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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

Hawaii Wine Tasting At Its Best

I just helped a friend celebrate his birthday, and he always does it in style by putting together what I like to call “The Greatest Wine Tasting in Hawaii.” I know that might sound like hyperbole, but with complete transparency the list of wines at this party would bowl any wine drinker over. It reads like the best of the best from around the globe. And, as usual, I cannot list all of the wines here, so the highlights will have to suffice. They are extremely HIGH!

So I entered the party, and sitting there on the first table were three Burgundy bottles with a distinctive red and black capsule. As I got closer, the white label with black lettering was immediately recognizable. Three vintages of DRC La Tache were the first things to greet me: 2009, 2003 and 2000. The 2000 was very unfortunately corked! But the 2003 was unreal: full of exuberant fruit laced with spices, like sandalwood and exotic teas. The palate is gorgeously endowed, still on the fruity side, even after 11 years, with plump cherries and just a hint of vanilla. This is as sexy as Pinot Noir gets in my book. It may not be a “classic” Burgundy, but who cares? It was sultry and just begging to be drunk!

Not even leaving the table, someone shared a beautiful bottle of 2009 Drouhin Batard Montrachet. It was fat and creamy, but not overblown. It had just the right amount of wood with minerality persisting on the finish. This was another ripe vintage wine that was hedonistic and youthful.

Did I mention a bottle of 1972 DRC Richebourg was at the table, too? This was all before I even went into the “main” wine area. (Thus ends the Burgundy portion of this program.)

As I walked into the “main” room the long table that greeted me was filled with California’s finest: Harlan Estate, Napa Valley Reserve, Colgin, Screaming Eagle, Dominus, BOND, Scarecrow, Ovid, Arkenstone, Checkerboard, Dalla Valle Maya, Peter Michael and more … and most with multiple vintages! The two wines that truly stood out for me were the 2004 Harlan Estate and the 2008 Screaming Eagle. The former, being 10 years old, showed some lovely mature flavors, still with loads of fruit but starting to show notes of mocha, truffle and freshly tilled earth. It was full and rich, but more noble than savage with a sleek structure and presence that belies its new world origins.

At 10 years old, this wine is really hitting its stride and would be at the top of the list for any 2004 vertical tasting. The latter wine was the best bottle of the 2008 Screaming Eagle that I have tasted (I had been lucky enough to taste another bottle previously.) Not only that, but it was a bottle that fulfilled the otherworldly expectations that come with the world’s most expensive new world wine.

The fruit was stunning, just chock-full of bright red and black berries but elegantly presented without any conflicting flavors. The oak was present but not overpowering. In the palate, it was actually more elegant than the Harlan Estate. (Did I just write that?) The texture was really impressive; tons of flavor without being overly heavy. I remember tasting some chocolate on the finish that just sealed the deal for me — really a great bottle of wine.

I finally got over to the Bordeaux table to see four vintages of Petrus.

“Yeah, this is gonna be epic!”

And that’s not all: Haut Brion, Latour, Margaux, Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Cheval Blanc, and many more. For me, the most memorable was the 1966 Haut Brion. There were others that were more masculine, will live longer and were showier but the 1966 Haut Brion was a wine at its peak, and what a high peak it was. It was so flowery and heady, Burgundian even. There were still essences of black fruit that matched with espresso and mocha.

The tannin in the wine has beautifully resolved into a silky robe. Each time I tasted it, I tasted something different, the complexity was so high. I thought to myself, “So this is why Haut Brion is a First Growth.”

The other bottle that really stood out for me was the 2003 Chateau Latour. It may have been because it was from a warmer vintage and the fruit was more exotic than most, but it had this very pedigreed and regal expression of Cabernet entirely different from the rest and at the highest level. It is still a baby, but will repay a dozen years or more of proper cellaring.

There was a table for the “best of the rest.” This included Penfolds Grange, Three Rivers, Henschke Hill of Grace, Vega Sicilia Unico, Dal Forno Amarone and yes, more. And there was even a table for the whites, including five vintages of Chateau d’Yquem! At one point, I was literally at the table by myself tasting each bottle with a delicious piece of foie gras.

I was having a moment. The best of the Yquems was the 1959: simply a honeyed elixir fit for the gods. It makes mortals like me feel closer to heaven. What a perfect ending to another fabulous birthday bash!

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