Sotheby's Pre-Auction Tasting

Sotheby's, New York

Tasted June 10, 2009 by TheBusiness724 with 499 views


Three tables were set up for the tasting. The first began with a 1996 Dom Perignon and had a smattering of mid-range white Burgundy. The second was a sampling of 80's and 90's red Bordeaux (plus one super-Tuscan) and the third was a set of CA cabs. Guests were permitted to wander and retaste as desired, which was much appreciated.

Flight 1 - Dom and White Burgundy (1 note)

We skipped this table except for purposes of beginning with a nice, palate-awakening champagne. Nothing against white Burgundy, but there were just too many other wines we had to get to and we had to make some choices.

White - Sparkling
1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon France, Champagne
91 points
This was pretty good. Creamy, with minerals and hints of citrus (especially orange) on the palate. This did not excite or wow us at all, but perhaps our expectations had been set a little too high in advance. Certainly enjoyable.

Flight 2 - Red Bordeaux and a Super-Tuscan (7 notes)

This was the focal point of the tasting for us. We tried every wine that was offered at this table, most of which were excellent.

1996 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
93 points
This was my favorite wine of the tasting, followed closely by the 1982 Gruaud Larose. Chelsea chose the Gruaud as best, followed by the 1989 Pichon Lalande and then this third. We both agreed that the 1990 Cos D'Estournel finished fourth. It is worth noting that the 1996 Lalande is still a bit tight, and therefore has room for improvement, whereas the 89 and the Gruaud are ready to go and probably can't get any better. Ultimately, this is why I chose the 1996 Lalande over the Gruaud, even though I think they are both 93-94 point wines today.

The color was a dark purple, still very youthful and no bricking. There are aromas of black fruits, flowers and leafy hints but not much in the way of tertiary smells. Although this description of the nose does not sound unique, there is something idiosyncratic and enjoyable about how a good vintage of Pichon Lalande smells that distinguishes it from other wines. The palate has a wealth of fruit, especially blackcurrant and cassis, and is light in the mouth despite being medium to full bodied. Hopefully this will fill out and put on weight with a little more age.
1990 Château Grand Mayne France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
89 points
Decent nose and I certainly get the underbrush and dark fruits on the palate. However, the finish was medium to short and turned a little too herbal and bitter for my liking. Not a bad wine, but certainly not in the same league as the other wines tasted this evening.
1990 Château Cos d'Estournel France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
91 points
Chelsea and I agreed that this came in fourth behind some combination of the '96 Pichon Lalande, the '89 Pichon Lalande and the '82 Gruaud Larose (though we differed on the order of those three), making the Cos a slight disappointment relative to expectations. Some bricking, though not an unusual amount for a 1990, the strongest aspect of this wine was the nose, which was floral and filled with some red and some dark fruit, along with minerals/graphite. In the mouth, it was enjoyable, though not a standout. Slightly disjointed and only partially fulfilling the promise of the nose, I would never complain about drinking this wine but don't plan to seek any out.
1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
92 points
My #3 of the tasting, Chelsea's #2. Deep garnet color with slight bricking that creates a hint of orange at the rim. Intriguing nose that has the same base of black fruit and flowers as younger Lalande's, but adds a nice complement of tertiary aromas including barnyard, animal funk and leather. While enjoyable rather than excessive right now, you get the feeling that these tertiary aromas will continue to intrude upon and in several years will overwhelm the more primary aspects of the nose. The palate is smooth and mirrors flavorwise what the nose promises. Predictably, the fruit is not as strong as it was in the 1996 Pichon Lalande and it finishes a little more tart than I would prefer, but otherwise it is a great wine. I would be drinking these now, because as with the nose, you get the feeling on the palate that this is going to fall apart in a few more years.
1988 Château Sociando-Mallet France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
86 points
This had an okay nose that didn't show too much and it intruded on the palate with an aggressive tartness that was not pleasant. It was probably hard to give this a fair analysis because it was in the company of a number of much better wines, but it was the least good of the six red bordeaux we tasted and was also outperformed by the 2001 Ornellaia and some of the CA cabs. I heard one of the Sotheby's wine experts telling another taster that the Sociando is a great value. While he may be right about other vintages (and to be fair he was speaking generally of the chateau, not of the particular vintage), if this vintage is a good value it can only be because it's extraordinarily cheap (for a bordeaux with two decades under it's belt), not because the quality is high for the price.
1982 Château Gruaud Larose France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
93 points
This was barely eclipsed by the 1996 Pichon Lalande for my #1 of the tasting, though it was a close second and was Chelsea's #1. A compelling wine in any case. It is losing its robust color, but the nose is extraordinarily complex. We smelled leather, moss, earth, and mushroom with an underlay of dark fruit and faint hints of coffee/chocolate. On the palate this was full but elegant, with a delicate finish that was just slightly below expectations but still good. The nose was the best aspect of this wine for me.
2001 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri, Bolgheri Superiore
90 points
This was young in appearance, with a red fruit nose somewhere between a young bordeaux and a middle-aged CA cab. This was consequently a great bridge between the old world and new world portions of the tasting (good choice by Sotheby's in terms of the order and layout of the wines). Had a hard time figuring out the palate and would like to try it again down the road.

Flight 3 - CA Cabernet (3 notes)

Though we sampled each of the wines at this table, we did not record notes on many of them and found only two that we would consider buying.

1999 Dominus Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
87 points
Buttered popcorn, but not as good as actual buttered popcorn. Disappointing.
1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia USA, California, Napa Valley
91 points
The best of the CA cabs at the tasting. This was intriguing, complex, and distinctive. There were layers of dark and red fruits, and the wine showed similarly to a '97 we tasted in March. Though I generally prefer old world wines, I would consider buying this wine.
1987 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve USA, California, Napa Valley
90 points
We very much enjoyed this and it was my #2 CA cab of the tasting (though outperformed by some of the bordeaux), behind the '99 Insignia. This showed much more like a bordeaux than expected, which was a pleasant surprise. The nose had some minerals and fresh rain (similar to an '85 Cos D'Estournel we had recently), and the fruit was still alive on the palate, complemented by some tobacco and hints of underbrush. Not bad.
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