Many years ago in our print publication, we published articles from our editors on their favorite wines. This is the first in what I hope will be a series where we again publish the favorite wines of our editors. Cary Feibleman is an Underground Contributing Editor and an old friend who is also a dedicated wine collector and consumer. His favorite wines include many that are also my favorites as well as favorites of many of our other long time wine friends. (To read more about Cary click here  ) Take a look and please feel free to send your comments on these wines or any of your favorite wines – John Tilson
Cary Feibleman’s Greatest Wines
I grew up in a family where wine was served with dinner on Sunday and available to guests when my parents entertained. It was generally modest petite chateau French and exporters’ selection of regional German and Spanish wine.
My wine epiphany was 1966 Heitz Zinfandel—a concentrated, full bodied with a finish that lasted a full minute. This was a revelation to me.
I began to collect wine in the late 1970s, too late to buy the 1959 and 1961 First Growths for well under $10 per bottle like many of my older friends, but still able to pick up as much serious wine as I could afford on a graduate student’s stipend. At this time several major exporters and importers came under financial strain and had to liquidate their holdings. Chateau Latour 1970 was available for under $20 per bottle, the 1961 for $75.
This was also the time that the English auction market became re-energized with the emergence of the young Michael Broadbent, his fabled mentor Harry Waugh, and the writings in Decanter of David Peppercorn, his wife Serena Sutcliffe, Jancis Robinson and many others. Heublein started auctions in America and many prized cases of great older wines, particularly Beaulieu Vineyard, became available for purchase in a setting other than through the traditional retail marketplace.
I began to taste wine seriously in the 1970s and quickly learned that provenance is key, particularly tasting older wines. Importer Kermit Lynch was one of the first to insist on shipping wines to the U.S. in refrigerated containers and then storing them in a cool environment with consistent temperature and humidity. Egon Mueller IV, owner of the famed German estate of the same name, mentioned how surprised he was when working a summer job in the warehouse of one of America’s most famous wine importers that there was no air conditioning. They imported his family’s rare and expensive late harvest Rieslings, but provided no protection from summer heat. He subsequently switched importers.
For a wine to be great, it must be full bodied and possess pure, concentrated, intense, complex flavors all in perfect harmony to achieve balance—the most important attribute, and it should have a long, lingering finish. I have not included wines where I might have only had one ounce such as at a tasting where the portion is really too meager to assess and perhaps was poured an hour or two earlier, thus being over aerated considering the relative large surface area of such a small pour in a reasonable glass. This has made me exclude many fine wines that would probably have made the list had the pour been larger, such as 1947 Cheval Blanc and many older vintages of Romanée Conti and La Tache, all sampled in too small a portion to really assess the wines over the course of a meal.
The following wines are ones that stand out in my memory as being great. When possible all the wines have been tasted more than once and been sourced from my cellar or those of others who are long time collectors.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945
Chateau Petrus 1947
Chateau Margaux 1953
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1959
Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1959
Chateau Latour 1959
DRC Montrachet 1978
Ramonet Montrachet 1982
Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne 1989
Comte de Vogüé Musigny Vieilles Vignes 1947
DRC Romanée Conti, La Tache, Richebourg and Grands Echezeaux 1978 and 1985
Henri Jayer Vosne Romanée Cros Parantoux, Echezeaux and Richebourg 1978 and 1985
Remoissenet Dr. Barolet Bonnes Mares 1949
Champagne Krug 1929 and 1959
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1968
BV Private Reserve Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon 1970
Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional and regular bottling 1931
Taylor Vintage Port 1945 and 1948
Fonseca Vintage Port 1948
Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Auction Gold Capsule Auslese 1953
Egon Müller Saarburger Rausch Auction Beerenauslese 1994
Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo 1961 and 1967
When thinking of the greatest wines I have ever tasted, my thoughts go to first to France, but my first great wine tasting experiences were with California wines. My two favorites are the 1968 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and the 1970 Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet. The former was the most perfectly balanced, greatly concentrated, mouth filling, and yet, delicious bottle of wine that Joe Heitz ever made. His ’69, ’70 and ’74 were also great, but for my taste the ’68 was perfection.
I never tasted the Inglenooks of the ‘30s and ’40s or the BVs of ’51 and ’58, but like the Jayer Burgundies, the ’70 BV Private Reserve was rich, concentrated and fruity with excellent balance from the first day it was released and remained that way for close to three decades. It always was a knock-out every time I tasted it. The ’68 was also terrific, but a bit more restrained in character. There was something very special about the 1970 vintage in California. While ’68 had also been a great year, many of the wineries that made monumental wines in ’70 were still in their organizational stage in ’68. When the great harvest of 1970 hit, many great wineries took advantage of the fruit and made great wines that were seldom equaled. BV, Mondavi, Freemark Abbey Bosché, Mayacamas and Ridge Monte Bello all made tremendous 1970s and when tasted almost 25 years later in 1996, they were still outstanding.
The 1959 First Growth wines are all great. The ones I have enjoyed the most are the Lafite, Mouton and Latour. A couple of times during the 1990s I was able to attend tastings of the 1959 Lafite Rothschild in every bottle format, from fifth to imperial in an exercise to see what effect different sized bottles have on the aging of one of the greatest wines ever made. While all the attendees dreamed of having a few imperials in their collections, it was generally conceded that the magnum was most reliable and consistently excellent.
All great wines from the ‘59 vintage share a great richness and concentration with quite ripe fruit, deep colors in the glass and an amazing sensual complexity in the mouth with a very long finish. In the case of the Lafite, flavors of purple and black stone fruits emerge, mix with spice from the terroir and end with a staggeringly long finish. The wine is so beguiling and complex that at one dinner I poured a magnum into two different 750 ml sized decanters and served a table of ten, very knowledgeable tasters two separate glasses. No one at the table guessed that the glasses came from the same magnum!
There is a very special pleasure associated with being poured a great bottle of Bordeaux in the living room of the chateau owner, for you know that the bottle has never moved from its cellar site since the first day that it was put into bottle. Corrine Mentzelopoulis served at a party I attended the 1953 Margaux from magnum and it was sensational. Deep and rich with a marvelous robe, still very youthful and complex with the softness of Margaux pedigree, but the length associated with a well stored bottle from an outstanding vintage. It was extraordinary.
The 1945 Mouton Rothschild is one of the greatest and most identifiable wines of the 20th century. Like the ’59, it is a huge wine with incredible concentration and complexity, but it also has a very noticeable minty quality. The Petrus and Latour, of the same vintage, are also incredible wines. However, at a vertical tasting of Petrus, I favored the 1947 over the 1945. At over 50 years of bottle age, it all comes down to bottles. That night the “younger” wine was just a little bit better with more complex flavors and better balance.
The 1978 and 1985 vintages in Burgundy have given me sensational tasting experiences, from “humble” wines like the 1978 Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Les Ruchottes, to regal Montrachet of Romanée Conti. Well made whites and reds from that vintage were and, when well stored, remain great wines to this day with truly astounding balance that allows the rich fruit to remain in harmony with the wine’s acidity. The 1978 DRC Montrachet is as good a chardonnay based wine as I have ever drunk with great concentration and a finish that goes on and on for several minutes. I have never tasted the 1968, 1971 or 1973, other fabled vintages, but in a tasting comparing each vintage of DRC and Ramonet Montrachet from 1978 to the early 1990s, the ’78 DRC jockeyed back and forth with the Ramonet ’78 and ’79 for being the most classically structured.
For pure hedonistic pleasure it is hard to beat the 1982 Ramonet Montrachet. This wine is barely able to contain itself with mouth filling flavors of fresh flowers from the garden integrated with Ramonet herbosity. The same can be said for the intensity and lusciousness of the 1985 Chevalier Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive. Both wines are now in decline, but if one finds bottles from a chilly northern cellar, there is still potential for unforgettable delight in the glass. 1989 produced many great wines and many that were too ripe and lack balance, but Corton Charlemagne from Coche Dury is absolutely fantastic and remains my favorite every time I participate in a Coche vertical. Interestingly, the Coche Dury Corton Charlemagnes tastes more like great wines from Puligny than traditional stony, acidic, restrained Corton Charlemagnes. Blind tasters usually identify the Coche wine as Montrachet. My last bottle of ’89 was identified by my tablemates as “undoubtedly Montrachet, probably DRC.”
In a vertical tasting of Musigny from Comte de Vogüé, the ’47 was clearly the best wine. The ’45 and ’49 were impressive, but the ’47 full of fresh fruity richness, kaleidoscopic, expansive flavors made it the best wine of the night. After forty years in the bottle, it tasted like it could last forty more–probably not.
The best red Burgundy wines from the 1978 and 1985 vintages, the wines of DRC and Henri Jayer, have continued to be great up until a couple of years ago. The styles of winemaking; however, could not be more different. The wines of the Domaine Romanée Conti, while rich, intense and concentrated, are often restrained and tight in their youth. They only hint at what they will eventually develop into. Jayer’s wines define what a fruit forward Burgundy can be with Henri having frequently gone on record as not understanding why a great wine shouldn’t taste great from the first time that a cork is pulled. His wines start out approachable and great, and don’t seem to metamorphose like others do after long periods in the bottle, but when you start out at 18 or 19/20, you don’t have far to go.
The Henri Jayer ‘78s were profound wines from the first day of release, the Vosne Romanée Beaumont and Brulées not being that far behind the Cros Parantoux, Echezeaux and Richebourg. I had never tasted a line-up of wines so consistently outstanding. They all exhibited red stone fruit flavors—cherries and plums with hints of berries. Everything was in perfect balance with the Grand Crus showing a little more herbosity and sense of vineyard terroir distinction. The closeness of the Cros Parantoux vineyard to that of the Richebourg was quite noticeable. The same characteristic flavors and forward richness were present in the 1985 Jayer wines. They remain great and have been on a celestial plateau for twenty years, only now showing some bottle fatigue.
When the 1985 DRC vintage was released at under $1800 for a mixed case, it was uncharacteristically forward and approachable. Several editors of this publication thought it would be a good idea to conduct comparative DRC tastings of the 1978 and 1985 vintages. In each, the Grands Echezeaux stood out as a marvelously complex, full bodied wine with a relatively affordable price tag. The La Tache was the winning wine each time in each vintage with the Richebourg coming in second. These wines all displayed characteristic, DRC, “oriental spice” with mouth filling flavors, exotic aromatics and mouth filling flavors that went on and on. Another great La Tache favorite is the ’71 served from magnum. This wine is huge and powerful while retaining the characteristic exotic complexity that makes it so desired.
As great as the Jayer and DRC wines are, the most memorable bottle of Burgundy I ever tasted was the Remoissenet 1949 Bonnes Mares from the Dr. Barolet Collection. In the late 1980’s I attended a Burgundy tasting with wines from the 50’s through 80’s. After tasting 10-15 wines over a couple of hours with cheese and cold cuts we were all in a state of palate fatigue—or so we thought. Our host, Geoffrey Beaumont, offered a final wine he had just received in a shipment, as a palate cleanser. From the first seconds that he pulled the cork the room filled with spicy scents and when tasted, the wine sought out and stimulated every olfactory receptor with the most complex, “Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds,” peacock’s tail one can imagine. It was unbelievable.
Barolet bottles have been criticized in the past for being doctored with brandy for strength and Rhone for body and color, but each of these has distinguishing characteristics, none of which were present in this bottle. Instead it was pure hedonistic pleasure. Everyone who previously was slouching in his chair, suddenly stood straight up to give the wine full attention. A senior executive in the wine industry in charge of European imports for his company and possessing an encyclopedic palate who tasted this wine with me, said that this one Burgundy, the ’49 Bonne Mares, is his reference point for the greatest Burgundy!
I am particularly fond of great German Riesling wines and feel that the very best possess a purity of flavor and focus unrivaled by any other variety of wine. Made in the traditional style of varying degrees of ripeness and corresponding residual sugar, all balanced by generally perfect acidity, these wines are a joy to drink by themselves and actually marry well with most food. There are many German wines that I have tasted that I would consider great, but two really stand out in my memory. Wilhelm Haag invited me to his winery for a tasting of his latest vintage. He then asked me to wait for a special bottle from his cellar. He sat down directly in front of me and removed the cork from an unlabeled bottle of wine. He sat directly in front of me, because, he said, he wanted to look directly into my eyes as I tasted it. From its golden color, I knew it was a bit advanced, far older than any of the wines I had just tasted. It was rich and luscious, full of aromatic flower scents, honeysuckle, both ripe and dried apricots and peaches. I guessed 1947, then he revealed it was the 1953 auction gold label auslese, the first great year he ever made. His father had made the ’47. Though I had a 300 km. drive ahead of me to attend an anniversary event celebrating a friend’s 200 year old winery, I couldn’t spit the wine out and couldn’t stop enjoying every glass he poured me. It was sensational and perfectly stored in a cold German cellar.
The second great German wine that I consider among the best is the Saarburger Rausch, Auction Beerenauslese, 1994, from Egon Müller. This transcendental wine had an ethereal richness and viscosity in the mouth unlike any wine I have ever tasted. The bouquet was like a tropical botanical garden in which different power scents fought for your attention. The complex flavors produced by the wine coated every olfactory nerve ending and made love to them. The climax lasted for minutes. You did not want to put down the glass. Egon’s generosity in pouring more prevented you from embarrassing yourself by begging for a second glass. One sip and you were hooked. Hugh Johnson sat to my left at this tasting and we both shook our heads at the brilliance of this wine.
If there is one country whose wines seem to taste best in their homeland and served with their own cuisine, it is Italian wine. The native ingredients, the water, the traditional style of cooking and probably a good dose of la dolce vita en Italia bring out the best in Italian wines. Tar, leather, subtle oxidative qualities coupled with forest scents don’t seem like desirable elements in the final product of a bottle of wine, but when the best of these are coupled with intense rich grape flavors, the best Barolos and Barbarescos are produced. Two that made my jaw drop were the 1961 and 1967 Mascarello Barolos imported directly from the winery into the U.S. in the mid 1980s. At 20 years of age these wines were terrific. Rich mouthfilling glassfuls of smoky complex flavors that were terrific with braises, ragus and roasted meats.
The final category of great wines on my list of “best” is Port. Several of us who write for the UWJ were colleagues of Barney Rhodes, famous for planting Martha’s Vineyard and Bella Oaks, but also possessor of one of the world’s greatest Port and Madeira collections. We had the opportunity to do many tastings with Barney over the years, but none topped the tasting where Quinta do Noval, going back to the famous 1931 vintage was served both in its regular bottling and its rare Nacional bottling. The regular bottling of ’31 is stunning, but the Nacional is one of those 21 out of 20 point scale wines for incredible richness, concentration, complexity and a finish that goes on for five minutes. Even a thimbleful, just a few drops in the bottom of the glass, sitting for an hour still gives you the great mélange of intoxicating intensity that is the Quinta ’31.
Also great, more affordable and obtainable are the great 1948 Taylor, Fonseca and Graham–luscious concentrated wines with ripe cherry, plum and prune flavors balanced by their generous sweetness and alcohol. The 1945 Taylor is even better–more concentrated, firmer, less exuberant and perhaps less evolved, even at 65 years. Great bottles of these Ports should easily last a century.
These are the great wines I remember best. Most have a setting and story accompanying their tasting. This is the way it should be, for it is the complex setting of friends, family and dining accompanying that add immeasurably to the enjoyment of the tasting experience.