Bring A Special Bottle Night 2016 fell on a cold wet miserable night in Hong Kong in February. Nevertheless the weather could not dampen the enthusiasm or the appetite of a thirsty crowd as we gathered at Crown Wine Cellars, and we were delighted to be met by an opening salvo of Louis Roederer Cristals. In the past we have always had much more red wine than white/Champagne but our leader’s rallying cry to address this was met with both enthusiasm and generosity. So first up a delicious, fully mature Cristal 1988 (18 points – one bottle was fresher than the other) and then a perfectly balanced Cristal 1996 (18.5). Lots of racy acidity and complexity with nice weight and fabulous intensity. This was followed by my favourite Champagne of the night, the stunning Krug 1989 (19.5). Quite gold in colour, rich and profound, and very Krug. The last Champagne was voted COTN, the ridiculously youthful Theophile Roederer Champagne Brut 1964. Very impressive and tasted like something from the 1980s. This may have been helped by it’s remarkable level of sweetness, akin to an extra Dry (19).
We then moved onto the best line up of whites ever produced for this annual event. First up the two outliers. a Zind Humbrect Clos Hauserer 1990 in magnum, an ageless Riesling belying its 26 years of age (17) described by Mr G as “a powder keg of creamed diesel”, and a Gaja Alteni di Brassica 1994. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc stole comparisons to the great Pavillon Blanc de Margaux. I am not sure I would go that far but an amazingly youthful 22 year old SB. “Shock and awe”. Amazing acidity still present. I’m not sure how much/often I personally want to drink it but you have to doff your cap. (17.5).
Then onto the Chardonnays. A really impressive line up. First up a rich, intense, broad, creamy and complex Batard Montrachet Domaine Leflaive 1997 (18), then a magnum Corton Charlemagne Bonneau du Martray 2001, this had lovely drive, minerality and a refreshing finish. Lots of time ahead, especially out of a magnum (17.5). Then another Leflaive, this time the superb Batard Montrachet Domaine Leflaive 2002. Unmistakably Leflaive, a wine with energy, minerality and vibrant acidity, and a long and interesting life ahead. (18). Next up the eventual WWOTN, from magnum, a Batard Montrachet Domaine Ramonet 2002. This was gorgeous, sweeter and riper than the Leflaive and singing like a canary in its drinking window (19). But we weren’t done yet as we moved into a Le Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche, Joseph Drouhin 2005. (18) This note came to me from the generous contributor: “Light yellow color, opulent fruit aromas of pineapple, honey, honeysuckle and almond. Rich minerality across the full palate and some hints of baked bread like in a fine aged champagne. A very well balanced and highly defined wine which is well integrated, robust and big but elegantly beautiful. Begin to drink now and for the next 5-10 years.” A great array of white Burgundies, all of which could have taken the crown on another night. We did have one more white wine, Maritavora Reserva Bianco 2005 from the Douro, which impressed with its freshness and youthful bright fruit. (16).
We then moved onto the reds, and as in previous years we decided to start with the oldest. I have to say the first three wines all really impressed. Ch La Lagune 1916 was the first wine, and what a surprise that was. At 100 years of age this was in spectacularly youthful shape, with lots of fresh fruit. In a word amazing, and tasted like something decades younger (18). Ch Branaire Ducru 1928 – another incredibly youthful wine which had been reconditioned at the Chateau. I felt the fruit quality was more interesting and better here (vs the La Lagune) for another old soul. (18.5) C.V.N.E. Imperial Grand Reserva Rioja 1928 – we have had plenty of success at this dinner in previous years with old Spanish wines, and this absolute beauty kept that theme going. This was my favourite of the first three. (19)
Then we had a flight of 1934s. Ch Rausan Segla 1934 was quite funky and showing its age, but improved in the glass and I thought was just by a short head the best of the flight (16). The Ch Talbot 1934 had seen better days, not a lot of life left in there (12). The Ch Mouton Rothschild 1934 sat somewhere between the two, but closer in quality to the Rausan (15.5). Nevertheless a generous contribution from one person who brought all 3 wines from 1934. I asked him for his views on the wines: “The Mouton was by far my favourite with traces of berry incredibly still there as well as the spice and earthy old-wine character”. The room was divided between the Mouton and Rausan. (Worth noting both were second growths at the time).
Then we had an awful bottle, Ch Leoville Barton 1937. Not a wine I know (so I don’t know if this is a particularly poor bottle) nor based on this showing want to ever meet again. Completely gone. (5). Described by someone as “quite a nice cognac”. Nevertheless importantly Crown Wine Cellars was built in 1937 so for that reason it got 5 points and we had to all drain our glasses. Amazingly worse was to follow with a quite horrific magnum of Ch Coutelin Mervelle 1955. Nasty (2). We were in a tricky spot as the next wine, a Barolo Borgogno 1958 was very light coloured and tired. Sadly it had not made the journey to 2016. (13).
Things then picked up. A magnum of a terrific, vibrant, classy Ch Beychevelle 1959 (18.5) was followed by two 1962s, a beautiful, mature, complex Ch Margaux 1962 (18.5) and a Cos d’Estournel 1962 which based on what we tasted on our side of the room was a bit of a step down, showing a bit more age with its fruit gently fading (17.5). Nevertheless we had two bottles of each and the concensus on the other side of the room was that the Cos was better than the Margaux, so clearly some bottle variation. Next up a light, lean, slightly vegetal magnum of Carruades de Lafite 1967 (15).
We then moved into the 1970s. A lovely Pinot Noir (the only one of the night surprisingly) in the shape of a Beaune 1er Cru Maison Leroy 1976 got us going, very pretty indeed (17). This was followed by Ch Lafleur 1978. This is a powerful wine which was still flexing its muscles, and is built for the long haul. Lots of gorgeous sweet fruit there though, definitely hope to see it again (18). Then the Borgogno’s made their second appearance of the night in the shape of a Barolo Riserva Borgogno 1978, which had come direct from the estate. This was in lovely condition, very pretty up top, but with a bit of power in the engine room (17). The final wine of the 1970s was a delicious Ch Palmer 1979. Clearly a very strong performance in quite a tricky (cool) vintage, an iron fist in a velvet glove. Absolutely ready to go, lovely (17.5).
Next we had lovely flight of 1982s. Ch Gruaud Larose 1982 (2x75cls) was showing really well (my wine). Opened and decanted at 7pm and served around 10pm this old favourite from the 1982 vintage continues to impress, currently in its sweet spot of maturity. It’s a big, powerful quite dense wine which grew in the glass. (19) Ch Pichon Lalande 1982 from magnum continues to justify its reputation as one of the wines of the vintage. Less opulent than in its youth this great wine combines complexity and balance, a wine in total harmony that is growing old gracefully (19). Finally, also out of magnum, we had a Ch Cos d’Estournel 1982 which was the wildest of the three, with hints of spice and slightly cooler fruit. Not the most profound of the three, but a lovely drop nonetheless (18).
Then onto a couple of stickies, a nameless unidentifiable Hungarian Tokaji made in the last 100 years is all we were told – and it was delicious. (17) Ch d’ Yquem 1998 had lots of youthful sweetness, honey, caramel and that sort of golden fruit. Lovely without being sublime (17.5).
After a number of votes the WOTN was finally won by the Ch La Lagune 1916. Age often beats quality when the votes are cast. Democracy doesn’t always get the right result.