Report from our 1999 Dinner, by Sam Clarke
There are not many times in life when you can feel sorry for a Hudelot-Noëllat Romanée-St-Vivant, an Engel Clos Vougeot or a Dujac Echezeaux, but last night was a rare occasion for a number of reasons. Like Wayne Daniels trying to break into the West Indian cricket team of the 1970s or Antonio Salieri writing operas in the 18th century, it was simply a case of bad timing, such was the strength of the line up.
The expectations were for wines in their infancy which would show delicious, primary flavours at best, and in some cases this proved to be correct. The Clos des Lambrays started dumb and reticent but continued to open and improve in the glass. The Romanee-St-Vivant was clearly a great wine but the impression was still of a wine with a long future ahead of it. Bachelet’s Charmes was the wine of the first flight that gave the most immediate pleasure, starting with an intensive, heady fragrance but still the debate was on about just how good the vintage is.
Things moved up a notch when the magnum of Engel’s Clos Vougeot arrived. The kind Engel benefactor commented “it smells like a dog that has just crawled out of a drain, but God I love it”. A big, powerful wine with huge complexity but whilst the previous flight was partly about a search for potential, this provided much to think about and a sense of the future ahead of it but also a huge amount of pleasure.
Dujac’s Echezeaux was all about pleasure and anyone who didn’t enjoy that shoul
d look to another wine region. The warmth of the vintage resulted in dark, rich intense flavours and great persistence. Perhaps of any of the wines of the night, this was the one that you could argue was closest to the height that it will ever hit. It will change in character but can it get better than this?
Ponsot’s Clos de la Roche was a baffling wine that I can’t square with the reviews that I have read subsequently. The wine was known to some around the table, and were it not for that, then I would have thought that it was not correct. Judgement reserved.
And then the main event. Three glasses in front of us and a universal hushed silence. In people’s minds was the question that they would be asked - which of these three is your wine of the flight? Stannary Dinner history was again made as the table saw two conscientious objectors who would not be drawn, and in conclusion that was probably the correct response to a nonsensical question. Three great bottles which perfectly illustrated both the vineyards and the domaines that they came from. Dujac’s Clos de la Roche was the star of our recent Dujac dinner and it continued in the same vein, opening in the glass with explosive spicy, ripe fruit. Rousseau’s Clos de Bèze was the most immediately striking with an intensity on the nose that was not reached by another wine. The precision of the Musigny was staggering, every element was perfectly in place with an underlying energy that left people straining to come up with examples of Musigny that could surpass Mugnier’s ‘99 (Roumier’s 1985 was mooted by one).
For the record, the Musigny received the most votes but these three profound wines made the question of “which is the best” the wrong approach.
This left the final flight in a precarious position. The dangers of being overshadowed by the previous flight, or worse still of suffering from premature oxidation were live worries. Thankfully they were ill founded and if anything the D’Auvenay Chevalier suffered from premature cork pulling rather than premature oxidation. For its age, it was light in colour with big, intense flavours and a stoney, mineral core. Had this been served blind, it is hard to imagine that anyone could have put it’s age at 16.
The de Montille Caillerets over performed expectations. Again the colour showed no signs of age and some were interested to learn that the 1999 was made by Jean-Marc Roulot as the wine showed evidence of his talent.
We do have some magnums of this still available if anyone would like some (£550ib/3)
The concluding debate centred on just how good the 1999 vintage is. Having recently hosted a 2002 dinner we felt confident is thinking that the 1999s surpassed the 2002s. The evidence of the evening leaves it up there with 2005 and 2010 and those around the table fortunate enough to own quantities from the vintage left thankful that after sixteen years the reputation at release was well justified.
A new high and thank you to everyone who came and contributed.
Cromesquis with foie gras
1999 Charmes-Chambertin - Bachelet (NM)
Squab salad with Puy lentils and beetroot
1999 Clos Vougeot - Engel - MAGNUM (JD)
Hereford beef with cep custard
1999 Musigny – Mugnier (BA)
Cheese from the Auvergne
1999 Chevalier-Montrachet - D'Auvenay (IM)
Tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream