Last year at Pebble Beach Food and Wine, I attended a seminar featuring a vertical tasting of the first growth of Royal Tokaji. This was by far the “tasting of a lifetime” and one that could never be repeated.
However, the great thing about wine is that there are many “tastings of a lifetime,” those times when the lineup of wines is like no other, cannot be duplicated and only in your wildest imagination would you have thought about it. And that is what happened at the ninth annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine event.
The weekend started with a tasting of Tete du Cuvee Rose Champagne. Exploring this more robust style of Champagne, I thought life was really good at this point as I sat with glasses of pink bubbles in front of me from the following producers:
— Champagne Armand de Brignac Rose en Magnum NV
— Champagne Krug Rose NV
— Champagne Pol Roger Brut Rose 2006
— Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal Rose 2006
— Champagne Billecart-Salmon Rose Cuvee Elizabeth 2006
— Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose 2006
— Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart Rose 2002
— Champagne Bollinger La Grande Annee Rose 2004
— Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rose 2004
The weekend ended with a tasting of nine magnum bottles of Champagne, which was also a rather special tasting.
— Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee
— Champagne Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label
— Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier
— Champagne Delamotte Brut
— Champagne Pol Roger Brut Reserve White Foil
— Champagne Lanson Black Label
— Champagne Pommery Brut
— Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs
— Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005
But one tasting stood out among them all. The seminar was titled “Women and the World’s Wine Treasures,” and in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined this lineup of wines. The panel was moderated by Christie Dufault, associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, along with three Master Sommeliers — Gillian Balance, June Rodil and Emily Wines — on the panel. This panel of incredible women presented a list of iconic wines from around the world. Check out this lineup:
Champagne Salon Blanc de Blancs 2002, Mesnil-sur-Oger, France – Salon makes only a tete du cuvee and makes wine only in great years. In more than 100 years, they have made only 37 vintages. The house is dedicated to chardonnay and the grapes come from Grand Cru vineyards. Aging the wines for 10 to 12 years before release, the 2002 is the current release and is just a baby that has great aging potential. But even now, it is an exquisite Champagne.
Robert Weil Riesling Trocken, Kiedricher Grafenberg, 2012, Rheingau, Germany – This winery started in 1875, which is young by Rheingau standards. The riesling demonstrates the sheer power of the grape. The wine is dry but there is a lushness to it and it is brimming with acidity and freshness. While Balance suggests that this wine can age another 10 years, Wines called this wine “sommelier crack.”
Williams Selyem Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir 1997, Sonoma – Ed Selyem and Burt Williams started Williams Selyem in 1979 and sold it in 1998. This 1997 pinot noir from the Russian River Rochioli Vineyard was made under Selyem and Williams and showcases their careful delicate touch. It is a luscious wine with great acidity on the palate. While the 1997 is 20 years old, it is still young, fresh and lively.
Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux, Cote de Nuits, France 1996 – Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, called DRC by its fans, is a cherished winery. Grand Cru vineyard Echezeaux may produce a wine that is lighter than its fellow Grand Cru vineyards but it represents its vintages well. 1996 was not an outstanding vintage but it was a classic year. The wine has gorgeous notes of violet, dried flowers, crushed rose, spices and dried cranberry. It is not a young wine but is bright and alive. The great thing about Echezeaux is that you do not have to wait as long for the wines to age to enjoy them. Rodil added that “these wines are bulletproof and they age forever.”
Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay en Magnum 1983, Rioja, Spain – To Rodil, the wines of Rioja evoke a mix of dirty smells and sweet candy but that is what is so appealing to her. This wine, made by a female winemaker, is a Gran Riserva and is aged three years in American oak and two years in bottle. The wine has a candied cherry and a stewed meat note, as well as a funkiness to it. It was described by the panel as “a male flamenco dancer.”
Chateau Musar Gaston Hochar 1988 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon – The legend behind the wine, the late Serge Hochar, was a great storyteller but he would never share the blend percentages in the wine. He would say that the blends did not matter; it is the character of the wine that matters. He would say that the only point is to drink it and like it. Marc Hochar, Serge’s son, was at the tasting and did share that in colder years, the wine has more cinsault and in warmer years it has more cabernet sauvignon. The 1988 was a special year and has more cinsault than other years. The sheer complexity of this wine is what changed Rodil’s perspective on drinking only classic wines. She explained that you “realize what you enjoy as well. Musar is a great wine, both faulted and delicious.”
Cos d’Estoumel 1986 Bordeaux, France – This terroir-driven wine is predominantly cabernet sauvignon with 40 percent merlot. 1986 is arguably one of the best vintages of the decade. The tannins in this 30-year-old wine are still there and this wine could age another 10 to 15 years.
1998 Ornellaia Archivio Storico, Bolgheri Italy – The 1998 Ornellaia is from a limited collection of old vintages that had been stored in the Bolgheri cellars. In partnership with Sotheby’s, the wines have been released for collectors all over the world. As we tasted this famous Super Tuscan wine made with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, the panel agreed that even when international varieties are planted in Italy, they taste Italian.
Penfolds Grange 1990 South Australia – Penfolds Grange was created by Max Schubert, one of the most important Australian winemakers. As winemaker at Penfolds from 1948-1975, Schubert created Grange to be a wine that would stand the test of time. In 1951, he made four barrels of Grange. To this day, Grange has not changed its ethos or style. The wine is never a single vineyard wine. The 1990 Grange is a pretty wine that is quintessential South Australian shiraz, with a small percentage of cabernet sauvignon.
Broadbent Madeira Bual 1978 – This wine is almost 40 years old and can keep going. It is a delicious, rich wine with notes of nuts and coffee and a long, acidic finish.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting. It was one of those tastings where the spit cups remained unturned. It was one of those tastings that gives you great bragging rights among other wine enthusiasts. And, it would be hard to pick a favorite out of the lineup. Every time I try to pick one, such as the Champagne, I then think about the Burgundy, the riesling, the Madeira.
While I am still licking my lips and marveling at what I experienced at this tasting, I am wondering what next year’s “tasting of a lifetime” will be at the 10th annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine (April 20-23, 2017).