- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -

OBSERVATIONS ON 1978 WINES

Recently I took a bottle of ’78 DRC Montrachet to Providence, the fish restaurant in Los Angeles.  It was in great shape and had the same intense yellow color of a recently tasted, still youthful and backward, 2002 Coche Dury Les Caillerets.  The DRC is full bodied, with great intensity, complexity, mouthfilling flavors and perfect balance. It possesses a finish that lasts several minutes.  This particular bottle was purchased from mega-collector Tawfiq Khoury several  years ago.  He had had the foresight to buy 10-20 cases on original release and stored them at a glacial 42 degrees.

I also bought a few bottles of the Chalone ’78 when it first came out, after reading the rave review in the original article in The Underground Wine Letter.  When Jean-Claude Vrinat came to the U.S. in the 1980’s, Bipin Desai held a tasting luncheon for him at Chinois on Main in Santa Monica which I attended and one of the wines served was Dick Graff’s Chalone 1978.  Jean-Claude raved about it.  So in ’89 when I went to Taillevent in Paris, I took him a bottle.  He said how it reminded him of Henri Jayer’s wines for purity of fruit and flavor.  Jean-Claude was exceedingly generous to us throughout that meal and invited us to a private tasting of Chateau Beycheville with its directeur and owner the next morning in his restaurant’s cave.

The next time I opened a bottle of the wine was at a Burgundy tasting where I sat next to Burgundy importer Martine Saunier.  This was a tasting presided over by Clive Coates who offered his opinion on all the wines we contributed and tasted.  Much to his credit, Clive picked the Chalone wine out of a group of other Burgundies that had all been served blind.  It puzzled him for its uniqueness and differences in taste from the Burgundies and he didn’t have anything complimentary to say about it.  “Strange” he sneered rather dismissively as only Clive can do.  Martine and I looked at each other and thought “what’s wrong with us?” We both judged the wine to be pretty good and quite sound. Martine was, with Kermit Lynch, the official Jayer importer at the time and was certainly in a good position to knowledgeably assess its character.

Another anecdote on this wine is about when I was on a committee for the International Wine and Food Society where we honored one of the world’s greatest winemakers as part of our annual fundraising event.  We agreed that there was no one more deserving than Henri Jayer and decided he should be our honoree.  Dick Graff who happened to be on the committee said, “Who?”  He had no idea who Henri was!  We filled him in and I told him the story of the fame of his ’78 Chalone and Dick quite humbly did not realize that that wine stood out from the others he had made, and sadly, like the story with the 1970 Freemark Abbey Bosché, it turned out to be another example of a winery producing a singular bottling of exceptional brilliance, never to achieve those heights again; quite possibly because they didn’t realize initially how good their wine was. In my experience Chalone never made another wine that approached that vintage’s brilliance.

Anyway, I agree with John, that the ’78 Chalone and white and red Burgundies are great, and particularly when they emerge from perfect storage.  Ramonet whites from that year, even ‘humble’ premier Cru wines like the Ruchottes, still have years to go when perfectly stored.

CARY