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Red Wine End of Journey!
Date: 19 April 2018
Venue: A private home
Months ago my die-hard wine connoisseur friend offered to organize a dinner with Rhone 1978 wines alone.
Obviously given any opportunity, one shouldn’t reject such a proposal. My encounter with Rhone 78 started a few years ago when I hosted a group of Vivino International friends at my place, a Swiss friend flew and popped open a JL Chave Hermitage 78, and I was speechless that afternoon, as it wiped off the whole table of top wines (e.g. Haut Brion 85, Cheval Blanc 85…. Etc). Thereafter, there was no turning back on Rhone wines. In search of the ultimate red wines out there, I have fulfilled my journey after drinking more than two decades of great wines, and in today’s article, I’ll summarize what I think it’s the end game.
1978 was a stunning vintage for Rhone, perhaps 1990 can give 1978 a run, but for missing 12 years in the bottle, the taste would be totally different.
Don’t Miss!

Check out my ultra fun Vivino International Chapter where I tasted more than 40 bottles of highly sought after wines with my friends!

Credentials
Bok, you sure you know what you’re talking about? You should buzz off if this is another marketing campaign or you’re trying to sell me more wines! Friends, as you know, wine is my love, I don’t try to make money by selling wines, I make friends and enjoy the journey and drink and test myself on all the wines Fine Wines SG brings in. And just to be sure, I want to show you my credentials before you think it’s a waste of time reading my article.

Thanks to Vivino app, it has recorded my wine journey. Up till now, I have posted reviews for 2988 wines, and a lot of back logs by the way. As such, I have easily tasted 3,000+ wines since I started using Vivino, not counting my wine journey since 1996. I would have easily tasted close to 10,000 wines by now. And I’m not just drinking Bordeaux, as shown in my Vivino stats, I drink very diversified wines from all over the world. I want to stress all these as I have met people who said I’m not qualified and doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Well, the experience of my drinking record is a proof! You don’t have a Master of Wines title under your belt! Sadly, such mentality needs to be fixed, then all PhD should be the richest people on earth. Bill Gates doesn’t have a degree, he built a Microsoft empire!





Line Up!
We were given a few months to source for all the wines. As I’m a big fan of JL Chave Hermitage 78, I bought a case of it, and it was easy for me to contribute what I have. Thus the line up would be like this:•    1978 Chateau Rayas Chateaueuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France
•    1978 Henri Bonneau Celestins Chateaueuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France
•    1978 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas, Rhone, France
•    1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle, Rhone, France
•    1978 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage, Rhone, France
Frankly, it’s a challenge to source for these wines as they don’t show up easily, plus provenance is a big concern. Thus I have to salute those who managed to sourced and sponsor these killer lineups.
Starter!

Any great wine dinner wouldn’t kick start without a great champagne and/or a great white wine.A sip of the chilled champagne and I already declared this is my Champagne of The Year! As usual, served blind, the flavor was so great and intense, the fruits were so superb, balance was impeccable. Lemony to boot, then turned honey, not super high acidity. We were guessing all over the place, majority thinks it’s a Dom Perignon in the 80s. We were very far off. Label revealed, Krug 1988!

The beauty of Krug was that they actually have an ID at the back label, so we can go online and check details of this bottle as my friend claimed there are bottle variations. Turned out it was bottled in 2005, Krug waited 17 years before they bottled this! You can tell how great the vintage 1988 was for champagne from Krug’s action! If you want to have an ultimate champagne, I will recommend that you buy 1988 vintage.

Ultimate White!
Next came a glass of blind white. Nose was surprisingly popcorn, strong butter and slight lemon, along with tropical fruits like pineapple. A very rich, big wine, soft and elegant with huge amount of complexity. We all agreed it was post 2002 wines, focusing on vintages of 03, 05 or 06. Not an easy choice based upon the low acidity but not completely invisible. However, we all agree it’s Grand Cru level, zooming into Criots Batard Montrachet, Batard Montrachet, Chevalier Montrachet or a full Monty. We pretty much eliminated everything else except for a Montrachet. Maker was difficult, although I did blurt out Joseph Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche, but without conviction thereafter. Yes it was Joseph Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche 2005, another killer label consistently outperformed all other Montrachets!
Don’t Miss!
A while back I have reported the ultimate white journey,
you can read more in this article!
First Flight!

Without further distraction, we went into our spotlight on the night!
•    1978 Chateau Rayas Chateaueuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France
•    1978 Henri Bonneau Celestins Chateaueuf-du-Pape, Rhone, FranceThere were only two solid solid producers from Southern Rhone, and both of them are legendary. I had once a Rayas 1971 that totally blow me out of the water, and multiple Bonneau Celestins vintages like 1989, 2000, 2001, they’re so great I must admit even though I have never been a big fan of Southern Rhone wines, these two big names had me surrender for more!Rayas was produced with 100% Grenache grape varietal. The bouquet was haunting, the purity of fruit can be out of this world and textures are extraordinarily silky, elegant and sensuous.

Henri Bonneau, known as one of the legendary producers of Chateaueuf-du-Pape wines, produced Reserve des Celestins, which was also another wine that’s highly sought after. Usually a blend of 90% Grenache along with other grape varietals like Syrah, Counoise, Mourvedre and Vaccarese. The wine was stunning, very quintessential Bonneau, boasting great purity of fruit, impressive length and beautiful texture.

Glass 1

A whiff and I know I’m in for a super treat. The kind of elegance on the nose was to the maximum pleasure, with a hint of black pepper, really can’t get any better even though it was slightly brett and medicinal but these characters are expected for aged wines anyway. In my memory there wasn’t many wines that can beat this nose, I can only recall Wine Society Grand Echezeaux 1959 (very deep sensual nose) and Leroy Les Beaux Monts 1990 (fragrance couldn’t last for more than 15 mins) that can probably rank equally great, but not any better.A sip and I can see the bright sun as if I have gone through 28 days of darkness. My first feel on my heart was that it was the end game of red wines, as nothing I have drank in the past were better than this! What have I not drunk before? Mind you, I have probably tasted 10,000 wines by now to draw this conclusion! It’s a big wine but at the same time it maintained it’s elegance. Super ripe, so fat, and so dirty yet so beautiful. Structurally the right fat growing at the right places, not even an ounce of extra fat, and nor do I feel that it was skinny at any given moment. The ripeness was unreal, perhaps like a super ripe cherry? I can’t describe this, as I find myself never experienced this before and I have no vocabulary to describe it. The wine has been stood up for more than 1 week, but the content was a bit dirty or muddy, typical of this label. Looked like I have reached the holy grail of red wines. 100 points.

Glass 2
Another killer glass of wine. This bouquet was obviously more complex with mild Chinese medicinal to boot, but it slowly morphed into floral fragrance, great evolution! Pretty meaty and beefy too. Palette was extremely tight, still very tannic and surprisingly chewy fruits. From here you can tell the provenance and storage condition of this 40 year old bottle must have been pristine (when the bottle was emptied, we could see a patch of stained sediments at the inside bottle around the neck level, implying that it has been lying down for many years without movement, superb condition!) The finishing was astonishingly long, another big meaty and chunky wine almost like beef juz, I’d call it a hulk! It slowly morphed into Luo Han Guo or Monk fruit, a kind of cooling drink in traditional Chinese medicine, but of course this wine has got a lot more going on than Chinese cooling drink. Due to the superb condition of this bottle, it’s quite difficult to judge this wine, my forward looking statement was with huge potential and will probably take another 10 to 15 years to come around, and it may overtake glass 1 by then. For now, amongst 5 wine connoisseur, 4 voted for glass 1 to be wine of the flight. 98+ points.
Verdict of Flight 1
Glass 1: 1978 Chateau Rayas Chateaueuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France
Glass 2: 1978 Henri Bonneau Celestins Chateaueuf-du-Pape, Rhone, FrancePrice of Rayas 1978 is an average of S$2,400+ while Bonneau Celestins 1978 is around S$3,600, problem will be finding them and not just the price tag, as many vendors list the presence of these wines for the sake of listing, ask them if they have stocks? These are wines that even with money cannot be easily bought, you can only meet them by fate, never by dollar.Unsurprisingly, Rayas kicked ass even though Bonneau wasn’t too far away. Admittedly, I have never been a fan of Southern Rhone, totally overlooked in my earlier drinking days. I wonder if it’ll be very different nowadays for Southern Rhone wine with modern production, will they turn into Rayas in a few decades’ time? Take for example Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, or Beaucastel’s Grand Cuvee Hommage a Jacques Perrin, would they be the uprising future stars? In addition, wines produced in CDP, particularly Grenache, were almost with the absence of new oak (except for a few grape varietals like Syrah that required oak’s influence), thus it’s somehow called “naked wines” as there’s no influence of oak. Try that with Romanee Conti, La Tache or Lafite Rothschild, I will guarantee you’ll spit out the wines. Furthermore, Most CDP are farmed organically or biodynamically, they hardly need to treat their vineyards with herbicides or pesticides due to the region’s abundant sunshine and wind.
Second Flight
Now the second flight is quickly served as 5 of us have to go through 8 bottles of wines, not much time to spare!Recall second flight will be Three of A Kind Northern Rhone line up:
•    1978 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas, Rhone, France
•    1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle, Rhone, France
•    1978 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage, Rhone, FranceHere, you find the Mecca for Syrah as Northern Rhone uses primarily Syrah grapes only for the red wines.
Glass 1
Cornas, being the most tannic of all Northern Rhone Syrah wines, should be really bold in taste. But I will reveal the following glass as 1978 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas, as the condition was very slightly off with slight cork taint (although I’m very immune to cork taint), plus this bottle was the least favorite amongst 5 of us. Bouquet of faint clinical and slight clove (and wet cupboard). Content was surprisingly fresh, light and almost burgundy alike initially, medium length although I wish it can go longer. The beauty of Cornas was that this wine was very clean. Holding power was a bit too weak, turned sour after 30 mins in the glass. My initial score was 94-95 but thereafter I downgraded it to 92-93.
Glass 2
Oh no! Another killer glass! Nose was really muted, mild and turned very slight Chinese herbal bouquet. A sip and I was speechless; Frankly, this might pass off as a great burgundy wine, but I know this was Syrah, not Pinot Noir! I slowly slurped and noticed it has a lot more flavor and structurally sound (compared to a great burgundy), and very intense fruits instead, it’s also very fresh and clear. Surprisingly as the night faded, the wine become really clean and pure, what an evolution, totally palette-blowing! No surprise and no secret here, I’m familiar with this wine as I had it multiple times. It’s the 1978 JL Chave Hermitage. 99 points.
Glass 3
Leaving glass 3 to only 1978 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle. I get some complex sweet spice nose, slightly medicinal and eucalyptus.Another almost red burgundy style, albeit a bit dirty and surely thicker juice. It’s really amazing how Syrah morphed into aged Pinot Noir style, probably all old wines converged at one point. There’s a bit of this cooked earth, although it was balanced and in perfect harmony, with fully integrated tannins and nothing harsh, it just could not match the level of JL Chave Hermitage, almost a league away. 95-96 points.
Holy Grail!

After drinking for 20+ years, I have come to an end of wine journey. Last year was the ultimate white burgundies end game, now, the red Rhone end game. I’m glad I no longer have to keep searching for the dream wines.A word on why this Rhone is an end game… undeniably Bordeaux is my first love, as I love the consistency and honesty in this region. I buy a Bordeaux, knowing that I’ll hardly be disappoint so long as I get the vintage right, it hardly fails, nor will it upset me. For such characters, I enjoyed it, as I hate to be treated like a fool. Imagine if I’m having a great conversational dinner in a restaurant, and I’ll certainly pick a Bordeaux from the wine list, as I know it’ll not spoil my dinner, it may not be the most exciting drinks out there, but it’ll certainly end up with good notes.

I’d credit Bordeaux as a “faithful wife”. Such words would not be awarded on Red Burgundies. I call Red Burgundies “mistress”, as not only the fragile Pinot Noir wreak havoc due to its fragile character, it’s also not a reliable wine. I have attended so many Red Burgundy tastings, it’s almost impossible to find a perfect lineup like this Rhone outing whereby there’s no failure and no disappointment, either the big name disappoints, or the content fail miserably. Of course, you’ll occasionally find a bottle that gives you that big grin and moon walked home. But don’t forget the “mistress spending”, how much have you spent on your Red Burgundies before you strike that elusive bottle? And by then, you search for another bottle, nothing found due to the small production, sigh! Anyway, you can disagree with me, although I speak from my drinking experience and I certainly don’t like to be treated like a fool to plunge $20,000 a bottle on a Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux 1er Cru 1999 and then be disappointed (I have a friend who did that once in search of the holy grail, I feel for him).

Rhone would be a good balance between Bordeaux and Red Burgundies, structurally firmer and sound than Red Burgs, with a similar style after some age in the bottle, highly reliable, and the price doesn’t burn a hole in the pocket, and I don’t have to look like a fool!

Happy Drinking!
With Love, Bok
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