A seasoned wine expert pulls out his old notebooks and delves deeply into his vinous past, revisiting old loves and discovering new ones.
Wines are not only living things—shifting, evolving, surprising us with unfathomed new facets—but they also have unique personality traits that, like those of people, remain consistent throughout the various stages of their careers. Each encounter offers singular insights into the nature of a particular wine, so it was with a sense of wonder and anticipation that I recently opened a few of my old notebooks to search for my initial impressions of some truly great wines I have recently reevaluated. A wine professional since 1987, I have kept meticulous records—all of them written by hand, and many accompanied by photographs and tasting menus that I saved to preserve the context of the tasting. The pages that follow record my impressions over the course of the last few decades of some superb wines—red, white, sparkling, and dessert—that are well worth opening now and in the future.
Château Cheval Blanc 1947 Saint-Émilion
1989 Super dense, still almost black after over 40 years. The wine is thick with fire-roasted-meat and black-fruit flavors. Incredibly rich on the palate, with a distinct spice-box finish. Glorious!
2014 Now, after almost 70 years of age, you would expect this wine to be over the hill—but no way! Still the rock star it has always been. Definitely softening around the edges and thinning on the palate but delicious, rich, and great down to the last drop. Tasting this wine more than a dozen times has been a highlight of my career.
Château Latour 1982 Pauillac
1988 This is intense wine. Not yielding much on the palate. You get a sense of a great depth of fruit—but hidden behind tons of acid and tannin with a long, long finish. Needs at least a decade.
1994 Wow, was I off! It’s now six years later, and ’82 is still as intense and tight as when I first tried it. How long will it take this brooding beauty to come around?
2015 Today, this ’82 is showing the best of the five first growths. A window of perfect maturity—with deep flavors of red currant, tobacco, and dark chocolate. This wine is only getting better and should age nicely for another three or four decades.
Heitz Cellar 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard
1991 Simply blows my mind. Rich with notes of tobacco, mocha, and an unusual yet delightful eucalyptus quality. A California wine that can crush Bordeaux’s best.
2015 Showing a bit of age, but she is still all there. More mineral notes than I remember, and the eucalyptus essence has mellowed. But so balanced and still so fine….
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Colgin 2005 Cariad Proprietary Red Wine
2006 The combination of Bordeaux varietals yields a whimsical harmony and purity—but with a dark, electrifying core of blueberry, raspberry, and pencil-lead notes. This wine should age gracefully for decades to come.
2010 Even better than I imagined and coming along nicely. Still has that dark, electric core that is going to help this Cariad go for years and years.
2015 Now nearly a decade old, this wine just appears to be getting richer. Expanding its ethereal harmony, without losing a bit of its intensity. A baby, but as close to a perfect wine as I can recall.
Harlan Estate 1994 Proprietary Red Wine
1996 I first bought Harlan from the back of estate director Don Weaver’s station wagon. From the first taste, the ’94 literally knocked me to the floor with its intense, endless, layered black-fruit character and searing acidity. This wine is going to be fun to watch.
1999 Shazam! Knew this was going to be one of the champions, and it hasn’t failed me. Similar to my ’96 tasting, but the wine has developed a rich, dark chocolate–cake character. Amazing.
2015 After 19 years, this wine is still evolving. Its hallmark character of black fruit remains, but the wine is rounding out. Full and plush on the palate. Just about ready to join the pantheon of fabled Napa Valley Cabernets.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1962 La Tâche Grand Cru
1994 Out of double magnum. Dark red in color, still opaque. There is an explosion of fruit and berries with a jam-like quality. Awesome on the palate, concentrated, intense yet with round finish. A wine for all time, but not sure how much longer it will live!
2009 I should never have doubted this wine’s longevity. Almost unchanged from my first note—and that was out of double magnum. So sweet, so graceful, so refined. I’m in love.
2015 Tasted in 750 mL, this ’62 still has divine, silky, sweet notes of Pinot Noir fruit, along with notes of scorched earth and Asian spices. At full maturity and still one of my all-time favorites.
Château d’Yquem 1975 Sauternes
1991 Tasted alongside ’76 and ’71. Pale yellow with notes of fresh wildflowers, nectarines, and allspice. In the mouth, ’75 is so young, with tons of acidity and flavor. Be patient.
2008 Patience has been rewarded! This wine has developed so many nuances since my last tasting: I couldn’t have imagined then just how delectably it would evolve.
2015 Turning a perfect golden yellow and presenting aromas of honeysuckle, roasted nuts, and overripe peach. On the palate, still full and deep. Has a super-rich viscosity that goes on and on. I hope I live long enough to see this wine at its peak.
Louis Jadot 2003 Beaune Clos des Ursules Premier Cru
2004 At first pass, this vintage seems to be very compact and concentrated with decent structure and balance—a triumph given the ultra-hot temperatures in France in 2003.
2015 Surprise, surprise! This 2003 has developed very nicely in the bottle, showing balanced fruit and that classic Ursules firmness. I anticipate another decade of improvement.
Giuseppe Rinaldi 2001 Barolo Brunate-Le Coste
2007 Fairly dark and concentrated, with beautiful aromas and flavors of licorice, tar, and black fruits. This medium-bodied wine, blessed with great structure and aging potential, cries out for Osso Buco.
2015 Aromas of wildflowers, tobacco, and licorice billow from the glass. On the palate, this Rinaldi exhibits an unabashed, charming, rustic profile that will sustain it for years to come.
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Domaine Raveneau 2006 Chablis Valmur Grand Cru
2008 The nose is closed but has hints of wet flint, earth, and lemon zest. With its great structure and length on the palate, this white should evolve nicely for a couple of decades.
2014 This great Grand Cru is now only just beginning to show us the greatness of Valmur. Much more body and creaminess than expected, with essences of peach and clarified butter to accompany the classic stony minerality we all love.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2006 Toscana
2009 Dark, dense, red in color, with notes of tobacco, leather, and violets on the nose. The wine is full and flavorful, but it still needs some years to shed its baby fat.
2015 This vintage has developed amazing complexity in a short time. Much more opulent than I remember but still exhibiting that classic violet-and-tobacco fineness.
1990 Brut Rosé
2005 Massive amounts of sweet strawberry and cherry fruit burst from perfect, tiny bubbles in the glass. Excellent richness and freshness, but not sure how long this one will age.
2015 Nectar of the gods! This Rosé has really come together. Creamy, with notes of strawberry and steel. Remarkable how well this is holding up. Could it go another two or three decades?
Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl 2007 Riesling Spätlese
2009 Bright tones of ripe pink grapefruit, white flowers, and lemon carry this powerful, very flavorful Spätlese. While delicious, the wine would benefit from further cellaring.
2015 Today, this wine has many of the same characteristics present during my initial tasting, but it has also developed much more body and richness: To sip is almost like biting into a cold, ripe nectarine. Glorious.
López de Heredia Viña Tondonia 1968 Red Gran Reserva Rioja
1991 The color is a ruby red, and the nose reveals scents of briar, scorched earth, Bing cherry, and sandalwood. Very light on the palate, with an interesting tension between power and elegance.
2003 Completely unchanged since my first note in ’91, this wine is simply timeless. But really how long can a Rioja age and stay at this high level of quality?
2015 Very reminiscent of a great Grand Cru of Burgundy. This wine is super fine and elegant, with notes of cherry, nutmeg, and earth. Showing so well that I believe it will probably age gracefully for another three decades.
Williams Selyem 2004 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard
2006 Astonishingly powerful aromas of ripe cherry and berry overwhelm my olfactory sense. Excellent acidity and a long finish make this a truly fantastic Pinot Noir that can compete with some of the greats in Burgundy.
2015 More than a decade old, this wine is still rocking. In full bloom, this Pinot has developed notes of sage, allspice, and anise. Long and smooth on the finish. Proof that California can make great examples of this grape.