Friday, August 31, 2018

A Sommelier Dream | A 1945 Vintage Horizontal

I first wrote this post 2 years ago, on July 3rd, 2016, shortly after the dinner where I opened, tasted, prepared, decanted, and tasted again (to make sure...), then served this horizontal of 1945 vintage. I wrote it in French at the time to trigger the interest of my fellow French-speaking wine lovers, while normally I write in English (not necessarily uncommon for a French-American guy like me, read the article in French here)

Yet, in front of the success of this post in French, I decided to re-visit and re-write it in English as my blog's audience, outside of France, basically encompasses the rest of the world (lots of readers in the US and across Europe and even Russia, and Asia too since I moved to Hong Kong). Basically, a very eclectic range of readers from all horizons, who, therefore, might better understand the English version of it (even if the translation is enabled on my blog).

A huge "Thank you" to all of you for your continued support and comments, much appreciated.

So without further delay, here it is, in English this time...

A Sommelier Dream | A 1945 Vintage Horizontal

1945 Vintage Horizontal | © LeDomduVin 2016 

For a Sommelier like me, opening such beautiful and rare bottles is a passion and a privilege. Spending some time with these ladies of a certain age is humbling and fills me with joy and happiness and pride. These historical bottles, legendary should I say, are rare gems you need to know how to pamper, preserve, admire and love.

2018 marks my 27th year working daily with high-end wines (and spirits) from all around the world and officially marks my 21st year as a certified Sommelier working in positions of head of purchasing and wine buyer in most places I worked for. And 21 years out of France.

I first worked for 6 years in Relais & Chateaux, top restaurants, trendy bars, and private catering, in various towns in France, including Bordeaux, Orleans, Bourges, Strasbourg and even a brief experience in Paris (1991-1997). 

Then I crossed the Channel and moved to London (UK), where I worked for 5 years in top restaurants, private Club, and private Casino, and also met my American girlfriend (1997-2002). 

Pushed by the desire to see new horizons and to concretize an old kid's dream, as well as following my girlfriend who was relocating to Manhattan, I crossed the Atlantic ocean this time and moved to New York, where I worked for 9 years as Wine Director, Wine Buyer and Store Manager for 2 prominent wine boutique stores (2002-2011). During that time I managed to get married to that same American girl I started dating in London a few years back and followed to NYC. 

After 9 years in the Big Apple, and although I loved New York and was really sad to leave, the taste for new adventures and opportunities caught me again. We (my wife and our 2 kids) decided to see the other side of the planet and moved to Hong Kong, where we are still currently living and working (2011 to present).

LeDomduVin around the world - Map courtesy of Google Map

During all these years, I had the chance to work for very rich people with very good taste and more especially a lot of money in the bank to be able to buy the best wines in the world, including some legendary bottles going back to the early 1800s. 

These rare and old gems were memories of the past, bought for investment or to be consumed or to be put aside to wait until perfectly aged and mature in order to fully capture all their complexities. They required to rest in ideal conditions, and they needed a seasoned and skilled Sommelier like me to provide all the care and attention these old ladies needed. And in 27 years, God only knows the number of these "vestiges" I had the pleasure and the privilege to open, taste, prepare, decant and serve.

As I never (or obviously "very rarely", should I say) opened such rare and expensive bottles for my personal consumption, having the chance to taste and prepare them was already a great treat and an opportunity to increase my knowledge as well as strengthen my skills and refined my palate.

Yet, in my 27 years career, I must admit that I never opened so many great, old and rare bottles prior working as the Wine Quality Control Director and personal Sommelier of the Chairman for the company I currently work for. The Chairman has one of the greatest collection of high end old and rare Bordeaux and Burgundy wines I have ever seen in my entire life.

And these bottles and I never get separated, I'm always there for them (😉). 

During the day, aside of the administrative part and other things I do (like Market Analysis, Stock Valuation, Wine Inspection and Authentication, writing the SOP-Standard Operating Procedures, etc...), an important part of my job is to take care of these bottles in the various cellars of the company's restaurants as well as the warehouses where we store them. Basically, I'm responsible for the stock and everything regarding the cellars and warehouses'  
  • Conditions (Temperature and Humidity level, Ventilation, Airflow, etc..), 
  • Environments (make sure the cellars and warehouses are clean and clear of anything that could damage the wines, like humidity problems generating mold or bad smell, etc...) 
  • Security (CCTV monitoring, fingerprints access doors, magnetic or electronic door locks, etc...) 
  • IN/OUT movements, inventory, stocktaking, etc...
  • Inspection of goods receiving and goods leaving the warehouse

These allow me to constantly be with these bottles, provide them with cares if needed and monitor their evolution and ageing. 

At night, I put on my black Sommelier outfit © LeDomduVin 2018

At night, like a Wine Justiciary, I put on my black Sommelier outfit when the Chairman requests my presence for the service and once again to open, taste, prepare, decant and serve these rare gems for his dinners. 

Although it happens that I serve wines for the Chairman as a Sommelier in one of the company's restaurants (Le Pan, Dynasty Garden or even Matsunichi), funnily enough, the Chairman usually requires my services to open, taste, prepare, decant and serve his wines (and food sometimes) at his private dinners (with both business partners and/or friends) either

  • when he invites very important Chinese and Hongkongese guests, as he knows I do not speak and barely understand Cantonese and even less Mandarin, so he is sure that I will not repeat a thing of what has been said around the table (😊). 
  • or, when he invites friends and/or very important foreigner guests (French, English, Europeans, Americans, Australians, etc..), as it is important for him to show them his "savoir-vivre" and "service quality" provided by a classically trained French-American Sommelier born in Bordeaux (moreover grandson of a winemaker from Bordeaux) as a Maitre D' and Sommelier to do the service for the night.

On June 21st, 2016, during one of these private dinners where I had (once again) to put on my Sommelier outfit for my boss, I had the chance to open, taste, prepare, decant and serve wines from 1957, 61, 62, 70, 82 and 89 ... it was truly memorable .... (read the post about this dinner here)...

However, despite how "Grand" these wines were on the 21st, they were definitely at a lower level compared to the wines I opened, tasted, prepared, decanted and served at another one of my boss' private dinners a few days later, on June 26th, 2016.

This particular dinner of June 26th was one of these singular magical experiences that only happens so rarely, if ever... It was a wine dinner that all Sommeliers would dream of doing at least once in their lives ...

I must admit that for the past 6 years working for the Chairman, I have only opened extraordinary wines, like an anthology of classic, rare and old Bordeaux and Burgundy wines... And clearly, I must be one of the luckiest Sommeliers in the world to take care of and have access to such historic bottles...

However, that dinner of June 26th, 2016, it was even more special than usual... It was Mythical...
I opened a horizontal of 4 of the top Bordeaux wines from the 1945 vintage ... and although I opened many 1945 vintage wines in my career, it was mostly 1 bottle at the time... this time was quite exceptional as in front of me stood 4 bottles of 1945... a horizontal line up of highly sought-after legendary wines as I rarely had the chance to see or had the opportunity to prepare and serve ever before side by side... It was amazing

The dinner took place in a private apartment overlooking Hong Kong ...   I let you enjoy the view.

Hong Kong view from mid-levels | © LeDomduVin 2016

So, here I was, in a high-standing apartment overlooking the skyscrapers of the ever crowded and busy city of Hong Kong, and about to open and serve 7 extraordinary bottles including 4 mythical wines in the 1945 vintage and one (not less mythical) in the vintage 1966.

  • Domaine de La Romanée Conti Montrachet 2004, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy 
  • Domaine de La Romanée Conti Romanée Conti 1966, Côte de Nuits, Burgundy 
  • Haut Brion 1945, Pauillac, Bordeaux 
  • Petrus 1945, Pomerol, Bordeaux 
  • Mouton Rothschild 1945, Pauillac, Bordeaux 
  • Latour 1945, Pauillac, Bordeaux 
  • Egon Muller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberber Auslese GK 2003, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany 

I could not keep my eyes away from these bottles, like mesmerized and fascinated at the same time. It was like a mirage in the desert, when you've got the impression of seeing something that in fact is not there... except that these bottles, these old ladies as I like to call them, were real and right in front of me. They were eye-candy for the child in me and precious darlings for the wine lover that I'm. I had to be smooth.

I slowly lifted their capsules... then gently and methodically inserted my Durand in their cork until I heard a faint, lascivious sigh, barely perceptible each time the blade of my Durand deepened inside... accompanied by a relief of pleasure to each of the cork that I removed by gentle and experienced back and forth ... they did not wait very long ... the desire being stronger than to restrain themselves ... they gave themselves up to the last drop ... at the end... my hand on their shoulders ... I stroked their curves ... intoxicated one last time by the volute of their perfumes ... while caressing their labels ... tonight my story with these ladies was troubled and troubling ... (with some sediments)... We went astray in our antics... Time had stopped... It was a night to remember... A Sommelier night...

"Woman in bottle" by © LeDomduVin 2018
A metaphor that came to my mind to illustrate the bottle opening paragraph I wrote above

WOW, that was a nice metaphorical way to describe the opening of these glamorous bottles... Are you still with me? As personally, for a moment, just the time to read the above paragraph, I was lost in my thoughts and far away, deep in my imagination, reading these "metaphors" I just wrote on my desktop... if you know what I mean... Did it happen to you too when you read those lines? 

Actually, my thoughts turned into that drawing, that I did on the spot while writing these rather intimate lines, and titled it "Woman in Bottle" to illustrate the metaphors of the paragraph above, as I think that reading this metaphorically written paragraph made me see and materialize Women in those bottles... (I'm sure you did too...)

Sometimes it is good to let your imagination take over... (😉)

Difficult to translate word for word, so here is the original French version I wrote 2 years ago and which I also find very expressive and metaphorical. 

"Et bien voilà... je l'avoue... j'ai encore passé une grande partie de la soirée avec de très grandes dames d'un certain âge... quel régal... mûres, distinguées, charmeuses, discrètes, exubérantes ou excentriques... ces vierges ne demandaient qu'à s'ouvrir après tant d'années de solitude... je leur soulevais la capsule... insérais délicatement et méthodiquement mon Durand jusqu'à entendre un léger soupir lascif à peine audible à chaque traversée... accompagné d'un soulagement à chacun des bouchons que je retirais tout en douceur par de légers à-coups et va-et-vient expérimentés ... elles ne se sont pas faites attendre très longtemps... le désir étant plus fort que de se restreindre... elles se livrèrent jusqu'à la dernière goutte... sur la fin.. ma main sur leurs épaules... je caressais leurs flancs... m'enivrais une dernière fois des volutes de leurs parfums... tout en leur caressant l'étiquette... ce soir mon histoire avec ses dames fut troublée et troublante... (avec quelques sédiments)... nous nous sommes égarés dans nos ébats... le temps s'était arrêté... It was a night to remember... A Sommelier night...." - © LeDomduVin 2016

Look at them, aren't they beautiful? What a line up!!!

The 7 bottles of the dinner | © LeDomduVin 2016 

Well, I must confess... I spent much of the evening with these classy ladies of a certain age ... and what a treat!!! ... mature, distinguished, charming, discreet, exuberant or eccentric ... these old and rare "virgins" only wanted some tenderness, love, and care... and to be opened after so many years of loneliness... So, I oblige them... What else could I do facing such an irresistible situation?... And let me tell you, it was an absolute blissful moment.... to say the least...

As mentioned above, the wines present at that dinner were not limited to the four 1945 horizontal, the other 3 wines were also prestigious and showed really well. 

Here they are in the order of service.  

DRC Montrachet 2004 | © LeDomduVin 2016

DRC Montrachet 2004

Young, too young maybe, yet generous, balanced, and structured, with high acidity, and notes of yellow fruits, apple, and citrus, lightly toasted, buttery, with mineral nuances on the nose and in the mouth. A coated palate, silky, round, long and rich on the finish ... sweet and tender. Superb!

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 7,390 USD | 58,000 HKD | 6,300 Euros)

DRC Romanee Conti 1966 | © LeDomduVin 2016

DRC Romanée Conti 1966

Wow !!! What a surprise. I was tasting this wine for the first time in my life. It was incredibly fresh and young, with a lot of cherries and other red berries freshly crushed aromas and flavors, really beautiful acidity, still a very nice balance, textured and structured finish, still quite complex and dynamic, beautiful freshness. An elegant wine, complex and full of charm. Thrilling.  

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 15,670 USD | 123,500 HKD | 13,450 Euros) 

Haut-Brion 1945 | © LeDomduVin 2016

Haut-Brion 1945

I thought that served right after the DRC RC, the contrast would be too big, but I was wrong. This Haut Brion 45 was a delicious wine on the cool and bright side, really fresh and lively. The nose had the same characteristics for which it is known: the earth, the smokey and gamey flavors mingling with nuances of undergrowth, spicy wood, figs, and mushrooms. The nose was so enticing that I could have stayed a very long time smelling and discerning all of its nuances (bad habit between me and Haut Brion). Surprisingly, the palate was still lively, full of red cherries and berries, as always with this peculiar yet attractive smoky touch mingled with earthy notes, again. What an incredible wine! Undoubtedly, the acidity is the secret key behind its young attitude. The finish is quite long and seductive. I loved it, even if a little light (but there is no harm here, as Haut Brion is my favorite wine). 

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 4,520 USD |  35,500 HKD | 3,875 Euros)

Petrus 1945 | © LeDomduVin 2016

Petrus 1945

Although I have tasted some really inconsistent bottles and tasted a lot of bottle variations and seen really well-crafted imitations of this illustrious wine in my career, Petrus remains one of my favorite wines and a unique experience each time I open a bottle. Moreover and fortunately for me, Petrus is also one of the most common wines found at my boss' dinners, so I get to open some quite frequently.

However, this bottle of Petrus 1945 was amazing ... rich, detailed, complete and complex, harmonious, textured, structured, balanced and developing in complexity over time during the dinner on the nose and on the palate ... What a fantastic wine, rich and lengthy. Still full of promises for a few more years to come. Both the nose and the palate were incredibly appealing and sexy. Surely the best of the selection of tonight's dinner.

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 11,650 USD |  91,460 HKD | 9,990 Euros)

Mouton Rothschild 1945 | © LeDomduVin 2016

Mouton Rothschild 1945

I've opened and tasted this wine in this particular vintage countless times in my career, and I've always been a big fan, despite a few bottle variations from time to time, maybe due to provenance and previous storage conditions. However, being served after the Petrus did not do it any favors as it was a little less complex and powerful than the king of the right bank, and therefore seemed overshadowed by Petrus. Nevertheless, it was also memorable. A pure expression of its Médocain roots and terroir, showing some "traits" of its age with aromas of spices, wood, undergrowth, mushrooms and game well marked on the nose and on the palate. Yet, it was not at its peak and was still full of life. Amazingly pleasing.

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 15,250 USD | 122,000 HKD | 13,100 Euros)

Latour 1945 | © LeDomduVin 2016

Latour 1945

I was expecting so much better from Latour 45 ... and was a little disappointed ... The level in the bottle was a bit low ... at low to bottom shoulder. The cork was not showing well, completely soaked, friable, fragile and crumbling when pressing the blades of the Durand. Those are usually signs that the wine may have suffered previously, maybe due to bad storage conditions prior we bought it. The cork was also covered with an earthy substance that turned out to be residues of wine sediments, that had infiltrated between the glass of the neck and the sides of the cork, here again probably due to previous bad storage condition in my opinion. On the nose, it seemed to me that the wine had reached its peak and suffered from a slight oxidation. Very dull and cloudy color due to a lot of thick sediments at the bottom of the bottle, which looked like mud. 

However, and despite the bad cork and the heavy sedimentation, the wine had not disappeared completely, meaning it wasn't gone. It even managed to surprise us after nearly 3 hours of opening. Finally, it opened out later. It was on the weak side but somehow still fighting to provide an interesting taste, yet still far from the quality we were expecting. But I do not want to blame the wine for it, as I still believe that this particular bottle had suffered. In fact, it had nothing to do with other bottles of Latour 1945 I previously opened and tasted on other occasions. Latour wines are solid wines that age very well; unfortunately, we are never safe from a bad bottle that has not aged properly or that has not been able to evolve correctly due to unsatisfactory storage conditions. Too bad. More especially as I know that this wine is normally still very good. 

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 4,700 USD | 36,900 HKD | 4,000 Euros)

Egon Muller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberber Auslese GK 2003 | © LeDomduVin 2016

Egon Muller-Schwarzhof Schwarzhofberber Auslese GK 2003

This wine was incredibly good ... sweet but not too sweet for an Auslese ... and balanced by incredible acidity, a creamy wine, racy and very fresh, it coats the entire palace in its path, very mineral, it is a rich, complex and sexy wine (once again), nicely exhibiting fruit and sweetness. 
So good, that if you are standing it will definitely make you fall back on your seat. I loved it. 
A bomb at this price ..... (compared to the other wines of the dinner of course).

(DN-LDDV | 26.06.2016 | Average Retail Price 291 USD |  2,290 HKD | 250 Euros)

What a night and what a dinner and what an incredible line up of illustrious wines.

And look at those corks...

The corks of the night | © LeDomduVin 2016

My favorite wines of the dinner (red only as I loved the two whites), starting from the best (in my true and honest opinion)...  also considering that they all had specific and unique features that make them wines of exception in any case...

1. Petrus 1945

2. DRC Romanée Conti 1966

3. Haut-Brion 1945

4. Mouton Rothschild 1945

5. Latour 1945

Another night, another dinner... and once again, it was a Sommelier's dream come true, especially for a seasoned Sommelier like me ...It was a rare and unforgettable opportunity to serve these wines side by side that almost never arises due to the lack of availability or extremely low quantities of these wines on the market ... a rare opportunity that may not represent itself anymore ….

Superb and unforgettable wines...   A Sommelier dream....

LeDomduVin Portrait with the bottles | © LeDomduVin 2016

I already can hear some of you  talking about money and prices, trying to figure out for how much was on the table? Well, it's easy. I wrote the Wine-Searcher Average Market Prices (as of today August 31st 2018) in HKD, USD and EUROS for all of these wines just below each tasting note for you to have a rough idea of each bottle price.

However, if we calculate the total amount based on these prices, we need to add the numbers as follow (in HKD for example as there are more digits, so it looks more impressive 😊)

  • DRC Montrachet 2004                     = 58,000 HKD
  • DRC RC 1966                                  = 123,500 HKD 
  • Haut Brion 1945                               = 35,500 HKD
  • Petrus 1945                                       = 91,460 HKD
  • Mouton Rothschild 1945                  = 122,000 HKD
  • Latour 1945                                      = 36,900 HKD
  • Egon Muller Scharzhofberber 2003 = 2,290 HKD
  • Grand Total                                       = 469,650 HKD 
Or roughly a total of 51,400 EUROS and/or 59,830 USD (as of today August, 31st, 2018)

Impressive, isn't it?

That's all folks! for today, I hope you liked it, and if so, then stay tuned for more posts like this one with more stories, photos and illustrations.

Oh, by the way, did you like my drawing of "Woman in Bottle"? I bet you did... (😊)

Cheers! Santé!

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noël

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