very well known Singapore wine collector with 15,000 bottles stashed away at home. He held an auction with Christie’s in HK in 2013 and sold 9,000 bottles of his collection and donated part of the proceeds to The Kidney Dialysis Foundation. I admire his philanthropist heart. I quickly popped the golden question – What’s your all-time favorite wine? He said DRC Romanee Conti 1945 was most memorable. I wanted to know about his Bordeaux selection. Petrus, any vintage is his reply. Ok, we can argue about this for the rest of our vintages ……
While mingling around, I noticed that the wines were not decanted.
Now that’s interesting.
I had attended many wine tastings and people liked to decant their wines hours ahead of the tasting, which I find annoying. Let me explain why I do not prefer the wines to be decanted in tasting events. I want to watch the development of the wines in the glasses. If you decant the wines, you will lose the first nose, the first sip, which to me is extremely important.
First impression counts right?
Also, the opportunity is lost with the observation of the wine evolution over time. That is why decanting is a big no no as a lot of observation is lost, and that’s not a wise choice for serious wine connoisseurs.
So when should you decant your wine? I prefer decanting when I am drinking it casually with friends, to derive pleasure, without working my palette on an overdrive mode and frying my brain churning through all my observations. Simon has done the right thing, the wines were uncorked at 4 pm, he has tasted some of the wines and noted all are in excellent conditions, except for some bottle variations which was to be expected.
A bit of my understanding of bottle variations; wine produced in the older days, did not have the luxury to be blended in large stainless steel tanks. They had to siphon and bottle from barrels. Every barrel might have been hand-made differently, thus the taste from barrel to barrel may vary, and thus bottle variation. Another factor was the variable oxygen transmission rate of cork stoppers, which also contributed to bottle variation. I am explaining these in detail as it is needed so you will understand when I explain about bottle variation I have observed with Mouton Rothschild 1982 later.
Before I proceed to the details of the tasting, I need to do some clarifications here. I do not evaluate wines like some wine professionals; getting into details of the wines like bouquet or lengthy or detailed tasting notes. I like to write about experiences of the wines I encountered.It’s like going to a concert, we do not breakdown the symphony into bits and pieces and try to analyze the concert, we enjoy the music as a whole. That’s my primary difference of my own expression. We live for the wine experience, and not trying to understand the technicalities of the wines. In any case, if you want tasting notes, refer to Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine Companion or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate site.
I also have an unconventional way of rating the wines. Instead of only 1 score, I have a range of scores, representing the highest and the lowest points of the wine. I find it unreasonable to provide 1 score, it’s like a snapshot of a person’s life and never representative. For example, if you have taken Bill Gates’ wealth before he ventured into Microsoft (while he was poor), he was worthless, but at later stage, he made his wealth to be the richest person on earth. So, what is his networth? $0 or US$60 billion? It is a range, never a snapshot. Same goes to wine, it all depends on when you drink the wine. The evolution of the wine is so great that it will never be fair to give it a static score. So, I find static scores to be unreasonable.It’s a matter of perspective.
In addition, I have attended a grand tasting of 1982 2 years ago, hosted by a good friend of mine, in Beijing. The primary difference was that the Beijing tasting was done blind, and the wines were decanted for perhaps 1 or 2 hours, details I cannot remember. I was sufficiently impressed with all the wines then (and we had 12 bottles, including the missing Pichon Lalande 82, La Mission Haut Brion 82, Ausone 82 and Lafleur 82). I needed to touch on Pichon Lalande a little bit. In every single blind tasting, Lalande has never failed to impress me, always come up as either the top wine or the runner up, be it blind or non-blind tasting. In Beijing tasting, my #1 vote went to Mouton Rothschild 82, followed by Pichon Lalande 82, and my 3rd place was Ch Margaux 82. Lafite and Petrus was not my favourite then, but tonight’s tasting has changed all that.It’s a blemish that we did not have Pichon Lalande 82 tonight.
The flight 1 wines were quickly served when we sit down.
Chateau Leoville Las Cases has never been my favorite wine, the only 2 vintages I enjoyed was the 1986 and 1990. All other good vintages, like 1961, 1996, 2000 I don’t really enjoy it. This house has always been claimed as “one label that has never been ready to drink”, so when is it ready to drink?
Never. But now I added 1982 as one of the great vintages of Leoville Las Cases. Why? This wine is so tannic at the pour, at 32 years old, it’s still ridiculously young. Not that I liked the style of the wine, but I respect the wine because it held on so well in the wine glass throughout the dinner, it even outlasted my respected Latour 82.
Will I drink more Leoville Las Cases?
No, I just don’t like the style. 95 to 98.
Chateau Margaux 1982, a big favorite amongst the ladies around the table, due to its really matured floral and perfumed nose. The nose is so seductive, I loved it too. The palette is of extreme elegance, very silky, very pleasant wine, the only fault was a bit hollow and diluted in the mid palette.
These were my initial observation and one could easily give it a very high scores of 98. Throughout the dinner, I have observed the nose morphed into heavy tobacco, smoke, and the palette weakens and the wine dried out, the wine did not hold well in the glass throughout the dinner, despite fresh top ups from the bottle.
The oldest Ch Margaux I have drank was 1966, and I can draw a linearity of the style of this wine, connecting the dots.
Am I impressed with Ch Margaux?
Yes I am, but I will not decant and drink this 82, I will drink it within 2 hours of the first pour. 93 to 98.
The next flight was quickly served, and I liked the speed of the serving, so that I can evaluate all the wines as fast as I can.
Haut Brion 1982is extremely impressive.
The moment I had a sip, I was already head over heels over this wine.
The nose of Haut Brion is always very seductive, regardless of vintage. It started off with very faint smoke, and then slowly evolving, later it has intense smoky nose. The palette is pleasant, balanced, luscious, easy and most importantly, beautifully made!
I had numerous bottles of this wine in the past, never impressed me and I thought Haut Brion 1982 was no big deal, until I had tonight’s bottle.
Its simply awesome, I will tag an almost perfect score of 99 to this wine tonight. I don’t know what it is, but I shouldn’t have ruled out Haut Brion 82 in the past. Now it is back on my radar! 94 to 99.
Of all the first growths in 82, Mouton has the most bottle variation. I drank no less than half a dozen of this label over the course of 2 years (not quite fair to pull in those that I drank earlier than 2 years ago, as it has evolved), and I never ever had any similar notes on this label.
One bottle I had in Judgment of Singapore in 2011 was terribly unimpressive, I had the best bottle in Beijing’s Grand Tasting of 1982 and that was my #1 bottle, and then subsequently I had 2 more bottles of uninspiring Mouton 82.
Tonight’s bottle was equally disappointing, nose was a bit stuffy, apart from that, typical characters of Mouton showed – strong & powerful dark fruit, pencil shaving, cedarwood.
On the palette, this bottle lacked the big, powerful fruits of the bottle I had in Beijing, not as disappointing as the few I had, but certainly won’t be tonight’s wine of the night.
I was still puzzled by these bottle variations despite my earlier explanation of it. 93-96.
Latour is my all time favorite. If there’s one wine that can be drunk from a bad vintage, it has got to be Latour. I have drank all the truly lousy Bordeaux vintages of Latour, be it 57, 67, 68, 69, 76, and as recent as 97, Latour does NOT fail!
So, I never buy a Latour base on Bordeaux’s vintage, I just grab so long as the price is reasonable. I had an awesome tasting this year with a Latour 55, it was the best Latour I ever had, not a fantastic vintage, but much better than the 53. It was so memorable, beating all the top burgundies served that day: Comte de Vogue Musigny 96 just to quote an example, and the highly rated Palmer 61 as well.
It was wine of the year to me, no replacement, no substitute. When I first nosed the Latour 82, I found the feeling of the great 55 …. Very Pauillac nose, with vanilla bouncing around, and gained vanilla weight just a few minutes later, I also thought I detected some creamy nose, and a tinge of vegetal.
The palette is equally awesome; I liked to stress that Latour 55 & 82 I described the word “warm” that has never occurred in any other Bordeaux wines that I drank before. It was in perfect harmony, extremely balanced, mind-blowingly good. It was the perfect wine up till now about an hour into the dinner, before flight 3 was served.
The downside of this label was that, it did not hold long enough in the glass without drying up and fading, but it held up long enough to impress me, till flight 3 came along. 95 – 100.
Cheval Blanc, the king of Cabernet Franc, is another favorite label of mine. If there is a Cheval to revisit, I will take the 1953 anytime (I don’t have a chance to taste the legendary 1947 yet, but I have bought a bottle of it, anxiously waiting to open it). Lately I have really enjoyed Cheval Blanc, be it off vintage like 1981 which I liked very much despite Parker’s rude assessment of it initially, I’d like to quote Wikipedia’s report here:
The manager of Château Cheval Blanc, Jacques Hebrard, was outraged at the evaluation of his 1981 vintage barrel samples made by influential wine criticRobert M. Parker, Jr.and asked him to re-taste. Upon arriving, Parker was attacked by Hebrard’s dog as the manager stood idly by and watched. When Parker asked for a bandage to stop the bleeding from his leg, Parker says Hebrard instead gave him a copy of the offending newsletter. Hebrard denies that Parker was bleeding.
However, Parker did retaste the wine and found it significantly changed from his previous evaluation; he therefore gave the wine an updated evaluation in a later issue of his publicationThe Wine Advocate
I also liked a lot of other vintages like 75, 83, 85, 89 and 2000. Tonight’s 1982 was good, but not great, Cheval Blanc.
The evolution happened too fast, too soon. Upon first sniff, a bit grassy and vegetal. Palette was a bit funky, quite medicinal, not a very typical Cheval Blanc (I am particularly sensitive to Cabernet Franc, being able to blind guess the grape type at many blind occasions, be it Lagrange, Pavie, Figeac or Cheval Blanc).
The nose turned eucalyptus very shortly after the pour, and the palette turned minty too, I didn’t like the fast evolution of this bottle, so I was a bit disappointed with Cheval Blanc tonight. 93-96.
Lafite, Queen of Bordeaux, is known to be really elegant with its style.
Occasionally I get vintages like the 1996 to be extremely powerful, big, bold and lots of depth. But most of the time, I liked Lafite for its elegance more than its power. Lafite has gone through a rough patch in recent years, from average performance in the ‘60s to poor outcome in the ‘70s, and was roaring in the ‘80s, to a peak in the ‘90s and ‘00s.
It is really difficult not to like Lafite Rothschild.
But tonight, I had doubts. I cannot understand the Lafite Rothschild I was drinking. For the first time in my drinking career, I was puzzled by this label. It possesses neither the utter elegance, nor the extreme power of a Pauillac.
This is not the Lafite that I know of! Not sure if anybody on my table observed my expression, I must have looked completely lost, and for a good reason, I was completely lost! It looks like I will have to do some soul searching on this Lafite 1982 again when I chanced upon drinking it in the future. As such, I cannot put a score to something I don’t know. Its better I don’t pretend to know than to put an arbitrary score that affects my reputation as an unbiased judge.
Petrus needs no introduction. Its probably the most expensive wine in whole of Bordeaux while Le Pin arguably matches its price. Why is Petrus so expensive apart from the common logic of supply and demand? Simply put it, it’s just so good! I was blessed to have drunk quite a number of Petrus vintages. When young, it is really difficult to understand despite being more approachable (e.g. 2010).
I did not understand Petrus till I drank a bottle of 1994 next to legendary Sassicaia 1985, and Petrus 94 won by a hairline. Since then, my Petrus landscape has changed; I bought some very old Petrus to try, oldest I tried were 1952 & 1953, the kind of lushness, bold sweetness just cannot be reproduced by any other Bordeaux wines. I was blessed to have a chance to try the 1982 and 1989, both 100 pointers by Parker, and the experience was far from exceptional.
My first Petrus 1982 in Beijing wasn’t as impressive during my first Grand Tasting of 1982, wasn’t in my top 3, although I was able to tell it was a Petrus in the blind tasting. But tonight, fast forward 2 years after the last bottle, I must say there’s no replacement for Petrus 82. It just stood out from the crowd, quietly telling the rest, do not get near me, or else …….
The whole night, Petrus isolated itself from all the rest, a super unique identity; pure, silky, bold, intense, honeycomb like sweetness. In addition, and this is a very important factor to me: at 32 years old, it held in the glass throughout the whole dinner without a sign of fading or drying out. As a predominantly Merlot based grape type, it’s almost inconceivable, as it does not have the acidity to age well, but Petrus did it.
Well, it looks like I will have to stop by Petrus the next time I visit Bordeaux. I gave this wine a 100 to 100 with both my hands and legs high up in the air.
Obviously wine of the night tonight.
Wine bottles of the night…
Finally, we wrapped up with a liquid gold that was served before we call it a day – d’Yquem 1975.d’Yquem was classified as “superior first growth” in the 1855 classification. No other Sauternes had such classification, it is like telling people “I am the one and only king in my region, period”. That’s how proud the label is. True enough, I have not found any Sauternes that can match the kind of complexity, concentration and sweetness. Rieussec (now owned by Lafite Rothschild) came close at certain vintages (e.g. 2001), but still unmatched compared to d’Yquem. It is not easy to understand these sweet wines unless you have vast drinking experience, but its easy to drink a d’Yquem and understand what it is. 1975 is very complex, full of coffee and caramel on the nose. The body is extraordinarily rich, very complex, turned orange rind, orange peel as the night tickles away, a very long finishing wine, it just melts in your mouth and then lingered around for the next few minutes.
Before I wind down this article, I must thank Coutts, the joint organiser for the event, for their generosity.The wines had come from Coutts private collection bought many years ago and tonight they generously treated us a totally memorable night. So I must give them two thumbs up! The kind of generosity goes way beyond imagination, for such wine tasting event, normally you get about 50 ml pour, very carefully measured. However at this dinner, all my wines were topped up to the rim! I had so many chances of revisiting certain wines, particularly Petrus 82, that I must have drunk easily half a bottle of this label! The only missing essential utensil I didn’t have? Haha..a spittoon….. I drank every single drop of these wines!
As the old saying goes, “there is no great old wine, only a great bottle”.