The Executive Wine Seminar hosted Robert Parker and 1995 Bordeaux wines at a blind tasting in New York City on October 13. The event was put on by Robert Millman and Howard Kaplin, and 95 people attended. Fourteen different wines were tasted blind in three flights after Mr. Parker made some preliminary remarks.
Parker said that his first public lecture was an Executive Wine Seminar with a blind tasting of 1979 Bordeaux. He had by then acquired some fame for “calling” the 1982 vintage, and a bit more for correctly identifying 10 of 12 wines during the tasting. Since then, he had had been lucky enough to make some blind identifications with famous people and on television, but as far as the Executive Wine Seminars were concerned, he had peaked [peeked?] during that Seminar. [He would go 3 for 14 during this tasting; when he was at 3 for 11, Millman said he was batting pretty good – for baseball.] Despite all of the talk about identifying the various wines, it seemed to be handled in a spirit of great fun and comradeship, rather than an essential aspect of the tasting.
Parker said that he had recently spent a great deal of time in Asia lecturing on wine to very large, attentive audiences. He had been amazed at the deep interest and education of his audiences. During the long plane flights from lecture to lecture, he had given a great deal of thought to what he was observing in Asia, and he had come to three profound conclusions:
1. Asians are raised on tea which have strong tannins; the most expensive teas had the strongest tannins; and therefore tannic Bordeaux were naturally appealing to Asians as compared to Americans who were raised on sweeter beverages and had to learn to acquire a taste for tannin).
2. Many Asians are very superstitious, and red is considered to be a sign of good luck and good fortune. Red wines are therefore considered very lucky; there is much less interest in white wine.
3. Unlike in Puritanical America, pleasure is considered a positive good in Asia and is to be sought out.
These factors combine with three other realities: the quantities of Bordeaux are tiny; Bordeaux is bounded by the river, the marshes and the sea so quantities cannot be increased; the Asian population is vast and the economies will recover; and even in a recession, fine wine prices have increased by 80% in Japan during 1998. For someone who is 51 and who loves Bordeaux, this is all bad news; prices will continue to escalate.
So, he changed the subject.
He compared the 1998, 1997, 1996 and 1995 vintages in various areas around the world. He talked a bit about improvements in winemaking over the last twenty years, giving credit to excellent winemakers willing and able to serve as strong role models to others; informed, demanding consumers; and thoughtful, verbal, powerful critics. [He said several times that his opinions had great weight, much more so outside the United States than within it.] As a result, fine wine is now significantly better than it was twenty years ago.
He described conditions for the 1995 vintage in Bordeaux in some detail, and said that we should not expect great pleasure from the evening’s tasting: the fruit that was surely there would be hidden by very strong tannins, and in many cases the wines would be closed or entering a closed stage. He described the three major grapes of Bordeaux: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and said those with higher percentages of Merlot would show best tonight, and those with higher percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon would show much less well.
The scoring was done by each person naming his first, second and third favorites. Someone asked Millman whether that meant “tonight or long term.” Millman: “Don’t get metaphysical on me! What are your three favorites tonight?” Wines received three points for a first, two for a second and one for a third.
The Scores [Tasting Position, Wine, Area, Parker Rating, Approximate Retail, No. First/Second/Third Place Votes; Total Points]:
1 Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac) P95 $250 3/0/4 12
2 Clinet (Pomerol) P96 $200 1/2/1 8
3 Leoville Las Cases (St. Julien) P95 $150 12/4/9 53
4 Pichon Lalande (Pauillac) P96 $150 1/1/1 6
5 L’Evangile (Pomerol) P92+ $125 6/6/8 38
6 Valandraud (St. Emilion) P95 $350 7/7/8 43
7 Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) P95+ $250 1/4/5 16
8 Cheval Blanc (St. Emilion) P92 $200 1/9/4 25
9 L’Angelus (St. Emilion) P95 $100 13/17/8 81
10 Haut-Brion (Graves) P96 $225 3/4/3 20
11 Latour (Pauillac) P96+ $285 9/10/6 53
12 Monbousquet (St. Emilion) P92 $45 22/13/12 104
13 Tertre-Roteboeuf (St. Emilion) P95 $150 10/10/14 64
14 Margaux (Margaux) P95 $320 7/9/15 54
1 - Monbousquet (St. Emilion)
2 - Tertre-Roteboeuf (St. Emilion)
3 - L’Angelus (St. Emilion)
1 - Monbousquet (St. Emilion) 22/13/12
2 - L’Angelus (St. Emilion) 13/17/8
3 - Tertre-Roteboeuf (St. Emilion) 10/10/14
1 - Monbousquet (St. Emilion)
2 - Tertre-Roteboeuf (St. Emilion)
3 - Cheval Blanc (St. Emilion)
Tasting Notes. Parker’s comments on each wine varied between focus on the taste and the identity of the wine. I focused on his description of the tastes in order to compare as much as possible what each of us was tasting. Parker said he enjoyed trying to identify the wines, but frankly that effort didn’t interest me at all. The wines were opened for two to four hours before tasting; those in Flight 1 were in the glass for about an hour before tasting, the others for a few minutes; none were decanted. (My notes were written before Parker made his comments and I made no changes in them after I wrote down what I heard Parker say.)
Flight 1. Except for wine 3 which he said really stood out, Parker said that buying wines from Flight 1 was like buying stock on the NASDAQ – great potential but little certainty.
1 1995 Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac) P95 $250 3/0/4 12
Parker: Very sweet, with taste of berries; lots of very ripe grapes; approachable. Typical of Right Bank Bordeaux which are sweeter and more approachable young than Left Bank Bordeaux.
Ross: Deep red color; modest fruit and spice aroma; very tannic with little fruit; slightly sweet; long, spicy finish with little fruit, but complex and interesting.
2 1995 Clinet (Pomerol) P96 $200 1/2/1 8
Parker: Very tight; little aroma; lots here but not showing it; very tannic; pure; good fruit.
Ross: Deep red color; sweet fruit aroma with a hint of spice; good fruit and spice taste with medium tannins; nicely balanced; long finish with several fruit and spice notes.
3 1995 Leoville Las Cases (St. Julien) P95 $150 12/4/9 53
Parker: Ruby red; deep, dense, saturated; aromas of toast, spice, cassis; sweet in the mouth; opened a great deal over an hour in the glass; rich; very concentrated; greatest potential; really stands out in this flight.
Ross: Deep red color; very good fruit and spice aroma and taste; very well balanced; medium tannins; long, lingering finish with fruit and berry notes. Second best in Flight.
4 1995 Pichon Lalande (Pauillac) P96 $150 1/1/1 6
Parker: Less color than others in Flight; shows nothing now; very thin; not evolved; monolithic, clunky and one dimensional.
Ross. Light red color; little fruit or spice in either aroma or taste; limited finish.
5 1995 L’Evangile (Pomerol) P92+ $125 6/6/8 38
Parker: Very aromatic – spice, box cedar (before Lewinsky he said he would have said “cigar box cedar”), black currant fruit; tobacco notes certainly; most complex of the Flight.
Ross: Medium red color; very good fruit and spice aromas with hints of leather; excellent fruit taste with some spice, medium tannins and very well balanced; long, interesting finish. My favorite in this Flight.
6 1995 Valandraud (St. Emilion) P95 $350 7/7/8 43
Parker: Over-ripe fruit (which Parker said sounded negative in English but was meant as a high compliment in French); charming; chewy; rich; great depth; very showy.
Ross: Deep red color; very good fruit, berry and spice aromas with especially noticeable spices; chewy and concentrated with very good fruit; pleasant tannins; long finish with several spice notes and a bit of acid.
7 1995 Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) P95+ $250 1/4/5 16
Parker: Classic; black currant and mineral tastes; pure; every thing is here; easy to understand.
Ross: Deep red color; good to very good aromas of fruit; some spice and very tannic with strong fruit masked by the tannins; long, complex finish with many fruit notes.
8 1995 Cheval Blanc (St. Emilion) P92 $200 1/9/4 25
Parker: Very ripe fruit; exotic; much more evolved than other wines in this Flight; not saturated; drinking well very young.
Ross: Brilliant red color; intense aroma of tobacco, fruit and berries; excellent attack of fruit and berries with very good spice and medium tannins; nicely balanced; long finish with several fruit and spice notes. My favorite of this Flight; third favorite over-all.
9 1995 L’Angelus (St. Emilion) P95 $100 13/17/8 81
Parker: Smokey, licorice, black fruits; pure, powerful, exotic, flamboyant; lots of tannin. Parker favorite of the Flight.
Ross: Deep red color; good fruit but very tannic; long, very complex finish dominated by tannins. My second favorite of the Flight.
Flight 3. Parker: This was a thrilling flight.
10 1995 Haut-Brion (Graves) P96 $225 3/4/3 20
Parker: Closed, complex, pure, great finesse, closed.
Ross: Medium red color; slight fruit and spice aroma and taste; medium tannins with good balance; long finish with sharp fruit notes.
11 1995 Latour (Pauillac) P96+ $285 9/10/6 53
Parker: Powerful, very tannic, closed.
Ross: Deep red color; intense fruit and berry aromas; strong fruit attack; strong tannins with some fruit, berry and spice showing through in the tastes; long finish; easy to drink and understand.
12 1995 Monbousquet (St. Emilion) P92 $45 22/13/12 104
Parker: Opulent, flashy, sensational; fat; glorious texture; a wine that is ready to drink tonight. Who knows how it will be in fifteen years. Favorite of the evening.
Ross: Deep red color; intense fruit and spice aroma; very good to excellent fruit with excellent spice notes; well balanced; long, interesting finish with several fruit notes; relatively simple but very approachable and enjoyable. My favorite of the evening.
13 1995 Tertre-Roteboeuf (St. Emilion) P95 $150 10/10/14 64
Parker: Powerful, exotic, complex with coffee and cedar notes, oranges, orange peel, several others; drink this tonight. Second favorite of the tasting.
Ross: Deep red; very good fruit and spice aroma and taste; mild tannins; well balanced; long single note finish with excellent fruit and spice. Second favorite of the evening.
14 1995 Margaux (Margaux) P95 $320 7/9/15 54
Parker: Closed, powerful, monster wine. [Later, Parker said that the Margaux had showed well consistently – brilliantly in Chicago, Hong Kong and Japan – but this is New York.
Ross: Very deep red color; slight fruit and spice aroma; very good fruit taste with some spice; mild tannins; very long, single note finish.