Holiday wine and food fireworks at Ripple in Washington D.C.

By Panos Kakaviatos

Each year, I am lucky enough to be invited to a special post holiday dinner with fellow wine lovers from the Washington D.C. area. We each bring superb wines. This holiday dinner – in January 2014 – was no exception. Below the notes to the dinner, as published previously on Cellar Tracker.

Dinner organizer Ken Brown carefully pours Haut Brion 1971

Dinner organizer Ken Brown carefully pours some wine



Be sure to check out notes from Kevin Shin, who also attended this great dinner! A nice way to start 2014. champagne.gif

With recent talk about Bordeaux losing its charms for the valid reason of excessive pricing that has been alienating customers, not to mention a trio of middling to poor harvests (2011, 2012, 2013) and the search for alternatives, some people are saying that Bordeaux is a “turn off” or out of fashion. Read this recent text from wine-searcher, for example: … ge-problem. But thanks to Ken Brown, a group of fellow tasters and friends I have known now for some 10 years gathered for a post holiday dinner of great wines in Washington D.C., following which we can safely say that Bordeaux is most certainly not a turn-off – and will not go out of fashion any time soon. Oh, yes, we had superlative Champagne and Burgundy and Port, too. Many thanks to Ken Brown (70 Haut Brion, 99 Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux), Ken Barr (69 Jaboulet-Vercherre Chambertin, Climens 88, 77 Dow Vintage), Howard Cooper (90 Montrose, 77 Taylor Fladgate vintage), Paul Marquardt (89 Margaux, 85 Krug), Kevin Shin (83 Margaux, Old NV Moet & Chandon Saran Blanc), David Zimmerman (85 Dom Perignon, 71 Haut Brion) and Randy McFarlane (02 JJ Confuron RSV, 10 Hudelot Noellat RSV). Not just for the wines that they brought, but for the continued friendship and camaraderie which makes life sweeter – and not a bad way to kick off 2014!
Bubbly start

  • 1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne
    On a recent Facebook exchange, Ebbe Bonde Soerensen dubbed Dom Perignon the “Coca Cola of Champagne”. Tasting this, I do not see his point :-). It represents all what one wants from Champagne – and more. Purchased on release, and kept in a cold cellar, this wine is just fine today. Combines opulence with vivacity. It has lime/lemon focus, that typical Dom Perignon toast/pain grillé aspect that makes you seek further sipping. There is a mid palate richness that falls into a fine line of precision on the finish, which is long. The bottle was emptied fairly quickly among the 8 dinner participants.
    The wine looks Straw colored. The legs are Medium. The body is Medium/Full. The wine has Smooth texture. The wine finishes Long. The wine has high acidity. (96 pts.)
  • Delicious 1996 Dom with charcuterie

    Delicious 1996 Dom with charcuterie

  • 1985 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne
    Alas, this was a flawed bottle – corked. But out of the many superb wines at the dinner, it was the only flawed bottle! Thanks to David for generously bringing this in any case. As Kevin wisely noted: don’t feel bad if your bottle is corked, because it is not … your fault! NR (flawed)
Quite a gorgeous Krug 1985

Quite a gorgeous Krug 1985

  • 1985 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut – France, Champagne
    One of my very favorite wines of the evening. This exuded weight and opulence without ever being heavy. Although marked by an initial delicate texture – very fine bubbles – the wine seems driven by Pinot Noir here, almost like a red wine, with crystalline red fruit expressions. And yet, very fresh with a touch of forest floor, toffee like notions and citrus fruit. I love the structure and full body on the mid palate leading to a lingering, lifting finish. (97 pts.)
  • NV Moët & Chandon Coteaux Champenois Saran (Nature) Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Coteaux Champenois
    A special bottle indeed, thanks to Kevin Shin. Had never heard of this wine before. We were not sure of the age, but at least 40 years old? In any case, it seemed a bit lean just after enjoying the Krug 1985, but it increased its palate presence with time in glass. Tasted – as Ken Brown remarked – like a properly aged white Burgundy. I enjoyed a combination of acacia and dry fruit aromas and flavors, as well as its subtle length and finesse on the palate. (94 pts.)
  • Unique dry white from Moet

    Unique dry white from Moet

A pair of beauties from the 1970s.

  • 1970 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Fine ruby color. Medium legs. An initial nose of bandaid, a telltale sign of brett, blew off over time and the wine developed into a rather gorgeously balanced expression. Over time in glass, an almost creamy aspect with roasted fruit and ending with a pleasing note of espresso. The nose seemed almost sweet, and yet excellent acidity balanced the entire package, which exuded freshness. Certainly Old School Bordeaux, and I loved it. (95 pts.)

    David Zimmerman holding a pair of beauties.

    David Zimmerman holding a pair of beauties.

  • 1971 Château Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    I initially preferred this to the 1970 because it lacked any brett on the nose but over time it became a bit “nervy” and a certain metallic aspect detracted. And yet. Over time, the mid palate expanded nicely. I liked what fellow taster Ken Brown called a “high tone” aspect. Yes, the acidity made itself more present and more amenable to richer foods perhaps. In any case, the finish turned just a touch tart, which would explain my less than enthusiastic score. (92 pts.)
  • Two monumental wines from Montrose

    Two monumental wines from Montrose

Once again, 89 Montrose proves better than 90

  • 1989 Château Montrose – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
    I rated this so high not because I brought the bottle :-). No, because it seems to communicate everything that I want from a great left bank Bordeaux: structure combined with nuanced richness and a long – very long – finish. Certainly it could use another 10 years. The bottle was double decanted five hours before the dinner. Though it was not foreboding, the tannin was present. Prices are going up on this vintage, as more tasters appreciate its consistency compared to the mythical 1990, which too often ends up being less than mythical. (97 pts.)
  • 1990 Château Montrose – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
    Compared to the 1989, this seems a bit superficial albeit the mid palate was more evidently rich and full bodied. But it lacked the backbone of the 1989 – and likely the ability to age longer. Perhaps the bottle was a touch faulty, as the nose seemed a touch vegetal – I initially got a note of green. But that blew off, taking into account the entire flavor profile. In the end, the wine was very pleasing: rich and savory to be sure. Comparing and contrasting with the 1989 kept bringing the same results however. While the 90 is on one level richer, it is on another level less compelling. (94 pts.)

Two styles of Chateau Margaux

This was really quite tasty.

This was really quite tasty.

  • 1983 Château Margaux – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
    What elegance and richness here. A white floral aspect with cool notes that I really liked. Very fresh. Red fruit but subtle, adding to the complexity of the aromatic and gustatory profile. This was yet another highlight from a fantastic evening. Perhaps just lower than 100 (I am not really very keen on scoring but what the hell) because a certain steeliness late on the finish detracted. Don’t get me wrong: The finish was long and echoing but there was a bit of a steely aspect to it as well. I wonder if the wine just needs more time in fact to reach its apotheosis. (97 pts.)
  • 1989 Château Margaux – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
    This wine really grew on me. It lacked the profound structure of the Montrose 1989 tasted in the previous flight and the depth and nuance of the Margaux 1983, to which it was paired. But I could not get over the sheer pleasure of its endearing roasted richness on the nose. 1989 was a very hot vintage and Margaux was perhaps not the very best appellation, but we are talking about Chateau Margaux, and it “handled” the vintage with flying colors. (94 pts.)

Thirty years apart in Burgundy

Grand Crus thirty years apart

Grand Crus thirty years apart

  • 1969 Domaine Jaboulet-Vercherre Chambertin – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambertin Grand Cru
    OK, I do agree with some of our fellow diners this evening that the nose was, well, odd. I got distinct wet sock. Some cheesy aspects. But you know, these aromatics grew less pronounced over time. And the palate was subtle and nuanced, with a sneaky richness. It was not evidently so, but grew on the palate through to the moderately long finish. Very enjoyable, but outgunned by the 1999 Echezeaux with which it was paired. In any case, how often does one crack open a grand cru from 1969 these days? Wow! (92 pts.)
  • 1999 Domaine Georges Mugneret/Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Echezeaux Grand Cru
    Here again, an initial nose of wet sock, but gives way to dark fruit and freshness. Far more youthful in aspect to the 1969, but you guessed that. What was amazing about this wine was the way it combined both substance with opulence and verve – and how it ended with a long and focused finish. The contents in the bottle did not last very long, I must say. And it certainly matched the perfectly rear roseda farms new york strip steak I ordered with a delectable potato gratin. Here a case of superlative Burgundian Pinot Noir, terroir and food and wine pairing. (97 pts.)

Mesmerized by Romanée Saint Vivant

Wine of the night?

Wine of the night?

  • 2002 Jean-Jacques Confuron Romanée St. Vivant – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
    Oh, you know I hate to talk about perfection and scores. But I noted near 100 here just because I flat out loved this wine. Still too young to really appreciate perhaps for some palates – more educated palates. In any case, what perfume, what red flowers and red and darker fruits? This was a fireworks display but never obvious or thick or super duper. It had a subtlety and nuance about it that was delicious and intellectual at the same time. The finish was marked by fresh floral lift and was long. Oh, yes, it also paired very well with my steak. (98 pts.)
  • 2010 Alain Hudelot-Noellat Romanée St. Vivant – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
    In spite of decanting, giving it plenty of air, and plenty of time in glass, the wine is quite reduced at this stage. But the potential is superb. And the mid palate is super impressive. There is a distinct note of red cherry pit that pleased me, but combined with vivid floral freshness that came to the fore on the finish. This is going to turn into a very special wine, but owners should not bother opening yet. Enormous thanks to Randy for bringing this and “taking one for the team” as the saying goes. (96 pts.)

Grouped together: stickies and sweeties

A pair of halves

A pair of halves

  • 1988 Château Climens – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Barsac
    This was easily one of my favorite wines of the evening. Perhaps I want to promote the fine producers of Sauternes/Barsac. In any case, an easy job to do with this wine. And what a wine. A cornucopia of fruits, from orange rind, grapefruit, and red apple cinnamon. The mid palate is lime pie/custard – opulent – with a lingering finish that beckons more drink. My goodness, Climens 1988. I am glad I own one bottle of this, and will seek out more. (98 pts.)
  • 1983 Château Raymond-Lafon – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    This was a half bottle I brought and was not the best performance I have encountered from this estate in 1983. It was rich and spicy – with fine botrytis derived notes. But it lacked the energy I have encountered from other bottles enjoyed in the past. Still, a very good example of aged Sauternes from an underrated estate whose wines today are very competitively priced. (92 pts.)
  • 1977 Taylor (Fladgate) Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Amazingly good. By this time in the dinner, I ceased taking any notes. But I recall that the Taylor Fladgate from a full bottle was superior to the Dow 1977 from a half bottle: it had more vibrancy and full bodied richness. Delicious with complex aromatics including chocolate and dark fruit but more subtle than these describers indicate. Thanks to Howard Cooper for bringing this to the dinner. I own some 30 bottles of vintage port, but have not opened most of them because too young. This seemed to be in a mid-life area, and will certainly be appreciated for decades more. (96 pts.)
  • 1977 Dow Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Coming from half bottle, perhaps this has aged less well than the Taylor Fladgate of the same vintage, with which it was paired over our dinner. I have had this vintage from both half and normal bottles in the past and seemed to have enjoyed it more in previous experiences. It was good, but lacked the depth and energy of the Taylor Fladgate. Having said this, these are impressions from memory, as I stopped taking notes by the end game of this most magnificent dinner experience at Ripple! (92 pts.)

Special praise is due to the staff, service and cuisine at Ripple. Ken Brown organised this for us and he chose wisely. A great pre fixe menu prepared by chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley was great. I loved the charcuterie and cracker like bread. Then came a delectable short rib ravioli with oyster mushrooms and clothbound aged cheddar. The aforementioned main course was accentuated with truffled sunchoke purée. We also had a great cheese plate including some blues that went well with the Sauternes/Barsac. The service was responsive (we asked for decanters, buckets etc) and the stemware excellent. So a great evening for all concerned – and hopefully useful for those readers who have these bottles in their cellars.

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