Thirteen of us gathered again at Valentino in Santa Monica on March 4, 2015, this time to taste the top-rated 2007 hyphenated Montrachet grand crus – the best from Bienvenues-Batard, Criots-Batard, Batard and Chevalier Montrachet and a few unidentified ringers – 27 wines in all.

Valentino owner Pierro Selvaggio and Special Events manager Giuseppe Mollica went all out for night two. Not only was the food excellent – I thought it was the best dinner we’ve ever had at Valentino -- but this time we had two sommeliers working with us – former wine director Julian Zaragoza joined current wine director Paul Sherman to help orchestrate the 400+ stems required for the dinner. These guys worked with surgical precision!

All of the wines were served blind and we held the reveal on the wines until after everyone had voted on and ranked their top five wines of the evening. The wines and the food courses are described below.

My thanks to Andy Gavin for all of the great photographs he took at the dinner.

CHAMPAGNE & APPETIZERS
Oysters, Ahi Tuna Tartare, Burrata Caprese, Bruschetta With Wild Arugula, Rosciutto And Grana Padano “Schegge”
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2002 Cazals “Clos de Cazals” (2 750ml bottles)
This Extra Brut champagne comes from the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger from a 3.7 hectare walled in vineyard called “Clos de Cazals” which was planted in 1947. My thanks for this discovery go to Greg Koslosky of Envoyer Wines, who knows my preference for Blanc de Blancs from Les Mesnil and called this one to my attention. This champagne had light gold color, sweet citrus aromas with a faint hint of melba toast, very deep and intense citrus and minerals flavors, and a super long minerally finish. This 2002 got my attention and it has some upside too. 94+

FLIGHT ONE – Bienvenues Batard and Criots-Batard Montrachet
Grilled Mediterranean Branzino Topped With Fresh Fennel, Oranges & Olives
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#1 [2007 Ringer No. 2: 2007 Leflaive Puligny Pucelles]
Medium gold color; tropical fruit (light) and some floral elements; this is totally ready to go – a round buttery mid-palate and some mature green apple fruit flavors; pretty mature on the finish too. One person thinks this is advanced, but most of us felt it was just ready to drink. Group Rank: 13th place, 1 point (0/0/0/0/1) 92

#2 [2007 Carillon Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Somewhat lighter gold color than the other wines in this flight; some matchstick SO2 which initially obscured light honeysuckle aromas – very Leflaive-like; creamy, sweet fruit with amazing density on the palate; clearly more concentrated than any other wine in this flight; very long sweet fruit and minerals finish. My number three wine of the night. Group Rank: 4th place, 22 points (0/2/2/3/2) 95

#3 [2007 Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Color between light and medium gold; very light honeysuckle and white flowers aromas; light, sweet honeysuckle-dominated flavors which faded a bit too quickly. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 92

#4 [2007 Pernot Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color, probably the deepest gold of the first flight; very light white flower aromas; sweet lemon-lime flavors with a little bit of acidity lurking underneath that sweetness; a nice wine in a richer style. Is this my Rochioli Sweetwater? Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 94

#5 [2007 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet]
Very light yellow color with greenish overtones – lightest of the first flight; prominent honeysuckle aromas; a bit tight/reserved on the palate with very good acidity; this needs some time. The Leflaive Pucelles ringer? Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 93+

#6 [No wine]

#7 [2007 Lamy Criots-Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; floral tones with spearmint; a big powerful fruity wine; quite a bit of depth for a BBM or Criots too. There’s a lot of power here but not a lot subtlety or elegance. A big buttery long finish. Montrachet power without Montrachet sophistication. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 93

#8 [2007 Ringer No. 3: 2007 Rochioli “Sweetwater” Chardonnay]
Light gold color; aromas of green apple and pear and hint of something mint; bright green apple and pear fruit with really nice balance and good acidity; refreshing fruit and minerals finish. Ramonet BBM? My second favorite wine of this flight. Group Rank: Tied for 7th place, 11 points (1/0/1/1/1) 94

FLIGHT TWO –Batard Montrachet
Scallops In Porchetta, Pancetta Wrapped, With Pappa Al Pomodoro & Parmesan
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#8X [2007 Girardin Batard Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold color; light matchstick reduction aromas and later some pretty lime citrus; real density on the palate here – pear and lemon-lime and considerable acidity; this is a major league Batard with some real upside. Leflaive? Group Rank: Tied for 5th place, 12 points (0/1/1/2/1) 94+

#9 [2007 Colin-Morey Batard Montrachet]
Light gold color; light white flowers aromas – really nice; the palate was beautifully layered pear fruit with tremendous elegance and class; there’s real balance to this wine. Very impressive. Tied for 5th place, 12 points (0/1/2/1/0) 94+

#10 [2007 JN Gagnard Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color; aromas of blood orange – very unusual for Batard; similar flavors; clearly advanced despite some obvious acidity here; obviously off too. The group consensus is that this is both advanced and off chemically. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 85? Advanced/Off

#11 [2007 Leflaive Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color; toasty, overripe fruit aromas with some sherry notes --- partially oxidized; fat, ripe buttery fruit on the palate with some decent underlying acidity, but I just can’t get past the oxidation on the aromas. We all agree this wine is partially oxidized. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 88 partially oxidized

#12 [2007 Ringer No. 4: 2007 Ramey “Hyde Vineyard” Chardoonnay]
Light gold color; sweet pear aromas with a hint of vanilla (oak); sweet lime and pear flavors with some richness on the mid-palate and very good acidity; some power here and a touch of minerality on the sweet fruit finish. A complete wine. I’ve had this enough to recognize it as the Ramey. My number 5 wine of the night. Group Rank: 2nd place, 31 points (2/4/1/0/2) 95

#13 [2007 Ramonet Batard Montrachet]
Light gold color – the lightest of the flight; lemon blossom aromas; bright citrussy flavors with some lemon zest and some notable phenols here that carry through to the finish; a very backward Batard that needs another four or five years of aging but I think has some upside. Group Rank: 12th place, 2 points (0/0/0/1/0) 93+

#14 [2007 Maltroye Batard Montrachet]
Medium gold color; cheesy and very advanced fruit aromas; on the palate this had overripe peach fruit, but a considerable degree of fat and texture. Everyone agrees this is clearly advanced. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 88 Advanced

#15 [2007 Niellon Batard Montrachet]
Almost medium gold color; some white peach and lemon aromas; on the palate this has very clean and relatively simple citrus and white peach flavors; but there are some clearly detectable phenols in the finish that add a touch of bitterness. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 92?

#16 [2007 Sauzet Batard Montrachet]
Light gold color; aromas of pear with a hint of spearmint; sweet lemon-lime citrus with some layering but very good acidity; seems very Ramonet-like to me. Group Rank: 9th place, 5 points (0/0/1/0/2) 94+

FLIGHT THREE – Chevalier Montrachet
Sauteed Santa Barbara Prawn With Herbs & White Wine And Served On Risotto
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#17 [2007 Ringer No. 5: 2007 Ceritas “Porter-Bass Vineyard” Chardonnay]
Medium gold color; some ripe apple aromas; on the palate this had sweet peach flavors and honeyed tones. All agree this wine is advanced. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 88 advanced

#18 [2007 Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet]
Light gold color; this had light, tight white flowers aromas; the flavors are pretty tight lemon-lime citrus that seem to have some depth but are pretty locked up, but there’s a sense this could really improve with time. This really bloomed very late. Some upside here for sure. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 93+

#19 [2007 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; light white flowers aromas; a very suppressed or flat palate on this wine and some off character on the finish. The group consensus is that this wine is quite off. The suppressed palate and very flat palate suggests potentially imminent oxidation to me, but hard to be certain. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 80

#20 [2007 JM Pillot Chevalier Montrachet]
Relatively light gold color; light lemon-lime citrus aromas; powerfully mineral Chevalier with fresh lime citrus background fruit and really good acidity here; this is kind of sneaky because it started on the lighter side and just kept building and suddenly you realize there’s big block of limestone there. I like this. Group Rank: Tied for 7th place, 11 points (0/0/1/3/2) 94

#21 [2007 Sauzet Chevalier Montrachet]
Between light and medium gold; meyer lemon aromas; lemon chiffon pie flavors with a creamy texture and minerals galore on the finish. I like this. My number 4 wine of the night. Group Rank: 10th, 4 points (0/0/0/2/0) 95

#22 [2007 Latour Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles]
Fairly deep developed gold color; overtly oxidized aromas and flavors and some really horrid flavors here. As David Ramey said, “this is not just oxidized, this is really rotten wine.” Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) DQ-Oxidized

FLIGHT FOUR – Chevalier Montrachet
Veal Tenderloin With Wild Mushroom Sauce, Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, Haricots Verts, Carrots
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#23 [2007 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet]
Deep gold color; completely oxidized aromas; very mature, toasty flavors too. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) DQ-Oxidized

#24 [2007 H. Boillot Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; lemon-lime citrus aromas and flavors; relatively straight-forward Chevalier with modest lacy minerality on the finish. I liked this initially but I found that it seemed to fade a bit with extended airing. Group Rank: Tied for 14th place (last), 0 points (0/0/0/0/0) 94|93

#25 [2007 Colin-Morey Chevalier Montrachet]
Medium gold color; meyer lemon aromas; concentrated almost crystallized key lime flavors with fabulous acidity and real structured lacy minerality in the finish. I sure hope I own this. My number 2 wine of the night. Group Rank: 3rd place, 25 points (2/2/2/0/1) 96

#2007 Ramonet Chevalier Montrachet]

Very light gold color; there were oddly some very tiny air bubbles on the inside of the bottle like CO2, but they seemed to disappear eventually; lime citrus aromas; very tart, tight wine with a lot of phenols in the finish. This took a long time in glass to open up a little bit and get a little sweeter and more minerally. Needs time and should reward patience. I think this wine has been acidified, so I’m guessing Ramonet. Group Rank: Tied for 10th th place, 4 points (0/0/1/0/1) 94++

#27 [2007 Girardin Chevalier Montrachet]
Light gold color; light white flowers aromas; on the palate this is super-concentrated sappy wine with incredible depth and crystalline minerality. WOW. Easy choice as my favorite wine of the night. Group Rank: 1st place. 55 points (8/3/1/0/0) 97


DESSERT- SAUTERNES
Pistachio Crème Brulee

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2001 Chateau de Fargues (375ml)
I’ve had this several times before but I was not jazzed with this wine. It was hard and somewhat bitter on the finish. Off? DQ - Off

Postscript statistics and comments:

Corked - 0/27 0%
Oxidation - 3/27 11.1%
Advanced - 3/27 11.1%
Oxidized or advanced – 6/27 22.1%
Otherwise “off” 1/27 3.7%

Cumulative Cheers and Jeers

Cheers go to:

Girardin -- The Batard and the Chevalier had a collectively awesome performance, both finishing in the top five.

Ramey – Ramey's second place finish is proof, for those that still needed it, that the Ramey “Hyde” belongs in the conversation when identifying the world’s top chardonnays.

Colin-Morey – another round of very impressive performances by Pierre-Yves’ Chevalier and Batard, both finished in the top five He really seems to be focused and dialed in.

Rochioli - I’ve thought for some time that in higher acid vintages the Rochioli “Sweetwater” resembles Bienvenues Batard Montrachet and that the “Rachael’s” is California’s closest comparison to Chevalier Montrachet. On March 4, I wasn’t the only person who would have sworn the Rochioli “Sweetwater” was the Ramonet Bienvenues. Blind tastings can be wonderfully educational!

Jeers go to:

Leflaive – what the hell happened in the first vintage where Eric Remy did the elevage? Both the Chevalier and Batard were clearly oxidized and the Pucelles, although most of us thought it was just fully mature when tasted blind, would clearly be deemed “advanced” by anyone used to buying Leflaive in the past. And sadly, these results are not an aberration. Other bottles were opened by people who attended this dinner both before and after March 4 with similar or otherwise alarming results. Ron Movich and John Brincko encountered a very advanced magnum of 2007 Batard last September. Concerned by what she found at this dinner, Amanda Crawford opened another bottle of 2007 Leflaive BBM to check its status and found it totally oxidized. Both Michael Zadikian and I opened bottles of 2007 Chevalier following this dinner and, while neither bottle was oxidized, both bottles were in an advanced state and didn't remotely resemble Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet. The bottle I opened had its fruit completely stripped out. The wine was clearly on the verge of going completely oxidized. Jeremy Holmes from Australia, who was here visiting last week, reported that multiple bottles of 2007 Leflaive BBM, Batard and Chevy that he purchased have turned out to be oxidized. Jeremy said that the Chevalier has been so uneven that he put his last three bottles of 2007 Chevalier into three different flights which were served blind at a white burgundy dinner. One bottle was pristine and brilliant, one was totally oxidized and one was partially oxidized.

I strongly suspect that the SO2 level at bottling was cut by Eric Remy, who took over for Pierrre Morey in 2008 and did the elevage on the 2007 Leflaive wines. Whatever the technical cause of the problem, it's beyond dispute that Leflaive has major, major problems with oxidation of the 2007 vintage. But is the problem just limited to the 2007 vintage, or are more vintages affected? I can't tell you at this point. The sad thing is that it can no longer be said that Domaine Leflaive falls in the category of those producers whose post-1994 oxidation performance is the same as it was before 1994.

My thanks to Andy Gavin for all of the great photos of the food and the event.