What follows is a detailing of wines from an evening of vinous gluttony, the likes of which few ever get to experience. Write ups about similar events occasionally appear in the Wall Street Journal, Wine Spectator, and other lifestyle publications. Those pieces tend to come off as elitist and clubby - a tone Winethropology tries to steer clear of.
It's for this reason that I've hesitated from writing about this special evening; for fear that it would come of as gratuitous and prancy - like your coworker who brags about driving his cousin's Ferrari all weekend. What is the point in sharing experiences that few, if any, readers will ever get to share other than to fuel envy?
However, expensive wine is perhaps the most frequent theme of questions I get. People are curious about what lies on the other side of their price ceiling. Is very expensive wine really worth it? Is there magic in the unattainable? Can a truly great wine really change your life?
Answers to these questions bear such subjectivity that broad declarations speak more about the writer than the wine at hand. You know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that. But I've found that disclosures such as these are no deterrent to peoples' curiosity. So, with that disclaimer, a review of wines follows. A discussion of worth will follows in a few days.
Note that prices for these wines were selected from a variety of reputable retailers who came up at the top of Google searches for each wine. Because of the age of - and demand for - these wines, precise prices will vary, sometimes by a lot.
2002 Bollinger Champagne 'Grande Annee' $98
Richly flavored and colored. Crackling with crispness and lively, almost microscopic effervescence. The concentrated and complex palate makes for a compelling drink, even for those with less enthusiasm for sparkling wines. The polarity of the opposing forces in this wine - density and richness vs crisp acidity and energy - are extraordinarily in balance. Mesmerizing. Wine & Spirits gave this 98 points. No disagreement there.
2003 Chateau Laville Haut Brion $280
Stunning intensity. Bright, vibrating aromatics are a dizzying greeting. The young (at almost 10 years!) palate simmers with luminous fruit, layered in its structure, and speedy in its delivery. Better than every other Haut Brion blancs this lucky sucker has ever had. Robert Parker gave this 96 points - and it's deserving of every last point.
2000 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion $1,300
From the famous millennium vintage, the La Mission is outfitted like a fine bespoke suit. There isn't a stitch out of place in this magnificent wine. Absent any tension between restraint and generosity, this wine is testimony that alchemy is no forgotten art. Medium bodied, though with eye-popping attention-getting command, this is elegance and refinement incarnate. 100 points from Parker. This is one of those wines that, for all its perfection, is more perfect on paper than in your mouth. That is to say that, by the book, this is a flawless wine, but in terms of purely thrilling experiences, this one takes a back seat to the next wine.
1982 Chateau Haut Brion $900
A whiplash-inducing thrill of a drink. The star of the show whose song has been playing in a loop for the past three weeks. Youthful, yes, youthful at 30-plus years, the full-flavored fruit is inescapably lush and generous, and balanced by structure that put everything into historic perspective. An absolutely joyful wine oozing with class and grace from another of the most celebrated vintages in Bordeaux. Mind-boggling. 95 points from both the Spectator and Parker, though I'd guess those scores will climb as this wine continues to evolve. Hard to think of it as anything less than a 98.
1997 Dow's Vintage Port $75
Though now past 15 years in age, this consistently terrific producer's release from the highly regarded 1997 vintage is just an infant. Too tightly wound to really enjoy now, it's coiled, black-strap ferocity may need another couple of decades to unwind. Still, the drinker brave enough to forge ahead with a glass of this will find a glimpse of greatness in the making. A good analogy for this wine is an oak tree. Today, it's merely ten feet tall, but spreading its roots and branches a little more each year. Some day many years from now it will be broad and proud and lovely. In the interim, patience and cellaring are needed. 94 points from Enthusiast and Spectator - and that feels more or less right.