The Legend - 1969 Chappellet

On Saturday night, James Kennedy and I joined a couple of wine goons for Philip Togni mini-retrospective, highlighted by Togni’s self-proclaimed all time greatest hit, the 1969 Chappellet. We held our event at Petra and the Beast in Dallas, which is really an exceptional restaurant. Dinner service is show up, sit down. A set menu and welcome cocktail are put in front of you and then you just sit as courses arrive. Once done, you pay at the register. Service is impeccable, the food is interesting, wonderful, and undeniably Michelin star quality, and the atmosphere is unpretentious and relaxed. A unique dining experience and one I absolutely loved.

2008 Dom Perignon - A distinct nose of smoke, mint, rocks, and pear. It’s so unique and lovely and the palate is so refined, perfectly integrated and creamy. A layered, super complex wine that is just so smooth. The definition of a fine mousse, creamy delivery, and pure sophistication. A special champagne and a distinct Dom. 97

Krug MV 166eme - A very different wine than its counterpart, the Dom. Big, burly, with a less refined mousse. Notes of apple, dried mango, orange, lemon curd, fresh biscuit, candied spicy ginger. It’s long, it’s intense and concentrated, and is really extraordinarily delicious. It’s so different than the Dom, but excellent. 95-96

Tasting these two champagnes next to each other is probably unfair. They are so different that their strengths highlight each other’s weaknesses. And I use the term “weaknesses” loosely. The Krug 166 is not unrefined, but it does seem bigger and slightly rougher hewn than the Dom. The Dom is not as fruit driven as the Krug. Both of those things are okay, and each is spectacular.

1969 Chappellet - Base neck, good color, pristine label. Cork is long, a bit saturated, but comes out 97% whole and smells like old wine. No TCA. Hurdle No. 1 cleared and we are all relieved. JR (James) pours the wine and it is much darker than I expected and a better color too. Some bricking, but holding its color well. A sniff and a taste leaves everyone with toothy grins. We all feared a massive waste of money, but this has clearly delivered on its promises. It is bright and expressive on the nose. Huge mint, pipe tobacco, bright cherry and potpouri, with nice lift followed by hints of sage and leather. It is complex and bright and wonderful and the only downside is that it is, perhaps, just a little clipped on the finish. It is holding onto a decent tannic structure that is nearly hidden by the remaining fruit and beautiful complex aromas. Brighter than I would have ever expected. It unfortunately fades after an hour or so in the glass. That’s okay. I had most of my share at its peak. What an experience. 98

1991 Phillip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon - Big aromatics of tobacco, meat, black cherry, and leather with a lifted herbal note. Most everyone at the table said bell pepper was giving the aromatic lift. I was pushing tobacco but they’re probably right. But regardless, I’m also getting tobacco leaf and a hint of cedar. Lovely structure and a long finish. I liked this a lot. 96.

1997 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon - I do think that Togni’s signature is pretty consistent. This does not have the undercurrent of lift that the 91 has, but is carrying a big meaty savory note, tobacco, and black cherry (albeit a bit richer here), with anise seed providing complexity. Good long finish. I think this is about as mature as the 91 but, even so, this is better than my last bottle’s showing. I preferred the 91 Togni. Good showing though. 94

2013 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon - Again, the signature, though this is carrying more dark fruit. Black currant and black cherry with a meaty note, smoke, pipe tobacco, licorice, and spices. Solid structure. It is quite complex and should last decades. Really good wine. Tough to go from 22+ years old to 6 years old, especially on Togni’s wines, but this was still very obviously excellent, complex, and structured. Really good stuff. 96

1990 Rieussec Sauternes - Light caramel color. Sweet, high glycerin feel with okay acidity. Sweet, candied apricot, baked apple tart. Perhaps a bit on the sweet side, but Sauternes is generally not my jams. Would prefer a bit more pop of acid and a little lighter body, but this appears to have been toasted to rave reviews at the table. I wish I shared excitement about Sauternes, or any sweet wine, really. I’ve had legendary ports, 150 year old madeira, Y’quems, and many other huge scoring big name stickies. They’re typically very complex, and I get the appeal, it’s just not my thing.
1969 Chappellet.jpeg

Sweet lineup man, thx for the notes!

Awesome, thanks!

That restaurant sounds great, too…

Wow killer night, K-John! You’ve been drinking well.

I’ve had some strong 1969 Cali Cabs, including Mayacamas a month ago, but Chappellet is a whole ‘nother level.

Kane’s prose and memory are quite a bit better than mine but below is my CT note on the '69 with brief comparisons across the vertical. It was an exceptional dinner all around and I feel lucky+blessed the '69 bottle was in good shape and showed so well.

I have no doubt the '91 is also a 50+ year wine, and, depending on the direction of the green/pepper/tobacco element on the nose, the '91 may become another contender for top all-time napa/cali cab (with a much less illustrious story than the '69 chap). It’s enjoyable now at 28 years but it’s not anywhere close to prime, which is wild to say. I intend to find at least 2-3 more bottles of this to try at 35, 40 and 50 years, because I want to see the full expression of this wine and not sure when it will lie.

The '97 is drinking so well right now, and if it weren’t for the company on the table, would be a special experience on its own.

The '13 is also remarkable but is too primary/simple right now and lacking the concentration I’d expect in a young bottle to fully compete with the aged bottles, and I don’t think it’s on par with the '91 or '69, but I’d like to be proven wrong.

The relationship between these togni wines was very apparent - outside of the nose on the '91, the structure and elements of the wines shared a similar profile. It’s impressive that Togni has maintained such a consistent style over the decades in spite of the marketing trends and various directions the region has taken.

  • 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley (11/23/2019)
    This bottle was perfectly sound and I see how it’s earned so much praise. Mouthfeel was delicate/light compared to the dark brooding fruit. The structure, particularly the acid, is what carried it in my opinion. It had a dusty/chalky/minerally nose and palate was an array of black fruit but with flowers, cassis and graphite in perfect balance.

I’m no napa expert but I’ve had my fair share of old and young Napa wines of varying styles - I can’t imagine anything better than this coming out of Napa (cults are delicious but I appreciate the old world qualities more).

Two hours in, the fruit faded and the structure became more prominent. Developed some of that cheesy wood aroma old Italian wines get and tannin was more apparent too. Still nothing out of balance, just shifted as the fruit dissipated.

We put this up against ‘91, ‘97 and ‘13 Togni. The ‘97 was the most tired of the lot which is telling of the caliber of these wines; the ‘91 was most concentrated of the group and showed slightly different characteristics, including a green note on the nose; and, the ‘13 seemed relatively simple compared to the ‘69 Chap and ‘91 Togni, though it may simply be its youth. To be fair, we’re splitting hairs on the incredible oeuvre of Philip Togni who is one of my absolute favorite winemakers. (100 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

Awesome notes. Love Chappellet cabs

One of the best Birth year wines I had was a Magnum of 1973 Chappellet. Came in with good fills but cork was pushing out about 1/4". Wanted to return it but the rep was dragging his feet, thanks god for it, it was a beautiful mature Cali Cab.

Never had a bottle of Togni that I didn’t like, well done KJ.

The 1973 Chappellet was the best red wine I ever had.

Definitely not for the Pop-N-Pour Infanticide crowd, however.

Envious of this line up! My score for the 1969 Chappellet might even be a point or two higher, and it could certainly hold its own against the better 1961 Médocs for instance, even perhaps '61 Latour. Like all truly great bottles, it is not an easy wine to capture in writing (as Freddy Mugnier recently put it, “true complexity is inherently difficult to break down”), and the last one that I drank had some wonderfully carnal aromatic nuances in addition to the tobacco (or even more, for me, cigar ash) notes that you describe. The 1992 Togni is brilliant also, perhaps richer than the 1991 though I never had them side by side.

Here’s a short video of Galloni talking to Togni about the '69. Interestingly, he notes that the young vines that produced this were succumbing to leaf roll virus and each successive vintage was “of decreasing merit”.

Great vid, thx for posting the link!

That label looks incredibly pristine for a 50 year old bottle - how was this stored?

Upright in my eurocave since September. Before that ?

Bought from a KL auction and they were reassuring about their relationship with the consigner and taking care of any issues should there be any.

Label has a few off white blemishes but otherwise is flawless. Cork was saturated up the sides and there was a good bit of mold on top of the cork and under the capsule.

The cork itself was quite long and I missed about 3mm of it with the Durand. It’s lost its elasticity almost completely but it held up well enough for us to enjoy 50 years on.

Outstanding evening. It’s really fun to drink some of these old domestic legends.

Togni isn’t exactly obscure or inexpensive, but I still think it’s underrated. One of the very greatest California Cabernets, or indeed Cabernets from anywhere, and one of the very few American wines that can share a table with top aged French wines and still stand out as among the best. Yet it’s underpriced compared to other top Cal Cabs, and it’s not as famous as Ridge, etc. I think it’s the combination of the need for age (I try to hold them 15 years at least) and the distinctiveness of the flavor profile, which has California intensity but is much more savory than sweet

Older Chappellet’s - late 60’s early 70’s - were big wines that needed time. IMHO, they were a step behind the Heitz’s and BVPR’s of the world which is not a bad thing. Also behind maybe Ridge, some Martini/SS, Inglenook’s cask lots and a few others as well. Their '70 was massive, not unlike Mayacamas, and consequently did not drink as well as some of the others I mentioned. Glad to see the '69 holding up as well as it did.