50th Birthday Bash, Part 1

I'll say this about the Krug and Trotanoy -
Some kings can go abroad without their crown
and traffic will still stop to let them pass.
Inasmuch as I ever stopped to think about it, turning fifty always seemed like something that happens to other people. My family, neighbors, the old blokes on the bus. But never to me. Never to me. It really only started to dawn on me about two years ago that the Big Fifty was coming up. The imaginary line that defines the generation gap even more than forty does. I mean, at forty you're not that far off from your teens and early manhood. If you kill a man when you're twenty, by forty you'd be out and still young enough to enjoy your freedom, still plenty of years down the road. Fifty is more like, hey, wha' happen'? Can I get a second chance and do this all over again?

So I've been ignoring the clock hands for years. On the other hand, I'm this wine guy, you know, and what do wine guys do? Right. Collect and age wines. Obviously, that part of me is very well aware of the never ending passage of time, buying presents for myself to enjoy when I'm sixty four. Perpetually adding bottles to my time vault.

But there never seem to be enough wines in that vault. Certainly, as the big day approached, I found myself in a shopping frenzy, searching for special, mature wines to match the occasion. Luckily, I have friends to share them with, friends to bring their own special wines to the table.

This is the first installment in the week long Bacchanalia that my birthday celebration turned into.

Krug, Grand Cuvee, n.v.

Every house will tell you that they construct their non-vintage cuvees as carefully as their vintage Champagnes. Eventually, you stop to buy into the hype. But in the case of Krug, the hype is real (and so is the price - it does cost as much as a vintage wine from most houses and growers). Full and ripe, very complex and beautifully detailed, any complaints aired 'round the table about the high dosage were adequately addressed by the juice in the bottle and the huge helpings of brioche and minerals that were lush and restrained at the same time - which really is the combination you look for in Champagne.

De Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Taillepieds, 1998

I have my moral reservations about how this house turned into an empire that sprawls across so many vineyards in both Beanue and Nuits. I also have my reservations about how much this bottle reminds me of a Nebbiolo. I would, in all honesty, never have guessed Burgundy blind. On the other hand, 1998 was still pere Hubert's vintages, and he was notorious for making tough wines in need of time. So I can see where I need to adjust my expectations. With the tight black fruit and minerals that are more about tar than forest floor, this is in sharp contrast with Ettiene's wines, where the fruit is redder and sexier. I've never tasted the elder Montille's wines, so, at the end of the day, this was a great birthday gift, because it really expanded my knowledge of Bourgogne lore.

Lucien le Moine, Clos de la Roche, 1999

I'm not a fan - in fact, I'm usually rabid enough to despise this negociant's pandering to the American palate (and wallet) - but this is a very good wine, even if it starts off resembling Côte Rotie with all that black pepper. Sigh. If a red Bourgogne has to resemble a Syrah, Côte Rotie is the lesser of possible evils, as it's the softest, most Burgundian appellation to begin with. Don't get me wrong, though - I'm a very big North Rhone fan, it's just that I like my Bourgognes to smell and taste like Bourgogne. Call me a classicist. But, this really is an excellent wine and any of the oak that has made (or broke) le Moine's reputation is well gone by now, integrated into the fruit. Just give it time to show its Bourgogne character.

Chateau Tratonoy, Pomerol, 1989

At the price I manage to score this, it is just a little higher priced than the latest vintage of the Katzrin red, we all noted, with ten times the class and pleasure. If there is anything wrong with this twenty seven year old Right Banker, is that it's still young and has not yet started to show its best, I actually think we should have decanted it. What you can get, even now, is the depth and pedigree shrouded by the iron and tannins.