A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


John Tilson • 5/31/19        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share



The Event & The Venue


I was born in 1944 and this last March 27 was my 75th birthday.  I had always planned to have one of my birthday wines on this milestone birthday. My wife Laurie and I invited a few friends and chose The Canyon Villa for the event. The Canyon Villa is relatively new and located in Paso Robles which is located about 2 hours north of where we live in Montecito.  This is the description of The Canyon Villa as taken from their website:  Nestled among the rolling green hills and vineyards of Paso Robles wine country, The Canyon Villa is destined to win your heart. Our inn will enchant you with its Italian architecture, stunning views, intimate setting, luxurious amenities and world-class cuisine.

Katherine and Wills are the proprietors. They have been married for 34 years and searched for 5 years before purchasing the property that is now Canyon Villa in 2015. Chef Wills was the executive chef and director of food and beverage at the Playboy mansion for some 30 years before leaving to open Canyon Villa in Paso Robles, CA. with his wife Katherine. Katherine worked in the Fashion Industry as a preeminent sales and marketing executive representing global Trend Forecasting Publishers for four decades. Their dream came true with the opening of Canyon Villa.  Chef Wills is a great chef. He makes everything from scratch, and Laurie and I have had several dinners as well as breakfasts and brunch that he prepared, and every dish has been outstanding. This is truly a magical place owned and operated by two extremely gracious hosts who are also two of the nicest people you will ever meet. And this is all wrapped around a wonderful setting and accommodations with extraordinary food. This is truly one of the great destinations for great food and ambiance.

The Wines

My job after making the reservation at The Canyon Villa was to select the wines to have for my birthday celebration. First was to select a wine from my birth year.
For my entire adult life I have been buying, drinking, and collecting wines. And, of course, I have always been on the lookout for 1944s. However, being a war year, and not a very good year for grapes in general, the number of wines from 1944 that are really good are few and far between. In my life I have had only two really great ones. One is 1944 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon. I have drunk it only once and it was fabulous. In fact, it is right up there with the very famous 1941 which certainly is one of the best California Cabernets ever made. I have had the 1941 Inglenook a couple of times and still have 2 bottles in my cellar. As for the 1944 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, I have only 1 bottle. The other great 1944 is 1944 Romanée-Conti. I have also had that wine only once, and it was really great and very close to the legendary 1945 Romanée-Conti. I have one bottle of 1944 Romanée-Conti in my cellar along with the one bottle of 1944 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon which I have been saving for a big birthday. The last 1944 I was able to find was 1944 Château d’Yquem. I only had one bottle which was given to me many years ago by a good friend, Dr. Frank Robinson.  But, Frank moved to Italy shortly after he gave me the bottle, and I lost track of him and have not seen him since. (Note: If anyone out there has his contact information please send him a copy of this article along with my sincere thanks for his generosity). But I saved the bottle of 1944 Château d’Yquem for all these years to have on my birthday. So when I turned 75 I chose to drink the 1944 Château d’Yquem. The bottle was perfect in appearance.

In my life I have probably tasted over 100 different vintages of Château d’Yquem going back to 1847. Up until 1836 all Sauternes were dry or at most semi-sweet.  But in 1836 the grapes were attacked by the noble rot and sweet wines were first produced in Sauternes. And shortly thereafter in 1847 it is thought that the first late harvest sweet wines were produced at Château d’Yquem. Château d’Yquem came into the family of the Marquis de Lur-Saluces by marriage in 1785. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson believed that Yquem was the only vineyard in Sauternes that deserved classification. And, in the official 1855 classification of  Bordeaux, Yquem was awarded the sole position at the top of the classification as Premier Cru Superieur. Château d’Yquem is without doubt the undisputed King of Sauternes, arguably the greatest natural sweet wine, and very possibly the greatest white wine in the world. Certainly it is one of the longest lived of all wines. Classic Château d’Yquem , with its lush intensity, extraordinary balance and flavor and underlying acidity, unequivocally offers a unique tasting experience that has to be tasted to be believed.

Prior to opening this bottle of 1944 Château d’Yquem, I had tasted the wine only once 36 years ago in 1983 in a tasting of 65 vintages of Château d’Yquem from 1858 – 1978. A few years later I also tasted 44 vintages of Château d’Yquem from 1847 – 1988. And at various different times in my life I have enjoyed many old bottles of Château d’Yquem. At the 1983 tasting I found the 1944 Château d’Yquem to be “Very Good”, but drying out a bit and far from great.  However, old wines are certainly variable. And, this bottle of 1944 Château d’Yquem was completely different than the one I had years ago. In fact, it was of the best wines I have ever tasted in my life. These greatest wines I describe as “Perfection.”  And, of the countless number of other great wines that I have tasted, the 1944 Château d’Yquem  joins only just a few wines to be at the exalted level of “Perfection” (Other Château d’Yquem’s in that category include 1847, 1861, and 1945). The 1944 Château d’Yquem tasted on this occasion had a light orange amber color with a golden hue and a stunningly intense exotic perfume. On the palate, it was rich and lush with great intensity and complex flavors tinged with caramel and perfectly balanced sweetness followed by a very long lingering finish.

With the 1944 Château d’Yquem bottle now empty and resting on a shelf in the foyer of my wine cellar, that leaves me in a quandary as to when to drink the other two 1944s. After all, it is only as you reach an advanced age that you begin to think about your mortality! So as of now I have not made that decision. I believe that both of the wines could outlive me no matter how long I live, but I want to make sure that I get a chance to drink them. So next March I will make the first decision to decide which wine to drink or not to drink.

Next I chose the wines I wanted to drink before and after the 1944 Château d’Yquem. I decided to have all magnums.

Of course, I began with Champagne.

Grand Siècle “La Cuvée” is the prestige cuvée from Laurent-Perrier. It is always a vintage blend. I do not know the exact age of this bottle, but I believe I have owned it for over 20 years. It is now at a peak of perfection and should keep for many years. The color is light yellow gold and the wine has an enticing and fragrant perfume with a tinge of crème brulee. Elegant, yet rich and creamy with great balance and richness this is a gorgeous bottle of old Champagne.

Next, after the 1944 Chateau d’Yquem, was White Burgundy.

I chose a White Burgundy to have with our first main course. Bienvenues Batard Montrachet is one of my very favorite Grand Cru White Burgundies. The vineyard seems to almost always produce wines that have richness but balanced with a nice acidity on the finish which I find especially attractive. Paul Pernot is a very good White Burgundy producer whom I have known for some 40 years and I have many vintages of his Bienvenues Batard Montrachet in my cellar.  I chose a 2002 which at nearly 20 years of age is drinking beautifully. Light yellow gold in color, the wine has a lovely perfume and on the palate it shows richness and depth with great balance and a long crisp finish.

Next I chose a Red Burgundy.

Clos Vougeot is a Grand Cru Burgundy vineyard with great historical significance. But because of its large size, variability in terms of where the vines are situated in the vineyard (generally the best locations are in the middle and top sections of the vineyard), and large number of producers Clos Vougeot has not gotten as much acclaim as other Burgundy Grand Crus. But in the last 20 or so years, the quality of the wines from Clos Vougeot have gotten much better and there are now many producers who consistently make wonderful Clos Vougeot. The Clos Vougeot Les Grand Maupertuis is a Grand Cru in the top section of Clos Vougeot called Les Grand Maupertuis which is located  just below Grands Echezeaux.
Anne Gros inherited this domaine from her father Francois. I began tasting here in the 1980s when the domaine was known as Francois Gros. From 1988 it was Domaine Anne & Francois Gros. And since 1995 it has been Domaine Anne Gros. The domaine has old vines in most of their vineyards and the older wines from Anne Gros show great purity and elegance.
This nearly 20 year old 2001 is an excellent example. Sandwiched beween the more intense 1999 and 2003 vintages, the 2000, 2001, and 2002 Red Burgundy vintages are vintages of elegance over power. I am very fond of this style of Burgundy. And, like the 2002 Bienvenues Batard Montrachet that preceeded it, at nearly 20 years of age this Clos Vougeot is drinking beautifully. With a very nice color the wine has a gorgeous perfume and is elegant yet flavorful with lovely supple fruit. Harmonious and stylistic this Clos Vougeot should continue to drink beautifully well into the future.
My friends also brought Champagne so we had some bottles of Champagne after dinner including a wonderful 2008 Launois Special Club. This under the radar Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc from Le Mesnil is always great and this 2008 Special Club is especially good. Still youthful, it will blossom with 10 more years of bottle age.

The Food

I talked with chef Wills in advance to set up the menu and had one special request for him to make a Roquefort soufflé to go with the birthday wine.

Le Comte Alexandre de Lur-Saluces whose family owned Château d’Yquem told us many years ago that his favorite food to have with Château d’Yquem was blue cheese at the beginning of the meal. I wanted something a bit more subdued.  Hence the Roquefort soufflé. I also told chef Wills that we would start with Champagne, then have the birthday wine, followed by White Burgundy, and then Red Burgundy. We discussed the possibilities and he then composed the menu which is shown below.

The Roquefort soufflé was out of this world and was the perfect match for the perfect 1944 Château d’Yquem. If there ever was a wine and food match made in heaven, this is it.

And the rest of the dishes were also delicious including the wonderful assortment of Appetizers which we had with the magnum of  Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle “La Cuvée”.

With the outstanding Osso Buco we enjoyed the magnum of the 2002 Paul Pernot Bienvenues Batard Montrachet.

Next with the delicious Roast Leg of Duck we had the lovely 2001 Anne Gros Clos Vougeot Les Maupertuis.

And, for the grand finale, we had delicious toasted coconut ice cream served with waffle cookies.

What a grand event. Great location, food with everything made from scratch by chef Wills, wines, hospitality, ambiance, wife, and friends.  Now the grand event is just a memory. But, as I advance in age, my 75th birthday will be a day I hope to never forget as I anticipate the next birthdays to, at some point, enjoy my two remaining 1944s!

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  • Jerry Rupert says:

    John, Happy 75th miss you at the Ahwahnee. Look forward to your next visit. Jerry tha waiter

    • John Tilson says:

      Hi Jerry,
      We have not been to the Majestic (now thankfully now back to the Ahwahnee) in quite awhile. Glad to know you are still there. Maybe we will be up soon and bring an old Inglenook Cab or two!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Bill Tisch says:

    Happy 75th John, and many more.
    Thank you for a lifetime of your clear and warm wine descriptions. You have enhanced many lives.

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks so much Bill. I have been plagued with some nagging medical problems. But, I am now on the mend and look forward to seeing you one day soon.
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Bill Wagner Jr says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
    Happy Birthday, John. You certainly know how to enjoy a most memorable date. Your descriptions make me very envious 🙂 Best to you and Laurie. Bill Wagner
  • Hi John,
    Happy Birthday from Atlanta! You did it up right. I have two more years to plan my 75th, Lord willing. Was ’46 a good year?

    Greg McCluney

  • John Hart says:

    John, outstanding article in celebration of your Birthday. Fortunate individuals with you must have savored every moment. All fine in Chicago. I have many outstanding! bottles to consume so we should make it happen sometime.
    Will spend all of July and August in Santa Fe followed by other travels this Fall. Wishing you all the best.
    Carpe Diem…

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