TN's: Some outstanding wines from my birthday dinner

Last month for my birthday celebration, a few of us gathered at our friend Andy’s house for an outrageously delicious meal and some fantastic wines. Andy did most of the cooking, and as expected it was a feast the likes of which I’ll never forget. The food was outstanding and inventive and everybody kicked in great wines to go along with each course. A huge thanks to Andy and his wife and to everyone who came and brought such fun wines—you made it a special experience!


Moule Mariniere – Mussels steamed in a white wine, garlic and herb sauce.
Mushroom Tartlets – Puff pastry shells filled with goat cheese and mushrooms.
Artichoke Dip – Warm artichoke hearts in a lemon parmesan cream.

1996 Pol Roger Champagne Brut. This wine presents a killer bouquet that shows fantastic vibrancy yet undeniable richness and layering of aroma. It features kaleidoscopic scents of yellow fruits, lemon peel, ginger root, lemon pepper, cool minerality and crushed seashells that are very inviting. In the mouth, it fulfills the promise of the nose in spades—with an excellent flavor profile to go with bracingly racy acidity that cuts like a steel knife. For all the cut and lift, it also delivers yeasty richness and a full-bodied feel that absolutely fills the mouth with flavors of lemon, apple, mineral, saline bits, cream and ginger. There is no letdown whatsoever from the entry all the way through to the lengthy finish. It is just a great combination of creamy texture, rich flavor and crystalline acidity that really tickles my Champagne fancy. It was my wine of the flight.

1996 Bollinger Champagne La Grande Annee. In comparison, the Bollinger is more airy and finesse-driven on the nose, with light but very open notes of ginger, mineral, apple pie and poached pears. I also find this one quite inviting, just in a very different way. In the mouth, it foams up quite a bit and delivers a soft airy taste of yellow apple, pear and cream flavors. There are more tree fruit flavors to this one, but it doesn’t have the density, staying power or profound drive of the Pol Roger. It is a more elegant and refined approach that in retrospect I wish I had actually tasted first in the flight.

1981 Bollinger Champagne R.D. Extra Brut. This bottle was disgorged in October 1999. As with my previous experiences with Bollinger R.D., this wine is mildly gold in color and does not present a whole lot of bubbles. It offers up a fascinatingly aged nose of walnuts, caramel, oloroso sherry, ginger snap cookies and biscuits to go with some really intriguing forest and copper metal notes underneath. In the mouth, it is a serious and meditative wine. It is rather dry and steely, but with a browned, somewhat oxidized character supplying a lot of savory vinous complexity. Roasted walnuts, copper, ginger and browned apples are underpinned by a cool edging of acid. There are no rough spots to be found anywhere and the wine is classy and complicated—a real treat. I know that at least 4 people I spoke to had this as their wine of the flight.

First Course

Tuna tartar and Seared Tuna combo – Tuna tartar served with Sushi rice, avocado, spicy mayo and topped with fish roe and pan seared, sesame seed encrusted tuna served over a medley of Korean style vegetables.

1990 Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile Vendange Tardive. There is just a fantastic bouquet to this gorgeous wine. The aromas are waxy and wooly, led by notes of lemon peel, bergamot, pineapple, brown spices, copper kettle, diesel fuel and distant hints of botrytis cream. I could sniff the wine all night. In the mouth, it is fairly large-framed and perhaps a bit less precise than the last time I had it a few years ago, but it is impressively long, pure and over-flowing with flavor. It may have grown a bit in sweetness, too, though it is hardly effusively so. Beautiful flavors of yellow apple, peach lemon and brown spices ooze class all the way through the palate journey, and the finish is incredibly long and pretty. Just lovely.

2000 Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile Vendange Tardive. I had just picked this up recently and was curious to see how it compared to the 1990. Not surprisingly, the nose is tighter and more quietly coiled in on itself, but it does present some interesting aromas of wax, lemon peel, apple, pineapple and citronella. On the palate, it doesn’t quite match the 1990 in terms of weight or depth, but still stands in there pretty well. It is actually more precise, with pin-point fine acidity that seems to help it stand up to the Asian spices and flavors in the accompanying dish the best of any wine in the flight. It has a nice pithy finish reminiscent of peach pit and lime. Overall, it is outstanding and probably a worthy successor to the 1990 in about 7 to 10 years. Now I just have to find a way to try the 1989 one of these days!

1998 Marcel Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Vin Grand Cru. The bouquet of this wine is more exotic and perfumed all around—with aromas of peaches, apricots, lychee, orange blossom and honeysuckle lilting up and out of the glass in an airy, feminine profile that is just extremely pretty. It is a bit effervescent on the palate, giving a nice little tingle to the effusive flavors of lychee, apricot, peach juice and brown spices. Again, the flavors are pretty and on the feminine side, with soft round acidity, medium body and a floral inner mouth perfume. It has a gentle creamy texture and more sweetness than the Trimbachs, but like those wines it feels like it could continue to age well without a problem. There is a bit of wood, I think, showing on the finish, but otherwise it is classy and fine and drinking quite well.

Second Course

Trio of Duck – A taste of what duck has to offer. Crispy, aromatic duck served in Asian style pancakes, braised duck legs served over parsnips and pan seared duck breast over a roasted beet salad.

1988 Jean Gros Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Clos des Reas. Aromas of old leather, tart red berries and cherries, light tobacco, coffee grounds and ash grow and brighten with time in the glass. In the mouth, it has a decidedly acidic twang to it, but also a solid burst of lithe red berry and cherry flavors. There are some leafy and leathery components running beneath the bright red fruit. The finish narrows a bit and it dry and perhaps a touch austere. Although not an especially deep wine, it goes well with the duck and offers an interesting contrast to its flight-mate.

1988 Daniel Rion Vosne-Romanee 1er Les Chaumes. This wine is much creamier on the nose, with funky, exotic aromas of sappy black cherry, raspberry, currants, milky mocha, sous bois and fresh pencil shavings. I like it a good deal. It is fresh and berry-laden on the palate, again showing off a milky, sappy character to it and rounder acidity all around than the Gros. It shows some fine layering to its flavors of black raspberries and cranberries, but overall it is more giving than nuanced (the opposite of the Gros). The texture is lovely and the body and acids are well-rounded for generous sipping pleasure. I definitely preferred this wine for drinking on its own, but probably gravitated more toward the Gros for food pairing.

Third Course

Pork - the only white meat – Braised and then pan-seared pork belly and braised pork shoulder wrapped in home smoked bacon served with udon noodles and baby bok choy.

1995 Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne. This wine shows off a wonderful, classic Northern Rhone bouquet of grilled meat, plum sauce, bacon fat, blueberries, black raspberries and cracked black pepper that is a delight to sit and sniff. It is so cool and taut and precise, yet juicy and engagingly yielding at the same time—fantastic stuff. It is really smooth in the mouth and shows wonderful balance all the way through, with nothing out of place at any point. It has a fine streak of acid running down its spine and some delightful earthy notes to offset the abundant fruit. It is classic, well-toned, fresh and giving, with a lot of push to it and is drinking just great right now. Both wines, but especially this one, were absolutely perfect accompaniments to the sublime pork belly dish.

1999 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis. The nose here is more exotic–with aromas of mince meat, mint, balsa wood, cocoa powder, tobacco and oak staves that turn increasingly nuanced over the course of the evening and also bring in meatier notes along the way. It is an interesting blend of one foot in the traditional and another in the modern that manages to work rather well. The wine is beautifully luscious in the mouth but more juicy and fresh than thick and heavy. It manages to stay balanced between the fruit, earth, acid and alcohol, though admittedly all of those things are amplified up a notch or two with this wine. It does show more youthful wood than one might want, but it makes up for that with its nice and juicy red fruit and bacon fat flavors and its great persistence in the mid-palate. It is not all that structured to my taste, but one senses that it has power in reserve. It is drinking pretty darned well right now but is in no danger if left to rest, either.

Fourth Course

Pasta Bolognese – Fresh egg pasta in a rich meat sauce of pork, beef and veal, with fresh mozzarella and shaved parmesan reggiano cheese.

1997 Pio Cesare Barolo. I really dig the sweet and sexy nose to this wine, with its core of fine red fruit, tar and ash that is downy yet tightly-coiled. In the mouth, it drinks like cherry candy—juicy, forward and fruit-laden. Some creosote and truffle oil notes give it an earthy undertone that is quite nice with the bolognese. It isn’t overly rich or heavy–more sweet, tangy and berry-driven. It probably won’t be the longest-lived wine, but it is real tasty right now.

1999 Giuseppe e Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato. According to Gerry, he gave this wine a 12-hour decant, which I am sure helped its drinkability a good deal. The nose is quite different from the Pio Cesare—rather old-fashioned in its attractive profile of caramel, moss, road tar and slightly oxidized red fruit. In the mouth, it opens with an intense burst of fruit, earth and tar oil flavors framed by fine acidity. It has a rock solid structure, with tannins that at first seem fairly tame but which start to show their fangs with time in the glass. It is a wine that is controlled, classy and stuffed with goodness for effortless aging. It stands up easily to the rustic qualities in the dish, too. It is still so young, though, so check back in five or ten years from now.

Fifth Course

Beef Tenderloin – Medallions of beef tenderloin with béarnaise and demi glace sauces accompanied by roasted sweet onions and potato-fennel puree.

1983 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion Graves. I find the nose to feature a lot of interesting leafy and tobacco characteristics to go along with complex notes of black currant, black cherry, charcoal, fine saddle leather, black licorice and a bit of wood. It is gentlemanly and yet intriguingly layered, if not quite as sexy as the Latour or as warming as the Le Bon Pasteur. In the mouth, it shows some roasted nut, caramel and spirits flavors at first, but with time finds a more substantive vein of gravel stoniness and creamy red and black fruit. The fruit is perhaps just a touch more roasted in nature than I would like, but I still really admire the fine smooth texture and solid framing of the wine—making it feel real classical when all is said and done.

1983 Chateau Latour Pauillac. I really fell hard for the bouquet of this somewhat maligned vintage of Latour. In my opinion, it has a gorgeously sexy bouquet redolent of mace, clove, shade tobacco leaf, caramel, tar, black currant and dried cedar shingles. On day two, the cedar is more like eucalyptus and mint and the tobacco aromas take even more of the center stage. In the mouth, it is drinking great right now. It is super-smooth and features a fine twang of taut acidity that carries along the menthol, earth and black fruit flavors over the wine’s medium-bodied frame. It is more pretty and herbal than other vintages of Latour I’ve had, but I like the way it all works together—staying true to its personality all the way through. On day two, it seems to be drying out and showing even more herbality, but it still delivers a refined taste, texture and weight I find rather appealing. Not everyone was as enthusiastic as me, but I am quite happy to have one more bottle left to drink some time in the next couple of years.

1982 Chateau Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol. The rather hedonistic bouquet here is all about warm fig, plum and date aromas that are sweet, rich, sexy and potent. There are also some earthy tobacco and suede notes in the mix to even things out a bit, but it is really the depth of warm fruit that one remembers most distinctly. In the mouth, it is completely consistent with this theme—delivering a boatload of warm, rich and sweet plum and fig fruit that feels rounded and plump. However, the wine is a lot more tannic than I ever would have figured and in fact is perhaps the most or second-most tannic wine of the entire evening. The texture is also a bit pasty, and overall it feels like a wine that actually could benefit from a few more years in the cellar. There is a lot going on and a lot to like, but I’d hold off for a while if I owned any.

Cheese Course and Dessert

A mix of artisanal cheeses and fruits selected by my lovely wife.
Crème Brulee – rich, vanilla custard topped with a crunchy caramel crust.
Fresh Strawberries – Fresh strawberries with balsamic vinegar and fresh cracked pepper.

1990 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes. My wife and I had this wine at our wedding reception 10 years ago, but she barely had a taste of it that night. So, it was wonderful of Adam to bring this bottle along so she could have a full glass and an opportunity to pay some attention to it! First off, it is a beautiful golden yellow color. The bouquet is absolutely to die for—giving up gorgeously layered aromas of crème brulee topping, lime zest, vanilla paste, orange marmalade, dried apricots and pineapple, shave coconut, toasted nuts and funky botrytis spices in waves. It is just phenomenol stuff. It is absolutely luscious and layered on the palate, sending out waves of caramel, marmalade and candy apple flavors that turn ever more exotic and flamboyant as one drinks through the wine. At the same time, it has great cut and an effortless creaminess to it. It is just a delight and a great way to end a very special evening.


Holy hell on a popsicle stick - what a birthday dinner! I’m doing it wrong!

On the '96 Bolli Grande Annee, I know what you mean by ‘foamy’ - the bubbles are plentiful, and TINY, and it gives you an entirely different experience!

I wonder how long you had it open/decanted for, if at all? My experience with the '95 Grande Annee showed me quite clearly that this wine needed two hours or more of open air time, and then it just soared like you wouldn’t believe.

Thanks, Todd.

I have to say I’ve never decanted Champagne and with this crowd the pop and pour was certainly gone by the one hour mark, so I can’t comment on that! You’ve piqued my curiosity, though! [berserker.gif]


You have GOT to try it, particularly with Champers this amazing!

Very impressive (and varied) array:

Some questions/comments:

  1. Patrice (Dom. Daniel) really excelled in 1988. When I last had the Chaumes (3 years ago), I loved he red fruits, thought it needed 5 years to hit peak and said " nice to be reminded what all the fuss is about" with red Burgundy. (I also noted it needed cleaning from the substantial sediment and lots of aeration.)

  2. I have a bottle of the 1990 Trimbach VT ready in line. Just how sweet would you say it is? I know it’s less than the others, as expected, but…is it “off dry” or with just hints of sweetness in your view?

  3. A friend served us the 1999 Montprivato last night (also for a belated birthday celebration for me). I found the wine with very tight red fruits and tannically closed for the most part; not at all charming. I asked him how long he aerated it and he said “about 4 hours”. I think it needed a whole lot more, as I remember this wine well from a visit to the winery in May 2004…and it had lovely potential. I’ll hold mine for another decade, if I can; if not, I’ll aerate the heck out of it.

an amazing dinner and line up. thanks for great notes.

Hi guys,

Wow…it’s interesting…!


Michael Harris
Large Decorative Seashells

Thanks, Michael. Keep the posts coming! Thanks, Phillip.

Stuart, thanks for your insights about Rion. On the question about the Trimbach CFE VT: My note from two years ago on a bottle from the same purchase stash states it is “nearly dry”. I don’t think I would quite say that at this stage, though it is not off-dry, either. I think it is entering a mellowing phase just a bit, but I would agree with your second option of “hints of sweetness”.

On the Monprivato, the 12 hours we gave it must have helped, as it sounds like 4 hours was not nearly enough. It is hard to say whether an even longer decant over 12 hours would have helped any incrementally. Maybe we should all just let it rest in the cellar a while? [basic-smile.gif]