Opening A 1934 Latour, And Much More

I just attended one the most over-the-top wine tastings of the year. For me, that is saying a lot, and I mean it whole-heart-edly.

One of my wine buddies had his birthday bash that falls under the category of If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing! He puts out a fabulous array of wines for his guests to enjoy, then the generosity of the guests kicks in. It is true that generosity begets generosity.


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Chateau Latour vineyards. Photo from Roberto Viernes

This year’s theme was Chateau Latour. Our host began with nine vintages of 1961. We ended up with almost 30 bottles of Chateau Latour alone, including a few magnums. I would be lucky enough if I drank this once a year, but this was awesome! I could fill a book with notes from just these alone, so I will keep to the highlights.

The 1934 Chateau Latour, which was Chateau bottled, was a privilege to taste. I personally opened the bottle, which was no small task, as the cork was completely crumbly and original. It had a very mature and slightly faded aroma, but replete with red berries, tea notes and gravel. The palate was completely refined and soft. It was quite cloudy and faded quickly, but one does not often get the opportunity to drink wines that are almost 80 years old.

Some great vintages proved their worth, as did a bottle of 1982, which was showing very well. It had a beautiful nose backed up by richness and elegance on the palate, everything one could ask for in a great Pauillac.

But the 1990 bested the 1982. Its richness, opulence and texture were undeniably stellar, and it was singing like a canary! It still has plenty of time available to it.

The 2000 vintage was also quite lovely. It had a very strong floral and potpourri scent, along with the deep fruit and oak. It is still youthful but has shed its baby fat.

Speaking of baby fat, the 2003 was like the Michelin man of the bunch, with loads of fruit and weighty still.

Of the less heralded vintages, I really liked the 1985 and 1983. I bet in a blind tasting the 1985 might even have beaten the bottle of the 1982, as it seemed more than a mere three years younger and it had deeper bass notes in its lyrics as well. The 1983 was very finesse-full in nature by comparison, but no less pretty and quite ready to drink now.

But Chateau Latour was not the only Old World goodie. 1949 Drouhin Laroze Latricieres-Chambertin was a pleasure to drink. It was definitely a “throwback” in style, with a little Bret, but just as a spice. The palate was pure silk, and being one of the few Pinot Noir (read, my favorite grape), I enjoyed it.

There was a gorgeous bottle of 1990 Chateau Cheval Blanc – so unique being almost an equal blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and I have always loved its expression. This bottle was phenomenal. The aromatics were almost kaleidoscopic with notes of sweet fruits, flowers, white chocolate and mocha. It was velvety in the mouth and altogether seductive – really delicious juice!

More juiciness flowed from a bottle of 1971 Chateau d’Yquem (we also had the 2000, but I’m already running out of room here). Passion fruit, candied apricots, baking spices, custard and more, all in liquid form; just loaded with complexity and luxurious sweetness.

From the New World there was a who’s who list of cult wines, starting with the 2007 Screaming Eagle (which happened to be the first wine I tasted upon arrival), three vintages each of Scarecrow and Checkerboard, Ghost Horse, Araujo (coincidentally now owned by the same owners as Chateau Latour), Shafer Hillside Select and more than I can fit on this page.

But the two that really stood out to me were the 2009 Bryant Family and 2009 Sheridan Vineyard Block 1. The former for its sheer size, flavor and depth, all of which resonated with my palate. It was seamless and riveting. The latter also for its flavor but more than that, as its owner described its origins to me in detail; I was impressed to find out that it is from Yakima Valley, Wash. This wine not only held up to all the Napa wines, but on my palate out-shined many of them. It is a monumental wine with layers of flavor that just keep coming. It has loads of energy and will last 20 years or more.

In all, the most impressive thing about this tasting was the generosity of spirit of all the attendees. Some brought more than wine, including some terrific beef from famed butcher Bryan Flannery, desserts from the Halekulani and the Padovani Brothers, and vegan treats from Greens and Vines.

Happy birthday, my friend, and many more!