"Top 100+ Wines of the 20th
It was back in early 2003 that John Kapon, of Acker-Merrall
auctions, called me up and told me quite excitedly that he wanted to do
a tasting of top 100 wines of the previous century. He wanted to
schedule it the following year in New York. As one can well appreciate,
my immediate response was Wow, thats quite an audacious plan! But
knowing John, and the dogged determination he has shown time and again
to see things through, I knew that if anyone could carry out this
ambitious project, he could.
Also I knew that he had a full year to work on it, during which time he
could count on getting help from a large band of collectors with whom
he had become friends with through the auctions. He had also amply
demonstrated to me, through his auction activities, that he was
extremely meticulous in selecting the bottles to ensure that they had
the correct provenance and were genuine.
I told him I would be happy to help him in any capacity I could and
share with him what Ive learned from my own wine activities
After John announced the tasting to his friends and clients, some of my
friends asked me Is this Decanters 100 or Parkers 100 or someone
elses 100? I replied No ones in particular, because collectively,
or even for some of us individually, we have had more than sufficient
experience with old vintages to make the decisions. And thats exactly
how we proceeded to select the wines for the top 100.
For about ¾s of the wines there was unanimity in the group that John
had been consulting. For the rest, we had to make hard choices.
One of the major questions was in dealing with such a large span of
years. On the drinkability curve the wines in the 1900s, 10s, 20s,
30s, and even the 40s are on the downside today or are beginning to
be so, no matter how great they were at one time, while the wines from
the 50s through the 80s are, for the most part, at the plateau. On
the other hand the great wines in the 90s are nowhere near maturity.
How does one put all of them together and make a fair, comparative
judgment? A hard question, but we knew that those coming to this event
would have already attended vertical tastings in the past with this
type of juxtaposition and would know how to cope with this question.
To obtain the bottles, John relied almost exclusively on the
collectors. He could have taken the easy way out and checked the
websites which gave lists of where one can buy old wines. To his great
credit, he didnt. Instead he crisscrossed this country, as well as
Europe, to search for the wines from the collectors he knew and spent
time examining each bottle individually before selecting. The only time
he did buy from outside was when he bought a few bottles from
Christies auction of the extraordinary Doris Duke cellar.
As the date of the tasting got closer John began to realize that it was
going to be impossible to confine the tasting to just 100! One major
reason was the young vintages. Wines like La Tache, for example, have a
great track record and there was little reason to doubt that, in spite
of its youth, the 1990 easily qualified for the top 100 and should be
included. But the question was about the young, so-called cult, wines
that had not yet established a clear track record. But he decided to
include them anyway because of the fame they had already acquired.
Initially we were thinking of three sessions to cover 100 wines over
the weekend, but then a fourth session had to be added to accommodate
all the wines. It was now called a tasting of the top 100+ wines.!
By the time the big day arrived, apart from about 10 wines that we
wanted but couldnt find (particularly old vintages of Ch. Ausone, and
old wines from the Rhone valley), the rest were successfully
accumulated, two bottles or a magnum per wine. That was a remarkable
feat, a testimony to Johns yearlong, relentless, hard work. What was
also remarkable was to find that, except for two questionable wines,
all of the 300 odd bottles were genuine-again a tribute to Johns
enormous care and attention
There was concern expressed by some about tasting so many wines in such
a short time, over a weekend, not just any wines, but wines that were
considered the greatest in the world. Unfortunately, the logistics of
getting together people from all over the United States and countries
abroad made it impossible to do it any other way. At the end almost
everyone joined in, probably because no one wanted to miss being part
of what was likely going to be one of the most remarkable tastings of
ones lifetime. There were about 40 people at the tasting, a vitual
Whos Who of worlds greatest collectors.
The event was held in New York on October 29-31, 2004. A complete list
of wines that were served is enclosed.
Having been into wine for almost 30 years I was one of the lucky ones
to have had almost all the 100+ wines at one time or another in the
past; some only once before, while others many times, some
(particularly the old legends), literally dozens of times, often in
pristine conditions. During my time it was not such a big deal to
regularly taste or collect the 45s, 47s or 61s, because, even
though decades old at the time, they were still relatively inexpensive
(even compared to the price people pay for futures today!).
Therefore, I had some perspective of what to expect at this tasting.
What was thrilling for me was that I was going to taste ALL the great
wines together over one weekend.
There were some wines that were corked or oxidised which happens at any
tasting. There were some disappointments also, like 47 Cheval Blanc,
45 Mouton Rothschild and 49 La Tache. Though they were very good, a
bit of the edge was gone. Often for cases like this the problem was
re-corking which, from my long experience, tends to change the true
character of the wine. Every single collector I know who has had
extensive experience with old bottles agrees with me on this.
If I were making decisions, unless there was clear evidence that the
cork was about to disintegrate, I would ban any re-corking and ask
whoever wants to do re-corking to first take elementary physics course
to learn about air flow and vacuum!
An overwhelming number of wines, however, were simply extraordinary. It
was particularly awe inspiring to see the old wines, coming from all
different wine regions, that not just survived the long journey in time
but were complex and full of verve. And then there were wines like 29
Les Gaudichots. 25 Marques de Riscal, 49 Hermitage La Chapelle, 41
Inglenook and a whole bunch of old Bordeaux and Burgundy that were not
just extraordinary but impossible to find anywhere else.
Almost two years of hard work that John put in for this project, and
all that tenacity he showed, had been brilliantly paid off . Bravo!
Separately, I have listed the wines which received 4, or the maximum 5
stars from me (those that received 3 stars or less are not listed).